With the lights dimmed, classical music plays in a colorful pre-kindergarten classroom at the James J. Davis Early Childhood Center.
One group of 4-year-olds counts and sorts blocks and puzzle pieces.
Three children create a collage about friendship.
Two practice the alphabet with the help of a computer program while others keep busy with dramatic play in a toy kitchen.
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It's a typical scene in classrooms throughout Beaufort County, where the school district's youngest children spend most of the day working in small groups and learning through play.
The Beaufort County School District adopted a standard curriculum for its pre-kindergarten programs two years ago. The comprehensive curriculum shows teachers how to set up a classroom and structure a day, what experiences to provide and how to involve families.
The district chose one of four models approved by the S.C. Department of Education, called the Creative Curriculum. It's used by more than a 1 million students nationally, according to Jonah Stuart, the company's public-policy manager.
Before, local schools used two or three different programs and evaluations, said Kay Newsome, the district's director of readiness.
Classrooms using the Creative Curriculum demonstrated gains in five measures, according to a study by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The study involved 18 classes in North Carolina and Georgia.
The curriculum's assessment evaluates students' social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language development. The district uses the assessment to rate its pre-kindergarten students at one of four levels.