Commissioner Makin Visits Oxford Elementary in Celebration of the Week of the Young Child

As part of the Maine Department of Education’s celebration of the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Week of the Young Child, Commissioner Pender Makin visited pre-k and kindergarten classrooms at Oxford Elementary School.

The Week of the Young Child provides an opportunity to shine a light on the importance of early learning and to focus attention on the needs of young children, their teachers, families, and communities.

During Makin’s visit, Pre-K students were exploring concepts related to shadows and reflections in centers they could self-select, which included activities such as testing how light can pass through materials, experimenting with materials to see which produce reflections and which do not, and creating pieces of artwork using materials with reflective properties.

In Kindergarten classrooms, children were engaged in a unit of study focused on construction in which they were reading and discussing books related to the topic, exploring engineering concepts through hands-on activities, and working as a classroom community to design a building project that could benefit their community. In one Kindergarten class, students were designing a hotel for homeless families that included a dog park.

Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms in the Oxford Hills School System utilize whole student, interdisciplinary instructional programs that the Maine DOE, in collaboration with Maine educators, have adapted for Maine using work originally developed by the Boston Public School System.  Both instructional programs are content rich (aligned to Maine’s learning standards) and are designed around opportunity for structured play.

Oxford Elementary’s Literacy Coach, Kim Desjardins pointed out, “When we ask adults what they remember from their Kindergarten experience, most will reply they remember ‘playing’ with blocks or ‘playing’ in the kitchen. The word play is a powerful word that has been lost in our Kindergarten curriculum for many years. Young children are born to play and interact with each other. K For ME encourages students to inquire about the world, participate in deep conversations to problem solve and work with others to develop social skills. Our students love to come to school and learn!”

The Pre-K for ME and K for ME programs are open source and are used in a growing number of Maine schools, including Oxford Hills where Kindergarten teachers were part of a 2-year pilot that helped inform adaptation of the program for use by other Maine schools.

Oxford Elementary Principal, Tiffany Karnes, shared, “It is such a joy to go into a Kindergarten or Pre-K classroom and hear the conversations students are having with each other as they engage in their center work.  Whether it is in the dramatic play area or the block area, students are using their imaginations and incorporating the vocabulary they have learned.  They are building wolf dens when they are learning about animal habitats or dressing up as characters from a book that they have heard during read-aloud and acting out their story.  The level of oral language and increase in vocabulary that we are seeing far exceeds anything we have seen in the past.

Principal Karnes elaborated, “The K for ME curriculum has been a game-changer for our kindergarten students and teachers.  Prior to implementing K for ME, our kindergarten students were struggling with behaviors and were not making the academic progress we wanted.  Students were coming from a play-based Pre-K for ME classroom into a traditional kindergarten classroom and the seat time, the lack of structured play and other academic demands were very stressful for both students and teachers. Once we started to implement K for ME, we saw increased engagement, improved language development, and higher academic achievement.  Students and teachers were happier, and parents commented on how impressed they were with all that their children were learning.”

For more information about the Maine Department of Education’s early learning efforts, including Pre-K for ME and K for ME, contact Lee Anne Larsen, Early Learning Team Coordinator at leeann.larsen@maine.gov.