PRAIRIE DU CHIEN — Mikey Pettit’s favorite part of school is the fun and games.
The 4-year-old student at B.A. Kennedy Elementary School is already muscling through full days of classes, but his teachers are careful to mix activities — and nap time — with math and reading lessons.
Pettit is one of about 60 students in the school district’s full-day program for 4-year-olds.
“I like to play outside and in here,” Pettit said before washing down a Pop-Tart with chocolate milk.
School officials introduced daylong 4K classes three years ago. They say it helps prepare young students for later grades.
Five instructional staff members rotate through groups of 12 students. Days are split between direct instruction and learning-focused activities. Even “play time” is based on what students are learning in class.
“We’re doing lots of arts projects,” teacher Chelsie White said.
Each student receives more than two hours of lessons each day. It could be punching out numbers in Play-Doh or crafting a smiley face out of paper plates and pipe cleaners.
Four-year-old Olivia Schmidt glued red and yellow pieces of paper to a painting of a brown tree trunk.
While Schmidt was thrilled to create more artwork for her family, the activity also gave her a chance to think about the seasons.
“Do you know what kind of season I like?” Schmidt asked. “Winter, because I have a winter jacket.”
The pace at B.A. Kennedy’s 4K program is slower than kindergarten, but lessons are buried within each activity.
“We have a tremendous staff here that incorporate play-based learning,” Superintendent Drew Johnson said.
The district introduced the full-day option for younger students because many were starting kindergarten unprepared, Johnson said.
“Lots of kids (were) coming in at low reading levels,” Johnson said. “We felt there was a need in the community.”
Megan Copsey and other teachers in the program have specified learning goals for the students. Over the years, expectations for students in kindergarten and younger have increased, Copsey said.
“Basically, what you know as kindergarten is now 4K,” she said.
Skill levels for each student vary when the children start kindergarten, but the differences are clear for those who lag behind their peers, B.A. Kennedy Principal Laura Stuckey said.
“Some of them come in without a strong phonics background,” Stuckey said.
The 4K program has helped rectify the problem. By the time students reach kindergarten, they are used to the long school days. Students begin to behave better in class because they are already familiar with the school day, White said.
“They’re used to the routine,” she said. “They’re able to follow rules.”