The other evening as I was pulling out my Bible and journal for quiet time, humming softly as I settled on top of my bed, I realized I was singing, “Q-u says kw kw kw kw kw kw.”
In that moment, I had crossed some invisible line that I don’t think I can return from: I am officially a kindergarten teacher nearing the end of my first year teaching. I have passed into a different realm altogether and it becomes alarmingly clear when I find myself humming the alphabet song or explaining a word like ‘mystique’ because it was in a ‘qu’ song I played in class.
Before I left for Guatemala, I received some invaluable advice from one of the ladies at church who had been a kindergarten teacher for thirty years. Her piece of wisdom was to keep a notebook nearby to record the stories of the day. I took her advice and have had no end of laughter and smiles as I reread these stories. Thank you, Mrs. Roden, for those words.
Here are some stories from my classroom:
One of my students asked, “Ms. Cowan, can we look at pictures of airplanes on your computer?”
I said we could, and I took my computer to his desk. I wanted to know what kind of airplanes he wanted to look at? Big ones? Jet planes? Or just airplanes? He had been into spaceships and rockets the week before and I wanted to know if perhaps he wanted to look up spaceships?
“I want to look at the Airbus A 3-8-0. That is what it says on the wings. It is the biggest airplane. It holds 108 people,” he said, enunciating each word in his deliberate fashion. “Airbus A three-eighty,” he repeated when I blinked at him in surprise.
We looked up the Airbus A380. It was big. Double decker, blue and white. He giggled in delight as we scrolled through pictures.
“Why does it have such big engines?” was his next question. I looked up a video on how plane engines worked in Airbuses.
“Ms. Cowan,” he declared in the middle of the video, “Airplanes use airplane gas. You cannot put car gas in them.”
“Oh,” I agreed. “I see.”
He nodded sagely and went back to watching the video. We looked up how jet engines worked after that and that had him giggling again at how the air went through the turbines.
“May I bring my airplane to school?” he asked when we were done. I told him he could and the rest of center time he told everyone he had a secret he was bringing to school—but it took no convincing at all for him to tell it was an airplane, his very own Airbus A380.
One of my students broke another student’s heart today.
“She was my best friend, but now my heart is broken,” he said.
“My heart is…” she started but didn’t have the words. She took her hands in the shape of a heart and wrenched the two sides apart, “He broke it.”
There is nothing like the seriousness of children to match their silliness.
In the span of a single afternoon, there were discussions of broken hearts, death, who would be king (only to find out I had been dubbed so), stuffed dogs named Princess and baby cobras with baby cobra teeth. I am forever fascinated by the thoughts of children. They have an uncanny ability to accept certain things, like the death of a grandparent (who are with Jesus now, they told me), while not being able to accept others, like that there can be two stuffed dogs named Princess.
The class was sitting in morning meeting when one of my students yelled, “I’m a meatball!”
I said, “You’re a what? A meatball?”
He said, “Yes,” with the funniest shy smile.
I said, “You’re a meatball! All this time I thought you were a student and you’ve been a meatball! When did this happen?”
One of the other students offered seriously, “Five years ago he turned into a meatball.”
I asked if it was pretend, like in one of their favorite books where the character pretends to be a frog.
One student said yes; the other said no.
One of my students had a nosebleed today. It just started bleeding when we were standing in line. He got a paper towel and stopped it up.
“My blood is strong,” he informed me, “I have my mother’s blood. It is red and it is strong blood.”
Sometimes I don’t know what to say.
I gave my kids a huge lecture about being kind one day. At recess, I checked in with my kids and asked some of them who they were playing with and how it was going? One of the girls told me, “I’m playing with my best friend.”
I asked who that was, thinking it was one of the other girls in our class.
“Sophia,” she informed me.
I didn’t know any student with that name and asked who that was.
“She is invisible,” she told me happily and held out her hand to her invisible friend. Apparently, her friend Sophia took her hand because she closed her hand like someone’s hand was in hers and went skipping off towards the swings.
