In late May, a fellow teacher-friend told me about an awesome opportunity just outside of town—teaching summer school for elementary kids in Lake Mills, Iowa! As someone who’s always working with secondary students, I jumped on the opportunity to work with a different age-group and see how I could learn to adapt and change my teaching style for younger kids. (Plus, I’ve been working at the local daycare for almost four years now, so I at least have an idea of how youngsters act!) I was excited!
This week was the second week of summer school, but my first week working. Not knowing a single person, I stepped into the back playground of the elementary school looking and feeling absolutely clueless, but within a few minutes, I met some teachers and found a place where I could be useful—passing out and assisting with breakfast.
I was placed with the Kindergarten class for the week. The first thing I noticed in walking into the room was how many decorations there were. I’m used to the bare-bones high school classrooms without pictures or colors splashed on the walls. Walking into the Kindergarten room was like stepping into my childhood. There was the animal alphabet lining the top perimeter of the room, the giant calendar front and center, the colored chairs and name tags, and the decorated and labeled bins for markers, paper, scissors, games, and supplies. Everything was bright, especially the seating rug at the front of the room where the children were gathered. It was so bright and cheerful!
The first thing the students did was share about their week and then talk about today’s date. It was so cute seeing their little faces glued to the teacher and their fidgety arms and legs. As the head teacher instructed, I really paid attention to how she talked. She repeated things, spoke slowly, and gave personalized attention to each student. In comparison to a secondary classroom, these kids were all over the place—touching their neighbors, asking completely off-topic questions, getting side-tracked, wanting to move quickly from one activity to another—it was a pace I wasn’t used to, that’s for sure!
The Kindergarten day is set up in small sections of activities, each about thirty minutes long. There was the talking about the date, a section on telling time (what o’clock), a dance break, a math packet, a reading/story time activity, a sentences activity, and an out-of-class field trip to the ‘store’ where students could count fake money and use it to buy goodies.
Exercise break! Just Dance videos on YouTube!
What was super exciting about my first day was that I got to step in right away. One of the helper teachers was out for a funeral, so I worked with a group of five (there were 12 total) with a short-story reading and then a math activity. This was honestly such a challenge. I realized I had to have eyes in two places at once at all times. I had to read the story, but also make sure each kid was pointing along and reading with me. This lead to interruptions, as I would stop to make sure each child was on the right page and the right word. Then I had to repeat instructions slowly and step-by-step, which was very difficult when it came to the math packets, as each child was on a different page. Eventually I was explaining the pages over and over again as each child moved forward and it was a little frustrating.
The summer school runs from about 8:30 to 12 with breakfast from 8:30-9 and then lunch at the church across the street at 11:30-12. Even though the day was short, I felt that so much had happened. And I have to say, I was exhausted! Working with younger kids made me realize what a profound influence elementary teachers have on their students. The students are in awe of them, and everything that is taught is so essential to their future, daily lives—time, basic math, sharing, the date/days of the week, exercise, sentence-writing, and talking. Coming into this week, I didn’t feel ready. I still don’t, but I’m excited about the challenge that younger-age kids can bring, and the way that learning to teach them can make me even more well-rounded.