FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- When you walk into any Pre-K classroom on Fort Drum, you are sure to see children investigating, problem solving and learning.

Whether they are involved in a lesson about the culture of a foreign country, interacting with peers in the dramatic play area, or getting their energy out on the playground, students are gaining valuable skills that will help them to be successful not just in a school setting, but as individuals, said Anne Clegg, director of Memorial Drive Child Development Center.

"Research has shown that students who participate in Pre-K programs perform better -- academically -- when they start school," she said. "Just as importantly, though, Pre-K gives children the tools they need to grow into happy, confident people."

Clegg said that one of the primary goals of the organization's Pre-K programs is to prepare children for success in their future academic careers.

"Our programs introduce children to science and technology, math, social studies, language and literacy and much more," she said. "We make it a priority to teach in a very hands-on manner, because we know that kids learn better when they are actively engaged and 'learning by doing.'"

Preparing students for school is about more than simply laying the academic groundwork, said Deann Gandia, Fort Drum Child and Youth Services child development services administrator. It also includes helping them to develop important social and emotional skills.

"In addition to the academic curriculum, we also focus on social and emotional development," Gandia said. "In doing so, we help children work through their emotions and enhance their social development by teaching them to recognize and appropriately act on their emotions."

Clegg explained that learning self-regulation and how to manage and express one's emotions are vital to healthy early childhood development.

"Our students learn how to communicate effectively," she said. "In their everyday conversations and exchanges with their peers and their caregivers, relationships are being built. They are learning about communication, cooperation and handling conflict."

In the Pre-K classroom, students learn valuable skills such as sharing, waiting in line, listening and following directions, and complying with rules.

They also learn about schedules and routines, which Clegg said make up an important part of establishing an environment that facilitates learning.

"Consistency and reliable routine are very important -- especially for young children," she said. "Our kids need to feel confident and safe in order to learn, and the best way to help them to feel confident is to create an environment that is predictable -- where they know what to expect and what is expected of them."

Self-care is another major area of focus during these formative years, Clegg said.

"At the beginning of the year, the kids are learning things like hanging up their coats and washing their hands as soon as they come into the classroom," she said. "By the end of the school year, they have progressed to doing more and more for themselves. They are serving themselves lunch, carrying trays, remembering to get their take-home folders at the end of the week. It is all part of learning to take responsibility and developing the independence they will need later in life."

Clegg said that the staff members at CYS are committed to helping students start their academic careers on the right foot.

"We strive to create an environment where Families know that our priority is to see every child succeed," she said. "We want our students to know that they are valued and appreciated, and we want to teach them to love learning from a very young age."

Child and Youth Services offers both full-day and partial-day Pre-K options through the Army's Strong Beginnings program.

The full-time Strong Beginnings program is open to students currently enrolled in the post's child development centers. Students at the CDCs transition into the program during the fall of the year before beginning kindergarten. Parents whose children are not already enrolled in a post CDC may have their child added to a waiting list.

A five-hour-long partial-day Pre-K is offered at Memorial Drive Child Development Center.
Students receive three hours of formal academic instruction per day in both programs. For the remainder of the day, students participate in art, music and movement, physical activity, and a variety of child-led learning activities focused on development of cognitive skills.

Children must be 4 years old by Dec. 1 to be eligible for Pre-K programming.

Parents who are interested in enrolling their child in partial-day Pre-K or in having their child added to a waiting list for full-day Pre-K may contact Parent Central Services at (315) 772-8675 or visit the office in Clark Hall.