Friday, October 19, 2007

My daughter will likely remember nothing from kindergarten: does that matter?

I remember two things from kindergarten. One, Stephen Yap, an intelligent boy in my class who could read chapter books. I had a crush on Stephen, so I asked my Mom to arrange a playdate. He came over and we turned on the hose and created an "ocean" in the driveway. We sat in front of the pool of water and he read me Jaws. I thought we were in love but Stephen never invited me over to his house and I have no memory of ever talking to him again. I was crushed by my crush.

My other memory is that I couldn't read—no wonder my relationship with Stephen never went anywhere. My teacher recognized the readers in the class with a big chart—all the kids' names neatly printed in rows. When you read a book, the teacher gave you a shiny star to put next to your name. I remember looking at that chart and feeling a pit in my stomach because my name didn't have any stars next to it. I was actually punished in public for my illiteracy. At the annual Spring Sing, all the kids lined up and sang a sweet little song, except for me and two other nonreaders—Franco and Lupe—who stood off to the side banging on pathetic triangle instruments.

I was thinking about these memories the other day when I was trying to recall my kindergarten experience. Surprisingly, I could remember little. I know my kindergarten teacher's name but that's because my Mom has repeated it to me over the years. And I have a fuzzy picture of Mrs. Kauai in my mind because I bumped into her throughout grade school. I was actually shocked to realize that for me kindergarten consisted of a doomed romance with the class brain and my struggle to read. And that got me thinking, What will Alice remember?

I tried to track down some scientific research on Google that says how much one typically remembers from kindergarten, but I had no luck. (If there are any memory specialists out there who happen to be reading this blog, please feel free to comment.)

I asked a girlfriend what she remembered, and she said, "Nothing." I asked another, and she said nothing, too. Nothing! Their first years in school must have been void of deep loss and humiliation! I asked my husband, and he remembers some cute girl who always wore pigtails.

In a perfect world, Alice will remember her sweet classmates who she plays ring-around-the-rosy with at recess; her beautiful, light, airy classroom decorated with children's artwork; and the world's nicest, smartest teacher who treats her students equally. I hate to be pessimistic, but if Alice remembers anything it will probably be the day she peed in her pants in front of the class or the day when an earthquake struck and the students all crouched under their desks (these are first grade memories for me).

Why am I putting all this time and thought into finding my daughter a kindergarten when all she's going to remember is the day her mom made her wear a pair of itchy wool plaid pants to school (a fourth grade memory for me)? Because I think kindergarten is more than a memory. It's a foundation. It's what's going to launch my daughter into the world. It's where she'll learn right from wrong, and how to treat her friends kindly. It's where she'll build new friendships and where she'll learn to deal with losses. It's where she'll interact with people from different places and backgrounds and learn to appreciate their differences. It's where she'll work as a member of a team and where she'll survive on her own. She may not remember any of this but it will be ingrained in her, a part of her subconscious—much more than a mere memory.


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  2. I agree - it's the foundation for everything else! It lays the pathway for the years to come. There are a few things I remember from my own kindergarten - but I do remember the way it felt. I want my own son to love school, to feel comfortable, valued, and appreciated. I want him to have a great teacher who he likes, make friends, and possibly even read so he can sing in a recital (ha ha).

  3. I remember my teacher's name from Kindergarten, but I cannot remember the name of a single friend from that year. I also remember that my older sister (who was in 3rd grade at the time) and I walked to school by ourselves most days, which seems incredible by today's standards.

  4. From K on I attended public schools with tremendous socioecononomic and racial diversity - and really terrible test scores (approx. 30% reached or surpassed grade level in math).

    This was my experience. From K-3rd grade, it was absolutely fine. Remember nothing negative about it. From 4th grade up - an absolutely terrible experience academically. So I basically think you could put most kids in K anywhere and they would be fine.

    Caveat: Ks have grown more academic, which I think in a way can make the experience worse. My K was 100% play.

    I've recently read a lot of posts from parents touting the benefits of economic and racial diversity. And they're right. But please, please don't forget the importance of academics. I turned out fine but saw a lot of very bright kids crash and burn. Lousy academics really ruin a child's experience.

  5. Hi Kate,

    I remember kindergarten really well (I was almost 6 when I started). For years, in order to tell right from left, I would mentally face the flag on the kindergarten classroom wall and see which hand lifted (from this you can probably tell that I am older than a lot of folks). I loved my kindergarten teacher and, 40 years later, she still remembered me. While I'm sure that negative kindergarten experiences can be overcome, a good start in kindergarten can be the gateway for a lifelong love of learning which has certainly been my case as I am now in grad school at age 49. Good luck with your search and your school experience.