I know the title of this post sounds like an oxymoron. How can kindergarten be online? It’s supposed to be circle time, messy activities, recess, bites & scratches, and hugs from a loving teacher.
The other day Bilingual Baby and I walked by a neighborhood school and a crossing guard helped us through an intersection. We waved and said “thank you” through our masks.
“That’s a crossing guard,” I said, realizing my daughter had probably never seen one since she’d never walked to school before. “I know,” she said. “How do you know?” I asked. “From Ramona,” she replied, holding my hand and skipping along on her scrawny legs, her scraggly hair bouncing and swinging behind her. My own little Ramona-in-the-making.
She means Ramona Quimby, of course. Everything we would be missing out on this year snapped into perspective. No hurt feelings on the playground, no proud moments at Back-to-School Night, no trips to the library, no line-leader drama, and on and on. It’s all even more personal because thirty years ago, I went to the same public school for kindergarten that Bilingual Baby is going to. I drive by my kindergarten classroom window daily, but I don’t actually know which classroom is my child’s. Which class does her teacher, Ms. C., broadcast from each morning? Is it one of the original outdoor wings? One of the newer wings? One of the portables?
But in today’s world, all I can do is recognize how disappointed and sad it makes me. I mourn for just a minute. And then I move on, because nobody’s getting the kindergarten experience they wanted this year.
Before the pandemic, Bilingual Baby didn’t know how to use an iPad. Now I can ask her to go to her desk and log into her kinder class on Zoom—she doesn’t need me to enter the passcode, find her school app, or navigate to the class link (let alone turn on her camera and audio).
Every morning from 8:15am to 9:55am she’s “in class.” Sometimes she’s still wearing her pj’s and has to eat her cereal in front of the screen. Other days her hair is brushed, and she dressed and ready for the day. Her teacher, Ms. C. has been tasked with teaching to both online and in-person kids simultaneously, and she does an incredible job. How? From what I can see, it’s her communication, organization, and mad kinder skills. But there’s also her ability to try things out and adjust when they don’t work. And I have a feeling she puts herself through many late nights.
Each Monday Ms. C. sends parents a schedule of what the week will look like. Each day looks something like this:
First thing in the morning, the children get a turn to check in by answering a question (What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite season? What super power would you most want to have?). The question for Friday is always the same: “What’s something you learned this week?” This is no small thing. More than ever, kids need the time to connect with and hear from each other; it gives them a sense of togetherness and allows them to contribute to a whole.
morning message & circle time
The first part of the morning is done in either English or Spanish, depending on the day of the week (M/W/F in Spanish, T/TH in English). It sort of takes the place of a circle time. They go over the morning message and then singing about the days of the week, months of the year, the weather, and the seasons. Then Ms. C. gives them a break. A timer pops up on the screen set to five minutes. Ideally, Bilingual Baby and I both jump up and run outside. We race, we play games, we move our bodies. An alarm sounds from the screen when the timer is up, and she’s back in her seat. If we don’t move like that, she doesn’t concentrate as well: she asks for extra snacks, slides slowly out of her chair to the ground like some kind of kindergartener soup, and unmutes herself to inquire when class with be done (rude!).
letters & reading
The next block of class, dedicated to reading, is all in Spanish. They practice their letter sounds and clap out syllables, they add and remove parts of words, they rhyme and play with meaning. They giggle when their teacher “messes up,” (“Fuerta?”), and they eagerly correct her in a chaotic chorus of unmuted kindergarteners (“No, Fuerta! Puerta!”). Next Ms. C. reads them a book, and Bilingual Baby always runs to find me to let me know she’s owed a snack because it’s story time.
Then another break, and if I’m not lost in my own work on my own computer, we jump up and run around our courtyard.
The next block of class is a bit more loose and is a mixture of English and Spanish. This is where they might have a visitor, it’s where they do either science or social studies. It’s where announcements from the real school building come beeping through the PA system in the classroom and out across Zoom. The principal comes on to give school-wide news, to wish certain teachers a happy birthday, to remind kids that their masks should be covering their noses. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited, the Texas Pledge, and, finally, the school’s motto. I need an entire separate blog post to work out how to talk to my daughter about the pledges, how to contextualize them when, really, I don’t believe in blindly pledging allegiance to a state or country.
A third break — more running — and then it’s time for math. Math, in our dual language program, is all in Spanish at this grade level. The kids count to 100, some days counting by 1, other days by 5’s or 10’s. They use ten frames and Rekenreks to build number sense, subitize and do addition and subtraction. Ms. C. creates word problems where the kids themselves are the protagonists and help each other figure out the answers. At the beginning of the school year, Ms. C. dropped off laminated number lines and charts, a ten frame, a wooden Rekenrek with red and white beads, and other math manipulatives so everyone in the class has access to the same resources. Proudly, Bilingual Baby announces that math is her favorite. I beam, because this means that, so far, I have managed to not pass on my own fears around numbers to my daughter.
specials: P.E., Art, & Music
At 9:55 there’s a chorus of goodbyes, and the windows into other kids’ homes drop off the screen like little bubbles bursting, disappearing into thin air. We now have a ten-minute break before logging back in for specials. As teachers have adjusted to Zoom life, specials have gotten better. I’ve come to think of P.E., art, and music not as “extras,” but as truly essential to Bilingual Baby’s learning. Music is an extension of her language development, with its rhymes and rhythms. P.E. builds health and body awareness and a sense of school pride. She can be heard shouting “Hey, hey, coach!” after being prompted with a “Hey, hey, Bulldogs!” And art is an extension of something she already loves doing–the portrait of Frida Khalo she worked on over multiple art classes is one of her prized pieces.
Specials are in English. It’s a missed opportunity, but the district-wide logistics and the availability of bilingual teachers are not there. Because so many of the students at the school are emerging bilinguals, Spanish does get used. But just here and there.
The day is not over. By the time specials are finished it’s only 11am. And here’s where it gets tricky. I can’t figure out whether it’s better to push through and “get it over with,” or whether we should take a break and have lunch, go outside, ride our bikes. I’m often distracted by my own work, realizing I haven’t changed out of my pj’s, and haven’t fed myself anything but coffee. And, yet, it’s my turn to take over as teacher. I could do this part better.
She usually has an online assignment through an app called Seesaw, and that topic rotates between math, reading, social studies, and science. Then there’s usually a page or two in her workbooks. Finally! The child gets the chance to hold a pencil. After that, she’s supposed to complete sessions on two out of four separate learning programs that the district subscribes to: IXL, Imagine Reading & Literacy, Imagine Español, and Dreambox.
By the end of all that, she’s fried. I should make her go outside. I should sit with her and read her a book. But I know that part of her has been able to keep going because she knows that at the end she’ll get to watch one or two of her favorite shows on PBS. So, more screens it is. But we made it. Somewhere in there we ate lunch.
The rest of the day is screen free. While it may not be the best method to cram it all into the first half of the day, if we don’t do it that way, we don’t get to everything.
So there you have it. Kindergarten online. It could be so much worse. It could be so much better. But I’m grateful to be stuck in between those two possibilities.