It All Started with Kindergarten
June 1980

“It All Started with Kindergarten,” Ensign, June 1980, 35

It All Started with Kindergarten

The bright May sunshine streamed in the door, highlighting five-year-old Megan’s pony-tail as she shouted, “Mom, I’m home!” And then she added as the door slammed behind her, “Guess what we did today? Played jump rope.” And she began to bounce up and down as she chanted. “Cinderella dressed in yella.” Four-year-old Sean emerged at this moment from his second session with Sesame Street. Megan pointed at his jeans and shouted, “Blue, blue, you’ve got the flu.” Heather too appeared and was informed at once that she was a bean because her dress was green. Baby Bronson won the “red, white, blue, pinches on you” award, which produced a storm of tears. I promptly called my four children to lunch.

Suddenly Megan put down her sandwich, and her eyes grew very round as she solemnly asked, “Do you know what Cindy’s big brother calls her when he’s mad?” I suspected I didn’t want to know, but she told us anyway. I had been right—another unwelcome word had been added to our family vocabulary! It appeared again from time to time throughout the day—including the exact moment when my husband Brian walked in the door from work.

“What did she say?” he asked.

“A new word contributed to the kindergarten by Cindy’s big brother,” I explained.

Things were a little confusing at that moment. Three or four visiting children were sprawled with Sean in front of the television. Megan and two friends were playing dolls in the basement. Heather was almost in tears because the big six-year-olds wouldn’t play with a baby of only three, and Bronson was sure he was starving and was complaining loudly.

That night when the children were asleep, Brian brought up the bad word and others like it that had entered our home that year via the kindergarten. “You know,” he mused, “if we don’t really make sure we’re teaching the children our values, they could end up missing them altogether. This is only the beginning. Next year two of them will be in school, and already Sean seems to prefer his playmates to the family.”

“He worries me,” I interjected, “because he watches so much television. He’d watch anything if I would let him.”

“Well,” Brian continued, “now that summer is coming, maybe we can spend more time with them. You’ll have them all day long, and you can teach them to work and feel like they are really important to the family.”

“Remember last summer?” I groaned. “It was a disaster!”

The previous summer had not contributed much to family unity. Little playmates had called early and late. I found it difficult to make sure that the children completed even their little chores. Worst of all was my frustration. I couldn’t seem to accomplish anything without constant interruptions: “What can I do now?” “Johnny is being mean to me!” “The other kids won’t play with me.” “They are breaking my toys!” I was rushing from one crisis to another, finding things to keep them busy and then picking up crayons, papers, clay, and toys after them all day long. Evenings were not much better. When Dad tried to tumble on the grass with his children, he soon became the neighborhood playmate, and when we tried to work with our children in the garden, they were constantly being lured away to play with other children.

We were holding family home evenings with our children, but their interest spans were so short that the lessons couldn’t last more than five or ten minutes. Somehow that didn’t seem to be enough time to teach them our family ideals and all the wonderful gospel truths.

As we talked we decided we would have to do something to limit our children’s unsupervised time and insure that we would really have time with them to teach and reinforce our values. Three major goals grew out of our discussion that night:

1. Actively teach the children our values and include such things as good manners and health habits; gospel principles; development of talents and creativity; self-confidence; appreciation for music, art, and literature; and the importance of good family memories that would enhance our feelings of family unity and also be a foundation each child could build his own adult life on.

2. Teach them to work and contribute to the well-being of the family.

3. Control the amount of time spent playing with other children and watching television.

Then we established a daily schedule. We would all work until about 10:00 A.M. cleaning the house, doing assigned jobs and sometimes filling assignments in the garden. From 10:00 to noon I would really teach the children. Noon to 2:00 P.M. would be lunch and quiet time. Two to 5:30 was to be free play time, and at 5:30 our children would come home and their friends would leave so we could be ready to greet dad as he returned from work. Then we would have dinner and spend the evening together as a complete family.

With these goals in mind I prayerfully set about to make our plans work. I knew that when the children first saw the schedule they would only be able to see that they were being deprived of play time, so I felt that my first task was to make our morning learning time as attractive as possible. I called it school because the children already loved to play school. When I told the children about our plans for the summer, I emphasized the fun we would have in school, and even though they felt that 2:00 P.M. was pretty late in the day, they could see the advantages of having my undivided attention for the whole morning, so they were pretty enthusiastic.

