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Lessons from Kindergarten and Life

Recognizing strengths, resilience and emotional intelligence.

Not long ago, I was a guest reader in the kindergarten class of a very special six-year-old in my life. It was a joy to share a favorite book with my guy, his classmates, and their wonderful teacher.

Although my chief objective was to help the children learn, It turned out that the children taught me a few lessons.

While I read aloud, one child became quietly upset because another child had taken his place on the mat. When he told the teacher, she simply and wisely asked them, “How can you fix this?” The two talked for a moment. Then one child moved over and the two shared the space. The argument was quickly resolved and the boys went back to work.

The kindergartners listened quietly while I read the story. When I asked questions, most raised their hands, waiting patiently for their turns. When a child forgot and spoke out of turn, another child would remind him/her to raise a hand. Most of the time the children would listen to the suggestions of their peers, providing many of them with opportunities to speak and be heard.

The children took care of business. When I accidentally turned two pages instead of one, my beloved, alert six-year-old quietly stood up and in a politely, hushed voice showed me the page I had missed. When I finished reading, some children said “Thank you.” And, later during a science activity, one kindergartner assisted another child who was struggling to accomplish her tasks.

 Lukas from Pexels
Source: Lukas from Pexels

Consider the wisdom, generosity, and resilience of this young microcosm of humanity. Solving problems and helping each other. Sitting quietly on a rug and listening. Laughing together. Arguing over territory and fixing the disagreement by peacefully moving aside to create space.

These children were demonstrating what psychologist Daniel Goleman has termed emotional intelligence. Goleman and other psychologists and educators advocate the importance of educating the whole child through social-emotional learning (Goleman 1995; Elias 2006; 1999). Some of the essential skills of emotional literacy include awareness of one’s own feelings and the feelings of others; ability to solve problems, develop goals, and make responsible decisions; sharing empathy, kindness, and compassion; knowing how to communicate and build relationships. In addition, learning to recognize strengths in themselves and others helps children transition from kindergarten to elementary school with higher levels of engagement, happiness, and academic achievement (Waters, 2017).

Some years ago, author Robert Fulghum (1986) wrote that many of life’s important lessons can be learned in kindergarten. As you reflect on all the conflicts in the news and consider life today, you might ask yourself, “Could some of life’s solutions really be that simple?”


Elias, M.J. (2006). The connection between academic and social-emotional learning. In Elias, M.J. & Arnold, H. (Eds.), The educator’s guide to emotional intelligence and academic achievement: Social-emotional learning in the classroom (pp. 4-14). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Elias, M.J., Tobias, S.E., Friedlander, B.S. (1999). Emotionally intelligent parenting: How to raise a self-disciplined, responsible, socially skilled child. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

Fulghum, R. (1986). All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten: Uncommon thoughts on common things. New York, NY: Villard Books.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Waters, L. (2017). The strength switch: How the new science of strength-based parenting can help your child and your teen to flourish. New York, NY: Avery.