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The Walk to Kindergarten

Updated on June 18, 2013

Life Lessons are Learned in Kindergarten

The other day a Facebook friend of mine was recounting his painful high school years. He was a loaner with a big secret. He was gay back when gay was not hip and being anything but a football star was reason enough for bullies to pick on you, especially if you were like my friend, a in drama and glee club. Any male with the adequate testosterone was in sports not "sissy" things like drama and glee club.

It got me to thinking about my own school years. I remembered Robert Fulgrum's essay/poem ".Everything I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten" and read it again.

It is true. If we learn the basics at age 5, it will carry us throughout life. If you are not familiar with Fulgrum, his essay goes like this:

"Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold mile are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some. And draw and paint and sing and dance. Play and work everyday some. When you go out into the World, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder"

As I reminiscent with my friend the trials and tribulations of youth, I thought back to my first walk to Kindergarten. I came from a very working class family. Both my parents worked. I was a latched key kid before that expression was coined by child psychologists in the 1970's. My parents were long gone off to work by the time 7:45 am rolled around for school. I did have an older brother and sister but they were way older. I was the "surprise" baby and the spacing between my siblings and me was too great. Both my brother and sister were off to high school by the time my kindergarten started. Five year old's walking to school in the mid-1960's in suburban California was not at all rare. The school was at the top of our block and to cross the street there was a trusted Crossing Guard. And, too even though to some extend our lives back then were sheltered we were more self sufficient at the same time.

My mother some how thought having a companion to walk to school with might be a good idea and she volunteered me to walk with "Carla" a girl the same age as me who lived across the street. Carla was mentally challenged. Back in 1960's Los Angeles, children with disabilities had no other options for schooling other than mainstreaming them into public school unless of course their parents made the difficult decision to institutionalize them. Carla's parents didn't. And, my mother who had a younger brother who suffered brain damage from untreated spinal meningitis was all too well aware of bullies who treat children who are different. Having a special place in her heart for "mental retards" as they were called back then, she agreed with our neighbor that I would walk to school with Carla.

Carla became my little shadow and I became Carla's defender, helper, babysitter. I learned as Fulghum says "wisdom" "sharing" and a sense of fair play. I do not know what happened to Carla after kindergarten. She did not go on to the First grade. Maybe her parents felt it was overwhelming or maybe the bullies in the playground were too much for them to take although Carla did not seem to mind. I recall her family moved away years later but do not remember seeing Carla or playing with her after our year together in Kindergarten.

I loved school and I loved my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Poole. She was exotic and unlike anyone in my small neighborhood of mostly blue collar working Caucasian people. Mrs. Poole unlike me with white blonde hair and blue eyes, was olive complected with kind dark-almost black eyes. She was always smartly dressed in a skirt, blouse and sweater. She used a sweater clasp to keep her sweater over her shoulders as she sat down in a small chair and we on a rug as she read to us. It is funny what you notice as a child. I liked Mrs. Poole's fingernail polish and her long manicured nails that she used to point to the words in the book she was reading. I liked the way she sat in the chair and how she would place the book on her lap after reading and ask us about what she just read.

Mrs. Poole taught us things that other kids were not learning at the time. I learned to count in Spanish. My mother told me I had a real talent for Spanish and was progressing very well. Mrs. Poole taught us our alphabets with a special song that we learn both in English and Spanish. She remembered our birthdays. She took an old tin coffee can and wrapped it in colorful wrapping paper. She glued small birthday candle holders on to the top of the can and put candles (real candles) in to the holders. Inside the coffee can, she put little toys or candy. Whenever it was one of our birthdays, she lit the candles and we all sang happy birthday. The birthday person would then pick a small toy from inside the can. It was magical.

Shortly after starting kindergarten, Mrs. Poole told our class she could no longer teach us Spanish. She never said why. My mother told me years later a few of the parents were upset we were learning Spanish from a "negro" or from a "Spic". Mrs. Poole was neither African American or Hispanic. She was from Puerto Rico. I know because she told us. She showed us pictures of beautiful beach scenes and played music from her homeland. Had any of the complaining parents cared learn or have an open mind about someone different from them, or if Mrs. Poole could have penetrated through the narrow mindedness of most adults in the 1960's maybe they would have learned what I did in kindergarten: learn some; think some. I still can count to 10 in Spanish. Thank you Mrs. Poole.

From knowing Carla and Mrs. Poole, I learned we all have things in common regardless if on the surface we seem vastly different. To this day, I lean toward helping the underdog and trying to see life from their viewpoint.

Music, playing, singing, dancing and taking a nap every day are devotions I follow as much as I can everyday.

Yes it is true that honesty, saying you are sorry, finding wonder and joy in life are best if learned in kindergarten. It will carry you all of your life.


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