On Valentine’s Day, I walked to the top of the little hill that goes down to art to pick my kids up from their art class. As soon as my students saw me, they charged up the hill and swarmed my legs, knocking me off the sidewalk.
“Ms. Cowan!” they all cried, “we love you!”
I was trying not to be bowled over by the ten little bodies clinging to my legs and yelling that they loved me. I looked at Malinda, the art teacher, in confusion at my students’ sudden devotion, but she just laughed.
Later, she told me she was asking who all the kids loved since it was Valentines.
“I love my brother,” someone would say.
“I love …” someone else would say and name another student in class.
Malinda asked, “Doesn’t anyone love Ms. Cowan?”
“Yes!” they all agreed as if it were obvious.
“Have you told her?”
She said they all went wide-eyed, “Noooo…”
“You had better tell her,” Malinda informed them.
Hence the sticky, paint-full hands of ten children so full of love that I couldn’t move.
Last week, several classes had standardized testing to finish, which meant kindergarten didn’t get their computer special. Instead, I took them to the playground for a bit. While they were playing, one of my students found a half-dead moth that had been crushed. It was missing the scales on its back and an antenna along with part of its wing. He had just learned about the difference between moths and butterflies and was very interested in this moth. I told him to take it off the play-set and to a tree. He said, “Ok,” very seriously, as if I had just imparted to him a job so important he couldn’t waste breath on unnecessary words. He took it to a tree and took one of the other students to go and see it. They got a paper towel and made a habitat for it. They put dirt on the paper towel and made the dirt damp for the moth. They put leaves and twigs in the dirt and put the moth on their habitat.
“We must take it to the hospital!” the little boy told the little girl, and they bounded off across the playground.
During quiet time, they told me they had left the moth sleeping under a tree.
The moth died during second recess. Or at least, they pronounced it dead. I didn’t see the funeral they held for it under the Line Up Tree, but I later saw the grave they had dug and covered with carefully arranged rocks and sticks. The first student told me that he said a prayer for the moth and the other student sang a song for it before having to line up to go back to class.
One Wednesday, I told my kids about Hump day—except they didn’t know what a hill was so I used a mountain as an example since they are in abundance here.
“The first days of the week are like climbing up a mountain, but Wednesday is when you are on top! You made it! Yay! And the other days of the week are going down the mountain.”
One of my students thought on this before raising his hand. “Ms. Cowan, Saturday and Sunday are the valleys?”
“Yes, I suppose that makes Saturday and Sunday the valley.” I agreed.
He nodded, “I like the valley.”
In Social Studies, I was talking with my kids about what people did in the past without electricity—and what about before silverware?
“What do you think people had to use to eat?” I asked. I held my hand like a bowl and wiggled my fingers over it.
One of my students immediately raised his hand and shouted, “Magic!”
Not quite, but close.
I have a student who is the sweetest tempered child I have ever met. He is kind, he is so very smart—he can retell a story nearly verbatim—but he is so slow at doing anything. He can read and he can write, but it takes him three times as long as everybody else because he will be staring at the ceiling for five minutes instead of working. Sometimes he will be wandering around the room in circles like a crazy airplane, silently spinning. I will have to come up to him and remind him he needs to work. Last Monday, I laughed to keep from crying. He had been playing with the blocks when center time was over and they were supposed to pack up. I told him to clean up his blocks. He began to clean and I turned around. Soon I saw him wander into my line of sight near the cubbies, his hands in his pockets doing his signature waddle-walk.
“Mario,” I called, “what are you supposed to be doing?”
He turned to me with a smile, “Waahhg!” he cried, sounding like a duck or a horn, I didn’t know.
He went back to the carpet and I went back to monitoring the others. Soon, I realized he was sitting at his desk putting his papers in his folder. Normally a good thing, except there was still blocks all over the carpet.
“Mario!” I said, a little more exasperated this time. “Go clean up your blocks, please!”
