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All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

4.7 32
by Robert Fulghum

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Twenty-five years ago, Robert Fulghum published a simple credo—a credo that became the phenomenal #1 New York Times bestseller All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Now, seven million copies later, Fulghum returns to the book that was embraced around the world. He has written a new preface and twenty-five essays, which add even


Twenty-five years ago, Robert Fulghum published a simple credo—a credo that became the phenomenal #1 New York Times bestseller All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Now, seven million copies later, Fulghum returns to the book that was embraced around the world. He has written a new preface and twenty-five essays, which add even more potency to a common, though no less relevant, piece of wisdom: that the most basic aspects of life bear its most important opportunities.

Here Fulghum engages us with musings on life, death, love, pain, joy, sorrow, and the best chicken-fried steak in the continental U.S.A. The little seed in the Styrofoam cup offers a reminder about our own mortality and the delicate nature of life . . . a spider who catches (and loses) a full-grown woman in its web one fine morning teaches us about surviving catastrophe . . . the love story of Jean-Francois Pilatre and his hot air balloon reminds us to be brave and unafraid to “fly” . . . life lessons hidden in the laundry pile . . . magical qualities found in a box of crayons . . . hide-and-seek vs. sardines—and how these games relate to the nature of God. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is brimming with the very stuff of life and the significance found in the smallest details.

In the years that have passed since the first publication of this book that touched so many with its simple, profound wisdom, Robert Fulghum has had some time to ponder, to reevaluate, and to reconsider. And here are those fresh thoughts on classic topics, right alongside the wonderful new essays.

Perhaps in today’s chaotic, more challenging world, these essays on life will resonate even deeper—as readers discover how universal insights can be found in ordinary events.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
—Baltimore Sun

“It is interesting how much of it applies not only to individuals, grown or small, but even to nations.”
—New York Daily News

“Within simplicity lies the sublime.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“As universal as fresh air and invigorating as the fragrance of a Douglas fir.”
—Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Of these ``random jottings,'' PW said, ``Fulghum does not express uncommon thoughts here: his thoughts are those we all wish were true.'' The book's tone is set by the title piece in which the author sets out his banal credos, ranging from ``share everything'' to ``hold hands and stick together.'' (Dec.)
Library Journal
Unitarian minister Fulghum has become something of a celebrity since a talk he gave at a primary school graduation (``Share everything. Play fair. . . . LOOK.'') generated such interest that it ultimately found its way into ``Dear Abby.'' Here is more of his philosophyalways go with dreams, imagination, hope, laughter, and loveaccompanied by random musings on dandelions, medicine cabinets, and the vices of excessive tidiness, which are quirky and often thought-provoking. Undergirded by his love for family and (loosely understood) for God, this makes refreshing reading. EC

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
15th Anniversary Edition, Revised & Expa
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.46(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.52(d)

Read an Excerpt


To begin with, did I really learn everything I need to know in kindergarten? Do I still believe that? Here is the original essay, followed by my editorial reaction.

Each spring, for many years, I have set myself the task of writing a personal statement of belief: a Credo. When I was younger, the statement ran for many pages, trying to cover every base, with no loose ends. It sounded like a Supreme Court brief, as if words could resolve all conflicts about the meaning of existence.

The Credo has grown shorter in recent years—sometimes cynical, sometimes comical, and sometimes bland—but I keep working at it. Recently I set out to get the statement of personal belief down to one page in simple terms, fully understanding the naïve idealism that implied.

The inspiration for brevity came to me at a gasoline station. I managed to fill my old car’s tank with super deluxe high-octane go-juice. My old hoopy couldn’t handle it and got the willies—kept sputtering out at intersections and belching going downhill. I understood. My mind and my spirit get like that from time to time. Too much high-content information, and I get the existential willies. I keep sputtering out at intersections where life choices must be made and I either know too much or not enough. The examined life is no picnic.

I realized then that I already know most of what’s necessary to live a meaningful life—that it isn’t all that complicated. I know it. And have known it for a long, long time. Living it—well, that’s another matter, yes? Here’s my Credo:

ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

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.

Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are—when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Deep Kindergarten

As I write this I am sixty-five years old. Not so old, really, but I have been around awhile. Kindergarten is a long way back there. What do I know now?

The Kindergarten Credo is not kid stuff.

It is not simple. It is elemental.

The essay answers the questions asked sooner or later by every one of us who once stared out a classroom window wondering: Why am I here? Why do I have to go to school?

We are sent to school to be civilized—to be introduced to the essential machinery of human society. Early on in our lives we are sent out of the home into the world. To school. We have no choice in this. Society judges it so important that we be educated that we must go. It is the law. And when we get to school we are taught the fundamentals on which civilization rests. These are first explained in language a small child understands.

For example, it would do no good to tell a six-year-old that “Studies have shown that human society cannot function without an equitable distribution of the resources of the earth.” While this statement is profoundly and painfully true, a child cannot comprehend this vocabulary. So a child is told that there are twenty children and five balls to play with; likewise four easels, three sets of blocks, two guinea pigs, and one bathroom. To be fair, we must share.

