Pushing the 4/5 Envelope

When I first started teaching at the K-1 level, I was thrilled to be given a bunch of new resources that were meant to support the transition from half-day K to full day K (all payed for by our district…what a happy memory!).  We received light tables and work benches with vices, saws and hammers, magnifiers and mirrors, beautiful wooden tables and shelves with lots of small clear bins…it was glorious!  All the while however, I couldn’t help but think of my intermediate kids:  think of what they could do in this kind of environment!  Kindergarten seems a wonderland and–as I oft put this to many an adult willing to lend an ear–it is all down hill after that.  Kindergarten is a big lie!

Well, not if I can help it.  I have seen the promised land…we need to build on what is started at K.  Think of how amazing school would be if we (as teachers and parents) saw teaching and learning as increasing the sophistication of what learners can do from the earliest days in school right on into high school.  Kindergarteners are natural pattern seekers and makers, scientists, collectors, builders, inventors, language-users, theory-makers, problem solvers, counters, care-givers and imaginers.  They are simply not very sophisticated.

And nor should they be!  In kindergarten, they need a place to try out all of these things, the language to identify what they are doing, a little gentle guidance or appreciation from a curious adult, and lots of time.  The social atmosphere of K allows kids to observe one another, be inspired by someone else’s good idea, and build on it (together or alone).  I often found myself making mental note of all kinds of activities that my K’s were loving and doing very naturally that, with teaching over time, could turn into algebra or inductive reasoning or deep number sense or sophisticated problem solving…

I know that we have a lot to do that must be done at intermediate.  There isn’t time in the day to fit all of this in, plus cover the needed curriculum, am I right?  Especially when some kids come to us not even close to grade level in writing, reading and math.  But we waste so much time!  Some kids finish needed activities successfully within the first 5 minutes of the allotted half hour of practice time, and some kids need well over a half-hour and all of your time in order to finish successfully.  This means that many kids already knew what to do and then needed to fill their time with something (something brilliant that you have planned that you can’t really support them with because the 30 min+ kids need you right now so your quickest learners end up getting a bunch more of the same thing, a filler-activity, or loads of extra silent reading time).  Let’s hope they have a good book.

So!  I am taking on the wasted time this year!  And I am taking a kindergarten-wonderland frame of mind with me.  And this doesn’t mean that when kids are finished work they get to play with play dough.  If it kills me, grade 4/5 is going to be a wonderland too.

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