Writing our Way from Kindergarten to College

As the bookends of our academic journeys thus far, our kindergarten classrooms may not seem to have too much in common with our current college experiences.  Crayons and construction paper have been replaced by Mac Book Pros and Google Docs.  Juice boxes exchanged for copious amounts of coffee.  And colorful picture books forsaken for heavy volumes filled with tiny, almost unreadable print. 

This transformation, from five-year-olds just figuring out how to express our ideas to articulate twenty-somethings pursuing an advanced degree, is nowhere more evident than in the progression of our writing skills.  Somewhere between the building blocks of kindergarten and the brick buildings of academia, our attempts to communicate and express ourselves have evolved from innovative spelling and extraneous punctuation splashed all over the page to a polished research paper.

First, you have to learn the alphabet, how to sound out words, and eventually to spell on your own.  Then come verb tenses, prepositions, sentence diagrams, and all other matters grammatical—Commas, dashes, semicolons, and all those other tricky combinations of dots and lines.  Before you know it, it’s thesis statements, body paragraphs, and conclusions.  Not to mention embedded quotes and footnotes.  Conquering the basics is the first step towards navigating this tricky terrain of writing.  I no longer put periods between every single word in a sentence and have finally figured out how to spell supposedly (not ‘supposibly’).  But by the time we reach college, not only have we learned the fundamentals and undoubtedly gained some level of proficiency, but we have also become complicit in a culture that values the ability to write well as a standard of intellect and success.

Yet, despite the distance between these two academic experiences, there is something oddly comparable about the structure of both.  In contrast to the increasingly regimented schedules of elementary school, middle school, and high school, kindergarten and college are both, in a sense, opportunities in which students are given the time and space to pursue their own interests and creative inclinations.  At the college level, it is up to us choose our classes, our research topics, and our individual endeavors.  We have the opportunity to make our own decisions and to determine the course of our own personal development and growth.  While seemingly unrelated, picking a major and free playtime both represent this moment of choice, as well as of discovery.  The capacity to design our own pursuits is not one that is always available to us throughout our educational experiences, but one that is valuable and essential to our own intellectual progression.

I can still remember the excitement of watching my kindergarten teacher write out my original interpretation of how paper is produced that I dictated to him.  As I illustrated my “book,” I felt a sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t experienced before.  All I wanted to do was compose another one.  And although my writing assignments have changed significantly since that first one, I think this childlike drive to invent and express is still applicable to any sort of academic writing.   This drive is the source of the incredible infectiousness of being able to say, “I wrote that,” and of the audacity to leave behind our inhibitions and pursue our own paths.  As many of us begin to contemplate writing a thesis, I know that I for one hope I will have the same energy and enthusiasm to undertake and complete such a project as I had when I wrote “How Paper is Made” fifteen short years ago.

-By Emma Caccamo ’13

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