Case in point: I volunteer at an elementary school, helping Kindergarteners do KidWriting - a program designed to strengthen both their reading and writing skills. (Yes, reading and writing. You would be amazed at what these little guys can churn out. Seriously.) Anyway, I'm sitting in this tiny chair, with my knees crammed up to my ears, scooched up to an impossibly low table, listening to the chatter that always accompanies 5-year-olds wielding papers, pencils and crayons.
"Guess what I'm writing about," a sweet girl with long dark hair, no front teeth, and the cutest lisp, says to me.
"You have to guess."
"She's writing about her hamster," her tablemate informs me, never looking up as he carefully draws a stick coming down from a small circle. "That's what she always writes about."
"Well?" My inquisitor persists, gazing up at me.
"Hmmm." I tap my lip with my finger and squint thoughtfully at her. Never mind that I was sitting right here when The Informer spilled the beans. A question, once asked, demands an answer. I open my eyes wide. "Is it... your hamster?"
"How did you know?" She shakes her head and smiles as she draws a kind of lumpy-looking brown ball. She adds four short lines underneath the ball, then puts a little pink scribble at one end. "That's her bow. She's a girl. Her name is Chloe."
"Ahh. Chloe is a lovely name. Are you ready to write about her, now?"
She nods, then stares up at the "Firecracker" chart to choose her sentence starter.
I turn to The Informer. "What's happening in your picture?"
"It's me and my dad playing football." He puffs out his chest.
"So, what do you want to write?"
"Great! So, start with we," I say, pointing to the first line on his paper.
The Informer's pencil hovers over the paper. He looks up at me. "How do you spell we?"
In KidWriting, we help the children stretch out the sounds, or send them to find the word if it's posted somewhere in the room. Just as I open my mouth to stretch out wwwwweeeeee, Hamster Girl beats me to it.
"That's easy," she says. She leans over and taps his paper three times as she spells it out: "w-i-i."