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In Session

Columbia Elementary Preschool Helps Prepare Youngsters for the Road Ahead

Writer / Angela Cornell
Photography Provided

Columbia ElementaryKindergarten is an incredible year for most children. It is a time of discovery, meeting new friends, playing with special toys they don’t have at home, and listening to books read by teachers. However, it can also be a difficult transition for children who aren’t accustomed to spending a full day in an educational setting.

Children who spend a year in preschool often find the transition easier.

“All kindergartens are now full-day programs,” says Ashley DuBois, a preschool teacher at Columbia Elementary School. “That’s a long day, and if a student is only used to a few hours a couple days a week at preschool, building their stamina for being at school the entire day is important.”

As a part of the Rochester School Corporation, the preschool was started in 2018 to give 4- and 5-year-olds a chance to enjoy a fun, interactive environment while preparing to enter the school system.

The preschool was developed because kindergarten teachers noticed a distinction between the kids who went to preschool and those who didn’t. Those who had gone were advanced in fine motor skills and already had the stamina to handle the full school day.

“We expressed those concerns to our principal and he passed it on to our superintendent,” says Jenny Keller, one of the preschool teachers and a former kindergarten teacher at Columbia Elementary. The idea for the preschool was approved and a group of teachers began mapping out a curriculum.

Columbia ElementaryIn the preschool wing there are three classrooms, each of which have 18 kids. A normal day begins at 8:30 a.m., with a before-school care option available for those who need to be dropped off early. Once in the classroom, students learn foundational principles, like the basics in math, language arts and the calendar. They also have special classes for music, gym, art and others.

Every Friday, the teachers take turns going into each other’s classrooms to lead an interactive activity related to science, technology, engineering and math. This could be just about anything fun, educational and memorable, like pumpkin volcanoes.

After spending time in core subjects, the various classes take turns in the stations room, which is a room with individual areas where children can enjoy educational activities that help them develop intellectually and socially, as well as strengthen their fine motor skills. These stations include a sensory table, art easels, stations for puzzles and blocks, and a large play kitchen area with realistic cookware and utensils.

There is also an area for child-safe woodworking, with real wood and simple tools to help the children develop finer motor skills.

The sensory table is a favorite for many children.

Columbia Elementary“It’s about using all five senses,” DuBois says. “We tend to use rice, but we may add some cinnamon oil or cinnamon pine cones, and throw in some real pine twigs that they can feel, smell and see.”

The activities used in the classrooms and station room involve many activities that help the kids learn without realizing it.

“It’s student-led learning,” DuBois says. “When they go to stations, they learn while they’re there, but we’re not directly instructing. Between the three of us, we have 50 years of experience, so we use a collaboration of what we know works.”

It’s a collaboration that has yielded great results, which makes it a highly rewarding program for the three teachers involved.

“My favorite part is just watching the moment when the kids get the concept – the aha moment and the joy when they finally master something,” says Stacia Conrad, the third teacher involved in the program.

Columbia ElementaryIn some respects, the preschool is its own little community, formed around helping children learn life skills. On a daily basis, the kids come into an environment where they have to practice everything from zipping up their own coat to positive ways of interacting with peers.

“They’re problem solving on their own, independently,” DuBois says.

As the teachers have discovered throughout the last few years, its an independence that supports them throughout their early education.

Columbia Elementary’s preschool will open enrollment for the 2022-2023 school year in January. The school is located at 1502 Elm Street in Rochester. For more info, call 574-223-2501 or visit columbia.zebras.net.

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