What I Learned in Kindergarten

I remember sitting at the edge of my teacher’s desk watching her eat an apple. Not watching, staring, I am sure of it now. Mrs. Madsen ate the whole apple. The whole apple! Except for the seeds. She held out these seeds in the palm of her hand and said, “Now, these will be for more apples.”

“Nothing wasted.”

Amazing. Magic.

Mesocarp, endocarp, calyx, stem, fruit cortex…seeds! Even now when I eat an apple, I think of her. And in this memory, I think of what informed this practice of eating the whole apple. There is a history or context that would be just hers or perhaps her generation’s or how and where she grew up. It represented a way of thinking or maybe placing value on whole foods, of life cycles, and caring for the future. And then I think of the time that was spent simply eating an apple and making room for a child to watch this process because later, it would tumble out into curiosity, a wondering, a pursuit of information.

Planting a seed.

We had expansive space in kindergarten. Time for seeds to be planted and room for them to grow. I went to kindergarten twice, once in Pirmasens, Germany where the age cut-off for the American schools was later and then again in Dugway, Utah where it was earlier. In the United States, “kindergarten” is a single year, ages 5-6, then and now.

From Germany, I remember digging in the dirt on a steep wooded hill. We used sticks to dig. In the way of childhood, this digging could be from one really good session of digging or it could be from days and days of digging. I am thinking that we spent the entire year digging, every single day. One of the children had uncovered a grenade. We stayed inside while the hill and yard were cleared. Not fully appreciating that a sweep of the area — or what a “sweep” even entailed — was conducted while we were inside, we returned to the yard with a renewed sense of purpose. What other treasures were in the yard?

Stick to dirt, the scraping it makes, the line of dirt it will move, the tension in arm and hand required to dig while also keeping the stick intact. What kind of stick makes the best digging tool? Where did the grenade come from and where was it found? Who found it? Where did it go? Why was it left? What was the piece of history that left this grenade there and how did a group of American children come to play on it and around it?

Seeds planted.

Just because I went to kindergarten twice does not make me an expert in kindergarten, but in reflecting upon my own experience of time and space in those two different settings does inform what I place value on in my own practice. It is quite telling, of course, that I teach something that happens before kindergarten and kindergarten in many settings has changed dramatically. Digging sticks and time to simply sit and watch a teacher eating an apple may not be part of our children’s kindergarten memories. I do certainly hope we hold time and space open for these in their prekindergarten memories!

To be fair, Mrs. Madsen also taught me how to color using a crayon, something I still do the very same way to this day. I also learned to read during that second year of kindergarten with Mrs. Madsen. I would have been six by then, I imagine. I distinctly remember the letters c-a-t shimmering into a place of understanding, of readability, moving from lines and shapes that had been on the chalkboard all year to suddenly reading, “cat.”

So sure, these too, were seeds planted. Nothing wanted, nothing wasted. Time well spent. I won’t dismiss these as important pieces of my kindergarten experience(s).

What I do hope and work so hard to protect is time and space to develop the art of digging and building with sticks, time to eat apples at your leisure, and just time. Time for things to shimmer into place and for curiosity to grow and spread.

Building dragon castles. This is where dragons come to get married. Should there be windows? That seemingly small addition creates a very big discussion. Should there be a door?!?! The architects and builders have not really come to an agreement.

Building dragon castles. This is where dragons come to get married. Should there be windows? That seemingly small addition creates a very big discussion. Should there be a door?!?! The architects and builders have not really come to an agreement.

Where will this map take us?

Where will this map take us?

Materials inspire and interest and skill provides follow through.

Materials inspire and interest and skill provides follow through.

This is the whole world and the children create their own stories. There are power-ups, there is a fiery laser beam, good guys and bad guys.

This is the whole world and the children create their own stories. There are power-ups, there is a fiery laser beam, good guys and bad guys.

A bridge must be built. It will take you from the building site, through the forest, past the fox den and dragon lair, all the way to the city house and recharging station house. When the stump stops rolling easily is it because you are both on the same side? One will move to the front to pull while the other pushes. Uh oh, your feet, won’t do that again. A subtle way to learn about the subtle changes in terrain that you no longer notice while walking and running. The rolling stump turns your attention to it.

A bridge must be built. It will take you from the building site, through the forest, past the fox den and dragon lair, all the way to the city house and recharging station house. When the stump stops rolling easily is it because you are both on the same side? One will move to the front to pull while the other pushes. Uh oh, your feet, won’t do that again. A subtle way to learn about the subtle changes in terrain that you no longer notice while walking and running. The rolling stump turns your attention to it.