By Norris Burkes April 30, 2023

Most of you likely recall the 1986 book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The book contains short essays by American minister and author Robert Fulghum. 

I’m not aware the author ever taught kindergarten, so I checked in with the renown, Mrs. Rebecca Burkes, a grade-school teacher of thirty years and a close relation of mine.

She confirms Fulghum’s insight. “It’s true. If I had taught your kindergarten class, you’d know all you need to know about life.” (OK, not her exact words, but I’m writing this column.)

It’s likely been a minute since you read the book, so let’s review the first ten things:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Becky found these first ten thoughts relatively easy to teach but had some difficulty as she moved toward the last five rules – especially #15.

It happened one day when she assembled her pre-kindergarten class of 4-year-olds on the rug for circle time.

Becky noticed a girl looking closely at her feet and rubbing her eyes. “Are you sad today, Ellie?”

“Yes,” she said squeaking out her pain. “My hamster died.”

Becky tried to comfort the little one with a hand on her back and a stroke through her hair.

As a chaplain, I can tell you Becky did all the right things. She asked the girl for her pet’s name and then gave her the space to talk about her loss.

But in a class of 24 kids, Becky had to move the circle time along, so she considered Fulghum’s lesson #15 which says, “Goldfish and hamsters and white mice … all die. So do we.”

“Everything dies eventually,” she told her class. “Can you name some examples?”

“Plants,” suggested one child.

“Bugs,” volunteered another.

“Animals,” added one.

“Yes,” Becky affirmed. “Plants, bugs, and animals all die.”

Now keep in mind, my wife has no formal chaplain training. She just lives with me. But for some reason, she was inspired to tell a room full of impressionable little rugrats, “Even people die.”

The room became eerily still as the four-year-olds considered the faces of the many “people” around them.

Then, thinking it might be a good time to explain her absence during the previous month, she thought it best to bring them up to date.

“My mom died last month.”

Then from somewhere deep in the circle, there rose a deeply saddened question.

“Moms die?” one girl cried with a tone that morphed a question into a declaration.

Kindergarten teachers usually think fast on their feet, ready for any eventuality, but 30 years of teaching gave Becky little clue what to say next.

She’d obviously upset the circle and needed to smooth this over before she had a room full of hysterical four-year-olds.

Her best bet was Lesson #7 – “Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.”

She said she was sorry and like any good teacher distracted them toward snack time.

Not long after that, Becky retired from teaching. Since then, she and I have lost some friends and family and become more and more aware of that dying thing.

Which is why Becky and I stick close to Fulghum’s lesson, #13:

“No matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”

And, of course, we never forget the cookies.

Write to me at and share your favorite lesson on the list.


Come with Becky as she makes a special trip with her teacher friends to help start a library in a Honduran elementary school on June 17. Details at Or contribute to the library cost at address below.

Snail mail received at 10566 Combie Road, Suite 6643, Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail 843-608-9715. Visit my website at where you can read past columns and purchase my books.