Soon enough children like 5-year-old Win Jones will become astronauts, nurses, lawyers, politicians and authors. Today, they are simply kindergartners taking in the building blocks of life.
Many students graced the halls of Greywolf Elementary and Helen Haller Elementary on Tuesday, Sept. 6, for the first time as part of their 13-year journey toward graduating from high school. For Win’s first day of school, the Gazette documented his experience as part of a new series called “First time for everything.” The purpose of these stories is to show how people in our community first experience life’s new challenges and adventures.
Win’s school prep began long before he became an official kindergartner. His parents, Powell Jones and Laura Gould, said they’ve been practicing reading at home, reciting the alphabet, counting to 20, teaching shapes, colors and specific words.
Gould said reading is common in their home and they don’t have a lot of time-wasters like TV or fast Internet, so her son usually is playing.
“He has a vivid imagination and likes to tell stories,” she said. “We encourage that kind of thing.”
Jones said one of the biggest steps for Win was getting him excited for school.
“He wants to be an engineer and paleontologist and we tell him that anything is possible but one of the steps to doing that is going to school,” he said.
Gould said she was concerned Win might feel confined in the classroom and get into trouble because of his energy level.
“You’ve got to trust the kindergarten teachers because they know 5-year-olds better than anyone,” she said.
Upon meeting Win for the first time, his love for dinosaurs and telling and listening to stories was apparent.
When Win noticed a photograph being taken, he’d smile and ask, “Is that going to be part of the story?”
Win’s day begins at the Sequim Boys & Girls Club in the KinderKids Program. Both his parents work, so the program serves as a complement to what kindergarten teachers do in the morning and afternoon.
Enrollment is at 23 students between the morning and afternoon programs on the first day.
Kelly Miller, KinderKids coordinator, said the first day consisted of reading stories, a game of digging in the sandbox for alphabet letters and practice walking through the buildings.
Some students had a hard time saying goodbye to their parents/guardians, Miller said, so they didn’t hit the books right away. Instead they took a longer playtime and got to know each other.
Win is one of the more outgoing students in the program and his kindergarten class.
Jones said he’s a true believer that every child is different and that Win is very active and excitable, so they’ve worked with him to take his turn and know the right time to talk.
“Win is very active like I was and my parents put me in activities that wore me down, so I could do school,” Jones said.
Soccer practice started the same day as school for Win, too.
After lunch in the club, Miller walks with four boys to Helen Haller Elementary where Win and the others go to the library to meet up with their teachers, Judy Flynn and Stephanie Grotzke-Nash (Grotzke-Nash is married to this writer).
Each school day, students hear a lunchtime story before teachers whisk them away to class. Win had no qualms standing next to Miller while she attempted to read a story in a busy library filled with sitting students and their grinning parents snapping photos.
Teachers lead their students down the halls with Win leading the pack. The youngsters look ready to go with nice outfits and backpacks that almost match the height of their wearers.
Grotzke-Nash, Win’s teacher, helps students hang up their backpacks and coats by their name written on a crayon cutout above a hook.
They proceed to their seating assignments where Grotzke-Nash introduces herself and teaches students how to sit quietly with their legs crossed or as teachers call it, criss-cross applesauce.
Everyone gathers around the carpet area for a story called “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.”
Grotzke-Nash reads a line and asks the students to repeat after her. Lines within the book sound similar page after page and students catch on to the theme and energetically say what happens next in the story.
“It’s your first day and you are already reading,” Grotzke-Nash says.
After acclimating them to reading time and imparting tricks of the kindergarten trade, their teacher tasks students to write and draw about how they got ready for kindergarten.
Some don’t yet know how to write their names but are happy to draw pictures of brushing their teeth or running from monsters.
Through the year, students learn to read and write through teaching approaches of sequencing letters, matching words and forming sentences. Grotzke-Nash says she wants to teach them how to love reading by using a wide range of methods. Activities include reading to themselves, retelling stories and reading in small groups.
Go into later grades and some students might joke their favorite subject is recess. But for students, physical activity is a great way to help them focus later.
Bethanie Robbins, a kindergarten teacher at Greywolf Elementary, said kindergartners usually have attention spans of about 10 minutes before they need to do something else and move around.
