Last week I went to Kindergarten. The night before, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to last four hours amidst twenty-two five-year-olds. I thought I’d be wishing it was nap time or at least rest time, neither of which modern kindergartners need according to most school districts. Instead, I was energized as I people-watched like an old man sitting on a mall bench waiting for his wife. In my mind I made observations and formed questions, none of which I could answer.
The children who welcomed their “grandpals” were beaming as they presented their gifts of paintings and drawings expressing their love to Pop-Pops, Mee-Maws, Aunties, and Pals. The joy was mutual. Of course, not everyone had a visitor, and my joy was tinged with sadness for those kids. When I was growing up, my parents did not attend school events, so I can understand how it might feel to be alone when so many others have a pal. Due to death and disease, distance and disinterest, my own sons would have been among those without visitors. Seeing the faces of those kids reflect indifference because they had no expectations or sadness because they did broke my heart.
This day was intended to show us grandpals what a typical school day was like for our littles, so it was not all fun and games. The first order of business consisted of a phonics lesson. The students recited the sounds of letters their teacher pointed to on the whiteboard. I was impressed. Next, they practiced writing and completed a phonics-related art project. Those who didn’t have a visitor to work with them worked in pairs or with a teacher’s aide. I noticed a little boy who put his head down when the teacher’s aide walked away to help the next student. He needed motivation no one could give him. Would he ever find it within himself? Did anyone tell him he is smart enough to do anything? to be anything?
After all of this hard work it was time for free-choice. Students raised their hands if they wanted to be allowed to go to the station their teacher had called. This was my first surprise. The kids didn’t try to stick with their friends as one might suspect. My granddaughter knew she wanted to go to the book nook before her teacher even finished announcing it was time for free-choice. The children chose what THEY wanted to do that day, an act of individualism I wondered if they would be able to hold onto as they grew. Would making their own choices be shadowed by craving acceptance? Or by wanting to impress that cute boy or girl they had a crush on?
My granddaughter and I made our way over to a cozy area surrounded by bookcases and were soon joined by an adorable and polite little boy. Both picked out books and I read to them. They interacted with me, but not much with each other. The books held their attention. After four books the students were called to line up for lunch and recess. Grandpals were not allowed to accompany them to these. I wish I could have seen how the kids acted during unstructured time. Even the most attentive teachers can’t see everything. Did they self-divide? Were there future jocks and nerds? Prospective mean girls and geeks? Loners and bullies in the making through no fault of their own?
Instead of an in-depth peek into Kindergarten culture the PTO treated us to a fabulous luncheon. Usually, I can talk to anyone, but I felt awkward. I’m not sure why. Maybe I looked around and saw how far we as adults stray from who we are in Kindergarten, a place where we were taught to be grateful, to share, and to be kind. Things it would do all of us good to remember.
When we rejoined the class, it was time for math. As a right-brained person I suppressed a groan, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun the lesson was. Next was free-play which was decided in the same way free-choice had been. My granddaughter chose a math-related game involving colored plastic bears and patterns. After she taught me how to play, we happily played the game together. She was the only one to choose the math game which ridiculously caused me to worry. Did she have friends? Was she destined to be a loner? Or would she become the mean girl because no one but her grandpal had played the bear game with her in kindergarten? Yet, I was proud that she made her own choices and hoped she always would.
We had one more experience to share before the grandpals would be given an early dismissal–art class! The grandpals lined up in single-file behind the children as we walked quietly to the art room. I felt like skipping I was so happy to be going to art. The art teacher explained we would be coloring an autumn leaf using magic colored pencils. When we’d completed coloring we were given a cup of water and a paintbrush. As we swirled water over our leaves, the colors from the pencils turned into water colors. It was spectacular, and I couldn’t wait to see if Amazon carried them. My attention was caught by a little boy who talked and spun around in his seat while the teacher gave instructions. While doing the project he nudged the table disturbing the other kids and slid his water cup so that it spilled all over the floor. The teacher was exasperated. My granddaughter told me that was the bad table. I wondered why the boy behaved as he did.
Saying good-bye was difficult. My granddaughter clung to me. We live only five minutes from each other, but it’s not every day Gramma gets to be your best pal at school. Of course, I had expected to share a wonderful day with my granddaughter. What I didn’t expect was how much insight my visit would give me, not only into my granddaughter’s world but also into how quickly we are defined by society. I looked at these children who would have to overcome or live up to what others thought of them. It seems we are judged from the minute we are born, and so little of what is said reflects who we truly are or validates what we will become. And, as children so much is beyond our control. Growing up is hard. Becoming who we are meant to be involves trial and error. But, with a bit of nurturing, a lot of determination, and a little luck we can become superheroes.