Life Lessons – 101

A few years after I got my feet wet teaching, I read Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  That had a profound influence on my career.  His opening essay seemed to take all the stars in the sky and bring them to earth in a simple package; for me it validated what I was learning, and how I was teaching children.

I knew that the ‘little things’ mattered the most, because they were really the big things in life.  I felt renewed, and I followed my common sense and also my heart in teaching.  I paid close attention to children and I began to become a child myself.  That made me human to children.  In that way, I could truly teach.  And I do.

Here is his essay:

Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.

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 everyday 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.

I still have this essay, folded and slightly yellowed.  I read it from time to time.  It’s important.  Today children live in a bigger world.  There’s a much larger lens out there, and what they see is often tainted with lures that influence their thinking.  Sadly, those lures influence their heart.  If we, parents and teachers and adults, can stick with teaching children the important things, like Robert Fulghum did, that’s the best teaching we can do.  Being loved and being valued = learning love and values.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in behavior, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, preschool, Quotes, Teaching young children, wonder and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to Life Lessons – 101

  1. beth says:

    I have always loved this

  2. Norah says:

    That’s a brilliant essay. I believe it too. What an influential book.

  3. Darlene says:

    This has always stuck with me too. Thanks for reminding us.

  4. Opher says:

    Great philosophy. Life can be simple.

  5. beetleypete says:

    I think that your secret is knowing how to become a child again. That makes you relate to children so well. Sadly, I have never mastered that skill in later life.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      I think you have uncovered my secret, Pete. Really. It took me a long while to become a child again. It is a world of seeing and understanding far beyond what we adults do. Thank you!

  6. abbiosbiston says:

    These are all the most important principles in life.

  7. quiall says:

    I loved that book and it is so true!

  8. Ritu says:

    Wonderful words ❤

  9. Some insights are just timeless.
    I guess you-know-who never went to kindergarten…(please forgive me, but I couldn’t stop myself -)

  10. John Fioravanti says:

    This is a great post, Jennie! I have never seen this list before.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, John. This was a hugely popular essay decades ago. Back then, every teacher knew this. It is just as timeless and important today. I want to keep it alive.

  11. petespringerauthor says:

    Many words of wisdom in those thoughts. A hot topic of conversation here is the notion that kindergarten has become too academic and needs to return to more of a focus on social skills. I imagine you hear the same talk where you teach, Jennie. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you raised the question. This essay is decades old, and was very popular with teachers – because they knew every word was true. It still is!! One of the reasons I posted this is to remind parents and teachers what matters most. While academics in kindergarten have unfortunately changed, children have not. Children grow and develop as they always have. The push for academics is stressing kids out. From holding a pencil properly, to subitizing, to testing. Kindergarten children learn by doing and exploring. They need lots of time outdoors to figure thing out, from how to climb, to how a spider web is constructed, to how to negotiate problems with classmates. A child who is socially and emotionally adjusted, and has the curiosity to learn is ready for kindergarten. When higher academic expectations are in place, it doesn’t match, so it’s a lose-lose situation.

  12. cindy knoke says:

    Wonderful and so true!

  13. That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?

  14. Dan Antion says:

    I remember when I first read that and though how simple and true it really was.

  15. Profound lessons for us all, Jennie… ❤ Sharing everywhere!

  16. I remember reading this when the book first came out. Rereading it today, all I can say is, that’s the life I want to live.

    • Jennie says:

      I remember it well when it first came out. I want to make sure it is never forgotten, because the message needs to stay alive. It’s the life I want to live, too. I’m glad you reread the book today, Liz.

  17. I love that book, Jennie. I read Fulghum’s essay at my cousin’s wedding about 30 years ago. And I guess it was good advice because they’re still married. 🙂 🙂 Thanks for the memory and the smile.

    • Jennie says:

      What a great story! I’m glad it brought you wonderful memories. This essay needs to be handed down to generations of teachers and parents, and never forgotten. Thank you, Diana! 🙂

  18. I’ve always wanted to read that book and now I know I will. I love the essay and am looking forward to learning more.

  19. Ellen says:

    There is a shelf on my bookcase that has a row of Robert Fulghum’s books that began when this treasure was published. My copy is now worn and probably needs replacing as it has been read, reread and traveled through many homes of family & friends. One of my favorite Fulghum quotes is found in “Maybe (Maybe Not)” : “I’ve always thought that anyone can make money. Making a life worth living, that’s the real test.” Jennie, you have passed that test with flying colors! It is a marvel that Fulghum, at 82 years of age, still writes Robert’s Journal weekly on his website. Thank-you!

    • Jennie says:

      How wonderful to have so many of his books! I learned that the worn books are the best as they are well loved. I love his quote – thank you for that. And, I had no idea that he still writes a weekly journal. I must find that on line! Thank you, Ellen. 🙂

  20. dgkaye says:

    Fantastic article Jennie, and that poem is a gem. Yes, it all begins in kindergarten where the basics are taught. 🙂 x

  21. So true, Jennie! Thank you very much for the book recommendation. Best wishes, Michael

  22. Pingback: Life Lessons – 101 – Navigating Life

  23. Jane Lurie says:

    This was always an inspiration in my teaching days and beyond. Thanks for the reminder of these wise words, Jennie.

  24. Definitely words to live by Jennie.

  25. Being loved and being valued = learning love and values. So true. My husband says there are three things necessary for a solid relationship: trust, honesty, and respect. Sounds easy but we’re seeing a lot of people who haven’t learned to live with those principles.

  26. joylennick says:

    Such wise, necessary, words and sentiments, Jennie. If only everyone paid heed to such values and love. Thank you.

  27. I so remember his book, and I loved every word of it!!! Yes, works for me for sure. And I have to have my nap every day too and drink my milk! What wonders we can learn from children.

  28. eddieb says:

    “His opening essay seemed to take all the stars in the sky and bring them to earth in a simple package”. That one sentence alone makes me want to read his book. Very nicely put

  29. SHRUTI DUBEY says:

    Hi, i have nominated you for the sunshine blogger award: I hope you will accept my nomination and have fun answering the questions.

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