A BABY BOOMER REFLECTS ON KINDERGARTEN

OFF TO SCHOOL!

The photo below was among my mother’s ‘treasures’ for many years. It was taken by the Tasmanian Advocate nearly 60 years ago. The children are from the Ulverstone Central State School’s kindergarten class of 1956. I am the chirpy looking kid  standing up on the far right.   It’s just as well I was  confident at that age, as on my first day I simply caught the school bus with my siblings.

I wonder if any of my playmates will recognise themselves?  And where are they all  today? Reading from left; Jennifer Edwards, Rosanne Burke, Jean Temple, Pippa Hunt, Bruce Dolbel, Denise Willis, Gregory Johnson, Dale Dolbey, Craig Martin, Janet Wickham, Brian Burke.

 

Part of Mrs Harris' little brood.

Part of Mrs Harris’ little brood.

By the way, I seem to be the only child wearing a school uniform. I have a feeling I told Mum that everyone else was wearing one. What a little fibber!

The kindergarten teacher at that time was a wonderful woman called Mrs Harris.  In 1956 she was nearing retirement, but her heart was big enough to hold every one of the  many  children fortunate enough to have known her.

Mrs Harris was like a second mother to us. Every childish upset would be soothed with an understanding word and a warm hug. She gently attended to bedraggled children on wet days, and heated our free school milk on cold winter mornings. This lovely lady even provided my pocket money. Each week I took her a jar of fresh cream from  our dairy farm. In return, she gave me a shilling; sixpence for me and sixpence for my sister, Robbie.

On one occasion she made a special trip  to buy me a pair of knickers, after I had  accidentally dampened my own. This awful incident occurred because I happened to have strayed into  the ‘big school’ yard, but tried to make it back to the familiar little  ‘Kinder’ toilets when nature called.   I still treasure the note Mrs Harris  sent home afterwards, in which she described me as; ‘A dear little girl who reminds me very strongly of my own daughter at her age.’

Shamefully, I repaid my teacher’s  great kindness by stealing a little blue car from the top of her piano. Afterwards I didn’t know what to do with it, and guiltily  threw it into a shrub. I hope her generous spirit will forgive me.

The Kindergarten, and the piano from where I stole the little blue car!

The Kindergarten, and the piano (top right) from where I stole the little blue car! (Courtesy; Ulverstone & District -a Pictorial History)

Unaffected by class or creed, Mrs Harris must have been horrified by our snobbish little social codes – no doubt passed down from our older siblings. It was considered beyond the pale to take one’s lunch  to school in a paper bag, or to have brown bread sandwiches; particularly if they were filled with plum jam.  ‘Only poor kids eat brown bread’ I would tell Mum. She would smile with amusement and say; ‘Well we’re poor!’  I suppose we were, but thanks to her good management and self-sacrifice we were never aware of it.

The 1950’s brought many post-war Dutch migrants to the Ulverstone area. Fascinated by our new classmates; the first ‘foreigners’ we had ever met, we would tell Mum; ‘They don’t just talk Dutch,  they talk DOUBLE DUTCH!  Mind you, it seemed only a few weeks before they were chattering away in perfect English.

I found the ‘big school’ a bit overwhelming.  Instead of our soft kindergarten lawn , the  playground was asphalt; littered with bobby pins, metal toe caps and lost hankies.  Mrs Harris  would collect the handkerchiefs  and take them home to be boiled and ironed.  Later she would hand them out to runny-nosed children.

The 'Big School' playground around the time of my kindergarten year.

The ‘Big School’ playground around the time of my kindergarten year.

 

At Easter Mrs Harris filled our decorated eggshells with jelly beans, and hid them in the garden.  Oh the  excitement as we followed coloured strings to find our treasure. The seasons were celebrated in style  too; particularly  autumn, when we had a party. I famously told my parents that we had seven potato bags of walnuts,  one of my earliest  examples of poetic license. We made little animals from pears and matchsticks. I still get the urge to do this;

Childhood skills are never lost!

Childhood skills are never lost!

 

During winter we put on plays. I was once given the role of  Red Riding Hood’s mother. I had to fasten up her  cloak  and say; ‘Hurry off  to Grandma’s, don’t tarry in the woods.’  Unfortunately I had no idea how to tie a bow. I started to cry when an assistant teacher suggested that  someone  more advanced in life skills   should replace me. Thankfully, Mrs Harris smiled and said a loose  knot would do. Afterwards she taught me how to tie my shoes with  double bows.

