By the time I finished my education and was ready to begin teaching kindergarten, I was a married woman with two children, ages 8 and 12. When the principal asked what my long-term plans were, I told him that this was it and that the only reason I’d leave teaching would be if I got pregnant, which didn’t seem likely. As it turned out, after five years of teaching, my daughter Jeannette came along, and I left the profession. During the five years, though, I was an audience to some delightful moments with these sweet, imaginative youngsters. I kept a notebook in my desk in which to write the clever things the kids said (my knowledge of shorthand came in handy). I’m sure many slipped by without making it into the book. These are the ones I recorded.
The first incident didn’t involve the children. It happened during my very first orientation week. As I sat in an auditorium listening to welcoming talks, I was cutting out nametags for my kindergarten children. The gentleman in front of me kept turning around and looking at what I was doing. I started cursing under my breath, wishing he’d mind his own business. I was hearing everything that was being said and if I wanted to use the time to get my nametags cut out, that was nobody’s business. If he didn’t approve, too bad! Then the gentleman turned around once more and said “Could I cut out some?”
On my first day as a kindergarten teacher, I was introduced to the vivid imagination of Michael. He was manipulating a key game and said to me, “Mrs. McKinney, I’ve locked you inside this box.” I protested, saying, “Michael, I need to watch the children. Please let me out.” He responded, “The only way you can get out is if I turn you into a mouse.” I agreed to this, so, as he waved his hands back and forth in front of my face, he said in a menacing voice: “You are a mouse.” As I continued on my way, I felt a presence behind me. I turned to see Michael stealthily creeping toward me, saying “Meow!”
On the first day of school, Theresa told me that she’d thought she might cry but she didn’t cry and really liked school. Albert volunteered, in a voice loaded with enthusiasm, “I think school is really ordinary!” As they left that day, Kevin took his mother’s hand and said, “Good-bye, Mrs. McKinney. I may see you around school again sometime.”
I asked who knew what a fire drill was. Randy said, “I know. It’s what you cook steaks on.”
We were studying the word “couple.” Matthew volunteered, “Sometimes my Daddy asks Mommie for a couple coffee.”
As soon as she arrived at school, Debbie nudged me and said, “Mrs. McKinney, I have a loose tooth.” Later, a punch on my side, followed by, “Mrs. McKinney, wanna feel my loose tooth?” This went on all day. Then, during a science lesson, we rubbed two rocks together, and the children were telling what they thought we’d see through the magnifying glass. Grant raised his hand. I called on him and he said “I think we’ll see sand.” Michael offered, “I think we’ll see dirt.” Debbie raised her hand. I called on her. “Mrs. McKinney, wanna see my loose tooth?” The following day – punch, punch. I apprehensively looked down to see Debbie pointing to a blank space. “Mrs. McKinney, look – I lost my tooth.”
Less of a chatterbox, one day Mark stated simply, “I got a bendable tooth.”
Gilbert, newly arrived from Cuba, was learning English. Each morning I would call the roll by saying “good morning” to each child, followed by the child’s name. Each child would reply, “good morning, Mrs. McKinney.” Not knowing the language, Gilbert would remain silent when I said “good morning” to him. I explained that this meant the same as “buenos diaz.” One morning, Gilbert replied, “good morning, Mrs. McKinney.” The children were thrilled. Each morning after that, when I said “good morning, Gilbert,” he’d reply “good morning, Mrs. McKinney.” Then one day during Activity Period, Michael walked over to him and said, “Good morning, Gilbert.” Gilbert looked Michael straight in the eye and said, “Good morning, Mrs. McKinney.” We explained the proper response to Gilbert, and for the rest of the week, our lessons were interrupted by Gilbert’s voice singing out “Good morning, Michael,” “Good morning, Sally,” “Good morning, Tina.” By year’s end, Gilbert was able to interpret for his parents.
We were exchanging valentines when Randy came to me and said “I don’t deserve valentines.” I responded, “Of course you deserve them, Randy.” After he persisted, he was finally successful in conveying his message. What he meant was that he didn’t observe Valentines Day. His religion forbade it. On the other hand, he would often arrive at class holding some small gift for me – a ceramic planter with some plants, a handkerchief, or a cut flower, for example. This was in keeping with his religion, which wasn’t against the giving of gifts – it was opposed to observing special days.
Paul showed me a disk of clay that had a design on it. He said, “I want to keep this. It’s an emblem.” Noticing that he had incorporated the initials “ER” into the design, I asked, “What does ER stand for?” He answered, “How should I know? I can’t read.”
