Sarah Austin and Kara Gall, teachers in the Saline school district’s Young 5’s program, gave a presentation at the Feb. 27 meeting of the Saline Area Schools Board of Education about how the program prepares children for kindergarten.
The program is open to children in the school district who have birthdays between Aug. 1 and Dec. 1. These children would be eligible for kindergarten, but, in some cases, a screening assessment indicates the Young 5s program is more suited to a pupil’s academic and social skills.
The Young 5’s teachers opened the school year with a family picnic in early September so that pupils and families could socialize and get to know one another.
“It was a really good start to the year, building community, and some friendships started right away,” Gall said.
Austin, who teaches at Pleasant Ridge, and Gall, who teaches at Harvest, noted that the play-based curriculum incorporates both social and emotional development and age-appropriate academic development.
“Young children learn best through play and lots of hands-on activities,” Gall said.
A typical day in a Young 5’s classroom might start with a morning meeting where students can greet each other, sing songs, and share good news with one another. As the day progresses, students take part in hands-on literacy activities, like learning to write upper-case letters, math activities, rest time, and snacks.
Gall and Austin emphasized that the Young 5s program was fully-integrated with the rest of the student body in the buildings where the Young 5s program is taught, so they get lunch, recess, and “specials” that consist of gym, music, art, Spanish, and media/library, just like pupils in the higher grades. They also go on several field trips during the school year.
Austin said that her pupils also work on social and emotional skills that the school district emphasizes. For instance, when it came time to work on “growth mindset,” she had pupils draw a picture of a skill they wanted to get better at on a “grow your brain” hat that they could then wear.
They also try to incorporate current events into classroom lessons, and recently wrapped up a two-week unit on the Winter Olympics. To tie the children’s interest in the Olympics into literacy, for instance, they used their fingers to “ice skate” over a paper “ice rink” to practice drawing their letters.
“It’s a more fun, hands-on way to practice skills,” Austin said.
Gall and Austin noted that pupils in the Young 5’s program are also working on positive student attributes the school district encourages, such as being “motivated and self-directed.”
“It has been a phenomenal experience, watching them learn through each other and bounce ideas off of each other,” Gall said.
Registration for the 2018-2019 Young 5's program takes place March 20 at Saline Middle School.
See the attached slideshow for more pictures of the Young 5's in action.