MASSENA - Its Friday morning and things are going buggy in Christina Lashombs full-day pre-kindergarten classroom.
Its Bug Week, Ms. Lashomb said as the young students sat at different centers and worked on various projects - everything from assembling plastic bugs using a Cootie game, to putting other plastic bugs into a jar and counting how many the container holds.
Ms. Lashomb was there to help them, along with parents Rich and Heather Gardner, who volunteer to come into the classroom and assist about once a month. Their son, Aiden, is a student in the class.
I feel its education for all of us. Its a chance to see how they interact. Sometimes its hard to find time, but theyre our kids, Mr. Gardner said.
They get a feel for what a child is learning, Ms. Lashomb said.
The students had also spent part of bug week outside collecting the little buggers and then examining them with magnifying glasses.
One of them wanted to know what a praying mantis was, Ms. Lashomb said, so they used that opportunity to look it up and share it with all the students.
Trinitys pre-kindergarten program, which is still taking enrollment for the 2014-15 year, uses activities like Bug Week to prepare students for the rigors theyll face in kindergarten and the years beyond, according to Ms. Lashomb and fellow pre-kindergarten teacher Kim Stewart. Theyre learning science, math and English language arts along the way.
The school offers both a half-day and full-day pre-kindergarten program for students who are 4 years old by Dec. 1. Ms. Stewart is in charge of the half-day program and then assists Ms. Lashomb the remainder of the day.
Principal Kathy Behrens said pre-kindergarten is a valuable experience to get students ready for the rest of their educational careers, and their full-day program is affordable at $56 a week - compared to the average $175 a week parents spend for child care. Parents can pay on a monthly plan, she said.
Inside the classrooms, Ms. Stewart and Ms. Lashomb are engaging students in a fun, but educational way through a number of activities, including free play.
They play with whatever thing they want, Ms. Stewart said.
They can play with Play-Doh or whatever they want, Ms. Lashomb added.
The classrooms have centers throughout the room, where students can take part in individual activities before moving into a group setting.
In the beginning we introduce them to certain rules. Then they know what to do, Ms. Lashomb said.
Theres also calendar time, which helps to reinforce numbers and letters, as well as a discussion of the weather and the reading of a story during circle time.
We read a story that goes with the theme, Ms. Stewart said. We go by New York state standards. It also ties in to math and science.
We introduce ELA and they learn the sounds, Ms. Lashomb said.
Theres also a focus on learning to play together, but also with elements of the state standards, such as through the Bug Week activities in Ms. Lashombs classroom or a study of the human body through games and other activities in Ms. Stewarts room.
We have some kind of activity to bring it all together, Ms. Lashomb said.
They dont even know theres math and ELA, Ms. Stewart said.
The students also have opportunities to participate in the special areas - physical education, library, music and art - and a computer room allows them to use the latest interactive technology.
She said theyve ever gone on fossil hunts for dinosaurs, using chicken bones instead, and then take those bones to the science lab set up by Sister Judy to analyze them.
They put their trays up, wash (the bones) and inspect them with a magnifying glass. They thought they found dinosaur bones, she said.
Right now students in Ms. Stewarts and Ms. Lashombs classrooms are anxiously waiting for baby chicks to hatch from eggs in an incubator. The eggs and incubator were donated to the school. Ms. Stewart said they told the students that the eggs containing the yet-to-be-hatched chicks can hear, so some students have sat next to the incubator and read a story to them.
The schedule also allows time for students in grades four, five and six to come down and read to the younger students. Those students also joined the pre-kindergarten students for a Thanksgiving feast and sit with them in church.
Ms. Stewarts students are done for the day at 11 a.m., and then she assists Ms. Lashomb with her full-day program that has an afternoon focus on gross motor skills through outdoor or indoor play activities. Students take part in a play activity, have lunch and then go back outside. If its raining, they can still be active with bicycles riding up and down the hallway and bouncing balls inside the school.
Its an extra opportunity for fresh air, Ms. Lashomb said.
When you start at the younger level, thats where youre making it fun. A lot of it for me is socialization, getting along with others, listening to authority and dealing with their emotions, Ms. Stewart said.
She said, as a Catholic school, they also have the opportunity to pray together.
I love it because were free to talk about our religion. Its a loving atmosphere, she said.
No matter what the activity, the students are ready to learn, Ms. Stewart said.
When theyre 4 and 5, whatever you teach, they want to learn, she said.
And that helps them when they enter kindergarten, she added.
We take a year here to teach them to sit and listen to the teacher. Theyve been exposed to the alphabet, numbers and writing them. Theyre blending sounds. They know how to deal with each other, Ms. Stewart said.
It prepares them for school. It really gives them a step ahead. They get used to the routine, they get used to school. When theyre in kindergarten theyre not afraid. Theyre used to the teachers. This is their attitude for the rest of their school life, Ms. Lashomb said.
For more information about Trinitys pre-kindergarten program, call the school at 769-5911.