Common Core and the Death of Kindergarten

criticism of common core

Something ugly is happening in America’s kindergarten classrooms.  Playtime and finger painting are a thing of the past.  Kindergarten, due to the stranglehold of Common Core standards, is now the new first grade.  The stress and demands placed upon our nation’s 5 and 6 year olds, in my educational opinion, is ludicrous.

criticism of common core

As a former first and second grade teacher, I am utterly shocked at what is expected of a 5 year old underneath Common Core. Here’s a sample of a few Common Core standards our country’s kindergarteners are expected to master by school year’s end:

Distinguish shades of meaning among verbs describing the same general action (e.g.,walk, march, strut, prance) by acting out the meanings

Use the most frequently occurring inflections and affixes (e.g., -ed, -s, re-, un-, pre-, -ful, -less) as a clue to the meaning of an unknown word.

As a former second grade teacher, these are skills covered then, not a age 5!  Even when I taught ELA in middle school, I had students who could struggled with “shades of meaning”.

For fun, have a closer look at all the standards here.  Really read them.

I visited many schools before deciding to homeschool this fall.  I visited and was wowed by the pricey Montessori.   I was disappointed by our Catholic school system.  I toured our local public school. The public school was the most disturbing.  The kindergarten day consisted of a literacy block and a math block.  There’s wasn’t a dramatic play center.  An art center.  Play has been replaced by the golden tested subjects of reading and math.

Immediately my heart sank.  Children learn through play, plain and simple.  Even in my son’s preschool program here in Chicago, he kept a journal! Completed a handwriting program! Had homework backpacks! It’s preschool, not college prep.

Gone are the days of fun thematic units like pumpkins and apples.  Kids in kindergarten here in Chicago are now subjected to the same computer-based standardized tests as the older kids.  Test prep!  Writing dissertations! Understanding nuances of language and connotations.  What’s next AP kindergarten?

All my 5 year old cares about is his dinosaur collection and what’s for lunch.

Next thing you know, we’ll be pasting sight words above our children’s cribs.  Maybe hire a tutor at the hospital! Start em’ early!  Wait, there’s already an informercial for that, right?

My youngest son is academically above average.  At 4 years of age, he was already reading.  How did I do it?  I didn’t. He did it.  He was ready, and he magically started reading.  I was the same way as a kid.  I just started reading. Period.  Through old-fashioned snuggle time with books, not test prep and  flashcards.  Not through mandated standards and drills.

But, I couldn’t subject my son to a 7 hour day without play.  That’s like investment banker hours for kids: too much and too soon.  Plus, nap time in kindergarten has gone the way of play here in Chicago.  It’s not in the time table to rest! We must test!

Childhood is a precious time, but with standards like these, it’s a pressure cooker for all involved.  I feel for the teachers.  It’s a trickle-down system.  The standards are imposed from on-high, and they are at the front lines scrambling to retrofit curriculum to the newest wave of standards implementation.

Plus, think of all the money to be made! Textbooks companies must be rejoicing! A new edition!

As a former Chicago teacher, I’ve had to do all those hideous things you hear in the media like teaching to the test.   I’ve seen changes in curriculum and standards come and go in the past 15 years-but never in the best interest of the kids.  Common Core is a hot mess, a horror show.  Sure, teachers will do what they can.  But in the end, it’s the system that’s the problem.  No Child Left Behind morphs into the werewolf that is Common Core, and parents, need to deeply examine the standards and their school’s curriculum.  Parents, please take the time this year to ask WHY, HOW, and WHAT.

I’ve looked into the mouth of the beast here in Chicago, and I didn’t like what I saw.

Many parents think “Common Core” is the curriculum.  It’s NOT.  Standards are the WHY we learn what we learn.  The curriculum is the WHAT and HOW.  If there is an issue with the WHY, the WHAT and HOW will never work. The WHY in this case kills childhood.  It kills play.  It invites more testing, worry, and stress. Period.

If children learn best through play, then Common Core has fired the true work of childhood: imagination.John Taylor Gatto quotes




Continue Reading

Ideas for Improving Fine Motor Skills: Cutting Skills with a Purpose

My youngest son, Monkey, has a mild delay in fine motor skills. He struggles with a proper pencil grasp, and until recently, he couldn’t cut with scissors.

