First graders once again amaze me. This year’s group of first graders is bright and inquisitive, funny and intent. We have only been in class two days and my new batch of “smart cookies” is definitely that, smart. I did not have any that cried this year, none that wanted to go home as soon as they got there, and all of them were willing and excited to try whatever I put before them.
Our first day is always filled with procedures and routines. I try to set the right tone as soon as they arrive. After I pick them up on the playground we walk to the classroom and line up by our door. I explain that this is where they will come each morning after the bell has rung. I tell them the TWO most important rules in first grade happen before we enter the room, and before we leave for the day. I ask if anyone has a guess as to what those two rules are. At their blank and worried stares I ask a boy that was with me last year to explain my very important rules. He grins as he says “you have to hug the teacher!” That’s right my two most important rules are a hug before we begin our day, and one as they leave for the day. Sometimes because of home-life and missing parents, they are the only hugs a child receives all week. With some children my “hug” is often a lean or a shoulder, but that is ok, because the first contact they have from me is one of warmth, and eventually those that are hesitant in the beginning become my warmest huggers. This year’s group are huggers from the start, and I feel excited to see what else they are open to.
The day continues with the same tone. We read stories and make pictures. I explain to them the “Slice of First Grade Life” journals, I have adapted from The Two Writing Teachers and although they aren’t sure what to write, they do, and some stand to share what they have written when we are done. I am thrilled!
Before we leave for the day I ask what they liked best about their first day in first grade. Many say everything. Some don’t know. But one girl likes the books and writing and I am optimistic that soon there will more.
I then let them in on a secret of what is in store for tomorrow; we will have a snowball fight. The looks are comical. How can we have snowballs? It’s HOT they cry! But I tell them we will, and they will have fun, and if they picture it in their mind and think of a cold winter day, you never know what may happen.
The next morning my new group of angels are a little more talkative and comfortable with their surroundings; so we once again spend some time on procedures and manners. Just before lunch while we are discussing the importance of listening while others are talking, one girl speaks out and reminds us that today we are going to have a snowball fight, so she is going to be extra good! Bravo I think!
As the day’s end nears I keep hearing whispers of snowballs and where they could be. Soon I pass out a plain white sheet of paper, and hear one little boy tell another, “This could be a snowball.” Ahhh so smart I think. I tell the kids to draw a picture of themselves doing a favorite activity. It could be swimming or skating, eating French fries or playing tag. It was up to them. I told them I was going to start the music, and when it was done they needed to be putting the finishing touches on their pictures. (great time management practice) As the music ends all eyes are on me, and they are all on task. I show them how to crumple their paper into a “snowball” and the giggles ensue. BUT I explained after our “fight” you will be asked to open your snowball, and tell who you think the picture belongs to. Nods of agreement and promises to not throw meanly or at a person’s head are made, and the throwing and music begins. When the music ends and the giggles subside we take turns making our guesses of whose picture we have and what they like to do. Many get it right. Some don’t know the name of whose picture they think they have, so names are learned. And some liked the same activities as the persons they opened. They didn’t care that we didn’t have real snowballs; no one complained that they didn’t know what to draw, and not one child whined when they got “beamed” by a snowball. They were laughing, happy, filled with joy just as if it were a real snowball fight!
And I sat back in awe, mind swirling, thoughts flowing, ideas flying as fast as the snowballs. How could I use this with a writing activity? How could I incorporate spelling words, math facts, and new vocabulary with this? Wouldn’t this be a great team building activity with older children and adults? What books could I read to connect this to new schema? The possibilities are endless and I’ll just bet we’ll be having a few more “snowball fights” in first grade this year, maybe even on a snowy day!
We have so much to learn from children. They come to school not knowing what they’ll find, not knowing what will be expected of them, but almost always up for the challenge. They know that the New Year in school will not be the same as the last, and yet they enter with anticipation and excitement. We adults, teachers, could learn so much from them. We often get so stuck in our ways, so used to the routines, and comfortable way of doing things that we balk and fight a new policy or way of conducting business. I’m afraid this year is going to be full of unprecedented events and obstacles. Budget cuts and lack of funding have left us all vulnerable and ill at ease. Changes have been made, extra duties have been placed on our shoulders, and policy has been questioned. But if we could just remember that we’re not the only one confronting change, if we could just understand that this uncharted territory for all of us, if we could just see that a snowball is not always a snowball, and make the best with what we have, then maybe just maybe, this could be the best year we’ve ever had.