X Marks the Spot

Mrs. B’s kindergartners are tackling the alphabet, one letter at a time
Sunday, May 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:29 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

It’s a big day in Vicki Braddy’s kindergarten class at Southern Boone County Primary School in Ashland.

Not only is it the Week of the Young Child — which means that today is hat day and everyone is allowed to wear whatever sort of hat they want — but today Mrs. Braddy’s voice, which was stolen last week by allergy monsters, has returned.

“Mrs. B is celebrating something else,” Mrs. Braddy tells her pupils, who watch her from their pint-size plastic chairs. “She’s got her voice back!”

And just when the 23 pairs of eyes staring out beneath various brims and hats don’t think it could get any better, they discover it’s the week of learning the letter X.

“We’re going to start a new letter this week,” she says. “It is one tricky letter.”

X is tricky. It’s tricky to find words that have X in them; even their big children’s dictionary only devotes a measly half-page to the letter. And as the morning progresses, they learn that it is also tricky to write.

But for now, all they have to do is sit and listen as Mrs. Braddy reads to them from a book called “Alphabet Soup.” Sitting isn’t that difficult as long as you can wiggle around a bit, but paying attention is hard when you’re 5 or 6 years old.

“Mrs. Braddy, Mrs. Braddy, one of my tooths are wiggling!” Tia blurts out, her bubble-gum pink tongue probing the offending tooth.

“That’s good, just keep on wiggling,” Mrs. Braddy says, pausing between pages.

Mrs. Braddy has taught elementary school for 21 years. This is her fourth year of teaching kindergartners.

“It’s an eye-opening experience. As an upper-level teacher, you don’t realize how many skills they learn their first year,” she says. “It’s tremendous growth; this growth that takes place this year just amazes me.”

After the story, the students fan out across tables, attacking their cardboard sheets with tiny scissors, intent to form their own X-ray man or woman. Mrs. Braddy floats around the room, helping Myah, who broke her arm and can’t cut, or dealing with whatever problem the students seem to have. She lingers over John, who is visiting the class in preparation to be a kindergartner.

“Open and close, open and close,” she repeats, her fingers over his, helping him move the scissors. “Good job, you’re doing so much better. See how that feels in your hands?”

He nods.

The kids dash for their 20-minute recess and return to read another story. The book is huge, the words are short enough that they can chime in, and the pictures are big and bright and bold. The children are enthralled.

Reading to the students is Mrs. Braddy’s favorite part of teaching kindergarten.

“I love to see their little faces when I read to them,” she says. “It touches a magic time in their life.”

The class spends a lot of time learning about the alphabet and trying short words.

“That’s our goal in kindergarten — getting them ready to take off and read,” she says.

Back on the carpet, where the children are listening and wiggling, magic is taking place as more and more voices chime in on the words they know.

The drama unfolds.

“Here is an X-ray of an ox. Here is an X-ray of a sax. Here is an X-ray of an ax.”

Mrs. Braddy pauses, beaming at her young charges.

“Oh, boys and girls, if you know how to spell the word ‘is’ when you go to first grade, it will knock their socks off,” she says.

A little boy at her feet looks up.

“Knock their sox off, knock their sox off,” he says proudly, trying out the newly learned letter because it just sounds right.

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