Contrasting Kindergartens

Ok. So, Wednesday, I take a sub job with a kindergarten.  I get a lot of those because a lifetime ago when I was working on my elementary education degree I took extra credits to be certified to teach the little ones. This was after I’d worked in day care while my husband was in graduate school. I loved the kids.  What’s not to love about playing most of the day, having a nap and a snack and a yummy hot lunch? 

I never went to kindergarten.  When I was five, we lived out in the country and a public school bus took my sister to the Catholic school in town that had no kindergarten.  When I was ready for first grade that’s where I went as well. But I’ve heard the purpose of kindergarten in those days was to socialize children, teach them their colors and numbers and the ABC song.  Maybe tie their shoes.  (I was well into first grade before I learned that.) 

Well, in 2012 kindergarten is a wee bit different.  These kids are expected to learn to read, learn the “hundreds” chart, count by fives, tens, twenties, etc., etc… They learn how to line up, stay quiet in the halls, “control their bodies” do morning “seat work” and on and on and on.  They are tested and re-tested. There is still play time and rest time, but nobody takes a real nap anymore.  There simply is no time.  I have to admit though, more than once I’ve let a child sleep who was supposed to be awakened for more work.  A lot of kids are sleep deprived and they need that rest.  I’ll be darned if I’m going to wake a five-year-old up from a much needed nap so he can practice writing his name. 

Back to my recent experience.  I had a class of sixteen of the most delightful children any teacher would love.  For five and six year olds they were very mature, smart and cooperative (that last attribute is a real plus for a sub.)  Nine of them were from Spanish speaking homes, but the kids were all fluent in English.  One was reading as well as any second grader.  That day I talked to a first grade teacher who’d been teaching for 40 years.  He feels that kinders are being given way too much age inappropriate work. We are pushing them too fast.  “Remember,” he said, “When most kids learned to read in second grade?”  Fortunately for me, the class I had that day were high achievers, not to mention really nice kids. 

The next day I was in a different kindergarten in a different school.  Whoa, Nelly!  Fifteen of the squirrelliest (if it’s not a word it should be. It’s the best word to describe these kids) children I’d ever encountered.  I wasn’t told, but quickly discovered, that some of them weren’t simply ignoring me—they didn’t understand English.  No one had informed me of this beforehand.  But even the kids who clearly knew English all seemed to be on another planet.  One little girl kept packing and unpacking her schoolbag. (Now there’s a term from another century.)   Two boys insisted on wrestling and just generally causing chaos.  These weren’t bad children (if indeed there is such a genre of kids).  They were simply very immature.  Somehow I managed to get them to do their work.  I discovered if I physically steered the kids who didn’t understand English and pointed to their work, they would, for the most part, do it.  But one of them just wanted to look at books all day. I sympathize.  I’d love to just look at picture books all day.  But we had reading, writing and math to learn.  This class did not even get a rest time.  At least it wasn’t in my lesson plans.  

At one point I was trying to kill five minutes before we went to lunch and they were all imitating a scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas. You know the one when Charlie is trying to organize the pageant and all the kids are dancing around in different directions, ignoring him?  I burst out in a rendition of “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”  It worked.  They became a group.  We sang it over and over.  Now loud, now soft.  Ended with a whisper.  Thank God for the years I taught day care.  Some five year olds are not far removed from their terrible twos.  But I have to say, for all the stress and expectations, I love ‘em.  There is nothing more rewarding than a hug from a kid, and knowing maybe you taught them a little something that day.  Even when the class is like that scene from Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

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