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.
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.