A Minute to Myself (164)
A Minute to Myself (165)

Observations from a Kindergarten Classroom

On Sunday morning I had the pleasure to substitute teach a kindergarten class at my synagogue. In “regular” school I teach 9th grade, and in religious school at the synagogue I teach 7th grade and 3rd grade, so this was quite an age difference, but not as many significant differences as I had expected.

Crying: This is one that is different, but not too different. I have not had to face a child clinging to her father that she wants mommy before coming into class tearfully, but I have had to deal with tears in class. As much as she clung to him and as much as I sweetly sweet talked her into the class with the temptation of drawing pictures, I must say that I was shocked by how quickly she forgot all the turmoil and became a calm, attentive little girl. I know they tell us that they forget us quickly when we drop them off, but I never saw it from that angle before. 

In the past year I have had two “big” girls cry in class. One girl cried because kids said something hurtful to her while they were in the hall working on a project and another after a confrontation in the cafeteria with another student. Teen teasing really does bring the maturity level down, or maybe keeps it at kid level, which we try to forget that they are. Although I didn’t see teasing with the little ones, I could see the potential.

There was more crying in the past year. I had a third grader cry when he couldn’t do an in-class assignment. And me, I cried in class last year when I read an email from my lawyer about another court delay. I yelled out “Oh No!” and turned around to face the board so my students wouldn’t see that they in control lady had lost the control. Maybe we all cried for different reasons, but it certainly was a needed release. The tension of being in a small room with twenty five other people and their egos and “issues” really has potential for more problems than arise. Perhaps we are at the core compassionate.

Storytime: There was one big-time difference during story time. I have never had a student climb over me as if I were a piece of playground equipment as one of the girls did. It was fascinating to watch as they sat in a circle for story time. Initially, only one boy was sure enough of me to sit really close, but by the time we got to the middle of the story, I had to shoo them off so that I could turn the page. It was like a huddle around a trusted leader and not a tentative group of kids around the new teacher.

Right in the middle of me feeling so confident in my role, one of the girls started crying quietly that she wants her mommy. She put her head down and let her hair cover her face until she was ready to rejoin the group. I don’t know what triggered her, but their inability to hide what they’re feeling and thinking made me realize that being a child is certainly not easy. It really is finding your way without a compass, because parents are their compasses and what are they when they leave us, even for two hours, at that age.

Slavery:  My assignment was to read a Passover story and talk about it with the students. Could someone explain to me how a kindergartener knows about slavery? There was a girl there who started talking about how black people were brought from Africa and were forced to work for white people in America and how bad that was. Unbelievable. I was impressed that she knew that, but wondered if it was perhaps too much to know at that age. Do five year olds have to have the weight of morality on their shoulders?

Script: How is it that kindergarteners can write their names in script? The students needed to write their names on their drawings of Pharaoh in Egypt, while some barely got sort-of letters on the page, others were scripting away. I’m not sure if this is a sign of small motor abilities, intelligence, or the sign of pushy parents, but really, script at five?

Snack: Oh the joys of snack time. We had challah, juice and graham crackers. This was toward the end of a two-hour class. Apparently two hours without food counts as fasting. Seriously, they can’t wait? Do we really have to keep reminding kids to eat? Wouldn’t less snack time and less snacking be better—for them and us?

Joy. When they were full of energy and I could tell that they could not be shushed successfully and seeing no need to quiet them down and get back to task, I just went with the flow of their energy. I didn’t have to force them to sit and do the work, no, the work became a reflection of their energy. I had them channel that energy and re-enact nine of the ten plagues (I thought the tenth plague of death to the first-born Egyptian son was unseemly). They quite enjoyed being bugs, frogs, wild beasts, people being hit by hailstones, and having a bad case of the itches and being caught in the dark. It was wonderful to see them unbridled.

While I found the mental stimulation not quite what I need on an on-going basis, it was surely a joy to direct children a little as opposed to being a constant dictator. There surely must be some take-away lesson for me here to bring to my big kid classroom. Could it be that I should let their energy flow more? Maybe I should worry less about the wasted minute getting them to be quiet between tasks and see it as their big kid way to release and use some of the energy that is stored in them. Maybe another plague is not letting kids be kids—sometimes, even when they are in high school.