“Wahh!” he made the noise again and went back to the carpet to clean, ambling in a walk/run pace that looked like he should be skipping, but could never quite break into it.
The third time, he was going in circles around the cubbies.
I didn’t even need to say more. He went to the blocks and finished.
Every other student was packed up and standing in line. He had two minutes before the bell rung. He was putting each individual sheet of paper I had given him to take home separately in one single page protector. Only, he couldn’t get them in very well. He would slowly stuff one half-way in before it wasn’t right and he took it out again to try again.
“I will show you a better way,” I said, watching the clock. One minute. I gathered up the papers he had in his hand and put them in his folder on top of his page protector and shut the folder.
“There you go.”
He took it to his backpack and I realized there were several pieces of paper that were his that he didn’t put in his folder.
“Mario, these are yours, too.”
I handed them to him. Instead of putting his folder down, which he still had it in his arms, along with his scarf, his water bottle, and his name tag from his desk, he tried to hold the papers between his fingers. Things were falling as he tried to take the papers.
“Let me help,” I said as the bell rang.
I sent the rest of the kids with Mrs. Fuentes’ class as Mario and I packed his backpack. He tried to put his lunch box in on top of everything else, but it wouldn’t fit and he had to take it all out and put the lunch box in first. I helped him put everything in his backpack, zip it up and get him out the door only two minutes past the bell. It was only when I got back to the classroom that I saw he had left his sweater in his cubby.
On Monday, we read “No, David!” A book written about David, who gets into all kinds of trouble and his mother is always telling him, “No! No! No!”
As a writing project based on the book, I assigned my kids to write their own mini-“No, David!” books, only they had to write, “Yes, ______!” and draw themselves doing good and helpful things.
In one part of the “No, David!” book, David is running down the sidewalk naked, his bare back and bottom making the kids laugh until they held their sides. The caption reads, “Come back here, David!” David’s behind was drawn like two circles stuck together on spindly legs.
One of my students took this idea and wrote, “Yes you can go too serf” with an illustration of himself with spiky black hair like the picture of David—despite the inconsequential detail that his hair is very light brown. His head is turned over his back so his smile is visible, as is his naked rear. He is surfing, with his surfboard riding a giant wave.
“Of course. That’s how I surf,” one of the teachers commented with dry humor when I showed her the picture he had drawn when we were on the bus.
As we were eating lunch, one of my students asked, “Ms. Cowan, can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” I said, wondering what he would want to know.
He chewed a few mouthfuls of his sandwich and asked thoughtfully, “Why are leaves green?”
How do I explain that to a kindergartener? I wondered. I gave him a mini-lesson on how plants make food and how chloroplasts have green pigment, which makes the leaves green.
He stared at me in open-mouthed wonder, his eyes crinkling in delight as I told him about it. When I was done, he gasped and giggled. During recess, he examined each blade of grass, trying to find the breathing holes.
He is going to be a scientist yet.
As we were walking in line heading to the classroom from recess, I looked up and saw one of my students was marching back up the sidewalk in the opposite direction.
“Where are you going?” I called.
He grinned at me and kept marching. “To the library to read!” he declared.
I saw he had his book in his hand. “You need to read in the classroom,” I said, motioning him back to where we were standing.
He sunk his head down in disappointment.
“It’s quiet time,” I pointed out, “C’mon and I will read your book to you.”
He suddenly threw his arms out like an airplane, threw his head back, and started running back to the classroom, screaming at the top of his lungs.
I suppose I should have reprimanded him for running and screaming, but I was too astonished and amused, and I am afraid I did little more than tell him to use walking feet and a quiet voice and then we went in and read his book for quiet time.
For literacy, I have been teaching parts of a story: beginning, middle, and end. I wanted the kids to make their own books using one sheet of paper for the beginning, one for the middle, and one for the end. I had them write their story on these sheets and illustrate it. The last thing we did was add a cover to their book. I didn’t edit them, and I tried to help as little as possible. Some of the stories are barely readable, but I wanted them to be as independent as possible and have something that they could be proud of that they did themselves. I thought they would get discouraged if they had to rewrite and edit, so I didn’t make them edit at all.
