Four-year-old Russell Oliver said he really liked learning about fish at preschool.
“He knew a lot more about it than I thought he would,” said Sara Oliver. Mom and dad — also Russell Oliver — were guests recently for a coral reef exhibition as part of the Great Start Readiness Program at Kent City Elementary School.
The coral reef project and exhibition for families of the preschoolers was the culmination of a unit on the environment, said Julie Petruska, Kent City’s lead GSRP teacher.
Practicing Skills, Sharing Knowledge
“The students first made learning connections through environments that they could easily make connections to such as trees and ponds, and the animals that live there,” Petruska said. “Then we moved on to the ocean and the coral reef.”
Preschoolers learned to name ocean animals and helped construct a “reef” of their own in their classrooms and in the school hallways using paper plates, colored paper, pipe cleaners, jewels, cotton and almost anything that sparked their imaginations.
The activities help accomplish a GSRP goal of learning to predict, observe and record through drawing and emergent writing, said Betty Krzyszton, early childhood specialist at Kent ISD.
Other skills practiced during the coral reef study were verbal counting of objects and making comparisons of numbers in the groups.
Kent City preschoolers also were treated to a reading of “The Pout-Pout Fish Cleans Up the Ocean”, Petruska said.
“Students were interested in knowing about how the ocean gets polluted, and were intrigued to know that there are organizations that actually clean beaches and dive to reefs to recover trash and remove it from the ocean,” she said. “This is not part of the set curriculum, but an area of learning where we supported our students questions and curiosity to learn more about a topic through other books and online learning.”
The coral reef study culminated with a scavenger hunt of the classroom displays, with children showing off their newly gained knowledge.
“I loved seeing my students take their ocean learning, and be curious about other topics about the ocean,” said Petruska, “… It was exciting to see the students share their knowledge with their families.”
While Kent City joined other districts in the GSRP coral reef study, its organizers went a step further for the family event. Also on hand were healthy eating organization FreshenUp – part of SNAP-Ed, the Kent City branch of Kent District Library, and district swimming instructors, “truly making this a community event,” Krzyszton said.
GSRP is a state-funded preschool program administered by the Michigan Department of Education. The coral reef event was tied to the Connect4Learning curriculum, so similar events were held in multiple Kent County districts.
Krzyszton said research on preschool programs and on GSRP shows that children provided with a high-quality preschool experience display significant positive developmental differences when compared to children from the same backgrounds who did not attend a high-quality preschool program.