When my son started kindergarten this fall, I wasn’t sure what he’d make of everything: the little desks, the rows of bookshelves, the big gymnasium, the bright yellow bus. And once he comes home, the newest elementary school student can be on the quiet side. “Who’d you play with at recess?” I ask casually, though secretly I want to know more. My appetite for kindergarten stories is endless. In fact, I wish I could see the whole day unfold from a camera on the boy’s shoulder. “The girl across the bus from me picks her nose,” he reported one day. I was unsurprised. Which was quite different from the reaction I had hearing him describe to his old preschool teacher a new ritual that happens every morning in kindergarten.
As he entered his old preschool classroom with a confident gait of someone who has seen bigger places, he immediately began to compare preschool with elementary school. The elementary room was bigger, and the work was a lot harder, and the playground was a lot cooler. Also, he colored a great picture of a frog at school. Did she want to see it? His preschool teacher assured him she would love to see his work. Then he admitted that there was something, well, a little bit weird about kindergarten. “What is it, William?” she asked. He leaned in close, as though sharing very confidential information. “All those people talk to the flag,” he replied. “The flag is hanging there at the front of the room, and they just talk to it. Everyday. And they say the same thing. Isn’t that so weird?” The preschool teacher waited for a beat. Finally, she said, “Well, William, that’s called the Pledge of Allegiance, and a lot of schools start the day with it.” My son looked at her and cocked his head. “Oh, okay,” he said, as though that explained everything.
The preschool teacher and I made eye contact and start giggling. Of all the things I thought William would be surprised by in his new school it never occurred to me that “talking to the flag” was going to be one of them, although, on second thought, his confusion seems pretty normal. This makes me wonder, as I often do, what else he thinks is going on in kindergarten.