The Kindergarten Journey at Bement

The Kindergarten Journey at Bement
Jane Stewart, Kindergarten Teacher

How do I feel about teaching kindergarten at The Bement School? It is pure joy. Over the years, I have had the pleasure and privilege of watching many students begin as kindergartners and graduate as ninth graders during their ten-year journey at Bement. The growth in terms of social, emotional, physical, and academic development during a student’s career at Bement is breathtaking, but how does this exciting journey begin?

As parents and caregivers consider the kindergarten program at The Bement School for their preschool age child there is much to look forward to and much to consider. Each winter, the admission office holds events, fields inquiries, and answers questions of the many perspective parents and caregivers who are looking for the right fit as their child transitions from preschool to kindergarten. The parent’s and caregiver’s personal hopes and dreams are balanced with finding a kindergarten program that will best meet the individual needs of their child.

Each spring, the task of the admission office is to consider children from the pool of preschool applicants and over time work toward creating a group of students that will make up the next class of kindergartners at The Bement School. Much thought and care goes into the process of creating a balanced group of students who will learn from each other and also work well together. Our kindergarten screening includes a two-day process when the admissions team has the opportunity to observe perspective students both 1:1, as well as in a group. We are looking particularly at how children respond to teachers and how they interact with other children in a group setting. We assess an individual child’s readiness in terms of where he or she is developmentally. There isn’t one clear-cut formula that can predict readiness for students in our kindergarten program, but through a thoughtful process including observation and assessment during the screening process, as well as parent/caregiver and preschool teacher input, we do our best to create a class that will learn and play well together. When perspective parents ask me how to best prepare their child to be successful in our kindergarten program, I recommend that they read to their child every day and engage their child in conversations about the world around them.

As I reflect on the variety of skills and activities that we engage in during a typical year in kindergarten at The Bement School, I am awestruck by the enthusiasm, joy, and flexibility that my students bring to each and every day. My students are independent, motivated, and curious. They also possess a love of learning and a sense of community mindedness that continue to develop in leaps and bounds over the course of the year in kindergarten. Kindergartners have the natural capacity to both make friends and know what it means to be a friend. They also have a keen awareness of the world around them from the daintiest flower to the mightiest whale, which is magical to observe. I thoroughly enjoy helping my students navigate through the social, emotional, physical, and academic aspects of school, and I feel lucky to have a hand in creating an environment at Bement that helps to foster this kind of learning.

When I think back on my own experience as a kindergartner, I remember loving my teacher, Mrs. Fletcher, and doing activities with numbers and letters, creating fun art-projects, and being delighted by listening to stories being read to the class while sitting on a square piece of rug on the floor. I also have fond memories of forming new friendships and playing outdoors on our expansive playground, but my kindergarten experience was limited by the short length of the school day. The kindergartners at the small, rural K-8 public school in Vermont that I attended were only in school from 8:00-11:30 each day, which limited what we could accomplish. Many of my current students’ parents have shared that they had a similar experience in kindergarten in terms of the length of the school day and the simple nature of the tasks that were asked of them. My students’ parents often say that they are impressed by the variety and rigor of the kindergarten curriculum that is provided to their children by The Bement School.

Though I had a lovely experience in kindergarten, I am struck by the length of the school day and breadth of activities that my current students are afforded at The Bement School. When I compare my 3 ½ hour school day with the 7 ½ hour day of my current kindergarten students (or even longer if students participate in after school activities offered by Bement), I realize both the opportunities that my students have and also the stamina required to maneuver through a day filled with many transitions. In addition to learning the traditional subjects of language arts, science, social studies, and math my students also have shared experiences during morning meeting with various groupings of students throughout the week, the chance to connect with their fifth grade buddies, weekly world language exposure in Spanish/French, daily physical education and fine arts classes, a family-style dining experience at lunch, opportunities to explore freely outdoors in nature during recess, after school group, and at Pine Hill, the opportunity to interact with students from around the world thanks to our boarding community, rest time when students have the chance to rest their bodies and minds, and finally, activity time at the end of each school day when students choose from a variety of theme-related and developmentally appropriate activities. In addition to all of these examples of how rich the kindergarten experience is at Bement, we still find time to engage in art activities and share stories together on the rug which I remember so fondly from my own time in kindergarten.

Our kindergarten curriculum has changed and grown over the course of my fifteen years at Bement, but the focus on a community of learners that values friendship, connectedness, and kindness have remained the hallmarks of a Bement education. Each year, the Bement faculty reviews the curriculum to ensure that it is relevant in terms of its materials and content. The rigor of a Bement education is not lost on kindergartners. Additionally, an awareness of mindfulness is also an integral part of teaching and learning as students progress through the grades from kindergarten to ninth grade at Bement. Though I thoroughly enjoyed my own kindergarten experience, I am envious of the opportunities afforded to my students each and every day at The Bement School. My only hope is that the kindergartners learn to savor every moment and take full advantage of everything that is being offered to them during their ten-year journey at Bement.

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