Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them
What will the children remember, years from now, about their year in kindergarten? When their days are filled with lessons in reading, writing, mathematics, and phonics, will they have fond memories of an exciting Fundations lesson? With days devoid of play, indoors and outdoors, will they lovingly remember the experience of reading “back-to-back” and then “shoulder-to-shoulder”?
I have become obsessed with this question of what children will remember after spending the year visiting kindergartens, speaking with teachers, and listening to parents. I finally decided to contact some former students and parents of students and ask them if they could write down one kindergarten memory. My former students are now in their twenties, perhaps a few almost hitting thirty! I wondered, “Would they actually remember anything at all after all of those years?”
Let me share some of what they shared with me.
Zeke (graduating college this month)
I think my most vivid memory is waking across the Brooklyn Bridge replica we made. It was a lot of fun learning about the various bridges and building the replica.
Julia (kindergarten, 1990)
I remember singing! I think we sang Blue Skies, and I think maybe the Banana Boat Song? I remember visiting the fire station on Union Street and getting to slide down the pole. I remember playing in the school yard. I think the singing is what sticks out most for me.
Sara (kindergarten, 1996)
I remember looking at meal worms. We had a big tank with a bunch of bugs and we could pick them up with tweezers if we wanted to.
I also remember days when I would choose something like puzzles at Choice Time because I thought I wanted to do something quiet by myself, but then I’d be bored halfway through and regret my decision. It was always better to choose the ‘special activity’ or the one all your friends chose.
There was a giant refrigerator box for time out. It had a pillow on the bottom and cut outs on the side.
I remember Backwards Day, which I always thought could be more backwards. And I remember eating my pudding (dessert) first at lunch and it gave me a stomach-ache.
I also remember nap time, because what adult doesn’t reminisce about nap time.
Lionel (graduating college this month)
I do remember our trip to Madiba, and feeling like a celebrity because the restaurant was near my parent’s house (..?). It’s funny what kids get really excited about, but I’m sure I received some special attention from my classmates because it was close/my family was there. I remember eating roasted corn with our student teacher (was her name Liz? I don’t remember now…I remember quite clearly that she liked to eat mango, and told us stories about eating it messily) at the restaurant. That was just when they opened, now they’ve been in the neighborhood for ‘as long as I can remember.’ Funny.
Dan (kindergarten, 1990)
I remember being picked up by my Aunt on the day my brother was born, and some time later (a few weeks? months?) my mother bringing baby David into class so all of us students could take turns tracing him on large white paper!
Anna (kindergarten, 1994)
Your name went up on some board when you learned to tie your shoes? I was trying to learn and was struggling, and I really wanted my name to be on the board, but was also very conscious of it not being on the board. When I finally learned, I felt very accomplished.
Sophie (kindergarten, 1994)
I loved the Quiet Corner! I remember it being a little structure made out of cardboard, very dark and full of pillows, where we could go when we wanted to spend some time being quiet. It was lovely! And it has stayed with me.
I also remember Author of the Week; each student got a week during which all of the books they’d written during class were displayed on a bookcase near the front of the classroom. I think one period was spent having the rest of the class interview the author of the week about the stories she’d written. That was awesome.
Ross (kindergarten, 1993)
My strongest memory of kindergarten is of singalong time, particularly “Here Comes the Sun.” I remember loving the song and the act of singing/listening. I would later (re) discover the Beatles and develop a much broader love for their music, but it all started then (and possibly with “An Octopus’s Garden” too?).
David (Just graduated from college)
I remember doing a lot of singing in that class. In particular, the song Love Can Build a Bridge. We would sit on the rug and sing along to the cassette, and Akira would sing the vocal “flair” parts. We even recorded it on cassette – I remember the microphone hanging down from the ceiling over the rug and we all sang into it. I still have that cassette somewhere.
Daniel (Just graduated from college)
When I think of my favorite kindergarten memories, I immediately think of choice time. Although for me there was never much “choice” involved because my heart belonged to blocks. With those wooden blocks I was able to build bridges, skyscrapers and even spaceships. I could feel the structural integrity of my creations, even if that meant sitting on them until they collapsed. Why was this satisfying? I don’t know. All I knew was that crayons and books couldn’t hold a candle to blocks!
