Classroom of the Week | Richmond preschool class stimulates the senses


RICHMOND — Michelle Smith held up a small, rectangular book before her students. She read aloud the title and author and then asked the children to look closely at the cover.

"Is this an illustration or a photograph?" she asked.

"Photograph," they correctly answered.

"And you take a photograph with a what?" she asked.

"A camera," they again correctly replied.

The book was about developing and using the sense of touch.

"Our skin is our largest organ that helps us touch because it has what that are like strings beneath it?" she asked.

"Nerves," replied the children, ages 3 to 5.

"Aren't they the smartest kids," Smith quipped. "Right," she said to her students, "nerves are the things that send messages to our brains to tell us how things feel to the touch."

Welcome to Richmond Consolidated Preschool, where not a teachable moment is wasted.

"Mrs. Smith believes that the early years are the learning years to build a strong foundation for future school success," recently promoted Principal Jill Pompi wrote in her nomination of this Classroom of the Week.

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"Whenever I enter Mrs. Smith's classroom I see a room of three- and four-year-old students fully engaged in thoughtful and purposeful activities that are fun, exciting and filled with opportunities to learn," Pompi said.

On Thursday morning, the preschool students continued their lesson on the sense of touch through the use of sensory boxes. What look like oversize wooden shoeboxes have a lid on top, a divider in the middle, and a circular opening on either end. The teacher opens the lid and places identical objects on either side of the box. She covers the box and then asks a student to take turns feeling around and extracting an object, which might be a pencil, a marble, or a pompom. The student then takes note of the shape, size and how it feels, be it round, smooth, sharp or squishy. Then, without looking, they have to feel around and extract the matching object on the opposite side of the box by touch, no peeking.

During one of her turns, Peyton Silvagni pulled out a cylindrical glue stick.

When successfully extracting the match, the preschooler's eyes lit up like they had discovered precious treasure. "I found it," she exclaimed with an infectious smile on her face, making the pair of glue sticks dance in her hands.

Smith said that during the first weeks of school, she takes the time to welcome children and their families and explains to parents the details of the state standards for preschool curricula.

"A lot of parents are surprised," she said. "Really, preschool is the new kindergarten, just like kindergarten's the new first grade and so on. They're learning so much more than we did at their age."

In the classroom, Smith works with paraprofessionals Megan Babich and Jessica Jezak to bring lessons to life for their students. Children are assigned classroom jobs to help them learn social and organizational skills, like taking attendance and being responsible for watering the class plants. Community guests are brought in to talk about their trades, from farming to firefighting.

The preschoolers also partner with fourth-grade "buddies" to do community service projects, like collecting pet supplies for the Berkshire Humane Society and raising money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Smith also helps support learning outside the classroom by organizing special events and sending home book bags — some themed by authors, others by subjects — for students to use with their families. Each bag includes a stuffed animal, game or book on tape in addition to actual books.

Asked how they feel about their classroom, Waylon Geyer said, "good," and James Adams said, "happy."

The preschoolers listed reading, science and engineering among their favorite subjects. Nora Erardy said she looked forward to coming to class each day "for my friends."

"This is really a great group," said Smith, noting that some children in her class only turned 3 in August. "It was a little difficult at first, but they've come such a long way and are learning so quickly."


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