Today, for the first time in 23 years, I went back to kindergarten.
I slept 20 minutes through alarm and woke up with that blasted Billy Madison song stuck in my head (my own fault) and hurriedly got dressed and ate breakfast. With my backpack, notebook, and brown bag lunch, I walked the few blocks to my elementary school. I passed a few kids holding their mothers’ hands. I was surprised to arrive at school in just a few minutes. Apparently my legs are a lot longer now than they were between the ages of 5 and 10.
Everything at the school seemed to have shrunk. I almost have to kneel to get a drink of water at the fountains, and the classrooms and cafeteria seem half the size that I remember them. When I arrived on campus, I watched the principal greet parents and kids as they pulled up at the bus circle and observed a group of girls looking at the class lists posted in the hallway. My mom and I used to walk to the school a few weeks before classes started to look at these lists. One of my strongest memories is the apprehension I felt as I searched for my name, since my experience in the upcoming year would largely depend on my teacher and the kids in my class. I remember feeling relief when I spotted my friends’ names alongside mine, or anxiety when they’d been assigned to a different teacher. Though we’d see each other at recess, our friendship wasn’t quite the same as when we were in the same class.
At around 7:45 am, I headed to the kindergarten room where I’ll be volunteering through next Monday. My original kindergarten room now houses a first-grade class where I’ll volunteer next week, and the kindergarten is now in a portable next to the play yard. Barbara, the teacher and a family friend, is honestly one of the kindest people I know. Someone recently said, “People can’t mention Barbara without adding, ‘She’s so nice!'” Barbara asked me to help greet the families as they came in and get the kids settled, helping them hang their backpacks in cubbies and showing them puzzles that would occupy them as their parents left.
To my surprise, not one of the kids cried, and neither did any of the parents. One mom looked back at her son a few times as she walked down the ramp of the portable. Another mom ended up staying the whole day as a volunteer because her son didn’t want her to leave. While Barbara very much appreciated her help on the first day, she expects that if the mother continues in the classroom, the son will have a fit when she finally leaves him.
While Barbara oriented the kids to the classroom and its daily routines, I called a few kids at a time to help me make a gingerbread man (I so want to say “gingerbread person,” but it just sounds funny). They rolled the dough flat, shaped the body and head, and decorated it with chocolate chips, red hots, sprinkles, and more. Barbara asked me to take two girls to the cafeteria to bake our gingerbread man. She said, “Give them a very important message: Don’t open the oven door, or the gingerbread man might run away.”
Erin, a precocious 5-year-old with blond braids and a big smile, rolled her eyes and said, “That’s just make-believe.” Later that afternoon, we returned to the cafeteria and asked to pick up our gingerbread man. Amy, one of the staff, told Erin, “I’m sorry, but when I turned my back for a second, he ran out the back door.” Erin’s eyes got big, and she said, “Are you being serious?” Amy nodded solemnly, and Erin and I headed back to the classroom to announce the escape. In the next few days, the kids will conduct a search for the missing gingerbread man all over the school, following the clues he’s left for them. This will help them follow their curiosity, ask questions, use evidence to draw conclusions, and get to know their new surroundings.
I have so much more to report about my first day, but I’ll have to continue after school on Day 2. Suffice to say, I felt energized after my first day and excited about the opportunities Reschool Yourself might open up.