During a discussion about Thanksgiving, I asked if anyone knew why Pilgrims left their country and came to America. Michael said, “To eat turkey.” Later I reminded the children to think of something besides turkey on Thanksgiving. Suzy said, “Yeah, pumpkin pie!”
While we were standing outside, Mark had quite an animated conversation with me, telling about their vacation trip. When he talked about Smokey the Bear and how awful forest fires are, I asked if either of his parents smoke, thinking that if they did, I could ask him how he could help them to be careful. He responded: “My dad doesn’t smoke cigars; my dad doesn’t smoke cigarettes; my mom doesn’t smoke cigars; my mom doesn’t smoke cigarettes; and Holly – she’s only three – she doesn’t smoke either; and I don’t smoke, too.”
Early in February, I asked if anyone knew whose birthday was next week. No one knew, so I gave them a hint. I said, “Honest . . .” “To God” was Shelley’s suggestion.
During a parent-teacher conference, I was told that Bobby came home from school one day, very excited because he had a story to tell his parents. He said, “Mrs. McKinney was really disappointed today. She had to put a kid in a chair ‘cuz he was bad.” His mother responded, “Oh, that’s a shame. Who was the kid?” At this point, Bobby’s shoulders drooped and he stared at the floor as he muttered “me.”
Easter was coming so the children were going to make bunnies by pasting various shapes onto a large piece of construction paper. Before turning them loose on the project, while they watched, I created a bunny on an easel. After a step-by-step demonstration, my project was complete. As I looked it over, I said, “I guess I’ll call my bunny done.” Winston responded with “That’s a funny name for a bunny.”
All the children were sitting, ready for the start of a new school day, when I asked, “Did you all get lots of sleep last night so that you won’t be tired today?” Pauline responded, “I didn’t need to – know why? ‘Cause I’m always full of fun and excitement. I don’t ever get tired – only sometimes my feet get hot.”
The children love to make up songs, and because I never limited sharing, if a child had nothing to share but wanted to get up in front of the class, he or she might just create a song on the spot. Carla sang, ”Along came Cinderella, and she fell over a barrel and she fell in the water and a shark ate her and she was scared and her mommie missed her.” And then there was Randy. He was the king of made-up songs. I could almost see the wheels grinding in his head as he’d look around the room and incorporate whatever he saw into the lyrics. I shared this with my family, so now any time we hear a song that rambles and hasn’t much of a tune, we call it a “Randy song.”
During a duck-and-cover alert, after they’d been under the tables for a while, Mark asked, “Where’s Mrs. McKinney?” Pauline said, “I know! She’s over hiding inside of her dress.”
Robert proudly announced that he was learning to spell, saying “Y-e-s, yes; Hell no, no.”
While discussing a movie we’d seen about the harbor, I asked if anyone could tell me what “gangway” meant. Walter said, “Come on, people, let’s go do something.”
I asked the children to sit down. Pauline asked, “What are we going to do?” I responded, “We’re going to take a walk as soon as everyone sits down.” Quite earnestly, Pauline asked, “How can we take a walk with everyone sitting down?”
I was reading a book to the class. There was a picture of a tiger tearing the seat out of a man’s pants. Claire said, “Turn the page and see if he’s wearing red polka-dot underwear. They always are!”
Alan shared the following: “Well, I’m the real batman from now on – well, not all the time, but when batman is sick, I take over.” I asked “When did all this happen?” “Last night they came to my house and told me.”
I pitted boys against girls in a game of “Johnny Jump-Up,” using the tally method of score-keeping. The girls had four strokes; the boys, none. The girls got another point, so I put a diagonal line across the first four strokes. Bruce heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Good, she crossed them all out!”
When I asked David to go next door to borrow a paper punch, he queried “Paper punch – what’s that? Maybe you drink paper.”
From turning the teacher into a mouse to being able to drink paper, visualizing the things they come up with is great fun, because, as I learned while teaching kindergarten, kids really do say the darndest things. I also found a lot of inciteful, clever, and funny things said by children outside of my kindergarten classroom.
Jeannette was born after I taught kindergarten, so I’d learned to write down the cute things she said. Recently, I took all the scraps of paper on which I’d written these notes, making a list of Jeannette’s cute utterances.
At age four, Jeannette said the following:
“My dress is too long. You should stem it.”
“When my father goes to work, I have to get in bed with you because two people need to be in your bed because we love each other.”
“Do you stand by my bed at night and watch me grow?”
Arms stretched out: “I love you this much. You love me more because you have longer arms.”