At all.

My attempts at working with him ended in tantrums and headaches.

I tried many tricks from various OTs, but nothing short of bribery could get my son to work on his cutting and coloring.

But, yesterday, a random idea popped into my head: he could create “leaves and grass” for his beloved animals. As I set out to make lunch after a morning of preK for Monkey and a long morning of work for me, Monkey got to work “making lunch” for his family of giraffes.

ideas for improving cutting skills

Slowly, other animals took interest and needed to be fed as well.

ideas for improving fine motor skills

Hot damn, why did I not think of this before???

If your child has fine motor delays, I’d recommend cardstock over construction paper, because the heavier weight of the 60lb paper seems to make it easier for them to grasp as they cut. I prepped some of the paper into 5 inch strips, so it was easier for him to snip.

His preschool teacher gave me a tip that I love, and of course, it incorporates animals of course. Tell your child the scissors are like alligators and they “chomp, chomp”. I think Monkey said chomp five hundred times.

You need to watch that your child doesn’t do the limp wrist flip, that is so common in children with fine motor delays.  Simply redirect them to orient their hands so their thumb is on top.

Following this unreal amount of time spent cutting leaves and grass, he and I made an “African Savana” together from a large shoe box.  Clearly, it an excuse to buy more boots, right?

It was a solid two hours of the most enjoyable “fine motor work” I’ve ever had with Monkey. It goes to show, with a little creativity and incorporating a child’s passion (in Monkey’s case: animals)- you can build in “work” that addresses areas of need on their IEPs, and frankly in their normal school skills.

He weilded a paint brush and scissors without fight or struggle. For two hours!

I’m going to buy stock in green paper.

For more educational ideas, be sure to check out my day job at The Classroom Creative.

With love,

Continue Reading

DIY Weather Chart for Kids

weather chart for kids

Back when I was teaching, I ran a morning routine with my students.  Now, I do the same with my kids.  It’s great way to anchor our morning, and this way, I know I start the day with some solid learning.

Initially, I purchased materials from a teacher’s store, but over the past few years, said materials for my charts with the boys have been either chewed or ripped.  Plus, I think my illustrations for teaching weather are way cuter than many of the teacher-y materials for weather on the mass market.

My boys’ room functions as a place for sleep, time-outs, morning routine, and ABA.  It’s too small to house toys. For that sake, it’s been pretty barren.  This month, I plan to finally finish the room that I started redecorating a year ago! 

weather chart for kids



Our weather here in Chicago is volatile at best.  It can drop 30-40 degrees over the course of a few hours.  Snow, then rain…you get the idea.  So, I wanted to keep the pieces handy ON the actual chart, in case my younger son wants to change them out.  Which he often does.



weather chart ideas, weather clip art for kids

materials circle button-002* thin white foam core sheet {from Dollar Tree}

*X-acto knife



*stickers, letters, or a digital cutter with cardstock

*Weather Clip Art

*Faux lamination technique


*Hot glue and glue sticks

*regular glue


1.) Freehand a cloud.

2.) Cut with X-acto knife on a solid surface.  {Not your tablecloth…I ripped mine-not thinking of course}

3.) Outline the cloud with a Sharpie.

4.) Cut your letters, stickers, etc. for the wording.  I used Silhouette Cameo in size 100/72 pt Copperplate Font.

5.) Print the clip art and use faux lamination! I plan to invest in a real laminator soon.

I used the weather clip art set from our shoppe at etsy:


Why clip art vs stuff from a teacher store?

If it rips, you lose a piece, or your kids chew it {true story}, simply reprint.  For the price you pay for a poster, you can have a perpetual weather chart! Plus, you are supporting WAHMs, and not big corporations.

6.) Adhere velcro to the back of each piece. I use dot velcro.  As an autism mom, I seriously should buy stock in velcro.  We use it so much for his charts and PECS books.

