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Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Written by Mary Michalow '10
3/21/2011

The author works with a kindergartner at South Hill Elementary School.

For the past four years, I’ve dragged myself out of bed at 8:00 a.m. twice a week to be body-slammed with hugs by five-yearolds— their way of saying hello. I am now an expert at washing tables and pouring water into plastic cups with zoo animal handles. I’m a pro at zipping up coats and at pulling jacket sleeves over mittens, and snow pants over boots. I cut mouse hats out of felt and draw hearts at the top of every paper, a symbol that reminds students to write their name.

I started volunteering in Marcie Kidd’s kindergarten classroom at South Hill Elementary School my first semester freshman year, when I needed to complete fieldwork for my Educational Psychology class. I helped with computer lab, library, and math time, but most often with rotations. When I arrived at South Hill at 9:00, Marcie prepped me for the morning’s activities while the kids snacked on cheese and crackers, Go-Gurt and fruit, or cheese and veggies. Rotations started promptly at 9:30, and for the next hour students went through four activities in small groups. Activities ran the gamut, from learning to write letters to solving addition problems with dominoes, playing a rhyming card game to spelling classmates’ names with Scrabble tiles. Marcie would assign me an activity to lead or assist, and I worked one-on-one or in small groups with students during the 15-minute rotations.

A special education teacher for 20 years and a kindergarten teacher for the past five, Marcie is a veteran educator who loves new ideas. She constantly adapts and improves lessons. When she’s absent, she writes meticulous, eight-page lesson plans for the substitute teacher, knowing how important routine is to kindergartners. When a field trip gets canceled at the last minute or it starts to rain two minutes before recess, she implements plans B, C, and D

Kindergarten’s changed a lot since I was five. Back then, kindergarten was a half day, and we did a lot of worksheets that involved circling pictures that started with a certain letter. The hardest thing I remember doing was copying a poem off the board for Mother’s Day. In Marcie’s full-day kindergarten, students make bar graphs to chart their favorite colors and answer corresponding math questions. They write and illustrate stories in their writing journals. They construct math equations based on dice rolls. They even make homemade applesauce! I was constantly amazed at what Marcie’s students could cognitively handle, and when I told her this, she responded, “Kindergarten’s a lot like special ed. They can handle all sorts of things if you break it down and explain it in simple ways.”

Marcie’s background in special education was extremely useful this past year, when she had three students requiring extra attention. A special ed teacher and two aides visited the class for part of the day, giving the classroom a vastly different dynamic than in previous years. At the same time, it’s been invaluable to see Marcie and other educators work with these students to maximize their learning. I’ve learned that a little creativity and a lot of patience go a long way—how putting a math sheet in a clear plastic sleeve can prevent a child from ripping it up in frustration, or how letting a child tell a lengthy personal story means he will listen and participate in a group activity because the other children listened to him.

I graduated last May and am now in Philadelphia, pursuing a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Pennsylvania. I hope to combine the teaching skills I learned in Marcie’s classroom with communications skills I learned as a journalism major at IC: I want my students to blog and create video projects and work collaboratively on Google Docs, learning media literacy alongside mandated curriculum. With Marcie only an e-mail away, I’m confident that I, too, can become an incredible teacher. 



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