Imagine going to work every day and being told by at least one person that you look beautiful. Imagine every working day being filled with surprises. Imagine being surrounded by no-frills honesty − sometimes bitingly so. Imagine feeling you’ve made a difference − every day. Sounds like a dream job? Well, you’re right − it is! And very fortunately, it’s my job. As Kindergarten teacher at St Columba’s Adamstown, I can honestly say it is much, much more than just a job. It’s my vocation. And, after twenty years of teaching Kindergarten children, I can tell you that the enjoyment and satisfaction of watching my little people grow and blossom during the year, is as fresh today as the day I began.
I said earlier that Kindergarten children can be searingly honest. I remember one day arriving at school after having a regular haircut. One child greeted me at the gate. “What happened to your hair?” she asked with a very concerned look on her face. First week of Kindergarten another time, I was quite clearly told, “You really need to get fit, Mrs Walsh!”
One of the true pleasures of teaching Kindergarten children is witnessing those ‘light bulb moments’ − the times when everything falls into place and they ‘get it’. Watching children read a book for the first time or solve a simple number problem and seeing their faces light up, makes me feel I could burst with joy. What a privileged position I hold, to take a group of children − many of whom don’t know how to hold a pencil − on a four term journey, at the end of which they are able to read and write.
Many things have changed since I taught my first Kindergarten class in 1977. I see a difference in the children − they are more inclined these days to say what they do and don’t want. They ask questions and at times even challenge information imparted to them. They are like sponges absorbing all this new information. I see differences in the parents as well. They are more switched on as to how their child should be going and more inclined to come and see me if they feel their child isn’t progressing as well as he or she should be. I see these changes as positive, as it is in my nature to seek out new and better ways to enhance learning opportunities in the classroom. Advances in technology have also created difference in the classroom with all children having access to computers on a regular basis. The use of a Smart board in the classroom heightens interest and motivation among the students and supports a quality interactive learning environment.
The first week of Kindergarten is by far the most exhausting for both the teacher and the children and this was no different when I was 21. Once they begin school, children’s worlds expand rapidly. There are different routines to get used to and a wealth of new experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. There are friendships to establish and new children and adults to communicate with.
In the early days of Kindergarten, it’s not unusual to find a child, bag packed, and heading for home at eleven o’clock. They look utterly surprised when I tell them that it’s just the bell for recess and they need to eat something, have a play and come back into the classroom. During that first week my priority is to make sure that all the children feel safe and secure in their new learning environment and that they understand the routines of school life. Using visual prompts, such as pictures of the sequence of daily activities, helps to remind children how the day runs and also makes them feel more secure.
Developing social skills is a high priority in the first year of school. Through creative play, stories and drama, children are taught to start conversations, take turns, share, interact with others, ask and answer questions, ask to join in games, solve simple problems, and use words to convey feelings to others. Children also learn appropriate ways of acting when others are upset or in general conflict situations. I guide children to accept each other’s differences and know that it is OK to make mistakes − in fact this is how we can learn.
Each day, just before the final bell, I sit with the class and we reflect on three good things that have happened during the day. Writing this article has given me a chance to reflect on the three things I love about being a Kindergarten teacher. It’s hard to narrow it down when I feel so passionate about everything I do with the children, but here goes: I love reading to and with the children each day, I love watching the children develop independence as the year progresses and, as a teacher in a Catholic school, I love introducing the children to the person of Jesus.
As each school year draws to a close, I am utterly exhausted, but despite the tiredness, I still feel a sense of excitement and anticipation about the next class coming my way.
Louise offers some helpful tips to parents of first-timers.
- Make the experience as affirming as possible.
- Focus on the positive things that happen each day, talk about what to expect and even role play social situations and give your child strategies for dealing with any difficult situations that may arise.
- Help your child improve concentration and listening skills by giving them short instructions to follow.
- Read with your child every day, encourage lots of talking and good active listening. Listening is a skill that needs to be taught and fostered.
- Play provides endless opportunities for learning. Enjoy taking turns during a board game and teach your child how to lose gracefully.
- Help your child clarify thoughts as he or she communicates with the family.
- Encourage your child to make friends with all the members of the class, not just with one or two other children. Practise ways to keep a conversation going and how to join in games with others.
- Be assured that when your son or daughter begins school, they are in good hands and will always be cared for and loved.
To join the conversation on Facebook, visit the “Aurora magazine” Facebook page. To help your son or daughter begin the year well, especially at a new school, please visit www.mn.catholic.edu.au for Parent Liaison Officer Cath Garrett-Jones’ tips.