Open the cherry red doors to Frazer Hall and you will be met with the buzz and excitement of our youngest Knights, hard at work exploring the world around them. The Early Childhood program at Episcopal is building a solid foundation for future learning. Students are expanding language and vocabulary, learning valuable critical thinking and problem solving skills, and strengthening their fine and gross motor skills in order to prepare them for the educational journey that lies ahead. The children simply call this “play.”
Play allows children to process and understand the world around them. Each project in Pre-K is carefully constructed to give students multiple ways to build content knowledge. In their current study of community helpers, various learning centers reinforce the learning going on in the classroom. Students at the light table can examine x-rays of animals like a veterinarian. The writing center has been transformed into a post office where students can write letters, weigh and measure mail and sort letters for delivery into numbered boxes. The students practice new vocabulary they have learned from first responders in the dramatic play center, which has been turned into a fire station.
Another critical piece of the early learning foundation is providing opportunities for children to develop knowledge about the world around them. Students can read the word “frog,” but if they have never seen or touched a frog, there is a disconnect in their learning. The Pre-K garden is an oasis of learning for our students. Students and families worked together to bring the outdoor classroom to life in August. In September, students began to notice signs of the butterfly life cycle. Eggs dotted the milkweed plants and eventually hungry caterpillars hatched. Students were able to observe the entire cycle from start to finish and documented their observations in many ways. From field notes and drawings, to publishing an illustrated book, students used their experiences in the garden to enhance their learning.
Students are also learning to be part of a community. This role starts in the classroom. Each morning begins with classmates greeting each other in a special way. They are also part of the larger school community. Partnerships with their fifth grade buddies and Mrs. Sutcliffe’s writing classes have allowed them to work together with students outside of their peer group. Bringing in visitors like police officers, the Baton Rouge Fire Department, and EMS has taught them about their important place in our Baton Rouge community.
Odds are, if you ask a preschool aged child what they did at school today, their response will be something resembling, “We played.” Remember that the child playing with blocks is learning critical thinking skills like balance and ordering. Remember that the child working with playdough is strengthening their fine motor skills to become a great writer. Remember that the child checking out customers at the dramatic play center is learning how to be a member of our society. These seemingly simple moments in their day are teaching our youngest learners big lessons so that they can be successful students throughout their journey at Episcopal.
Julie Mendes, a 2001 graduate of Episcopal, returned to teach Pre-K4 at her alma mater in 2012. She received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in elementary education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. After teaching second grade in a Dual Language program in Texas public schools for three years, Julie moved abroad to teach first grade at a bilingual school in Gracias, Lempira Honduras. Julie enjoys teaching alongside some of her former teachers and seeing what life is like on the other side of the desk.