Laura, you have a real insight into teaching and your desire to excellence is commendable. I look forward to hearing how the "energy release" experiment works with the big kids.


5 year olds are definitely old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. In fact if a 5 year old didn't have a basic understanding of those concepts, then I'd wonder what was wrong with them. :) I don't think it means that they carry the whole moral weight of slavery to have a basic understanding that the idea of being taken from their homes and forced to work is "wrong".


Great insight on this. I think it's great that doing this caused you to reflect and bring back with you a lesson to use in your every day teachings. To me, that is a sign of a good teacher. I hope you share the results of trying some of these things with your older students.


I love this piece!

I often remind my student teacher that there are 36 17 and 18 year olds in the room and that they each are emotional beings with all kinds of stuff going on inside them that they are trying (or not trying) to contain!

She takes it personally when they are not fully attending to her, and I just prompt her that it is not personal.


It is neat to step out of the norm sometimes. I'll bet you learned a lot. In my coaching, I have to jump from 2-4, to 12 and up and back doen to 7-9 from hour to hour. I find that the 12 and up are the most challenging because they are such different individuals at that time...which is good, but tough to manage.


The freedom you saw with the little kids is something that people tend to force kids to stifle and disconnect from as they get older. It should not be. It should be directed into ways that can make it work to their advantage. It's a tremendous amount of energy and creativity that is seen as a throwaway. So maybe there is something you can bring to the older classes.

We have the same kindergarten in our synagogue and it's known as the Alef Class. I am floored when I here some of them talking about midrash and the Talmud. The parents push them because they want the to impress people with their kids. It's good to know that but sometimes it can go overboard.


I like what you wrote about things not being easy for small children because they have to figure everything out and are learning to control their emotions. Good insight.

Volunteering in my son's kindergarten class usually left me exhausted. Not because the kids were ill-behaved but I think the kinetic energy of 20 five-year-olds just sapped mine.


It's nice that you appreciate the change in age group. It sounds as though the kids enjoyed having you too. They only use you as jungle equipment if they like you.

I often work with small children. Some of them are just naturally gifted in the area of small motor skills and handwriting. When they are that age their natural interests really shine when the family is encouraging. Of course, on the flip side there are those that push... but that isn't necessarily the case.

It's good to hear about a nice time that doesn't involve Ex. I'm glad for you about that.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

rockync, I'm committed to working on this, and on my first two classes on Friday I was pretty calm (relatively) about some talking. But my third class of the day came in after one of their teachers let them watch a basketball game and my co-teacher wasn't there and they're my most difficult behaviour-issues classes and after my calm smiles and "be quiet"s didn't get us anywhere, I slapped a reading assignment and quiz on their desks. Maybe after that "lesson" they'll be able to understand moderation.

Kara, I agree that kids should know right from wrong at a very early age, but slavery, I think that's too much of a burden. Maybe, too, they get used to hearing about horrors and just take it for the way the world is. Just as you might have a five-year old help with dinner, you're not going to have her prepare a whole meal.

Lori, as I said to rockync above, trying is not always succeeding. But try I shall continue.

She, where is that little switch in their brains? You know, the one that keeps them focused in class on class and tunes out the rest of the world?

morethananelectrician, wow, having to switch between different ways of talking, what to show and expectations in such a short time must be incredibly difficult. For me the hardest thing seems to be when they stop talking to themselves and me and move onto talking to each other. It's those conversations that are so distracting--for everyone.

Ricardo, thank goodness for electives classes because that's generally where they can let it out. Art, music and PE classes are so needed for both their creativity and as a place to use that energy. They don't waste time, they make the rest of the time possible.

Alef class should be just that the basics. Parents should show who they are through themselves, not their children.

JC, at least at that age they can let the energy out. When one girl said that she loves to dance, well she just got right up and started twirling around.

Christine, teaching the third-graders every week is such a joy. I feel so much more relaxed with them and watching them grow over the past year has been amazing. Some of the incredibly timid girls are just coming into their own and finding that they can express themselves with more confidence.

Regarding ex, no good times involving him, he's the big spoiler alert in my life. My goal is to not let that happen, to control and contain and shut out his presence.


LOL, Laura! Sometimes it takes a firm hand...

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