In these days, can you imagine that one kindergarten teacher could not only keep sixty five-year-old children under control but actually teach them something? Things were different fifty years ago. Catholic schools typically had larger classes than the public schools.   Undoubtedly  Catholic school budgets were less than those of public schools and it is a safe bet that the Sisters who taught in them did not have comparable salaries to public school teachers.  They had to do the best they could with what they had.

I offer the following which was published in The Family Digest in 1955 for its historical interest and also for some ideas about religious education for families with small children. Proverbs 22:6 says: Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. Some might call that “indoctrination” or “brain-washing.”   Whatever.    I can’t say it has worked in my household.

To my knowledge my children have not read this tale from the past and it might bring back memories.

WENDY GOES TO GOD-LEARNING SCHOOL

“Why spend money to send her to a Catholic kindergarten when she can go to a public school free?  It isn’t as if they learn anything the first year.  You can transfer her to Our Lady of the Angels later for the first grade.”

That is the gist of what my friends told me last year when I registered Wendy for kindergarten.  The kindergarten year was apparently considered as a time for children to get used to the idea of going to school and to become accustomed to getting along together in a classroom.  Beyond that they were not expected to “learn anything” of importance.

In the hope that a Catholic kindergarten might be something more than an advanced nursery school, I paid $35 for tuition and supplies for that first year.  What was it like, that kindergarten?  And what did it do for Wendy?  During the first few days at school she had “a feeling like crying” which was perhaps intensified by other children who not only felt like crying, but cried.  However, she soon adjusted to school life and left home happily each day bound for a new “land” — there was story land, puzzle land, color land, dolly land, sand land, and goodness know what else.

She painted huge paintings, worked in some study books, learned the Pledge of Allegiance, brought home Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts, played in a rhythm band, and did just about what you would expect a kindergarten child to do.  I still marvel at the ability of one tiny Sister to keep sixty-one children (I counted the faces in Wendy’s class picture) happily occupied day after day.   With four children under 5-1/2, I think I have my hands full.  The very thought of coping with sixty-one at one time makes it obvious to me that a teaching Sister must have to storm heaven for the kindness, patience, wisdom, firmness, and strength such a task requires.

It is true that as far as reading and writing go, Wendy now knows very little more than she knew when she entered school.  Was kindergarten, then, nothing more than a nursery school for five-year-olds?  Did Wendy acquire nothing that she would not have received in a public school?  I can give the answer in her own words:  “Mommy, I go to God-learning school, don’t I?”

Wendy knew how to make the sign of the cross and say the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary before she entered kindergarten.  She had been told a thing or two about God and we had tried to teach her the real meaning of Christmas by setting up a crib and telling her the Christmas story.  But we had not, I must admit, given her anything approaching the familiarity with the things of God that she has acquired in kindergarten.

I have talked with Sister Mary Remi only once, about mumps.  I have not discussed with her what she has tried to do for the children in her care.  There is probably much she has taught Wendy that I have yet to discover.  I am only acquainted with the obvious results of her influence on one child for one school year, but I am well pleased.

What has Wendy learned in the year that she was not supposed to learn anything?  For one thing, she has been introduced to her guardian angel.  The first school song I heard her sing at home was:

Dear Guardian Angel at my side
How loving you must be
To leave your home in heaven above
To guard a child like me.

She has also learned the time-honored:

Angel of God, my guardian dear
To whom God’s love commits me here
Ever this day be at my side
To light and guard, to rule and guide.

Throughout the school year she has participated in devotions appropriate to the season. At Christmas-time  the class set up a creche and learned Christmas hymns. During the Easter season the children were told the story of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, and introduced to the Stations of the Cross. Each day in May Wendy participated in a procession and crowning of the blessed Virgin. On the first day of June she burst into the house shouting “Mommy! Guess what!” Today I carried the cross in the procession when we put candles at the altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  We sang, “Oh, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Thy Kingdom come” over and over.”

She has learned to say the rosary and has taken pennies to school for the pagan babies. She has prayed for the sick of the class (and knew that the class was praying for her when she was sick).  She had her throat blessed on the feast of Saint Blase. She prayed for the Pope when he was ill and added her prayers to the spiritual bouquet that was presented to our pastor when he was elevated to the rank of monsignor. Wendy learned something new about her religion each school day.

Toward the end of the year Wendy brought home a recording that she had made in school. On one side she sang her May processional song, Ave, Sweet Mary. On the reverse she demonstrated how well she had learned the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. Then I heard the voice of my child acknowledging another Mother. “Immaculate Heart of Mary,” she said, “My Queen, my Mother, I give myself to thee. Keep me as your child forever.”  It brought home to me the truth that these children that are ours are first of all children of God. They have Jesus for their Brother and Mary for their mother. They are ours only that we may lead them back to Him who made them and for Whom they were made. It is a sacred trust and we cannot begin too soon to fulfill it.

Non-Catholics sometimes wonder why it is that Catholics, who contribute to the support of the public schools along with all taxpayers, are willing to spend additional money to build and support their own schools in order that their children may have a Catholic education. Perhaps it is because my husband, a convert, and I, daughter of a mixed marriage, are products of the public school system that we appreciate the tragedy of being reared in a religious vacuum. An education that does not teach a child his reason for being can hardly be called an education at all. The school that ignores God can only expect to produce children that ignore God. The course of study that ignores the Ten Commandments can only lead the student to conclude that the Ten Commandments are not, after all, very important.

Children have a tremendous capacity for “other-worldliness.” They can walk and talk with God and love Him with an ease and naturalness that might well the envy of many and adult. The child’s belief in God is simple and unquestioning, his prayers spontaneous, his trust implicit. It was to these child-like qualities that Christ referred when He said, “Unless you…become as little children you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” We must not make the mistake of thinking children are too little to learn to pray or to be taught the things of God, that it would be better to postpone their religious education “until they are older and can understand better.” Jesus said, “Suffer little children to come unto me.”

The other day I found Wendy and her younger sister, aged three, in the back yard pushing empty swings. “What’s the big idea?” I asked, having learned from experience that even the littlest child has a “big idea” behind his actions. “We’re giving rides to our guardian angels,” they answered. Would that we were all on such friendly terms with out guardian angels!

Did Wendy learn anything of importance in kindergarten?  She was busy “God-learning”, and what could be more important than that?

~~~

Wendy, Terry, Katy – what do you remember of kindergarten? or Our Lady of the Angels?

You would not seek Me had you not already found Me.   God  (according to Pascal)