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Spend a "Day in the Life" of a Challenger Kindergarten Student

Spend a "Day in the Life" of a Challenger Kindergarten Student

Cheerful chatter fills the hallway at Challenger Elementary, and kindergarten students begin to arrive. Teacher Rachael Shafer greets her students at the door. They hang their coats on hooks, pull their folders out of their backpacks, and begin to get settled at their desks.  

Their entry task is a worksheet that asks them to cut out pictures such as a jellyfish or a kitten, and then glue them next to the letter “J” or “K,” depending on which sound they hear at the beginning of that word. Shafer walks from group to group, helping students who get stuck. As students finish, they begin to gather on the colorful rug for their morning meeting. 

During a recent visit to Challenger, we had the opportunity to spend time in two classes to experience a “day in the life" of a kindergarten student. Their hours together are packed with learning (both academics and social-emotional), fun and lots of movement. The teachers and support staff somehow manage to offer engaging lessons, answer questions, guide students through challenges they encounter – all with countless interruptions. They’re comforting, patient and inspiring. 

Kindergarten registration for all elementary schools in the Issaquah School District for the 2023-24 school year will be open from Feb. 1-29, 2024. The reason we ask families to register during February is so that district administrators and building teams can ensure adequate staffing, supplies, space and other details for our newest students. 

Back in Shafer’s classroom, one kindergartner pauses to show her a wiggly tooth. “That’s so exciting! Do you think it’s going to fall out soon?” Shafer asks. Some of the students who finished the entry task early are getting antsy. “What are things we can do while we’re waiting?” she asks them. Most turn to a friend and begin to play “Rock, paper, scissors.” When all the students are together on the rug, Shafer turns on a “brain break” video, and the students have a chance to get their wiggles out by jumping and dancing along to the music. 

When it’s over, Shafer reads her welcome message aloud, pointing to each word in turn on the screen, then they move on to several other regular activities. They talk about how many days they’ve been in school so far (today is day 79, which they mark on a wall calendar); check the weather; and discuss day’s schedule, so students know what to expect. On this day, the schedule is adjusted because of a two-hour delay due to weather. They’ll have recess, lunch, quiet time, language arts, writing work, snack, learning centers, music, social studies, packing up time and dismissal. 

Teacher Rachael Shafer reads her welcome message aloud to her kindergarten students.

Above, teacher Rachael Shafer reads her morning message aloud to her kindergarten students.


At the morning meeting, the students each have the chance to share something they did the day before (visiting family and friends, art projects, video games, and other activities). When each student shares, Shafer asks a follow-up question. At the end of the conversation, she compliments their listening skills. “Thank you to everyone who waited patiently for your friends to share! I’m going to put in one bead for every person in our class,” she says, scooping a rainbow of beads from one container into another as part of their class system to reinforce positive behaviors and good choices. 

Because of the late arrival, it’s already time for recess and lunch. The students bundle up and Shafer asks them to line up behind this week’s line leader. “How do kindergartners behave in the hallway? Are we ready?” she asks, then leads them in taking a deep breath.  

Outside, the students quickly find friends and begin to play imagination games, soccer, frisbee and even some puddle jumping. We used the free time to ask some of the students to share about their favorite parts of kindergarten. They listed recess, story time, math, music, P.E., library, snack time and play time. And, of course, their teachers. When we asked what they love about their teachers, the most common responses were “She teaches us new stuff!” “She’s nice!” and “She’s beautiful!” 

The whistle sounds to mark the end of recess, and the kindergarten students head inside for lunch. Sitting with their classmates, some students raise their hands for help opening containers, milk cartons or, in one case, help reading a special note that their mom taped inside their lunch box. After lunch, it’s back to class for a brief quiet time. The lights are dimmed and music plays softly in Shafer’s classroom, while students draw, color or write at their table groups. 

Then it's time for phonics, and Shafer leads the class in an activity called a word ladder, calling out words with similar sounds. She writes “he” on the board, then adds an “s” to the beginning and asks her students to read the word “she” together. Shafer changes the “sh” at the beginning to a “w” and asks them to read the new word aloud together. “We,” the students say. They repeat the process with a new series of words, changing “hop” to “pop,” then “pot,” then “tot.” After reviewing a set of sight words, the students return to their desks. 

“Write your name at the top of your paper,” Shafer says, passing out fresh sheets to each student. “When you’re ready, put your hands on your head!” 

