Creating lifelong learners through early education

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:21

    The New York Times recently published an article by Soni Sangha, “The PreK Underground,” that set off a maelstrom of conversations about pre-school education. Scores of readers commenting on the article carried the conversation into their own neighborhoods as well, sometimes echoing her concern—often chiding it—but in every case, the author and readers alike remind us what a charged moment it is finding the right educational and environmental fit for preschool-aged children. The mothers behind MOMS Club of Warwick have taken their own admirable response to this question and Tuxedo Park School is honored to be included at the Preschool Fair at Albert Wisner Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 21. Early literacy Children are still so young at this preschool stage, and while parents have diverging opinions as to what is right for their child, what all parents share is the optimism that this little person, this tabula rasa, is full of promise and potential and that our main jobs as parents is do what we can to set them up for success. The single most democratizing element of education—whether we ultimately choose public or private, charter or coop—is early literacy. This is a determining factor in educational success: early access to books, and being read to; socialization and becoming an independent human being. We need to set our children on that path, but exactly which journey are we planning for them? One that leads to esteemed secondary schools? One that mirrors our own education? One that guarantees future academic and financial success? Early childhood education is important—immeasurably important—but not necessarily for the reasons most popularly espoused. Preschool will not guarantee your child an advanced degree from MIT, but it will engage his mind while it is at its most nimble stage, setting in patterns for learning and social interaction that will endure his entire life. Joining a community of peers early in life will inspire her best self, even as she’s discovering exactly who that self is; it will build her character and promote a lifelong love of learning. Bien sûr At Tuxedo Park School we take great pride in the program we offer 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds within our primary school division, nurturing classes led by gifted teachers who understand the importance of planting the early seeds of learning. With low classroom ratios of six to one, students have access to the enriched curriculum afforded by a larger school setting, while still remaining in the early childhood program at TPS - the best of both worlds. This is a place where they can have their thoughts and opinions heard and where they are known and valued; they also have French twice a week, science with a specialist in a science lab designed for young children, art projects of every stripe, interaction with older “buddies” from the upper school, music with our school musical director, story-time and pre-literacy skills, PE with our athletic director and coaches, and participation in a community where they learn to wait their turn and eat in group settings. Parents have ample opportunity for class participation with their children, and daily newsletters are sent home by the teachers with detailed accounts of the day’s activities. In a December 2011 newsletter, Brian Koscuiszka wrote about the “Pre-K Museum” created by his students where they each created exhibits about themselves, including photos, favorite stories, drawings. The “exhibitions” were part of the Culture Studies program playing out in the primary school, a month-long immersion in a foreign country—Germany, India, Italy and Egypt among them. The primary school children learned about the people, food, traditions, language, art, attire, history, dance and music of their respective nations, the latter two cultural components manifesting themselves in an hour-long concert that was opened with two songs sung by our preschoolers. The ability of these 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds to sing and dance in an auditorium filled with parents and 200 students from grades K through 9 would seem daunting were it not for the sustained level of high functioning they exhibit daily in their classes. For these bright, engaged little people, the morning’s performance was just par for the course. 'Our rules’ At Tuxedo Park School, our Pre-K program fosters lifelong learners by engaging their cognitive, social, physical and emotional development with creative experiences that tap into all five senses. In the Pre-K 3 class of Quenby Frimet, problem solving, language development, emotional expression and exploration take place with their work at the water/sand table, blocks, dramatic play, woodworking, math, writing and drawing, games and art. Story time and circle time encourage speaking and listening skills, while ownership over their environment and personal responsibility are learned through daily jobs in the classroom and a mastery of class rules. Koscuiszka’s class decided to “write” their own rules as part of the process of learning the basic tenants we uphold at TPS: “Be Kind; Be Fair; Be Responsible.” They came up with 26 rules, and then decided that this was too many too remember, and that many of their rules spoke about the same topics. Ultimately the students decide they would “smush” them together into four rules which ended up sounding a lot like the TPS school tenants. “By involving them in the process of rule-making,” said Koscuiszka,“ it gave them a better sense of ownership and understanding of the rules themselves, rather than seeing them as arbitrary and just handed down from the adults.” Safety is something every parent thinks about when deciding where to enroll their children, and at our school, that safety comes from more than just the community in which TPS is located. It comes just as much from within the school, and from the children themselves. They begin their journey to becoming good citizens and lifelong learners from day one. Kathleen McNamara is the Tuxedo Park School’s Head of School. If you go MOMS Club of Warwick is hosting a preschool fair at the Albert Wisner Public Library in Warwick on Saturday, Jan. 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This is an opportunity to meet the staff and gather information about programs at 19 schools from Warwick, Sugar Loaf, Greenwood Lake, Florida and Vernon, N.J. For more information, contact Karen Tuscano at 845-538-3169 or