By Lauren Goldberg
Four kindergartners are gathered around a work table, busily drawing depictions of their own bodies. Two boys stare intently at each other, comparing hair. Their teacher, Tricia Simon, approaches and listens to their conversation before joining in. She offers adjectives (texture, wavy) to help the children in their descriptive language.
At a different table, Tony Coleman crouches next to a girl whose pencil is hovering uncertainly above her paper. “Think about what body parts you need for each of your senses,” he suggests. His prompt gives the child the inspiration she needs to draw eyes on her figure.
This activity is an essential stage in an extended project about the human body. Since the beginning of the year, kindergarteners and their teachers have been exploring the myriad characteristics that make each of us unique, as well as the attributes that we all share. When today’s lesson began, Tricia reminded the children about the ways that they have thought about themselves from the inside–the parts of ourselves that people can’t see, such as our thoughts and opinions. Now, she explained, they would be learning about their bodies from the outside. She introduced a book called Me and My Amazing Body. Each page presented an aspect of human anatomy, from bones to skin to hair and toes. As she read, Tricia paused several times to emphasize certain body parts: “‘can you feel your heart beating if you put your hand on your chest?” she asked. “Let’s all feel those muscles stretching and tightening,” she said, flexing her own arms.
When the book was finished, the teachers explained that each person would be drawing a map of her, or his, own body. The important part of this job is to include all of the parts that make our bodies work. Tony stood in front of the easel to demonstrate the first step in the mapping process. “Let’s start at the top and work our way down,” he said. “What parts are at the top of our bodies?” After outlining a head, he asked for suggestions about features to include. Eyes and a nose were quickly added, then Tony and Tricia began introducing new vocabulary as the drawing became more detailed: pupils and irises made the eyes more realistic. Eyelashes, lips, ears, and hair came next, followed by the rest of the body, and another new word, torso.
After Tony had completed his drawing, the children went to their work tables to begin their individual maps. One child warned against copying, prompting Tricia to laugh: “you wouldn’t even be able to copy, because, is anyone an exact copy of anyone else?” With that challenge resolved, everyone got to work. The teachers made their way around the tables, listening to the children’s ideas and encouraging them to think about specific details. Belly buttons became an essential body part for the people at one table. In another table group, knees started to appear on all of the legs.
These drawings will be used as the preliminary sketch for a more elaborate map that the children will create over many weeks. Next week, school counselor Kossouth Bradford will visit the class to read The Colors of Us and lead an activity in which the children will blend their own paint to match their individual skin tones. They will then color and form body outlines that will become the canvas on which to build their complete body maps.
Same and different, visible and invisible, large features and tiny details, familiar and new–these are the touchpoints for the essential questions of kindergarten: Who Am I? Who Are You? How Do We Form a Community? The answers to these questions come from carefully planned and sequenced lessons, detailed observation, and shared experiences.
Lauren Goldberg is Foote's curriculum coordinator.