Pre-K Students Enhance Learning Across the Divisions
Barbara Shea, Lower School Principal 

Over the years, the Pre-K program has grown significantly to enhance the children’s joy of learning and pave the way for future study. Additions have included a field trip to the Rye Nature Center in the spring to expand the students’ study of the pond, the introduction of physical education once a rotation, a handwriting curriculum component, and greater emphasis on building the foundations for reading, writing, and math. There are special events that include activities in the art room, a field day with their fourth-grade buddies, and a variety of guest visitors that include the Headmaster on Halloween, the art teacher for special activities, and a host of family guest readers. Mrs. Festo and Ms. Regan are constantly ensuring that the Pre-K students participate in the greater community as often as possible.

In addition, at the beginning of the year, the Pre-K students are paired with a fourth-grade class, and each student is given a fourth-grade buddy. The buddy program predates my 25 years at RCDS and remains a highpoint for every fourth grader. Traditionally, our youngest and oldest members of the Lower School would never interact; their schedules run parallel, and their lunch and recess happen at different times in very different locations. By incorporating a shared activity into our program, our fourth graders are leaders, and as role models, they enjoy reading with their buddies, helping them in art projects or playing games with them on the field. But the rest of the School also benefits enormously from having the Pre-K students in their midst! It is not only the Lower School that interacts with our youngest members, but also the middle- and upper-school students.   

Last year, the seventh-grade life science class raised trout in the classroom and released them into the streams as part of a conservation effort. Mrs. Linderoth, a middle-school science teacher, invited the Pre-K students to come learn about the project in their lab. The middle-school students were asked to develop a mini-lesson, and they took ownership of this as they explained to our youngest students the life cycle of the trout and the role of these fish in the ecosystem. This helped to solidify the seventh-grade students’ knowledge, and the conversations that ensued between the groups were enormously successful. This year, the seventh-grade class is doing a similar project with monarch butterflies. Rye Country Day is a certified monarch way station, and our students are raising these butterflies from caterpillars in the classroom to tag and release them into the wild. Once again, the seventh-grade students developed a lesson plan to explain the life cycle of the butterflies and the benefits of these pollinators on our environment. When they shared this information with Pre-K students, there was a great deal of excitement, as four year olds have a great deal of background knowledge regarding butterflies—a little more than trout! The hope had been to release the butterflies in mid-November, but unfortunately only one caterpillar survived to adulthood. Viruses also breed among insects! In the spring, the Pre-K children will also be raising their own butterflies from caterpillars as part of their study of the pond, and they look forward to teaming up with the seventh graders once more to reverse roles and tell the middle-school students what they have learned in their study.

The leaders of the upper-school gardening club, sophomores Peggy Helman and Emily Marrinan, who maintain some of the gardens across from the Upper School, were eager to share their enthusiasm for gardening with the Pre-K students.  They taught the four year olds about composting, which is particularly relevant now that the Pre-K students have their new, very own compost bin. They read to them about “compost stew” and showed them how to compost using their leftover pumpkin shells. Clearly, Peggy and Emily were looking to ensure that the school gardens will be maintained in the coming years!

In the Upper School, students in both AP Psychology and the Introductory Psychology class learn about the major theorists in developmental psychology: Jean Piaget, for his theory of cognitive development; Eric Erikson, for stages of social development; and Lawrence Kohlberg for stages of moral development. In learning about Piaget, Mr. Leath and Ms.Doucette worked with Mrs. Festo, Ms. Regan and the Pre-K students to see if his theories are evident in our four year olds. Is it true that children construct an understanding of their world only when discrepancies arise between their vision of the world and the world they experience?  Do children believe in animism: does the grass have feeling, do they believe in imaginary friends?  Do children at this age understand conservation of matter: can two different shaped containers hold the same amount of liquid? These were the questions the upper-school students wanted to pose to the four year olds. Piaget was very interested in the importance of play to child development, and our play-based program resonated with what the upper-school students were learning. When the upper schoolers and the four year olds met, there was tremendous excitement on both sides. The Pre-K students were thrilled to see that these students were so interested in their “play,” and were willing to interact with them on the playground. The upper-school students came up with their own questions and shared those with both groups of teachers before presenting to the students. They spent 20 minutes watching and interacting with the students. Their role was to be objective in what they were seeing and then to write a paper describing the information they gathered. In his paper, Matthew Molinelli described his conversation:

  • “When asked if she had an imaginary friend, she excitedly answered that she does have an imaginary friend named Penelope. When asked what Penelope was doing at the moment, the girl replied that Penelope was sleeping in. The topic was revisited about five minutes later with the same question. The second reply described that Penelope was waking up and getting out of bed. Finally, she was asked what Penelope was like, to which she replied that Penelope was 'happy' and 'nice.' The girl demonstrates her imagination by her beliefs that Penelope does actions and has characteristics like a real person."
After six years of informal conversations with the Pre-K students, Ms. Doucette has accumulated a great deal of data with mixed results. In some instances, the students reflected Piaget’s stages of development, but in many instances, the students found that Piaget underestimated the age in which children can do things. For instance, when asked about an abstract - such as what is love? -  One student responded, “I will give you a hug.” Four year olds can indeed converse about an abstract; Piaget’s stages are cut and dry, but there is more than one viewpoint! For the upper-school students, the opportunity to interact with the Pre-K children makes the theoretical easier to understand. When they see it “played out” in front them and they have lived it, it becomes a deeper memory…. and they shared that they loved doing it! In a school community such as ours, being able to take advantage of all our resources is important, and making it fun for both groups is an added bonus for everyone.