Gillian (kindergarten, 1994)
My sister was born while I was in Kindergarten – December 1993. my mom brought my infant sister into class a few months later for “choice time.” Not sure why but with some kids, crayola markers and a giant roll of paper we traced her body. She was a squirmy baby and I’m not sure how it worked or why tracing an infant seemed like a good idea but I remember that my friend Basam was particularly gentle and caring with her. I’m sure there were other kids involved but I can only remember Basam and my mom. The drawing was on a huge roll of paper and had a strange misshapen baby outline surrounded by other less human scribbles. We had the drawing for a long time – it was important to me and my parents – bizarre archive- I’m not sure if it’s still somewhere in their house. Hoping it is.
Some parents also shared their memories of their child’s kindergarten year –
I remember the first curriculum night. I don’t know what I expected but I was blown away by the range and depth of the techniques used to support literacy. I guess I had some fantasy of phonics and memorizing the alphabet, and I remember my mind being blown about how language emerges in different ways with different kids. I have forgotten all but the feeling of excitement that someone (you) actually had a method to the madness. The one thing that has stayed with me (probably because it was a visual) that you had an outline of a word – that the pure shape of a word was one of the many ways to begin decoding. I will never forget that.
I have a memory of a writers’ workshop publishing party. This may have been from first grade and I am sure that I have embellished it in my mind for comic effect. The kids happily publishing real life, unvarnished reflections of the messy side of Park Slope home lives. Literally revealing the ‘dirty laundry’ at home. All the parents dressed up and on good behavior while their kids were publishing accounts that were not so dressed up. ‘Out of the mouths of babes.’ I remember being a little disappointed and relieved that Vicky only ever wrote about rainbows. There was not much insight there, except that I think that she really liked doing the illustrations and she knew that she had a good solid 6 pages of copy (blue, green, yellow, orange, red, violet).
One thing that comes to mind immediately is the self-portrait that my son drew with his bird on his head. I loved the self-portraits the children made. Hanging along the walls of the classroom , they made the room belong to the children. I also loved them because drawing was a medium in which my son felt “good at something”. He was shy then and seemed to stand back while the girls in the class danced around, comfortable in their outfits and friendships. I often felt that boys were pushed to the back at 321 (I also have daughters), in efforts to compensate for previous limitations.
I also remember the play “Three Billy Goats Gruff”, with its imaginative props. There was a lot going on in that classroom.
Renee, I can’t distinguish between kindergarten and 1st grade because you looped with the kids, but here are a few memories:
· The class singing Pete Seeger’s “Sailing Down My Golden River” for a performance for parents. As a result, that song, whenever I hear it, brings me to tears.
· Moriah Shapiro doing some kind of performance (maybe year-end) and you announcing that we’d all be seeing her on Broadway in a few years.
· Realizing that David had learned to read by identifying words (as opposed to sounding them out) when we took him to DC and, as the metro train pulled into a station, he said, “Look Mom, it’s Friendship Heights.” Humorously, he currently lives about two stops away from that station.
· Last but not least, the bridges project. Wherever we traveled during and afterward, David would identify the kind of bridge we were seeing. I recall accompanying the class on the trip to the Brooklyn Bridge and still have on my fridge a dog-eared photo of the entire class on the bridge. Eerily, it shows the two world trade towers in the background.
Unfortunately, I can’t add anything to what Susan has said here. It’s so long ago! But I can say that choice time was a brilliant thing, and clearly left an impression on David. (I believe we told you the story of how “choice time” was the punch line he used in an improv skit recently and he was surprised that it fell flat – because, as he discovered, he was the only one who had experienced it.)
Giving the kids the notion from an early age that at least part of their time is self directed, fun learning is such a gift to them.
Singing, playing outdoors, building with blocks, reading in the refrigerator-box cozy room, napping, poetry, dramatic play, Choice Time, our turtle, trips, bridge study, plays, Backwards Day, and more singing, singing, singing…a rainbow of kindergarten memories.
What kind of memories will we give to the children who attend kindergarten during the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top years? Let’s think about that and then take some positive action to stop this craziness. Let’s return childhood to children. They will turn out to be wonderful young adults! As William Crain wrote in Reclaiming Childhood (Henry Holt and Company, 2003) ” ...Schools should respect the child’s spontaneous interests and natural ways of learning. They should repect the child’s enthusiasm for physical activities, creative projects, the arts, and play, and they should give children opportunities to learn through these activities.”