Sunday, September 1, 2013

The State of Early Childhood Education Today: Crisis

Kindergarten ABC's: Apples, Bubbles, Crisis ~~ The Conversation at PreK+K Sharing

SEPTEMBER ABCs: Apples, Buses/Bubbles, Crisis

Just like the dawn follows darkness, September follows summer. It's time. It's time for apples and new boxes of crayons and shiny big buses {and football, too.} It's time for backpacks and school bells and lunchboxes anew. It's the time of new beginnings, new milestones and a whole new year. It's also the time for some wholesale reflection.

Back to School Bulletin Board with Hand painted Apple Tree at PreK+K Sharing

A lot has happened for me in the last week at my own blog. Just a heartbeat ago, our WonderTwins (that's our GRANDchildren) boarded their first chariot ride into the big time, into kindergarten! Here they are. Backpacks as big as they are. Excitement and anticipation at full throttle. In my effort to deal with my own emotions at such a milestone, I searched for a quote to adhere to this moment. Behold my search.

The Role of PLAY in Kindergarten Today: Passionate Teachers Speak Out

I then circulated the photo above to my FB fanpage and asked for comments and insight from my followers. I asked if their classroom was near a garden. I asked about the relevance and similarity of Froebel's description to their experience as teachers and parents. There was a passionate outpouring of response. Dozens of folks poured their hearts out. Passionate people spoke up and shared their experience. 

Next I gathered up all of those comments and compiled them one week ago today, into an article on my own blog. The title of that article is "The Role of Play in Kindergarten Today."   A lot more has happened since the article went to press. 

The Role of PLAY in Kindergarten Today: Insight from Professionals -- candid thoughts and concerns at RainbowsWithinReach

The one striking chorus, echoing from kindergarten teacher to kindergarten teacher? Kindergarten today is ye ol' first grade of yore. 
So what happened to kindergarten? Is that what preschool is these days? Some places actually offer Transitional-kindergarten. Florida has VPK, Voluntary PreKindergarten. What do those programs look like? Where is the PLAY for children? RIGOR is the new buzzword. Common Core the new standard. What are the five year olds doing at school? So many questions. So little time. 

 Kindergarten Art Project of School Buses in the City on PreK+K Sharing

Then came the comments left on my initial article itself. This one that follows that I've transported here, is from a Reading Specialist/Reading Recovery Teacher, writing from the perspective of her 'mom-hat' as she reflects on her own son's transition into kindergarten. Spoiler alert: it chills my heart. 

"This is a wonderful discussion. I love the views of the teachers who feel "trapped" in this standards based craze and yet are still using their experience and knowledge of early learning to create environments that nurture the whole child. BRAVO Kindergarten teachers! 

My son is about the same age as the wonder twins. He has a May birthday and just started Kindergarten. I am all about rigor. I am all about great teachers. I am all about teachers having "accountability" (just not being accountable to test scores). I'm not saying this to brag but my new kindergartner is already reading and it's not because I bombarded him with paper/pencil tasks or drilled him with flash cards. We just read a ton of books. We created restaurants and wrote menus. We read packages in the grocery store, etc.

Kindergarten "Bubble Filling" Curriculum: Article on State of Early Childhood Education Today at PreK+K Sharing
Evidence of Kindergarten "Bubble Filling" (ninth day of K) 
He enjoyed preschool but now that he is in Kindergarten he is crying every single night about having to go to school. I know a large part of that is that he is exhausted. But I think a portion of the problem is that he sits in a desk and colors and does worksheets at school. He says school is "boring". He brings home math papers with CCSS coded in the top. On his NINTH day of kindergarten, he brought home a paper that said, "test prep" with bubbles to be filled in. Some have told me to request a new teacher, but I'm really not feeling like it is the teacher's choice. The test prep is a math "curriculum" that was purchased by the district. I hear so many teachers voicing that this is not their choice but is being pushed on them from someone higher up the ladder. The thing that concerns me is that the decision makers aren't listening to the voices of those who have education and experience in educating early learners.

