Going to kindergarten on the first day was a pretty scary thing back in the long-ago fifties when I went. One reason was that most of us including me had never been to anything like school except for vacation Bible school before we were five years old. Now days, children start in at the Day Care Center when they are a couple months old and never spend much time at all at home during the day. By the time that first day of kindergarten comes along they have a couple of years of pre-school under their belt. For the modern day kindergartner the experience could be described pretty much the same as my father used to say as he headed out the door to catch the morning commuter train, “just another day at the office”.
But when I went to kindergarten that first day of school, well, it was nothing less than traumatic. When I was five I had just gotten to the point where I could spend a good portion of my day outside roaming around the neighborhood doing what kids back then did in a very safe environment. I admit I won the birth lottery. I was five years old when the country was pretty safe for five year olds. My parents were part of the middle class, upwardly mobile and such. They had just won the war to make the whole world relatively safe, let alone our neighborhood. My Dad went to work and my mom stayed home. In fact most of the mom’s stayed home and one of their bigger jobs was to make sure the neighborhood was safe.
They did that by keeping an eye out, watching what was going on outside and inside the house. If I was down the street or at my friend’s house, an adult was never very far from a call of help away. I really liked my life before the age of five. I didn’t pack up my stuff in a backpack every day to head off to pre=school to hang with kids and adults that I “sort of” knew. I headed out for adventure with my pals- building forts in vacant lots (not too many tea parties for me), playing ball and riding my bike with playing cards clothes-pinned to the spokes to sound like a motor cycle. No organized activities, no play dates (what on earth was a play date?) for this kid. All of which is to say that the first day of kindergarten was a real bummer.
There I was in my new first-day-of-school dress with only a few kids I knew and a teacher who I absolutely did not know. Gone were the carefree days, making a tent with a blanket thrown over the clothes line, wearing my jeans and play shoes (although I really liked my new Buster Brown school shoes). Even recess was a bummer. The “playground” was nothing like the playground of my neighborhood haunts. It was just a flat asphalt and grass “yard” with a couple jungle gyms and a basketball hoop. Big whoop-not a tree to climb in sight. Which brings me to our pal “Rover”.
My friend had a collie whose name was Rover. Back in the day people actually named their dogs dog-names, like Rover or Spike, Lassie, Duke or Bowser. Rover did exactly what a dog of such a name would be expected to do. He roved around the neighborhood. There was no leash law at that time which gets back to the fact that the moms were in charge of neighborhood safety. Nobody had a dangerous dog because it just was not allowed by the moms to let a dangerous dog rove the neighborhood. And nobody cared much where the dogs did their “business” because you would have to clean up after one dog or another, yours or the neighbor’s, in any case. So there was no need for a leash law which made dogs like Rover very happy I am sure.
Everyone walked to school back then-no buses, no parent rides. So Rover came to kindergarten with us that first day. Not just that day, but every day. My dog would follow along for a while but eventually go back home. Not Rover. He stayed on a porch right outside the kindergarten door the whole time we were there. In the winter time our teacher brought a blanket and Rover had a place inside. He was part of our kindergarten class and school was just barely, well…okay.
Looking back on it Rover was quite a special dog. I doubt that many dogs have the disposition to be a member of a kindergarten class. How lucky we all were to have him. Having Rover made it considerably less scary going to school and even allowed me to relax enough to like school-just a little at first. Of course by today’s standards we, that is, our school teachers and principal could never have Rover in kindergarten-the violation of the leash law, the safety and health Codes involved, the lawyers to consult, the School Board, complaints of parents…the objections are never ending. And today kids have all that pre-school background so why on earth would any of them be afraid of going to kindergarten? They have all been prepared for the big day when they will succeed with all due diligence and lack of fear. Why on earth would any kid need a Rover today?
No one can turn the clock back and no one can bring their dog to school today. Life is different for many of our children today. Many of us recognize, that some children do not come to us emotionally prepared and with the need for some sort of Rover that they can hang onto…just long enough to maybe make school and learning a little bit more comfortable. Perhaps the challenge for educators is to find the modern day” Rover” to have in our school.
Dr. Carolyn Koos