While a book for kindergarten may seem like it is only meant for 5-year-olds, it has the power to teach and remind all ages of important lessons that we can easily forget. Teaching kindergarten has provided countless moments to reflect on who I was as a 5-year-old and who I wanted to be. As I am teaching social-emotional skills to my kindergarteners, I find myself in a constant state of re-learning things that are all too easy to forget as we grow up and are attempting to ‘adult'. 😉
I was raised to be a book lover and will grab a new book for kindergarten anytime I can. BUT…full disclosure: I am not going to be giving you a list of books I love – that will be another time, and the list is LONG! I'm going to focus on one book for now and why it's so special to me.
I am going to pull back the curtain a bit and share one of the biggest lessons that I struggled with as a child, as a teen, as a 20 and 30-something, and often STILL struggle with today. And I am going to go out there on a limb and say that I'm almost 100% positive you have struggled with it too. As a matter of fact, this struggle was the catalyst for a song that happened to hit #1 on Kids Place Live and has now become…a book.
Overview of Said book for kindergarten
The book is called “Dare To Be Me” and is set to be released in September of 2023. It was inspired by the song of the same name, and both were co-written with my friend and my big dream wrangler, Nathan Meckel. After experiencing the staying power of the song and talking to kids who have shared why they love it, I marched into a song-writing session one day and told Nathan we were going to skip the song and write a book. (One thing I love about Nathan, he allows me to declare whatever big dream I have and NEVER says it's NOT possible. He just laughs and joins me to create and lasso my grandiose visions into reality.)
“Dare To Be Me” encourages readers to be brave and face each day with unbridled confidence while being 100% their unique selves. Let's be honest – the comparison trap is REAL. Wanting to fit in while also staying true to yourself can be a challenge – at any age.
Before I launch into the journal-type confession of my life-long struggle, I feel the need to put on my teacher hat for a brief moment and lay out a tiny bit more about how these lessons are spotlighted now more than ever, whether teaching kindergarten or high school.
Hold on, just what is social-emotional learning?
If you are a teacher, you are likely familiar with the term social-emotional learning, or SEL. If you are a parent, you are likely naturally focusing on social-emotional lessons, skills, and learning, whether you are aware of that terminology or not. 🙂
“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a term for the way children acquire social and emotional skills. It includes things like managing difficult emotions, making responsible decisions, handling stress, setting goals, and building healthy relationships.” Jessica Souza, writer for Child Mind Institute
Now, you may have heard of a book called, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten“, by Robert Fulghum. First published in 1986, the list of things Fulghum shares still holds true.
FYI – This list also is packed full of social-emotional skills. 😉
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don’t hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
- Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
- When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
- Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
- Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.
- And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK.
With all due respect to this amazing list, I'd like to offer up an addition for consideration.
#17. DARE TO BE YOURSELF
Okay, now that we've laid the foundation, let's dive into this struggle that I feel needs to be a focus – a lesson – a reminder – a challenge. This one is for all the 5-year-olds – and for all the adults who used to be 5-year-olds – I believe it should be added to this epic list.
Growing up, I had a bright thumbprint-sized strawberry-red birthmark on my forehead. I had wild red curls and a stocky build. I loved to spin in circles, dress up in crazy outfits, sing loud, and more than anything – I LOVED to make my older sister laugh. Was I happy to be “ME”? You betcha. As long as my sister was laughing and there was music – I was loving life.
When you start doubting the dare – and make up an ugly truth
As I started school, I started to hear comments and questions – most of which I'm sure were asked out of innocent curiosity or given without ill intent.
- What happened to your head? Does it hurt?
- Wait, she's the ‘little' sister? She sure is bigger, isn't she?
- We'll call you AMAZON! The biggest cheerleader on the squad!
- Guess your sister got the book smarts, huh?
- I think I'll call you ‘bump-on-a-log' – ya know, 'cause that thing on your head!
Even now, as I write those things, if I let myself, I can feel quite sad or discouraged for the ‘me' that absorbed those comments and heard them only as ugly truths. It caused me to go on a rollercoaster relationship with food, I never liked to stand up straight, and I gave myself a pass with my studies because my sister was smart.
I bet you could share some things that were said to you over the course of your life that hurt your heart. Maybe someone commented on something that makes you different, that you have then interpreted as being “not good” or “not good enough”. And just as I am sure that a great portion of what we hear and interpret in a negative light is not intended to hurt us, let me be clear about something:
It is never okay to call out someone for being different – if the intent is to hurt.
While teaching kindergarten, I try to be cognizant of flippant remarks, and if I overhear one, I try to model rephrasing that comment in a way that uplifts rather than hurts. We work HARD starting on day one, celebrating the things that make us different.
The trick? Celebrating differences in others WHILE STILL LOVING OURSELVES.
