By Sheila Ring and Justin Davey
For the 2020-2021 school year, the Agar-Blunt-Onida school district launched a district-wide preschool initiative. The district contracted with Kristen Kinney of Little Chargers Preschool to provide preschool instruction to Onida students. In Blunt, preschoolers combine with kindergartners and receive instruction from Blunt Grades Pre-K/Kindergarten instructor Elaine Erickson.
“Everything goes together in pre-school and kindergarten,” said Erickson about the seamless nature of combining the two groups of students.
Increasingly, early childhood education is found to be a factor in students’ later success. Preschool plays an important role in preparing children for kindergarten and elementary school, providing structure and helping children grow their reading and writing skills, learning science , and developing understanding of themselves.
“It’s hard when you’re in a super small community,” said Erickson. “There aren’t a lot of options, and the expectations of kindergarten and higher up are so much more than they used to be. Exposure to preschool prepares them.”
Erickson says that preschool is a child’s and family’s important first impression of school. “Parents are the main educators of their kids. They are the ones who know their kids; I lead them to be able to provide successful experiences and support.”
The program offers different learning ‘themes,’ in which new hands-on activities are based. Some activities included are listening skills, story comprehension, regular recess with older children, and snacks that teach children how important foods and meals are.
“It all goes together,” said Erickson. “Health, safety, and all those things all happen in preschool.”
Among the students enrolled in the preschool in Blunt are several English Language Learners. “We are lucky to have an ELL aide.”
The program is also beneficial to the older students who have the opportunity to role model to their younger peers.
The preschool year came to an end at the beginning of May. “I miss them,” said Erickson, who says that she has received a lot of positive feedback regarding the inaugural preschool year. “The messages from parents were terrific, to just see how much they appreciated everything that we did.”
Erickson is looking forward to fewer COVID restrictions next school year. “It was a hard year with COVID; I want parents involved as much as possible, especially at that preschool level. I love to do family events and have things in the classroom several times a year so I can invite them in, and we just couldn’t do that this year.”