When I was a freshman in high school, a book of short essays by the American pastor Robert Fulghum called “All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten,” was published, and quickly rose to great popularity. The title of the book was taken from the first essay, in which the author explains how the world would be improved if adults adhered to the same basic rules as children, i.e. sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up after themselves, and living a balanced life of work, play, and learning.
Teacher: Mr. and Mrs. Boulos, we’ve talked it over and we think it would be in your daughter’s best interest to skip kindergarten.
Mom and Dad: OK, thank you.
And off I went to first grade.
I never once second guessed their decision until that book came out, alleging that the one year I skipped turned out to be the lynchpin of the entire educational experience. What huge holes did I have in my learning as a result? Were the other 20 years I spent pursuing educational goals of various sorts a waste of time? Could I somehow make up the year, perhaps in a kindergarten online correspondence course?
All these years later, I think I’ve finally come to terms with my kindergarten deficit, mainly because I’ve spent the past six years in preschool. Technically, my three kids were the ones attending preschool, but after six consecutive years of thrice weekly dropoffs and pickups, six years of goodbye hugs of varying intensities, six years of walking (sometimes pacing, sometimes casually strolling) the hallways where my children grew and thrived, it felt like I was enrolled right along with them. And leaving preschool will not be easy.
That’s because in a world where adult expectations and activities are so quickly thrust upon children, a world where toddlers get professional manicures and first graders must decide which travel sports team might best suit their athletic needs, preschool has remained a place for child’s play. A place that is colorful and messy. A place that feels safe and secure, where friendships form in a matter of seconds, hugs flow freely, and creativity lines the walls.
In many ways, time has stood still for us over these past six years. As our children, each two years apart, each spent two years in preschool, up until this point there has always one more behind them to immediately carry on the preschool torch. As our older kids have moved into the big, wide, world of homework, spelling tests, and playground drama, having one foot firmly planted in preschool has been a grounding force, and a way to connect not just to my children, but perhaps to childhood as a whole.
Over these past six years of preschool, my kids had the same teachers, took the same field trips, and even made many of the same projects. And at some point, their lessons became my own.
In my six years of preschool, I’ve learned how difficult it is to let go- from letting go of a loved one’s hand to letting go of control. But I’ve also learned how necessary it is.
From the dedicated teachers, I’ve learned what a blessing it is to allow someone other than yourself the opportunity to love and nurture your child. Someone who sees them in a different light, who appreciates things about them that even we as parents might completely miss. My heart aches with gratitude for each of them.From my fellow preschool parents, I’ve learned that support, advice, and competition-free companionship are not just things we should offer our kids.
I’ve learned to dream, because when you’re surrounded by a roomful of aspiring astronaut/princess/ballerina/police officer/garbage collectors, how can you you not imagine what you, too would like to be when/if you ever decide/are obligated to grow up?
So today my youngest will join his older siblings in walking across the stage to collect his preschool certificate. I admit- it’s more than a little comical, seeing these tiny beings decked out in mortar boards, their goofy grins a stark contrast to the undue solemnity of “Pomp and Circumstance” as they parade down the aisle. In the past, it has made me laugh so hard I cried.
But this time, I might just skip the laughter and go straight for tears, because it is certainly the end of an era, and in many ways it feels like the end of innocence. This time, as my baby boy walks across that stage, I must force myself to accept that we are both walking away from these precious younger years.
Society has little time for childhood, and even less for adults with childlike spirits. While children are masters of the moment, the senses, and the pure heart, in little more than the blink of an eye, doing will overtake being, and thinking will overtake feeling.
So my prayer for my pint-sized graduate is that together we will always carry the lessons of these preschool years close to our heart, and not just because I have an entire jewelry chest’s worth of macaroni necklaces.
Preschool has been good to us- I don’t know that we’ve learned ALL we need to know, but I do know my child is ready to graduate to the next step. I only hope that I am, too.