Supposedly, we learned all that we needed to know in kindergarten. Apparently, I should have been held back. Here are 7 lessons I didn’t master until later:
You Don’t Always Have to Say You’re Sorry
“Tell her you’re sorry,” the teacher admonished my classmate when I became upset, assuming that the boy next to me was somehow responsible for my state. Because that was the rule in my kindergarten class – if somebody was upset, you apologized. No ifs, ands or but it wasn’t my faults allowed.
As a kid who wanted to play by the rules, I internalized that message and allowed it to grow into a belief that I was somehow responsible for the okayness of those around me. I didn’t learn then to distinguish between the, “I’m sorry” that assumes culpability and the, “I’m sorry” that expresses empathy.
And I grew into an adult that apologizes too much. That begins a conversation with, “I’m sorry to ask this, but…” and has even been known to apologize to desks in my classroom when I bump into them.
There are certainly times to apologize for your actions or words (and make sure that the apology is just the starting point) and there are also times when an apology isn’t needed. You are responsible for being honest and kind, not for never causing somebody distress or discomfort. Say you’re sorry for your part, not their reaction.
Everybody Doesn’t See the Same Colors You Do
When I was in kindergarten, one of the objectives was for all of the students to learn the names of recognize the basic colors. Each week, we had a different color and we were challenged to come up with as many examples of that color as we could. One week, our color was orange. The boy next to me that Monday was wearing a salmony-colored polo shirt.
He raised his hand. “My shirt is orange,” he declared proudly to the class.
“No it’s not,” little-miss-has-to-be-right me responded, “It’s pink.”
A spirited argument broke out as our teacher tried to convince us that we were both right. That made no sense to me. After all, we were looking at the same shirt. How could we see it differently?
Of course, we all perceive situations differently depending upon our prior experiences, our expectations and even our mood at the moment. All you have to do is read the Amazon reviews of a book to see this diversity of opinion in action!
Little-miss-has-to-be-right eventually learned that it was nicer and more interesting to be open rather than always trying to be accurate.
But that shirt was pink:)
Never Be Ashamed of Being Different
We still had nap time in my kindergarten class. I guess I should say, they still had nap time because I never slept. Which made me feel different. And ashamed for being different. Some days, I would pretend to sleep just so that I could play at being just like the rest. Other days, I would look around at them and wonder what was wrong with me that I couldn’t nap like them.
Some teachers were understanding and let me read quietly while the others slumbered. And some teachers grew frustrated with me, thinking that my lack of rest was somehow a personal attack.
So of course, I apologized.
What I didn’t know in kindergarten was that it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to have different needs and desires that people around you. It’s okay to show your true colors instead of trying to blend in with your surroundings. And yes, sometimes standing out will get you noticed.
But that external criticism is infinitely more preferable than the feeling of not being true to yourself.
It’s Okay to Challenge the System
Kindergarten was a year for rules.
Stand in a straight line. Sit this way. Raise your hand first. Write this word. Color inside the lines. Say this. Don’t say that. Don’t jump off the swings.
And I was a rule follower. I trusted those that made the rules and I trusted the rules themselves. It was like we had an agreement, the rules and I – Follow me and you won’t get hurt. Follow me and people will like you. Follow me and you don’t have to take risks.
That approach worked for me in kindergarten. I played by the rules and the rules played nice.
It was only later that I learned that sometimes those making the rules don’t have your best interest in mind. That sometimes you can follow the directives and still get burned. That sometimes rules are used to confine and limit rather than protect. And that sometimes the best things can only happen when you’re willing to challenge the system.
Loyalty to Values is More Important Than Loyalty to a Person
We had one boy in our kindergarten class who was different. Now, I would either recognize him as a kid from a neglectful home or as one with some type of developmental delay (or both). But in kindergarten, he was just plain weird. And a bit smelly.
I assumed an attitude of polite indifference to him at first. I never sought him out, but I also never singled him out.
But then I became friends with a popular girl in class. One who wasn’t as nice to the odd boy. And I was loyal to her, defending her actions. When I really should have been loyal to my beliefs, even if that meant breaking my bond with her.
Faithfulness is an excellent quality.
Blind faithfulness is not.
Pledge allegiance to your own values before you vow to follow any others.
It’s Possible to Share Too Much
“Now, Lisa. You know you have to share with her,” I was told over in the playing house corner of our classroom after the teacher was alerted by my playmate’s cry.
I handed over the dress and watched silently as the other girl proceeded to dominate the play group, commandeering all of the items and directing all of the play. We had all been taught to share. And she had learned to take advantage.
In kindergarten, there was very little discussion of boundaries. What was mine, was ours. Everything was to be given and released upon request.
And sharing everything is a lovely idea. As long as everyone shares everything. And as long as everyone is looking out for others more than themselves.
Yet life has its takers. And we have to have boundaries. Lines in the play box sand that say I will give this and no more.
Because it is possible to share too much, to give until you are no more.
The Most Important Lessons Are Not the Ones You Are Told to Learn
I was so excited to go to kindergarten. I thought that this was a sign that I was ready to begin learning. I saw it as benchmark of growing up that I was going to be taught. I watched my neighbors and babysitters struggle through homework and grapple with loads of books. And that’s what I wanted – those outward signs of learning.
Yet I had already had 59 months of lessons before I ever stepped foot into my kindergarten class. 59 months of observing and imitating and experimenting, most of which I was never told to do.
Yet I did.
The most important lessons are not the ones you are told to learn.
They are the ones you have to learn in order to solve a problem.
They are the ones you decide to learn in order to reach a goal.
And they are the ones that you are inspired to learn through wonder and curiosity and joy.