Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Social benefits and wounded dinosaurs
A look at Reek School’s 3K program

by Steve Targo

May 02, 2013

LINN — 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.

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.

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.

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.