As I write this, we are officially two days into the new school year. I've been at this for over 30 years, most of it in kindergarten. I love the work and it's so challenging. Always has been, always will be. I once heard that the only profession that requires more decisions than teaching, is being an air traffic controller. It's true. How many decisions do you think a teacher makes in an hour, a day, a year? I mean, when my little ones come on that first day, they are ready, willing, and able, but they don't know much about how school, this school, or this classroom work and what's their role in it.
That's where I come in. I've thought a LOT (over these last 30 years) and have made thousands of decisions about what I want them to do, how I want them to do it, and how I hope they will grow. One, and just one of many dilemmas, is what kind of paper to give them for the start of writer's workshop--blank, loose sheets, single sheets with a box and lines, or pages already stapled into a writer's journal? In fact, a colleague and I had this conversation again this year. I've tried them all. In the end, I said, "Let's do plain white, individual sheets." Inwardly, I trusted something, but I'm not sure I could have articulated the reason.
Then it happened. On the first day of writer's workshop, as I enthusiastically introduced the children to their power to put onto paper all the stories of their lives, one eager author raised her hand. "Can we make real books? Can we fold the paper in half so it's a real book?" A smile started in my heart and spread up and out across my face. "Yes. Yes, you can. You can make a real book."
And that's it. Plain, white paper works for a reason. It's a choice that creates the flexibility and freedom to empower children and not hold them back. I had my answer. Later there would be other paper choices—paper with lines, pre-stapled booklets—meeting other children's needs and encouraging everyone forward. But for now, I recognized and reaffirmed something I learned early in my teaching which is the value of open-ended materials. Ahhh, one less decision to make going forward.
I teach kindergarten at an independent school in Hawaii. The joy of young, curious learners delights me. I'm passionate about my practice, always striving to meet the needs of the children and their families.