My Kindergartners returned from a special the other day, and after counting I presumed one of them had stopped at the nurse. Moments later she came into my classroom, arms wrapped tightly around the leg of the specialist teacher. Turns out she had gone to the bathroom as the specialist brought the Kindergartners back, and ended up alone in the other building. She remembered how to get back to our building, but without a teacher, was locked out. Thankfully, a colleague was opening the door as she arrived and found her, shoulders lifting and falling with her tears, hands sweating with work and worry.
She and I talked — with the other Kindergartners — and breathed many breaths together. It helped to debrief and to breathe, but I could tell it wasn’t enough. I abandoned my original lesson and said “Hey Kindergarten! For social studies we are going to take a field trip.” Gasps and questions filled the air: “We’re going on a field trip? Wow! Will we take a bus? Where are we going?” Even the student who had been lost was intrigued and a bit excited. When she discovered that she was a much needed part of the field trip, she breathed a bit deeper — distracted and empowered by her role.
I told them it was a walking field trip, and we were going to explore the school a bit. First we walked to the stairwell at the end of the hall. The door has a latch that requires you to push the latch down with your thumb while simultaneously pulling on the handle. For adult hands it is quite easy, for Kindergartner sized hands it requires some thinking, and problem solving to make it work. Some could make it work with one hand, others used two to accomplish the task. As each was successful, she ascended the stairs and waited for the next part of our field trip.
As we continued to the next building I asked the Kindergartners to notice the many things they were passing. I told them we would be making a map when we finished our field trip and they would need to remember the important bits to add to their map.
We entered the next building, and again examined the door to determine how we might get out if we needed to do so without a teacher. The first student pushed and pushed on the handle to no avail. Then another said “It says to push the green button!” Another said “Yeah, I knew it said that.” I acknowledged their knowledge but pointed out that sometimes, when we are nervous we have a much harder time reading, so it’s good to have a simple memorable way to remember what to do. We decided “Green for go!” was a good reminder.
Once outside again, I asked the Kindergartners to look around and think. Where are we? Where do we usually go? Where else might we go? What would be the best place to go? They noted that we usually go one way but we would come to a locked door. They commented that we could go to the Upper School and the Kaleidoscope playground by going another way but didn’t think that would be helpful. I encouraged them to keep looking and thinking. Finally they decided to try yet another way and realized it took them to our Kindergarten playground. I asked what they might do when they reached the playground if they weren’t with a teacher. They thought, and talked, and finally decided they could knock on the window to get a teacher’s attention.
Them: “Can we try it, Miss James?”
Me: “Sure! But wait for me to get inside, then carefully knock on the window to our classroom. Best to knock on the wood around the window. It’ll be loud and you won’t risk breaking the glass.”
There was lots of whispering and watching as I jogged down our little hill towards our learning space. I looked back as I neared the door. Their eyes watched me intently as they stood in their line encouraging one another with “Not yet. .. She’s almost there…. We can do it!” I think I may always have that vision of them burned into my brain. Such small humans, with such big hearts, brains, and courage.
As I ran into our learning space, I yelled to a colleague, “Don’t open the door for my class! We’re working on a problem!” Entering the room I sat down and waited for their knock. I didn’t have to wait long. The knocks were loud and clear. I came to the window, listened as they told me what happened, and then let them in through our outside door.
Once inside, my fantabulous Kindergartners became cartographers. Each, in their own way, documented the information they felt was important about how one might get from the other building back to our learning space. As they finished, the cartographers eagerly explained their maps to me before asking with great delight if they might take them home. One asked if I knew how other maps were folded. When I told her I did, she asked if I could fold hers like that. I did my best, and with a big smile, she safely tucked it into her pocket.