I remember shakily copying the date that the teacher wrote on the chalkboard and when it changed from “1999” to “2000”. I remember playing in the sandbox and wearing floral, cotton sundresses. I remember signing all of my papers “Cat” (because that was my favorite animal and why not?). I remember dressing in a pink tutu and performing a self-choreographed dance for the school talent show. I remember the wonder and excitement I felt the first time I opened a book and could understand the words.
But, for the most part, kindergarten is a blank; a pleasantly vague memory of sharing lunches and playing dress up. Although I don’t remember many specifics, I do remember feeling safe and excited to learn.
If ignorance is bliss, then deluded memory is courage.
That’s the only excuse I can invent for why, when I was 16, I volunteered to teach a kindergarten Sunday school class at church. At the time, all I could think of was how much I looked up to “the Big Kids” when I was that age. I imagined gently reprimanding unruly students, who, seized with conscience, would fall in remorse at my feet. I envisioned triumphantly leading an impeccably straight line of beaming young students through the hallways. I pictured enthralled, wide-eyed stares as I told Bible stories.
That first year was quite a learning experience. I learned how to rattle off a long list of rules in the two seconds it took for them to draw breath. I learned how to make anything out of Play Doh. I learned that you should never, under ANY circumstances let five-year-olds use glitter glue. (Unless the building is scheduled for demolition anyway.)
But, as I got to know the students, I learned a lot from them, too. I started to look at the world from their perspective, and I discovered many little homilies:
If you don’t have as exciting a story as the kid next to you, make one up. (Hint: dinosaurs, ninjas, and outer space trump pretty much anything.)
Don’t rush the big decisions, like which pencil to use.
Conquer your fears by making them in Play Doh – then kill them.
If it was a bite, it was a snake. If it was a snake, it was a boa constrictor. (Really, the most important thing is having a good story.)
Manners work. “Please” can be said more easily and more times in five minutes than “I want” (which can turn into a tongue-twister).
Nowhere is worth going if you can’t hold hands and skip there with your best friend.
If you get bored with a game, make your own rules.
Food is for playing. Why else is it in animal shapes?
You’re never too young for true love.
Don’t be afraid to draw outside the lines. And color the world however you want to; don’t be afraid to make the sky brown or a dog green.
Your world is whatever you make it.
Stay close to the ones you love. Very close. Sit in their lap when they’re sitting and hold their hand when they’re walking. And don’t ever leave them.
Gradually, I realized that these young children are us in our most raw, genuine form. They cry when they don’t get to be line leader because they haven’t learned to clench their teeth and mutter, “It doesn’t really matter.” They want to visit the moon and become a ninja because they don’t realize that it isn’t possible; they want excitement and adventure, and they refuse to settle for ordinary.
When did we stop doing that? When did we allow ourselves to become distracted by the expectations of others? Why did we become so discouraged that we wind up in classes we don’t like, studying for jobs we don’t want simply for the security they provide?
We should all take a moment to look inside of us and reconnect with our kindergarten selves. Let’s let our dreams run wild and believe, if only for a few moments, that anything is possible. Every day, let’s allow ourselves not be childish, but childlike.
Let’s color outside the lines.
Let’s hold each other’s hands.
Let’s use glitter glue. Without ruining our hair, table, walls, and carpet.
I originally published this as a guest writer on The Things I Learned From, one of my favorite blogs. The heart and brains behind the site, Jen Glantz, is a 20-something business entrepreneur who writes honestly about her love of New York City, her chaotic life, and everything she’s learned along the way. Check it out!