My son is in a very tiny classroom. There are no puppet theaters, kitchens, etc. I haven't even seen any centers! He says they can sometimes do blocks or puzzles but only if they finish all of their worksheets. I feel a little trapped as a parent. I think that some parents may think this is "best". I've heard parents bragging that their child was doing algebra or geometry in K. They don't realize that building 3 dimensional shapes in a block corner IS geometry. 

What steps would you take if your child was in a situation like this? I don't want to "complain" because it will look like I'm complaining about the teacher and it may not even be her choice??"

-- Jackie Higgins, "Ready, Set, Read"

"Kindergarteners should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in" via RainbowsWithinReach

So how do we respond to Jackie? What do you say to the mother of a 'new' kindergarten child that is crying every night, not wanting to go to school? How do we safeguard children's desire to learn and grow within a system whose pendulum has swung off the path of what we know is 'best' for children? How do we combat this ever increasing "Boot Camp" mentality? Kindergarten is now the Boot Camp for first grade. Preschool becomes the Boot Camp for Kindergarten. Why-oh-why can't those infants-in-their-diapers solve their quadratic equations before toddler class looms on the horizon? Where does the madness stop? 

Kindergarten "Life Skills" Corner: What is the Role of Play in K Today?
Is this 'corner' of play a dinosaur? Fading from existence as I type? Does your K class have a play corner? 

The testing that is sweeping across our schools is high stakes indeed. The idea that we have a five year old boy, who is already able to read upon entering kindergarten, yet crying at night that he doesn't want to go to school -- is an alarm bell. That reality is also HIGH STAKES, INDEED! Something has gone wrong. How do we respond when we hear that alarm? 

Since my article went to press a week ago, Fran Kramer, of 'Kindergarten Crayons' brought this article "Pressure Cooker Kindergarten" in the Boston Globe to my attention. Such a passionate, insightful article. Just as frightening? It was written in 2009. My experience is that the pendulum has swung even further since the article was published. 
Is anyone listening? 

Without a doubt there is excellence-in-education, all across America and around the globe indeed! Individual early childhood educators (whether PreK or K) must each craft the perfect blend of Mary Poppins mixed with Bill Nye-the-Science-Guy to formulate the inaugural educational experience for every mommy's little wonder. 

No more tears at night! We must be willing to be brave and do what we know is best for children. We must listen to each other. We are not alone. In this cyber-world of ours, we're just one click away from support. Let's speak out. Let's do what children need. What children deserve. Let's safeguard childhood. Let's let them be children. 

From the Boston article cited above, 
 ".......says Russell of the Boston schools. “The schools don’t make the decisions. The politicians are making the decisions to meet political needs.” There is also an element of fear among educators, especially in a troubled economy. “You have to be willing to get your wrist slapped a little bit,” says Russell. “If the folks who know what’s right don’t talk about it, we’re never going to get anywhere.”

Friends of Children. We are the 'folks who know what's right.' We know what's right for children. Are we talking about it? Are we getting our wrists slapped a little? Are we incorporating developmentally appropriate rigorous play into the school day? 

"I will awaken in my own time" (quote on childhood at PreK+K Sharing)

This fall I will be presenting at events all across the country. Let's continue this conversation in person. I have four upcoming keynotes at state conferences for SDE: Atlanta, Chicago and Indy are already open for registration. Texas in 2014 hasn't quite gone online. I'll also be at NAEYC in DC! My booth is #1213 and I'll announce our workshop's date when those details are announced. Let's put our heads together. Let's hug. Let's stand together and smile for a picture. Let's figure this out! By all means, please add your thoughts in the comment section of this article! 

Of all my wishes, it would be incredible to have this conversation 'go viral' -- have a compendium of voices speaking out. Speaking together on behalf of children. 

