Tag Archives: No Child Left Behind


child writing

Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them
Bob Dylan

What will the children remember, years from now, about their year in kindergarten? When their days are filled with lessons in reading, writing, mathematics, and phonics, will they have fond memories of an exciting Fundations lesson? With days devoid of play, indoors and outdoors, will they lovingly remember the experience of reading “back-to-back” and then “shoulder-to-shoulder”?

I have become obsessed with this question of what children will remember after spending the year visiting kindergartens, speaking with teachers, and listening to parents. I finally decided to contact some former students and parents of students and ask them if they could write down one kindergarten memory. My former students are now in their twenties, perhaps a few almost hitting thirty! I wondered, “Would they actually remember anything at all after all of those years?”

Let me share some of what they shared with me.

Zeke (graduating college this month)
I think my most vivid memory is waking across the Brooklyn Bridge replica we made. It was a lot of fun learning about the various bridges and building the replica. building a bridge

Milah (Just graduated from college)
When I think about kindergarten I remember performing plays, Billy Goat Gruff, writing poems, and Peter the turtle :):):)peter edited

Kaitlin (kindergarten, 1994)
I remember choice time and playing at the fake kitchen/home area. And I remember smearing shaving cream on the desks. That was fun!‬ Jimmy playing house

Julia (kindergarten, 1990)
I remember singing! I think we sang Blue Skies, and I think maybe the Banana Boat Song? I remember visiting the fire station on Union Street and getting to slide down the pole. I remember playing in the school yard. I think the singing is what sticks out most for me.Connie, me and kids- joyful singing

Jimmy (Kindergarten, 1990)
I remember building block time with Nick and David. Of course my fav was nap time on our phenomenal blue mats.blocks

Sara (kindergarten, 1996)
I remember looking at meal worms. We had a big tank with a bunch of bugs and we could pick them up with tweezers if we wanted to.
I also remember days when I would choose something like puzzles at Choice Time because I thought I wanted to do something quiet by myself, but then I’d be bored halfway through and regret my decision. It was always better to choose the ‘special activity’ or the one all your friends chose.
There was a giant refrigerator box for time out. It had a pillow on the bottom and cut outs on the side.

I remember Backwards Day, which I always thought could be more backwards. And I remember eating my pudding (dessert) first at lunch and it gave me a stomach-ache.
I also remember nap time, because what adult doesn’t reminisce about nap time.

The Quiet, Cozy Reading Room

Lionel (graduating college this month)
I do remember our trip to Madiba, and feeling like a celebrity because the restaurant was near my parent’s house (..?). It’s funny what kids get really excited about, but I’m sure I received some special attention from my classmates because it was close/my family was there. I remember eating roasted corn with our student teacher (was her name Liz? I don’t remember now…I remember quite clearly that she liked to eat mango, and told us stories about eating it messily) at the restaurant. That was just when they opened, now they’ve been in the neighborhood for ‘as long as I can remember.’ Funny.1-239  2000

Dan (kindergarten, 1990)
I remember being picked up by my Aunt on the day my brother was born, and some time later (a few weeks? months?) my mother bringing baby David into class so all of us students could take turns tracing him on large white paper!1990 class photo

Anna (kindergarten, 1994)
Your name went up on some board when you learned to tie your shoes? I was trying to learn and was struggling, and I really wanted my name to be on the board, but was also very conscious of it not being on the board. When I finally learned, I felt very accomplished.

I remember sitting at a table drawing something and you telling me I did a good job and feeling very warm and happy.drawing

Sophie (kindergarten, 1994)
I loved the Quiet Corner! I remember it being a little structure made out of cardboard, very dark and full of pillows, where we could go when we wanted to spend some time being quiet. It was lovely! And it has stayed with me.

I also remember Author of the Week; each student got a week during which all of the books they’d written during class were displayed on a bookcase near the front of the classroom. I think one period was spent having the rest of the class interview the author of the week about the stories she’d written. That was awesome.

Ross (kindergarten, 1993)
My strongest memory of kindergarten is of singalong time, particularly “Here Comes the Sun.” I remember loving the song and the act of singing/listening. I would later (re) discover the Beatles and develop a much broader love for their music, but it all started then (and possibly with “An Octopus’s Garden” too?).

