Teaching young children always involves balance. We want our preschoolers to feel confident giving words to their feelings, but know that it’s not always their turn to talk. To get in some semblance of a line, but not bump into each other. To be generous, but not wasteful – especially not with water, since a student informed me there are only “117 drops” of it.

A quick query to my preschoolers about what we’ve learned this year turned up these answers:

• “I’ve learned everything.”

• “I’ve learned how to work puzzles: You dump them out, turn them over and put the pieces where they are supposed to go.”

• “If someone taps you on the shoulder on the playground and says, ‘Hey, do you want to play with me?’ you say, ‘Sure.’ ”

• “I’ve learned not to drop on my head.”

• “I know how to sit criss-cross applesauce. That means being quiet and raising your hand.”

• “I’m reading for the very first time.”

• “The opposite of little is big.”

• “The opposite of young is big, too!”

• “I’ve learned how to play with my friends.”

• “I know how to make snowmen.”

• “I know how to be nice by saying, ‘I love you.’ ”

In “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” (Ballantine Books, 2004), retired minister Robert Fulghum shares rules that are similar to what we hope our kids take to heart, including:

• 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.

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

Twenty-five years after the book’s original publication, though, life is not so simple. School security has changed. Writing on his website, Fulghum gives a report of a recent morning in Seattle:

“As you might well understand, the elementary school across the street from my house is in heightened security mode these days. There’s long been a high wall topped with a chain-link fence around three sides of the playground. The fence has gates now – padlocked closed during the school day.

“One small result is that I have become the unappointed school ball boy. Basketballs, soccer balls, and kick-balls get bounced over the fence. … Thus almost every morning when I walk by the schoolyard early, I find the lost balls – sometimes as many as four – and I toss them back over the fence. …

“This morning I found a basketball between a parked car and the curb. Doing my job, I heaved it high into the air over the playground fence. In moments the ball came sailing back over the fence into the street. What? I chased the bouncing ball down and started to throw it back. Above me, leaning against the fence, was a little boy wearing a big grin. An early arrival, he didn’t have anybody to play with. Except me. Game on.

“I threw the ball way up high over the fence and over his head. He disappeared, and I walked on. Moments later, here came the ball again. The game lasted three more back-and-forth rounds. And stopped.

“The voice of an adult was heard, barking at the kid to quit throwing the ball. Then a teacher appeared at the fence, holding the ball – not smiling. She looked me over with suspicion and walked away with the ball. Game over. The little boy waved goodbye – ‘Maybe tomorrow?’ on his face.”

While “stranger danger” and terrorism are all too real, how do we let kids know that sometimes, a nice man returning our basketball is just that? How can we help them be friendly, but not foolish? It can be difficult to strike that balance.