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Children are back in school at Fort Meadow

Reading time in Sherreen Sloan’s Fort Meadow preschool class. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

WESTFIELD – Fort Meadow Early Education Center Principal Joanne Hentnick said the first day of school on Monday, Sept. 28 went very well.

“It was very exciting, so nice to see the children after all this time,” she said, adding that in many ways it was like any other first day. Some children were excited to get in the door, and others were a little reluctant. “There was some crying, but not a lot,” Hentnick said.

Hentnick said there have been a lot of modifications made at the school. Instead of using the front door for arrival and dismissal for example, there are painted paw prints on the playground which are socially distanced. She said they worked with the children to have them stand on the paw prints as they waited to go in.

She said the second day went even better. “The majority of children wore their masks without any problem. The staff always keep their masks on,” Hentnick said, adding that it’s a skill they will work on. She said if a child needs a mask break, they “absolutely” can get a mask break, and there are places to go where they can take their masks off while socially distanced.

Another change is the morning and afternoon sessions are a half hour shorter, with a break in the middle to thoroughly clean the classrooms. “Two hours go by like a blink of an eye,” Hentnick said.

All the toys in each classroom are divided into baskets. The children have a choice of a play area, such as the block center, where they can set up buildings with blocks, cars and people; or the housekeeping center, which has a stove and sink, with a basket of play dishes and utensils. Hentnick said toys are separated by activity, and once the child is done with that set of toys, it goes into the dirty pile, and gets cleaned in the middle of the day.

Hentnick said more than one child can use a center, for example one child may be playing at the stove, and another child pretending to eat the food. The classrooms are also marked with paw prints. “They’re still playing together, but not next to each other like they used to,” she said.

All the children have their own kit of school supplies to use to draw, paint or play with play-doh, that is kept only for them. “There’s a lot of work that goes into it, but it’s worth it. Children need to play, that’s how they learn,” Hentnick said.

A Fort Meadow student prepares to make “stone soup.” (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

Fort Meadow has also “beefed up” their playground, and the children are spending a lot of time playing outdoors. Westfield Gas & Electric donated big wire spools, which have been painted with roads to play with cars and as chalkboards for drawing. “Children are spending more time outside than ever before,” Hentnick said, adding, “They’re loving it. I had stone soup made for me yesterday. It was delicious, I had the whole pot for myself.”

“It’s a lot of planning. What we really pride ourselves in with our program is teaching children what the expectations are. In order to do that, we use a lot of visual cues. This week and next week, we’ll be teaching them the visual cues,” Hentnick said.

“In reality, when it’s all going on, it just seems like children are playing. They are distanced, without them even thinking about it,” she added.

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