Today I received the following email from a fellow kindergarten teacher:

This past week, I’ve become more and more frustrated with myself and the students over the dreaded, “talking.” My lessons are teacher guided but always student driven. Therefore, I take great pride in knowing each of my students interest and I tailor our lessons around them. The students share prior knowledge on out topics so that we have a starting off place each day. My classroom routine/structure leaves little room for misbehavior, but my animated personality balances the atmosphere for academic growth.

So, while the students are somewhat verbal during a whole group introduction to a lesson, they NEVER get the chance to talk about their day, family, or new shoes. Subsequently, they all come to talk to me during transitional times (moving to and from school locations and lining up). I am constantly moving from the front to the back of the line monitoring, and they are reaching out with those BIG kindergarten eyes sharing, “I know hippos kill more people in Africa than lions,” “Two hundred and two hundred is four hundred,” “I like Aquaman, too, Mr. Cameron,” etc. To me, these are conversation starters that I feel unable to complete due to my responsibilities to get the class to music, cafeteria, etc. In the afternoons, I do have writer’s workshop, where they can write anything about themselves. During this time, I do try to listen to a few students share personal accounts/feelings/narratives.

I just feel like the proverbial dream-smasher when I have to cut someone off, postpone a thought that will never be answered, or reply with a hastened grunt. How / When do you engage meaningful conversations with the five year olds and foster a stronger classroom community?

Thank you,

Bill Cameron, Kindergarten Teacher

What a wonderful and important topic. How do we find time to engage our sprouts in meaningful conversations that build the strong community we all crave while still navigating the obstacles presented by increasing academic goals? Here are a few of the ways we do it in my classroom:

1) Arrival routines – Our arrival routine is a quiet one. Each child comes in, takes care of their belongings and begins either Read to Self or Read with a Buddy depending on the day. Part of that routine is handing me their home/school folder. In that moment, when they hand it off, any pressing news is shared. Sometimes a gift or hug is given. It’s a quiet and wonderful way to start each day connecting with each sprout for a minute or two.

2) Sharing – Quite simply, sharing is a time during our morning meeting when everyone (even teachers) get to share a sentence or two about their life. Sometimes it’s weekend plans, movies seen, play dates made, babies expected, pets passed, pets arrived, or basically anything on the mind of a five-year-old. I myself go between sharing events from my own life to commenting on the kids new haircuts, new shirts, new shoes, etc. It’s quick, because we use a pretend microphone and only the holder of the fake mic speaks. We practice being respectful listeners and I get to learn things about my students I wouldn’t have otherwise (Apparently the going rate for a lost tooth just keeps going up and up…).

3) Writing Workshop – As mentioned in Bill’s email, Writing Workshop is a critical time to explore the lives of our students. We have ours in the morning and I find it helps children share those pressing thoughts earlier in the day. As I walk around conferencing, I hear and learn about what is important to them… sometimes, by just stopping for a second and reading over a shoulder I’m welcomed into a world I wouldn’t have been otherwise.

4) Lunch Buddy – I don’t do it regularly, but from time to time, I (are you sitting down) sit and eat with my class in the cafeteria.  It’s laid back and relaxed and I’m a SUPER celebrity in the lunch room.

5) Quiet Time – After lunch we always have about fifteen minutes of quiet time… the rules are no talking, but to be sure, talking goes on… between me and them only. They filter over to have shoes tied, grab a hug, etc. and we always share a whisper or two. Sometimes, I invite one child over to huddle close to me and check in about an issue or just check on their day. It’s a nice quiet way to connect.

6) Center Time – Our center time each afternoon is designed for multiple purposes. Besides allowing children to practice social skills, fine and gross motor,  and play, it also allows me to pull children to assess and/or read with one on one. We usually take one day off a week (mostly Fridays, but sometimes a different day) and I just circulate. I walk from center to center spending time interacting, chatting, and playing with my sprouts. There’s no better way to connect and build community then to get down on the floor and build or be the customer at the restaurant.

7) Bus Time – Besides being the end of my workday, bus time is really one of my favorite times of day. My school has a staggered dismissal so only a few sprouts line up at a time. The rest are sitting quietly whispering until it’s their turn. This time with just a few children is precious. It’s kind of like an extended sharing where everyone is part of the conversation with me guiding and negotiating the topics and speakers. Almost everyone leaves with a smile and a hug and I feel like I’ve connected with each child before sending them off for the night.

8) Breathe – In those transitions, or other times when it’s NOT a good time to share the important goings on of five-year-olds it’s hard to not get frustrated.  Mrs. D. has a mug that says, ‘relax, Relax, RELAX’ – I refer to it often.  Having these other times does significantly cut down on interruptions, but for sure, they still happen.  I often try to reply with a ‘Oh, that sounds like an awesome story for writing…’ or ‘I hope you share that during Sharing…’ or ‘Let’s chat about that at bus time, please don’t forget…’ to help ease my dwindling patience and not squelch the story inside.  They almost always remember to bring it up again, so nobody feels unheard.

These are just some of the ways we make time to relate to children in our classroom. It’s not always easy, but the amazing community we’ve built is what makes our classroom click. How/When do you engage in meaningful conversations and foster a stronger classroom community?