I was sitting with a group of teachers and parents preparing to write specifications for a new elementary school. To give an idea of what might be included, I showed them what had been written for a kindergarten room in another school. Included was a line about the room size, the need for child-sized toilets, the number of children and adults expected to be in the space, flooring and ventilation, and then a description of some of the items that might be found in a typical kindergarten room, including things like a playhouse, art center (easels, sink), quiet corner, place for small animals, climbing structure, music area, blocks, storage and tables and chairs for early learning activities for children who are ready.

“We don’t need all that play stuff,” a kindergarten teacher said.“That’s not our program. We teach reading and writing in kindergarten in this school.”

Kindergarten Is For Learning

I must admit to being somewhat taken aback by the vehemence of that remark, and to being saddened. I remember the wonder of my own kindergarten and that of my children. Kindergarten in those days was a wonderful new experience, often the first experience a child had with learning and taking direction (and falling in love) with an adult other than a parent. It was an introduction to school, to playing and being with other children and to learning.

A year or two ago, I participated in a debate about full-day and half-day kindergarten. One educator said he didn’t think providing a full day of kindergarten was important because all the children did was“nap and play” in the afternoon. If the children were not learning (that means learning to read and write), there was no point in spending the money and having them in a school program.

Is that what has happened to kindergarten in the new era of “No Child Left Behind”? Is kindergarten going to be just another year of academics and testing?

I was reminded of the wonderful book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,”* by Robert Fulghum and particularly of my favorite excerpt:

“All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten…. These are the things I learned.

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.


Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint 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. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup — the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup — they all die. So do we.”

If kindergarten is going to be just another place where children are taught to read and write, if there is no longer time and space for play, for sharing, for experiencing art and music and just having fun, when will children learn these really important lessons of life?

Unfortunately, the answer may be that in our rush to prepare children for their first standardized tests, we are forgetting about all the other things that are important to education and to growing up. Many children may learn to read early, at the expense of failing to learn how to live and act and behave in the adult world they will soon be entering.

If those lessons of life are not going to be taught in kindergarten, maybe we should offer a new course in high school to be taken in the last semester, after the SATs and other tests are out of the way. It could be called, “Things I should have learned in kindergarten that were left out because they weren’t measured on a standardized test.” Fulghum’s list would be the curriculum.

Excerpt from, All I Really Need To Know I learned in Kindergarten, Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things by Robert Fulghum (Copyright 1986, 1988 by Robert L Fulghum); Published by Villard Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

About the Author

Paul Abramson is education industry analyst for SP&M and president of Stanton Leggett & Associates, an educational facilities consulting firm based in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He was named CEPFI’s 2008 "Planner of the Year."