David (Just graduated from college)
I remember doing a lot of singing in that class. In particular, the song Love Can Build a Bridge. We would sit on the rug and sing along to the cassette, and Akira would sing the vocal “flair” parts. We even recorded it on cassette – I remember the microphone hanging down from the ceiling over the rug and we all sang into it. I still have that cassette somewhere.

Daniel (Just graduated from college)
When I think of my favorite kindergarten memories, I immediately think of choice time. Although for me there was never much “choice” involved because my heart belonged to blocks. With those wooden blocks I was able to build bridges, skyscrapers and even spaceships. I could feel the structural integrity of my creations, even if that meant sitting on them until they collapsed. Why was this satisfying? I don’t know. All I knew was that crayons and books couldn’t hold a candle to blocks!block builders

Gillian (kindergarten, 1994)
My sister was born while I was in Kindergarten – December 1993. my mom brought my infant sister into class a few months later for “choice time.” Not sure why but with some kids, crayola markers and a giant roll of paper we traced her body. She was a squirmy baby and I’m not sure how it worked or why tracing an infant seemed like a good idea but I remember that my friend Basam was particularly gentle and caring with her. I’m sure there were other kids involved but I can only remember Basam and my mom. The drawing was on a huge roll of paper and had a strange misshapen baby outline surrounded by other less human scribbles. We had the drawing for a long time – it was important to me and my parents – bizarre archive- I’m not sure if it’s still somewhere in their house. Hoping it is.

Some parents also shared their memories of their child’s kindergarten year –

I remember the first curriculum night. I don’t know what I expected but I was blown away by the range and depth of the techniques used to support literacy. I guess I had some fantasy of phonics and memorizing the alphabet, and I remember my mind being blown about how language emerges in different ways with different kids. I have forgotten all but the feeling of excitement that someone (you) actually had a method to the madness. The one thing that has stayed with me (probably because it was a visual) that you had an outline of a word – that the pure shape of a word was one of the many ways to begin decoding. I will never forget that.

I have a memory of a writers’ workshop publishing party. This may have been from first grade and I am sure that I have embellished it in my mind for comic effect. The kids happily publishing real life, unvarnished reflections of the messy side of Park Slope home lives. Literally revealing the ‘dirty laundry’ at home. All the parents dressed up and on good behavior while their kids were publishing accounts that were not so dressed up. ‘Out of the mouths of babes.’ I remember being a little disappointed and relieved that Vicky only ever wrote about rainbows. There was not much insight there, except that I think that she really liked doing the illustrations and she knew that she had a good solid 6 pages of copy (blue, green, yellow, orange, red, violet).vicky reading


One thing that comes to mind immediately is the self-portrait that my son drew with his bird on his head. I loved the self-portraits the children made. Hanging along the walls of the classroom , they made the room belong to the children. I also loved them because drawing was a medium in which my son felt “good at something”. He was shy then and seemed to stand back while the girls in the class danced around, comfortable in their outfits and friendships. I often felt that boys were pushed to the back at 321 (I also have daughters), in efforts to compensate for previous limitations.

I also remember the play “Three Billy Goats Gruff”, with its imaginative props. There was a lot going on in that classroom.


Renee, I can’t distinguish between kindergarten and 1st grade because you looped with the kids, but here are a few memories:
· The class singing Pete Seeger’s “Sailing Down My Golden River” for a performance for parents. As a result, that song, whenever I hear it, brings me to tears.
· Moriah Shapiro doing some kind of performance (maybe year-end) and you announcing that we’d all be seeing her on Broadway in a few years.
· Realizing that David had learned to read by identifying words (as opposed to sounding them out) when we took him to DC and, as the metro train pulled into a station, he said, “Look Mom, it’s Friendship Heights.” Humorously, he currently lives about two stops away from that station.
· Last but not least, the bridges project. Wherever we traveled during and afterward, David would identify the kind of bridge we were seeing. I recall accompanying the class on the trip to the Brooklyn Bridge and still have on my fridge a dog-eared photo of the entire class on the bridge. Eerily, it shows the two world trade towers in the background.


Unfortunately, I can’t add anything to what Susan has said here. It’s so long ago! But I can say that choice time was a brilliant thing, and clearly left an impression on David. (I believe we told you the story of how “choice time” was the punch line he used in an improv skit recently and he was surprised that it fell flat – because, as he discovered, he was the only one who had experienced it.)

Giving the kids the notion from an early age that at least part of their time is self directed, fun learning is such a gift to them.


