Sand Springs Four-Years-Old program successful approach to early learning

Thursday, September 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

For thousands of Oklahoma school children, kindergarten is no longer the official start of public education. Most school districts now offer programs for four-year-olds. Sand Springs Schools' four-year-old program is structured around play. Educators say that's as it should be at this age.

However, the play targets activities that are developmentally appropriate for four-year- olds. "Educationally, four-year-olds need human interaction - lots of it,” said Sand Springs Early Childhood Program principal Mercedes Ellis. “They need to be read to, and they need to have a hands-on sensory approach."

There's plenty of hands-on learning going on here with play centers set up in large colorful rooms, offering children a variety of ways to discover through direct experience. Teachers say four year olds are eager learners. "They're just excited to learn, and just like little sponges - just ready to go for it," said teacher Janice Flurry.

Ellis says four-year-old programs are an education trend brought on by a growing need for child care, but also due to the recognition of the importance of early learning. Parent Brenda Rook likes what the program is doing for her son. "He hasn't been to another school, and it's really helping him learn his social skills,” she said. “He has learned to say ‘please and thank you’, and just the basics of starting with school."

Ellis says testing shows students who complete Sand Springs four-year-old program are developmentally ahead of children who don't. Certified teachers lead active two and a half-hour sessions in morning and afternoon. Four-year-olds find plenty to like. "On the days before Saturdays and Sundays, when we have PE,” said student Will Thompson. “I like it when we have PE, and I like Show-n-Tell. I also like treasure box days." Student Marissa Barrett says she's learning new things. "I’m learning about gophers, and mouses," she said.

The goal is to have fun, and to feel good about learning when you're four years of age, in the hope it boosts a successful school start that continues with throughout the student’s educational career. There was a waiting list for the 180 openings in the Sand Springs' four-year-old program. The district hopes to expand it in the near future. Enrollment for next year opens in February.