A Day In The Life: Kindergarten ClassFebruary 21, 2020
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Story by Leann Burke
Photos by Kayla Renie
Kindergarten isn’t what it used to be.
Gone are the half days of school filled mostly with play, and learning the alphabet and how to count. Today’s kindergarten students go to school all day and are expected to already know their letters and beginning numbers by the first day of school. By the end of the kindergarten year, they read on their own, write compound sentences and work addition and subtraction math problems through the fives tables.
It’s a rigorous year that has teachers balancing academics with letting the 5- and 6-year-old students be kids. For Andrea Gehlhausen, Andi Longabaugh and their kindergarten students at Pine Ridge Elementary, every day is filled with a variety of activities to teach the students core subjects and interpersonal skills, and there’s never a dull moment. Wednesday, Feb. 12, was no different.
The students arrived at Pine Ridge between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m., just like every morning. But instead of making their way to their classrooms for a 90-minute reading block like most mornings, on Wednesdays, the students split up, with some boarding buses bound for religious education release time at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in St. Anthony, and others going to support activities managed by instructional assistants so the classroom teachers can have prep time. On this particular Wednesday, the kindergartners at religious education learned about God’s love, just in time for Valentine’s Day, while their classmates back at Pine Ridge watched an online video of actor Chris O’Dowd reading “Arnie the Doughnut” by Laurie Keller before creating doughnuts of their own out of construction paper.
“Is this making you hungry?” kindergartner Ava Huff asked as she drew red sprinkles on her white doughnut. “I bet it is, because sprinkles are very good on doughnuts.”
At 9 a.m., the students reported to their classrooms where they had quiet reading time at their desks. Eric Hughes chose a book about animals and eagerly shared some of the facts he learned with his classmates in his desk pod. Cheetahs, he shared, can run at speeds up to 70 mph, and peregrine falcons can fly at speeds of more than 200 mph.
Eric couldn’t believe it.
At 9:10, the books were put away and the students stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a few minutes of mindfulness exercises and stretches to get their brains in learning mode.
“OK, are we ready to learn?” Gehlhausen asked her students. She got a chorus of affirmations in response.
Back in their seats, the students completed a dictation exercise, writing a seven-word sentence Gehlhausen spoke, before gathering on the rug in a corner of the classroom for a storytime. Today’s story, “Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool” by Kimberly and James Dean, featured the titular character discovering the joy of giving Valentine’s Day cards to those in his life.
By the end of the story, it was 9:30 a.m. and time for recess, the first of three recess periods kindergartners get each day. The students grabbed their coats and hurried outside, only to discover rain. They were stuck with indoor recess.
“I’m mad!” Eric said, walking back down the hall to return his coat and grab toys out of the classroom to take to the gym for recess.
He wasn’t the only one disappointed. But once in the gym, the students forgot their disappointment as they joined the first- and second-graders in board games.
After a 20-minute recess, both kindergarten classes came together for intervention time, which splits the students into small groups by ability level to get additional help with language arts activities. Some groups still worked on sounding out words while others were ready to read full-length books on their own. Regardless of ability level, the students completed activities meant to challenge them.
After intervention time, students returned to their classrooms for a handwriting lesson. On this day, the students learned to write the letter X. Gehlhausen explained that X is a sliding letter, so students needed to draw sliding lines from the top of their guidelines to the bottom to create the letter. To practice forming the letter, Gehlhausen had them stand up and get out their scarves — pieces of colorful sheer fabric the students use to form letters in the air. The students guided their scarves through the air, tracing a giant X shape before tossing the fabric into the air and clapping before catching it as it drifted toward the ground.
“It’s just a way to introduce some movement into the lesson,” Gehlhausen said.
The handwriting lesson concluded with students writing in their journals. With Valentine’s Day just days away, the topic was: Who do you love and why? The students had to write at least one full sentence of two clauses joined by the word “because.” Most students wrote about their mom or dad. Once they’d written their sentences, they illustrated them while Gehlhausen made her way around the room to visit each student and talk about his or her sentence.
