Big Ideas for Little Minds

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Hovde opens kindergartners’ eyes to everything from fine art to conservation

By Aline Reynolds

Five-year-olds at P.S. 187 in Washington Heights are learning how to recycle and bake croissants—in addition, of course, to the basics of reading and writing.

Their teacher, Jill Hovde, developed a passion for teaching back in college, when she taught children about nocturnal animals and how to care for injured hawks at the Delaware Nature Society.

After a door-decorating project, Jill Hovde taught her kindergarteners about Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings.

“I really liked the hands-on environmental work with the kids,” she said.

Born and raised in Rockland County, Hovde earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Delaware and her master’s degree in special education at St. Thomas Aquinas College. She also completed a master’s “Plus 30” program in art history at SUNY Purchase.

Now in her 18th year at P.S. 187, Hovde frequently integrates art into the kindergarten curriculum. She taught students about Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings at the conclusion of a grade-wide door decoration project.

“My daughter comes home and talks about the Impressionist painters,” said Anya Mateo, a parent of one of Hovde’s students. “I didn’t learn about them until I was a teen.”

Mateo decided against home-
schooling her 5-year-old daughter, Ana, as she does her 6-year-old son, Yuri, because of Hovde.

“She weaves all these separate facts into this big picture of the world,” Mateo said.

Hovde says her own 5th-grade teacher, Judith Factor, is her academic inspiration.

“Ms. Factor made me love school,” she said. “It was a very creative, project-based class.”

Many of the projects Hovde works on today incorporate the expertise of parents, who are regularly invited into the classroom. Mateo, a licensed pharmacist, coordinated and taught a lesson on the different phases of the moon as part of a gardening project. On Cinco de Mayo, the class discussed Mexico’s independence and made guacamole from scratch with the help of food stylist Lisa Homa, whose 5-year-old son, Ellis, loves Hovde’s class.

“I can read better because of Ms. Hovde,” Ellis said. “And she lets us make ice cream sundaes.”

Ellis’ handwriting, his mother pointed out, is much clearer now than it was earlier in the school year.

“Ms. Hovde was very encouraging, writing special notes when he improved,” she said.

Hovde’s class also gets to experience the outdoors. On walks in the park, she talks about the geometrics of fire hydrants, stop signs and streetlights. The kindergarteners took weekly trips to nearby Bennett Park for a gardening project, in which they cultivated plants and built a mosaic birdbath.

“We do a lot of activities rather than just rote learning,” Hovde said. “It individualizes the curriculum for each of them.”

The P.S. 187 kindergarteners are also stepping up their vocabulary, learning words like “ascend” and “composure.”

“I’ll draw a circle around my face with my fingers and pull my hands down over my face,” Hovde said. “They did that for two weeks and totally got it. It’s amazing to watch them learn… you know you’ve opened the world to them.”


Jill Hovde
Kindergarten, P.S. 187

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