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Preschoolers safely travel world of technology

LESLIE BREFELD
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk
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Welcome to the world of Imagine Tomorrow, where preschoolers explore places such as Microchip Mountain, Webwood Forest, Laptop Lagoon and Network Neighborhood. The company, which recently relocated its headquarters from New Jersey to Main Street Frisco, introduces children 3 to 6 years old to the latest technology through computer classes, while also incorporating early childhood learning skills. Founder and CEO Judy Patterson said her husband first put the words “imagine” and “tomorrow” together when thinking of a name for the fledgling company. She knew it clicked when she realized that was exactly what she was doing.”I imagined a place where children would come and there’d be no labels,” she said. “I imagined a place where there’s so much fun in learning. I imagined a place where the youngest child would get to use the latest, best technology.”The classes begin with “circle time.” The young students watch a large monitor with an interactive program – in a similar vein to Blue’s Clues – from the Imagine Tomorrow software, featuring Patterson’s daughter Laura St. John and her husband Scott St. John (better known as Mr. Scott). The children then move to their own computers to complete the journey – all the while learning about preschool level academics and the basic language of technology. Kids of all different levels work in timed sessions, prompting them to move to the next step (usually indicated by a Send button) at the same time.”A 3-year-old and 6-year-old can sit next to each other and get to Send at the same time,” Laura St. John said. “Each program has multiple skill levels that automatically adjust to academic and technical levels.”***As a child, Patterson was sure of what she wanted to do with her life – teach. But a guidance counselor she encountered in school thought differently. The counselor told her she’d do better as a secretary, and planned out her schedule accordingly. But Patterson ingnored the advice, stuck with her goals and began teaching. Knowing what it felt like to have someone not believe in her was a valuable lesson in motivation.After years of experience, Patterson felt she had crafted a teaching technique wherein the children were self-motivated, able to apply the knowledge they were learning and was suited to different learning styles and levels. And she wanted to reach out with it. The only question was how.

“A 3-year-old and 6-year-old can sit next to each other and get to Send at the same time,” Laura St. John said. “Each program has multiple skill levels that automatically adjust to academic and technical levels.”***As a child, Patterson was sure of what she wanted to do with her life – teach. But a guidance counselor she encountered in school thought differently. The counselor told her she’d do better as a secretary, and planned out her schedule accordingly. But Patterson ingnored the advice, stuck with her goals and began teaching. Knowing what it felt like to have someone not believe in her was a valuable lesson in motivation.After years of experience, Patterson felt she had crafted a teaching technique wherein the children were self-motivated, able to apply the knowledge they were learning and was suited to different learning styles and levels. And she wanted to reach out with it. The only question was how.

She found her answer – technology – in a computer show she attended with her husband in the spring of 1991. Within the same year, Imagine Tomorrow opened its first shop using computers, off-the-shelf computer software and Patterson’s technique.In 2001 the company earned recognition at a National Association for the Education of Young Children conference for its creative way of combining early literacy skills with technology. The attention meant growth, and as the company took off Patterson wanted to maintain the integrity of the program. Laura St. John said that in the earlier days of the company her mother had once mentioned she wished she could clone the St. Johns, then-teachers at a New Jersey site, for their perfect interpretation of her technique. Patterson essentially was able to accomplish this by taking the company into development, creating its own software with the St. Johns as the teachers in the interactive computer program.Imagine Tomorrow now licenses its content and curriculum with new software every year. Entrepreneurs interested in starting up their own shop – or the portable version – are then required to attend training, and can get support from the company thereafter. Frisco was chosen as the new headquarters site partly because Patterson’s family loved the area, but also because of its vacation destination status.

“We gave people the option of training in New Jersey or Colorado and even the folks in New Jersey wanted to wait for the Colorado training,” Laura St. John said.She said families with young children are often those buying the software and are attracted by the fact Imagine Tomorrow is a family company.Along with Patterson’s daughter and her husband (who as well as being stars of the show are VPs of the company), Patterson’s husband Bruce is the chief information officer and another of their daughters, Katherine Dunne, is the VP of product development.Laura St. John said people will sometimes ask her why their 3-year-old would need to learn e-mail.

“It’s not just a toy,” she said she replies. “They develop perspective at a young age. It’s a meaningful tool in communication, learning and academic skills.”The Frisco headquarters will be used mainly for training, but some classes will also be held there. The company which has seen growth from three to more than 50 locations on the East Coast, is beginning to launch internationally. Simultaneously, the creators are launching the Imagine Tomorrow Education Foundation, in order to reach the demographic of students who are not able to afford the class.Leslie Brefeld can be reached at (970) 668-4626 or lbrefeld@summitdaily.com.


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