All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten

“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.

Max 2“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.

Max 1 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.

Comments (9)

  1. Andrew

    Nice post! Makes me want to go back to Kindergarten too. =) I can’t wait to hear about the next “Melia AND THE…” ;-)

    Reply
  2. Margaret Pinard

    Well, here’s another piece of advice: don’t cower before the weight of “ORIGINAL.” Another kid in Cameroon just might have had some idea about green aliens and stickiness. What matters is that YOUR life is subjectively YOURS. Forget all that objectivity crap we have to learn about at adult school- life is what YOU make it! Make it HAPPY! :-)

    Reply
  3. Natasha

    Wow….life is whatever you fill in the blank…Melia and the…whatever the f it may be…remember-anything and everything is possible…i love that.

    Reply
  4. Kush

    Hi Melia,

    Lovely post Melia. Transported me to the middle of a vivacious classroom full of these amazing kids. Loved your exchange with Max – he seems almost mythical. Goodness, I need to find a Max in my life as well!

    Reply
  5. Gillie

    I’m so excited about Reschool Yourself, babe! (By the way, I want my own six-year-old Yoda. Amazing.) Love the FAQ page. Haha, and thanks for the No Dowry comments. “My Left Foot of Fury” and “Shoop.” My favorite things!

    Reply
  6. Renee

    This is absolutely stunningly beautiful and inspiring. What is it about our world that turns children into self-conscious, unimaginative, fearful adults?

    How come there aren’t classrooms set up for children to teach adults? A classroom where the kindergarteners make the rules and curriculum and the adults have to follow? What if all of the rulers of the world were forced to take a break from their warring and trading and go out for recess. Wouldn’t we live in a much more peaceful place?

    Reply
  7. Sara

    This is the first time I read this post–linked from another–and it very nearly made me tear up. What a lovely day and so much insight garnered from it.

    Reply
  8. fred

    Yesterday after work ,my 10 year old daughte ask me to take her kite flying.It was a very blustery fall day and a litttle cold.I took out her 15 foot demon kite, strung it up and we drove to the park. It was great.The kite which had given her so much trouble in the past flew high and danced in the wind.I watched this little person whom I love beyond words and just wallowed in the moment. I later thanked her and God for getting me up off the couch and enjoying two of the things I love best ,my daughter and a windy day.

    Reply
  9. Melia

    Thanks, Sara. That morning was one of the best I’ve ever had. It reminded me of what’s important in life, and how we know so much at age six that we forget by the time we’re sixteen. But we can remember!

    Fred, that sounds like an unexpectedly awesome evening. One of the coolest thing about hanging out with kids is getting reacquainted with the world through their eyes. Being present and curious, marveling in the moment, feeling breathless on a windy day…it makes you grateful to be alive.

    Reply

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