Kindergarten: Lessons for a Lifetime

In the past few days, newspaper stories have called attention to two related topics: early learning and young children. One reminded us that kindergarten registration is coming up, and the other focused a spotlight on children, their teachers, families and communities.

Across the country, the National Week of the Young Child is being observed as a way of recognizing the children and the importance of school readiness.

The history of kindergartens is generally traced back to the late 18th century in Europe and to 1860 in the United States. Elizabeth Peabody is credited with founding the first English-language kindergarten in the USA, with the first free kindergarten appearing just 10 years later in 1870.

It was about a hundred years later that Robert Fulghum attracted national attention to the topic of kindergarten with a fascinating book titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” His book contained “uncommon thoughts on common things,” humorous thoughts combined with wise observations to which most of us can relate.

And, maybe parents and grandparents, teachers, and others will remember or discover anew Fulghum’s take on the importance of kindergarten learning that provides lessons for a lifetime.

The writer begins by boldly proclaiming that “Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten.”

Think about some of the things he learned (and these are just a few samples): “Play fair. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Put things back where you found them. Wash your hands before you eat. Live a balanced life…”

Fulghum’s thoughtful expressions are on posters in school rooms, libraries, and homes across the nation and around the world. The book was on the best seller list for two years in the late 1980s.

He retired as a minister but apparently continues to write and speak about the importance of education and the role of kindergarten (the word literally meaning “garden for the children”).

Some other thoughts from Fulghum’s summary take on added importance in today’s world: “Don’t hit people. Clean up your own mess. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Learn some and think some. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic.”

The writer casts a new light on so many things. If you have a kindergarten-age child or grandchild, you might like to read or re-read the book or portions of it as you prepare for kindergarten registration and as we observe the National Week of the Young Child. All of us could benefit from these lessons for a lifetime.

William H. Baker is a native of Claiborne County and a former resident of Middlesboro. Email address: wbaker@limestone.edu