Andrea Sommers spritzed some shaving cream into a resealable bag with a white egg inside and dripped three drops of red food coloring into the bag.
As the St. John Regional Catholic School prekindergarten teacher handed the bag to a pupil to mix the coloring around and dye the egg, Sommers noted how easily the egg could crack.
“You need to be delicate,” pupil Emma Gilbreth chimed in.
Minutes later, Emma sat on a small, blue plastic chair mixing her egg with red and yellow food coloring.
“I’m making my egg turn orange,” Emma said. “Yellow and red make orange.”
While many 3-year-olds are learning to simply identify colors, Sommers’ pupils are mixing primary colors together to make secondary colors.
St. John Regional Catholic School offers two pre-K programs for 3-year-olds — one half-day program that meets three days a week, and a full-day program that meets five days a week.
A committee tasked with overhauling the state’s public education funding formula, and pre-K-to-12 programs, dubbed the Kirwan Commission, has brought pre-K to the forefront of the discussion. The commission recommended providing all-day preschool for all 4-year-old children and all low-income 3-year-olds.
The commission added that the importance of universal pre-K can’t be overstated, noting that countries benchmarked as top performers offer free or inexpensive, high-quality early childhood education for all 3- to 5-year-olds.
Although St. John Regional Catholic School is a private school, Sommers advocates for it to be available in public schools as well.
“The program really allows students to meet the goals of kindergarten, sometimes before they even get to kindergarten,” Sommers said.
On Friday, pupils dyed Easter eggs and Sommers told them about the significance of the Easter egg. But first, she read them a story called “I Love You the Purplest,” about two brothers vying for a mother’s love. The mother compares her love for each son to a color — one red, one blue — adding that an equal amount of love makes purple.
As the children dyed their eggs, they also received a sheet of paper with an egg on it for them to color in. Henry Karell colored his egg with scribbles in blue crayon first, calling it his “blue spaghetti egg.”
Along with learning colors, the pre-K pupils have also participated in STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) activities such as building “junk boats” and floating them in a pool outside of the school. The young students not only learned how to build and be creative, but also learned the different parts of a ship, Sommers said.
Many of Sommers’ 16 pupils have learned to spell their name, and they all have learned early socialization skills and phonics to help develop reading skills. For those who can’t write their name, Sarah Hickman, a classroom aide from the Frederick County Public Schools SUCCESS program, will walk by and help the students write their name.
The class also has a pumpkin plant growing in the back corner of the classroom, which has small pumpkins starting to grow on the vines. Sommers credited her students with noticing the leaves on the plant were starting to brown after time passed without watering the plant.
“We’ve been learning what it means to investigate,” Sommers said. “So when they noticed the brown leaves were different, we investigated why that might be. Then they found out that if we don’t water it, the plant will start to die.”
In class, Sommers often takes out an iPad and takes photos of her students completing activities using an app called “Seesaw.” When she takes the photo, she can identify which pupil or pupils are in the photo and send the photo directly to their parents. The parents will get a notification on their phones if they have the app and can view the photo. Sommers said parents are checking in on their children several times throughout the day.
While some opponents of pre-K for 3-year-olds argue that it starts children in school too early, Sommers said that she works to keep the learning active and fun.
“It’s important for there to be movement and make it enrichment-based,” Sommers said. “I think we do a good job making it a low-stress, fun environment for them.”