Thursday, May 28, 2009

Leopards, Etc.

Rob and Barbara Dicely came to Dunham School this afternoon with some of their wild cats to educate us about the needs and habits of some of the wild cats around the world.

I've known Rob for a long time, from a time before he did cat shows.

You can learn more about his enterprise at their website:

Kgosi, a rare King Cheetah

Nkuru, a Serval, hunts mice.
This one uses its left paw to retrieve
a piece of chicken from a plexiglass cylinder
that Rob calls his "portable mouse hole.

Nkuru can leap high in the air to catch birds.

Moremi, a Caracal, born last October.
Caracals are wild cats of the dry African savanna

The oldest cat they showed today was a 15 year-old Siberian Lynx named Oksana.
Barb does the presentations; Rob handles the cats.

Car Wash

This time of year we do a car wash as one of the centers. I'd been "saving up" my Voyager van for some weeks; it was dirty enough that the kindergartners had no problem seeing what needed to be done.

It came out shining clean. We're tackling the principal's car tomorrow morning.

And, although it NEVER rains in California this time of year, I hear we're supposed to have rain next week. So...we'll see...we may not do this center in the rain.

CD of Dunham Music

Andrew, our music teacher, recorded a CD of Dunham students singing their best music. Our kindergarten class is featured on the CD on three of the tracks.

It's available for $10 in the school office while supplies last.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Boomerang Homework

Someone out there on the web who scours the Internet looking for posts on homework sometimes stops by this blog.She cautions me that homework is inexorably negative. Maybe she will stop by tonight and leave a comment.

As you know, homework in this neck of the woods is truly optional. I don't know how many kids to their homework, maybe two-thirds of them or so, depending on whether it's interesting, or they're busy, whatever.

About half of the class did last night's homework on boomerangs. We flew them during choice time. What fun!
Alex made a boomerang that didn't come back, but it flew great—all the way across the playground. From the kindergarten door he could fling it to the garden fence. It would fly low over the ground and then start to climb just high enough to clear the handball wall, disappearing on the back side of it. So cool.

Alex with his long-range rang.
His dad said they added weight to make it fly farther.
Alex tends to put in enough effort on his homework to make it really
worth having a good look at it. Ziyad seems to think so, too.

Other students made boomerangs that circled back. Jack B. made one that I repeated flung into the air, and, without moving my feet, was able to catch on its return trip to my hand. Amazing.

David holding Jack's super-returning rang.

At the end of the day, my KIDS club kids demanded EXTRA homework. That was a first. And what kind of homework do you think they wanted me to give them? Exactly the kind of homework I would not expect them to ask for: math worksheets. Go figure.

Kids in older grades sometimes tell me that they loved kindergarten homework. I think its being optional and interactive might have something to do with their affection for it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pattern Blocks

We used to have a math program (which shall remain unnamed) that featured a scripted curriculum.

It included work with pattern blocks. I can't remember exactly what it asked teachers and kids to do, but I do remember it assessed students by asking students to use them to cover shapes, like doing a puzzle. I can remember feeling the curriculum was really more about students following teacher directions than really working with their imaginations. I'm so glad we replaced that math program.

I'm working on report cards now and the kindergartners have the opportunity to spend some time with classroom materials on an unscripted basis, with plenty of time to follow their imaginations.

Here's what Jack had been working on:

Believe me, this is light years beyond the "script" we used to follow.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Report Card Assessments

We're only 3 weeks from the end of the school year, and I've begun to work on report card assessments.

This is a good time to review the Soundabet cards and the kindergarten sight words with your child (you can look at the winter report card to find what the sight words are). In school we've concerned ourselves with other things and the "forgettery" (the antidote to memory) seems to have been at work in some of the students' minds.

We did work on these words today and will tomorrow and the next day, but a little home support will really help, too.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Open House

We had Open House on Thursday night. I don't think my room ever looked nicer than on Thursday night, thanks in large measure to my student teacher, Amanda Brice, who helped ready the room. (I spent a good part of the day talking with next year's kindergarten kids and their families.)

Here's how the room looked just before we opened the door:

It sure was nice to see so many of you and to talk. Thank you all who visited!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Blocks

There are so many reasons to love blocks. The Scientific American article mentioned their many benefits.