In the midst of all of this cyber interaction, I have also connected with Carolyn Kisloski, author of the blog, "Kindergarten: Holding Hands and Sticking Together." She has created this Prezi presentation on the importance of play from her favorite gathered quotations on the subject. You may download your own FREE copy at her store

Now let me share some links to articles from my blog that can help you get this new year off to an amazing start! 
{Click picture to go directly}

The Apple bulletin board pictured at the beginning of this article is from my Apple RoundUP

Apple Projects for Back to School (Preschool thru Kindergarten)

Back-to-School Bulletin Boards (RoundUP via RainbowsWithinReach)

Collection of 100+ Anchor Charts and their Organization via RoundUP at RainbowsWithinReach

Word Walls in Elementary School: Sight Word Presentation on Bulletin Boards Round-up via RainbowsWithinReach

photo of: Name Charts, Name Recognition, Name Activities (RoundUP via RainbowsWithinReach)

Fall Arts + Crafts Projects for Children (Fall RoundUP via RainbowsWithinReach)

Kindness Inspiration, Filling Buckets + Emotional Intelligence RoundUP via RainbowsWithinReach

Eric Carle Birthday Bonanza Bash: Children's Art Response to the Classics at RainbowsWithinReach

Please, please, please pin from this article. 
That's how the conversation will continue with new eyes. 
Thank you. 

**And now just a couple words from my 'editor-in-chief' status here at the collaboration.
With the new school year's arrival, we have had to say goodbye to several of our long term contributors. 
Lives have gotten busy, babies born, new responsibilities on the plate, you name it. We are so grateful to all of the authors who have shared great content here in the past.

We will be adding new authors into our mix throughout the coming months ahead. Look forward to new 'faces' amidst your favorites. 

Debbie Clement has written and recorded over 100 songs for young children onto 6 albums under her RainbowsWithinReach banner. She has transformed three of her songs into traditional hardback picture book format, where the words of her songs become the text of her books and a CD insert is included. 

She's also something of a social media junkie, writing her own blog, and has her own FB Fanpage. She has amassed 132,000+ followers on Pinterest. She's attempting to harness the power of Twitter, is currently a staff writer for Sulia on the Early Childhood channel, and has newly joined the ranks of Goolgle+ and Instagram. Are you connected thru LinkedIN? Yet some of her happiest moments involve being GeeGee to the WonderPeeps! 


  1. Debbie, It is 8 am on a Sunday morning and I am sitting here crying. Your words have touched my heart. After teaching 30 years, I am a brand new kindergarten teacher. At our Back-to-School Night last week I had each parent write three goals for me. (This fab idea comes from my super fab partner Stacey.) The parents' goals included: be warm, be loving, have the patience of a saint, believe in my child, be inspirational. How beautiful are those words? The parents also wrote goals for their children and many mentioned reading and writing. But social and emotional growth was also a huge component of these goals. My take-away? These parents truly understand what is important in kindergarten and will be supportive of my efforts to create an amazing kindergarten experience for their children. So it is up to me to be brave and do just that. My motto this year (which I lifted from my parents' goals :)is Be Inspirational.
    Thank you Debbie for inspiring kindergarten teachers everywhere!
    With appreciation,
    Camille in California

    1. Camille you must have been typing about the same time I was....I did the almost the exact same thing with my parents. Very few listed their most important goals for their children as reading and math....mostly getting along with others, being helpful, those people skills we used to work on so carefully in Kindergarten. Being happy, loving learning....what happened to that? My goal for this year is to be sure that each student has a positive experience, know that they are wonderful, loved, and capable people, and to foster curiosity. Hey Debbie....I think that sounds like a song I know. wink wink

    2. Camille and Terri...... It's you BRILLIANT-WONDERS with a lifetime of dedication to the field that have truly seen the evolution. Camille, I know that those who are moved to 'tears' are the ones who get it. Welcome. We are so glad to have you on our team.

      Listening to parents, their concerns, their joys, their goals and their hopes has to be the most incredible way to launch a new year. Our affording children the opportunity to grow socially and emotionally is such a critical part of being a good citizen of Planet Earth. All the best to both of you for this new year at hand.


