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January 21, 2009

Politics with a Pre-K Twist

I'm not sure if it's because I teach in Washington, DC, or because this was arguably the most historic presidential election ever, but my students have all become infatuated with Barack Obama.  He has become the topic of informal conversations during center time, lunch time, and on the playground.  My students draw pictures and write about him in their journals, and love reading books about the Obama family.  I am continually impressed by their knowledge about President Obama, the election process, and the job of president of the United States in general.  Here are some snippets of conversations that took place in my classroom:
Mayala, while describing a picture that she drew in her journal: "This is Barack Obama, and he's turning door knob at his big White House.  He's so big because he won.  This is John McCain.  He's small because he losed.  He's sad." 
Makiera: "Barack Obama's gonna live in the White House with grandaddy." (Her grandfather works at the White House)
Suniah, the week before inauguration: "Barack Obama's not the president yet.  He's going to be president on Tuesday.  Then he'll be in charge!"
Jose: "Barack Obama's got muscles.  I saw him without his shirt.  He beat up John McCain." (I corrected the "beat up" vs. "beat" confusion.  I think the muscles comment stemmed from the photos from the Obama's vacation in Hawaii.)
Julia: "Barack Obama has kids like me?  And they go to school like me?"
Suniah: "George Bush isn't the president anymore.  Now it's Barack Obama's turn."
Mayala, while coloring a picture of Barack Obama with a pink marker: "Barack Obama's not really pink, he's brown like me.  He's light brown."
I have truly enjoyed taking my students enthusiasm about the election and using these informal conversations as "teachable moments" in our classroom.  For example, as we were walking past a photograph of Barack Obama in the hallway, the following conversation occurred:
Aaliyah: "Is the real Barack Obama gonna come to school?"
Me: "No, he's busy working hard to get ready to be our president!"
Aaliyah: "Like we work hard to learn to read?"
Me: "Yes, Barack Obama works very hard just like you.  He worked hard and learned how to read and be the president."
Aaliyah: "I'm gonna learn to read just like Barack Obama!"
Essentially my students are taking what they are learning about politics and fitting it into schema that are familiar to them.  They want to know about the Obama family, what the president does all day, and how people felt during the election.  Approaching politics from this angle -- with a focus on families, jobs, and feelings -- helps make a complex topic accessible and interesting to my three- and four-year-old students.  The results have been remarkable thus far, and I'm excited to see how my students' knowledge about the Obama presidency continues to develop.

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