Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Kindergarten Do-Over

A recent article in the New York Times reminded me of my own kindergarten experience when my family lived in Passaic, New Jersey.  There, in order to enter kindergarten, a child had to be five by February 1.  With a January 29th birthday, I squeaked in just under the wire.  So, in September 1967--at the tender age of four and a half--I left behind the safety of Miss Elaine, Miss Bea and the Children's Corner Nursery and trekked off to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School #1 to begin my academic career.

Although I don’t remember much about it, I understand from family stories that it was quite an inauspicious start.  My teacher, who remains unnamed to this day, had been teaching kindergarten since kids rode dinosaurs about, and hadn’t changed her lesson plans since the days of primeval soup.  As the family lore goes, on one of the first days of school, I came out of the (even then) old-fashioned, mammoth building carrying a construction paper ice cream cone that I’d made in class.  Upon seeing it, the older kid who lived downstairs in the two-family house where we lived upstairs immediately told my mother, “Tomorrow she'll make a traffic light.”  Guess what?  The next day I made a traffic light.

But I digress...

Mrs. Whatever-Her-Name-Was believed that youngsters (that’s what they called us back then) had to learn to be neat and conform to societal norms.  As a result, we weren’t allowed to wear smocks when we finger painted and had to color and paint within the lines, always selecting--and I use that term loosely--green for the grass, blue for the sky, and  yellow for the sun.  What fun is that?

She also believed that children had to learn to be self-sufficient and therefore we got no help from her when it came to tying shoes, zipping coats or buttoning sweaters.  God bless my Aunt Claire, who sewed Velcro on all my clothing so I, too, like the five-year-olds, could “button” and “zip” with the best of them. 

We survived this way for four months, as my mother always told the story, before her prayers were answered:  Mrs. Whatever-Her-Name-Was broke her leg on a skiing trip during winter break and didn’t return to school for the rest of the year.

That summer, when I was five, my family moved from Passaic to Silver Spring, Maryland.  Unlike in Passaic, kindergarten students in Montgomery County had to be five by December 31st. This time around, my January 29th birthday saved me, and by December 31st, I was almost six.  Nonetheless, when my mother registered me for school at Glenallen Elementary, there was no question that I was getting a “kindergarten do-over!”