Teachers prepare for all-day kindergarten

The teachers – Joanna Bacon, Donna Niland and Amanda Benson – have decades of teaching ex­perience among them, but they are especially excited at the start of this school year.

The three are Clark School kindergarten teachers, and this year in Amherst, kindergarten has become a full-day program. The teachers say the expanded pro­gram gives them the pre­cious gift of time.

On a recent weekday, they were in their class­rooms getting ready for the school opening on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

"We are just so thrilled it’s here," said Niland, because the extra time will allow for play-based learning.

Their classrooms all have a new play kitchen set where the children can be a home cook or a restaurant chef, measur­ing out ingredients and serving one other.

Science and social studies are weaved into the kitchen play, Niland said, as the children try out, for example, run­ning a doughnut shop or a pizza shop.

"It’s neat just to watch them figure it out," Ni­land said.

The children love sci­ence, Benson said, and the extra time will allow them to do things like experiment with snow in the winter. And WMUR head meteorologist Kev­in Skarupa will visit this fall.

With half-day kinder­garten, the children would have a math block in the morning class and wait until the next day to apply what they’ve learned.

Now, the teachers said, they can apply it in the afternoon, when it’s still fresh in their minds.

"It’s going to be great," Niland said.

And there will be more time to build social skills, the teachers said, as well as stamina, and give the 5-year-olds opportunities for music, art and gym.

"We were so limited in time," said Benson, who is beginning her fourth year of teaching kinder­garten in Amherst.

With the extra class­room time, instead of just giving the children information, "We can let them explore and learn on their own," she said and repeated the mantra of full-day kindergarten proponents: "Kindergar­ten is the new first grade," because academic and so­cial expectations for five-year-olds have increased enormously over the past decades.

But all three teachers also say children that age are delightful students – open to each other, ex­cited to learn and full of energy.

This is Bacon’s first year of teaching kinder­garten, but her 16th year of teaching.

"I’m a big advocate of change," she said. "It builds character."

Another big change for the children will be eat­ing lunch with the entire school. It will be served at Clark for the first time this year, with food brought from the Wilkins School cafeteria.

"The team is so ready to embrace full-day kin­dergarten," Bacon said, and the six teachers – the other three are Jennifer Marcella, Kirsten Quinn and Brittney Doyle – met together for a week last month to put together a schedule.

SAU 39 is the only district in the area to have free public, all-day kindergarten. Last year, Principal Gerry St. Amand and other school officials said they were committed to the program and to starting it with no budget impact. Funds came from shifting staff and resources from one area to another.

In 2015, declining en­rollments allowed Mont Vernon to expand its kin­dergarten program with­out a spending increase.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.