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Early kindergarten early success

NORTH CANAAN — The new early kindergarten program for North Canaan Elementary School’s (NCES) youngest students has proven in its first months to be highly successful.It comes as no surprise to the three teachers who proposed it to the school board last spring. It came with no cost but with plenty of enthusiasm from Leigh Ann Merrill, Ashley DeMazza and Melissa Bachetti. Back then, they spent a large part of each school day dealing with the wide disparity in academic and social readiness among the 4- to 6-year-olds.There was talk last year of moving up the state’s school enrollment cutoff date from Jan. 1. It was a potential solution, but did not make it through the legislature.But that no longer matters at NCES.“We now have the flexibility to do what’s right for each child,” said Merrill, who has 12 children in her early kindergarten class. “The focus is on enhanced social, emotional and cognitive growth.”Since September, one child has proven himself ready and was moved into kindergarten. A kindergartner unable to meet challenges there has been moved to early kindergarten. The teachers decided not to move children after the first of the year, saying they will be able to make assessments very early on. The curriculum in early kindergarten, as promised, is very different from what children are doing in kindergarten. Fine and gross motor control practice is a major part of it. Various activities, including coloring and cutting, build the control and muscle strength needed for writing. Reading readiness is about letters, beginning sounds, sight words and rhymes. Math looks at numbers, shapes and patterns. The Second Step behavioral program is followed. Students go to gym, art, music and library classes, and join the two kindergarten classes for lunch and recess. Learning often comes through singing, dancing and acting, which helps very young students stay focused, Merrill said.“It’s all hands on and interactive. We’re getting on the floor and building and playing. We’re out searching the school grounds for squirrels. We like to take walking trips, and plan to go to the pet store and for pizza.”DeMazza said it has greatly improved the “quality of life” in kindergarten, where teachers no longer have to put a lot of energy into helping the 4-year-olds keep up. It literally puts everyone on the same page.“Things are very calm. The overall development of the kids is much closer,” DeMazza said.Bachetti agreed that the cognitive difference they are seeing is significant, and said the change affords the time for the classes to delve deeper and find a better understanding of what they are studying.Most telling is the difference in stamina. One kindergarten goal is to get children used to staying awake and focused all day. Typically, rest mats are not put away for good until December.This year, while early kindergartners are still napping, the kindergarten rest mats were put away by Oct. 1.

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