The full-day, five-days-a-week Young Fives class was added this year as a way to support families with younger children, said the charter school’s principal, Mark Neidlinger. The class is currently capped at 15 students and has a waiting list.
“This is also a phenomenal opportunity to give these young children a boost in their academics and in the social skills necessary for kindergarten,” Neidlinger said.
Young Fives students spend the first three hours of their day in a work cycle, during which time they choose the work to accomplish from a previous lesson. During the work cycle, teacher Natalie Carver invites the kids to join her for small-group lessons.
As Charles Davis cracked walnuts during a work cycle, he said he likes school because of the activities they do.
Instead of a set time for snacks, the students have snacks when they feel hungry. Prior to class starting, Carver sets out snacks and has pictures drawn to show appropriate portion sizes. For example, students will see the number of pretzels, carrots or halves of a banana that they can eat.
When they finish their snacks, the students wash their plates and silverware. At the end of each day, Carver runs all of the items through the dishwasher to ensure they’re properly cleaned.
The whole idea is for students to feel they’re independent, Carver said.
Students and Carver eat lunch together. Following lunch and time outdoors, the remaining part of the day is spent similar to the morning — a work cycle with small-group lessons.
By the end of their time in Young Fives, students will be able to read and do addition and multiplication. Carver explained that they learn multiplication after addition because multiplication is addition repeated.
For math, students use cubing and squaring chains to physically see the quantity.
The Young Fives classroom features a practical life place. Through different stations — pouring water, using spoons and tongs — the students develop fine motor skills and work on developing their arm from their shoulders down to their wrists.
If they need a small break or a few moments to themselves, they can spend time in the “peace corner.”
Each day, students have social education, which is a time to learn what emotions are and how to overcome feelings such as sadness and frustration. They also learn how to invite someone to an activity, decline an invitation, interrupt politely, and opening and closing doors, Carver said.
By the time they enter kindergarten, Carver said the Young Fives graduates will have a wealth of knowledge whether it’s math, knowing sounds, blending sounds together or being able to read. Carver said knowing how to read early will give them the chance to focus on reading for comprehension in kindergarten and first grade.
“They’re ahead of the game,” she said.
Like their older peers, Young Fives students have “specials” such as music, art and gym.
Carver said that school should be joyful for the students, and it’s her job to make the classroom and its environment fit the needs of her young charges.
Given the interest in the Young Fives program, Neidlinger said he would like to increase the offering, but they need to consider larger spaces if they want to offer additional spots.
“We have established a sub-committee on our board that is looking into growth opportunities and space availability in the local area,” he said.
Walden Green offers tuition-free education through eighth grade.