The stories were hilarious. Some were very sophisticated. One student’s story had word bubbles with his illustrations and was about wanting to get ice cream and getting a hot dog at the park, too.
Another student was very creative with his story. His book was about a parrot who wanted to get treasure from the forest, but—plot twist!—had problems and couldn’t get out of the forest. The parrot finally got out of the forest with the treasure and lived happily ever after. His illustrations had ships and pirates with buckteeth (but no parrots). I didn’t know the Spanish word for treasure, and my student didn’t know the English word for treasure. We had a game of charades trying to figure out what he was talking about. I looked up the word he was saying in my Spanish dictionary, but the word he was saying didn’t make sense at all. He drew picture for me of the word he was saying. It looked like a square with an arch above it.
“You put money in it,” he said.
I stared at the picture. “A purse?” I asked, but I knew the word for a purse in Spanish and that was not what he was saying—and I didn’t know why he wanted to write about a purse.
“No!” He exclaimed, “Ms. Cowan!”
Miguel tried to help, “You take money out of it.”
“A wallet?” I tried again, hopeless.
“Ms. Cowan!” they both cried shaking their heads.
One of my other students, with a very mature voice, piped in, “It is treasure. I know. It is treasure.”
The boys agreed. Once I realized it was treasure, the drawing of a treasure chest looked great. It was a good drawing. But it could have been a purse.
Another student’s story was about praying mantises fighting their enemies. The praying mantis friends all were waiting to fight and some fought more strong. The story ended by the enemy praying mantis getting eaten by a shark (another plot twist!). The illustration showed a praying mantis on a leaf with red guts handing out to where a shark waited with an open mouth below.
They were so proud of their stories that they wanted to read them to anyone who would listen. They read them to the other kindergarten class, they read them to their own class during quiet time, they read them to their 4th and 5th grade reading buddies on Friday, and they read them to Autumn—who came to visit at the end of the day—and every break they had where they were supposed to be reading in our classroom library, they got their own book and went to a corner and read.
In art one day, the students made leaf rubbings. One of my students was especially fascinated. As we were walking back to class, he was very thoughtful.
He had a concentrating frown on his face and looked up at me, “How come Ms. Rains (the art teacher) knows all the secrets of art?” he asked.
I told him that she had spent a lot of time practicing.
He nodded. “She knows all the secrets,” he whispered.
On Wednesday, most of my students got to Super Star on the behavior chart and chose little disguise glasses with fake noses as their prizes.
The girls were delighted. They felt their large plastic noses.
“Ms. Cowan!” they exclaimed, “These noses are as big as yours!”
Yes, girls. Yes, they are.
Before spring break, it seemed like someone had cried every day for no other reason than they just needed a good cry.
The day before vacation, they were especially funny. They must have realized they wouldn’t be coming back to school for a while. As we sat in morning meeting, one of my little girls raised her hand and told me that she liked my clothes. The other girls agreed. The boys told me they liked my hair. It soon became a competition about what they could like the most and they told me they liked my everything and that I was the best teacher ever. I told them I thought they were trying to butter me up. And then I had to explain what that meant.
For science, we have been studying clouds. I found water cycle projects on Pinterest and we made a water cycle in a bag. We made rain gauges out of bottles, but half my kids told me that their parents threw the water bottle rain gauges away. Wednesday was a half-day and we made cloud dough. I got flour and baking soda (we were supposed to have oil in the flour so that it wouldn’t make such a mess, but I didn’t have any and we improvised without it) and put it in pans and then had the kids pour vinegar over it to make it fizz. They loved playing in the dough more than they had liked any other project. They told me that they didn’t like half-days and wanted to come to school all the days.
