In early August, the office sends me the first glimpse of who my next group of kindergartners will be. It's a computer-generated list. It's orderly, neatly typed, and purely black and white. Definitely not like the children themselves. As I prepare for the new school year, I look toward the time when their smiles will fill the doorway and I'll have real faces and real children to match these names.
Finally, the day comes and they enter the classroom. There is the one who stands quietly on the edge and watches. There is the one who speaks continuously. With him I know everything he thinks at the moment he thinks it. There is the one who asks if she can pretend to be a fairy godmother. There is the one who can't quite figure out which direction to turn in order to get where he wants to go in the classroom. There is the one who goes to the drawing-and-making center and cuts a heart out of paper. She hangs the edge with the heart-shaped hole on the wall to decorate our room, and hands the heart-shaped piece to me shyly, like a secret admirer. There is the one who tells me at least seven times throughout the day that she will be going to after-school care, as much to reassure herself as to inform me.
That night, after the children have gone, I decide that I want to capture this beginning time. I want to honor each unique person and I want to bring us all together in one grand act that will represent the unity and the diversity simultaneously. So on the morning of the second day, I ask the children to tell me a color that they really, really like. "Red," is the first response. It is followed by "golden." Hands wave in the air like palm branches as I call on them and record their replies…purple, pink, hot pink, light blue, green, dark green, light green, lavender, light orange like peach, black, white, dark orange, turquoise, yellow, and brown.
Later while the children are outside playing, I place one large, long, brown sheet of butcher paper over the lanai tables. I fill little cups with paint. Some colors are straight out of the bottle; others are surprise packages of two or three colors waiting to be mixed. I grab a large handful of brushes from the shelf—thick, thin, medium widths. When the children return, they are invited to surround the tables. I remind them that they know what lines are. We talk of ridgelines, and curving lines, bouncy lines, and zig-zag lines, thick lines, and thin lines, and then they each get a color and a brush. One by one they add their line to the mural. "Can I paint on someone else's line?" one child asks. I refer the question to the group and the decision is no. So they figure out how to "jump" over another line if it's in the way. In the end, they have all added their mark.
The school day ends. The children are gone. The paint dries and I smile at what they have created. I drag it inside and, with some help, adhere it to the classroom wall. Stepping back I savor it. This represents the little people I am beginning to know. They are vibrant pink, adventurous orange, steady black, and calm light blue. They are bouncy, stiffly straight, thick, and very thin, so thin that you have to look hard to even notice. It's this variety all together that makes the painting beautiful.
I sigh. It's a deep exhale. I'm glad it's on the wall for those days that I know will come when someone will be just a little too "bright orange" or another painfully "thin." I want to remember to look up and say, "That orderly, black and white list has been replaced. And that's the beauty of it all."
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.