Many years ago I read the best-selling book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Robert Fulghum’s profound thoughts made me laugh and made me think, and it was an easy, sweet read. It was on my mind the last couple of weeks when my youngest child “graduated” from Senior Kindergarten and Moved Up, in a formal ceremony to grade 1. My daughter’s graduation was juxtaposed with a leadership summit that I attended a few days later with many work colleagues.
My daughter’s Kindergarten graduation ceremony was short, but it was life changing for the children. They showed off a set of skills to their parents that many of us have lost in the thirty (or gulp, forty) years since we sat in those tiny chairs with wide smiles. It took me decades to understand this, but Kindergarten is, I believe, the most foundational year of our lives.
It’s a transitional time, when many of us experience our first genuine authority figures, when we learn to balance play with work and develop long-lasting friendships. For many children, it’s when they learn to read and write, add 1 plus 1, see a map of Canada and maybe learn a second language.
But there are bigger skills my now kindergarten graduate gained this past year, which I hope she will bring with her in every stage of her life, from elementary school to university and throughout her career. They are skills I used last week as I spent time side by side with my colleagues. I was reminded by my 6-year-old daughter and her friends how important these life-long skills are:
Sometimes, just be Quiet and Listen
There are times to speak up and there are times we don’t. If someone kindly asks to be heard, let them. You can be an active participant in a conversation by just listening to the other person. Whether it’s your teacher or your manager, sometimes, be quiet, and listen.
Honesty is always the Best Path
Don’t lie, to anyone, ever. If you made a mistake, own up to it. It’s okay if you can’t tell everyone around you everything, but at least be truthful. If I ask my daughter, who made this mess? She will own up to it. If her class breaks a favourite toy, they let the teacher know. Remember that.
My daughter loves to receive gifts, but she and her friends love to give them too. She came home after her graduation with a stack of “gifts” for us that she made throughout the school year. There was art, sculptures, books and other strange items I can’t recognize. She presented each item to us, one by one.
But that’s not all. This past year she reminded me every Friday to give her a few coins for the class Tzedakah box. This is a Hebrew term that comes from the root word, “Tzedek,” or righteous. They learned about the importance of charity and helping those less fortunate than them. The money they collected will be donated to a local charity, as chosen by the children. Generosity goes a long way – towards your family, friends or colleagues, or perfect strangers.
Be a Good Friend
I sent my daughter off to her first day of Kindergarten in September, and she knew a few of the other children. I watched her graduate in June seated beside her best friend and surrounded by many other close friends. When my daughter hesitated when her name was called, her best friend hugged her and urged her to stand up. When she was handed her diploma, every child cheered. And she cheered them too. Whether you are 5, 20, 50 or 80, remember to support your friends, if they need you or not. And give them a hug. They will appreciate it.
Anyone who has met my daughter, in school, at the park, in my house – even on WebEx or Zoom as she photo bombs while I’m in a meeting – they see her smile. You can make a huge impression on someone, or make them feel good, by just smiling. Smiles are truly infectious. If one person in the room starts to smile, they can create a chain reaction. Try it.
This one is key, and you learn this skill in Kindergarten. Speak up for yourself and be heard. It’s a delicate balance between acquiescent and aggressive, and the best place to learn is Kindergarten. I admit that this is one I continue to work on, and I wish I had practiced more back in Kindergarten. It’s key to getting noticed, to gaining respect and ultimately, career progression. Let people know who you are, what you can do and why you are the best there is. Be bold.
Eat a Morning Snack
My daughter’s class took a 15 minute snack break every day at about 10:00 am. I packed something special for her every day. Sometimes it was a piece of fruit, or cheese, a granola bar, or dare I say it, sometimes a sugary treat. No matter how old you are or what you are doing, we all get the munchies. A vast table of snacks appeared every day at my leadership summit, and our group of 30 professionals jumped on it like a pack of wild animals. Take a break. Have a snack. It’s good for everyone.
Bring out your Creative side
Raise your hand if your parents signed you up for dance, art, piano, drama, singing or some other creative avenue when you were a child. While they knew you probably weren’t going to be a concert level pianist or be the next “Big Thing,” you had the opportunity to gain some artistic skills. The Kindergarten classroom bursts with creativity. The children express themselves with paint, crayons, pastels, and pencils. They sing loudly in music. They role play as Mommies and Daddies, or doctors and nurses. Do they sing off key or draw faces that look more like aliens? Of course they do. But they are proud. Don’t ever forget to be creative. A creative idea is refreshing.
It’s Okay to Cry
During a normal day in Kindergarten, at least one person cries. Your friend took your toy. The teacher didn’t call on you. You piddled in your pants. No reason at all, but you cried anyway. And that’s okay. Just like it’s okay for an adult to cry after a long day. Sometimes the pressures of work, family, friends and the general anxiety of the world around us just become too much. Have a good cry. As I learned from the song in the movie/play, Free to be You and Me – It’s Alright to Cry…. It Might Make you Feel Better.
Like Mr. Fulghum, I could probably write a whole book about this. I’m a proud parent of a Kindergarten graduate, and the foundational skills she learned over the past year astonish me. She learned to be thoughtful, gentle, and caring. She also learned how to share, to be kind and to be independent. Social skills. How to be healthy and active. And so much more. And she reminded me that it’s important to use all those skills every day.
Remember what you learned in Kindergarten. It will bring you success for your whole life.