Isn’t it nice to think that everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten? In reality, that just is not always the case. Guest blogger Pat Miller explains what she has learned over the years from kindergartners.
In my many years as an educator and school librarian, I’ve had a lot of in-service training, not to mention the training from the required masters degree. But the lessons I’ve learned best came from my kindergartners. Despite only five years on the planet, their passion for books and stories, their fresh take on life, and their joy in everyday things is inspirational. Here’s what they taught me.
1. Colorful word choice is important. I was reviewing the animal groups with a class of kindergartners and they were stumped on the one that had fur. A second clue about live babies vs. eggs didn’t help. But when I mentioned that the mother animals made milk for their babies, the connection was made for one dark-eyed little boy. His voice was animated as his hand jabbed the air, “I know this one! They’re called milkies!” Another day, we were discussing how cold weather had finally come to the Gulf coast and it had affected our clothing choices that day. “What are you wearing now that you wouldn’t wear when it’s hot?” I asked. Students looked at themselves and named sweaters, hoodies, sweatshirts, and tights. One boy seemed tongue-tied as he tried to name the thought he had in mind. He was pointing to his pants when he finally nabbed the words. “I’m wearing my long-sleeved shorts.”
2. Connect with others. It was my first year as librarian, and two little boys were determined to play a joke on me. They came up to me with their arms around each other and asked, “Did you know we are brothers?” When I told them I knew they weren’t, one boy said, “Yes we are—in God’s way.” Thinking to tease them back, I said, “Then in God’s way, I’m your sister.” They were stumped for a minute, looking at me and then each other. I thought perhaps the fact that their ebony skin didn’t match my freckled skin was throwing them off. The light dawned in one boy’s eyes as he said, “No. In God’s way, you’re our mother!”
3. Tackle a problem with imagination. Towards the end of the year, one of my more precocious kindergartners came to the library by himself. As I checked out his books, I noticed he had two watches strapped to his wrist. When I asked him about them, he said that only one watch worked, but it had Roman numerals and he couldn’t read them. But the other had numbers, though it didn’t work. He had figured out a translation system so he could tell the time.
4. Be helpful. One of my kindergartners was giving the new kid a tour of the library. When she got to the picture book section, she said, “These books are more organized than the tub books. The good ones are on the top shelves, the middle-size good ones are in the middle, and the boring ones are on the bottom.”
5. Be kind. The lesson was about learning the names of hens and chicks, cows and calves, and other mothers and their babies. We had talked about how mother animals can recognize their baby’s unique moo or meow. Trying to connect this to their own lives, I told them that animals were like their own mothers who could pick their voice out of a crowd. “If you were lost in Wal-Mart and wanted to find your mom, you could call her name. And of all the mothers in the store, your own mom would recognize your voice and come running.” The group broke into buzzing about times they were lost and a pig-tailed child took that opportunity to lean towards me. Not wishing to embarrass me in front of the class, she whispered, “Actually, I’d just ask a grown-up to call my mom on the loudspeaker.”
Pat Miller is the author of more than twenty children’s and professional books, including Substitute Groundhog and Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution. Pat was a military brat who entered kindergarten in Japan, and she’s been in schools across the country as student, teacher, and librarian until she retired on June 10 in Texas. She and her husband, also an elementary educator, raised their three kindergartners through grad school and into adulthood. In turn, their kids are raising a granddaughter, kindergarten class of 2016, and boy and girl twins, class of 2017. Their two illiterate dogs are graduates of obedience school, where they learned to be kind and use their inside voices.