The other day, I was sitting on the kindergarten playground and talking with one of my former colleagues. I enjoy visiting the kindergarten playground. It always reminds me that I am happily retired now and I’m not responsible for watching the children. I don’t have to respond when a child starts to cry or goes over and bops another child. I don’t have to help change wet pants and no one has thrown up on me in over a year.
I sat on a small kindergarten sized chair and watched the children play. Then little Matthew came up to me and asked me about my feet. Could I walk? Why did I have those things on my legs? Why did I need help standing up? Why was I sitting in the chair that HE wanted to play with? He had a seemingly endless number of questions.
These are moments when I really do miss being with young children. They are so open. They don’t hedge around anything; they just say it like it is. If they have a question, they ask. They don’t worry about whether it’s going to embarrass the other person, they just ask. And they do things, too. Whether it’s jumping off the swings, pouring sand down their pants, or letting their teacher know that, “My mom is lots prettier than you are,” they are adventurous, curious, and honest.
Young children have very interesting points of view, too, and they are quite willing to talk about complex topics such as religion, death, and procreation. I have learned from kindergarten children that Jesus was the only person who knew how to tie his shoes when he was born. I also learned that only God can count to infinity. One child announced to us all that his baby sister “got hatched out just four months ago”.
There are always those moments, too, that we call our “teaching opportunities”. Much more important, in my mind, than learning how to read or count, these are the moments when teachers are called on to be creative. A child gets angry and hurts another child, unintentionally. A parent in the class has a miscarriage or a grandparent dies. A new baby has arrived in another family. Rowdy play results in broken toys or torn play cloths. As a teacher, I often told stories at these moments. Stories are magical and healing and intensely comforting. I loved telling stories, even the very short ones that helped the children to settle down at the snack table. To tell a story to a child when there has been a death in their family or when a new baby arrived was a privilege that I took very seriously. I would talk with the parents first and often the parents would join us for this special story. We would even decorate a candle and light it before the story began.
Every good teacher knows, however, that it is never just the students who are learning. In all my years in the kindergarten, I know that the children taught me far more than I ever taught them. And my visit to the kindergarten playground the other day was no exception! Here little Matthew was asking questions, waiting for me to share my wisdom with him. I was ready. I figure I’m old enough now to have vast stores of wisdom just waiting to be imparted to the younger generation. I told him that I wear braces on my legs because my feet often just forget which direction they are supposed to be pointing and then they make me walk funny.
Matthew looked at me for a moment and then looked at his own feet. “I’ll show you how,” he said, very seriously. “Just put your feet like this, see?” he continued, gesturing downward to show me that his feet were pointed forward. “Make sure they are going this way and then you just walk. Like this. Watch me.” And he very carefully and deliberately walked back and forth across the playground, explaining to me all the way how I could do it, too. “Do it like this, Mrs. Reinhart, and then your feet will take you anywhere you want them to.”
Being a retired Kindergarten teacher is a little like being a grandmother. You can visit and reap all the wonderful benefits of being with the children and let the teacher handle all the challenges. And the children are still teaching me more than I could ever teach them.
“That’s right, Mrs. Reinhart! Just like this, just do it like this and you’ll be able to go anywhere you want!”