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  Play has been replaced by the golden tested subjects of reading and math.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




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Holiday Gift Ideas for Teachers: Do’s & Don’ts

holiday gift ideas for teachers, teacher gift ideas


By the end of my 7th year of teaching, I amassed 1,500 candles, 74 bottles of body lotion/shower gels, and 45 coffee mugs.

Please for the love of consumerism, do not buy these for the teachers in your child’s life.


Of course, I appreciated all gifts. It just becomes a running joke after you open that 45th: Best Teacher in the Universe Mug! Another apple-scented candle from Bath & Body Works!

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not being tacky or ungrateful, just real.  Real meaning I worked in both private and public schools here in Chicago.  With well-to-do families and those on food stamps.  Real meaning I needed basic supplies like construction paper and books.

Rather than another mug or apple candle, I wanted copy paper the most, as Chicago schools often ration it out like butter and sugar during a world war.

Given that I am on the purchasing end of the teacher gifts spectrum now that my sons are in school, I wanted to pass along some “do’s & don’ts”.

This is what your child’s teachers and therapists really want to tell you:

Many teachers make crap money.  I know I did. My first year teaching, I made UNDER $20,000 a year.  I spent at least $2000 on my classroom.  Sad, right?

What made the difference that year was the gift cards to bookstores, Target, dollar stores, etc. It really helped me build my dream classroom.
Teacher Gifts Do’s:

1.) Purchase gift cards.  Yes, they seem impersonal, but in all reality, your child’s teacher spends a LOT out of their own pocket on books, craft items, and school supplies.  If you want, include something handmade with said gift card.

Gift cards to craft stores, dollar stores, teacher stores, and Target are a good bet. The dollar bins at Tarjay alone are enough to make most teachers smile.  General mall or debit card gift cards are awesome as well.  If your child’s teacher is a coffee junkie, feed their habit with the usual chains.  Awake teachers are happy teachers.  I have yet to work in a school where the coffee pot is ever NOT brewing.

2.) Give spa treatments! Manis, pedis, massages, and the like are great for those underpaid and overworked teachers!  One lovely family, who I had three of their little ones, gave me a gift card to my favorite salon at the time.  That really impressed me.

3.) Consult with other parents on a massive gift.  One year, my first grade class bought me a digital camera.  This was way back in the early 2000s before camera phones existed. That was very meaningful and relevant to my teaching.  I used it to build my portfolio for my master’s and take great photos of my classes.

4.) Include the gift receipt! 

5.) Consider making something personal from the class. My best gifts were scrapbook of my classes throughout the year made by my room parents.  It was by far the most thoughtful gift I received teaching, and one I still cherish today

6) Something homemade from your child can NEVER go wrong.  We teachers gobble that stuff up.  I have a file with all the handmade cards, photos, and letters.

7.) Stock their classroom libraries!  Consider replenishing consumable classroom supplies: stickers, stamp pads, etc are always a good bet.  If you are of the crafty variety, I’m sure Pinterest has like 15,000 ideas for you.

8.)If money is tight, a letter of gratitude.  A genuine letter, especially if your child’s teacher has gone beyond the scope of their job.

Extra credit:  Look around your child’s classroom.   Does the teacher have collections of any kind?  One music teacher I worked with was obsessed with Hello Kitty. Imagine her delight if you added to that collection.

Any parent that would have bought me vintage lunchboxes would have been awesome {I had them all over my classroom}

So, observance is key.

Teacher Gift Don’ts:

1.) Send baked goods or food of any kind.  Your teacher may be battling with her weight or have food allergies.  For instance, I can’t eat gluten, yet well meaning neighbors drop cookies I have to toss in the trash.    My favorite “food” gift was a gift card to Whole Foods.

2.) Forget the aides in your child’s classroom.  They work just as hard as the teachers, but for even less money.  My son’s aides change his diaper and work one on one with him daily.  I adore these women.

3.) Buy clothes or accessories.   I think it’s too personal. If it’s not your teacher’s style, they may feel obligated to wear it.   If you really want to do this, please make sure to also give the gift receipt.

4.) Buy things that scream “teacher”.  The apples, alphabet, etc.  Unless your child’s classroom looks like an apple explosion by all means, feed that teacher’s apple obsession.

5.) Please step away from the scented candles, soaps, lotions, and coffee mugs.  Chances are, your teacher has a closet at home FULL of these gifts.  I have many teachers in my family who often regift these items to unsuspecting grandmothers and aunts.  Don’t add to the madness.

What are your thoughts on teacher/therapist gifts?

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I want to see your pretty faces here.
I really do.
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{This post is reworked from one I wrote in 2011}

p.s.:My tune has changed on teacher gifts a wee bit this year, as I have 7 teachers and 8 therapists to buy for, between my two sons. 15 teachers in total. Wow.  That’s more than the people I buy for in my family!

I will share more on what I do for them exactly in the week ahead.  If you have less than 15, well you’ve come to the right blog post.


Sharing @ Happy Hour at Craftberry Bush

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