It's basic training for kids


IN THE CLASSROOM: Ken takes an occasional look inside our schools.

You might only remember the naps and cookies of kindergarten, but what you learned there you use every day of your life.

I realized that after sitting in on Emily Levan's class at Eagle Nest Elementary School off Dorchester Road.

The way I stand in line, wait my turn, know the days of the week and months of the year, sit quietly and play nice with others are just a few of the things I learned so long ago.

I even remember my teacher's name, Mrs. Henry, and the perfume and pearls she wore every day.

But kindergarten has changed since then. For one thing, it starts much earlier in the day.

At 7:30 on Wednesday morning, Levan and her assistant, Christi O'Hara, took 24 5-year-olds through the opening ceremonies of the day by pledging allegiance and singing the Star Spangled Banner.

All this happens after the kids have spent some individual time on the classroom computers and written a complete sentence that they read aloud to the class.

"My uncle can spit out his teeth," Jennifer announced.

Well, some things never change.

Kiss your brain

In essence, kindergarten remains what it has always been — basic training for children. The place you learn things you need to know to get along in the world.

On this Wednesday morning, 24 children settled down in the brightly decorated classroom. Nine girls and 15 boys, bright-eyed and excited about learning.

"There is so much they have to know," said Levan, a 29-year-old graduate of James Madison and Old Dominion universities. "There's not much time to be kids anymore."

Indeed, there's so much to learn these days. Just think about it.

In order to be "first-grade ready" they must be able to read fluently, count to 100, write up to 31, know their numbers and place values, and count money.

"That's more difficult these days because these kids rarely see money," Levan said. "All they see are credit cards."

Some already know how to read when they get here, but others are catching up. Demographics differ within a few miles.

So the morning is filled with those sing-song lessons that teach us about math, phonics and writing. It's all planned, timed and performed beautifully by the teaching team.

When something is learned, the teachers say, "Very good, now kiss your brain," and the children do the motion with their hands.

An hour in, the teachers stop so the kids can stand, stretch and "get the wiggles out."

Whisper voices

They study measures, learning the difference between short and tall, long and longer, using rulers, yard sticks and tape measures.

All the while the teachers instruct them on procedures like working together, cleaning up and using their whisper voices. At any given time, three of the children are on the computers, doing standardized sessions on reading, geometry and science.

Later they're studying the intricacies of our complex language. How, why and when to use a period. The subtleties of "th" and "sh" and "ch" sounds.

They couldn't be cuter with their snaggle-tooth smiles and innocent faces. Thank goodness they don't know how hard all this is to learn.

"I just love this age," Levan said as she prepared for the afternoon sessions of reading and fine arts. "Because they still love school."