Writer’s Block: Life as a first- grader by a first-grader

Twenty-four years ago, school bells rang on an early September day, signaling the opening of yet another school year at the historic old Franklin Elementary School in Anoka.

Sue Austreng
Sue Austreng

On that day, my then-six year-old daughter entered the realm of higher education, an upperclassman, one of the big kids on campus.

She was a first-grader, no longer a fledgling in the halls of learning but one well-acquainted with the ins and outs of all things school-related.That’s how she felt, anyway. And as the oldest child in the family, she eagerly shared her wisdom with her kid brothers.

I recently came across a journal I kept during my children’s early years. And in it I found my first-grade daughter’s description of life as a first-grader. I thought I’d share with you her narration of her early days of all-day school.

Hi! I’m Hannah. I’m six and a half years old and I’m in first grade at Franklin School. Ms. James is my teacher and we have a helper named Miss Moriarty. She’s learning to be a real teacher like Ms. James and she’s practicing on us. First grade is lots of fun, but it’s not like kindergarten. You have harder things to do than in kindergarten. You have to work hard. You have to think really hard in first grade and you have to use your mind a lot – and all your brains – to figure out the reading words and to figure out the adding. And you have many rules to learn: quiet in the halls, no running (except in the gym or on the playground), raise your hand if you want to ask the teacher something, keep your feet on the floor, hands to yourself, no writing on the desks and lots more.

We have our own desk in first grade, not tables like in kindergarten. The top of the desk lifts up and you put all your stuff in there: notebooks, crayons, scissors, glue, pencils, papers and a ruler. And we each have our own desk with our own name on the top.  When you’re sitting at your desk, it’s like you’re sitting on your own island, away from the other kids. Another thing you have in first grade is lockers. The lockers are out in the hall and you share one with one or two other kids. That’s where you put your jacket and your school bag and your tennis shoes for gym. They don’t have a lock but they still call them lockers.

In kindergarten we had a little play area in our room and we could play house or go on the little slide or build with blocks. But in first grade, we go outside for recess with all the other first graders and we get to climb on the monkey bars and go down the twirly slide or climb up the pole. Or we can play four-square or jump rope and stuff.

Plus we have gym class and we get to go in the big gym. We line up in squads and do exercises and play games and stuff. It’s fun – and you don’t do that in kindergarten.

In our first grade room, there’s a Lost Tooth pouch. It’s for when you lose a tooth. You’re supposed to tell Ms. James if you lose a tooth and then she writes your name on a paper tooth and puts it up on the board. I didn’t get my name on the board yet because I only lost two teeth and that was in kindergarten. But lots of kids do lose their teeth in first grade.

In first grade, you stay at school all day – six hours! Not like the little kids in kindergarten. They go home at lunch time because then they probably need a nap because they’re so tired from being at school in the morning. But we eat lunch at school in first grade.

You go to the lunch room and you sit on benches by a long, long table with a thousand and one other kids. If you have hot lunch, you pay for it. If you have cold lunch, you don’t pay for it – only if you have milk, but usually my mom gives me a drink box in my lunch box, so I don’t need to even buy milk.

For hot lunch, you have to go in the cooker room to get the lunch. They have pizza. Maybe sometimes you get a hot dog.

First grade is fun. I like it a lot. Kindergarten was fun, too, but kindergartners are a little bit younger and first graders are a lot older and a lot smarter, because in first grade you learn a lot more important things.

And so that was first grade as told by my first-grader – a  lot older and a lot smarter than those little kindergartners, of course.