The following are from when Jeannette was five:
When folding clothes: “Remember when I was little and I thought I was folding them but I just crumbled them? You said, ‘Honey, see how I’m folding’. You kept and kept and kept showing me how but I kept crumbling them. That’s the way it goes. Little kids can’t understand.”
In talking about her grandfather she never knew, she asked if she was in my tummy then: “I was melting away just like nothing – just like if we didn’t have any furniture or anything to sit on or anything.”
“Your eyes don’t look like you can see through them. They just look like a decoration on your face.”
“When I’m holding a pickle and I’m going to try it, sometimes my mouth gets sort of worried.”
At age six, Jeannette said the following.
Watching TV: “How do they get those horses to walk in such a straight line? They must be girls to train so easily.”
“If ladies get married, they snootch every time he [the husband] goes by.”
Any time we needed to use a restroom while traveling, I’d admonish my kids not to touch anything other than necessary, explaining that this was a public restroom. Consequently, when Jeannette’s first-grade teacher asked if anyone knew the meaning of the word “public,” Jeannette said it meant “dirty.”
When she was seven, Jeannette said: “I got a whole bunch of sow bugs. Can I keep them?” I responded with a question: “What are you going to do with them?” “Oh, teach them tricks. I already taught one a trick.” When I asked what, she said, “To stand on his behind legs.”
The first time Jeannette experienced kelp while swimming in the lake, she became frightened. I explained that it was seaweed and was harmless.
After that, when she spotted kelp, she’d say, ”Pee-wee won’t hurt me – huh, Mommie?”
Many years before Jeannette was born, our son Lynn came up with his own clever expressions. When he was two years old, he had words for oil wells, powder, and Safeway stores. When he saw an oil well, he’d say over and over and very fast: “See wow-wow.” I don’t know why he had a fascination for powder. I believe he watched his grandmother apply it to her face, and she told him it was called powder. He’d say rapidly “See pow-doo.” He recognized Safeway stores by the yellow and black tile fronts. Any time we passed one, he’d say “See way-way.” When we took a cross-country trip, we were reminded over and over again that there were Safeway stores in many states.
When he was a little older, as we were driving, Lynn would point and say, “Mommie, who made that tree?” I’d respond, “You know who made the tree,” whereupon he’d say, “God made the tree.” Or “Mommie, who made the sun?” “You know who made the sun.” “God made the sun.” Then one day when we passed an excavation project with a mound of dirt, Lynn asked, “Mommie, who made that big pile of dirt – God or the tractor man?”
Lynn coined a word that I found to be quite appropriate. I really believe it should be added to the dictionary. That word is “lasterday.”
When our daughter Michelle was learning to water-ski, we asked her if she was ready for a lesson. She replied, “No, there are too many white cats.”
When she was quite small, Michelle was good at making observations. Once while riding in the car, she said, “The tick-tocks make the windows clean, don’t they, Daddy?” She left the crust when she ate a sandwich, stating that she didn’t like “sandwich skin,” and when she was thirsty, she said her mouth was melting.
When Michelle’s big brother Lynn caught a grasshopper and asked for a container in which to put it, I gave him a coffee can. Each time she looked at the can, Michelle said, “Gaspopper.” One day at a market there was a display of coffee cans, and Michelle could hardly contain herself because she was so excited to see so many gaspoppers. That wasn’t the only time she had people staring at her in public. She spoke in complete sentences at an early age, and people would turn and stare, thinking, “Did that come out of that tiny person?”
When Michelle was in first grade, she said “Sharon, Emily, and I are the best workers in the class.” I asked “Did the teacher say that?” Michelle responded, “The teacher said Sharon and Emily are the best workers, but I’m a good worker, too.”
While putting up Christmas decorations, when she was five, after taking ornaments from two layers of a five-layer box, when my great grand- daughter Natalie saw another layer, she said, “Oh my gosh, this is going to take forever! I need a drink.”
Natalie spilled some water while watching a movie. When asked to pick it up, she responded, “I’m picking it up with my mind.”
When Natalie asked her mother to get down cornstarch and food coloring, saying she was doing an experiment to make slime, her mother reminded her: “You need an adult.” In her “well duh” voice, Natalie said, “You are the adult.”
My great-granddaughter Maelle was doing an experiment in which she made certain things float. Her mother said,” Wow, it’s magic!” Maelle said, “No, it’s science.” She has said this many times since, when we marvel at things that seem special. In fact, “No, it’s science” has become a part of our family lexicon.
I’m sure I’ve heard many more adorable things from the mouths of children, but can’t think of them now. I’ll consider this a work in progress and will add more when I hear them. Until then, remember that Art Linkletter was right: kids do say the darndest things!