Prior to recess in Win’s class, students learn to line up when a teacher blows a whistle. Some students worry they can’t line up because they don’t know how to whistle, but Grotzke-Nash comforts them by saying Mrs. Flynn handles all the whistling so they’ll be OK.
Kindergarten teachers agree that recess is an important way for students to socialize and play.
Grotzke-Nash says kindergarten studies show the first 45 minutes of class are the most important.
Win’s class routine will stay constant, beginning with writing, then recess, reading, math, rotating activities such as physical education and music lessons, and learning centers.
“The tricky thing is you want a balance,” Grotzke-Nash says. “Standards are so high but they are so young. You want a balance of hands-on learning and more ‘focused’ learning time.”
Teachers said the first few days are about making students feel welcome and loving to learn.
Grotzke-Nash says kindergartners must have success before they are nudged into more challenging things.
“Many have difficulties following my classroom expectations right away,” says Flynn, a Helen Haller kindergarten teacher for 15 years. “It’s incremental and little steps and teaching them not to jump on risers and not hit each other and how to sit criss-cross applesauce and remembering to raise their hands.”
Patty Sullivan, a Greywolf kindergarten teacher for four years, said each child comes to school in his or her own unique and wonderful way.
“Some were in preschool and others never have been in school before,” Sullivan says. “It’s a whole personality we have to build on.”
Robbins says it can take up to three months of consistent practice to get routines down.
“I can say that for any grade,” added Robbins, who has taught other grades at Greywolf in her eight years of teaching.
A tour of the classroom, a singalong, a counting game and learning centers rounds out the rest of Win’s school day. Counting in kindergarten is hands-on as they use different blocks for activities. One student is shocked to learn about math methods.
“Isn’t it weird that we use toys for math?” she asks.
The highlight for many students is the end-of-the-day activity of rotating learning centers, where students spend time playing house, castles, dinosaurs, blocks, play dough, seeds table, science, counting and/or the reading center.
Win says he loves the castle center and dinosaurs. Throughout the afternoon he has a dinosaur in his hands.
As school ends, kindergartners are readied to go about 10 minutes before all other grades so they can get on buses or to their parents/guardians safely.
Win walks hand-in-hand with Grotzke-Nash to meet his mom at the end of the bus line. He runs to her with a big smile the second he sees her in the distance. The first day of school was exciting and tiring for Win, his dad said.
“He’s gone to the same place for five years and doing something else was a lot of firsts like soccer practice, Boys & Girls Club and class all in the same day.”
His parents said he didn’t discuss school too much because he was so tired, but he did make new friends.
Win says he loves his teacher most and that he likes writing books.
“I’m a write, write, writing machine,” Win says.
Kindergarten teachers’ perspective
Students today definitely experience kindergarten differently than their parents did, according to Sequim kindergarten teachers.
Helen Haller Elementary kindergarten teacher Judy Flynn said standards have changed a lot since she started teaching.
“We didn’t use to worry about if they knew how to read before first grade,” Flynn said. “We were preparing them with sounds and letters and figured that was the foundation for learning to read in first grade. Now most are reading before the end of kindergarten.”
Patty Sullivan, a Greywolf Elementary kindergarten teacher for four years, said they really do start off the school year academically.
“Boys and girls are required to have a sight vocabulary of about 25 words,” Sullivan said. “People used to think we were just singing songs and learning to count.”
Bethanie Robbins, a second-year kindergarten teacher at Greywolf, said students are doing a lot in half a day.
“We’re trying to fit everything into 2½ hours,” Robbins said. “Coming from teaching other grades, I thought, ‘Well, it can’t be that hard.’ But now, well, wow. How do you fit everything in there?”
Teachers find a balance with district and state standards by working with each other to coordinate curriculum and practices between schools, Robbins said.
Bottom line, kindergarten teachers love their students.
“It’s the funnest place and I could never teach another grade,” Flynn said.
Robbins loves that they are willing to try anything and are open to new ideas.
“They come to school with a love of learning,” Sullivan said. “Everything you present is like, ‘tell me more.’ The wonder, the inquisitiveness. ‘Why does it work?’ That’s a good question. Let’s explore that.”