In just another week, the parade will have passed, the lentil delicacies will have been consumed and our Palouse harvest will be in full force. So we know what that means — it’s time to turn energies and attention to the start of school.

Whether you have a sweet, little one headed off for the first day of kindergarten or a somewhat older sweet one making her/his way to the land of crimson and gray, the excitement is palpable.

For me, this time of the year always takes me back 57 years to a sunny, exciting August day when my older brother, Kevin, walked with me to my first day of school.

I was joining the big leagues — headed to first grade since our tiny, rural school did not offer kindergarten. I wanted to get to my educational Shangri-La and get there soon. It took everything I had not run at break-neck, 6-year-old speed as I clutched my lunch, unsharpened pencils and ever-ready crayons. Look out world, first grade was mine.

Those first school day memories are centered on my senses. The smell of chalk dust and pencil shavings. The sound of a ringing bell and the songs my teacher played on our classroom piano. The taste of cold chocolate milk and snack crackers.

Time flew by, to junior high, high school and college. Then, it all came full circle, in 1977 when I stood in the doorway of a first-grade classroom again — only this time I was the teacher, welcoming little ones and their parents to our classroom. The excitement was palpable.

Time moved forward and I continued to teach another 19 years, followed by being a children’s librarian for the past 22 years. The excitement is still palpable and the learning continues. Forty-two years have taught me that the best teachers are children. Their curiosity knows no bounds, their hearts have no judgments and their joy is contagious. They have much to teach each of us if we will stop long enough to listen.

So if someone you love is headed off to school in the next few weeks, let’s send them off with big hugs, kind words and the deep feeling that they matter. They matter. There is no greater gift we can give to our children.

And although we do not have chocolate milk, crackers or a piano at Neill Public Library, we have thousands of wonderful books waiting to be shared along with many other resources to support and celebrate the back-to-school journey. The excitement is palpable. We hope to see you and yours soon.

Kathleen Tara Ahern is the children’s librarian at Neill Public Library in Pullman.

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