I made some general plans for the entire summer of school, including such subjects as personal cleanliness, manners, insects, American history (for the week of July 4), and pioneers (for July 24), and then each week I added more details and plans. Our school was more like a Primary class than a school, I’m sure, because that’s where my experience had been. We sang songs, read lots of stories, played little games, and always did some art or craft activity. We made frequent trips to the library all summer, and I tried to find books that would reinforce whatever lesson I was trying to teach that week. I soon learned to soft-pedal the lessons. The children liked to do things with their hands and bodies and were happy and involved if they were busy, but when I started lecturing, first their eyes and minds would wander and then their bodies would soon follow. One day a week we changed the format and had a cooking class. They loved this and learned a lot about measuring, greasing pans, reading recipes, and even putting things away when they were through.

Our mornings went smoothly, and the surface housework was quickly finished because they were looking forward to school. They were learning skills, such as making beds, as well as attitudes—cooperation, sharing, and obedience.

School was a real joy. I learned so much that summer about my four little ones—their talents, the way they approached an activity, their interests—and I learned to love them even more. We had many wonderful moments snuggled together reading stories. I think there is no greater satisfaction for a parent than seeing his children learn and grow, and I had many opportunities to see my children do just that.

After lunch everyone had to rest. The two little ones napped, but the older children also had to be quiet. Sometimes they napped too, for summer days can be very long for little people. Megan used this time to teach herself to read. This was a wonderful time for me as well—I could rest or sew or plan for tomorrow’s school. I was grateful for a time to catch up on my quiet activities. However, our main struggle of the summer developed during this time too. “After all,” it was pointed out to me, “1:30 is almost 2:00.” But I remained firm, and gradually 2:00 became the magic hour. The children actually helped me enforce that rule, for if Sean couldn’t play, he was sure to inform Megan’s friends that she couldn’t play either, and she did the same for his friends.

At 2:00 the children burst forth, full of enthusiasm, and added a whole new dimension to the neighborhood. They often wanted their friends to share our activity for the day, so they would invite them to play with clay, watercolor, cut and paste, put on a play or puppet show, listen to a record, or whatever we had been doing that morning. By this time I had learned to make them clean up their own messes when they wanted to participate in such a project, so I didn’t have to spend the whole afternoon picking up after them. There was much less quarreling and destructiveness, and somehow they were able to find quite a bit to do when they knew they only had a few hours in which to do it.

We hadn’t been holding school very long when I discovered one wonderful by-product of this organization—more time. In spite of the extra time I was spending with the children, I found that I was able to do more sewing, cleaning, cooking, and other projects than I had the previous summer. By being organized and prepared to keep the children busy, I was able to do it in less time and with less effort than the previous summer when I was always trying to solve problems after they occurred.

We also found that being on the offensive made parenthood a lot more fun. There did come a time when I knew I couldn’t stand the dirty windows and cluttered cupboards any longer, but we solved that problem by declaring one cooking day a window-and-cupboard-cleaning day. The children really enjoyed washing the windows, playing in the water, and taking things out of the cupboards and wiping them out. It was playtime by the time I was ready to put things back in the cupboards, and they were happy to leave, so I was able to organize things in peace. They were very proud of their clean windows and cupboards and felt good about their contributions to the family.

The best time of the day was when dad came home. The entire afternoon pointed to this time. We tried to make it special by straightening the house, combing our hair, and sometimes putting on clean clothes. Everyone was anxious to see dad and tell him about our day. He admired the children’s projects and often reinforced a lesson by talking with the children about what they had learned that day. We spent many evenings without interruptions just enjoying ourselves as a family.

When that summer ended, I almost forgot summer school—it had been valuable for one summer, but I had not given much thought to extending it through succeeding years. However, the children had. They would bring home projects from kindergarten and then grade school with the comment:

“This would be fun to make in our school next summer.”

“Next summer when we do soap carving I’m going to make a pick-up truck.”

“Remember when we fingerpainted with chocolate pudding? Wasn’t that fun? Let’s do that again next summer.”

We seemed to have started a tradition, and so it has been.

In the summers since, we have had three more children who also consider summer school indispensable to their lives. The other children have grown older and developed new interests, found new friends, and faced different problems, but our summer school has remained constant. One summer we included swimming lessons as part of our school. Another summer found us spending most of our evenings working on our new house together. Specific tasks and activities have changed with time, but our basic goals of teaching the children the gospel and our values while building a strong family unity have not changed. Now that the older children can read, they take on more leadership roles in our summer school.

Our summer program has made such a positive difference in our family that others have inquired about it. Although ours is a program tailored to our unique family situation, it has been our experience that other families could apply the same principles and come up with their own summer programs.

We are still bombarded constantly by worldly influences, and we still have many problems each day to solve within our family, but we know that our children are learning the difference between the ways of the world and the ways of the Lord, for we are teaching them these things. Our sense of family importance grows stronger all the time. We still face problems, yet we are making progress together, and we can see a measurable gain in the happiness of each family member as every new summer rolls around.

