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What to expect in preschool: the classroom

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By Diana Townsend-Butterworth

Large motor skills: Children crawl through tunnels, climb and balance, hop and jump, and bounce and dribble balls, developing coordination, balance, and large muscle control. Some classrooms have an area designed especially to encourage the use and development of large muscles. Other preschools will have a separate room with tunnels, balls, and climbing equipment.

Rug: This is where the entire class gathers to listen as the teacher reads a story or explains an upcoming project. Children often begin and end the day on the rug area.

Sensory: One child is experimenting at the water table to find out what floats and what sinks. Another is pouring sand through a funnel into containers of different sizes. Water and sand tables equipped with boats, cups, funnels, and sieves encourage children to explore mediums like water and sand, to understand the physical world, and to develop concepts underlying math and physics.

Science: Plants, classroom pets, and aquariums are found here. One child may plant a seed in a pot, carefully patting down the soil, while another measures the temperature in the aquarium, a third feeds the guinea pig, and a fourth examines a seashell. The teacher puts out interesting objects from nature, such as leaves, rocks, and seashells, for children to examine with a magnifying class, plus paper and markers to draw them.

Computer: Several children are clustered around a computer checking the charts and picture next to it. Some classrooms will have a table against a wall with one or more computers with chairs grouped around them to encourage children to work together. They will stock basic early-learner software such as phonics or counting games.

Outdoor playground: Outside, there will also usually be a safe, enclosed area with structures for climbing and balancing, and balls of different sizes to encourage large muscle control and coordination.

How to help at home

  1. Be familiar with the way your child's classroom is organized. Talk about the various learning areas with your child and ask about the things he likes to do in each one.
  2. An organized home can help your child understand and comply with the organization in his classroom. Talk with her about the way your house is organized: where everything in the kitchen belongs, for example. Encourage him to help put everything away in its proper place.
  3. Help your child to organize his room so that each possession has a special place. Schedule supervised clean-up times every day.

Diana Townsend-Butterworth is a former teacher and head of the junior school at St. Bernard's School in New York City. She is the author of Your Child's First School and Preschool and Your Child.

Comments from readers

"Wow, this was an eye opener. I have my grandaughter in a Florida School Choice supported school. It is owned by a church group under a private LLC and used Title 14 Corporate Tax Scholarship funding. I am not seeing anything like you describe in your article. Should I be alarmed? Being many years since I have had my own children, I am behind in my expectations. I am going to do my best to find a place similar as the one you write about. Thank you so much."
"All of it sounds great but how big is the classroom? How many students are in the classroom? I've seen classrooms that are too small to accommodate the pre-schoolers and kindergartners and the teachers! And all of the above takes place in that small classroom which, believe me, gets really small with everyone and everything in it. Pre-schools that work are the ones that have a main classroom, a music room,a gymnasium, an outdoor playground, a science room and a lunch room. The children move around -- as is their nature. Sound too ideal? Not at all. It's the toddler classroom of the future. I've seen it. It works. Beautifully. "
"I don't think computers are needed. They are bad for kids to develop their own brains and thinking ability . With computers it will be the computers feed them knowledge, not they learn by using their brains."
"Here in Tennessee children are expected to spell or recognize a list of 100 words at the end of 5 K. Does anyone know where to find this list?"
"My daughter will has 4 years old December 12, 2008. She has been with my mother meanwhile I work, She has never been in a day care, Now I think , She needs to be with other children and play with them, I was looking a Day care, learning center, preschool etc, but it is noa easy decision, I cant pay too much but I want a good place, that she learns and plays. I went a preschool?Day care they told me they put her as transition in VPK class, , Do you think this is will be good for her?? my daughter talks a lot (spanish) and she writes some letters in spanish That I was teaching her, if she listens class for VPK now, she wont be bored the next year when she has to attend to VPK, please advice, what will be better for her now, when I have to decide for a preschool , Day care etc thanks"