FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 1, 2009) - As students of Central Virginia schools prepared to hit the books again, children enrolled in Child, Youth and School Service's Child Development Centers were in for a change of their own.

Beginning Sept. 1, Army Child Development Centers transitioned from the Army Pre-K Initiative program to the new Army Strong Beginnings Pre-K program.

The program is designed to prepare children for success upon entering school. The curriculum focuses on cognitive, social, emotional and physical development of pre-kindergarten children. It equips students with skills necessary for a successful school experience, including basic academic concept understandings, social skills and classroom etiquette.

Strong Beginnings has five areas of focus inside 11 stations, including mathematics, science and technology, language, literacy, and social studies. Childcare is still provided for the children in the Strong Beginnings room and it is referred to as wraparound care. Three hours of the day are dedicated to a more structured curriculum. Army Strong Lead teacher Ashley Koritzer said the during the other hours the children are in care, the opportunity to learn exists.

"The children have the opportunity to learn all day," Koritzer said. "During the three hours we focus on specific activities such as scientific experiments where the children are encouraged to predict the outcome."

Four-year-olds and children who will attend kindergarten next year are eligible for the program.

The day begins with a calendar activity, which helps the children to identify the day of the week and the date. The children count along with the teacher which is encourages number identification. The children also estimate items in a jar and the activity concludes with a pattern exercise using different items each day.

Pam McGraw, one of the four teachers in the Strong Beginnings room, explained the difference between creative expressions and art.

"Creative expression includes activities such as role-playing and dramatic play," she said. "It is different from the arts curriculum which is in line with traditional instruction."

The children are also exposed to typical activities that will help them transition to kindergarten. The objective is to leave the program and be the best prepared children in kindergarten. It is designed to enhance and equip them in basic academic skills in a classroom setting.

Even though the program is less than a month old, the teachers have already seen a change in the children's abilities.

"We have noticed a tremendous difference in the children already," McGraw said.

Glenda Howard, Child Development Center director, said that parents are pleased with the changes the program brought.

"The children and their parents love it," she said.

Viola Samuels, who recently moved her son Emery from a civilian preschool, said the program is an improvement from the former program.

"It's equal to the program he was in off-post," Samuels said.

Emery is able to write his numbers from one to 25, write his first and last name, and his alphabet. She said he is already beginning to read.

"We love the program," Samuels said.

The children bring home activities that they have learned each day. They have homework to share with their parents.

"Emery loves that he has homework like his older sister," Samuels said. "It is like a family learning environment."