Kindergarten Room Talk


There’s been a lot of buzz in the news lately about locker room talk–what it is, what it isn’t, who engages in it–and while I’ve loved reading professional athletes’ indignant responses, denying that Trump’s vulgar and rape-culture remarks are common in their locker rooms, I think it’s naive to assume they don’t happen somewhere. They do. And it’s a problem so overwhelmingly (and maybe you think this is the wrong word, but I’ll use it) sad, I chose not to watch the debate Sunday night, in the hope of preserving my hopeful self. My dignified self. The self that resists craning my neck as I drive by a horrible car accident. The self I want to present when I volunteer in a neighborhood kindergarten classroom each week.

I missed the month of September but I was welcomed yesterday with (quite literally) open arms to a kindergarten classroom of my neighborhood Minneapolis elementary school. There is a new class of children vs last year, of course, and woe to me for not recognizing the family resemblance between one child in the class this year and his brother (who I now recall from last year). “How could you not remember [my brother]?’ was the evenly tempered question. No indignation, no name-calling, no foul language.

I should have remembered this boy’s brother. I apologized. What’s more, I’ll try to be more attentive to things like this–important relationships, respecting and appreciating a child’s claim to and pride in family. It’s one of many things to learn from kindergarten room talk.

Here’s some more kindergarten room talk worth noting: Question from a student:
“[Teacher], can we have a snack?” Answer from the teacher: “Of course you can have a snack.” It was a kindergarten room snack worth noting: fresh, whole pears. Messy, sticky, whole fruit. Devoured with relish by the children, or in some cases, half-eaten. No problem. These are five- and six-year-olds, after all. They get hungry. They need real food, in small amounts, often. I can’t remember the last time I was so happy to see half-eaten pears, or hear the talk of children eating good, real food. “This is really good.” “Where’s my pear?” “[Name of child], don’t forget to finish your pear!” Lovely kindergarten room talk.

There was discussion, understandably, around activities in which several children wished to participate, but had to wait their turn. “That group is filled for now,” explained the teacher, with the patience of Job, “but we’ll switch in 10 minutes.” Deferred gratification–what a concept. Or how about permission? This one is particularly tough for small children, but examples of asking and receiving permission abounded in the classroom yesterday. Teacher: You need to ask if you can borrow…x. You need to ask if [another child] would like to sit with you. And there were constant reminders about personal space:  Keep your hands to yourself. No pushing.

It feels entirely possible that this kind of thinking will permeate a child’s young brain and be available for use when, for example, as an adolescent who wants to kiss someone, he or she sees it is more prudent to wait. And then to ask. Fine kindergarten room talk, for the ages.

One child in the class, J, uses a wheelchair for mobility at least part of the day. Some of the talk at a table around which a few children gathered (including J) was about the future. “Next year, my brother will be in grade two, and I’ll be in grade one, and you, too, J. Only you’ll still be in a wheelchair.”  J appeared to have no problem with this. I did, a little: Did J feel like he was being singled out, in a negative way? I said, Sure, and he’ll be stronger and bigger just like you. Was it a kindness, or an unnecessary over-compensation?

Not all kindergarten room talk is easy. A person might even think about it, long after they leave the room.

Before lining up for lunch, the children were asked to say one thing they liked about the morning’s activities. Children who had already spoken occasionally strayed into their own conversations, or let their attention fall away from the group. The teacher said, “Children, we need to be kind and listen when our classmates speak.”

Fine, fine kindergarten room talk.

Maybe we all need to listen particularly well this week. And maybe we can all–try, anyway–to think before we speak this week. To put what we say (and do?) to the kindergarten room talk test.








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