This is the struggle for me. You see, somewhere along the way, I got SO GOOD at celebrating differences in others that I FORGOT TO CELEBRATE MY OWN UNIQUENESS. I have lost my 5-year-old self over and over and said things like:
- Hmmm…I love her blonde hair SO much. I haaate my hair. I'm the only one with red hair in my class. I bet if I put just enough Sun-In…I could be blonde-ish too. (If you were alive in the 80s…you remember Sun-In. I ended up with hair that could only be described as the color of a “Sunkist” can.)
- Gosh…all my friends are getting engaged and married and having kids…I suppose I should probably do that too. They have it all figured out, and I don't. (Spoiler alert – we were not all made to follow this beautiful path)
- I wish I could sing BIGGER and fancier
- I wish I had a petite frame
- I wish I weren't so loud and silly
Chances are, somewhere out there, someone has said:
- I wish I were a redhead
- I wish I could carry a tune
- I wish I were taller
And so now…it's time for WORDS OF WISDOM (courtesy of my mom)
If I've heard it once, I've heard it 1000 times. I've heard it as a pre-teen and again as a full-fledged teen. It was said to me in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, and I wouldn't be surprised if I hear it in this new decade as a 50-year-old.
“Kace, stay in your own lane.”
To put it in a different way, “Comparison is the thief of JOY”. And yes, now I'm talking to YOU. Scrolling Instagram and not feeling like you're good enough, thin enough, happy enough. Appreciating your friend's gorgeous farmhouse decor, but then looking at your own space and thinking, “Ummm – these bright colors I love and picked out are…not as good.”
Those moments you feel deflated? That's you happily swimming in your own lane, then veering off into your pal's lane and accidentally getting whacked by her flipper. She didn't mean to ‘flip' you – she didn't even feel it! But you got water up your nose and had to come up for air and de-fog your goggles, making you curse swimming, the very thing you loved just a second ago. So…
Dare to stay in your own lane.
Great, Kaci. Good advice. But…HOW does this relate back to social-emotional learning, 5-year-olds, teaching kindergarten, and this book for kindergarten called, “Dare To Be Me?” Well, I'm so glad you asked.
When teaching kindergarten, one of my favorite things to do with my kids is to read social-emotional books – that is, books that share social-emotional learning through stories and illustrations. Our song, “Dare To Be Me” has been great, and I believe that planting the seed of positive self-talk through melody is a gift.
But I wanted to be able to hold something in my hands, turn the pages with vibrant visuals, and read this message loud and clear. Over and over, in classroom libraries and at home before bedtime. I want 5-year-olds learning how to read to latch onto the rhythm and rhyme and soon be able to read it aloud to their younger siblings. I dream of the cadence of the words sticking, then twisting and turning in the minds of 10-year-olds who are hopefully sick to death of hearing this book read to their little brother down the hall. Oh…and maybe this message will remind the moms, dads, teachers, babysitters, and grandparents that they, too, are ABSOLUTELY VALUED, SEEN, AND IMPERFECTLY PERFECT. We must be bold and DARE to be WHO we were MADE to be.
Told you I dream big. 😉 Here's one of my favorite lines from the book:
“To be something I'm not is just playing pretend, I'd rather stick out than shrink to fit in.”
Let me bring this idea home a bit. It's time to put my soap box back in the closet and practice what I'm preaching! But first, an example of everyday life in kindergarten. This may not seem super notable to you, but to me, it is a goal that was reached. Intentionally teaching positive social-emotional messages daily to 5-year-olds can get you to a place where casual conversation doesn't accidentally leave unintentional wounds to young impressionable hearts.
This picture was taken in May because I had pulled four teeth in one day (a hidden talent – shoulda been a dentist!), and they all wanted to send this to their parents. Of course, as soon as I took it, they asked to see it. This is the exact commentary:
KID 1: I'm SO TALL!!!
KID 2: I'm SOOOO NOT!!!
Me: Well…I think you're both pretty…
KID 3: PERFECT.
KID 4: YEP!!
Can you imagine for a second how that very likely COULD have gone?
KID 1: I'm SO TALL!
KID 2: Yeah! YOU ARE!
KID 3: WHY are you so tall??
KID 1: Well… YOU'RE TINY! (feeling defensive and embarrassed)
And…..tears, probably more tears, sulking, etc., with differences being pointed out carelessly – not with neutrality and kindness.
Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest for us to do, NO MATTER WHAT AGE WE ARE.
Finally, Final Thoughts
We all have incredibly unique stories and backgrounds, and if we could just learn to celebrate our differences – while still being a champion of our own self and story – what a wonderful world! It's not easy as a 5-year-old. It's not easy for a 50-year-old. But the pursuit of it is worth it.
Can a book for kindergarten really teach and remind us of this important lesson at any age? Well, I'd be honored if you got yourself a copy and decided for yourself! You can pre-order for a limited time NOW and get your copy just in time for back-to-school!