Our morning always starts the exact same way.
I hold up one finger and say “First…”
“We walk quietly down the hall”, the students reply.
“We hang up our backpacks”.
“We take out our Communication Folders”.
“We read on the carpet!!!”, the students cheer.
Yes, cheer. They genuinely seem to love this.
My heart absolutely swells each morning as I observe my students going through our morning routine with absolute certainty, success and increasing independence. Sometimes I just stand back and observe, congratulating each and one of them on what I see and how much growth they’ve already shown in our mere weeks together. September has now come and gone, and no - we don’t run screaming down the hall. We don’t fight over who gets to stand where in line. We don’t enter our community space unsure of our role.
To be clear, I don’t do this with my students because I believe students should walk quietly everywhere in a single file line. I don’t do this with my students because I think young children need to be calm and still. It’s actually quite the opposite. I know that young children are excited, noisy, wiggly little beings, and I love that, value that, and reflect that in my programming. Why do I do this with my students? Because I believe in keeping September slow and successful.
By repeating simple school routines, students witness themselves mastering something, and begin to build a positive self-image as someone who is capable, competent and able to learn. I firmly believe that this feeling is transferable – when students remember how they mastered the morning routine, they feel they can master other goals that arise in their learning – be it learning to read, learning to write, learning to count, etc. The most important thing (in my opinion) to a Kindergartener’s development is building confidence in their ability to grow and learn. By spending a good chunk of September repeating routines (like the aforementioned entry routine) I give each student a task that I know they can handle – and delight in the pride they show when they master it! It’s a great feeling all around.
I’ve never been one of those frantic teachers thinking I need to jump head first into “the academics” first thing in September. I don’t think school is all about the end goal of where they need to be. Rather, I think it’s more important to consider where they’re at currently, and what I can give them as an educator to encourage them towards where they “should be”. It’s a long year, and I know I will have plenty of time to get to the more meaty stuff. In fact, I think that that stuff ends up being much more successful when students come to it with a solid foundation of how to function in our classroom space. Without setting that foundation up in September, I believe the learning can suffer.
Another big reason behind the routine repetition in September links to what have been the big ideas so far in our classroom – how our room functions as a community, and the ways communities show respect. When I talk about respect, I mean it all: respecting each other, respecting the teachers, respecting the space, and most importantly, respecting themselves. By entering our classroom with the four steps that we do, we start our day by showing all these kinds of respect.
If I did have any doubts about approaching the year the way I do, they all would have been erased last Friday. After a community discussion about using quiet voices around the animals we see on Toronto Island as to not scare them, a brand new JK students raised her hand and chimed in without any prompting: “That’s respect!”
Yes, yes it is. Kindergartens just get it.