Kindergarten is a magical place. For the past month, I have been assisting the pre-k/kindergarten teacher at the school where my husband currently works. Every school day, I get to watch this little group of four and five-year-olds learn. And you know what? Kindergarten is hard! The “basics” aren’t so basic when you’re a little person who’s new to school–memorizing numbers, figuring out how to force your fidgety fingers to hold to a pencil, and sitting still. Quietly! But here’s one of the biggest challenges-learning to play courteously with others.
Sometimes I think these kiddos learn the most from their play time. Not only do they develop fine motor skills by building marble tracks and stacking blocks, but they learn how to interact with other human beings in an unstructured environment. Every day is a new series of lessons in sharing, problem solving, and self-advocating. Watching and guiding them as they grapple with these lessons is exhausting, but the rewards are simply scrumptious. At least I’m not the one figuring it all out. It’s a wonder that these kids make it through each learning-stuffed day without collapsing.
Not only is it challenging to cooperate with others, but cooperating with yourself is another huge obstacle for these young people. I have witnessed many cases of “I can’t do it” disorder bubbling to the surface in the classroom. I hate that it sets in so early, but it does. Whether it’s drawing people (proportions are tough), coloring in a picture, or building a marble track, I often hear kids complaining that they can’t do the task set before them. Sometimes the mental block is so ominous that these little ones dissolve in tears. Frustration is one thing, but believing you can’t do something when you really truly can, is just heartbreaking.
One of the many things that I love about the kindergarten teacher is that she simply won’t stand for it.
She never “does” anything for the kids. Instead, she talks them through the nasty voices in their heads telling them that they’re not good enough and even if they insist that they are incapable of accomplishing the task, she makes sure that every single student finishes their projects. She is strict, but she never withholds praise. She wants every child to shine and be uninhibitedly creative.
It’s a privilege to learn from these students and their dedicated teacher, who by the way is most definitely a teaching artist. I wonder if these kids will ever appreciate how lucky they are to have a teacher who so deeply wants them to believe in themselves. She cuts out wooden farm animals and has the kids paint them because she wants them to feel that they “made” a wooden animal. It’s doesn’t matter that they didn’t cut out the animals themselves. Just the decorating gives them a sense of ownership and accomplishment. It really is about believing that they can do things and being okay if they don’t turn out the way they expected. Now that, my friends, is one of the most essential “basics” that kids can and should learn.