25 lessons first-graders have mastered

New York TimesDecember 24, 2012 

Among the many horrors associated with the killing of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is that they were all first-graders.

I spoke with Joanne Strongin, a longtime first-grade teacher at E.M. Baker Elementary School in Great Neck, N.Y. Together we put together a list of 25 things we have learned about first-graders.

1. First-graders like to say:

“You’re not the boss of me.”

“I didn’t do it.”

“He told me to.”

“He did it, too.”

“Stop cutting.”

2. First-grade teachers say, “If he jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge, too?”

3. At the start of the school year, first-graders are supposed to know 20 “sight words” (it, go, to, the, is) and by the year’s end 100 snap words – read in a snap – including play, they, went, want, today, mother, father.

4. First-graders love to tell visitors to their classroom that they do not take naps after lunch like little baby kindergartners.

5. First-graders go to the bathroom three or four times a day.

6. Strongin’s first-graders are supposed to keep washing their hands for as long as it takes them to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

7. First-grade snack time is 11.

8. By the end of the year, several first-graders have lost their two front teeth and a few can tie their shoes.

9. At recess, Baker Elementary first-graders’ favorite game is “Fox, Oh Fox.” (First-grade foxes race around trying to catch first-grade chickens.)

10. First-grade boys skip when they’re happy.

11. First-graders’ favorite book to have Strongin read out loud is “Knuffle Bunny” by Mo Willems.

12. First-graders claim to hate tattle tales but tattle at every opportunity.

13. First-graders are old enough to know the rules, and young enough to turn themselves in for breaking them.

14. First-graders love blocks, Legos and marble mazes.

15. First-graders love coming to school.

16. First-graders fall out of their chairs.

17. To remember to cross their legs when sitting on the floor, first-graders sing, “Crisscross apple sauce.”

18. When first-graders are supposed to be paying attention, Strongin says, “Eyes Up,” and they say, “Hands empty.”

19. When it’s time for lunch, Strongin says “Line order,” and they say, “Straight and quiet.”

20. First-graders are taught if they don’t have a tissue, to sneeze into their elbows.

21. Long ago, during a visit to a first-grade class in East Orange, N.J., I asked the Rogers twins, Kendall and Kenneth, to tell me the story of Martin Luther King Jr.

“This one time Rosa Parks was sitting in the front of the bus,” Kendall said, “and this white lady said, ‘Get up,’ and that bus driver called the police.”

“And,” said Kenneth, “Rosa Parks called up Martin Luther King and said, ‘Get me out of jail, Martin.’ ”

22. I once visited a church school in Canton, Ohio, where the first-graders were called Sparks (Sparks for Jesus) and each week earned bonus Sparky Bucks to be redeemed for toys at the church store.

23. Years ago, I was writing a heartwarming feature about a man who dressed up as Santa Claus and brought gifts to schoolchildren, when a first-grader started yelling, “Not real, not real.”

24. When my daughter Annie was in first grade, her goal was to read the entire “Boxcar Children” series (79 books at the time).

25. First-graders think their teachers know everything and love their parents unconditionally.

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