Preschool proves to be more than just fun and games

Posted on Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 2:38 am

Editor’s Note: Ready By Six is a partnership of education stakeholders dedicated to broadening the parents’ and the community’s awareness of skills needed to be fully ready to succeed in school and providing resources to assist parents in ensuring their children are school prepared.

Research shows that learning begins years before a child enters first grade. The preschool years are a time of tremendous social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development, and it passes quickly. The skills that boys and girls learn at this stage – a myriad of aptitudes ranging from knowing what sound the letter B makes, to how to blend red and blue, how to follow directions, or adding 3 + 3 may seem simple, but skills such as these set students apart and prepare them for a lifetime of learning.

Pre-K may look like all fun and games – with music, story time, dancing, singing and art – but there’s an intense amount of brainwork occurring. Synapses are being formed which will lead to future learning. Creativity and Problem-solving skills are being developed which will later aid in language arts, math, and physics.

Roger Greene, long-time member of the Hamblen County Board of Education and strong supporter of preschool education, provides a personal perspective. Greene’s grandson Blake, who is now a successful sixth grader at East Ridge, began in Hamblen County’s quality, certified-teacher led preschool program at Russellville Elementary. “Hamblen County’s preschool curriculum, teaching strategies, and environment reflect research-based knowledge about the way children develop and learn,” he said. “Blake’s preschool experience, in my opinion, gave him an advantage over students who were not fortunate enough to attend preschool.”

Robert Neill, parent of West View sixth grader, Jackson, said his son’s experience in preschool at Manley Elementary, gave him the foundation he needed to become an excellent student. “He was given the groundwork he needed in language arts and math,” Neill said. “More importantly, he learned about socialization and relationships in Miss Joi (Sargent’s) class.”

Neill noted, “I don’t know if it’s an evidence of the program working, or a coincidence, but every member of the 2013 Manley Elementary Scholars Bowl team were former preschool students of Miss Joi.”

Preschool promotes social and emotional development and sometimes preschool is just what a child needs, said mom Kerry Stacy. “My son, Ben, was in the preschool two years ago. “It was a great benefit for him because it pulled him out of his shell. I saw a huge change in him. He seemed extremely happy and excited about learning. He started singing and answering questions when asked. He is very shy, so this was a huge leap for him.”

In preschool, parents aren’t forced to choose between protecting a child’s play time and making sure she’s ready for kindergarten. A high-quality early childhood education program will offer children both.

Don Lovelace, father of Trey, Trent and Nina, had two distinct experiences with early childhood education. His oldest son had half-day kindergarten in South Carolina. “We were told a full day was too much for children that age,” Lovelace said. “Trey went to school for a half day, came home, took a nap and then went out to play.” Then Lovelace’s two younger children, Trent and Nina, both attended preschool at Manley. “We thought maybe Trent was too young.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth. “He and Nina were little sponges. They learned to read and also developed physically and emotionally. He was quick to say, “Miss Joi is the greatest teacher ever, and we were spoiled by Manley Elementary.”

In order to learn, a young child needs to feel cared for and secure with a teacher. A child is able to spend time away from parents and build trusting relationships with adults outside the family. High-quality preschool programs nurture warm relationships among children, teachers and parents. And teachers build a close personal connection with each child in their care.

Emerging reading skills are evident in preschool. These skills are reinforced during structured learning that appears to “just be fun.”

Preschool teachers develop literacy by continually exposing children to oral and written language, and by building on prior knowledge and language experiences.

Research shows that children who attend a high-quality preschool enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not.

Kendra Dewald said her son benefited greatly from the Pre-K program in Hamblen County. “He gained a love of books and a love of searching for answers. He was encouraged to ask questions and find answers all around him.” She added, “He did this in a safe, loving, structured, and very happy environment.”

For many children, preschool is their first experience in a structured setting with teachers and groups of children. It’s an opportunity to learn to share, follow instructions, and begin the foundation for learning that will occur in elementary school.

