I remember my first day of kindergarten. I was sort of indifferent about school…I didn’t know what I was getting into, so I just followed my mom into the building. However, once I realized she was leaving me there, I quickly decided I didn’t want to stay. There were some tears and anxiety…and then I saw the “play kitchen”. Seeing this familiar fixture brought me so much comfort, and even excitement, and then I was okay. Really, I was good to go. And the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been going to public school ever since!:)
When I was a five year old kindergarten student, K-5 was actually all about learning to come to school. We learned social skills like how to share, how to help others, how to be a friend. We learned the importance of keeping up with our belongings, taking care of school property, and working with our emotions. We learned how to get along. We learned how to be a student.
Now kindergarten is still a very important avenue for learning social skills, but we are also learning to read (pretty fluently), write stories–both realistic and fiction– and to add and subtract by the end of the year. I don’t know about other kindergarten teachers, but I have found myself in a place before where I have forsaken the importance of teaching social skills in order to teach more reading, write more words, and add more numbers. I’ve spent more time blending and segmenting phonemes than I have teaching my kids what to do if they have to share a toy.
And I wonder why they bicker. I wonder why they tattle. I wonder why they have one crayon left in their pouch after just a week of school (Teacher, I don’t have a red…or a blue…or an orange…).
I know I’m not the only one wondering. In talking with teachers in many districts, I’ve discovered that there is some concern with the social skills of our older students in schools today. Bullying is becoming a presence that needs to be dealt with. Not only the bully-er, but the bully-ee (Did I just make up some words?). Older students don’t know how to treat each other anymore. They haven’t had lots of practice with sharing, speaking, listening, and working with one another in a non-academic setting. Some students are “being mean” to get attention, relationships (what they think is a relationship), and acceptance. Other students don’t know how to react to someone treating them in an unwanted way, and they are dealing with anxiety that comes from not knowing how to deal with different people. I think one way to help this situation is to give students more time to have social interaction when they are young. Before they become self-conscious and create different stations and groups among themselves.
I was on a vertical Language Arts team for my school for two years and we worked very hard to align our curriculum with the new College and Career Ready Standards for English Language Arts. One of the main topics we discussed and worked on was vocabulary. We looked at the research about the importance of teaching our children Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary words. Tier 2 words are high-frequency vocabulary words that may or may not have multiple meanings, like savor or ability. Tier 3 words are lower-frequency words that are specific to a certain context (the words you used to write down and define in biology class). As the discussion went on, I agreed that instruction on these words was so important. It’s needed. But I had a growing sense of urgency about another type of words that I realized many kindergarteners were lacking, Tier 1 words. I, along with other teachers in my school and other schools, was focusing on teaching these wonderful Tier 2 and 3 words when I had kids that didn’t know what friend, baby, and sorry meant. I had kids that didn’t understand the meaning of beside, below, above, and in front of.
So I really started thinking about my teaching of social skills and what I call “social words”(this is just a Paige Givens term, not fancy or official by any means). How could I teach my kids these words and skills in a natural, authentic way?
The answer was right in front of me, in a sunny corner of my room, begging not to be thrown out, as so many kindergarten teachers are being pressured to do. It was my kitchen!
You may call it the Home Living Station, or the Dramatic Play Area, or Houseware Center. You may call it “Who has time for that?!? I got rid of that years ago! Too busy.”
But I am here to advocate for the Home Living Station! There is a place for it in your curriculum! Your kids need time to play and talk with each other. They need space to make believe and work together to make their imaginations come to life. They need opportunities to practice sharing and “working it out” when there are not enough supplies to go around. They need opportunities to disagree.
A few years ago, I brought my Home Living Station up to speed with vigor and excitement. I decided to use it as a teaching tool during my Literacy Work Stations (YES, during Literacy Stations!), and started off the year with a few kitchen utensils, plastic foods, and baby dolls. I have found that if I use fewer props at the beginning, it’s easier to teach how to clean up and it leaves room for more language exchanges. I also use lots of modeling at the beginning of the year for having nice hands, words, and feet at the Home Living Station. I have found that the Home Living Station is one of the greatest opportunities for the speech pathologist to work with students who are acquiring language skills. It’s a natural, authentic environment for students who need extra support in developing oral language skills.
I focused on three Kindergarten College and Career Ready Standards when designing my new Home Living Station a few years back. These are the ones I’ve been using:
Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with prompting and support, provide additional detail. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.4)
Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional detail. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.5)
Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.6)
I divide up my Home Living Themes by the month most years. Here are my plans for Home Living each month of the school year. My wonderful kindergarten teacher partners at my school collaborate constantly to improve our stations. They’ve graciously included pictures of their Home Living Stations.
“My Home”- we are just learning to come to school, so this month is all about learning how to use the materials at home living. We do lots of modeling and practicing. The Home Living Station is usually everyone’s favorite station to choose (both boys and girls).
“School”- I bring in a “big kid” desk and set out books, pointers, pictures, and different items for the students to teach with. They love to decide who is the teacher and who are students. I hear my own words coming out of their mouths when they are playing school. 🙂
“Grocery Store”– I have parents send in empty cereal boxes, snack food boxes, cleaned out milk cartons, etc. We label each item clearly and students work at the grocery store to make a grocery list by copying the labels onto their list paper. They use pretend buggies and cash registers to act out buying their grocery list.
“Apple Orchard”- My teacher friends Lori and Connie created an apple orchard in their classrooms this year with some plastic apples, pie tins, felt, and baskets. The kids LOVED it!