August is almost over and if you listen real hard as you bend down to pick the JG-TC off your front stoop you can hear the unmistakable sound of the Blue Bird Buses in your neighborhood. I can’t help but feel just a bit of empathy for those older kids who dread this time of year, who stepped off that school bus in late May thinking it was going to be the “Summer That Never Ends” only to rudely discover that it always does.
So I bring to you, from the Oct. 10, 1980, Journal Gazette, this Lifestyle feature from Craig Sanders about early testing for development skills during kindergarten. Sure we all know the bad attitude the pre-teen in your life had blazing in their eyes when you rousted them out of bed that first day of school this year, but the kindergartners? I recently asked two soon-to-be 4-year-olds, who were in the middle of their Happy Meals, how excited they were to be starting school, and given how much they told me about what they thought school was going be, I’d say they were very excited.
My kindergarten classroom, at Humboldt Elementary, was in the front half of an auxiliary building that according to Google Maps still stands today. The back half of that same building was still full of old shop equipment from the school’s days as a junior high. I can’t tell you how weird it was to quietly shuffle single file through a room full of old band saws when Mrs. Boyd would lead us to the playground.
Oh, the things I learned. I learned the alphabet thanks to “The Letter People”, an educational holdover from the ‘70s where the alphabet was represented by anthropomorphic letter “people,” each one having a theme that matched their letter as well an inflatable mascot to hang in the classroom and a record for the teacher to play with their corresponding song. Now I don’t mean to sound like “that kid” but thanks to my parents picking up an entire book of Letter People flash cards from a garage sale I was already quite familiar with both The Letter People and the alphabet, which led to one dark school day when I was unable to convince my misunderstood classmates that “J”’s song was all about “Junk” and not about “Jumping”. Imagine me…5 years old, in a panic, trying to stop everyone from hopping about in their seats by screaming “No, no…it’s junk…it’s JUNK!”
Play group time was a big deal too; groups of four students at a time taking their turns at color-coded stations, each with their own activity. For the record, I do remember my particular play group: “Tiffany”, “Ben”, “Ryan” and “Clint” (me). I also recall that my favorite activity station, the one I’d wait for in quiet desperation each day, was the “Green” station because that was the one with the Electronic Simon Game. You know the one…the round thing with the four colored buttons that would light up and you had to match the patterns? I loved that thing. How is it possible that I have shelves and shelves of vintage board games and I do not have a Simon?
And then there was the cursive. I distinctly remember sitting there at my little table with my chunky pencil that while I showed up loaded for bear when it came to writing my first name, my first attempts to write my last name were exercises in scribbly failure. I got it eventually, thanks to those fine folks at D'Nealian teaching me cursive, but still, I really wish I would have showed up more prepared.
By the way, if you’re ever thinking of bringing anything community-related to our office and you’ve got it written in cursive? Please reconsider, I beg of you. The day I know cursive is no longer taught in schools is the day I know a little light has been lit in the world.
In Medical-Related Kindergarten news, I was one of the few students who emerged from the great Chicken Pox epidemic unscathed and unscratched, leading me to think that I was immune to the disease all the way until I caught it from a girl named Kari in my sophomore Term Paper class at MHS. I was laid up with that stuff for an entire week. According to my mother, I had it so bad she couldn’t bear to take a picture of me, not even for blackmail material someday.
Along those lines there was also the time I broke my arm standing on the school bus when it hit a particularly nasty bump on East County Road 1500 N and I landed on my forearm. Nothing like sitting there waiting for your parents to pick you up while having to rest your broken wing on a sweaty, hot, beanbag made out of a couple squares of stitched-together denim because someone couldn’t run to the teachers’ lounge for some ice.
Kindergarten ended, like summers do. And I’d return to Humboldt for grades 1-5, and each year I’d learn a little bit more and little bit more, usually eager to do so as we were quite a gang of lovable cutups moving our way collectively through the Humboldt grade school system. I still remember all my teachers, from beginning to end: Mrs. Boyd, Mrs. Genta, Mrs. Pierce, Mrs. Sawyer, Mrs. Edwards, and the funniest of the bunch, Mr. Gibbons. I didn’t start “hating” school (a strong word, but you know what I mean) until the referendum sent all us Humboldt Kids to Hawthorne. Sad, but that was the day when going to school became an adventure in learning how to fly under the radar after realizing the antics that made you such a likeable class clown at Humboldt made you a liability to the teacher’s strict rules on near-constant classroom silence in Mattoon.
So for the kindergartners starting this school year, armed with their Teen Titans Go backpacks and Shimmer and Shine lunchboxes, I hope that day comes for them as late as it possibly can.