      Wink-wink indeed! "I think YOU're wonderful!"

  2. This is becoming my new focus. My principal said no to a kitchen (and blocks....I brought them in from home), but yes to a puppet stage. My goal is to use it more and more this year.

    Terri Izatt

    1. Terri, I am absolutely fascinated that puppets are 'allowed' and that blocks would be forbidden. If I were to have placed a bet, I would have gone the other way around.... how can you dismiss the value of blocks to math? It is the discerning individual that values puppets for the language development skills. Many perceive them as merely 'dolls' and to closely akin to gen-u-ine play.

      Go figure? Keep at it. You have a toe-hold. Widen it.


  3. This was a very insightful and you posted SO many helpful links! Thank you!

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback, Twilson and so happy to have the opportunity to share the links as well.


  4. The other day I received an email from Pearson promoting their PreK curriculum: OWL: Opening the World of Learning (2011). While the program may be good (I have not seen it to review it), the promotional materials on the website just set me off: "College and Career Readiness Starts in Pre-K". That section heading infuriated me. I am so sick of hearing how we preschool teachers have to prepare kids for Common Core in kindergarten. All of my students need intensive support for their developmental delays in communication, motor, readiness, and/or behavior. I am more focused on assisting them in their play explorations, language and counting development. The LAST thing I need to be reminded of is that they are on the track to college and career readiness! ~Denise

    1. Denise. This is EXACTLY the not-so-subtle 'marketing' that is one factor in this whole bloomin' mess that we're in. I suppose their marketing team, was attempting to 'justify' play, but I can CERTAINLY see how your teeth would be on edge. AKKKKKKK. It makes my heart heave over the mere marketing concept.

      Please know that your focus on the NEEDS of your children is to be commended in every way. Here's to a meaningful year.


  5. Academics can be hurried up but not emotional growth. I had to say that over and over to parents of gifted kids. First grade is the old second and third grade, really, and then it has to be all retaught in grades 3 and 4 as the students were not ready to learn. There is so much repition in grade levels because of the push on academics. They need to play at all grade levels.

  6. This is such a heart tug issue for me. As a mom of a now first grader, who stayed home for the last 6 years with her, I was amazed at how Kindergarten last year was the first grade I taught 15 years ago. I can't imagine who thinks this "advanced curricula" is such a good idea. Any one with any sense knows that every child will learn at his/her own rate. No child walks on the same date after birth, nor will they read that way. I just want them to stop and let them be little, let them grow and let them learn to think. Truly, with all the drill these days, the kids never learn to think, to solve problems and to be creative. Sad, just so sad.

  7. Debbie -

    As always, you have thrown out some rich food for thought. Kindergarten is still optional in Texas {gasp!} and it always surprises me when a parent sets a conference with me to try to skip his/her child straight into first. You can't tutor maturity, so why take away the gift of time, just because your child is academically ready. Here's the thing ... there are more parts to the whole than the academic piece. Not only will play grow their academic side, it will help develop their spiritual side, social and emotional needs, and physical abilities.

    On the other hand, just because our focus is College/Career Readiness doesn't mean that we're solely pushing academics. There's a whole lot more that goes into Career Readiness like virtues, values, social skills, and feelings management. It's so interesting to engage five-year-olds in a discussion about what they want to be when they grow up and why.

    When my daughter was a senior, we created a bulletin board and lesson called From Crayons To College. I asked her to help me figure out what traits from A to Z she needed to get from her preK days to the college-application process. We made it into a game for my little learners and it was GREAT fun!

    You can visit that post here: From Crayons To College

    We need to take our wisdom from Covey by beginning with the end in mind: What do we want our graduates to act like, be like, be able to do? Whether they're graduating from K, 12th or college, surely we want a well-balanced, 'value-able' citizen who can positively make the world a better place!

    Play ball!!



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