I love blocks because they get children to work together. Blocks foster creativity, too. Blocks have no agenda other than to stimulate the imagination of the builder.

I'm amazed at how much interest simple blocks hold for five and six year old boys. They seem never to tire of them. Look--

Pattern blocks can hold the attention of five year old children too. Look what Olivia did today—

Staff Appreciation Breakfast

I got to school a little early to enjoy a breakfast that the Dunham Student Council provided to the teachers and staff.

What a wonderful breakfast!

A plate of good food....

Roses on the table....

Good company....

Thank you Student Council and their parents.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Scenes from the Garden Ribbon Cutting

All the classes of Dunham School gathered near the garden this morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the improvements made to the garden under a grant from Fiskars the company that makes fine scissors and garden tools with the orange handles. MaryAnn Bowman, who wrote the grant, said that our school was one of 10 nationwide to receive the grant.

Quite an honor.

Mrs. Bowman, left; Mrs. Wilding, right.

Fourth Grade provided musical entertainment.

This was also the occasion to show our new school banner.
It was designed by sixth grader, Bridger Munk.

And, because we met our goal of reading 800,000 minutes at home,
Mrs. Wilding got her hair dyed purple, as she promised she would.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Scientific American Magazine on Play

THE SERIOUS NEED FOR PLAY - A few highlights, also from the
February/March, 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind:

"Free play," as scientists call it, is critical for becoming
socially adept, coping with stress, and building cognitive
skills such as problem solving. Play-deprived childhood
disrupts normal social, emotional and cognitive development.
Psychologists say that limiting free play in kids may result
in a generation of anxious, unhappy, and socially
maladjusted adults.

Why are experts concerned that structured games--such as
soccer and more structured activities--are eating into free
play? Certainly games with rules are fun, foster learning to
work with others, and develop group cohesion.

The reason is that games have rules set up in advance to
follow. Play, on the other hand, does not have a priori
rules, so it affords more creative responses. This creative
aspect is key because it challenges the developing brain
more than following predetermined rules do. In free play,
kids use their imagination and try out new activities and

Children's free play involves fantasies--such as pretending
to be doctors or princesses or playing house--or mock
fighting, as when kids (primarily boys) wrestle and tumble
with one another for fun, switching roles periodically so
that neither of them always wins. The activity does not
need to have a clear goal.

Play helps develop social skills. Young people don't become
SOCIALLY COMPETENT by teachers telling them how to behave.
Those skills are learned by interacting with peers, by
learning what is acceptable and what's not acceptable.
Because kids enjoy an activity, they develop persistence and
negotiating abilities. They do not give up as easily in the
face of frustration as they might doing a math problem.

Play is also critical for emotional health because it helps
kids work through anxiety and stress. Through imaginative
play, which is most easily initiated without adults or
rules, children build fantasies that help them cope with
difficult situations. Play encourages flexibility and
creativity that may be advantageous in unexpected situations
or new environments.

Relieving stress and building social skills also seem to be
the obvious benefits of play. But there is another, more
counterintuitive area of influence: Play actually appears to
make kids smarter. Play improves problem solving. By playing
with blocks or a Quaker Oats box, for example, youngsters
spend less time in unproductive developmental activities
such as watching television. (Even when young people are
watching educational programs, the activity of watching
is a passive one rather than an active one.)

Many parents believe they are acting in their children's
best interests when they swap free play for what they see as
structured learning activities. Some hesitate to let their
kids play outside unattended; they fret about the
possibility of physical harm that sometimes arise during
play fighting or rambunctious fantasy play. A child who has
had a rich exposure to social play experiences is more
likely to become an adult who can manage unpredictable
social situations.

Parents should let their children be children--not just
because it should be fun to be a child but because denying
youth unfettered joys keeps kids from developing into
inquisitive, creative creatures. Play has to be reframed and
seen not as an opposite to learning but rather as a
complement. Curiosity, imagination and creative are like
muscles: if you don't use them, you lose them.

Reducing "free play" in attempts to promote academic
achievement (as in making kindergarten into first grade) is
another well-intentioned but counterproductive approach--as
are the others at

Link to the Scientic American article: Here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Garden Investigations

This was a fine afternoon to be in the garden.Ms. Deay, David, Luke, Olivia, and I ventured into the garden in search of what we might find there.