Singing, playing outdoors, building with blocks, reading in the refrigerator-box cozy room, napping, poetry, dramatic play, Choice Time, our turtle, trips, bridge study, plays, Backwards Day, and more singing, singing, singing…a rainbow of kindergarten memories.


What kind of memories will we give to the children who attend kindergarten during the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top years? Let’s think about that and then take some positive action to stop this craziness. Let’s return childhood to children. They will turn out to be wonderful young adults! As William Crain wrote in Reclaiming Childhood (Henry Holt and Company, 2003) ” ...Schools should respect the child’s spontaneous interests and natural ways of learning. They should repect the child’s enthusiasm for physical activities, creative projects, the arts, and play, and they should give children opportunities to learn through these activities.”



In response to the unfortunate atmosphere of teacher bashing that we are living through, I would like to focus on some wonderful work being done by a group of hard-working teachers in a public school in New York City.

Here’s a bit of background information about this barrier-free, pre-k – 5 school, located on the Lower East Side, which is situated in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge. The ethnic breakdown is approximately 75 % Latino, 20 % African-American, 3.5 % Asian and 1.5 % ‘other’. Many of the children live in shelters or foster homes. There’s a large special needs population, often transferring into the school mid-year. Because of the No Child Left Behind legislation, families from other areas of the city transfer their children into this hard-working, caring school and, because children are traveling long distances, there’s a major problem with lateness and absences. This year, the heavy-duty budget cuts came down hard on this community. Without any significant PTA fundraising, staff is often forced to reach into their own pockets if they want to provide any extra materials for their classrooms.

Four years ago, I was approached by their network leader, Dan Feigelson, and asked if I could do some consulting work here with the kindergarten and first grade teachers. He was familiar with the inquiry and Choice Time work that I had done in my own classroom (we had been colleagues at P.S. 321 in Brooklyn) and thought that the children would benefit from more exploration and playtime. The principal, a former pre-k teacher herself, was in agreement.

The school already had a long-term relationship with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. The children were making progress in learning the technicalities of reading and writing. However, they were challenged when the content became more complex. Because of personal stress in their lives, children had difficulty working collaboratively and in resolving conflicts without resorting to violence. The administration believed that the children needed more opportunities to learn and practice positive social skills and to engage in abstract thinking. They decided that the place to begin working on these problems was in the early childhood grades and that is when they decided to approach me.

Here were some of my impressions when I first visited the school: very hard-working and committed staff; positive tone in the classrooms; I did not hear teachers yelling or using harsh words when disciplining children; kindergartens had an unplanned form of Choice Time (really more like free-play) for 20 – 30 minutes at the end of a day filled with all academics; classrooms had very little organization of centers and practically no sense that children were expected to use materials independently (in the block ‘center’ were math manipulatives, dramatic play, teacher-materials stored, etc., there was no visible art center); first grade classrooms did not have Choice Time at all (occasional ‘free play’ as a reward for good behaviors); there were no blocks in the first grade rooms and a very small collection of blocks in the kindergartens.

Drawing on the Reggio Emilia philosophy of considering that the classroom is the second teacher, we first worked on room environment. I wasn’t sure if I was putting the cart before the horse, but it seemed like a concrete way of beginning. Major changes were made in the ‘look’ of the classrooms. The principal also ordered unit blocks for all kindergarten and first grade rooms. To my delight, the teachers began noticing immediate changes in the way that the children were using materials and in the general classroom ambiance.

We then planned out some studies that the teachers thought would interest the children, support their curriculum and also interest the teachers. The first grade teachers wanted their inquiry project to have a social element to it. They thought about the day-to-day lives of the children, and what would be important to all of them. Most of the school population, rather than using private physicians, either went to the emergency room of the local hospital or to a nearby clinic. This is where the teachers wanted to begin…with a study of the EMS. This also morphed into an ambulance study because of the children’s interests and questions.

