There is a certain atomic type of energy in a kindergarten classroom. I noticed it the very first time I ever entered such a room back when I was a lowly rookie teacher. By atomic I literally mean that each student is an atom that is seeking to move, to evidence Brownian motion, but there are a dozen or so of these atoms in the room. The teacher I was under the tutelage of today used another analogy. She stated teaching K’s is much like trying to keep popcorn kernels from popping when under extreme heat. All these analogies simply to say there is a great deal of energy in a K student.
I began my day by coloring a line drawing of Cain and Abel. I understood from the teacher that there had been palpable shock among the students the day before when faced with the outcome of these two young men’s lives. Brother killing brother was unthinkable to them. This was quite encouraging to me. Nintendo had not yet ruined their sense of life and death. And now we were coloring a picture that showed the two brothers working in the fields, one tending his flock (what color of Crayola does one use to color sheep?) and the other growing some corn, watermelons, and gourds (it seemed that the last two were coming off the same vine, but such details are not a big deal to 5 yr olds).
Promptly at 8 o’clock the chosen student for the day announced that the day was beginning, and away we went. One of my first and lasting impressions from today was the amount of separate activities we were able to accomplish in the short day of our half-day K. We observed the calendar to determine where we were in time, down to the date, day, year, and even what kind of weather was going on outside. We charted this information carefully with Crayola (what did they do before crayons?), color coding things to make them stand out.
By 8:15 my back was a little dicey from the small chair, but my mind was moving along to other things. We had time on the floor (some relief for the back) to hear about the portion of Bible narrative after Cain and Abel, that men lived a good deal longer (about a 1,000 years or so) and had a bunch more kids than we do today. Methuselah did not pack as much punch to these kids as it had to me. 969 years was a real watershed number for some time after I learned it, but I might have been slightly older than this group. And Enoch was a real idea starter for these young minds. Did not die? Went right to heaven? Well that was the stuff of good stories and great questions.
Quickly we were back to our seats for the “killer” portion of our day – phonics. Working on the short vowel sounds is reminiscent of the story of the five blind men falling upon an elephant (short “e” there by the way) and trying to discern its shape. I need to define the makeup of this class for the moment for you to grasp our difficulty. The teacher and I both are standing firmly on Southern soil while drawing our own roots from the Midwest. Thus there is a little bit of a language barrier with these Southern kids. Ahhh, ehhh, ihhh, awww, uhhh, all which must be translated through the Southern ear. But there we were, troopers all, kneeling down to the floor when the vowel was short, rising up quickly with our hands way up in the air for the long vowels. And did I mention that I am taller than these kids, and getting old, and have the rheumatiz in my knee? When is nap time?
But I made up for lost ego when we got to working with the capital E in handwriting. None of my table mates realized I have a big E to start my last name, so they just thought I was incredible at the speed I was able to form these guys without really knowing it is pure muscle memory. I discovered I do not form my capital E’s the way you are supposed to, but I got the worksheet done first.
By this time we are pushing into our second hour. So far the behavior has been pretty good. I was concerned when the teacher started around with this craft project that had a big mouth for the students who knew their sight words to feed the words to that things might get loud, but no, they were used to the expectations and did fine.
I am going to try to be kind and polite with potty break. It was an obvious relief (I have to come back and edit in on this blog how many folks thought this was a purposeful pun – folks, come on, you know me, I would never stoop to such a level!) to the teacher when I was available to take many of the boys to the men’s room with me. It is just amazing how quickly the young ones can take care of business. The hardest part seems to be remembering to wash their hands. And when does a young man learn the proper use of “zippered escape hatch” in his pants rather than subjecting those behind him a full moon?
Anyway, enough of that. On the way back there seemed to have been more left in the restroom than I originally had thought. On the way there, we were fairly silent, in a straight line, keeping our hands to ourselves. Not so upon the return trip. Now there is a constantly convulsing snake which is really more of a centipede when you take into account all the goose stepping and busy hands. I said to them, “I think we left our straight line in the bathroom” and every one of those heads turned and looked back at the bathroom, I kid you not. But the line did not straighten perceptibly.
Maybe all this was anticipation for the singular learning moment of the day: recess. I do not deprecate the importance of Bible time, phonics, etc., but truly saw more learned at the level of life-time habits during our 20 minute romp into recess. It is the building of civilization all over again, starting with the barbaric yawp as they exit the door to the initial games of chasing each other all over the playground to settling into more calm and collected activities toward the end. And teacher is the busy adjudicator over it all. Judgments must be passed minute by minute. There was one student happy to be off by herself, two others in a world all their own, another enduring silent recess from a rough day the day before, the “main man” seeking to be king cheese, the police man coming to report all criminal activity (real and perceived), and even a couple who were determined to build something permanent in the sandbox (rather discouraged by the end of it).
But back we went into the classroom for snack. Do you realize that some K students have more for snack than I have for lunch? But everything is in miniature these days. There are even bottle water “pods” that are little H2O grenades. Moving beyond our obsession with bottled tap water being better than tap water, now we have half size waters that I am guessing cost as much as the full size. My table mate informed me, as I ate my Almond Snickers, that he was allergic to almonds. I queried if this included all nuts. Yes, but not peanuts. I am old enough to remember graham crackers and warm milk as the only snack we had in Kindergarten. I played Bill Cosby’s “Kindergarten” for some Fifth graders about a year ago. They laughed at his timing, but not at his joke content. He went on about warm milk, paper straws, etc, and they had nothing to relate this to. They have complete meals in a box, all shrink wrapped, kryo-packed, and carefree (once you have broken into the things).
Then it was PE. God bless Kindergarten PE teachers. We learned how to throw a ball underhanded. To do so we had to each get a rubberband on the wrist of our throwing hand and a piece of tape on our opposite shoe. This was so we could learn to step with our off foot while throwing with our hand. I thought the teacher was crystal clear. Evidence suggests one of two things: he and I speak a different English than the K class, or K kids go through a period of deafness every day. Again, God bless the K PE teacher. To emphasize my age, I managed to get so wrapped up in PE with the K class that I forgot I was supposed to step out of K for an hour to go teach my Logic 8 class, my one teaching assignment this year.
Ten minutes late to this class, I was amazed how difficult I found it to jump from K level thinking to teaching Logic. Are we that illogical in K, or have I just committed a fallacy? You decide, I am tired. My hour away meant that I got back to K about 15 minutes prior to dismissal for the K day. The kids seemed delighted to see me back during their “free time” but also happy to bid me goodbye just a few minutes later. Back in my office I am surprised to find how tired and sore I am. I sense the start of a headache. That usually promotes poetry.
A day in K is much more than playing
And learning my letters in multiple colors
It seems to include a great deal of order
To hold back the impending chaos.
May God grant a blessing particular
To the efforts exerted by teachers called to this age.
I am happy to be done with my one day
In the life of our kindergarten.
Okay, okay, so the headache did not promote poetry.
I head into the other K class next Wednesday. Will it be different? Tune in next week…