She explains that she would like the class to listen as she says three sounds, then three words. The students record the letter that makes each sound on their paper, then write the three words that she says aloud. Next, they write a sentence together. Shafer reiterates things the class has already learned about sentences, such as starting with a capital letter on the first word, leaving a space between each word, and ending with punctuation. The last part of this assignment is to trace sight words. 


Kindergarten students at Challenger Elementary sound out the phonemes in a word, tapping their fingers together for each soun

Above, Kindergarten students at Challenger Elementary sound out the phonemes in a word, tapping their fingers together for each distinct sound that they hear.


What's next? Another brain break! While they dance and jump, she helps a student with a paper cut wash his hands and apply a Band-Aid. 

“Have a seat – it's time for Heggerty,” Shafer says, introducing their phonemic awareness lesson. “Let’s see who’s ready, listening and quiet!” 

She chooses a student leader for the activity, and lets him use her microphone to help lead the class in a lesson that takes about 10 minutes. They start by naming words that rhyme with the sound “og.” Students raise their hands to offer “log,” “hog,” and “dog.” Next, Shafer says a series of words that start with short vowels, and the students identify the first sound they hear in that word. For example, she says “upset,” then asks, “First sound?” The class responds together. 

Moving on to the next activity within the Heggerty lesson, Shafer “taps out,” or pronounces distinct phonemes of a word separately while tapping her fingers together. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound within a word; for example, the word “rag” has one syllable, but three phonemes. Shafer asks the class to blend the phonemes within “rag” together into a word, making the sound of /r/ then /a/ then /g/ aloud while they listen, then respond.  

The Heggerty lesson includes several other engaging activities. As Shafer’s class transitions to snack time, we head across the hall to visit Gloria Cho’s kindergarten class.  

Her students are hard at work on another critical kindergarten lesson: social skills and friendship. Of course, kindergarten teachers infuse social emotional learning throughout their day, but during this block of their day, Cho has provided a variety of “learning centers” (different types of activities) for the students to choose from, such as coloring in a group with only one set of markers to share, or building a marble track, solving pattern block puzzles, Legos and more. 

“They get to socialize, and we talk about problems that may come up,” Cho explains. “We use lessons we have learned from our counselors, and I act as the mediator if needed.” 

As the end of the allotted learning centers time draws near, she sets a three-minute timer on the screen, and asks her students to work together to clean up all of the activities, toys and supplies. Together, they clean the entire room in less than three minutes, and are happy when they beat the timer. 

Next, Cho’s class is off to P.E., where teacher Paola Arenas welcomes them. “Are you ready for your warm-up?” Arenas calls. “Yes!” they call out. Energetic music accompanies the students in a series of jumping jacks, mountain climbers, lunges and other exercises, and then Arenas explains their main activity for this day: an obstacle course. First, the students take turns jumping over a series of ropes suspended between cones. Then they jump from one colorful circle on the floor to the next, trying to make each foot land within the confines of that circle before moving on. Arenas waits by the third obstacle, a set of foam stairs leading to a stack of mats. She stands ready to help them in case they slip, and they take turns climbing the stairs, then jumping down to a squishy mat below, where they can choose to roll, somersault or move down a sloped mat and back to the gym floor. Round and round the students go. Soon, P.E. is over and they line up at the gym door.  

Back in Cho’s classroom, she asks her students to take out their writing folders, and continue an earlier lesson about how to tell a true story. She reminds them to use the elements they discussed, including thinking about something that happened to them or something they did. The students work to draw a picture showing who was there, where the story takes place, and what happened. And, they write a sentence or two to describe what the picture shows. 


Kindergartent teacher Gloria Cho helps two of her students on a writing assignment.

Teacher Gloria Cho talks with two of her students about their storytelling assignment.


Many of their pictures feature playgrounds, parks and families, but there are a few rainbows and other scenes as well. Cho moves from table to table, asking students about their illustrations and sentences, and offering help when they need it. 

Soon it’s time for the class to clean up. Cho asks her students to put the papers in their individual cubbies into their take-home folder, and pack up their backpacks. They put their coats on, and stack chairs onto tables. 

Cho shares that tomorrow is a spirit day, and the students are invited to wear clothing backward or do things “opposite” of normal. She reiterates the safety rules for walking out to the dismissal area, for students who will ride the bus or be picked up by their parents or guardians.  

The school day ends where it began, with the kindergarten students gathered together on the rug, listening to their teacher. 


Editor’s note: On a typical day in kindergarten, students would also have math. On the day we visited, the schedule was adjusted because of a two-hour late start due to road conditions. 

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