Some have likened teaching kindergarten to herding cats, but I’ve come to the recent conclusion that chocolate is by far the best analogy. Thanks to the 5 year old’s curiosity, unpredictable behavior, and encounters with math manipulatives; over the years all of those pattern blocks, rubber dinosaurs, and double sided counters have provided countless opportunities for their learning and MY mental manipulation. Here’s what I have learned:
Kindergarten Math and Chocolate
Sometimes it’s a little nutty.
For the sake of being “seasonally” or “thematically correct”, I occasionally resort to using candy or more unconventional items such as bottle caps, Barbie doll shoes, and plastic cookies to make math activities more meaningful and engaging. Since I am no stranger to Ebay or the UPS man, I have quite an extensive collection of styrofoam packing peanuts. One day last spring I decided to use them to help my students explore problem solving strategies in various circus related scenarios. I noticed that one child in particular refused to participate no matter how many times I circled about with all my classic tricks for redirection. “How can he resist touching and squeezing them?” I wondered. I finally said, “I would love for you to show me what you have learned in math.” to which he replied, “I would… it’s just that I’m ‘llergic’ to nuts, remember?”
Sometimes it’s bittersweet.
Picture a classroom of little hands using manipulating pasta on rubber mats. Picture the teacher (who shall remain nameless) beaming with pride as students discover that it can be sorted according to size, shape, and whether or not it is whole or broken. She calls upon a little boy who declares, “I sorted them by how old they are.” When asked to explain, he replied, “Well, see this one? It’s not old because it’s smooth. See this one (a bowtie shaped piece) ? It’s old because it has wrinkles like your eyes when you laugh.” Now, picture the teacher’s wrinkle- free expression as she tries to sort out her feelings about his observation.
Sometimes it’s full of surprises.
During a parent visitation day early in the year, the students challenged our apprehensive parents to a game of “Are you smarter than a kindergartner?” Eager to show off what they had previously learned about shapes, I asked, ”Which pattern block has 4 sides and is red?” Having stumped a few parents, I asked a little girl waving her hand wildly in the air. Her response? “The Paranoid!” (which I assume is a cross between the parallelogram and trapezoid) Perhaps Forrest Gump was right. You really don’t know what you’re going to get.
And no matter the shape or color, they all eventually melt in your hands (or pockets).
In my room, there are three rules for using manipulatives: tummy to the table, always share, and treat them as “tools” for learning. But after an incident a few years back, I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t include a fourth one: “Do not store in unapproved containers.” You see, one day I noticed there were brown smudges on our reading rug and on various chairs about the room. Fearing the worst, I paced about nonchalantly trying to find the culprit to no avail. But at dismissal, it became apparent that I had nearly overlooked an obvious clue. A student was licking his fingers and upon further observation, I saw that his back pockets were filled with melted M&M’s from a graphing activity earlier that morning—a memory that is in no danger of melting away anytime soon.
Here’s hoping that the remainder of your school year with your little sweeties will be “choc” full of fun and learning!
About the Author
Sara Dillow has been teaching for 14 years and currently teaches kindergarten in MD. She is a wife and mother of a second grader daughter and preschool age son. When she’s not in the classroom, she enjoys writing about the humorous side of parenting and teaching as well as poetry.