Scott Helton’s daughter, Brooke, attended Russellville Elementary’s Pre-K program. “The program and teachers did an outstanding job of preparing her for school. She learned the importance of listening to instructions and following classroom rules. The curriculum helped prepare her for a challenging kindergarten year. “She grew socially and academically and is now an honor roll student in sixth grade at East Ridge Middle,” he said.

“Both of my younger children, Marisa and Sebastian, attended preschool at Russellville,” said Marivel Villa. “I strongly believe that preschool helped set the foundation and prepared my children for kindergarten and beyond. Both of my children stayed home with me up until that point, and preschool helped my children academically, but also socially,” she said. “My children were able to interact with other children and work together in small groups, as well as many academic skills. The preschool teachers also helped my son, Sebastian, to receive speech therapy that I knew he needed. When I sought help before preschool, I was told his speech problem was not serious enough.

“Since Sebastian started his speech therapy in preschool, this made getting his therapy in kindergarten a smooth transition. Sebastian has now ‘graduated’ from speech and is doing great!”, she said

As for Villa’s daughter Marisa, “To this very day, she says preschool was her best year in school. I am very blessed and grateful for the preschool program that was available for my children and for the wonderful teachers my children had – Miss Tammy (Trent) and Miss Kathy (Swann),” Villa concluded.

A highly structured environment helps young children learn to make friends and play well with others. This doesn’t mean there are lots of rules or that adults constantly direct children’s activities. On the contrary, the structure of a high-quality preschool classroom is largely invisible to children. Classroom space is organized to encourage social interaction, and minimize congestion and conflicts.

Elena Lowe’s daughter Keegan attended pre-K at Witt. “She was SO ready to go forward to kindergarten when it was time to go. She had high marks on most all of her grade cards, and she knew how to follow the directions that her teachers gave her,” Lowe said.

“I know that sounds simple, but trying to get a four- or five-year-old to do something correctly is a big task,” she explained. “Miss Stinson (now Mrs. Speck) was an excellent teacher along with her assistants, Ms. Spires and Mrs. Jones,” she said. “I highly recommend a child to go to pre-k if available.”

Angel Aldana’s mom, Elizabeth Arcos said that Angel, who attended Lincoln Heights preschool, loved teacher Theresa Malone and commented that the field trips were enjoyable and beneficial to her child’s development.

“I really can’t have imagined a better place for our daughter, Laina, to begin her formal education than West Elementary preschool with teacher Melanie Hodge,” commented mom Tara Wampler.

“Lots of love, a little discipline, plenty of playtime, creative projects and encouragement helped her prepare for school. Both girls are great students and are doing well in school,” Wampler said.

Children thrive when there is consistency in care between home and school. In high-quality preschools, teachers value parents as the experts on their children. Parents receive daily reports on their child’s activities. Regular meetings are scheduled for more in-depth conferences with staff. Teachers strive to understand and respect parents’ child-rearing goals and values. Young children learn social skills and emotional self-control.

Four-year-olds learn through their experiences and good teachers make time for those “teachable moments” when they can help children learn to manage frustrations or anger.

Learners of any age – and especially preschoolers, understand and remember new things that relate to the experiences, knowledge, and skills they already have. They extend their communication skills and vocabulary through interactions with others. They also develop responsibility and independence from taking part of routines in the program. Preschoolers learn social skills such as listening and respecting the ideas of others – skills they will need as they continue in school. Preschool builds confidence and helps children feel a sense of self-worth and self-awareness. They continually develop new relationship with adults and make new friends.

Through a combination of state funds along with the availability of tuition slots, preschool classes are now available at Manley, Russellville, Lincoln, West Elementary, and Witt. For more information on Hamblen County Department of Education’s preschool program, please call the school of your choice or the Central Office at 423.586-7700.

-Teresa Ayers is school/community coordinator for Hamblen County School System. Kim Fox is the supervisor of federal programs.

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