Sample Lessons for a Few Weeks of Summer School

I plan three days of lessons per week because we plan a special activity or excursion for one day and we have cooking on another. These plans mostly cover the activity time of our school, but I sometimes include games, songs, or stories that tie into the subject for the week.

We include a week on cleanliness every year because two-and three-year-olds (we always seem to have at least one) need to be taught about it, and the review doesn’t seem to hurt eight- and ten-year-olds. Some of the activities may vary from year to year, but I try to teach the same basic lessons.

A Cleanliness Week

First day: Everyone into the bathroom for a demonstration and practice session on washing hands and faces. We include wiping out the sink and hanging up the towel. Art activity: Soap carving. The children may keep and use their creations to wash with.

Second day:Talk about brushing teeth. Each child makes his own poster or chart to help him remember to brush his teeth.

Third day: Make up a puppet show about Dirty Dan and Clean Cal or Tommy Tooth and the sugar monsters. These are just suggestions to get the children thinking; they will come up with their own story line. Make puppets to tell the story, and rehearse the show for presentation to Dad.

Fourth day—cooking: We would be sure to make healthy treats this week, such as carrot curls, radish roses, and whole wheat crackers.

A Week Devoted to Sense of Touch

First day: Game—blindfolded child handles a common object and describes how it feels. Everyone gets at least one turn. Activity—Finger paint with chocolate pudding.

Second day: Activity—Make things with homemade salt clay. Talk about how it feels as we squeeze it, roll it, rub it, etc.

Third day: Game—two sacks contain a variety of identical objects. The blindfolded child reaches into one sack and feels an object. Then he must find the identical object in the other bag by feeling. Art activity—Make collages from different kinds of fabrics, laces, buttons, etc. Talk about different textures, etc.

Fourth day—cooking: Each child kneads his own loaf of homemade bread, and we mention the feelings again.

A Musical Week

First day: Listen to a recording of The Moldau and water color pictures representing the way the music makes us feel.

Second day: Dance how the music makes us feel as we listen to samples of marches, ballets, waltzes, and folk music. Make rolled newspaper sticks and learn the Maori stick game.

Third day: Learn a new song and let each child make an illustration for the song.

The Week before the Fourth of July

First day: Fold soldier hats and let the children decorate them.

Second day: Make paper flags and attach them to sticks.

Third day: Make simple rhythm band instruments and have a parade.

Sample Daily Summer School Schedule

Song: Chosen and led by a child.

Prayer: By a child.

Story from the scriptures: By mom until the children are old enough. Then they take turns presenting it. They may use a flannel board, picture, tape recording, or book to make it more interesting.

Games: Chosen and led by a child, these are usually circle games or other children’s games, such as “Simon Says” or “Follow the Leader.”

Story time: We talk about the lesson of the day (see list that follows) very briefly and read a story or two. If possible, I try to find library books to go with the day’s lesson.

Exercises: Led by a child.

Snack time: The children have a cracker, some fruit, or a cookie while Mom reads aloud a chapter of a book. (Last summer it was Tom Sawyer.)

Activity time: Usually an art or craft activity that goes with the day’s lesson. Sometimes I also include a page of math for each child.

Clean up and get ready for lunch: After everything is put away, the children can have a short recess in our yard while I fix lunch.

Art and Craft Ideas

Clay dough—sometimes we dry and save their favorite creations.

Finger painting with chocolate pudding.

Carving soap.

Mosaics made with colored beans, rice, etc.

Collages made from sewing scraps, aluminum foil, and whatever else is handy.

Water coloring.

Making designs by tracing around a number of objects of the same shape but different sizes and then coloring them as they choose.

Making puppets and then making up a play for them.

Putting on plays.

Making rhythm band instruments, hats, and flags and having a parade.

Decorating bikes, trikes, and wagons for a community or Primary parade.

Making posters or charts to help each other remember to brush their teeth.

Making cars, boats, fire engines, etc., out of old cardboard boxes.

Making pinwheels for a breezy day.

Coloring large self pictures after another person has traced around each child’s body on a large piece of paper.

Looking at and adding to their baby books.

Cutting pictures from magazines and making books on subjects such as cars and trucks, animals, things I like to eat, etc.

Weaving with yarn on cardboard looms.

  • Petrea Kelly, homemaker and mother of eight children, serves as Relief Society Spiritual Living teacher in the Highland Fifth Ward, Alpine Utah Stake.

Illustrated by Shauna Mooney

Photography by Brian Kelly