Tuscany Heights Unveils New Kinder Learning Lab

Tuscany Heights Kinder Learning Lab

Kindergarten was once a gentle year to introduce five year olds to a school routine. Days included naps, playtime, and lots of recess.  Not so any longer.  Our fast-past society has influenced schools in the best districts to increase academic rigor even in the youngest grades and replace creative play with science, technology and math.  

Advancement can be a double-edged sword.  The wise kindergarten teachers at Tuscany Heights Elementary School noticed gaps in their students’ social and emotional abilities that were not easily addressed during academic teaching times.  They brainstormed for solutions and applied for a grant to create a space to provide students a place to develop these skills.

The North East Educational Foundation (N.E.E.F.) and benefactor HEB provided the more than $4,000 needed to transform a room on Tuscany’s kindergarten wing into the learning lab, which opened this week. 

“I am the proud principal of a group of kindergarten teachers who saw a need and didn’t stop until they found a way to make it happen for their kids,” said Tuscany Heights Principal Tara Bailey. Kim Young, Nadia Shelby, Jennifer Chapman and Summer Cervenka have been teaching kindergarten together since Tuscany Heights opened nine years ago.   They collectively share more than six decades of kindergarten experience. 

Tuscany’s lab includes things you might have found in that kindergarten class of yesteryear.  Children can interact with blocks, Legos, on a balance beam, in the art center, play kitchen, or home center complete with small couches, a mock fireplace and library. 

“It is a kindergarten teacher’s dream,” Young enthused. “We are over the moon excited about this!”

The close-to 90 Tuscany kindergarteners will have 45 minutes a day, three times a week to spend in open-ended play in the lab.  The time is not just recess. Their teachers will join them to monitor interactions and notice moments for instruction.

“At the age of five, children are still learning social skills and ways to convey their emotions in school-appropriate ways,” Young said.

“It helps that we’ll have quality time to address how we treat one another, how to speak kindly, how to share and take turns,” Shelby added. “This will cut down on disruptions in academic time.”

The North East Independent School District has been on the forefront of training their teachers on the emerging trend emphasizing the importance of social and emotional learning, Bailey said.

Academia is starting to realize the introduction of technology at a younger age has delayed the development of crucial social skills.  “Social emotional is a big buzzword right now. Kids don’t get cooperative play because there’s so much screen time,” Bailey said. Children need to be able to interact with others. If they haven’t had opportunities to do that, it makes academics harder, Bailey added. 

The principal has another reason to be excited about the new lab. Her own daughter will benefit next year when she joins her mother at Tuscany as a kindergartener. 

“We were blessed to get this grant,” Bailey said. 


Submitted by:  Amy Morgan

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