TYLER WEEKS SHOWS Allison Watson the picture he drew for Ronda Davis, Reek’s administrative assistant. Steve Targo. (click for larger version)
April 30, 2013 | 02:21 PMLINN — The 3-year-olds were moving toy figurines around a plastic castle in the center of a blue circular rug. The voice of a boy playing with a toy dinosaur rose above the enthusiastic din of playtime talk — children speaking in whatever voices they imagine their toys to have if they could talk. His face grew red as talking loud became something more akin to screaming.
"Excuse me," Allison Watson said before she calmly addressed the boy: "Make good choices, please."
The boy stopped. He left the group to play with another girl who also was playing with a dinosaur. Playtime talk from the other children became whispers.
Watson didn't raise her voice. She didn't point at anyone, nor did she separate the boy from the group. Actually, he chose that on his own. The boy and the girl decided their dinosaur toys needed medical attention because they have sore legs, so off they went to find an imaginary doctor.
"They have the most wonderful imaginations," Watson said about her students.
She is this year's new 3-year-old kindergarten teacher at Reek School.
Yes, 3-year-old kindergarten.
In an April 25 email, Reek Principal Samantha Polek said Reek's 3K program began in the 2003-04 school year.
"At that time, no preschool or day care programs were available in the local community," Polek said.
See related sidebar for more from Polek.
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This may be the only preschool program offered by a public school in the Lake Geneva area. There is a 3K program in the Milwaukee Public Schools District. Some are talking about bringing such a program to their schools.
Polek and Watson said Reek's 3K program is popular. According to Watson, there are 22 children enrolled in 3K. There are two sessions a day, and each session lasts 2-1/2 hours. A maximum of eight children are allowed per session.
"It's wonderful," Watson said. "Kids can come in and learn how to be in a school setting before the rigors of school take hold."
The social aspects are a "cheap benefit," she said.
"Maybe kids who don't have siblings at home come in here and they can learn how to share and talk to anyone," Watson said.
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The hardest part, she said, for both students and their parents is the separation.
"To know they're going to be safe on that first day is very hard," Watson said. "Because they don't know me. I'm a stranger to them, at first. It's also hard for the parents, but I have to say, all of my parents handle it really well."
Is it too early to start children in school?
Watson said it's more like day care than school, only with a curriculum.
She said a typical day starts with "free choice" or play time. Then, there's a group game, such as Simon Says, followed by "circle time" — a story combined with "academic sitting-down time," she said.
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For example, on April 24, the Watson read "Tessa Tiger's Temper Tantrums." Then, students colored a tiger. She said the goal is to reinforce basics lessons — learning to rhyme, the calendar, shapes, colors, "lots of counting."
Although children aren't graded, it's academic.
"I'd say it's unique in that we're in a school setting and we have high standards for kids," Watson said.
Then there are social lessons. She said her 3K class is its own "little community," that her students learn to take care of each other as well as themselves.
"I really strive to have children be advocates for themselves," Watson said, adding that she emphasizes how if they need something, they must use words to communicate. "These children, they take care of each other, they're concerned about each other (and) they really understand they need to take care of themselves and their friends, then everything else falls into place."
But April 24 wasn't a typical day for 3K. Watson had her students make cards for Ronda Davis, Reek's administrative assistant, for Administrative Professionals Day.
One boy drew Davis a refrigerator.
A girl made a pink playground out of crayons.
Another boy finished before his classmates. He asked if he could play. Watson said he could play with any toy, except "no wings and no wheels."
A minute later, he asked Watson for his green guy. She said normally, she doesn't allow children to bring in toys from home, but in the case of a child struggling with parental separation, she makes exceptions.
Watson, prior to Reek, was a substitute teacher in emotional behavior disabilities classes. A point of interest for her is child psychology.
As such, she said she knows children don't just act up because they can.
"There's always a reason," Watson said.
Q&A: Principal Samantha Polek about 3K
Tags: Geneva Linn, News Page
Regional News: How long has Reek's 3K program been offered? Why was it started?
Samantha Polek: The Reek 3K program began in the 2003-04 school year. At that time, no preschool or day care programs were available in the local community. Reek School offered the 3K program as a service to those parents and students who needed day care. Many of the parents who participated were teachers at various schools in the Geneva Lake area. The program developed from a day care into more of a preschool (program), meaning attention was given to a structured academic day.
RN: What do you see to be its main benefit?
SP: I see several benefits to our 3K program. The program allows children to develop their academic, motor and social skills in a nurturing environment. Each day brings a wide range of stimulating activities. We encourage children to explore their natural sense of wonder, discover their creative spirit, and develop an awareness of themselves and others. The 3K curriculum is based on the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards. Phonemic and numeric awareness skills are integrated into daily activities. Manners and friendships are emphasized as an important part of developing social skills. Students are challenged in ways that promote independent and creative thinking.
RN: Is it popular?
SP: The 3K program is popular and tends to fill up each year since the program is limited to only eight students a (session). Parents may choose to bring their child two, three or five days a week, depending on their schedules.
RN: What makes Reek's 3K program unique?
SP: (It's) the quality of the instruction. Children are ready for future learning because they have developed a solid base through the 3K program. Our 3K students develop the social skills they need for success in a school environment. Children often need help with learning how to share toys and food, wait their turn, listen to others, and make positive choices with behavior. Plus they have lots of fun and learn to love school.