7.) Hot glue a length of ribbon.

weather chart for kids

Now turn your children into little meteorologists…


For more caustic wit and brilliance, please follow me via the time sucks of social media.

I want to see your pretty faces here.
I really do.


Continue Reading

Top Ten Holiday Gifts for Kids with Autism

holiday gifts for kids with autism, holiday gift ideas for children with autism
Need gifts for kids with autism?  Confused on what to get your own kid?  Here are the sensory seeking toys my son Moose adores and his NT {neurotypical} brother Monkey has a blast with as well.

For those who don’t know, kids with autism often don’t have pretend play like NT kids do. So buying Moose the latest action figure or Lego set isn’t going to fly.

Moose prefers to MOVE! Bounce! Crash. Spin.  Swing.  He never had interest in typical toys since the age of 2 when autism struck.

Playing with my sons is a full-body workout. An added bonus? I no longer have a gym membership.

1.) Parachute.  This helps with social interaction, following directions, etc.

hoilday gifts for kids with autism, sensory processing

@ Target {here}

2.) Exercise ball.  Great for strengthening core muscles.  Most kids with autism have low muscle tone. Don’t buy one from a sensory magazine.  A smaller size exercise ball works just fine.   Moose uses my yoga ball.  Added bonus, others in the house benefit as well.  A 2 for 1 gift!

gifts for kids on the autism spectrum
@Target {here}

3.) Scooter Board.  Santa brought this for Moose last year.  It has been used every day since Christmas Day 2011.  Good for sensory input and core building.  Genius, given that this scooter board is under $25!  Just like the ones you used in PE as a kid.

@Amazon here

4.) Bilibo.  Moose could spin for hours in this thing.  It really helps regulate him.  All kids in my house are drawn to this odd shaped piece of plastic.  I was skeptical about the reviews, but clearly, it is popular for a reason.

@ Target: {here}


5.) Tunnels.  According to Moose’s doctor, the more kids with autism crawl, the more the social wiring in their brain regulates.  Moose is in this tunnel often.


@ Target {here}

6.) Tents. Great for hiding when life is too overwhelming.  I store these behind our couches when not in use.


Tent at Target on the cheap here

7.) Indoor swing.  Moose’s Nana bought him this one from Ikea last Christmas.  The whole she-bang was less than $40.

{Ikea may still have it!}

8.) Bean bag.  We have a fancy one from Z Gallerie that we purchased before I had kids.  Great for sensory input and crashing.  If you are crafty means, these are not that difficult to sew.  But, if not, there’s some reasonable ones like the one below:


Beanbag @ Target.  Must buy in store.

9.)  Bouncy house.  All kids should have one if the funds allow.  Great for kids that live in horrific climates like our beloved Second City.  Great for tiring out the tykes.  Ours was less than $200, fits in our dollhouse, and has paid for itself already.  Plus, you don’t have to drag your kids to those flu-invested blow-up places in the dead of winter.

@ Target.  Worth the investment: Here

10.)  If you are of the financial iPad would make a fantastic addition.  There’s tons of research on the tremendous effect iPads have on visually-oriented kids with autism.  Moose doesn’t really interact with his, but the Sesame Street You Tube videos are used as positive reinforcers during his ABA sessions.  He is starting to take interest in his iPad as of this article being updated.  Yea!

iPads for Autism.  Here 

11.) If the child you are shopping for is in ABA therapy, Moose received these ABA photo cards from his Nana this year. They are pricey, retailing for $150! But, I found them on Amazon for much cheaper.  Behold:

{not #aff via Amazon}

12.) Especially in these winter months, an indoor trampoline is necessary for kids who need that sensory input.  Also, great for parents of NT kids, who just want to wipe them out before bedtime.

gifts for kids with autism

Yup. Every home with kids needs one.  @Target here

Extra Credit:

If your gift recipient is a chewer…get them the chewies or chewlery.  I need to order more, as our 20 chewies have all been lost or eaten by my evil Boston Terrier, Sir Doodle.  Now Moose is back to gnawing on Matchbox cars and his fingers.  Gah.


If you or someone you love have purchased gifts for kids with autism…please share your ideas below in the comments!

Enlighten me! 

