One thing I love about teaching Kindergarten is that the kids are looking to play all the time. I went to school each day in a joyful frame of mind because the kids were so happy and fun to talk with and learn from and teach and share with and watch and see grow. The standardized skills were embedded in my classwork, and kids learned naturally, a LOT through play.
One of the things I did each week was send home a Friday note to parents, offering suggestions as to how the kid could extend what we were learning in school while at home. Some suggestions were simple–let your child set the table, and count the silverware as s/he placed it around. Some were more complex–help your child get a bowl of water and add a teaspoon of various liquids (milk, liquid soap, Kool-aid, etc,) and see which allows pepper or some other spice to float. Then, make a chart of the results. Can you make it sink? When does it sink by itself?
The idea was to connect school and home while allowing the child to connect with a family member and then have something to share at school. You see, my “Show and Tell” (which is often called Bring and Brag by both educators and parents behind kids’ backs) had to connect to our learning in some way. Kids then began to look outside of school for connections any way they could. It was just one more way to make learning real, but also to see the connections between what we were learning and what they lived. Kids hypothesizing, playing as they tried things out, and wondering and questioning kept them engaged–and the knowledge that they were going to share their work with classmates meant that they worked for quality. There was an audience involved, after all!
I remember people coming to my room to observe and having time to talk to them as the kids worked. I was the sage on the stage infrequently, as whenever we were in a group, the kids were usually in charge of leading it. When they shared their writing in the Author’s Chair, they ended with “Any questions of comments?” and they got to choose who to call upon. When we did Sharing Time (our name for the Show and Tell work), the kids knew to take turns around the circle–so I could completely back out to sit at a table and take anecdotal notes, or be getting materials ready for the next activity as I listened. When we moved into Free Choice time, it was never called playing–because they knew as they built with blocks, they were learning about space and height and length and how shapes fit together in our world. When they were dictatiing sentences to me, we played with language, but they knew they were learning letters and words. When they went to our Housekeeping area, they knew they were learning about being kind to one another and how to interact in their various roles, whether it be the bossy Mom, or working Dad, or baby sister. As they went to the sandbox, their sifting and building and making puddles and ponds allowed them to learn about water flowing downhill-and our conversations always revolved around things they knew after their work at the various centers in free choice. I had no trouble getting them to write, as notepads and paper were everywhere–they could make grocery lists in housekeeping, send a worker to the block store in blocks (with his list of tools to buy, of course) or draw and make books in our writing center. Reading time was time to play with language and words and books–with our voices, our telling stories and our connections to our lives, other stories and our memories. We built memories together-when it became time to clean up, we sang as we did so–and I love hearing my current fifth graders sing their clean up song sometimes as they push in chairs and straighten up before returning to their homerooms.
The bottom line here is that we all had fun–even when doing a chore such as clean up, because we did it together as members of a community of people who respected each other and who enjoyed being together. We took walks through the woods behind our school together, and i never worried about losing anyone–they watched out for one another. We uncovered rocks and logs to see what was under them, and everyone took turns looking at the creepy crawlies and rotting grossness we often found. My little singers often got together on the playground to try to harmonize songs or do rounds–at 5 and 6 years old. They loved playing with music and their voices.
We took field trips to orchards and strawberry fields and went on hay rides and explored museums. We watched movies occasionally and then talked about the parts we liked best. We read and re-read patterned language books so they could learn to repeat them, and play read it themselves. We read The Great Pumpkin Switch and then went to a friend’s house to peel potatoes and make apple butter. We explored the events in books in real ways, and so we grew and learned and laughed and loved together.
Coming to work-or school, for the kids-was play. Our routines and rituals built the work we did–and because it was enjoyable and challenging and community building and exciting, we had fun and saw challenges as something to work through and figure out how to do. In that kind of classroom, I could be happy letting anyone pre-test and post-test my kids to see what they had learned.
Shouldn’t all classrooms be like my Kindergarten? Shouldn’t we all feel like coming to work is play?