Last year, my son Colin started kindergarten. For the first couple of weeks, I was dying to hear what he’d learned. Was he writing novels? Translating a bit of French? Maybe splitting a couple of atoms—while wearing safety goggles—the teacher would make sure he wore his safety goggles, wouldn’t she?
I am lucky that Colin loves to talk and was happy to share about his days. In the first week, Colin learned (drum roll, please) that the teacher has a big dog, that she has all brothers, and that she owns an R2D2 alarm clock.
“Anything else?” I ask.
He thinks. “She also babysat her mom’s cat.”
“Okay. But anything else?”
More thinking. “She used to live in Alaska.”
The transition to getting up early is painful for us. Annabelle cries. Colin cries. I cry. But it’s all worth it, what with Colin absorbing knowledge like a sponge.
Once I started volunteering in his classroom, I was happy to see that far more is being taught than Colin reported. One day, the teacher was having the students draw a picture and then write a sentence about their drawing by completing the prompt, “I see a…”
One student wanted to write, “I see my Mom.” Another said, “I see a train.”
“What are you going to write?” I asked Colin.
“I see a big rig monster truck driving down the road with boxes of toy cars.”
I left him to that.
Annabelle, then two-years-old, said she was going to write “I see a school bus.” At two-years-old! The wonders of school. If you write the standards, they will meet them.
I worked my way around the room, helping kids sound out words, and they were all doing great. There was a high school helper who was writing the words for the kids to trace. Her method was much faster than mine, but I’d already started the sounding out thing, so I stuck with it.
I sat down beside a little boy I’ll call Greg. He wanted to write, “I see a spider.”
“Do you want to do it yourself, or do you want me to write it and you trace it?” I asked because the student helper was causing me to question years of pedagogy.
“I want to do it myself,” he said.
Ok, I was game. I sounded out each letter of “spider,” and he laboriously wrote the letters. We were on a roll until we got to the last letter.
“Rrrr,” I said.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s an ‘r’,” I whispered because the teacher wasn’t around, so I figured I could get away with it.
“Oh. I don’t know how to make an ‘r’.”
I’m resourceful. I’m a problem solver. So I picked up the name tag sitting next to me. It said “Parker.” I covered all of the letters except the last one and showed him what an “r” looked like.
He nodded and, wordlessly, started erasing all of the letters he just wrote.
“What are you doing?!” I wanted to remain calm, but that’s five minutes of our lives that we could never get back.
But nothing I said could stop him. This kid was on an erasing mission.
The student helper nodded. “Sometimes I just want to erase everything and start over too,” she said in a happy, sing song voice. Easy for her to say. She was relaxing while a table full of kids traced her letters.
Then, after Greg was done eradicating his letters and my confidence, he started writing “P…A…”
“What are you writing?!” Me again. “Are you writing ‘Parker’? Do you want to say ‘I see a Parker’?”
“No.” He’s very serious. “I want to say ‘I see a spider’.”
“That’s what you had, see? You were writing that.”
It was still there, faintly, underneath the Pa, because erasing isn’t a common core standard until third grade.
Greg nodded, erased the “Pa,” and order was restored in the world again. I sounded out each letter of spider for him, and he made it through to the end. The teacher hung it on the wall, and we both lived happily ever after.
Meanwhile, I returned to Annabelle. She had made a bunch of scribbles but no sentence, the slacker.
Next I checked on Colin, who had written “I see a big rig.” He looked at me. “Okay, now how do I write ‘monster truck driving down the road with boxes of toy cars’?”
“You put a period,” I told him.