Because the Detroit public schools were already overcrowded in 1958, I began kindergarten in February of 1959, as did everyone whose birthday fell between December 1 and February 28. Semesters were separate entities and I was always half way through with a grade when summer came until we moved to the suburbs, when I was tutored in math for four weeks and skipped ahead. So I was the youngest in my class, starting in 6th grade.
I attended the Louis Pasteur Elementary School on Livernois and 7 Mile Road. It was a large school, encompassing grades K-8. I had the same teacher that my brother had five years earlier, though now she was married and named Mrs. Wolf. She seemed nice enough, but I was exceptionally shy, a real skirt-hugger. I hated leaving my mother’s side. We only attended half day, first afternoons, then in the second semester, mornings.
I remember the classroom quite well. It had a paneled area with window seats where we gathered for story time, which was my favorite time of day. We sat in that alcove while stories were read to us. Of course, girls had to wear skirts, which limited our ability to run around and play. We had an area for arts and crafts. I am not talented in that way and could never think of what I wanted to draw. We would go outside to run around, but in winter, it was somewhat difficult to get our boots and leggings on, then coats and hats and mittens. I liked the jungle gym, but had to be careful that no one could see up my skirt.
I remember one incident quite well. A little blonde boy liked me, but I didn’t return his affection. He kept bothering me. To get my attention, he’d chase me around the room, which was forbidden. Nevertheless, he would do it. I didn’t know I could “just say no”. One day, he gave chase; I tripped and cut my lip, which bled profusely. I remember we were making Easter bonnets from paper plates. The teacher stemmed the bleeding, but I couldn’t stop crying. She finally got my brother out of his class to comfort me. She was very annoyed with me (notice, the culprit – the boy who chased me – got away scott free; some things never change). I thought the incident was over until my report card came home. Years later my mother divulged that Mrs. Wolf thought I was an immature cry baby! That has stayed with me these 60 years. I thought that was really unfair. I really didn’t care much for kindergarten. I looked forward to more structure and actual learning in first grade.
Though this is primarily my story, both my children had stories of their own. My older son was also painfully shy. A therapist we worked with thought he wasn’t ready for kindergarten and should do a transition year. But David already loved books and other academic pursuits better than pure play, so we didn’t see the wisdom of keeping him in a setting where nothing but play was rewarded, even though he was a late August baby, so young for the peer group. We compromised and put him in a private school for kindergarten, with a small class size. He made a few friends; it was a very nurturing environment and he did well enough that we brought him into our public school for the rest of elementary and middle schooling. It was only when he reached our very large high school that we again sought private school. He flourished in the intense, small academic environment of that private school and went on to Stanford, a PhD in computational neuroscience at Columbia, followed by a career as a Senior Scientist at Google DeepMind in London, where he remains.
Jeffrey had other issues. By the age of four he was diagnosed with ADHD. He went to our public school and was in a mixed K/1 with a very structured teacher. She was one of the few people who really “got” Jeffrey. She and I remain in touch and she still laughs when she tells the story of his kindergarten screening. A large cut-out clock with the hands clipped on was set up to see if the kids could tell time. Evidently Jeffrey spun the hands around and said, “time flies”. The teacher laughed and laughed. She thought he was a hoot! She asked for loads of parent volunteers and I volunteered three days a week, every other week in that class (for two years, as Jeffrey also had Mrs. Roberts for First Grade). I helped on Journal Day, Reading Day and Library Day (I just stacked books, while the kids were read to by the Librarian). I didn’t work exclusively with Jeffrey, but could observe his behavior first-hand, stay in close touch with the teacher, and have a free-flow of information. Within a few years, my child also had an Asperger’s diagnosis, followed by Child-onset Bipolar Disorder (which was really a mood disorder, mostly deep depression). He had trouble making any sort of decision, whether with word choices in writing, or what colors to use in drawing. It could often lead to a tantrum of frustration, so we learned to limit choices. He was literal, couldn’t infer; all hallmarks of Asperger’s. He is also brilliant at anything to do with numbers, computing, solving puzzles.
I watched and worked with him throughout his life. He went to a Special Ed school from Eighth Grade forward, where I would help every January as they devoted the month to performing a full-length musical. Jeffrey got into Brown as a Computer Science major, early decision, and now works for Cerebras Systems as a software engineer. He transitioned to Vicki about four years ago. She lives in Silicon Valley and has been self-sufficient since graduating from Brown more than six years ago.
Kindergarten has evolved from various forms of playtime for children to academic prep. In this Sesame Street, screen-driven world, are we pushing our kids too hard, too early? Who can say? I am no longer an educator and have no young children. I am not up-to-date on current theories of education, but I believe that children should be given the time and space to explore and freedom to just have some fun. They are only youngsters once.
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.