Simon Says: It's time for a new post

It’s been awhile since my last post. Although I am a repeat offender, I am contrite. It’s not that I mean to neglect this blog. It just happens. The reasons are varied. In the winter, it was more paralysis, brought on by snowstorms and 4 p.m. sunsets. In the spring, it’s quite the opposite.

My love of Ukrainian spring is wide and deep. I spend many an afternoon sitting on my newly-cleared off balcony, reading, drinking Crystal Light Ice Tea (hurray for drinks that can be mailed in powder-form), and soaking up the rays. I might head over to the local stadium and join a pick-up soccer game. I might rest in the shade of a beer tent. I’ve never been anywhere else in Europe in spring so I can’t say if this is a work of continental genius or simply a Ukrainian brainchild, but the magic of the tent is very real. It consists of a shady structure, comfortable chairs, and beer that is cheaper than water. Forgive me if my posts are a little lacking since the sun came out. I have had a lot of outdoor lounging to catch up on.

We are in the last week of classes and try as I may to spice things up with episodes of Saved By the Bell, and slideshows of pictures from America, it’s increasingly difficult to capture the attention of any class beyond the 5th grade. God bless the 5th graders. They just can’t get enough of learning.

In Ukraine, it is illegal to fail a student. So, once they reach middle school, they pretty much just show up when they feel like it. Which, surprisingly is a lot more often than you would think. Except in the spring. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and summer vacation is right around the corner. Without the threat of failing, it’s hard to keep students in their desks, despite Zach Morris’s latest scheme or the allure of the Empire State Building. But not in the 5th grade. They haven’t figured out how to skip class yet, precious little rule-followers that they are. And even though they dash in after the bell, sweat dripping off their eager faces, they come.

After completing the national curriculum requirements and doling out the necessary number of grades, I wanted to reward the little tikes. But, as I quickly learned, they were too young for multimedia perks like video clips. Not only do they lack the language skills to understand, they lack the self-control to sit still and pay attention when they aren’t directly, or preferably kinesthetically, involved. The excitement of a laptop and pretty pictures just about causes them to self-combust.

Another Volunteer passed along her sage advice: “Simon Says.” The students are all engaged, the activity requires zero home prep, and stresses vocabulary comprehension. Now there’s a recipe for success if I ever heard one. I added about ten minutes of review before the big show began, and I tweaked the name of the game to “Ms. Clara Says.” It was a smash-hit. After they got the hang of it, I turned the responsibility over to them. Suddenly the game became “Oleksi Says” or “Solomiya Says.” They were entertained to say the least, and improving listening skills to boot. I leave with you a few pictures of this joyous activity. Feel the excitement.

About Claire St. Amant

Claire St. Amant, one of Editor & Publisher's Top 25 Under 35 in the newspaper industry, is a graduate of Baylor University. Claire was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine and has also lived in South America. She has written for a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle, and D Magazine.