Our Teachers

Allison Ristaino, Teacher

“The difference between a cow and a bean is
a bean can begin an adventure!”

Stephen Sondheim

Education and Experience in Early Childhood Care and Education
In terms of formal education, I have my bachelor’s degree from Smith College in Theatre with a concentration in Writing. I am also currently halfway through my course work working towards my Child Development Associate from Ashworth College. As a young adult growing up in Massachusetts, I frequently volunteered for both our local Family Autism Center and a preschool for children with special needs. My mother, sister, and a couple of my aunts are all teachers for children with special needs, and I have multiple extended family members on the autism spectrum so I have a special place in my heart for children with learning disorders but of course love working with all children! I also love to babysit in my free time!

I Enjoy Working in Early Childhood Because…
Whenever I tell someone who doesn’t work in early childhood that I am a preschool teacher they usually ask me “what can you teach a preschooler?” to which I respond “Everything!” Early childhood is such an exciting point in life where everything is new and interesting and you’re trying to figure out how the world works and how to be independent and make friends! It is so wonderful to come to work every day and be greeted by children who are so excited to tell you what they learned over the weekend or what they want to read about that day. I feel so proud when a child ties her own shoe for the first time or helps his friend when he spills something. It is so exciting! I also, honestly, love to play and be silly and sing and early childhood is the place to do that!

Play’s Role in the Learning Process
As someone who grew up loving school and learning, I think that an interest in learning is one of the most important things to make anyone have a happy and successful life. If you love something, you’re going to want to keep doing it, so it is very important that we get our children interested in and excited about learning from an early age. By forcing children to sit down and do worksheets that they don’t want to do, the children will quickly become disinterested in school and learning, when the reality is that learning can be tons of fun. By allowing children to learn about the things they’re interested in and making learning fun through play, children will be excited to come to school and to learn and want to continue educating themselves as they grow up.

My Favorite Way to Play as a Child…
My mother frequently tells me that shopping for gifts for me when I was little was very easy because I loved any sort of small animal figurines and art. I loved creating art projects and hated when they came with instructions because I had to be unique and do things differently than everyone else. I also loved playing with animal figurines and sorting them by size and color. I grew up as the youngest of five children and my older siblings and I would make up songs and dances and line up our Barbies on the stairs to be our audience.

What do I do When I’m not at CSP?
When not at the preschool, I enjoy writing and performing comedy! I’ve studied at many comedy schools here in Chicago like Second City and iO and I enjoy writing and performing sketch and stand up comedy as well as performing improv. You can also find me frequently thrift shopping and trying every DIY craft I can find on Pinterest. At the end of the day, though, I love snuggling up with my black kitten Gus Gus!

Cathy Shumaker, Teacher

“Play is the work of childhood.”
Jean Piaget

Education and Experience in Early Childhood Care and Education
I attended Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Education with an endorsement in Early Childhood Education. While attending college I had practicums in preschool, a special needs classroom (with preschool aged children), kindergarten and elementary aged children. After these experiences I decided that I really enjoy working with young children. I obtained a job in Maryland at LaPetite Academy where I was employed for seven years. In those years I predominantly worked as a teacher with children from six weeks to kindergarten. I was promoted to assistant director and held this position until we moved to Chicago in 2001. I stayed home with our children over the next several of years until they were school aged. I then got a job at Creative Scholars when it opened and have been here ever since.

I Enjoy Working in Early Childhood Because…
I love working in early childhood because I can see how rapidly children develop and mature. You get to witness skills that weren’t previously attainable becoming second hand to them. I get to see more of the wonder and ah ha moments with young children.

Play’s Role in the Learning Process
Through play children develop their cognitive, social, emotional, motor and language skills. While children play they learn about the world around them. Playing is an important part of a child’s life. Playing by oneself and with other children is important for healthy development.

My Favorite Way to Play as a Child…
My favorite way to play when I was younger would probably be playing with the neighborhood children. We would play all sorts of running games like tag, red rover, and hide and seek. We would also build forts out of mud, leaves, sticks, snow, you name it we probably used it. Anything to do with playing outside was my favorite thing to do.

What do I do When I’m not at CSP?
When I am not working I like to spend time with my family baking, cooking, traveling, watching them compete in swimming and water polo meets and visiting family.

Karen Nelson, Teacher

“Don’t let your mind stop you from having a good time.”
Jason Mraz

Education and Experience in Early Childhood Care and Education
I have been in the field of early childhood education for almost 20 years. I graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in Family and Consumer Sciences, with an emphasis in Child Development. I have spent most of time in the preschool aged classroom working in preschools in Peoria and Chicago.

I Enjoy Working in Early Childhood Because…
Working with preschoolers is fun!! I enjoy observing what the preschoolers are interested in and creating our class projects. It is always amazing to see their minds open up to new concepts. I also love watching a preschooler master a new skill. Their joy and excitement are contagious.

Play’s Role in the Learning Process
For preschoolers, play IS the learning process. Learning and play happen organically. They should be exploring, creating, questioning, experimenting, building, molding, coloring, getting messy, and pretending. Their minds and bodies are not meant to sit and listen to a lecture. They are meant to play.

My Favorite Way to Play as a Child…
When I was little, I loved playing with my sister. Our favorite game was school and I was always the teacher. I grew up on the northwest side of the city on a block full of children, so I spent tons of time outside. I enjoyed riding bikes, swimming, playing running bases, and creating neighborhood gymnastics meets.

What do I do When I’m not at CSP?
When I am not teaching preschool, I am usually hanging out with my husband, Erik and my spoiled pup, Miller. I can be found reading, getting coffee, training for half marathons, at yoga classes, and hanging with my family. When I am not Chicago, you can find me in DisneyWorld!!

Rebecca Levine, Teacher

“Play is often talked about as a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”
Fred Rogers

Education and Experience in Early Childhood Care and Education
I graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY with a BA in Sociology. After working at an after-school program for children at risk, I decided to pursue a degree in Education. I moved to Boston and enrolled at Lesley University where I earned my master’s degree in Elementary Education with a focus on Special Education. After working in the public schools as a special education teacher, I took some time off to raise my two children. When my family moved to San Antonio, Texas I worked as a substitute teacher. In 2013, my family moved to Winnetka where I began teaching preschool at a small, Reggio-Inspired preschool.

I Enjoy Working in Early Childhood Because…
I enjoy early childhood education because I enjoy seeing the world through the child’s eye and discovering new things with them.

Play’s Role in the Learning Process
Play and learning go hand in hand. Play allows the child to explore and investigate cognitive skills, social skills, new vocabulary, literacy/math skills and problem solving skills with their peers. Through play, children develop a lifelong love of learning.

My Favorite Way to Play as a Child…
I loved playing with my collection of little animals, playing with friends and exploring outside.

What do I do When I’m not at CSP?
When I’m not at Creative Scholars I enjoy spending time with my my family; walking my dog, Hank, reading, and playing cards.

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