Reaping Values in Kindergarten

By Chris Erskine
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES ~ School can only do so much for you. To this day, I always have to look up the spelling of Anne Boleyn’s name, and I am constantly spelling “magnificent” as “magnificient.”

There are dead zones in my head – that’s the only explanation, despite the fact I have been through kindergarten five times now.

First, I went myself, a harrowing experience. I wore oversized cowboy boots back then – lots of kids did – and I walked at such weird angles and tumbled down stairs so frequently that the teachers were pretty sure I was “special.”

This was aggravated by the fact that my mother sent me off to kindergarten a little early. I had just turned 2.

Anyway, I have been through kindergarten five times now, if you include the experiences with my own four children. The littlest one, golden as a baseball glove, is finishing up his kindergarten career now, as we speak. It is a drizzly day, and he and his classmates don’t even realize that it is raining on the playground, where the year-end recital is to be held. Some things about kindergarten never change.

“Inside, everybody!” screams the mom with the biggest mouth, and they push-cram 100 kids and parents into a room built for 20 or so elves.

Yep, kindergarten never changes. There is construction paper all over the wall, lots of cotton clouds. Early in the programme, the kids sing about whales:

“Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,

swim so wild and you swim so free.”

“They’re singing about caviar?” I ask Posh.

“Shhhhhhhsh,” Posh says.

“Shhhhhhhsh,” say the other moms.

At least I think they’re singing about caviar. These kids are missing so many teeth, they slurp the lyrics as if sputtering their way through a hot bowl of soup.

“Baby beluga, baby beluga, is the water warm?

Baby beluga, is your mama home?”

I informed Posh the other day that I am absolutely not going to any more of these suburban events where they don’t serve liquor.

“Hard stuff,” I said, “and I don’t care about mixers.”

It was a Fatherly Proclamation. I issue only about 40 or 50 such proclamations a week, and like the others, the alcohol mandate was promptly dismissed, even though I roared it like Henry VIII in a way that showed I wasn’t kidding.

So, I find myself at this recital, sober and surrounded by people I don’t really know. That’s OK. Between kindergarten and his sister’s upcoming graduation, we only have about a hundred such events to go.

“I may be small, but I sure act tall,

I’m the tallest little kid you’ll see …”

At one point, the teachers hand out instruments to all the students, effectively arming them. One boy, holding maracas, sits dangerously close to a big aquarium full of fish.

In fact, he is one hatchet blow from making the song about caviar memorable in ways the music teacher, Mr. Wulff, never could’ve imagined.

Like many things in life, a broken aquarium would seem a crisis at the moment, then witnesses would laughingly tell the story for decades to come – the day the kindergartners got a surprise bath. As the next song begins, 100 parents hold their breath.

They are almost ready for first grade, these kids. They have grown an inch since breakfast. Just look at them sitting on the floor, heads tilted up, faces like sunflowers.

As with the drizzle earlier, the kids are mercifully unaware of what the future has in store for them. Twelve more years of this, then four to eight years of college after that. Then four, maybe five years of looking for work. Then a career in data entry or tending bar. Maybe a little law practice if they’re lucky.

Oh, what a world we’ve given you, kids. We meant well, really. We’re holding our breath.

But when haven’t parents held their breath? Back when I was clomping around kindergarten in cowboy boots, all parents had to worry about was the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Now we’re dealing with economic calamity, religious zealotry and the plight of that poor Susan Boyle. No matter what, the world’s end seems always at our fingertips.

Fortunately, most moms and dads are long-term investors, and today in this kindergarten classroom, on a rare rainy Friday, we’re hoping that we’re looking at some of the payoffs and problem solvers.

And solutions won’t come from learning to read the fastest or whose kid can perform trigonometry in his head by second grade – we’ve already had enough of that.

The answer lies in who will create a fairer, more-sensible world, where the values we learn in kindergarten are never lost.

Keep your hands to yourself. Listen. Respect your neighbour. Pay attention. Wait your turn.

Never lie. Love the Earth. Share your toys. Don’t hog the crayons.

It’s impossible to look at these faces – these incredible sunflowers – and not believe good things lie ahead … nurtured in rooms like these, full of cotton clouds.

And caviar.

Erskine can be reached at

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