This year a local preschool is celebrating 20 years of providing children with memorable early-childhood learning experiences.

This year a local preschool is celebrating 20 years of providing children with memorable early-childhood learning experiences.

First Friends Preschool, once known as First United Methodist Preschool or “FUMPIE”, has been an integral part of the Chillicothe community since the non-profit program was first organized in September 1991.

The preschool, with programs geared toward 3-and-4 year olds, is both a safe and fun place for children to make new friends and learn more about the world around them, according to the program’s longtime assistant, Melody Underwood.

“It is like this little nest that we have,” Underwood said.

Underwood, born and raised in Chillicothe, has been an active assistant in the classroom since 1992.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the program, according to Underwood, is the “keeping together of generations,” and seeing familiar faces year after year. Many of the children that take part in the field trips and activities that First Friends has to offer are the children or grandchildren or parents and students who have previously been associated with it.

Although the preschool classes are held at First United Methodist Church of Chillicothe, it is a nondenominational program that is open to everyone, and children learn about the meanings behind many different holidays including Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, director Cathy Mitchell said. Mitchell is the wife of church pastor, Ted Mitchell.

Many of the in-class activities, such as writing and learning at a science table, are academically focused, but children make crafts and play games as well.

Stories, books, music and videos are integrated into the classroom, and children are also given time for supervised outdoor activities.

“Our goal is to get the kids prepared for school,” Mitchell said.

Among the highlights of the program, according to Underwood and Mitchell, are the two field-trips the children usually take each year, accompanied by parent volunteers. Past field trips have included Picket Fence in Chillicothe, and different sites in Peoria, Mitchell said. Mitchell said for a future fall trip, they would like to bring the children to one of the area apple orchards.

With the 20th anniversary of First Friends approaching, the program’s organizers said they hope to encourage more parents to enroll their 3-and-4 year olds in the kindergarten-prep classes, located in the lower level of the church facility.

“It’s a wonderful place and always has been,” Underwood said.

Registration for First Friends Preschool is currently open for the 2010-11 school year.

Children must be 3 years old by Sept. 1, toilet trained and up-to-date on state mandated vaccinations to qualify.   

For more information, call the church office at 274-5458, or visit