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Published Monday, March 7, 2016

The Culture of Kindergarten

By Barbara Sidman

“Do you want something to eat, Mrs. Sidman?” I looked down to see one of my kindergarten students holding a plastic hamburger and bun on a plate with some pretend chips and veggies.

“Yum! Did you make all that by yourself?” I said, as I pretended to munch away. She nodded and jumped up and down with excitement, thrilled that I was enjoying my meal. She and some friends were playing restaurant, and apparently I was their first customer. “May I see a menu? I’d like to come back with a friend.” She ran back to her friends and said, “Guys! We have to make a menu fast!!” and they began: salmin, wtr melin, psta. When I finished my meal, I asked for the check. They decided to charge me $7, but unfortunately I only had a $10 bill. They used the strategies they had learned during a more formal math lesson and gave me the correct change.

Welcome to kindergarten, the happiest place on earth! It is here that children learn to create, imagine, design, take turns, negotiate with peers, problem solve, listen, empathize and encourage.

They learn how to deal with delayed gratification and disappointment.  And yes, they learn to read, write, and solve math problems, not just on worksheets, but in real life situations. The children enjoy our science unit on bears, mammals, and hibernation because they bring toy bears from home and work as a group to create the proper environment for a hibernating bear with recyclable items from the STEM lab. We also use bear counters in our math lessons, and the children try to pick up items like forks and marbles like a bear would with a paw.

Learning should be a journey, not a race. Kindergarten children should learn in a developmentally appropriate environment, and for five and six year olds, that should not be sitting in a row at desks doing worksheets, but figuring out how to build Columbus’s three ships in the block area, and who gets to write the name of each ship. That is what makes each day exciting, and that’s why I have been teaching kindergarten for 25 years.

When my former students come back to visit, they never say, “Remember that worksheet we did on addition?” Instead they say, “Remember how we painted the Sistine Chapel on our backs under the table like Michelangelo?” It is my hope that these children will be the next generation of thinkers and dreamers like Einstein, Picasso, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The greatest gift you can give your child, besides unconditional love, is time. Time to play, to dream, to create, and to imagine. And by the way, if you have time, drop in to my CHA kindergarten restaurant. Rumor has it that Monday is “spageddee” day.

Barbara Sidman is a kindergarten teacher at Cohen Hillel Academy.

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