What I Learned from Returning to Kindergarten

Tomorrow my daughter “graduates” from kindergarten. Milestones like this always make me sentimental, but this year the bittersweet emotion is amplified by 27. 

You see, this was my year to revisit kindergarten. I gave up the security of full-time work for the flexibility of freelancing so I could spend more time with my daughter and volunteer at her school. That meant spending time with 28 little people on a regular basis.

It was a questionable move for someone with workaholic tendencies and a mild dislike for “OPKs” (other people’s kids). Helping in the classroom was unchartered territory. I worried the kids would drive me nuts and that my volunteer hours would feel like an obligation rather than a privilege.

Initially, my weekly time in the classroom was overwhelming—so loud and messy, and damn there were a lot of OPKs in there.

Yet as the months went on, I actually found myself enjoying it. I upped my time to twice a week, plus field trips and helping with classroom parties. Spending time with these tiny people tapped into a part of my heart I had long forgotten: the teenager who loved babysitting and volunteering in the preschool room at vacation bible school.

That part of me had been buried in adulthood. Uncovering it began with the little boy who threw his arms around my waist and said he wanted to live with me. His proclamation and big brown eyes burst my heart wide open.

His hugs triggered an avalanche. Soon other kids followed his lead. There was the little girl who asked if I’d be her friend and when I said “yes, of course,” she made me pinky swear. Then there were the gifts of rainbow and butterfly drawings from other little girls and boys telling me about video games they liked to play. And the hugs!

Now it seems that every time I enter the classroom, a waist-high person is throwing arms around me. I’ve become the hugging mom, which amuses me greatly given my past discomfort with physical affection of any kind.

Is it any wonder that tomorrow feels bittersweet? I’ve come to understand why teachers choose their profession. What I can’t yet grasp is how they say good-bye year after year. My time with these children is up, and I don’t really want it to be. I will watch them graduate and say good-bye to a milestone year.

Robert Fulghum wrote: "All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten."

Kindergarten is a year of discovery. It is the year for trying new things and learning how to maneuver through this world. It is a time for figuring out who you are as an individual.

Like each of those 28 students who entered the classroom last September, I was unsure of who I was, felt a little bit lost and was trying things that were completely new. What I learned is that when you try something new, one of two things can happen. You realize you don’t like it and you move on. Or, you embrace the newness and it changes you in ways you never expected.

Who knew you could learn so much in kindergarten?


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