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Appreciating Kindergarten

As those near my age will remember, everything we need to know, we learned in kindergarten.

I'm going to start this week's blog post with a minor complaint. It always bothers me just a bit when new-to-ETC Teaching Artists mention in interviews that they don't prefer to work with pre-K or K students because “you're not really teaching them theatre, you're just playing with them.” Don't get me wrong, not everyone has to love the primary grades as much as I do. In fact, if they did I wouldn't get to teach the primary grades as often as I do, and that would make me even sadder than that statement in interviews! What bothers me is dismissing play as not important in theatre, when the exact things that we put on as professionals are plays. A friend of mine who does a lot of theatre for young audiences always reminds the actors in the final rehearsals, “you have to play onstage - it's called a play!”

Who better to use their imagination and create an entirely new world in the middle of a classroom than students who already use their imagination in everything they do? The lack of self-awareness in kindergarten students is something that the top theatre training programs across the world try to teach adult students. Kindergarteners already have that! When I tell them to close their eyes, climb into their time machine, set the dials for 300 years ago, and buckle in, their eyes are closed immediately and you can see the exact size and shape of 22 separate time machines in one classroom because of how carefully they are imagining. Truly, it is how carefully they are playing.

I've had the great pleasure this year working with more kindergarten classrooms doing in-school programming than ever before. Through the generosity and support of the Cardinal Elementary School PTA, ETC is in all kindergarten classrooms four times this year. Four times visiting kindergarteners and using theatre to teach subjects from Economics (one of my favorite workshops of all time) to Cause and Effect! I spent the entire third quarter, all 9 weeks, in each kindergarten classroom in Drew Elementary one day a week. I partnered with those teachers to use theatre to understand the history of Virginia, the differences between past and present, how to safely move our bodies and, of course, we had lots of fun! At Drew, we spent weeks studying and exploring toys and games that we still play with today but that have been around for hundreds and thousands of years. Did you know that the earliest evidence of hopscotch is from thousands of years ago? Of course we played! And we learned.

Just this past Tuesday, I was able to return to Claremont Immersion School for our 4th kindergarten residency. Unfortunately, this program was put on hold last year, and I am so happy that we are back. With new ETC teacher Miss Pam, we are in all kindergarten classrooms one day a week for 4 weeks. During that weekly 50 minutes, each class is taking the same story and modifying it to make it their own, so that they can perform it for their peers in the final week. This year, I have chosen the book The Rabbit Listened. If you haven't read this book yet, it's amazing! With lovely illustrations, characters full of some of our favorite animals, and the main human character who is never identified with gender pronouns, this book helps everyone learn how to be a supportive friend. With social emotional learning at the forefront of so much right now, and as a subject that theatre is naturally aligned with, I was so delighted to find this book. Because Claremont is a Spanish immersion school, our goal when finding a story to retell included finding a book that can be found in both English and Spanish. Perhaps I'll do another blog post in a few weeks to let you know how it goes!

Next week, I'm back at Cardinal for my economics workshop with kindergarten. This workshop always results in some of my favorite teaching stories ever. So, I will end this week's blog post with one of my standouts:

Years ago, when we first did this workshop, the students and I were walking around an imaginary grocery store and had already filled our carts with everything that we needed. I told them that we had some money and it was time to look for things that we didn't need but that we wanted. When I asked for suggestions of things that we could want from the grocery store, one student's hand shot into the air - as I called on this student, the classroom teacher, who I have a wonderful working relationship with, caught my eye to let me know that this student almost always had some incredible answers. Enthusiastically this student yelled out "Piña Coladas!” On this National Kindergarten Day, I hope that you celebrate with piña coladas or whatever makes you happy as you remember that you (hopefully) had a great kindergarten experience, and that you learned everything you need to know!


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