Learning through play at Mapleton’s new preschool

Teacher Amber Tucker interacts with Mapleton students in the nearly complete preschool classroom during the district’s open house on Sept. 12.

District to begin preschool in October 2019

Sept. 14, 2019 — The Mapleton School District held its annual open house and barbecue on Thursday night, as hundreds of students and family members gathered to officially celebrate the start of the school year.

Students feasting on hot dogs and hamburgers walked through the Mapleton campus, looking into the classrooms that they will be calling home for the next nine months. But there was one classroom that was being was unveiled for the very first time — the district’s new preschool, which is expected to officially open the beginning of October.

“We’re not ready yet,” preschool teacher Amber Tucker said as she walked through the classroom. “We’ve got some missing pieces, but they’re on their way! We’re getting closer and closer. It’s very exciting.”

Tucker, along with her assistant Natalie Ross, were getting to know the students as they walked in and played in the multiple stations that had been set up — the most popular of which was the kitchen area in the dramatic play station.

“Children learn through play. Play is their work,” Tucker said as she went through what a student’s day will be. The first was the mud room.

“They’ll come in and put things away, change from their outdoor shoes into their indoor shoes,” Tucker said. “As a preschooler, learning how to take your shoes on and off and your jacket on and off is part of learning. So we’re going to make that a really special thing to do.”

The students will then go to the meet-and-greet carpet where the class will do ‘hello’ and ‘good morning songs,’ as well as look over the calendar to see what to expect.

“Then we’ll go from there to our first work period,” Tucker said. “And our work period will be a free choice of what are you going to do today. Every child will have a list of things they’re going to get done each day. They need to do some language and writing, they need to do some science, some dramatic play and art.”

This is where the stations come in. There was a writing center with paper, crayons and “opportunities to do all sorts of work with language and literacy,” Tucker said.

The class also has a library, a math and science center.

“And we have a lot of manipulatives and puzzles,” said Tucker. “Things to put together to work with their hands. Anything to do with shapes and buildings and numbers is going to be math work. Building the muscles to create good motor schools. Some kids won’t be able to do a pencil or a crayon just yet, but they’ll learn really quickly with opportunities like chopsticks and moving from one thing to another. That’s meaningful work for them, and it’s a work they can take off the shelf and do on their own.”

And then there was the art area, which included sensory play. The work time here will be free form, with students able to take on their own projects.

“We want to support them, and these are expectations. If they only want to do one puzzle for math, that’s okay. And they want to spend 45 minutes in writing, that’s the absorbent mind. The mind is open to that right now, so we want to give them as much as they can. But the options are out there and we want to encourage them to do a bit of everything. So that would be our first work period,” Tucker said.

After that, the preschool class will head outside and walk through the various paths that surround the wooded district.

“We’re taking a nature walk every day,” Tucker said, “We’ll observe the world around us outside. And then have a snack, come back in, do some story time.”

Tucker and Ross are still working out the hours, and lunch will fit in around this time.

“Our long-term goal is to have all the four-year-olds fully integrated into the cafeteria for lunch so they know what to expect when they go to kindergarten. We’re working on the piece, because it will help with the kindergarten readiness,” Tucker said.

After that, there’s more work time and then a rest time.

“Well, it’s quiet time. You can fall asleep if you like, but if you don’t want to, you can do quiet work. We’ll see what kids prefer, and we’ll work with that,” she said.

Planning out the long day is still a work in progress for Tucker, since Mapleton’s six-hour day is longer than the typical half-day preschool.

“Preschool can’t be rigid,” she said. “You just have to be flexible. When I get to know my kids in this class and see what works for them, we’ll figure it out. And I am excited to figure that out.”

For more information, visit mapleton.k12.or.us.

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