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Everything We Learned in Kindergarten…at Riley Elementary

Most of us are familiar with the essay, Everything I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. Penned by Robert Fulghum in 1989, the essay outlines many life truths about sharing, kindness, balancing work with play, and cleaning up our own messes.

But sometimes the most powerful lessons come from the kindergarteners themselves, in real time. That has been true this past school year, as the Moore team spent many hours with Ms. Griffin’s kindergarten class at Riley Elementary. We “adopted” the class as part of the Tallahassee Chamber’s Classroom Connection initiative, which pairs businesses with classrooms to provide support, mentorship and volunteer time.

Riley is the poorest elementary school in the entire state. It sits just a few miles from the state Capitol and city hall, but metaphorically speaking it is located a million worlds away. Many of the students here likely don’t eat unless they are eating from the school cafeteria. Their home lives are unstable. They don’t have the extras many of us take for granted.

Yet we learned over these past several months that love, care and friendship can bloom brightest in the places where material things are scarce. We learned that one small voice can wake an entire community up to the needs around them.

We gained so much more at Riley than we gave – thanks to these little humans with such brilliant smiles, wise words and big open hearts. As we send these kindergartners home for the summer break, it felt fitting to share Everything I Really Need to Know, I Learned from Ms. Griffin’s Kindergarteners:

  1. Hugging subtracts hurts and multiplies love. Kindergarten is in many ways the BEST age. At this stage, they are becoming little independent people – yet they remain sweet babies in many ways. Every visit, we gave hugs and got even more hugs in return. Saying goodbye for the day always resulted in one more hug fest – the smiles on their faces confirming that they just want to feel love.

Some of the best hugs came in the quiet moments when they confided something on their heart. At my final visit for the school year, one little boy came up to me and told me he was “so sad” because his mom and stepdad had argued the night before. “I was very scared.” I pulled him in for a hug, squeezed him tight. I thanked him for telling me why he was sad. And I reminded him that even when adults argue or have a problem, they still love him. He might not ever remember our conversation. Or he might remember what I told him every time he experiences something sad. And that might be what helps him get through it.

  1. Use your words to share what’s in your heart. If you need help, ask. Our most memorable time at Riley came at Christmastime, and it all started because a little boy used his words to ask for help In the most selfless way. We hosted a class party featuring cookies, a small present for each student, and a visit from Santa. One boy named A’lan walked up to Santa and, when asked his Christmas wish, quietly asked Santa to please bring some clothes for his mom. When a 5-year-old standing in front of Santa asks for nothing more than basic necessities for his mother, that says a lot about how much love is in his heart even though he has very little in material things at home.

I can’t imagine that it was easy for A’lan to make this request, but because he did – and because I listened and then used my words to tell the story – this community woke up to a huge need in its backyard. The outpouring of donations and kindness that resulted was a testament to the power of one voice and one ear.

  1. The world is huge, but the greatest impacts can be made close to home. Poverty, crime, homelessness, education gaps. These are BIG problems impacting communities all over our state, country and world. Finding a way to make a difference can feel so overwhelming. But Riley reminded us that some of the biggest changes can happen close to home — one person, one classroom visit, one business at a time. Our Riley kiddos still face so many challenges, but thanks to our time with them, they also know they have a friend in each of us.

Every time we read them a book or colored with them or listened as they whispered in our ears and played with our hair or sat with us, they felt joy, love, security, and friendship. They got confirmation that they MATTER, that we care, and that we are here for them as they journey through elementary school and into the world. And for some of them, that will make all the difference in the years to come.


“And it is still true, no matter how old you are! When you go out into the world, it’s best to hold hands and stick together.” – Everything I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum

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