By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
As a group of wiggly 4- and 5-year-olds lined up after recess, “Ms. Sandy” Castle, teacher at Berea College Child Development Laboratory (CDL), asked the children what they were supposed to do when they got back inside the classroom.
“Go inside, take off your jacket and sit on the rug,” replied one boy with his hand raised.
“Good,” exclaimed Ms. Sandy, “now kiss your brain!”
The little boy kissed his hand and smacked his forehead as a personal celebration of knowing the right answer.
Being able to follow three- to four-step instructions is one of the skills a child should have when entering kindergarten, according to the Madison County Schools Kindergarten Readiness Checklist, which is supported by the state’s early childhood standards.
The compiled checklist was a result of the July 2010 formation of the Madison County Early Childhood Alliance.
“The Alliance strives to improve the opportunities for children in our community to be kindergarten-ready on their first day of school,” said Karla Willis, preschool director for Madison County Schools.
The Alliance includes 14 child care centers in Madison County and the following partners: Madison County Schools, Kentucky River Foothills Head Start, Madison County Early Childhood Council, Eastern Kentucky University, Berea College and Kentucky School Boards Association.
Each member center is partnered with preschool and kindergarten teachers in the district to form “IMPACT triangles” in which they share ideas and discuss concerns.
IMPACT stands for Improving, Motivating, Preparing, Achieving, and Collaborating Together.
Castle is partnered with the preschool and kindergarten programs at Silver Creek Elementary in Berea.
Teachers from both schools have made around five visits to each other’s classrooms to swap activity ideas. They also can get a feel of where the students are in their social and academic development and where they need to be, Castle said.
The partnership ensures that children make an easy transition into kindergarten, she said.
The formation of the Alliance also revealed that child care providers “are a viable part of early childhood education,” she said.
“We’re not just playing,” Castle said, “we’re providing opportunities to develop lifelong social behaviors, the concept of being respectful and valuing the things that we have as to not take them for granted.”
When her students enter kindergarten, they already know how to sit in a circle, follow three- and four-step directions and count and recognize letters. Some are beginning to read as well, she said.
However, a main focus for preschool-aged children to get them kindergarten ready should be social skills and the ability to interact well with others, Castle said.
The CDL implements the “I Care” rules which are: 1. We listen to each other; 2. Hands are for helping not hurting; 3. We care about each other’s feelings; 4. We use “I Care” language; and 5. We are responsible for what we say and do.
Castle stresses the “I Care” rules during “circle time” when the children sit in a circle and share stories, ideas and problem solve.
One problem-solving activity is called “What to do when you find yourself in a pickle?” Students take turns pulling slips of paper out of a pickle jar. Written on each slip of paper is a different scenario that the students work together to solve such as, “You see someone break a toy, what do you do?” or “Your classmate tells you you’re no longer their friend, what do you do?”
“At this age, there’s a lot of ‘I’m not your friend’ when the students get mad at each other,” Castle said, “so we talk a lot about respecting each other because we’re human beings and because we’re also classmates.”
The Alliance also conducts Super Saturday events three times a year, which are professional development opportunities for child care providers, Willis said.
More than 100 childcare providers attend each of the events and receive training from credentialed trainers, teachers and administrators in Madison County Schools.
After a Model Schools Conference in 2007, representatives from the district returned with the understanding that the district’s efforts in the area of early childhood education were not aggressive enough, Willis said.
“With research and data showing that children were far more likely to succeed later in their academic careers if they were properly prepared for kindergarten, the district began taking steps to find a solution for Madison County,” she said.
As a result of conversations and partnerships with other organizations in the community, the Literacy Education and Awareness Program (LEAP) began in 2008.
LEAP is a program that offers children and families of the Madison County Health Department’s HANDS program an opportunity for extending their in-home visits.
LEAP targets the children, ages 2 to 5 years old, who do not attend a preschool or child care center. The purpose of LEAP is to help parents continue working with their children on academic development in an effort to prepare them for kindergarten.
From the district’s work with LEAP, a series of conversations began about expanding early childhood education opportunities in Madison County. MCS leadership wrote a letter to all area child care centers asking to meet to discuss how to reach more children and get them better prepared for the kindergarten door.
The result was the Madison County Early Childhood Alliance.
Castle began her teaching career in 1980, when she worked several years at a child development center in Richmond, 14 years at a Head Start in Rockcastle County, 10 years with Eastern Kentucky Childcare Coalition and then she became a credentialed trainer.
During her 22 years as an educator, she has seen more effort to further early education in the state.
“There is a big push for child care centers to really step it up — to be more than a baby-sitter,” Castle said. “We want teachers to look at their curriculums, look how to better utilize their space and be aware of the social issues that are coming into their classrooms.”
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, ext. 6696.