Kindergarten: Sometimes, the students are the teachers

New York School kindergartner Chloe Gulotta, 6, works on a model of a dinosaur in teacher Kim Gamble’s classroom.

For many children, kindergarten is the first major milestone they’ll remember.

They won’t remember their first step or their first words. They won’t remember the first time they used the big-boy potty or graduated from the high chair to the booster seat. Kindergarten is likely to be the first leap to adulthood that their budding minds will file away for later recall.

Stepping into Kim Gamble’s kindergarten classroom at New York School is exciting and comforting at the same time. The children, sitting at their tables, are each equipped with crayons and pencils and a box of supplies.

Though the room is full of children’s voices, each of the 19 students seems eager to hear Gamble’s lesson on fractions.

This particular lesson is a reminder of how great it is to be a kindergartner. Rather than hovering over a worksheet with mere characters and numbers, the students are coloring and decorating a piece of paper in the shape of a circle.

New York School kindergarten teacher Kim Gamble’s class spends some time making model dinosaurs. From left, Tristan Chavez, 6, works on a model, and Cody Daigle, 6, reads a book.

As they color, Gamble asks them what types of food are shaped like a circle.

“Tortilla! I want to make a tortilla!” shouts Tristan Chavez.

“Blueberry pie!” says Justice Allensworth.

Justice is diligently working on her circle.

“Mine is blueberry pie,” she says.

As she colors, she says, “At home we made an Easter bunny pie.”

Her eyes light up as she explains in detail the decorating.

“It had jelly beans and frosting and a bow tie,” she says. “He looked like the Easter bunny.”

Next, Gamble instructs the students to fold the circle so that each part is exactly the same. Assisting each student, Gamble uses Tristan’s suggestion, “Fold your tortilla in half so that it looks like a taco.”

The students then cut along the folded line, and suddenly their circles are divided into halves. Grace Branson explains what the two pieces mean.

“First you start with a whole pie, then you cut it down the middle and you have two pieces that are the same so that both people can eat the same,” she says.

She takes a big breath then says, “I really like fractions.”

Iris Dunn says that she prefers reading to math. Of all of the books that she has read, her favorite is “The Giving Tree,” “because it’s a nice book and it’s about friendship.”

Iris also quickly explains that if someone were having trouble telling time, she could help him or her figure it out.

Connor Morrison recently turned 6. He enjoys learning about “Ollie the ostrich, Polly the panda, and Lulu with the loose tooth.” Morrison isn’t too sure what the term “chalkboard” means, but he says that his teacher will write sentences on the “white board” and the students then copy each sentence on paper.

Gamble explains that Ollie the ostrich, Polly the panda and Lulu with the loose tooth are all aspects of a learning curriculum called, “Animated Alphabet.” The lessons are planned so that “each letter of the alphabet has a character attached to it, a gesture that helps trigger the sound for the kids, a story that incorporates the character and the sound of the letter, and a song.”

This type of teaching strategy allows the teacher to introduce the material in a variety of ways, so that all types of learners are able to receive the information properly. It also makes for a fun time.

Science is another of Connor’s favorite kindergarten lessons. He says that he likes “learning about pretty birds with orange bellies.” Orange is not necessarily his favorite color though.

“We already know about colors,” he says, “and I like all of them.”

Rebecca Demby proudly exclaims that she is 7 years old.

“No wait, I’m 6 years old,” she says, throwing both arms into the air enthusiastically.

She is also very certain that her absolute “favorite, favorite, favorite book” is “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

“I can read the whole book,” she boasts. “I’ve read it 200 times.”

Because she has read the book so frequently, she insists that she has “just a little bit of it memorized.” But she plans to have the whole book memorized by the end of kindergarten.

Iris says she likes kindergarten because “it feels like we get 10,000 recesses a day.” She giggles. “That’s really real.”

When asked what she thinks she’ll remember from kindergarten, Iris explains that when she is older, she thinks she’ll remember everything. She will remember she learned subtraction, that her favorite color was pink and that she lost her two front teeth. She then opens her mouth and points to the gap where her two front teeth used to be.

Once the fraction lesson is over, Gamble asks the children to begin cleaning up their supplies. She says she has been teaching kindergarten for 10 of her 12 years as a teacher at New York School. One of her favorite quotes from a kindergartner came from a little boy who explained that he was ready to move on to first grade because he could read “little books now.”

Gamble enjoys teaching kindergarten, because she loves “watching the progression of learning from the time they start to the end of the year. It amazes me every year to see how much information they pick up throughout the year.”

A school year full of recess, crayons, story time, and naps, no wonder people remember kindergarten; it may have been the best year of their life.