‘All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten’
"All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten." This is the mantra that author Robert Fulghum says guides his life. When I was in kindergarten, I shoved my face into a tub of uncooked beans (used for crafts and counting activities) and emerged with a lima bean firmly lodged in my left nostril. I came out of the experience with a valuable piece of knowledge — how to blow my nose. I learned other things that year as well: the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, and how to color inside the lines. But did I really learn all I needed to know to become a productive member of society?
As an informal investigation into this topic, I recently interviewed a kindergarten teacher about the life lessons one picks up at the base of the academic ladder. I wanted to find out precisely what goes into molding those play-doh-like minds, and how to make the lessons stick.
Mark Etheridge has been teaching for the past 15 years. He dabbled in first, second and third grade classes before settling at Trailside Elementary as a full-time kindergarten teacher six years ago.
With lunchbox packing and Staples shopping sprees looming on the horizon, Etheridge was busy preparing for a new class of fresh-faced, wide-eyed mini-scholars. From rearranging the classroom to switching up the curriculum, Etheridge says he gets psyched up about starting a new school year.
From our conversation, I gleaned the following life guidelines that kindergartners are expected to absorb from the proverbial academic womb:
( Don’t be afraid to try new things
"Kindergarten is a step up from preschool," says Etheridge, "There’s more directed time, and there’s twice as much exposure — it takes adjustment." Dealing with new situations and trying new things helps the kids become more self-aware, he says. They start to enjoy learning and begin to form ideas, hopes and dreams for the future.
( Be independent
Separation anxiety tends to thrive in the area between the school parking lot and the classroom door. Park City public schools have adopted a modified schedule for kindergartners during the first week to lessen the apprehension on both ends of the umbilical cord. The first three days of the week are "assessment days," which provide the teacher with the opportunity to meet one-on-one with kids and parents. The youngsters officially begin class on Thursday, Aug. 28, at which point Etheridge attempts to wean them away "I try to have them say goodbye at the classroom door, the next day at the end of the hall, and so on. If there’s a kid who’s having a particularly hard time, the other kids rally around him or her and the distraction is usually enough to dissipate their angst."
( Work through conflicts
Kindergarten is prime time for learning to share, playing fairly, and realizing that hitting people is inappropriate social behavior. Especially for those only children who haven’t experienced the joy of sibling squabbles. Activities like playing house, sharing markers and collaborating on block castles teach kids to treat others how they would like to be treated.
( Say what’s on your mind
Kids have a tendency to spurt out anything that pops into their little heads. Many a parent can attest to the fact that children do not practice content censorship. For example, my friend’s child once asked a woman in the grocery store why she was so rotund. The woman, who was pregnant, explained that there was a baby growing in her stomach, to which the little girl responded, "Yes, but what’s growing in your butt?" Don’t worry, the social graces will come later, but the important lesson for kindergartners is to be assertive and speak their mind.
( Be self-confident
This is perhaps the most valuable lesson for kids at any age, so it’s crucial that the process begins early on. Kindergarten teaches kids to be confident in their abilities, in their social skills and in their capacity for growth. This year Etheridge will be teaching a full-day kindergarten class made up of kids who will benefit from extra assistance in the classroom, including those who have had limited exposure to the English language. He says he’s excited for the challenges ahead and will strive to foster self-confidence on physical, emotional, and academic levels.
Combine the above lessons with basic hygiene, frequent napping, and regular breaks for milk and cookies (believe it or not, that one actually makes Fulghum’s list), and I’d say you have a pretty good recipe for success. But the true purpose of kindergarten is to build a foundation for years of physical, mental and emotional growth to come. As parents, your job is to make sure the base is steady, and to make the journey fun along the way!
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