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Modern Parenthood

Kindergarten mindset list: 5-year-olds’ cultural DNA

Legos, ice cream, Mommy and Daddy: An elementary school principal tries to understand the cultural context of the kindergarten mindset.

By Correspondent / August 9, 2012

One teacher aims to identify the formative experiences and cultural context – the kindergarten mindset – of his incoming "freshmen" class. It includes school, ice cream, Legos, and the movie "Cars." Here, Shawnea Eison says goodbye to her twin sons, Ilijah McBaine, left and Isaac McBaine, right, as she drops them off for their first day of kindergarten at Lincoln School in Evansville, Ind., on July 25.

Erin McCracken/The Evansville Courier & Press/AP



Each fall, Beloit College (Wisc.) publishes its “Mindset List:” 75 points of reference for understanding the cultural profile of their incoming freshmen class. More than just a core sampling of the historical events that an 18-year-old would, or would not, have experienced, the list holds a mirror up to the formative experiences for those new students  – and, therefore, for their professors.

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Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley outside Philadelphia. He has been a Monitor contributor of Home Forum essays, poems, Op-Ed commentaries and feature articles since 1989. He writes a monthly column for He and his wife, Lesley, have three adult children.

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For instance, the Beloit Mindset List for the post-millennial class of 2014 included the following items:

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

2. E-mail is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

3. Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren’t afraid of immigration … unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.

4. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.

5. The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are not in the museum.

6. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

7. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

8. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always been on the US Supreme Court.

One might add, many in this class will have attended the most successful movie opening – indeed, franchise – of all time, a movie series that defines their childhood reading habits: Harry Potter.

You get the idea. Based on the list, you can “grok” 360 degrees of the experiences that have contributed to the mindset of people of a certain age. I shudder to think of the mindset list for my own freshman class, the college class of 1978. As I’m fond of telling my children, the laptop I went to school with was an Olivetti portable typewriter. A computer was a big teletype machine that only the math club (all boys) knew how to use. Telephones had dials. Tape cassettes were the newest audio advancement.

This mindset, however, refers to a world writ large, a context inhabited by adults and proto-adults whose cognition can cope simultaneously with abstraction and evolutionary blips and detours. Since I work in an elementary school, our incoming “freshmen” class is five years old. Street-level mindsets for them are quite different – but just as important to understand with accuracy.


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