Good stuff like buttoning my coat and tying my shoelaces, “One, two, button my shoe.” That didn’t make sense to me but we learned it anyway. I also learned to say Please, Thank you, and May I. To share even when I didn’t want to, and to say sorry even if I wasn’t. Good safety habits like “Look both ways before crossing a street” and “Never hit back.”
The kids at Mrs. McIntosh’s learned to bow our heads and say a blessing before eating, and to be quiet and still on our little mats at nap time. I seldom fell sleep in the daytime but my imagination could keep me plenty occupied while waiting for the other kids to wake up.
I learned to count to ten and to write my numbers in big broad strokes. I learned how to grip the fat pencil and stay inside the ruled lines as I wrote my ABC’s in block letters. How to draw an almost square, a lopsided circle and a tilted triangle. How to put puzzles together, and the difference between red, green, yellow, blue, brown and black.
Some of our lessons were social, some academic and some practical but it was all fun. Us kids thought we were playing, but the learning flowed into our little heads like osmosis.
I attended Mrs. McIntosh’s kindergarten from age four to almost six. Her big two-story red brick house, big yard and a circular gravel driveway was on Edisto Drive close to Cherokee Road. A private home now, the house is still there behind the brick fence, tall trees and thick shrubbery. A glimpse of the house riding by brings back such wonderful memories.
I don’t remember riding to and from kindergarten, but I distinctly remember the finger paints. In the bright sunroom with many windows, a dozen or so of us kids got a hands-on lesson in primary colors. A gob of red plus a dab of yellow – orange! Red plus blue – purple! Blue and yellow made green, red and white made pink.
The slick paint squishing between my fingers felt so cool. “Let’s paint a flower today,” she would encourage. Swirl, swish, zip, “Don’t get it on your clothes,” swoop, swish, swirl, “Keep it on the paper,” zip, swish, swoop, “Don’t wipe your hands on your (fill in the blank: nose, hair, neighbor).”
Browns and blacks didn’t appeal to me much. I used them for outlines only. I preferred fire-engine red and cornflower blue. My flowers were colored like tulips but shaped like asters, zig-zaggy and shaggy around the edges. I carefully kept my colors inside the lines, carefully held the paper by the edges, and fiercely protected my drying masterpiece until I could take it home to Mama.
Making potholders was another creative pastime at Mrs. McIntosh’s. Little metal looms with toothy edges were handed around the room. A sack of stretchy fabric circles like cloth rubber-bands was passed around. “Get you a big handful, there’s enough to go around.” Some kids picked all yellow or all green. I picked mostly red and blue bands with a few greens and yellows mixed in.
We proudly presented our creations to our mothers, so colorful, so practical. (Mama used mine until they were too scorched or too thin. Then she dug out my little loom from the bottom of the buffet and we made some more.)
Some days we made music. The clear high-pitched tone of my triangle went “dingggggg” when I struck it lightly with the little metal rod, “DINNNNG” when I gave it a good swat. I learned that I could create an interesting combination, “dingggg-dink” if I grabbed the metal with my hand before the second sound died out.
Another kid chose a wooden block and mallet. His “clonnnt, clonnnt” soon dueled with the “clannnkk, clannnkk” of his pal’s cowbell. “Use the mallet on your own block, not your neighbor’s bell,” Mrs. McIntosh admonished sternly.
The “scritch, scritch, scritch” of the sand blocks made a nice fill between the “clack-clack, clack-clack” of the sticks. Our band was rounded out with “cling-clings” of miniature cymbals, “bom-boms” of a tambourine-shaped hand drum and “jin-jingles” of tiny bells fastened to shaker sticks. “All together children, One, Two, Three, Play!” We practiced like mad for our spring concert and I’m sure our parents clapped enthusiastically in praise of our joyful noise.
By the time first grade rolled around, I knew my numbers and the alphabet and could read simple Dick and Jane story books for myself. Mrs. McIntosh’s instructions in courtesy, safety, academics, and above all how to get along with my fellow kid stood me in good stead when entering McKenzie School.
Come to think of it, they still do today.