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(Beloit, WI) Hillary Gavan, Beloit Daily News

The School District of Beloit has implemented a new 4-year-old kindergarten curriculum this fall that encourages a rich vocabulary and student-centered learning, according to Angie Montpas, the district's director of curriculum and instruction.

"We know it's good for a wide range for students, and the heavy language emphasis makes it very powerful," Montpas said.

Montpas said a trainer from Teaching Strategies came to the district in August to instruct staff on the new curriculum titled the “Creative Curriculum for Preschool.” The program is used in Waunakee and Madison as well as by Head Start. In previous years the district used a program through Houghton Mifflin which was dated and no longer available for purchase.

The Creative Curriculum breaks down the year into six areas of study including the beginning of the year; trees; clothing; buildings; balls; and reduce, recycle and re-use. Within each area of study there are 38 things for teachers to see if students know. Each area of study touches on science, social studies, art, literacy and math, as well as encourages social and emotional skills.

In the study about buildings, for example, students practice counting the number of windows or doors and look for patterns to strengthen math skills. To build literacy skills, students might notice names of buildings which start with the same sound.

The strength of the new curriculum, Montpas said, is how it works on developing a rich vocabulary in students and encouraging kids to seek answers to their questions with the teacher's guidance.

"This one is directed by the kids. The teacher is more like a facilitator than a lecturer," Montpas said.

When students study trees, for example, the teacher might ask them what they want to know about trees.

"It encourages our kids to realize learning is starting with a question and finding answers through stories, experiments, activities and field trips. Then we can wrap up our learning and use good vocabulary. It's getting kids used to using language to describe what they see and notice," Montpas said.

Merrill 4K teachers Kim Lindsey and Melinda Harwick said the implementation of the new curriculum is going well. Each day the curriculum includes some "choice" time where students can choose a learning activity. On Monday, for example, some students were using Legos, listening to a story by a teacher or using Play-Doh to make letters in Lindsey's classroom.

Harwick explained how the new curriculum includes more hands-on activities. For example, Harwick starts out each day by having her 4K students pick out their names and then “yes” and “no” answers on small notecards and attach them to a board when asked questions by the teacher. The activity keeps the students' attention as they learn sight words Harwick reads to them. Students also must learn to reply back to their teachers in full sentences.

Enrollment in district 4K program has remained steady. As of Thursday, there were 442 4K students in 22 classrooms around the district. With 478 students enrolled in kindergarten, Montpas said it appears the majority of children in Beloit are attending 4K. Because 4K is not compulsory in Wisconsin, the district strives to educate the community about the benefits of 4K. In addition to doing child searches in the spring, the district sends out information and teachers canvass neighborhoods to hand out fliers about it.

"It's an opportunity to start with a more level playing field. When they come in, they are exposed to a lot of language and early readiness skills and we keep tabs on how they are progressing," Montpas said. "Benefits are being in a structured environment providing rich opportunity for math and reading, physical, social and emotional learning opportunities they might not have in a daycare situation."

The School District of Beloit offers full-day 4K, which is a benefit for many working parents. However, if parents don't feel their child is ready for full-day 4K students can attend half-day. Students can also take advantage of the universal free lunch program in the district.

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