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Children learn through play at Early Childhood Center

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Submitted by Sandy Powell

Henry County Public Schools

Learning begins very early in life, and at the Henry County Early Childhood Center, children have the opportunity to learn in a variety of fun and effective ways suitable to their age.

The Early Childhood Center, in its second year of operation, is located next to New Castle Elementary.  Director of Instruction and ECC Principal Alysia Wedding reports that 122 3- and 4-year-olds are served through two Head Start and five Preschool classrooms. 

“We are extremely proud of our new Early Childhood Center and welcome any visitors who would like to tour the facility,” says Wedding.

On Oct. 18, staff welcomed parents to the school year’s first Family Night that focused on highly engaging, appropriate child play.  The training included information on how play affects academic learning; what high-level, engaging play looks like; and what parents can do at home to help their children learn through play.  Parents received a brochure entitled “Why Children Play” by Gaye Gronlund. 

Parents also received information on the “Read Together, Talk Together” program that the Preschool teachers use.  This is a dialogic reading program that is implemented in the classroom but has a large parent-home connection in which the child takes home the book that was read in class with an activity that the parents can do at home with their child around the book. 

The Family Resource Center provided snacks and help during the Family Night event.

“We are off to a great year and had wonderful parent involvement at our first Family Night,” says Wedding.  “We have two more Family Nights scheduled this year and parents will be notified ahead of time about the date, time and content of each one.” 

On Oct/ 22, Buster the Bus came to visit the Preschool and Head Start children to teach them about bus safety.  Kevin Whitt, HCPS Transportation Director, brought Buster to visit as part of Bus Safety Awareness Month.

“The children learned that they should stay in their seats while the bus was moving, wait for the bus driver to say it is okay before crossing the road, and be at the bus stop five minutes early for their bus,” said Wedding. “They also learned what the flashing lights on the bus mean.”

All staff in the Early Childhood Center use a hands-on, play-based approach to learning that meets the Kentucky Early Childhood Standards for Preschool Education, as well as the Head Start Standards. 

Reading and mathematics skills are a focus at the center.  These skills are taught throughout the school day using a variety of hands-on activities and adult-child interactions that encourage children to develop their communication and reasoning skills. 

Technology is also a focus at the Henry County Early Childhood Center.  When built, all eight classrooms were equipped with Smart Boards and projection devices, as well as sound field systems which amplify the teacher’s voice throughout the room.  Sound field systems have been proven to increase student attention and engagement, especially when used on a regular basis with young children. 

Preschool and Head Start teachers also use the Smart Board each day to teach various skills while allowing the children to be interactive with the technology itself. Students are able to answer questions, make choices and check into school for the day using the Smart Board technology by simply moving a picture with their finger.

One room in the center is dedicated to developing gross motor skills.  Gross motor skills involve the large muscles of the body that are important for major body movement such as walking, jumping, kicking, sitting upright, lifting, and throwing a ball.

The motor room is shared by all staff so that students can participate in various motor activities on a daily basis using the Minds in Motion curriculum. 

During the summer of 2011, staff members were trained to use this research-based curriculum to foster gross motor development, which in turn helps increase children’s attention span, fine motor skills such as writing, and cognitive skills (mental skills used in the process of gaining knowledge).

Preschool and Head Start teachers receive ongoing professional development to increase their effectiveness.  They are currently completing a book study during Early Release days:  Are You Listening?  Fostering Conversations That Help Young Children Learn, by Lisa Burman.

“Last year we worked on asking open-ended, appropriate questions that facilitate conversations among children,” said Wedding, “and this year we are focusing on the conversations between adults and children that lead to problem solving and high-level thinking among the children.”

The ECC program is a four-day-a-week program that runs for 6.5 hours per day. It serves three- and four-year-old children who meet the eligibility criteria for Head Start and/or Preschool. 

Parents who are interested in having their child screened for Preschool or Head Start services may call 845-8600 for more information. 

Preschool-aged children can be screened anytime throughout the school year, as long as the child was 4 by Oct. 1.  Screenings can be scheduled or questions  can be answered by calling the number above.