Kindergarten In Primary Colors on First Day

By C.K. WOLFSON

The real world has summoned. Parents, properly awed, understand that the occasion is momentous, and are freeze-frame struck by the sudden awareness of time having passed. Cautiously they enter room 119 at the Edgartown School, their children clinging to them like velcro.

Even though Maria MacKenty has already visited each of the 18 children in her class at their homes, even though most are preschool graduates, even though there was a school picnic on Tuesday, it is a dive off the high board: a leap from the end to the beginning.

It is the first day of kindergarten.

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Savanna and her mother come 15 minutes early. Her mother offers to wait outside, but Mrs. MacKenty says it is okay, and Savanna, whose initial enthusiasm is fading, would rather read, so they cuddle in the reading corner and watch as the room slowly fills with girls in shades of pink and boys in newly creased pants.

There are two Lucys and two Gabriellas, one Paulo who is just beginning to learn English, and brothers Jordan and Joshua, who wear vests and ironed shirts. Louis stands alone looking tentative. Anna is comforted by the taste of her thumb, and Taylor, who will remain unhappy for awhile, tightens her grip on her father.

There are those who cling and one or two who pout and practice deep breathing, while most find their cubbies, put away their things and get on with decorating their stick-on name tags and carefully printing their names on the easel under the column that best describes their mood: Happy, Sad, Nervous.

With nervous grins, mothers and fathers finish snapping pictures, waving their fingers, blowing kisses, pausing in a Pledge of Allegiance gesture to repeat goodbyes and I-love-yous, sneaking back to memorize the image with a final peek. Mrs. MacKenty and her teaching assistants, Alex Sandway and Debbie Grant, quietly take over.

New crayons, sharp pencils, soft voices, slow movements and directions in question form are accompanied with mime. Every action is broken into its parts and explained: How we sit, how we listen, how we walk safely.

However new this world may seem to the children, it is designed for them in primary colors and block letters. Books and soft low chairs and doll houses and, in the center, a large bright blue oval rug rimmed with the alphabet. Faces grin from wall posters, and hand-lettered signs instruct: "Use kind words" and "Talk it over." Everything is labeled: Desk, Table, Book Case, Light Switch, along with the signs listing the various contents of the colored plastic containers and cupboards. The morning schedule is posted and illustrated: Group Time, Snack, Recess, Project, Story, Closing Circle.

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Erin reads a book out loud to herself. Gabriella holds Savanna's hand and walks her around the room. Louis, no longer unsure, becomes assertive. Taylor, now tended by guidance counselor Eric Butler, slowly becomes calm.

The children gather to sit cross-legged around the blue rug where, in a quiet speaking voice, Mrs. MacKenty introduces them one by one, and has them greet each other.

And suddenly they are a class.

For the next 20 minutes they will practice safe walking, listening to directions, learning to raise their hands before speaking out. They will be told more than once to "scooch back," as they shimmy toward the center of the oval rug.

Mrs. Sandway answers a phone and tells a parent, "She's doing just fine."

Now the children play a game in which they walk about the room until a bell is sounded, then freeze. "What do you think you need to do to hear the bell?" Mrs. MacKenty softly asks. After the exercise has been repeated and the class is told, "One more time," Louis pipes up, "Eight more times."

From where they sit on the rug, the school day is counted and noted with a straw. The weather is observed, and properly marked with an appropriate picture. Bathroom etiquette is discussed. Shoelaces are tied, and there is another reminder: "Sit on your bottoms."

School principal Ed Jerome, a broad grin on his face, appears and is introduced. Someone in the room has just had a birthday, and as is the custom, he delivers a gift. Silence. With prodding Jonathan realizes he is the recipient.

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It's time to stretch, let the wind blow - little bodies sway from side to side - and then to sing the Peanut Butter song.

"We're going to sing a lot in kindergarten," Mrs. MacKenty tells the children as she puts on a record.

"Peanut butter popsicles, peanut butter jam," they sing along. They will scooch back, raise their hands, and take turns telling each other what they like to eat with peanut butter.

And after some rehearsal - how do we, what do we, why do we - the class lines up like ducklings to go outside.