They visited the local clinic, had a doctor and a nurse visit the classroom, and examined up close an ambulance that visited the school specifically so that the children could explore the inside and outside of the vehicle and interview the EMS workers. Some children became fascinated with bones and what was happening inside their bodies. In the classrooms, ‘hospitals’ were created along with x-ray rooms (overhead projectors, old x-rays). In one first grade room during their choice time, I observed a boy, doll in arms, racing to the “x-ray” room. “My baby hurt his arm. He’s crying! Help me”. The doll was quickly put on the overhead projector and the “x-ray technician looked at the shadow on the wall. He held up an x-ray, looked at it and said, “Your baby has a broken arm. Take him to the hospital!”. He wrote a little note on a pad, gave it to the ‘father’, who took it and rushed back to the classroom hospital, where the baby’s arm was carefully wrapped up with an old ace bandage. That same day, at Choice Time in another classroom I noticed two girls tracing the body of a boy on butcher paper and then, using a book as reference, drawing in the bones for the body. At the same time two other children were using the overhead projector to trace an image of an ambulance. They kept turning it on and off to check their work. This drawing was going to be the ‘plan’ for an ambulance model that they would later create out of cartons and other materials.

The Kindergartens began with a study of the local firehouse, making many field trips there, exploring the firetruck, interviewing the firefighters, checking out their own homes for fire exits and smoke alarms and creating their own home-safety plans.

This year is my fourth year working at this school. Some of the studies that have taken place are a kindergarten exploration of “Beautiful Stuff” ( children brought in ‘found’ objects from home like buttons, toilet paper tubes, broken pieces of jewelry, wood scraps, etc., sorted and labeled all of the ‘booty’ and brainstormed for ideas on how to use these materials in different projects) , a study of the local bakeries, a neighborhood garden study ( I watched children in the block center creating different areas for a classroom garden, using sketches that they worked on together. There were children in the science center planting seeds in small pots that they decorated. When they were finished planting, they brought the pots to the block center where they were put in the ‘community garden’.), a first-grade study of bridges, particularly the Williamsburg Bridge and a study of the NYC subway system. Each first grade class designed and built bridge towers outside their classroom doors and then connected them across the corridor to make one large suspension bridge!

When I asked the teachers if they noticed any positive changes since we began our work, here are some of the things they shared with me:
They noticed that
o Children were becoming more verbal
o The children who are their ‘struggling learners’ are participating more in class work and discussions
o During Choice Time and Inquiry-study time, children with behavioral issues are becoming calmer and more cooperative
o English Language Learners are talking more and sharing stories, possibly because there is no fear of coming up with a right or wrong response
o There is a noticeable carry-over to the writing being done during writing workshop since the children have more shared experiences to draw from
o Field trips have become more purposeful and the children can understand the purpose of each trip
o Parents have told the teachers the their talk about things that they are exploring in class and use a lot of new vocabulary.
o The teachers are more supportive of each other
o There is more professional collaboration
o There’s more of a feeling of a grade-community
o Teachers, along with children, feel a pride in their work
o The cluster teachers have come on board and are planning lessons to support the classroom studies

In a recent email to me, one of the kindergarten teachers wrote about some of the changes that she and her co-teacher made in their classrooms, “ Our block area has been enlarged. Therefore the children have more room to build. We have “blueprint paper” for them to draw their ideas first before building and pencils as well as post- it’s for labeling their building. The art area is more accessible as well as all the different mediums that they need. The dramatic play area is changed with each study and discussed with the children beforehand. There are papers in each work area for the teacher to make notes about what the children are doing, what we think and how to proceed, as well as writing (down) what the children are saying. The room was not as organized and now the children have access to the materials and their projects.”

The children created a market in the pretend center when they studied The Essex Street Market

Building The Essex Street Market in the block center







I am noticing that the flow of the day is much more ‘child-friendly’. Kindergartens have Choice Time for an hour every morning. They go on more neighborhood trips. The first grade has Choice Time at least twice, sometimes more, each week and they too go on curriculum-related trips more often.

When we discussed future professional goals, the teachers asked if we could focus more in depth on using documentation and assessment to help in planning whole class and small group projects and investigations.

These teachers have worked so hard and been so admirable in their professional growth. Their classrooms breathe with imagination, inquiry and a real life force!

On June 10th, two of the teachers and I will be presenting a workshop at Lehman College in the Bronx, NY. The conference is An Early childhood Education Conference: The Reggio Emilia Approach in 21st Century Urban Settings. Our breakout group is titled CHANGE! – DEVELOPING INQUIRY-BASED SOCIAL STUDIES PROJECTS AND CHOICE TIME CENTERS IN KINDERGARTEN AND FIRST GRADE CLASSES AT P.S. 142M. If you’re in the area and would like to attend, you can email Carol Gross at [email protected]