When parents are considering independent early pre-kindergarten (pre-K) alongside local preschool or childcare programs, many often peg academics as the main difference between these options. For some, that can sound like a worrisome prospect for their barely four-year-old child.
But at Shore, says Lower School Head Sara Knox, the story is much richer, and far from scary. “It’s really not about pushing academic expectations earlier and earlier,” explains Knox, who oversees the school’s programs from Pre-K through Grade 5 and herself has children in Kindergarten and Grade 1. “It’s about getting a head start in learning what to expect from a healthy school environment—everything from how to be involved in a discussion and share the floor with others, to taking creative risks and even learning how to navigate campus and interact with older students."
Those early pre-K advantages will soon be available to more families across the region, when Shore opens an expanded indoor/outdoor pre-K facility for the start of the 2017-18 school year. Along with a larger physical pre-K footprint on the school’s 17-acre campus will come a broader, two-tiered program with more scheduling choices to serve the increasing number of families looking for flexible options for their children.
According to veteran Pre-K teacher Beth White, “Shore experimented with enrolling a handful of very young students in the existing Pre-K class beginning a few years ago, and the innovation has been so successful that it’s now possible for us to build out two distinct but connected programs. I’m thrilled to see the demand for this kind of learning take off, and I think parents will love what they find here.”
The benefits of starting pre-K early are proven, says Knox, and there's plenty of evidence in Shore's own program to support an early start, just when children are turning four. “Children with earlier school experience gain confidence that others don’t develop until they make the transition from preschool or childcare at age five. In our program, students who started early are easy to spot: they have a much more developed awareness about themselves and the people around them, they tend to look out for their peers, and in many ways they serve as role models in their class. I like to call them ‘little leaders.’”
For the fall of 2017, parents of very young four-year-olds will be able to enroll their child in a half- or full-day Pre-K 1 program, which will exist alongside a well-regarded Pre-K 2 offering. “It’s an ideal choice for those families who are looking ahead for the long haul; they see Pre-K 1 as the start of what can be an 11- or 12-year process here at Shore,” Knox says.
Once you’re in at that early stage, she explains, you can be in to stay. “You and your child don’t have to make a big transition from an outside preschool to another pre-K program, and then another major transition into Shore. It allows a child to start right here, and then simply see the school get bigger and bigger in their eyes as they get older.”
According to Director of Admissions Daphne Faldi, “The number of inquiries we've received this fall about our early learning programs is incredibly encouraging, and I'm looking forward to talking to families about this fantastic expanded offering.” Faldi encourages parents with children who will be turning four in 2017 to contact Shore now about Pre-K 1 availability.
Beyond the expanded program families will find a completely revamped Pre-K 1 learning space, which will open directly onto a dedicated outdoor area designed specifically to encourage exploration and discovery. “Outdoor education is increasingly part of our curriculum at every age,” explains Knox, “and for the youngest learners, research shows there’s nothing like being outdoors to inspire open-ended investigation, creativity, and wonder.”
The new outdoor learning environment will integrate Pre-K more securely within Shore's robust continuum of outdoor and experiential education, which stretches all the way to ninth grade in the form of overnight excursions, weeklong wilderness adventures, and everything in between.
It will also align Shore's early learning program even more closely with the best research and writing about the benefits of learning through outdoor experiences
. Outdoor play, ropes courses, wilderness challenges, hiking, group games, and even camp chores such as preparing food for peers and digging outdoor latrines are now seen as not just activities to enjoy or challenges to be endured, but as rich intellectual, social, and emotional experiences that pay big educational dividends, and help children acquire critical skills such as resilience and cooperation which they draw upon all year long.
At the youngest ages, education writers such as Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, make a direct connection between unstructured outdoor time in natural environments and creativity, social connections, empathy, and even self-control.
In Sara Knox's view, it's all about nurturing the best balance of experiences for the earliest learners. “Connecting a new outdoor space to the Pre-K 1 area will literally open up new ways for us to tend to children's social and emotional needs, while building on the strong academic foundation that we’re known for.”
Inquiries and applications for Shore's Pre-K programs are new being accepted at www.shoreschool.org/admissions