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A Closer Look at the HCPSS Pre-K Experience

February 27th, 2023

Male Laurel Woods ES pre-k student sitting at a table smiling.

While many students in Howard County enter the school system in kindergarten, some have the opportunity to start even earlier with the HCPSS Pre-K program. Currently, HCPSS offers 14 half-day and 17 full-day prekindergarten programs for students who meet certain criteria. HCPSS full-day pre-K programs are inclusive, and students with Individual Education Programs (IEP) are eligible to attend regardless of income, when determined by the IEP team. The number of full-day programs will be expanded in coming years as part of Maryland’s Blueprint for the Future.

With registration for 2023-2024 opening in March, parents and guardians of eligible students might find it helpful to learn more about what goes on inside a pre-K classroom and the benefits for those students. To get a closer look, read below for a day at Laurel Woods Elementary School (LWES), home to one of HCPSS’ full-day pre-K programs.

As LWES pre-K students arrive for the day, they are greeted by their teachers and get settled at their tables. They go through their morning routine, talking about the day of the week, the month and the weather outside, using songs to supplement their learning. They listen as teacher Amanda Green reads a story and asks students questions about it as she reads. Green has been teaching pre-K at LWES for 17 years.

“The pre-K curriculum is designed to expose students to school and the school community, and to ease the kindergarten transition,” says Green. “We want to meet these four-year-olds where they are developmentally while preparing them for kindergarten at the same time.”

Male pre-k student writing with a crayon.

After story time and more songs and dancing to expend some energy, students split into smaller groups for hands-on activities, including learning letters, number recognition and exposure to math. For learning letters, students worked with shaving cream in a tray and used their fingers to trace the letters their teacher showed them. This is not only a sensory activity; it gets students familiar with the shape of letters, how upper- and lower-case letters differ, and works on their fine motor skills.

Male and female pre-k students playing with shaving cream.

Theresa Ories, who has been at LWES for 17 years and spent the last eight teaching pre-K, says, “For me, as a teacher, a highlight is seeing these students have those lightbulb learning moments while they’re having fun.”

Female Laurel Woods ES pre-k student holding a ball in the gym.

Like all other elementary school students, those in full-day pre-K programs also spend 30 minutes of their day in the related arts classes: physical education, music, art, media, and technology. In addition, lunch and recess are part of the full-day pre-K schedule. Taking part in these routine activities gives students a comfort level with the school community and expectations beyond academics. It helps them learn where things are inside the school and helps them adjust to rules and routines.

Male Laurel Woods ES pre-k student setting up bowling pins in the gym.

Beyond academics, pre-K helps students build confidence and independence while learning how to make friends, how to handle conflict, build social-emotional skills, and expand their vocabulary.

“The social skills our kids develop through interactions with their peers is beneficial to all aspects of their early learning experience,” says Green.

Female Laurel Woods ES pre-k student rolling a ball in the gym.

While the pre-K curriculum focuses on learning with a side of fun, students in the full-day program also have plenty of time for free play, which gives them an opportunity to connect with other students.

The pre-K program also benefits families. Teachers frequently communicate with their students’ families and get to know them, which helps establish a good foundation and exposes families to the school community. Pre-K often is a family’s first introduction to the school and its community, so it helps to build a strong foundation for the relationship that will continue throughout a student’s elementary years.

Visit to learn more about HCPSS’s pre-K offerings and locations. Parents/guardians of eligible students may complete an application for the 2023-2024 school year when registration opens on March 13.