Laying a Strong Foundation in Early Childhood Education at Saddle River Day

Laying a Strong Foundation in Early Childhood Education at Saddle River Day
Gretchen Lee

Engineers, architects and every parent who has ever built Legos, a block tower or a marble run with their kids (and who among us hasn’t?) knows that a strong foundation is required in order to build a stable structure. The educators at Saddle River Day School know this too, which is why such care has been put into building a high quality PreK program for our littlest learners.

The PreK program at Saddle River Day School prepares preschoolers, ages 3-5, for success as they enter kindergarten and their primary school years. According to Chris Lebovits, Assistant Director of Lower School Admissions, educators in the Early Childhood program focus on “meeting the social, emotional, and academic needs of each child and knowing each child as an individual”. 

Even as early as PreK-3 and PreK-4 at SRDS, students arrive in the classroom with a range of life and academic experience. Some might be old pros at spending a day away from their parents but for others, this is their first experience of being away from home for any length of time. Some students arrive ready to read, others need an introduction to literacy before they take that step. Some are adept at social interactions, others require guidance as they practice communication and decision-making. At Saddle River Day School, each child is met exactly where they are by caring teachers who create “wonderful, warm, engaging classrooms” in which the children thrive with active, hands-on, multi-sensory learning, special classes, and pertinent lessons.

Our PreK learners receive an introduction to the structure they will encounter in the lower school as they travel to specials that include music, science in the science lab, art in the art studio, and technology classes in the tech lab. Students are exposed not only to classrooms that are expressly equipped for the purpose they serve, but also to the self-management skills necessary to successfully transition, both physically and mentally, between learning environments. These skills ultimately enable the smooth progression to higher level learning in the SRDS Lower School. 

Project Based Learning modules (PBLs), hallmarks of each Saddle River Day School education, are also introduced in age appropriate ways in the PreK program. These cross-curricular projects include the PreK-4 Living Museum in which students choose a creature that lives under the sea. In art, they create a kelp forest, imagine costumes, and dress up as their chosen creature. In the classroom, they learn the basics of research as they identify facts about their creature, then practice critical presentation and public speaking skills as they present their findings to visitors in an assembly at the culmination of the project.

Though projects like this feel more like play than work, plenty of time is left expressly for SRDS kids to be kids. Free play, imaginative play, and collaborative projects are all an important part of each child’s development. Our littlest learners are encouraged to move their bodies as much as they are taught to exercise their minds. Yoga and meditation are taught as important tools for current and future self-regulation and mind/body balance. 

The ultimate goal of each of our PreK educators is to send students to elementary school with the tools to be successful students and scholars. This, of course, includes a strong foundation in reading, writing, and math, and a familiarity with elementary school routines, skills, and structures. But it also includes instilling in these nascent students a confidence in their ability to solve problems, the courage to take risks, the resilience to try again, and the comfort of feeling as though they are part of a community that supports them. This, in the end, is the true value of the Saddle River Day School PreK program, a strong foundation on which students can build their future.