“This is so much smoother compared to the beginning of the year,” Gehlhausen said. “They can do things on their own now.”
After handwriting time, Gehlhausen led the students through a brain break — a small physical activity to help get the wiggles out — before class dismissed for lunch and second recess, which was again indoors.
After lunch, the students returned to their classrooms where Longabaugh’s students played board games, and Gehlhausen’s students worked with STEM — which stands for science, technology, engineering and math — kits. Both classes trade off daily between board games and STEM kits so the teachers can share resources. The activities replace the afternoon nap time the kindergartners had during the first semester.
“It’s just some more down time because they’re used to having rest,” Gehlhausen said.
The board games are a new activity Gehlhausen and Longabaugh added this year after attending a kindergarten conference about the importance of play for the age group. At the conference, presenters talked about students losing the ability to work in teams and problem solve together as academics replace playtime. To bring those skills back, Gehlhausen and Longabaugh teach the kids how to play the board games — Sorry, Chutes and Ladders and Uno are a few that make the cut — and then turn the kids lose. If someone is accused of cheating, the students have to resolve that on their own. If the rules aren’t clear on how to handle a situation, they make up one. And if they don’t remember the rules, they have to agree on how they’re going to play.
“We often say they play ‘street Uno’ or ‘street Sorry’,” Longabaugh said.
For a group of students playing a memory matching game, rock, paper, scissors became the way to solve issues among the group.
After STEM or game time came calendar time where students practiced counting and patterns, and learned the days of the week, months of the year and how to describe weather.
Then, it was time for math lessons. By this point in the year, the students have already learned addition and subtraction tables through the number five. Today’s lesson was on teen numbers, and included some word problems.
“Yes, we have word problems in kindergarten now,” Longabaugh said. “We used to just learn numbers.”
By this point in the day, it was clear the students were getting tired. It took them longer to quiet down for a lesson, lining up to go to the hall was more of a challenge and squabbles erupted over little things, like whose turn it was to grab a marker and dry erase board out of the box for math practice.
Thankfully, it was 1 p.m. and time for gym class. Gym is one of several special classes students have during the week, with a different one each day. On Mondays, the students have music, Tuesday is library day, Wednesday is gym, Thursday is art and Friday is Chromebook time where the students learn to use the laptops that will follow them through senior year of high school.
At Pine Ridge, classroom teachers lead gym class, so on this Wednesday, Gehlhausen and Longabaugh brought their classes together in the gym for fitness challenges emphasizing control. One activity had the kids attempt to toss a Frisbee disc into a hula hoop several feet away on the floor; the other challenged the students to use a hockey stick to push a foam dodgeball from one end of the gym to the half court line, around a cone and back. The kids kept control of the balls well, but the Frisbee discs flew all over their half of the court.
Gym class ended at 1:40 p.m., just in time for the final recess of the day. It was still raining, so the kids were stuck inside again. At this point, Eric was ready for school to be done for the day.
“I just want to go home and see my dogs and cats,” he said.
His favorite part of the day — math — was over, and indoor recess had lost its appeal.
At 2 p.m., third recess ended and the kindergartners headed back to the classrooms for centers — a circuit of various activities that cover a wide range of subjects. Some students sat on the reading rug to read books of their choice; others practiced writing sentences, and others typed their spelling words for the week in a Google Doc. For math, some students played a dice game, while others worked on IReady, the online component of the math textbook. The last group — creative play — had kids make-believe making Valentine’s Day cookies with Play-Doh. The students do centers three days a week, and work at two centers a day. For the rest of the week, one day is dedicated to additional STEM activities, and the second is dedicated to a science or social studies lesson, depending on the week.
At 2:50, the students packed up their backpacks — complete with a homework assignment — and lined up to wait for their bus number to be called. By 3 p.m., the classrooms were empty and the kids were headed home after another day of kindergarten.