Natomas Unified has tripled the size of its preschool program in the past two years – adding classes at Natomas Park and H. Allen Hight elementary schools last year, then expanding to Witter Ranch and Two Rivers last month.
Nearly 300 preschool students can be accommodated now in structured learning environments with credentialed teachers and emphasis on math, literacy and vocabulary, play, socializing, art, routine, and behavioral etiquette to get young children ready for kindergarten. Each class has two child development aides, including one who speaks Spanish.
All six NUSD campuses offering preschool – American Lakes and Jefferson are the other two – provide three-hour classes in the morning and afternoon. Priority is given to 4-year-olds who will enter kindergarten the following year. State preschool funds have fueled expansion the past two years.
Kelsey Taylor, a former kindergarten teacher, said she loves teaching preschoolers.
“They have really great energy – and I like to be silly, I love to sing and I love to read books, so I can match their energy for the most part,” said Ms. Taylor of Two Rivers Elementary. “It’s really great to see them blossom.”
Preschool students at Witter Ranch began their day recently by socializing or playing with educational toys or games – such as Legos, puzzles or building blocks. Afterward, they sang a “clean up” song and put their toys away. Then teacher Danya Waugh read them a book about a young boa constrictor – “Wally Wants to Hug.” Soon, the kids were practicing their numbers, singing another song, moving their bodies to rhythm, and working on alphabet recognition – specifically, the letter “L,” and how it can be written as a capital or small letter.
Fun and learning often were blended, for example, when the kids practiced their counting by singing this song:
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – once I caught a fish alive
6, 7, 8, 9, 10 – then I let him go again.”
“Preschool is all about routine, to get them ready for kindergarten,” Ms. Waugh said. “So our day is very mapped out.”
In Ms. Waugh’s class, students were expected to follow instructions, sit down when requested, be quiet while others were talking, and raise their hand to ask a question. When one boy inadvertently grazed a classmate with a tiny toy, the teacher talked with him about being polite and saying he’s sorry, even though the incident was an accident.
At Two Rivers, a poster on the wall reminded the kids of preschool classroom etiquette: Legs are crossed. Hands are still. Ears are listening. Eyes are watching. Lips are zipped.
Other posters displayed throughout the room listed structured units of study and what was to be accomplished in them. Here’s a sampling:
· Reading Center: Developing book handling skills and learning to read using pictures
· Math Center: Learning about shapes, numbers, patterns, and math vocabulary words
· Science Center: Observation skills and learning about cause and effect
· Dramatic Play: Building vocabulary and learning to share and get along
· Block Center: Developing spatial thinking and early math skills.
· Circle Time: Learning school routine, building vocabulary, learning to wait your turn.
By year’s end, preschoolers are expected to be able to write their name, count to 10, recognize letters of the alphabet, recognize various numbers, follow classroom routine, and accomplish other tasks necessary for them to hit the ground running and to succeed in kindergarten.
Mrs. Taylor said the youngsters experience tremendous growth in just one year of preschool. “You see where they start and where they end – it’s amazing,” she said.
If you are interested in enrolling your child in an NUSD preschool class, please call (916) 567-5516 for American Lakes or Jefferson; or (916) 532-8985 for Witter Ranch, Two Rivers, Natomas Park, or H. Allen Hight.