Snacks and Naps by
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Prompted By Kindergarten

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My memories of kindergarten are sketchy and selective. At Laning Avenue School in New Jersey, where I went to kindergarten, there were morning and afternoon classes. With a late May birthday, I’d missed the cut for the afternoon class. (As my mother explained later, the school assigned the younger kids to the morning class so they could go home and take an afternoon nap.) However, my mother managed to switch me to the afternoon class so that I could walk with my neighbor Jeffrey. I think our moms walked us the first day, but then we were on our own. We didn’t think much of five-year-olds walking by themselves in 1958. I am an older child, so had no siblings to teach me anything, although I loved the picture books in the house.

We didn't have to sleep, but had to lie quietly for a time, which seemed like forever but couldn't have been more than 15 or 20 minutes.

My teacher, Mrs. LeRoy, had white hair, blue eyes, and a kind face. I remember her hands, sprinkled with age spots, so maybe she really was old, rather than ancient, as I thought. She played the piano, and we did sing songs. I don’t recall too many activities, just a large room with a wood floor and many windows. We had wood cubby holes to store our things, and because we didn’t know our letters yet, we were given stickers of vegetables, flowers, or plants to identify our specific cubby. For some reason I believe mine was a cabbage.

We brought “milk money” with us to school, which, for a penny or two, was exchanged for snacks of milk and graham crackers. At a midpoint in the afternoon, Mrs. LeRoy would announce that it was rest time. We removed our rolled mats from our cubbies and unrolled them on the floor. The mats were woven out of multicolored material, but it wasn’t fabric–no idea what it was. We didn’t have to sleep, but had to lie quietly for a time, which seemed like forever but couldn’t have been more than 15 or 20 minutes. I hadn’t napped since the age of two but was a quiet child, so relaxing with my own thoughts was fine for me. This seems odd to me now, given that the whole idea of the afternoon session was that the kids didn’t need to go home to nap, but it probably gave Mrs. LeRoy a break.

Toward the end of the year, we were tested for knowledge of numbers and for reading readiness. I remember having to count backwards from 100, which was easy for me. For reading, we looked at pictures and had to identify objects or what was going on in a scene. I think today this type of kindergarten would be considered wasted time. When my niece was in kindergarten in the 90s, she could read simple stories and write her name. Must be really advanced now, but it feels as if some element of childhood has been lost.

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I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Marian, I’m so glad you mentioned milk money! I had forgotten about that, but we brought it every week, in a little envelope. And I’m sure our snack was milk and graham crackers too. Did your white-haired teacher use bluing in her hair like mine did?

    • Marian says:

      Suzy, I’m pretty sure that Mrs. LeRoy must have used bluing on her hair. Funny update: I’m growing out the gray in my ash blond hair and getting blond highlights to make the process more gradual. The best shampoo I’ve found is one that’s thick and purple, and my hair colorist explained that it has a bluing agent in it to remove the brassy yellow tones. However, things have evolved since the 1950s, and now there isn’t that purplish-blue cast!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I am sure we must have done most of the same things that you did, Marian, but I don’t remember most of them. You are right, it seems most kids can do some sort of reading by this point in their lives and know numbers. I think they learn this from Sesame Street at the very least. Everything does seem so different now.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, Betsy, I’m wondering if some of this early learning is because there seems so much to learn. When I started working in the biomedical industry in the 1970s, admittedly as a non-scientist, I did fine with having an excellent AP-level high school biology class. That would be unthinkable now because of the scientific advancements. I used to joke with my last boss, who loved my work, that I wouldn’t be hired for my own job today, and he agreed.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Marian, I love the details you remember. I had to walk my younger cousin to and from kindergarten when we were 5 and 6. It was several blocks, but we did it through rain and snow. My kids also walked to kindergarten on their own after the first few days. Now, it’s “illegal” I guess because my grandkids had to be brought and picked up by someone through third grade. I also remember milk money and drinking somewhat warm milk that sat on the window sill. It’s interesting how these memories are so vivid after so many years.

    • Marian says:

      Gosh, what have we come to when kids walking is illegal! I know when I pass by the elementary school in my neighborhood that the crossing guards won’t let small kids out of the schoolyard if they don’t see a parent.

  4. Were kindergarten teachers cloned, perhaps? At the very least our respective K teachers seem to have been. I had forgotten about the age spots. But I’m struck by the differences: I honestly do not remember snacks and I’m certain that if we had them we didn’t pay for them. Our K was half day, too, but with a difference. In our school system children could begin school in January as well as September; all depended upon age. In one’s first semester of K we went in the morning. In the second, the afternoon. I also don’t remember any expectations about letters or counting. As far as I can remember it was all play and socialization.

    • Marian says:

      I really like the idea of beginning in January based on age. My niece has a January birthday and went in the second half of the year, which was great for her.
      Our kindergarten teachers were remarkably similar, from hair color to piano playing. I’m sure they are nothing like that now.

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