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January 1, 2020

Prekindergarten: Where a Lifetime of Learning Begins

Children work at their own pace in Admiral Farragut Academy’s multi-age classroom

They start the day at little tables, using little hands to do big things.

  • Ashton, 4, grabs a card with the lowercase “b” and walks around the table until he finds its uppercase match.
  • Eleanor, 3, picks up different blocks — flat and narrow, flat and curved, small and chunky — and carefully rearranges them on a blue mat until they take on the shape of a stick person.
  • Kaylee, 4, holds a ball of yellow playdough in one hand and presses a googly eye into it with the other as she transforms the blob.

Matching letters builds early reading skills. Forming the stick person (“Mat Man”) with straight and curved shapes is visual and tactile preparation for handwriting. Making creatures out of playdough builds fine motor skills.

This is prekindergarten at Admiral Farragut Academy, where children ages 3-5 learn and play together. Such activities, says teacher Shauna McKee, are foundational blocks for kindergarten and beyond.

“These skills are like blocks on the bottom of the learning pyramid,” McKee says, gesturing toward the table activities. “Without these blocks, when we send them to kindergarten, the next (level of learning) blocks won’t have a strong foundation to build upon.”

McKee team-teaches prekindergarten with Allison Gormley. McKee is a board-certified speech-language pathologist and developmental specialist who also has taught elementary music (and still adds song to her lessons) as well as American Sign Language (ASL).Gormley also is a developmental specialist and the former Director of New Mexico’s Project Jericho Inclusion Program, for which she traveled throughout that state training preschools on developmentally appropriate practices.

Today, Farragut is among the area’s finest prekindergarten programs. In 2019, Farragut won the People’s Choice Best of the Bay for best private school for preschool and grade school.

The multi-age classroom has many advantages:

  • It provides a sense of family and community.
  • Children are encouraged to learn at their own developmental level.
  • Older students develop a sense of leadership and mentor their younger peers.
  • Younger students develop independence and confidence.

Beyond the traditional Pre-K curriculum that encompasses literacy, math, science and social studies, the children also learn ASL (McKee is fluent) and Spanish. Each day also includes music and movement as well as a rotation of enrichment programs such as art, physical education, music and library.

When it’s time to go outside, the prekindergartners have a dedicated, shaded space. Their private area includes padded tiles, a sandbox, playhouse, large hopscotch, picnic tables and other toys.

Throughout the day, McKee and Gormley offer guidance and encouragement. When a child figures something out, one of them may say: “Kiss your brain.”

Kiss your brain? Marcos, 4, explains with a demonstration. He loudly kisses the palm of his hand, firmly sets his palm on his head, and says with a smile: “It means I do something great.”

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