Stay tuned for more epic holiday ideas, crafts, and musing,


For more caustic wit and brilliance, please follow me via the time sucks of social media.
I want to see your pretty faces here.
I really do.



Post above contains #aff links.  I was not perked by any mention herein.  Though I should be.

*updated from 2011’s post

Continue Reading

Halloween Alphabet Word Wall Tutorial


From my Halloween archives.  For those of your new to my site, this is one of my favorite projects I made for my children: seasonal/holiday word walls.  This one, in particular, is my favorite…


Although Moose is in special ed preK 5 days a week, I still make a huge point to homeschool with my boys.  We have a “circle” time each morning.

Concepts like holidays are still tough for Moose to grasp, so I decided to take this Halloween up a notch with a Halloween/fall word wall!  This project would be great for kids preschool through 5th grade.  The older kids can brainstorm ideas.  Younger kids would benefit from exposure to new words.


Children with autism are primarily visual learners, so I want Moose to really “get Halloween” this year. Hence, the word wall with picture cues. That’s one of the tough parts of autism is holidays…

Monkey is talking up a storm, so this word wall will also build his prior knowledge and vocabulary.

Enough of the teacher talk.  Making a visually based word wall is important for all readers. I don’t think it’s enough to have “just the word” unless you are talking sight words, then different story.

But if your word wall focuses on nouns and verbs, why not include a picture?

I think having a themed word wall will break up the monotony of having the boys’ favorite people, places, and things on our usual ABC word wall.

So here’s what I used-


-two nails
-silver cord ribbon
-a pack of clothespins from the dollar store
-chip board letters ala Tar-jay dollar sections
-contact paper for durability
-various photos, clip art, magazine photos, old Halloween cards


1.) Choose a wall with at least five feet in length.
2.) Paint your clothespins and adhere letters.
3.) Brainstorm various concrete words associated with Halloween/autumn.
4.) Create ABC cards with photos, clip art, and WORDS attached.  This can be done in MS word or picmonkey’s collage feature.
5.) Use ghetto lamination: clear contact paper on both side of the Halloween abc cards, so young kids won’t rip your hard work!







Some extreme close-ups of a few of my favorites:




Sharing @

This post marks Day 11 of 31 for
Here are the other posts…

Continue Reading

in honor of chicago teachers, from a former chicago teacher

chicago teacher strike

Many moons ago, before Moose was born, I taught in Chicago’s classrooms.

My first year teaching, I made a whooping $19,600. $3,000 of which, I spent on books and supplies.

Teacher-haters lament, “June. July. August.”  Why are teacher’s complaining?”

Really?  My son’s teacher got out of school June 14th, taught summer school for 5 weeks, and then reported back to school for meetings on August 6th.

Doesn’t sound like much of a “vacation” to me.

Check your facts, haters.

Would you want to teach 35+ kids in an UNairconditioned building in a humid Chicago summer?
To have people evaluate you who haven’t been properly trained?
To have a more hours forced on your without compensation?

Should doctors be paid on the “outcomes” of their patients?  Should teachers?

It’s not about the money.
Teachers do not choose their profession for money.
Because, as teachers, the hours spent planning and grading rival that of investment bankers.
The 12+ hours days I worked made my salary less than that of a fast food employee.

I went into education to help children.
And I did.  Helped hundreds of them.

Now, that I have a child with special needs and another son, my professional goals have changed.

But I will always be a teacher at the core.

The hundreds of teachers I’ve worked with, many of whom are on today’s picket lines, have my utmost respect.

It’s a hard damn job.

Probably, second to being a parent of a kid with autism.

I digress.

Teaching is a job that should come with boat loads of supplies, a starting salary of at least $100,000, and a support network to raise inner-city children up, not force them into crumbling buildings with insane teacher-student ratios.  Without air-conditioning.

The stress alone, working in low-income neighborhoods, is enough to tax your own health.

Students who come to school in filthy clothes without glasses or winter coats.

Students who are beaten by parents, and you call DCFS on your “lunch break” {which in CPS last year was 15 minutes}.

Students who show up to school with weapons.