I had my students do self-evaluations for Parent/Teacher conferences so I could show them to parents. Each student reflected on how they felt about the subjects in school and how well they thought they did in certain areas. I loved hearing their perspectives on schoolwork. I asked one student what he thought the hardest thing was for him in school. He thought for a minute and declared, “Nothing can stop me!”
I tried not to laugh at him right then, but when I showed it to his parents, I don’t think any of us could stop laughing for several minutes straight.
The three girls in my class had to go see the school counselor because they were not getting along. I was in the middle of literacy centers when they came back from their meeting.
They swarmed me and told me the good news: “Ms. Avila said we can be friends.”
One of the girls told me with a very serious face, “Because one time I was sad and I had to play with a tree and then the other girls were happy.”
“I see,” I empathized. “That can be hard.”
Whatever had happened, they had resolved it, and were hugging each other incessantly for the next fifteen minutes until art.
I read a book to my kids with a few Spanish words in it. They were really excited to have Spanish spoken in school and wanted to say everything in Spanish. I told them that was not going to happen (since it is required to speak English at school), but we could say the words in the book when I read them. One part of the book used the phrase, “Feliz Cumpleaños!” They told me I wasn’t very good at Spanish. Apparently, I didn’t pronounce it well. Either that or when I said, “And what does that mean, class?” Not as a question, but as a, ‘Lets all say this together in English!’ they thought I didn’t know what it meant. I am not sure which it was, but I was pronounced Spanish deficient.
As we were going to recess, one of the students in the other kindergarten class had her hands up by her head like pinchers and was walking sideways, her feet toed out. I asked what she was doing.
“I’m a carb!” she announced.
It sounded like she said ‘card’.
“A what?” I asked again.
It took Sharde and me both to decipher she was trying to say ‘crab.’
One of the first times one of my students got to Super Star on the behavior chart this year, he did a happy dance and hugged his classmates while jumping up and down.
“Thank you, God!” he shouted.
I told him that God helped him make good choices, for sure, but it was the choices that he made to follow directions that got him to Super Star, and he shouldn’t just rely on God’s mystical powers to magically get him to Super Star everytime.
For chapel one week, the other kindergarten teacher and I talked about Ruth.
“Who was Ruth? What did she do?” Sharde asked.
One of the first-graders raised her hand, “Her friend wanted to go adventuring and stuff and even though Ruth didn’t know anyone, she went with her friend anyway.”
Naomi the adventurer, and Ruth, her adventuring buddy. Exactly.
On Friday, one of my students fell and hurt his leg. He sat with his leg to his chest, holding it and rocking back and forth and howling. He didn’t say, “Ow!” or “That hurt!” He howled. Like a wolf. A long, “Awhooooo! Awhoooooo!” with his head tipped back towards the ceiling.
There are many things I say in kindergarten that I hope to never have to say anywhere else. Things such as, keep your hands out of your pants, young man, and go wash your hands; keep your fingers out of your nose and certainly out of your mouth afterwards—go wash your hands; don’t pour juice in your eye, please, and go wash your sticky hands; no, I already told Juan he could not have Maria’s roly-poly—and wash your hands after digging the dirt; shut the door to the bathroom—you forgot to wash your hands; yes, I will help you undo your pants—no, you have to zip them up yourself and then go wash your hands. I can just imagine some poor soul years from now getting The Teacher Voice and a raised eyebrow as I ask the rhetorical question, “And what are you doing?”
During center time (end of the day play time), a student who loves to draw came up to me and asked, “Ms. Cowan, what can I draw?”
I told him anything he wanted.
“But what?” he asked again. He said he still didn’t know what he wanted to draw.
I told him to close his eyes and imagine something that made him really happy— something he just loved.
He opened his eyes and grinned. “I know!” he said, and went off to where the girls were sitting.
I could hear him ask, “Maria, can you stand there for me? Just a little bit this way.”
These have been a few of the stories from my first year teaching kindergarten. It has been a wonderful, challenging, rewarding year. I am and will be forever thankful for my time with each one of these little people.
*I changed the names of my students to protect their privacy.