In kindergarten

Teacher: Program is more than play

Teacher: Program is more than play

May 05, 2003

"Baby-sitting service" or school class?

Last month, Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson drew strong reactions, pro and con, when he called for kindergarten to be abolished. He described it as "a full-time baby-sitting service ... so the parents can go to work."

The Herald-Mail decided to observe a Washington County kindergarten class to see if Munson was right.

Eastern Elementary School has one of the few full-day kindergarten programs in Washington County, but other schools expect to add it in the next few years. Therefore, Becky Myers sometimes has representatives from other schools watching her work.

Myers started teaching in 1978. She moved into early childhood education and kindergarten in 1990.

Asked about playtime in kindergarten, she said, "It used to be part of it, but for the past five years, we've been slowly getting away from that."


Myers' classroom is a whirl of stimuli. The walls are plastered with signs, boards and posters highlighting everyday things and how to spell them.

Her 20 students can refer to the walls for adjectives (happy, sad, shy, sick, embarrassed), creatures (cat, mouse, butterfly, bat) or nicknames for relatives (granny, pappy, nutter, mimaw).

Colors, numbers, the alphabet, more colors, more numbers - there's little blank wall space left.

Shelves are stocked with videotapes and games ranging from dominoes to Candyland.

Signs over a child-level sink urge students to be caring and show respect, citizenship, fairness, responsibility and trustworthiness.

A series of posters over their storage cubbies reminds them to cover their coughs, use words when they're angry, wash their hands and share.

Shortly before 9 a.m. this day, Myers' class listens to the daily announcements on closed-circuit TV. Students sing "The Star-Spangled Banner"; they recite the Pledge of Allegiance; they choose shrimp poppers or a fish sandwich for lunch.

Today's Star of the Day student points on the front board to the month, spelling it letter by letter. He correctly picks the day of the week and date. He looks out the window for the weather.

The class sits cross-legged on the floor to listen to a student teacher read aloud "Rain Forest Babies."

Myers gives the class its first assignment of the day: Look at a series of sketches of flowers. Put them in order, smallest to largest. Color them.

Myers reminds the children how to write the numbers they need. "Around the tree, around the tree, is 3," they chant together. "Down and over, down some more. That's the way we make a 4."

With the class busy, Myers works on reading with some students at a crescent-shaped table. Two boys take turns going through a short book about a trip to the grocery store. As one reads a page aloud, the other follows along, pointing to each word.

Myers pauses several times for questions. What are some examples of fruit? What is healthy food? What did the characters not buy at the store?

Next, two other boys read "Hide and Seek" and get a mini-quiz.

Did the boy find who he was looking for? How did he feel? What's a good place to hide at your house?

"The water filled the glass," a girl reads from her book. Myers asks if she can read the sentence backwards. She does.

While they're not reading with Myers, some students spread out on the carpet with giant books. "Here lies a greedy girl, Jane Beven," one book says. "Whose breakfasts hardly ever stopped. One morning at half past eleven/She snapped and crackled and popped."

Myers has broken up her average day into 12 approximate segments. She has just finished the first period, "Guided reading."

One period is for lunch, one is for "rest," another is for physical education. Every other segment is used for reading, writing, math or science.

Often, lessons overlap. While Myers and the children read "Whose Eggs Are These?," they learn how a crocodile lays eggs, that a baby eagle is an eaglet, that a dinosaur egg is fossilized. Myers explains some tricky spellings - the silent "E" on "turtle," the "AU" in "dinosaur" - so they can write their own sentences about hatching eggs.

It's only 10:30 a.m. There's still about five hours of instruction to go.

"Play is very important. Play is child's work," Myers said during an interview. "But we don't have (much) time."

Kindergartners follow schedules

A large easel in Becky Myers' kindergarten classroom shows her typical day:

9 to 10 a.m. - Guided reading

10 to 10:30 a.m. - Shared reading

10:30 to 11 a.m. - Response to shared reading

11 to 11:30 a.m. - Interactive writing

11:30 to noon - Lunch

noon to 12:15 p.m. - Read aloud: comprehension skills

12:15 to 1 p.m. - Physical education

1 to 1:30 p.m. - Rest

1:30 to 2 p.m. - Science activities

2 to 2:15 p.m. - Phonemic awareness (speech sounds)

2:15 to 2:45 p.m. - Independent reading

2:45 to 3:10 p.m. - Math

3:15 p.m. - Dismissal

(Note: In March, the school district added 30 minutes to each day to make up for days lost to heavy snow. This pushed the dismissal time for Myers' class from 3:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.)

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