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Business Profile

Bugs, Bubbles & Books

Tiny, paint-covered fingers roll gooey marbles into coffee cans lined with paper. Giggles ensue, along with some somersaults, as two young girls go rolling and kicking the cans down hills. The results — once the paper is pulled from the cans — are beautiful, messy, splatter-paint art pieces tracing how each paint-covered marble rolled around the can.

The activity underscores the driving ethos at Bugs, Bubbles & Books, a pre-school for three- and four-year-olds: Play is the pathway to discovery, learning and knowledge.

The school sits next to a park in a quiet Coeur d’Alene neighborhood. What happens both indoors and outside provides toddlers with abundant opportunities to explore their world.

This unique approach to learning is the brainchild of Melissa Kauffman. Kauffman discovered her passion for kids at an early age, which led her to pursue a degree in early childhood education, and later, to a career in teaching. But her desire to work with a younger, more curious group of kids caused her to leave the world of formalized education. As the founder of Bugs, Bubbles & Books, she is on a mission to get little ones learning through play, and in doing so, to teach them the essentials to prepare them for school.

In 2013, Kauffman founded Indelible Fingerprints, a home-based teaching program, where she’d travel to people’s homes for scheduled playtimes with their kids. “Parents are busy, and toddlers need lots of time and attention every day. They need one-on-one interaction.” Her work with individual families evolved into the bigger idea of Bugs, Bubbles & Books.

Stepping into the preschool’s playroom, walls are lined, floor to ceiling, with shelves of books, games and an astonishing assortment of art and craft supplies. Two girls are climbing in and out of an igloo they’ve created from fabric and chairs. It turns out they had spent the previous school day studying all about ice. “We engaged in all kinds of activities that had them using their senses…seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting,” says Kauffman.  “At the end of the day, we made ice cream.”

As carefully as she crafts these lesson plans, they often transform quickly though, because kids at her school are encouraged to choose their activities. “I allow them to make lots of choices about what they want to do,” says Melissa, “Small people don’t get to make many decisions for themselves. I want to teach them that it’s okay.” On most days, improvisation is the key to inspiring little minds, and lots of field trips keep kids engaged.

At the park, when it’s time to clean up the paint-soaked marbles, sidewalk and little hands, Melissa announces “We forgot the wipes today. I guess we’ll just have to use the sprinkler!” With shrieks of delight, the girls run for the water, and while neither comes back particularly clean, Kauffman says “their parents won’t mind.” And she’s right. One paint stained three-year-old makes a beeline for her waiting mom, who notes “it looks like you had fun today!”

After gathering up their kids and the damp paintings to go home, that same mom stops to share something important. “Really — she’s just like our own Mary Poppins.