(by Karen Campbell, Weakley County Schools Communications Director)
To some, it may look like a magical box filled with wonders and the keys to explore lands previously unknown. To others, it may simply be a clear plastic tub stocked with scissors, glue stick, markers, crayons, pencils, pompoms, cubes, dice, dry erase boards, magnetic letters and more. To all the parents of preschools enrolled in Weakley County Schools, it’s become a means for learning to continue outside the classroom.
“We need a shift in our culture,” said WCS Instructional Supervisor Terri Stephenson. “For us to see children reading at a level to ensure future success, our parents must embrace reading with our students at home. Our preschool model is attempting to guide families and help them make a habit of what they are introduced to in the classroom.”
Last summer, as Weakley County Schools’ administration considered how to address the numerous unknowns of education during a pandemic, the preschool, kindergarten and elementary staff developed an educational toolkit. Knowing that many parts of the county had low to no access to the internet and that, at the time and due to a national shortage, furnishing laptops for all those in need was not an option, educators began to build a resource center in a box. The goal was to create a means by which students could learn at home should another closure occur.
The preschool team, led by Stephenson and preschool parent consultant Karen Fowler, saw an opportunity-in-the-making. Rather than leave the kits on a “just-in-case” shelf in the preschool classrooms, Fowler developed weekly activities, using the kit’s materials, that would reinforce the reading, math and life skills lessons preschool teachers were introducing.
“Not only was this an opportunity for us to share what the children are experiencing at school, the toolkits provide each family with developmentally appropriate ‘tools’ to practice skills and learning activities at home. This will provide support to families as they prepare for kindergarten,” noted Fowler.
Activities with step-by-step instructions, pictures with the items needed for the activity, and video guidance from an online group made up solely of teachers and preschool parents combine to help children answer questions such as “how many?” and discover letters and shapes around the house. Social and emotional development can be honed as parents and children talk about and name their feelings and receive reminders like the value of repeating, “I didn’t get my way but I am still ok.” Strengthening fine motor skills — which will help children with holding a pencil for writing – is accomplished via beads and a string or as students hold the provided tweezers and count out pompoms onto a paper plate.
“As the Tennessee legislature take up issues such as learning loss during the COVID-19 crisis, we are prepared to do our part, put in the additional hours, create the camps and staff them, etc.,” explained Stephenson. “But making up for what the pandemic has taken will require a coordinated effort.”
Fowler adds, “We are not asking parents to become trained educators, but we are relying on them to be our partners.”
Along with the toolkits, parents of preschoolers through third grade students are also receiving texts throughout the week on their cell phones. The periodic messages are part of Ready4K, a research-based text messaging program produced by the Tennessee Department of Education to help bridge the gap between school and home.
(photo: Preschool Parent Consultant Karen Fowler (left) and Weakley County Instructional Supervisor Terri Stephenson are seen here with materials preschool parents have received thus far in their educational toolkits. The small table displays the kit’s original contents – markers, crayons, a white board, and more. The two longer tables contain the activities that have been sent home each week to help families reinforce learning in the preschool classroom.)