What advice would a kindergartner give to those approaching school for the first time?
I sat down over a bowl of Fruit Loops with my kindergarten-aged daughter recently and listened to her recount the most recent kindergarten drama. Talkative and enthusiastic, she was going into great detail about an upcoming field trip that I was supposed to help chaperone.
There was some debate about whether or not it would be appropriate for her to be assigned to my group of students. After all, THAT could be embarrassing!
Our discussion continued into issues from within the classroom and she began to tell me tales of things she’s learned since she entered the large elementary school doors just a few short months ago.
It was within this conversation where she began to list all of the things she had learned during the course of the past year that caused her to move from illiterate preschooler to literate, learned 1st grader to be: writing, reading, addition, honesty and responsibility.
I asked her during this conversation, what advice she would give to those approaching school for the first time. She thought. And thought. And then she revealed some gems.
These are real, learned tidbits of advice from the earliest learner that still apply to me, as a college graduate, and within their simplicity some of life’s most important landmarks can be found.
I quote my kindergartner’s sentiments in precise, albeit not always grammatically correct language:
1. “Learn to read real good”
Kindergarten, you see, is when a secret language is revealed. Entering kindergarten, the student is helpless. Unable to read directions, street signs or notes from the teacher, the student is left to rely only on the adult to interpret what the letters say. Through careful instruction and repeated exposure, letters turn into sounds and sounds into words. By the end of the year, kindergartners are no longer kept from the literate adult world.
Yet, once we learn to read, many of us take this skill for granted. We stop reading for pleasure, and read only for survival. As an English major, I haven’t picked up a “real” novel in over eight years because my work issues or dissertation were more important. We read bills and emails and don’t take the time to read for enjoyment or language. Slow down and focus on your reading, as you did those first few years when you first gained the ability to read.
2. “Learn your numbers from 1-100”
Every kindergartner spends hours repeating the first 100 numerals, over and over until the patterns are consistent and the repetition can be done without much thought. As adults, we are dependent on numbers – they represent our age, our salary, our health. Numbers can be life or death, passing or failing, winning or losing. It is imperative, as we age, to remember the importance of numbers – not only for the value of money or the age of wine, but for the number of hours we spend with our kids in our laps, the number of birthdays our elderly parents celebrate, or the number of cancer-free days our colleagues celebrate. Find the important numbers in your life.
3. “Don’t make noise in the hallway”
If you’ve ever walked through an elementary school, you realize the only way to keep sanity intact is to regulate exactly who can talk in the school hallway. This is usually paired with an exact line formation and a certain placement of the hands on one’s own hip or side. Hallways are transition points – from one important place to another. We have hallways in life where we must learn to be quiet. The hallways from friend to lover, from student to graduate, from child to parent are times for reflection and careful guiding of one’s feet. As you encounter these passages in life, short or long, bumpy or smooth, cornered or straight, find a way to be thoughtful and quiet within your own mind. Proceed with caution, awareness and enthusiasm for what might lie around the corner.
4. “Return your library books on time”
Library books are due every Wednesday. If you don’t return your library book, you can’t check out another one. It’s that simple. No excuses, no forgetting, no blaming it on someone else. You simply sit and wait while others are able to check out a new, shiny book to take home in their bags for the week. You, the careless one, are left to trudge back home to look under your bed for last week’s book only to be stuck with it for another entire week. This principle applies to adulthood – there are some things in life that simply have to be done on time. While professors might be lenient about term papers or rescheduling final exams, the most important things in life are the things that will not wait. Your awaiting groom, the birth of your child, your dream job interview. These are your “Wednesdays” – and either you are truly present or you sit in a chair and wait for the next one to come around.
5. “Drink your milk”
Milk is the constant component of an evolving lunch tray. While the entrée moves from pizza to hamburgers to chicken, milk fills the same spot on the tray every day. We make our kindergartners drink milk because it is nutritious and provides energy. It comes in a small, plastic bottle that neatly fits in the tiny kindergartner’s hand. It is over these small bottles of milk that laughs are shared, jokes are told, and friendships solidified. We have milk as adults – those routines in our life that provide opportunities for unintended relationships and opportunities.
I once worked a job in a shoe store with a college drama major.
During our slowest times of day, when customers were sparse, we discussed our aspirations and philosophies about life. The shoe store was our milk – our chance to enjoy company, to explore the purpose of life and to dream. Who are you sharing your milk time with and what are you gaining, even unexpectedly?
Sometimes I wish, as most of us do, to return to my own kindergarten days when life was about counting and letters, not deadlines and reports.
There is something about the innocence of beginning one’s education that slowly fades by the time college graduation is achieved.
Think back to your own kindergarten experience and reflect on who you have become and how those first days in school formed who you are as a student and learner today. Find your own lessons from your first learning lessons.
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