“All I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten” was just a cutesy saying for me until I actually spent a day with kindergarteners. Now I understand.
I visited the kindergarten class in order to generate ideas for the first phase of Reschool Yourself, to decide what I’d like to do in my old classrooms. I spent the day observing and interacting with the kids, ages five and six. I cut a cardboard box into a stage for a puppet show, listened to a story, and watched the kids practice movement and dance. I agreed to play tag at recess, and only then was informed that I was “always it.” As I chased the kids around the jungle gym, they joyfully teased me by sticking out their tongues and taunting me with singsongs of “Nanny nanny, foo foo.”
The day’s activities began with Kid Writing, a time for students to draw pictures in their personal journals and practice writing about them.
“Do you have a kid journal?” a boy named Max asked me. I told him that I didn’t.
“I’ll make you one,” he said.
He disappeared and then returned within a few minutes, presenting me with a paper booklet neatly stapled down the side. He had trimmed the side of the page “to make it look nice” and had printed the words, “Melia AND THE” on the fluorescent pink cover.
“Melia and the what?” I asked him.
“That’s up to you,” he said.
I raised my eyebrows, impressed by this 6-year-old sage. “Hmm, I’m not sure how to finish that,” I said. “I’ll have to think about it.”
Max looked me straight in the eye. “Sometimes it’s good to just do what you want to do,” he told me. “Sometimes that’s the best thing.”
I told Max that this was such great advice that I would write it down. I printed his words in oil pastel inside my new journal, on the paper with dotted lines for handwriting practice. When I showed him his own words on the page, he said, “This will be on the first page to remind you, for life.” This kid was a regular Yoda. I wished I could shrink him down to pocket-size and carry him around with me—my own insightful little Pez dispenser.
I watched Max as he created an elaborate picture of rockets exploding in space, layering pastels and texturing the paper by scraping it with the side of a pencil. I admired his self-assurance as he worked, never doubting a single decision. It struck me how much more confident these six-year-olds were than most of the adults I knew, and how much more imaginative.
The kids were inventing constantly throughout the day: a blank page became a picture of “a green alien who goes around making everything sticky.” A cardboard box became a broken-down car, then a doghouse, then a robot suit. Every moment held a new opportunity to create or explore. The kids had begun to brainstorm questions that they would investigate during an upcoming project. They had filled large pages of butcher paper with creatively spelled questions like “Why did peepel yoosto b moncees?” and “I wot to no how dogs wer formd?” Reading these questions, and their other ones, made me wonder along with them–what were seeds made of, and what did happen before we existed?
In addition to confidence, imagination, and curiosity, the kindergarteners were filled with a contagious joy. I’ve heard that children laugh around 400 times a day, whereas adults laugh only around 15 times. I believe it. I think I laughed more during the first half hour of being in kindergarten than I had all week. One boy told me that when the classroom pet iguana wanted to eat, she did “the hunger dance.” He demonstrated by jumping up and down, waving his hands around wildly, grinning with wide eyes. The kids cracked me up again when I told them that I was 27, and they piped up one after another, trying to outdo me and each other. “My mom’s way older than THAT!” “My grandpa’s 63!” “Well, my grandma is 70!”
Most of us adults can’t remember the last time we spent a day doing dance, free play, art, and storytelling—a day full of laughter, variety, curiosity, and a sense of fun in all things. Life really doesn’t get much better than kindergarten. There must be a way for adults to preserve what comes naturally to us at age six, or at least a way for us to find it again.
After my day learning from kindergarteners, I took another look at the journal Max had made for me and decided to leave “Melia AND THE” open-ended. I hope that in the coming months, this will inspire me to fill in the blank in hundreds of different ways. One possibility might be “Melia and the secrets of the Greek cheesemaker.” Another could be “Melia and the creatures of the Costa Rican jungle.” (Possibilities that I’m hoping to avoid include “Melia and the tenth package of Top Ramen this week” and “Melia and the empty nights of jug wine.”)
“Melia AND THE” blank – terrifying and thrilling, full of possibilities. To navigate the uncertainty, I plan to follow the kids’ lead. Each morning, they open their kid journals to a blank page and know that they’ll fill it with something original. They’re not yet sure what, but they expect that they’ll figure it out as they go. Though I feel a bit apprehensive about not knowing where I’ll be in a few months, I’ve decided to take Max’s advice: I’m just going to do what I want to do, and trust that whatever results is the best thing.