Vir­tual kinder­garten

North Penn Life - - FRONT PAGE - By Jennifer Law­son jlaw­son@jour­nal­reg­is­ter.com

They’re the youngest stu­dents in school, but Rose­mary Hilsey’s kinder­garten class at Gwynedd Square El­e­men­tary School were the big kids April 16 when they used Skype to give preschool­ers the scoop on what kinder­garten is re­ally like.

With tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance from Brett Baker, the dis­trict’s e-learn­ing coach, preschool­ers at Mont­gomery County Head Start in Lans­dale got their first glimpse of a kinder­garten class­room and learned about de­tails that are im­por­tant to them, such as lunch.

Stand­ing in front of the cam­era set up in the preschool class, one of the chil­dren asked the kinder­gart­ners: “Do you eat lunch in kinder­garten?”

Hilsey’s class, gath­ered in front of a mon­i­tor with a cam­era also trained on them, replied in unison: “No!”

“You eat lunch at Head Start, right?” Baker said. “In kinder­garten, they’re only at school for a few hours, so they eat break­fast at home, then they’re home in time for lunch.”

The vir­tual meet-and­greets came as a re­sult of the $1.17 mil­lion fed­eral Key­stones to Op­por­tu­nity grant, awarded to the dis­trict last year to im­prove lit­er­acy from birth to 12th grade.

The grant al­lowed the dis­trict to cre­ate a new po­si­tion, preschool out­reach co­or­di­na­tor, who works with kids in non­profit preschool out­reach such as Trin­ity Lutheran and Head Start.

Marisa Nee­son, who holds that po­si­tion, pre­pares preschool­ers for the tran­si­tion into kinder­garten by help­ing them bring their lit­er­acy skills up to kinder­garten stan­dards.

She helps them with the emo­tional tran­si­tion too, which is just as im­por­tant, and the vir­tual tours are a good ex­am­ple.

Us­ing Skype and Face­Time, Nee­son and Baker have had eight ses­sions dur­ing the past few weeks be­tween preschool­ers at Head Start and Trin­ity Lutheran and kinder­gart­ners at York Av­enue, Hat­field and Gwyn Nor el­e­men­tary schools in ad­di­tion to Gwynedd Square.

The preschool­ers might not nec­es­sar­ily be at­tend­ing the schools they vis­ited vir­tu­ally, but Baker said he doesn’t think that mat­ters, “be­cause go­ing to kinder­garten is just a big idea. Just be­ing able to see a lit­tle bit of that al­lows them to elim­i­nate their fear.”

“The things I find in­ter­est­ing are their ques­tions — about food, where’s the bath­room — the basics,” Baker added. “We are think­ing about it with this big ed­u­ca­tional lens and the kids are say­ing, ‘When do we get a snack and where do we go to the bath­room af­ter the snack?’”

In Hilsey’s class­room, the kinder­gart­ners showed the preschool­ers how they start their day, by hang­ing up their coats.

One of the kinder­gart­ners walked over to the cubby area and said “hi!” to the cam­era and waved his hands over his head.

They pointed out var­i­ous things in the class­room, such as their cal­en­dar and num­ber chart, and ex­plained their “spe­cials” — art, mu­sic, gym and li­brary.

Two of the kinder­gart­ners were named Ai­dan and Caden, and Nee­son said the preschool­ers had no­ticed some­thing.

“We want our kinder­garten friends to know that Ai­dan and Caden rhyme,” Nee­son said.

The kinder­gart­ners clapped and cheered, then Baker asked, “Preschool­ers, can you rhyme any other words?”

The preschool­ers replied, “Cat, rat, bat.”

Baker sug­gested that the kinder­gart­ners sing a song for the younger kids, and they picked “Down by the Bay,” about lla­mas eat­ing pa­ja­mas and a moose kissing a goose.

The preschool­ers re­sponded in kind, belt­ing out, “Good morn­ing, good morn­ing, good morn­ing to you.”

Then it was time for the kinder­garten class to go to the li­brary, and Baker used the video cam­era to cap­ture them lin­ing up and walk­ing down the hall.

“You’ll no­tice there’s not a peep out of them,” Nee­son told the preschool­ers. “They are so good about lin­ing up in the hall­way be­cause they don’t want to dis­turb any­one.”

As her class lis­tened to a li­brar­ian read them a book, Hilsey said she thinks her class en­joyed in­ter­act­ing with the preschool­ers.

“They felt like the big kids,” she said. “I think it gave them a sense of con­fi­dence to show the preschool­ers what they’ve learned this year.”

In Amanda Cooper’s class­room next door, the kinder­gart­ners an­swered the preschool­ers’ ques­tions via SMART Board. The younger chil­dren’s ques­tions in­cluded, “Do you do home­work?” (an­swer: yes); “Do you read books?” (an­swer: yes); and “Do you eat snacks?” (an­swer: no, ex­cept for when it’s some­one’s birth­day.)

De­spite hav­ing been born into a tech-heavy world, Baker — who was an el­e­men­tary school teacher for 12 years be­fore as­sum­ing his cur­rent po­si­tion — said the kids still seem fas­ci­nated that they can com­mu­ni­cate with a group of kids who aren’t in the same room with them.

“There are some ar­eas that they take in stride be­cause they’re so fa­mil­iar with it,” Baker said. “Other times, it seems to be mag­i­cal for them, think­ing, ‘How does that hap­pen?’ Tech­nol­ogy is be­com­ing more a part of their lives, and it helps them learn.”

Given the suc­cess of th­ese ses­sions, Nee­son said she hopes they can do it again next year.

“It’s been a phe­nom­e­nal ex­pe­ri­ence,” Nee­son said. “I see the ex­cite­ment in their eyes when they re­al­ize that th­ese kids look just like me, that teacher looks re­ally friendly. The anx­i­ety that they had been feel­ing just goes away.”

E-learn­ing coach Brett Baker di­rects Gwynedd Square El­e­men­tary School kinder­gart­ner Luke Chartrand to­ward a video cam­era so that he can be seen and heard live by a group of preschool­ers as­sem­bled at Pro­ject Head Start in Lans­dale.

Pho­tos by GE­OFF PAT­TON

Brett Baker uses an iPad to stream live video so that kinder­gart­ners gath­ered in the li­brary at Gwynedd Square El­e­men­tary School can be seen and heard by a group of preschool­ers at Pro­ject Head Start in Lans­dale April 16.

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