On Wednesday morning, more than 50 Hammond Middle School students, all between the ages of 12 and 14, cavorted in Hammond Elementary School's playground, sliding down the slide and climbing on the monkey bars.
These adolescents weren't reverting to a childlike state but were doing their best to keep up with the 54 preschoolers who had come to visit them for the morning.
The 3- and 4-year-olds were from the Tubman Head Start center in Columbia and have made two other trips to Hammond Middle School during the school year.
Their visits are part of an educational partnership called "Kids Helping Kids," in which Hammond students have "adopted" the Tubman Head Start pupils.
Head Start is a federally funded early childhood development program for low-income families.
This year, the Head Start children have come to Hammond for a school holiday band concert and a storytelling day, in which the Hammond students presented their Head Start "buddies" with books.
Hammond seventh-graders started the partnership in June under the direction of teacher Susan Griffith. The goal was to make use of school resources to help Head Start students.
"The Hammond kids get to learn responsibility and maturity, and the Head Start kids, they get to have fun in a school environment," said Kelly Fox, 14, a Hammond eighth-grader who helped to start the partnership.
When the Head Start buses pulled up Wednesday, the middle school students were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their young "buddies."
As the preschoolers got off the buses, they were paired with their older friends, and the children quickly proceeded to the playground.
It didn't take long for the two groups to feel comfortable with each other.
"Want to see me dance cool?" a Head Start child asked his Hammond friend.
"It's wonderful to watch these adolescents and preschoolers together. It's a magical combination," said Mrs. Griffith, who supervises the partnership.
From the playground, the group moved to the gym for a demonstration by Hammond's gymnastic team. Following the performance, the team invited the Head Start children onto the mats for some tumbling lessons.
By this time the preschoolers were hungry, and the Hammond students gave their Head Start charges a snack of apple juice and peanut butter crackers to eat outside on the grass.
Seventh-grader Kenny Beck, 13, said he and 3-year-old Emmanuelly Exantus made a good pair.
"She was a little shy at first, but once we got to know each other she trusted me," Kenny said.
Sandy Scoville, the educational coordinator for the four Head Start centers in Howard County, said the one-on-one experiences are good for the children. Head Start's budget for enrichment activities is limited, she said.
In addition to the Hammond partnership, Head Start has had a partnership with Patapsco Middle School in Ellicott City for a few years.
Mrs. Scoville said she hopes to form similar partnerships with Head Start centers in Roslyn Rise in Columbia and the center at St. James United Methodist Church in West Friendship.
"The exposure to these different things -- live music, storytelling -- it's definitely a plus for our children," Mrs. Scoville said.
For the next partnership project, Hammond students are planning a picnic and a children's Olympics day for the Head Start youngsters.
Next year the school plans to expand the program, possibly by having shop and home economics classes make easels and puppets for the children.
"It's become infectious at this school," Mrs. Griffith said of the partnership.
"After the first activity, we've had kids begging to get involved."