She joined in  our games with an enthusiasm  that belied  her age, leaping  about with abandon. We even staged our own version of the Olympic Games, held that year in Melbourne. Mrs Harris  could also produce a rollicking tune on the piano. When she shouted; ‘Join in everyone’, we belted out a discordant  orchestral accompaniment on drums, tambourines and triangles.

The school year  in Australia ends just before Christmas. Under Mrs Harris’ supervision we made presents for our parents. I remember paste splattered  calenders, candles cemented into ice cream cups with plasticine, and cards made with equal quantities of pride and silver glitter.  She also taught us Christmas carols, though for some time I mistakenly sang;  ‘Sing choirs of angels, sing in eggs sultanas.’  I vaguely connected this line with  the plum  puddings Mum was busy making at home.

There is  always a pang of nostalgia and a degree of envy when I watch children heading off to kindergarten. Ahead of them lies a magical twelve months under the wing of their own ‘Mrs Harris.’

NB…Somewhere between kindergarten and high school I lost a good deal of my  self-confidence. It meant that my secondary schooling was far less carefree. If you want to know what I mean, click here.

DO YOU HAVE YOU OWN MEMORIES OF THAT FIRST SCHOOL YEAR? IF SO, PLEASE SHARE IN THE BOX BELOW. DON’T FORGET TO COMPLETE THE ANTI-SPAM SUM THOUGH.

9 Comments
  1. Wonderful memories, Pauline! And what a lovely teacher you had. I really enjoyed reading this.
    It reminds me of my time in the ‘nursery class’ in West Yorkshire. On the first day I was astonished by the tiny lavatories – afterwards, washing my hands in the child-sized washbasin, I looked down and saw that my hands almost filled it. ‘Goodness, my hands have grown!’ I thought – took me ages to realize that it was just that the basin was smaller!

    • Pauline

      Thanks Ann,
      Was amused about your experience with the little loos! The day of my ‘accident’ I was in the big yard with my sister and to her great frustration I refused to go to the nasty big toilet block. The Kinder ones were very sweet with pictures on the doors. Unfortunately I didn’t make it.

  2. Complete and total misery. Cried the whole first day and the next, and the nun had me so frightened most of the year, I couldn’t keep my lunch down. Shivering just to remember it.

    • Pauline

      Oh Nancy, how horrible! Was this the US version of kindergarten? I’m shocked. It’s a wonder you became a teacher yourself after that start.

      • No, just a private Catholic school that my parents thought would be the best education available. More like the best torture money can buy. However, I love to learn, and I love to help others, and to be honest, I kind of fell into teaching because of my overwhelming love of books which led to writing which led to teaching others to write, now ain’t that a run on sentence. My red ink would be all over it.

        Smiles to you, Nancy

        • Pauline

          Well, I think you have arrived at a rather wonderful point in life, teaching others and writing yourself!

  3. Hi Pauline
    What a wonderful story! Now that I have read the complete story it brings back many memories.
    I clearly remember dear Mrs Harris making scones with us in the side room off the big kindy room.
    The sandpit behind the building with the concrete edging. I recall the day she took us outside and we watched a sky lark sing its way to full altitude and then drop like a stone from the clear crisp winters sky. Do you remember the wooden blocks and the nursery rhyme murals painted on the kinder wall?
    Speaking of the Dutch migrants. Do you remember when we had a new girl at school from Holland? She couldn’t speak English and she was gorgeous and we all though she was Hayley Mills? There was a popular Hayley Mills movie about that time. Ari van Ek became my flat mate at uni eventually and co- incidentally we had dinner with her last night at Muxia on the coast of Galacia – we are in a Spain at present and Ari had just finished the Portugal Camino.

    Thank you fir this wonderful memory jogger!

    I hope you are well. I enjoy reading your Facebook entries. I am not so active but read it fairly often.

    Best Regards

    Jan

    • Pauline

      I don’t remember the sandpit Jan, but yes…certainly those big wooden blocks. Isn’t it wonderful how an experience like watching the skylark remains so vivid. Am envying your travels…so special to meet up with old friends when overseas. Maybe that Hayley Mills movie was Whistle Down the Wind?

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