Visiting A First Grade Class

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit Ms. Erica’s 1st grade class. They are studying holidays from around the world and she asked me to come in to talk about Divali. I’m no expert but have celebrated in India and Nepal.

I walked in just an hour before the day was done to an organized classroom and calm kids.  - and this was a Friday before holiday break week. Ms. Erica was a delight to watch. All transitions and activities were managed through questions and inviting the children to show her they were ready. She consistently named children who were showing their readiness describing what she saw so other kids could do the same.

The children got up out of their seats and went over to the carpeted gathering space of their classroom with efficiency and ease. A second class was invited to join us and when they all showed up at the door, Ms. Erica’s class scooted to the back of the rug, giving their guests the front row seats they had only moments before raced to claim.

Divali is a festival of lights originally celebrated in India. There are several origins of the festival; I focused on the story from the Ramayana. Ram, is wife Sita and brother Laxman had been in exile for 14 years. When it was time for them to return, the people of the kingdom lit the path home with candles so their beloved leader could easily find his way. While in exile, they had great adventures. I told the children about the golden deer, the evil demon Ravana and Hanuman, chief officer of the army of monkeys. The children were delighted to hear about Hanuman leaping from India to what is now Sri Lanka in a single bound. They also had lots of questions about the demon! They politely raised a hand and waited to be called on and were easily redirected when they started to stray from sitting quietly.

After our question and answer session, I taught the children two poses: The Eagle (Garudasana) and the Crow. Children love balancing poses and this group enjoyed the challenge of balancing on their hands. Then, they spent their last half hour of the day in “Free Choice Friday.” Some kids played with Toasty, the pet uromastyx. Others played with the classroom SMART board, built block structures or read books.

What impressed me most about my visit to Ms. Erica’s 1st grade class was how the children transitioned from free time to their “sunset meeting” at the end of the day. Without saying a word, Ms. Erica walked up to the SMART board, selected the music player and chose a song titled “Clean up”. On cue, the children started putting their things away, skipping around the room and singing along as they did so. A second song about being happy followed and in the length of these two songs, about 4.5 minutes total, 80% of the children were sitting quietly on the carpeted gathering space. The sunset meeting included the assistant teacher handing out stars with personal notes written on them like, “Dear (child’s name), Thank you for being a good friend today. Love, Your Teacher." The children who got these stars put them in their “take home folder.” Two boys got a different kind of note to take home. They had been roughhousing and someone got hurt. As it had been going on for much of the day, this warranted a note home to the parents. Ms. Erica wrote the note (keeping a copy for herself, like a receipt) while explaining the behavior and inviting them into the dialog. I watched the boys, one quite upset, tuck the note into the “take home folder.” It was a powerful display of practices that help children develop personal responsibility.

Here was a group of six and seven year olds given consistent opportunities through out their day to take responsibility and make informed choices in a structured, loving and creative environment. Seeing this made my experience as a special guest, a special treat.