by LARRY WATTERS
Principal, Parkside Elementary School
There is a poem and poster entitled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum that I had hanging in my classroom years ago. Some of the significant instructions Fulghum had listed on the poster include: “Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and point and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder.”
These words of wisdom, although hopefully learned in kindergarten, are not always acted upon as we become adults. That is why so many of us in Rockford Public Schools (RPS) have been blessed to work in a profession where we are reminded of many of the tenants mentioned above by those that have learned them most recently: elementary students.
I was reminded of one of the tenants the other day as I learned of a first-grader who decided to pick up trash from the entire playground. When asked why he decided to spend his time picking up our playground, he responded with, “I want to make the world a better place. Besides, I use the playground. Don’t you think I should help keep it clean?” Clean up your own mess.
A fourth-grader, when challenged by his teacher to make a difference in the world, made “puppy chow” and sold it at his mother’s workplace, raising over 50 dollars. He used the money to purchase movie gift cards for a family whose mother was battling serious medical issues. When asked his intent, he answered, “I wanted them to enjoy a night out and not worry about their mother’s illness. I wanted to do something to help.” We all should hold hands and stick together.
During conferences, the elementary school buildings hold book fairs. Each student in the building is able to shop at the fair and make a wish list of items to purchase. Teachers can make wish lists for their classrooms also. A fifth-grade student had won a gift certificate to the school book fair and made her purchases: a book for each of her brothers, a book for the class “wish list,” and nothing for herself. When asked why she decided to give away her winnings, she answered, “It’s more fun to give.” Share everything.
Hopefully, we as adults have learned and lived many of the lessons recorded on the poster. If fortunate, we are challenged and reminded of those lessons by our children daily. In the words of Angela Schwindt, “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”