Likewise a six-year-old will not understand that “By and large it has been demonstrated that violence is counterproductive to the constructive interaction of persons and societies.” True. But a child can better understand that the rule out in the world and in the school is the same: Don’t hit people. Bad things happen. The child must understand this rule is connected to the first rule: People won’t share or play fair if you hit them.

It’s hard to explain the cost and consequences of environmental pollution and destruction to a six year old. But we are paying a desperate price even now because adults did not heed the instructions of kindergarten: Clean up your own mess; put things back where you found them; don’t take what’s not yours.

“The history of society is more defined by its understanding of disease than its formulation of philosophy and political theory.” True. Basic sanitation. Keeping excrement off our hands as well as out of our minds is important. But it’s enough to teach a child to use the toilet, flush, and wash his hands regularly.

And so on. From the first day we are told in words we can handle what has come to be prized as the foundation of community and culture. Though the teacher may call these first lessons “simple rules,” they are in fact the distillation of all the hard-won, field-tested working standards of the human enterprise.

Once we are told about these things, we soon discover we are taking a lab course. We are going to be asked to try and practice these precepts every day. Knowledge is meaningful only if it is reflected in action. The human race has found out the hard way that we are what we do, not just what we think. This is true for kids and adults—for schoolrooms and nations.

I am sometimes amazed at what we did not fully grasp in kindergarten. In the years I was a parish minister I was always taken aback when someone came to me and said. “I’ve just come from the doctor and he told me I have a only a limited time to live.”

I was tempted to shout, “What? You didn’t know? You had to pay a doctor to tell you—at your age? Where were you the week in kindergarten when you got the little cup with the cotton and water and seed? Life happened—remember? A plant grew up and the roots grew down. A miracle. And then a few days later the plant was dead. DEAD. Life is short. Were you asleep that week or home sick or what?”

I never said all that. But I thought it. And it’s true. The idea was for us to have the whole picture right from the beginning. Life-and-death. Lifedeath. One event. One short event. Don’t forget.

There’s another thing not everyone figures out right away: It’s almost impossible to go through life all alone. We need to find our support group—family, friends, companion, therapy gatherings, team, church or whatever. The kindergarten admonition applies as long as we live: “When you go out into the world, hold hands and stick together.” It’s dangerous out there—lonely, too. Everyone needs someone. Some assembly is always required.

What we learn in kindergarten comes up again and again in our lives as long as we live. In far more complex, polysyllabic forms, to be sure. In lectures, encyclopedias, bibles, company rules, courts of law, sermons, and handbooks. Life will examine us continually to see if we have understood and have practiced what we were taught that first year of school.

Meet the Author

Robert Fulghum is a writer, philosopher, and public speaker, but he has also worked as a cowboy, a folksinger, an IBM salesman, a professional artist, a parish minister, a bartender, a teacher of drawing and painting, and a father. All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten has inspired numerous theater pieces that have captivated audiences across the country. Fulghum is also the author of many New York Times bestsellers, including It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It, Uh-Oh, and Maybe (Maybe Not), as well as two plays: All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and Uh-Oh, Here Comes Christmas. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

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4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have purchased, read, and re-read all of R. Fulghum's works. He is my favorite author. So much so that I regularly give his books out as gifts¿so as to share the joy of life¿s journey. I was very happy to discover this 15th anniversary edition book right after it was released. It is brilliance revisited. Fulghum takes his 'Kindergarten' essays and critically examines and reconstructs them according to his perceptions 15 years later. This results in some new insight into old essays, as well as some entirely new essays. This really is a must read for anyone who enjoys the cognitive travels of life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book gives new meaning to the 'less is more' theory...Mr. Fulghum finds wisdom in the most subtle and unassuming situations...and his ability to tell and share is so powerful...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that Robert Fulgham's bits and pieces about things that he went through on a day to day basis were fun and fascinating to read. I really enjoyed just random thoughts that he came up with, some funny and light hearted and others fairly sad, but things that we could relate too. One of my faovrite thoughts of his was when he was talking about how his job in the family is to do the laundry and how it gives him a sense of accomplishment once his chore has been completed. It was funny as is, but then he said that he uses the laundry detergent Cheer so his laundry will be happy. That statement was in the beginning of the book and made me want to keep reading becuase I loved his attitude towards life. This book is a fun and easy read and can be read in bits or pieces because it is like a journal, or all at once because you really want to know what other experiences he has to share!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not read the book yet, but I am impressed with Barnes and Noble and their quick service. I will definitely order from them again!
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Charlotte_Isabella More than 1 year ago
Robert Fulghum reminds me of Dave Barry in the fact that he has dry humor. I love the fact that he takes ordinary everyday things and turns it into something philosophical. He is a genius, but I do not wish to be preached at, and this book was slightly preachy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago