Kindergarteners are like sponges. They really do soak up knowledge and experiences like little critters starving for a drink. As my experience with this age group expands, I’m realizing the absorbency of each sprout isn’t the same. Some of them come in with their sponges already saturated and others come in with theirs bone dry.
Nelson is one such friend. Like a newly opened sponge dehydrated of all moisture, this sweet little boy came to us with nary a clue. I swear I wonder sometimes how some of these little guys get through the first five years of life with nobody exposing them to learning, but there are always a few that appear to have been raised in a cave with no letters, words, pencils, paper, or books.
The first few days of school, it became clear Nelson didn’t know how to write his name. He didn’t recognize his name. He didn’t know any letters or even the ABC song. Math wasn’t much better. He couldn’t count past two. Two. The poor kid was five and couldn’t count up to his own age.
What happened after those first few days, when we settled into the routines of school and began learning was nothing short of a miracle. Nelson’s sponge began taking in water like a cactus longingly awaiting rain. Slowly, but surely, he began learning to write his name, recognize his name, and count.
One afternoon, while playing count around the circle – a simple game where we count to a specified number and the sprout who says the target number sits until there’s only one child standing – I literally saw Nelson learn to count.
We start with low numbers so those who can’t count can learn the pattern quickly and this day our target number was nine. The first few times around the circle, each time it was Nelson’s turn to shout out his number, he looked at me, clueless and scared, and I’d whisper the number to him. After a few minutes, though, he began catching on. He was determined in his study, soaking up the numbers.
At bus time, I asked him to count for me, and right on cue, with a huge beaming smile he counted for me.
“One, two, free, four, five, six, seven, eight,… nine!” He shouted the last number.
He couldn’t go any higher then we’d practiced, but wow, he did it and will only learn to count higher. Watching that light bulb go off and the accompanying smile is what makes me feel like I’ve earned my paycheck. Nelson’s hug when he walked out of the room counting aloud was my bonus.
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