We brought our hand lenses and a camera.

We turned over lots of stepping stones.

We found a slug,

A lizard,

And some sixth graders there.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The following article is taken from the Alliance for Children's website. It's worth reading.
Play once had a central role in the educational programs designed for young children, and for good reason: it is in play that children develop social skills and emotional control. Play allows children to develop their creativity and follow their interests. I think that the best learning happens during choice time.Anyway, here's the article as appears over at the Alliance for children website:

Kindergarten Playtime Disappears, Raising Alarm on Children’s Learning and Health

New studies show play losing out to formal lessons and tests, even though multiple benefits of imaginative play are well documented

College Park, MD, March 20, 2009—Time for play in most public kindergartens has dwindled to the vanishing point, replaced by lengthy lessons and standardized testing, according to three new studies released today by the Alliance for Childhood. Classic play materials like blocks, sand and water tables, and props for dramatic play have largely disappeared from the 268 full-day kindergarten classrooms studied.

The studies were conducted by researchers from U.C.L.A., Long Island University, and Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Their findings are documented in Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.

The researchers found that

  • On a typical day, kindergartners in Los Angeles and New York City spend four to six times as long being instructed and tested in literacy and math (two to three hours per day) as in free play or “choice time” (30 minutes or less).
  • Standardized testing and preparation for tests are now a daily activity in most of the kindergartens studied, despite the fact that the use of most such tests with children under age eight is scientifically invalid and leads to harmful labeling.
  • In many kindergarten classrooms there is no playtime at all. Teachers say the curriculum does not incorporate play, there isn’t time for it, and many school administrators do not value it.

Child development experts have been raising alarms about the increasingly didactic, test-driven, and joyless course of early childhood education. “These practices, which are not well grounded in research, violate long-established principles of child development and good teaching,” states the Alliance’s report. “It is increasingly clear that they are compromising both children’s health and their long-term prospects for success in school.”

The three studies break new ground by examining the use of time and materials in public kindergarten classrooms and the factors that affect children’s access to play. Independent research teams received funding from the nonprofit Maryland-based Alliance.

Numerous studies have shown that children who engage in complex socio-dramatic play develop higher levels of thinking, stronger language skills, better social skills, more empathy, and more imagination than children who do not play in this way. They are also less aggressive and show more self-control. Play also lowers stress levels in children.

Nevertheless, child-driven play has fallen out of favor in the U.S. Many people believe that kindergartners need to settle down and engage in serious learning. They see play as a waste of time, or worse, a descent into chaos.

Crisis in the Kindergarten argues that the superficial, chaotic play in “anything-goes, laissez-faire” kindergartens is as unacceptable as the highly regimented, didactic classroom that is devoid of play. The report also describes scripted teaching, which has gained momentum in schools across the country in the past decade, as “a vast experiment with virtually no basis in valid research.”

Psychologist David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child and The Power of Play, calls the new research findings “heartbreaking.” In a foreword, he writes, “We have had a politically and commercially driven effort to make kindergarten a one-size-smaller first grade. Why in the world are we trying to teach the elementary curriculum at the early childhood level?”

The authors of Crisis in the Kindergarten, Alliance directors Edward Miller and Joan Almon, argue that the disappearance of kindergarten play is part of a larger societal problem. “Play is one of the vital signs of health in children,” they write. “We do not know the long-term consequences of the loss of play in early childhood, but this has become a concern for pediatricians and psychologists.”

They report evidence of significant increases in behavioral problems and school failure among kindergartners. They question unrealistic standards that are developmentally beyond many young children, forcing teachers to spend long hours trying to meet them, and leading to the wrongful labeling of normal child behavior and learning patterns as “misbehavior, attention disorders, or learning disabilities.”

The authors note that children in China and Japan, which are envied for their success in teaching science, technology, engineering, and math, enjoy a play-based, experiential approach to schooling until second grade. Finnish children similarly have a lengthy and playful childhood, not beginning formal schooling until age 7. Yet Finland consistently gets the highest scores on international exams.

Synthesizing a range of recent national and international research, including the three studies reported here for the first time, Crisis in the Kindergarten describes the current state of public kindergartens in the U.S. as “a national disgrace.” It calls for a refocusing of early education on well-designed play-based approaches, warning that the nation is “blindly pursuing educational policies that could well damage the intellectual, social, and physical development of an entire generation.”