Having to the shut the blinds and lay on the ground because of gang activity.

I’ve seen all these things when I was in the classroom.

This week, my son Moose is home from school.

No matter how long this Chicago Teacher Strike lasts, I back them 100%.

Please don’t believe the headlines.  Conditions in Chicago schools aren’t even close to fair and equal.

Now, off to lesson plan for my strike homeschool.

Sharing @ *new linky!* Happy Hour hosted at my friend Lucy’s site Craftberry Bush

Continue Reading

spring/easter/st.patrick’s day abc word wall tutorial

Creating a visual word wall is important for all kids- be it special needs, fluent readers, or preschoolers. 
I have a incredibly verbal 2.5 year old and a visually-oriented son with autism, so these visual word walls really help both of my sons.  I try to change them up by seasons. I began making these for my sons last fall.  You can find our Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Holiday visual word walls here.
I made the mistake of not “laminating” these at first, and had to reprint the first Halloween wall far too many times.  So I started making them more kid-friendly. Want to know how I laminate without a laminator?
Here’s some of the spring word wall pieces as I was “laminating” them.
Notice I was also tracing the shape of the word, which is based on the work of Pat Cunningham, author of the Four Blocks of Literacy.  It really does help kids with learning to read.

-two nails
-silver cord ribbon
-a pack of clothespins from the dollar store
-chip board letters ala Tar-jay dollar sections
-contact paper for durability
-various photos, clip art, magazine photos, old greeting cards of said season/holiday

1.) Choose a wall with at least five feet in length.
2.) Paint your clothespins and adhere letters.
3.) Brainstorm various concrete words associated with Halloween/autumn.
4.) Create ABC cards with photos, clip art, and WORDS attached.  This can be done in MS word or google’s picasa.

{Note: this word wall is not hung, because I am prepping the boys’ room to meet YHL’s pinterest challenge!}

Without further adieu, here’s our spring word wall, mixed with touches of Easter and St. Patrick’s Day.  I consider March 1st to be the start of meteorological spring, so I included a few St. Patrick’s Day items.
Here’s the free word list printable!
{Simply drag into Picasa and print at standard paper size}
I recommend using card stock.
Hope this inspires you to create one for your kids or students!
Happy Spring.
Are you new to my word walls?
Don’t forget there are more here for your pinning pleasure.
Continue Reading

Thanksgiving Alphabet Word Wall Tutorial

Just like my Halloween word wall, it’s time to introduce more new holiday vocabulary into the boys’ growing brains.

Each morning, I run a “calendar time” with my kids.  Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I want to make sure they have the basics down.  Ten minutes in the morning, each day.  I plan to share what we do each morning soon…

Notice that each word is outlined to trace the shape of the word, according to Pat Cunningham, a respected reading researcher in word wall literacy, this helps our children visualize and retain the words better.

Many classrooms with ELL students have pictures accompanying words, I think this really helps kids with special needs and little 2 year olds like Monkey!

two nails
-silver cord ribbon
-a pack of clothespins from the dollar store
-chip board letters ala Tar-jay dollar sections
-contact paper for durability
-various photos, clip art, magazine photos,  family photos

1.) Choose a wall with at least five feet in length.
2.) Paint your clothespins and adhere letters.
3.) Brainstorm various concrete words associated with Thanksgiving.
4.) Create ABC cards with photos, clip art, and WORDS attached.  This can be done in MS word or google’s picnik collage feature.
5.) Use ghetto lamination: clear contact paper on both side of the Thanksgiving abc cards, so young kids won’t rip your hard work!

I present to you…The Thanksgiving Word Wall.

Linking up to:
Tatertots and Jello

Continue Reading

First Week of School: From the Other Side of the Desk…

What a week it’s been.  First I sent Moose in his Sunday best on the first day of school, when there was a uniform.

Looks like someone didn’t get the memo.

Whatever.  I have awesome pictures.

But still. I was a teacher.  How did I miss the mark on that one?

In the brownie points department, I did have all of his school supplies perfectly labeled and organized.  And his school fee was paid.

Cuz I am awesome like that.

