I started kindergarten in Corvallis, Oregon, in September 1961, when I was five-and-a-half. I was so excited to finally be in real school—I had a neighbor friend who was a second-grader, and she told me how wonderful school was. She had lorded it over me, because she went to real school, and I was just in pre-school. Even kindergarten was just for “little kids” she told me.
I remember quite a bit of my kindergarten days that September. We played outside. We played in the classroom. We sat in a circle and learned about Little Red Riding Hood and not talking to strangers.
Another girl and I had identical nap-time rugs—pink, in the shape of a kitty-cat. We fought over which of us got to put her rug in the favorite cubby hole. I don’t remember why we both liked this one particular cubby hole, but we had daily battles to get there first.
In addition to the usual play-time and nap-time of half-day kindergarten in the early 1960s, we were exposed to books each day. The teacher passed out easy readers and picture books, and the kids thumbed through them. When we finished looking at one book, we put it in a stack and took another.
Most of the kindergartners looked at the pictures. But I read the words. It was no big deal—I read much harder books at home.
One day during our third week of school, the teacher noticed I was reading a book. She asked me to read out loud to her. I did. She gave me another book and asked me to read it. I did. And a third.
The next day, she had me read to the principal. That afternoon my mother got a call. They wanted to move me up to first grade.
I was so excited—I would be a big kid! I’d be going to school all day long! The neighbor girl couldn’t lord it over me any more. And maybe in the back of my mind was the realization I wouldn’t have to fight over a cubby hole any longer.
My mother wasn’t as happy about my potential promotion as I was. She and I went to a meeting at the school with my teacher and the principal. They told my mother I would be bored in kindergarten. They said I’d even be ahead of the first-graders, because they couldn’t read either.
I begged and begged, and my parents finally decided I could go to first grade. (I really don’t remember my father being involved much in this discussion, but he must have been.)
The next Monday I marched into the first grade classroom with my mother. The teacher was a very kind young woman whose name was “Mary Theresa” just like mine. (I don’t remember her last name, except that she was a Miss, and was getting married when that school year was over.) She made me feel right at home, and I immediately loved first grade.
I was a superstar in that first grade classroom, because I could read. One boy could read some, but not as well as I could. “Wead to me, Teweesa, wead to me,” one little girl commanded daily, shoving a book into my hands. And I happily read to her.
I wasn’t as good at arithmetic, but I soon caught on to the basic counting and adding and subtracting the class was doing. And I practiced my penmanship, which was far behind my reading skills.
Unfortunately, I only remained in that wonderful first grade class for a few weeks. We moved from Corvallis back to Richland, Washington, in October 1961, because my father had finished his Ph.D. dissertation and was returning to work for General Electric at the Hanford Engineering Works. I remember drawing pumpkins in Corvallis, then we moved to Richland, where my new class drew Pilgrims.
Many years later, I learned why my mother hadn’t wanted me to be moved to first grade. She wanted me to start as a first-grader the following September at Christ the King Catholic School in Richland. Christ the King didn’t have a kindergarten in those days, so all the children started as first graders. However, there were no openings at Christ the King for first-graders in October 1961, so I spent the rest of my first grade year in public school at Jefferson Elementary School in Richland.
More on that next week.
What do you remember about your first experiences in school?