10 things I remember about kindergarten

1st grade

My oldest starts kindergarten this week. Since most of my clear memories of childhood start at around age five, I’ve been thinking about what she’ll remember about this year. This big day.

I’m sure it won’t be the things I’m fretting over that she’ll remember. The world through her eyes is different, necessarily, than it is through mine. I’m in a place of details and deadlines, checking the clock, zipping the backpack – functional, fretful; at five, she experiences life in bigger sweeps of color and blasts of sound, brighter and more harsh but still a little blurry, like sitting in the front row of a 3D movie without the plastic glasses on.

So it’s impossible to know what she’ll remember about kindergarten because we experience things differently, she and I. And saying that out loud feels blasphemous in a way, because just the other day she knew only my voice and my smell and I was the sole arbiter of every experience from what she ate to how she slept to what color socks she wore.

(That was an awesome power, if a false and fleeting one.)


I started kindergarten twice. We moved to California in January of that year, so I started a new school a few weeks into the calendar year 1986 and about halfway through the 85-86 school year. I have very few memories of the Montessori school I attended in Oregon, but I remember quite a bit about my public school kindergarten experience after we moved.

Here are 10 things I remember about kindergarten:

  1. Instead of cubbies we had deep, square drawers (something like file drawers) that lined the back wall. Laminated name tags labeled each drawer, alphabetically ordered along the room from left to right. Because I joined the class mid-year, my drawer was all the way to the right after the last name in the alphabet. I remember I memorized my classmates’ names alphabetically by staring at those drawers.
  2. My teacher was a doctor. Not a medical doctor, but a Ph.D. And she was a woman. I remember all of this confounding my five-year-old brain, whose frame of reference for doctors was something medical and male. (Also? A 60-year-old female Ph.D. for a kindergarten teacher in the 80s? That’s kind of badass.)
  3. I remember my mom staying after pickup one afternoon to talk with my teacher about some extra work I could do at home. I was not challenged in class, apparently. I don’t know if my mom asked for the extra work or if it was the teacher’s idea, but I do remember feeling a little smug that I was in need of a special arrangement of this kind.
  4. After lunch we came inside for a rest. It wasn’t naptime on the ground, but rather a head-to-desk mandatory quiet time. One person got to pass out Care Bear pillows, which sounds like a great idea until you find out there are about six fewer pillows than kids in the class. So the pillow-passer-outer got to (had to?) exclude a handful of peers who were left to rest with sweaty forehead on sweaty forearms and wonder why they got passed up.
  5. I remember the left-handed scissors. Rounded tips instead of pointy, just a couple of pairs in a box with dozens of the normal ones. They had LEFTY printed on one of the (rounded!) blades. I am an indisputable lefty but I learned to cut right-handed that year. When the teachers passed out scissors they’d offer me the “special” ones (having obviously noticed my southpawness in writing and other areas) and I’d refuse, taking the pointy, normal, not-weird cutters instead.
  6. Popsicle day was Friday and for a quarter you got a rectangle of frozen orange juice, sold by a PTA volunteer on the playground after lunch. I remember that if (when) I forgot my quarter I was heartbroken.
  7. I remember having a crush on a boy in my class who was jovial and charismatic and mischievous and too smart for the teachers who both adored him and wanted to strangle him. (I realize now I’ve just described my husband.)
  8. I remember reading groups. Long tables, each for a designated reading ability, with a teacher or parent volunteer at the head of each. We got a word printed on a manila card and were told to go to our seat, sound it out, and then get up and bring it back to the teacher for a new word. I remember walking around the table in circles without ever actually sitting down because reading just made sense to my brain and I didn’t need the extra, seated time to sound it out (hence the need for the take-home work, I guess – at least in the reading department).
  9. I remember a Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox – the metal kind – and the smell of smooshed PB & J. I remember eyeing other kids’ nacho cheese Doritos and Hostess treats with envy, shamelessly accepting any artificially-colored, crinkly-packaged castoffs that came my way.
  10. I remember turning six only a couple of weeks after starting my new school. We must have invited all the girls in my class to the party, which was forced indoors because of rain (despite growing up in southern California, it almost always rained on my birthday). The activity – and the take-home party favor – was a pair of strap-on roller skates for each new friend. I remember my mom’s horror when one of the girls went home and broke her arm skating in her kitchen the next day.

What do you remember about kindergarten? Will you share one thing?

day before k


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12 Responses to 10 things I remember about kindergarten

  1. Carolyn August 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    I remember these plastic blow up letter “people” that would be in the room, for a week I think, as we would focus on that particular letter.

    • Sarah August 14, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

      Okay you and Beth (below) aren’t the only ones to mention the blow up letters, and I have no idea what these are! I’m intrigued! :) Thanks for reading, Carolyn!

  2. Beth H August 14, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    I remember the inflatable letter people to teach the alphabet and reading. I adored them. My guess is that you might need to make a special arrangement for big girl powers to get some additional smart-kid work for home, just like mama! I’ll say a special prayer for her (and you) that tomorrow goes swimmingly. What an adventure!

    • Sarah August 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

      Well, day 1 is behind us! It seemed to go well. :) xo

  3. Mary August 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    I remember consoling other boys and girls that were crying on those first few days of school.

    • Sarah August 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      Mary, that makes me so happy, since my daughter just WAS one of the crying kids last week! I hope there were others like you there for her. :)

  4. Shell August 19, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    The Care Bear pillow thing sounds a bit awful! You’d think the teacher (or some upset parent) would have bought a few more so no one was left out.

    I remember the blow up letter people, too.

    • Sarah August 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      Right? I agree! It was not only sad for the kids who didn’t get pillows, it was terrible pressure on the passer-outer, who had to leave out classmates. Trauma! :)

  5. Kristen @ Motherese August 21, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    I love reading all these memories! Such special details from your kindergarten experience to relive while watching your big girl make memories of her own.

    The clearest memory I have from kindergarten were the paper “letter books” that we worked through during the year, one for each letter and full of cut-out crafts and writing exercises. (I also remember being disappointed that there was quite a wait before we covered “K,” my favorite letter because it’s the first in my name, but not, apparently, considered all that essential for kindergartners to study.”) :)

    I hope your sweet girl – and my sweet boy, who starts next week – have a wonderful kindergarten year! xo

    • Sarah August 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

      Oh, big hugs to your sweet boy, too, Kristen! And “K” is really something special, I think. My 3yo (who is just beginning to be interested in letters) calls it “tagalong K” from the Chicka-chicka-boom-boom book, and it’s his favorite letter of all (and his name doesn’t even start with hit!).

  6. Lisa August 26, 2013 at 5:13 am #

    I love to hear your memories Sarah. It jogged a few more for me. You were a very resilient little thing. Small and determined, you started the K year not two but three times in that one year! (Remember Montessori in Corvallis?) One of my best memories of you that year was when you got fed up with being called Sarah Jane. (The teacher added your middle name, Jane, to distinguish from another student named Sarah, probably done with my permission but clearly without yours.) One day, after the first couple of weeks of being branded incorrectly, you marched up to your teacher and informed her in no uncertain terms that you would prefer to be called Sarah. Just Sarah. It was brave of you. You didn’t even tell me your plan. Thanks for reminding me of the Strawberry Shortcake lunch box, those pesky little scissors and the skating birthday party (what WAS I thinking?). Mom

  7. Chloe September 12, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Love the post, good memories! I have to say I think you should bring back your bangs they are awesome and I think you need to rock them into 2014. xox C

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