In a nutshell, Moose is adjusting.  He did leave school FULL OF POOP on Wednesday, but that issue has been nipped in the “butt” with the teacher.

No snark allowed with teachers, people.  I am all puppies dogs and ass-kissing when it comes to those who care for my young.

Especially, because Ms. Cure* {named change obviously}, is early childhood special ed autism, I want to send her on a trip to Tahiti.  Maybe a spa day.

I can barely deal with just one autistic Moose, but having 16 different IEPs in 2 different sections of PreK and plenty of HMPs {High Maintenance Parents -code word for pains in the ass in school lingo}, she deserves a freakin’ academy award and a spa day each weekend.

I admit.  I hated on the HMPs when I was a bright-eyed 20 something fresh from grad school with ideas abound in my skull.  With a lot of knowledge and not so much know how.

Being a mother is a tough job.  Being a mother of a child with a special need is a gut-wrenching, blood curdling job.

Now, I am on the otherside of the desk.  A mom of one of those kids I would see on my class list and be a little nervous about.  After all, special ed was merely ONE class in my grad program.  Most general ed teachers have little in the means of working with kids with special needs.  Truthfully, I was a teacher and know plenty of them. IEPs alone should require a separate legal degree.

I am not the one calling the shots with the gradebook in hand.

I am a mother with a head of anger and a broken heart with a son who is physically ill and labeled as autistic.

The parent in the parking lot.
who is letting go of some control.

Strangely, I am okay with that for now.

Because I need the help, damn it.

I am drowning with this kid, and this school, this “instructional special ed preK” classroom is my buoy.

Monkey is having a harder time adjusting to the Moose and the PreK predicament. “Me Go in house school.  No Monkey.  Me want house. House! House!” Enter five minute tantrum.

Monkey proceeds to flail his 30 lb body on the parking lot where stupid Chicago teenagers drink their beer bottles and chuck it at their old grammar school.

I was one of those stupid kids.  And now I am the mom picking up the shards of glass.

Just a mom in the parking lot, watching my little boy hold the hand of an aide I may have forgotten the name of already, disappear into the building that I hope will lead us closer to the real Moose.

The boy who smiled and looked me in the eye.

The boy who answered questions when I asked.

The boy who is still buried deep down inside of this word, this label, this word that makes people wince and shudder.

I want to find what did this to you, Moose, and take it in a dark alley.

Continue Reading

this is growing up. {monkey turns 2}

somewhere in between driving to doctors and cursing out insurance companies and running to therapy, my second son, decided to morph from baby to boy…

from this…

to this:

next thing you know, i’ll be chasing girls off my doorstep. Moose starts Pre-K a week from Monday.  And Monkey has a persona Hollywood would eat up.

i’m not sure where the time went these past few years.  it was blur of sleepless nights and coffee-fueled mornings.

happy birthday to my little monkey.  2.

your personality and eyelashes continue to astound me.

you count to 15.  you sing the abcs.  you know your seasons and days of the week.  you know more at 2 than most of my first graders did.  you love your “hoppo” books {Hippo books by Sanda Boyton for those who don’t speak Monkey}.  and tell us “I love you” all the time.

you love taking the credit cards out of my wallet and hiding them in your play kitchen.

you tell the butcher at whole foods, Hi you meat man.  You love to point out butts in pictures and say “ha ha funny” for EVERYTHING.

your preferred shoe is the rain boot.

i think you will grow up to be a lady killer and charmer.   i can already tell you’ve inherited mama’s artsy gene.

you know so many words at this point, I’ve lost count.

you and moose often sleep smashed in the same toddler bed.

Looks like older brother Moose’s bookworm tendencies have rubbed off.
You are known to destroy a room in seconds flat.

You love “babies”.  Maybe mama will make you a real one soon.
And look in the mirror a LOT like someone else I know…

To another great year, Mr. Magoo.  I can only imagine what fun being 2 will bring.
And maybe some more tantrums too
like the epic one you threw in Trader Joe’s this week.
that was pure awesome.
moose didn’t have the terrible 2s or 3s for that matter.
now mama will pay for that in spades.
happy birthday, boots.

Continue Reading