I’m a firm believer in that motto "you learn something new every day" and I really hit the jackpot last month while helping out in my son’s Kindergarten classroom.  Not only did I learn the concept of AB patterns in math, (a much easier task for a 5-year old rather than a 40-year old!), I was witness to someone being "caught in the act", and it left such an impression on me I am sharing it with anyone who will listen.

Kindergarten!  What a place.  For years, whenever I thought of a Kindergarten classroom, primary colors of bright red, blue and green, and shapes of triangles, squares and circles along with tablets of construction paper and little bottles of Elmer’s glue would flash before my eyes.  Gee, was I ever wrong!  There is a lot more, and I mean A LOT more that should be associated with this very important grade.

It’s been a dream of mine to physically help out in one of my kid’s rooms ever since my oldest daughter, now a sophomore in High School boarded her first yellow bus. How I envied the moms that were able to enjoy that part of their children’s lives.  Eight kids later, I am finally able to spend a few hours as a classroom helper because my youngest is now enjoying her first year of nursery school, and let me tell you—has it ever been worth the wait.

They file in each morning like a group of ants heading to the greatest picnic in the park, backpacks in tow, some bigger than the child himself.  Without being cajoled or instructed, those precious 5 and 6-year old students head straight to their pint-sized cubbies and get ready for the day ahead.  Some giggle, some are loud, a few are lost in their own sweet daydreams, but once they hit the mat for their circle-time and group activities, they are in complete Kinder-mode and the real magic begins—learning so many amazing new things.

In case you didn’t know—everything’s a learning opportunity in the wonderful world of Kindergarten.  The attendance teaches simple addition—how many students are present and absent—the hot lunch order also gets their thinking caps whirring figuring out how many are buying pizza or having cold lunch etc, and that’s only within the first couple of minutes!  We haven’t even covered reading, writing and all the opportunities that the Kindergarten staff use for social skills—respect, kindness, honesty, friendship—the list goes on and on.

So, there I was on a very ordinary Friday morning in the land of Kinderville, watching the children wash their hands before lunch and then proceed into the very exciting line to head to the lively cafeteria.  Most of the kids were chattering up a small storm and were a little fidgety waiting for the others, but a couple of young boys were noticeably standing still, keeping their hands to themselves and patiently and quietly waiting for everyone else to finish.  In the midst of all the activity, I saw their teacher grab a piece of paper and write a little something on it and then stick it into a box. Hmmm, I wondered what that was all about.

Later that afternoon, I found out exactly what that was all about—my son ran off the bus with two sparkling brown eyes and a grin as wide as the house—"Guess what, Mom?", he squealed—"today I got caught doing something good in school!"  So that was it!  The note his teacher had made was a system they have in their classroom--"Getting caught doing something worthy of recognition!"   I was intrigued (and pleasantly surprised that my son, the most active member in our entire household) was caught standing still and waiting patiently.

The fact that my little guy was one of the lucky recipients of this valuable tool was awesome enough, but what a terrific message this sends to young children when they are rewarded for doing something good—something that may seem so insignificant—waiting patiently in line is teaching these young people that their actions will have consequences—and that goes both ways—good and bad.  Kids are so used to hearing "no" or "please don’t do this or that" that when they are praised for doing something kind, or for following the rules etc. it is such a motivator it lifts their spirits and confidence right up off the ground.

So with that, I couldn’t help but thinking what a great concept this system in Mrs. Parkinson and Mrs. DePrete’s Kindergarten room is for life in general.  Without getting too deep, how great would it be if we all used that approach, for no special occasion other than rewarding appropriate behavior with a simple nod or words of appreciation and recognition when someone in your family, workplace, one of your friends (OK, this applies to spouse’s as well!) does something that made you stop and take notice.

With this brand new year of 2009 right at our doorsteps, I’m going to give those worn-out New Year’s resolutions of mine a fresh new approach—concentrating on noticing the good that is going on around me, and patting the deserving recipient on the back when warranted.  Finally, getting caught in the act, is going to feel good for a change!

Copyright 2009 Cheryl Butler