What Three Weeks with Kindergartners Taught Me, a Secondary Ed. Teacher

Yesterday afternoon wrapped up my last day, last week of the Lake Mills Elementary School Summer Camp, a part-time summer teaching position I decided to take to push myself completely out of my comfort zone.

Being a Secondary Ed. student in a Kindergarten classroom taught me a few things:

  1. You have to be extremely patient. Even to the point that you drive yourself crazy. Heading into the classroom with these five and six-year-olds with runny noses, never-ending stories, and the urge to potty every five minutes, I knew I had to change my perspective. They were mini-adults and I needed to treat them like that, but I had to have an extreme amount of patience when teaching them, when listening to their stories, and when repeating instructions.

At one point this week, we were teaching the little guys number sentences. 20150805_105746

They would draw a little box, fill it with dots, then draw a plus sign, then another box, and then an ‘=10’ at the end. They would count the first box, then add until they reached ten. We did about seven or eight problems together, after explaining everything at least twice, but they just couldn’t get that these were called number sentences. My head teacher and I must have had them repeat the phrase ‘number sentence’ four or five times together as a group, but they just were antsy. It was a lesson learned in patience! Teachers can’t get frustrated, they just have to find another way to teach.

2. Kindergartners need repetition to learn something. And as long as you teach the same thing in different ways, it will occupy their attention. [And this applies to older ages, too!] 20150805_105753Sometimes these little guys and girls were aliens to me. I guess I’m used to middle and high school kids who will not keep doing the same thing every day and who get bored easily.
Sure, Kindergartners have short attention spans, but they can and will do the same things over and over (without noticing!) if you teach in different ways, or make learning fun. Example:The number sentences on white boards, on the board, and with animal crackers. To teach the kids addition, we knew it would be difficult, so we did our first few problems together as a class. From there, we gave each student a white board and had them write what was on the board on their own whiteboards. From there, we moved to sitting at their desks with whiteboards–even this was different because they could feel more independent. Finally, we added animal crackers for them to have another visual representation of the math. And then they could eat them! Such simple things, but ways to make the number sentences seem different. 

3. You have to think like a five-year-old to teach a five year old. This sounds super weird, but I think it’s one of the most important lessons I’ve taken away in teaching Kindergartners. For example, we decided to play a vocabulary fly swatter game. I’ve played this game with all ages and I think the swatting and the competition is what makes it such a hit! In the game, two players (each with a fly swatter) will be read a word and they have to find that word on the board before their partner and slap it! [To read more about the game, click here.]

For these young students, I put some of their sight words on the board–‘like,’ ‘and,’ ‘he,’ ‘she,’ etc. As I was writing the words, though, I stopped and realized that I had to completely erase and start over. I had been using the entire board, but five and six-year-olds aren’t that tall! It was a huge ‘Oh!’ moment for me, just in the simple fact that I have to think in the head of a Kindergartner in order to be an effective teacher. If I was set in my perspective, the game would have been a disaster because the kids couldn’t even reach the words!

This is what my board looked like, once I realized that five-year-olds are a little shorter than me.
This is what my pre-fly-swatter-game board looked like, once I realized that five-year-olds are a little shorter than me.

4. Handwriting matters [and spelling]! This is both a ‘well, duh!’ and ‘LOL’ (laugh out loud) moment for me. As I was standing at the board, writing the months and days of the week for my students, I realized that I need to actually write straight and coherently! And as I double-checked myself with the words ‘February’ and ‘Wednesday’, I realized the importance of spelling correctly. I was teaching these kids basic and essential things. I couldn’t spell them wrong!

5. Shaving cream is fun no matter what age you are. For the last day, last activity, we had the kids play with shaving cream all over their desks, smearing it, goofing around with it, but also using their fingers to write numbers and letters. The kids, of course, got really into it, but what I loved about this activity is that it gave me a second to slow down. I realized how much fun learning could be. Sure, it was easy with five and six-year-olds, but even with older kids, learning can and should be a good time. And who doesn’t like getting all shaving-creamy? Even a teacher!

Shaving cream letters and numbers!
Shaving cream letters and numbers!

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