* * *

Crisis in the Kindergarten makes six recommendations for education policymakers, school administrators, teachers, and parents. For more details see Chapter 8 of the report.

  1. Restore child-initiated play and experiential learning with the active support of teachers to their rightful place at the heart of kindergarten education.
  2. Reassess kindergarten standards to ensure that they promote developmentally appropriate practices, and eliminate those that do not.
  3. End the inappropriate use in kindergarten of standardized tests, which are prone to serious error especially when given to children under age eight.
  4. Expand the early childhood research agenda to examine the long-term impact of current preschool and kindergarten practices on the development of children from diverse backgrounds.
  5. Give teachers of young children first-rate preparation that emphasizes the full development of the child and the importance of play, nurtures children’s innate love of learning, and supports teachers’ own capacities for creativity, autonomy, and integrity.
  6. Use the crisis of play’s disappearance from kindergarten to rally organizations and individuals to create a national movement for play in schools and communities.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Magnetic Marbles

Zaria using magnetic marbles in KIDS club this afternoon.

We worked on subtraction problems this morning. After teaching them that they can be called "minus" or "subtraction" or "take away" problems, we learned how to read them and then how to use fingers or other manipulative materials to do them.

A really good manipulative material are the magnetic marbles shown in this photo. They are colorful little spheres of plastic with magnets inside just strong enough to make them want to stick to each other in a most pleasing way.

When used as materials for "take away" problems they give a real sense of something being taken away. If the student began, say with a little chain of 8 marbles and then takes 3 of them away the remaining 5 seem to call out to the marbles that have been pulled off.

They're also wonderful when teaching addition problems. When a student combines two a little chains of marbles, they join together with some enthusiasm and integrity as a new combined group.

By the way, if you want to generate your own math worksheets get acquainted with Math Fact Cafe. It allows you to customize your own math worksheets. Free.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kindergarten News

Faithful readers of the Mr. Kindergarten blog will be the first to get this news, straight from, well, me:

I will NOT retire this June after all.

On May 4, the Dunham School Board approved Mr. Gurney's request to stay on the Dunham teaching staff.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Kindergarten Garden

A recent center activity was to paint the letters to name our planting box in the garden. Each of the letters was painted by a student. Some of the letters were formed by painting little trains of flowers or bugs. I like the final result of their work.

1969 Olympia Typewriter

Machines like this make a satisfyingly loud smacking sound as the keys hit the cardstock.

I can remember preparing to go off to college in the fall of 1969. My parents needed to equip me with a typewriter. We went to a typewriter store and learned all about the pluses and minuses of manual versus electric typewriters. Back then, the fanciest machines were IBM Selectrics that had a typeball and featured variable spacing. Most machines used the Courier font and had non-variable spacing.

My dad, ever practical and frugal, decided a West German manual typewriter made of steel would be the best choice. His $129 investment would pay off by giving me a typing machine I could use for the rest of my life. The machine you see here did get me all the way through college and graduate school. I used it to type a few articles on sailing back when I fancied myself to be a free-lance writer. I did earn a little money that way, but I think I was paid something like $0.10 per hour.

Well, I still have the Olympia and I still use it occasionally. It's fun to use a machine like this.

The kindergarten kids enjoy it. Most of them have never seen a manual typewriter before. We're using it to make little books out of index cards with words or short phrases typed on them. Whatever I type, the rewrite in their own hand, for practice writing and reading.

Real Mail

The first graders have been busy writing real letters. You know, the kind of mail that's written by hand, comes in an envelope, is stamped, and you keep forever. This afternoon my wife and I took a walk out along the Rodata Trail. On our way back home, we stopped by the Sebastopol Post Office to check our Post Office Box. It was full of letters!

One of the perks of being a kindergarten teacher is getting a lot of real mail.

Morning Drop off

The cars in this photo are innocent.
I took this photo the afternoon after the morning congestion.

Mrs. Wilding asked me to remind everyone on the blog that the front of the school is only for dropping off or picking up students. Evidently one morning last week a few people parked along the curb and the result was traffic congestion that backed up onto Roblar Road.

If you need to park when dropping off your child, please use the west parking lot. Thank you!