National Kindergarten Day: A Day to Celebrate the Joy and Value of Play

Christopher P. Brown
April 20, 2020

Photos by Christna S. Murrey

Today is National Kindergarten Day. This is a great day to celebrate and be thankful for everything that kindergarten and our kindergarten teachers taught us and our children. 

How might you celebrate? Here are five ideas:

  1. Create a story with your child about kindergarten—from your child’s perspective and from your own, maybe even comparing kindergarten today to what you experienced. Stories help children make sense of their current reality, and they offer you and your child something you both can go back to revisit over the days, months, and years about this time in kindergarten.
  2. Have a virtual party with your child’s classmates. Children makes sense of their world through social interactions with others. Spend time discussing what the past few weeks have been like while also celebrating being in kindergarten. This can assist them in processing all that has happened.
  3. Because you’re likely homeschooling your kindergartner, take a moment to savor and appreciate all you are doing to educate your child.
  4. Play. Play. Play. Play traditional games like hop-scotch, hide-and-seek, or tag. Spend time practicing or learning a new sport, do puzzles, take a walk and point all the new things that have or are about to emerge as spring comes into full swing. Whatever you do, just be playful as you interact with your child or your friends; talk in silly voices, sing silly songs, or just act out pretend play scenarios. Play allows all of us to reconnect with what John Dewey described as our impulses as learners. We are all driven to inquire about the world we live in, to develop and construct meaning as we do this, and to share these understandings while our expressing our feelings socially with others.
  5. Thank kindergarten teachers for all they do. Kindergarten teachers engage in a range of complex pedagogical practices on a moment-to-moment basis to care for and support each of their students. They helped you and your classmates see yourselves as learners and problem solvers. That taught you that there are adults in this world outside of your family who want to help you succeed in school and in life. They also assisted you in developing the skills necessary to work with and support others so that you could achieve your goals.

Two kindergartner students drawing on an easel

Why do we celebrate today?

April 21 is the birthday of Wilhelm August Frobel (1782-1852), the founder of kindergarten. Frobel opened his first kindergarten in Germany in 1837, and for him, kindergarten was a place where children were guided by a nurturing teacher to develop a thirst for knowledge while also trying to become loving, kind, and conscientious enough to use that knowledge for the good of humanity. 

Frobel’s ideas were first brought to the U.S. by Margarethe Schurz to Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1856. Susan Blow opened the nation’s first public kindergarten in St. Louis in 1873.

Though kindergarten has changed over the years, this National Kindergarten Day is markedly different. Most kindergarteners and their teachers are meeting virtually rather than in their schools, which has created challenges and new opportunities in our global, digital world. 

Nevertheless, you and I need to celebrate this day because kindergarten is special. It’s a time in children’s lives that should bring warm, fuzzy thoughts about schooling, self, and probably some of the best friends you’ve had throughout your life.

What also makes kindergarten special is that it’s the place where you may have entered school for the first time. It’s the place where teachers, working alongside families, helped you and your children harness your drive to make sense of the world. Kindergarten is where you learned what it means to be a member of a community, a community that cares for and supports each other as you move forward together across the school year. Kindergarten is also where you learned that there are many different ways to live and grow in this world. 

So please celebrate national kindergarten day with your children, family, and friends. Reach out to the kindergarten teachers you know and thank them for all they’ve done each and every day for you, your child, and all kindergarteners who had the pleasure to be in their classrooms.

Christopher P. Brown is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in early childhood education. He is a faculty fellow with The Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis and a faculty fellow of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He is also the past-chair for the Early Education/Child Development Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.