My love of learning started in kindergarten class with Miss Jones, my teacher with bobbed hair and hairband, kind spirit and sweet smile. In the early days when I missed my mom and had tummy aches, she consoled me and redirected my focus to building castles with colorful blocks and creating masterpieces with crayons and scribble pads. Soon Miss Jones and school were the highlight of my day.
I looked forward to her reading stories and demonstrating drawing numbers and letters. Like many five-year-olds, I believed my teacher held the secret to the most important life lessons.
In his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum shares 14 lessons he learned as a child that should never be forgotten as an adult. Some are great to remember as we care for ourselves––such as “take a nap,” “warm cookies and cold milk are good for you,” and “wash your hands before you eat.” Six of his lessons are focused on how we should relate to others.
His instructions include: share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, don’t take things that aren’t yours, and say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. He does not specifically use these two words, but what he reminds the reader is “be kind.” For kindergartners as well as adults, there is no room for meanness and disrespect.
Fulghum, in unison with Miss Jones and kindergarten teachers across the ages, asserts we should love ourselves, but then reminds us that everything is not about us. Jesus says it simply: “Love others as much as you love yourself.”
Teachers of older students give similar lessons. Kathy teaches high-schoolers. Because of COVID-19, she instructs both in her physical classroom and online in a virtual classroom she created with a desk, a stylish, mask-wearing, emoji, and a sign on the virtual classroom wall that reads “Be Kind.” A similar sign hangs in her actual classroom.
As important as it is to teach her students reading and writing, she emphasizes the transformative power of being kind. She challenges her teens to respect one another. She reminds students of the “good” things they learned in kindergarten.
Her students are uncertain about these pandemic days, so Kathy encourages them, out of respect for classmates and community, to wear masks, keep social distance, and wash hands often. Students in her school have been quarantined for exposure and teens know people who have been diagnosed with this menacing disease. It is a challenging time.
In contrast, five-year-old granddaughters Emmalie and Maggie are beginning kindergarten this month––and they are ready! These cousins have been counting the days to begin their own school journey. Maggie begins in Texas under the care of Ms Kirk while Emmalie starts in North Carolina in the class of Ms Skipper. Despite the seriousness of the coronavirus, both girls are excited about getting to know their teachers and new friends. Moms and dads have coached their daughters on safety protocols and the girls have paid attention. Their back-to-school outfits include stylish masks: Emmalie’s has bold color-splashed patterns and Maggie’s are custom-made by her Nana to suit her bubbly personality. The parents conceal their anxiety as best they can.
“It will be okay, Mommy,” Emmalie tells my daughter Amie. “I will be safe, and besides, with all my new friends, we will help each other.” Wisdom from a kindergartner.
She almost echoes Fulghum’s final words, a sound reminder on how we will all (at least metaphorically) get through this: “And it is still true, no matter how old you are,when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
Homeword is written by Jim Edminson, Charity & Children Editor