Granted, I haven’t been a kindergartner for a very long time, but I have no qualms in saying kindergarten today isn’t what it used to be, and that’s a good thing.

When Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe invited me to spend a morning attending school with a Umatilla kindergarten student, I was excited about the possibility.

This was the first year the district invited people to attend school for a day with students to see what they experience in the “Walk in Their Shoes” tour.

My first day back as a kindergartner in almost 30 years was enlightening, to say the least. The charming little boy who was my guide was a little shy at first, but, once class got started Tuesday morning, we all settled in as students in Mrs. Daniels class at McNary Heights Elementary School.

I must admit, some of what we learned was a little old hat — for me at least. But I gamely sang a song about the days of the week before we moved on to counting by tens and identifying shapes — spheres, cylinders, cubes, cones. Wait a second, spheres, cylinders, cubes and cones? What happened to triangles, rectangles, squares and circles? Maybe those were taught in review during the first week. I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn about cylinders until I was in third grade, and I can say, for certain, today’s kindergartners have a more advanced geometric vocabulary than I did when I was their age. Fortunately, I was able to hold my own and not disgrace myself in front of my classmates.

Then it was time for show and tell, and I was back on steadier ground there.

I also fared pretty well when we moved on to math, which was much more advanced than just tracing over outlines of numbers marked by dashes, although there was a bit of that. Actually, I was impressed to see that the lessons involved some critical thinking and basic principles of addition and subtraction, with some foreshadowing of future multiplication and fraction lessons they’ll no doubt encounter by second grade, if not by next week. At this rate, they’ll be more than adequately prepared to pass pre-algebra in fifth grade.

Then it was time for reading. The children are assigned to different groups based on reading level, and I accompanied my student guide to the classroom next door for his reading group.

This was simple story time, however.

We reviewed basic sight words — come, a, see, the — before the teacher read us a book about animals and some activities and sounds commonly associated with them.

This all led up to an assignment where the children wrote a sentence about one of the animals in the book, as well as draw a picture. Students then picked out six flashcards and wrote in a notebook the name of the three-letter words pictured on the flashcard. They finished up by reviewing more sight words with classmates.

Back in the regular classroom, the kindergartners’ school day concluded with another writing activity — this time a game where students wrote a word on a white board, and the first table of students to have the word correctly written on the boards was given a point.

While we were lined up waiting to be released, shortly before noon, Mrs. Daniels then read us a story about snowmen, which the kindergartners all identified as make-believe. They were then told that those types of books are fiction — thus concluding our lessons for the day.

Nope, kindergarten sure isn’t what it used to be, but, clearly, great things are happening in our area schools. Thanks again to Heidi Sipe for giving me the chance to experience that firsthand.

— Jessica Keller is the editor of the Hermiston Herald. She can be reached at

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