Friday, October 9, 2009

Everything I needed to know I learned in Kindergarten

Apparently in kindergarten you learn that getting messy is a sin.

Every other Friday I get the privilege of volunteering in my son Caleb's kindergarten class for reading groups. It's 40 minutes that flies by, but is certainly not short on action.

Today, my "station" involved paint stamping with mini marshmallows (they're learning the letter m and their pincer grasp - hang with me here, people).

But these children were as distressed about the small smudges of paint on the tips of their fingers as I am with muddy shoes on white carpet.

Almost immediately, they all became obsessed with cleanliness.

Instead of challenging their minds with clever ways to learn the letter m, I was on frantic washcloth duty to cries of, "I need this paint off!" and "My fingers! My fingers!" as they shook their dotted fingertips my way.

Seriously. At this rate, you won't finish these painting projects before the marshmallows turn rock-hard stale and the paint turns to clay!

But if I wasn't eradicating spots of paint, I was guarding the marshmallow bowl with my life. Here's a tip: don't put little balls of sugar in front of 5-yr-olds minutes before they are due for lunch. It can get ugly.

One boy did manage to sneak one from the bowl, and in his haste did not see that it had been splattered with blue paint. Of course, there were several others that didn't miss that detail and soon the scores of children yelling, "He ate blue paint!" was deafening. The teacher's reply? "Well, the label says 'non-toxic' so we're good."

I love her.

But really, you can't help but fall head over heels for the little tykes. Is there anything cuter than a kindergartener with stocking cap hair? Or the child that is convinced you are as ecstatic about them going to a sleepover at Grandma's tonight as they are?

And I love what teachers can use to make a system work with little kids. There are four reading groups and today only 3 adults to oversee them. Thus the "Independent Reading" station is born.

Each child has a laundry basket, complete with fluffy pillow for comfort, to sit in and search for m words in a dictionary. (The kid/picture versions. Don't worry, the little Einsteins aren't sifting through Webster.) To look into that corner of the classroom and see five to six wee ones cozied up in their individual laundry basket with a book was priceless. And pretty funny, actually.

You're SITTING in a laundry basket, kid. That's just cool.

Eventually, after 23 "Yes" responses to "Are you Caleb's mom?", several yanks of the marshmallow bowl away from grabby hands, and gingerly slipping "Marshmallow Monster" masterpieces to rest in a drying rack, it is time for me to go. Somehow those 40 minutes wore me out ten times as much as the hour-long workout I did at the gym prior to my volunteer duty.

Teachers are gold. Seriously, how did their pay get so poor? They deserve the salaries of neurosurgeons. After all, they shape young minds.

And somehow manage not to lose their own.

On a side note, I read an article this week about teacher salaries possibly becoming based on merit. One "anonymous" teacher had the audacity to say calculus teachers and elementary teachers should not be considered equal for pay. (The assumption was that calculus teachers had the harder job.) My bet is "Mr. or Ms. Anonymous" wouldn't last a week in a kindergarten classroom.

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