Swings, tag, foot races, science lessons, trucks in the sand and long conversations about dinosaurs are part of a day’s fun and learning as the RCK Preschool — or the Ridgefield Community Kindergarten, as it’s still widely known, reflecting the historic name of its founding. The town’s oldest private nonprofit preschool is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
“Oh-oh, it’s another dinosaur,” Lucas Rice warned Ryder Hutchings as they played with hand-size versions of the reptilian monsters.
Lisa Byers, director of the preschool, looked on as the dinosaurs did battle in RCK’s outdoor play area Monday, April 22.
“Our goal is just to create an atmosphere conducive to learning, where the kids feel safe and happy,” she said.
Located in the Lounsbury House on Main Street, the RCK Preschool has taught young kids there since 1959. But the preschool traces its roots to the Ridgefield Community Kindergarten founded in 1927 by the Ridgefield Garden Club. That original Ridgefied Community Kindergarten was absorbed by the town Board of Education, which ran it for over three decades until pressure from the school population boom forced money and classroom space to be focused on the primary grades.
Then, RCK opened in 1959 when four community-minded educators organized a group of citizens to continue offering a nonprofit preschool. Today, the school serves children ages two through five, seeking to provide what its educators describe as “a warm and loving environment where children feel safe and happy as they learn and grow.”
Monday morning, after outdoor play, the kids assembled into a couple of groups for science fun, and crafty arts. Later, they’d get some early literacy and building blocks of math. But the academics aren’t heavy-handed.
“We do a lot of art, a lot of science, literacy, math. dramatic play — which is all the dress-up clothes,” said Byers. The kids also have “sensory” and “library” time. “Those core fields are part of every day,” she said.
There are also periodic visits from music teacher Elly Pesce and creative movement teacher Carrie Pin.
The “sensory” activities involve “anything, ice, water, rice, shaving cream,” Byers said.
“The whole point of that is to stimulate the senses,” she said. “...We put things in there they can see, feel, touch, hear.”
There’s a focus on fun as Lisa DelGuidice oversees a table full of kids in exploring the strange consistency of something she calls “ooblech” — a substance created to ooze and drip.
What’s going on?
“Playing with science,” said James Korner.
“Ichy,” said Alex Bookis.
“It’s like a solid and a liquid,” said DelGuidice, who makes it for the kids. “It’s just cornstarch and water.”
“Everything in preschool is very sensory. They want to touch and smell and taste, “ she added.
“What makes this so great,” she said of the cornstarch mixture, “it’s safe for them.”
Preschool is about learning to play together and socialize, but it also seeks to build toward literacy.
“By the time they’re in the fours, they’re learning the basic sight words — ‘is,’ ‘the,’ those small two- and three-letter words — and beginning to string words together to make sentences.,” Byers said.
A nearby blackboard showed three sentences, all similar but for a different last word — followed by a picture: “Here is a sun. Here is a cloud. Here is a snowflake.”
Some lessons aren’t academic at all.
“I still see the play-dough out on the table,” teacher Karon Doerr told a group of three-year-olds who’d begun to disperse to other interests. “Everybody helps.”
The kindergarten outlines three principal objectives for students:
“To provide opportunities for interaction with peers in a setting conducive to developing positive social relationships;”
“To provide developmentally appropriate experiences to meet the needs of the child.”
“To provide opportunities for meaningful play, based on the child’s individual needs, interests and abilities, which will build important foundations for future growth.”
In addition to Byers, the director, the RCK staff consists of six teachers. Melinda Kovack and Anna Delfino have 14 four-year-olds; Lisa Kelley and Karon Doerr have 14 three-year-olds; Lisa DelGiudice and Lisa DiCamillo have eight two-year-olds.
The two-year-olds come to school Tuesday and Thursday. The three-years-old go four days — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. And the four-year-old have a full week, Monday through Friday.
Classes are in the morning, from 9 to 12, with options for extended day classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
The RCK Preschool is planning a 60th anniversary gala fund-raiser on May 11 at the Lounsbury House, and is inviting Ridgefield’s adults to join in the celebration and the fun.
“All proceeds from the 60th Anniversary Gala Casino Night will go toward continuing our proud tradition of bringing quality preschool education to Ridgefield’s children,” RCK said in a release.
RCK is also welcomes donations aimed at extending its 60-year tradition of nonprofit preschool.
“We’re this well-hidden secret,” said Byers. “People don’t know we’re here. Because the building’s a historic landmark we’re not allowed to put any signage on the street.”