“Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardour, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.” Aldous Huxley
Volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten class has become an annual tradition, and so on a recent Monday morning I found myself eagerly awaiting the bell that would signal the start of the day. The bell rang, the kids marched in and no sooner had I reminded Laura she was free to put me to work doing anything, than a five-year-old boy walked in and sheepishly presented his teacher with his shoe covered in dog poop. I gave my daughter a nod as I grabbed the sandal from her hand, took a bunch of popsicle sticks for scrapers, and headed down the hallway in search of a bathroom. A teacher glanced at my visitor badge, the poopy sandal in hand, and laughed, “welcome to kindergarten!”
At the end of my eight hours spent with these 23 adorable five-and-six year-olds, I remembered the delightful poem by Robert Fulghum, “Everything I needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” He wrote, “share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess, draw, paint, sing and dance and take a nap every afternoon.” I learned additional life lessons from these precocious children that are applicable to all us adults striving to lead spiritual, happy lives. The first lesson came when I returned the now clean (although very wet) shoe to the little boy. He smiled at me and said simply, “Thank you.” Lesson Number One: Say thank you to those who help you scrape poop off your shoes (or bail you out of messy situations).
Instead of introducing me to the class, my daughter made them work for it, and told them they’d have to ask me questions until they could guess who I was. Nearly the entire class raised their hands immediately and Laura called on them in rapid succession: Where do you live? What is your phone number? Where do you work? What do you do at your home? Do you have kids? What are their names? Why did you come here today? What is your favorite color? What kind of car do you drive? Within minutes, one of the students raised his hand and asked, “Are you our teacher’s mom?” Mystery solved! Lesson Number Two: be curious, ask questions and show a sincere interest in people you meet.
These youngsters provided a lesson in careers. Earlier in the year Laura had everyone pick a dream job. Many listed the usual veterinarian, police officer, firefighter, artist, chef and dentist, but my favorite was from the girl who said she wanted to be either President of the United States or, if that didn’t work, a Fairy Helping God. Lesson Number Three: Aim high for your dream job, yet have a backup plan.
At story time I read the children The Rainbow Fish which is about a beautiful fish with colorful scales, who is resistant to share them with his fish friends. Because he doesn’t share, none of the fish will play with him, but eventually he does give away one scale at a time. By the end of the book he is happily surrounded with friends to play with. When I asked the children if they ever had a hard time sharing, many heads went down as they sadly remembered times they didn’t want to share their toys. However, one student perked up when he was able to verbalize the moral of the story, their fourth lesson. Lesson Number Four: If you share, you’ll have more friends-and more fun!
My daughter had the students moving throughout the day, and, when They would gather to sit on the large rug, inevitable one of the children would accidentally step on another. I noticed the apologies were quick and heartfelt. Lesson five is so simple, yet we grownups often struggle with it. Lesson Number Five: When you hurt someone, say “I’m sorry.”
During “free stations,” kindergartners could do whatever activity they wanted. Some read, some spent time playing at the computer, while others painted and colored. Toward the end of this period, several of the children proudly presented me with their gifts: colorful drawings and paintings including flowers and butterflies. Great compensation for this volunteer! Lesson Number Six: Give gifts freely, especially the homemade kind.
My daughter was handing out stickers for good behavior at the end of the day. Despite the fact that the shy, unassuming little girl in the front row didn’t get one herself, she clapped good-naturedly for every student who walked up to receive their award. Lesson Number Seven: Clap and celebrate when people receive awards, even when you don’t get one.
My wish for you is that you find yourself in the company of wise little souls, and that you remain open to the wisdom pouring out of the mouths of babes.
Mary Rose Remington, M.S.Ed., is a local career coach and keynote speaker.