September 5, 2015


June has written another important piece about testing in Kindergarten.  Although not specifically written for grandparents, this is an article we feel you can share and discuss with your family.

I couldn’t believe the headline in the LA Times that told me that there was a movement afoot that would test children to see if they were ready for kindergarten.  I have always assumed that kindergartens should be ready for children; no matter where they live, no matter if they come from split families; no matter if English is not their first language; no matter if they are rich or poor; no matter what color they are.  I know, I know, this is the digital age and math, science and reading and writing are essential to get along in the world.  But brain research tells us that children’s learning is unique and each will advance in her/his own pace and time.  Pushing “early learning” is not the way to go according to the experts I know and respect. 

It is also important and vital for children to have the opportunity to learn to get along and respect others, to be able to empathize with others and have a chance to play and experiment with different materials and have books read to them. Is starting earlier and earlier to teach letters and numbers, reading and writing the way to a better, more kind and advanced world?  Not for me! 

I observed in a preschool class for special needs children (meaning the kids couldn’t sit still for the drills) for one of my CASA boys who was 4 years old. The room consisted of four tables with enough chairs for 10 children (all boys).  The front of the classroom had charts with all of the letters of the alphabet and numbers from one to twenty.  There were no art or play materials.  When the boys had recess the teacher and assistant teacher watched the children scramble up and down the lone jungle gym in the yard, and admonished the boys to take turns and not bump into each other.

For the two hours I observed in the classroom, there were two drill exercises on letters and numbers; for the rest of the time the boys were expected to sit at the tables with work books to complete. The teachers were not happy with the “curriculum”, but they both said that this was the protocol and they were not to deviate from it.

Now, if this is what is meant by getting children ready for kindergarten, I can only imagine what kindergarten is like.  I am told that there is no more painting, clay or play dough in the new ,”modern” kindergartens.  There is no room for imaginative play, for music and singing. Books are for the adults to read, but no libraries where children can explore on their own.  And where are the blocks?  And most importantly where is the opportunity to develop understanding of others, sympathy and empathy?

I wonder what kind of kindergarten experience Arne Duncan, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Eli Broad had since they are big advocates for the “early learning” curriculum that I call “drill and kill”? Can you flunk kindergarten?

Below is the best description of what kindergarten should be, in my opinion, based on my many years of working with young children and their families who have experienced acceptance, respect and love.

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten
by Robert Fulghum
- an excerpt from the book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten
"All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sand-pile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don't hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours. 
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some
  • and draw and paint and sing and dance and play
  • and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
  • hold hands, and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder.
  • Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
  • The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody
  • really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even
  • the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die.
  • So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK. 

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your
family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put thing back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together."
© Robert Fulghum, 1990.
Found in Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, Villard Books:
New York, 1990, page 6-7.

August 10, 2015


Photo by Bill Ray

June just wrote this compelling article, recalling her experiences with SUMMER HEAD START AND THE WATTS UPRISING:  August 1965.  We hope that it will spark discussion with you and your families about this tremendously turbulent time and how much work is still left to do.  Please let us know your thoughts.

Here goes history again with my commentary on events big and small and the way I view them.*  

This time I would like to tell you about my take on  “ The Watts Uprising” or as many called it “The Watts Riots” and the beginning of Head Start and how I was involved.

In the Spring of 1965, I was working for the School for Nursery Years/Center for Early Education (CEE). Previously I had enrolled there for training as a nursery school teacher after which I had been hired as a training teacher in charge of the “baby group” of three-and-four year olds.  When the Center was asked to set up a cooperative school for young children and their families at the Aliso Village Housing Project, I volunteered. I used to take CEE students from the Westside to the Eastside of Los Angeles on a daily basis to teach and to be taught. We all learned a great deal from that experience (more than I can describe in this brief essay, but needless to say, it was exhilarating, as well as frustrating).  The adult students and I were convinced from the housing project results, that low-income children and their families deserved to have programs that many middle and upper middle class parents took for granted. 

About that time, we heard rumblings that Sargent Shriver, the head of the Office of Economic Opportunity, was thinking about inaugurating a program for young poor children.This was the chance we were hoping for.  I talked this over with the administrators of CEE, who took the issue to their Board  ( mainly composed of psychoanalysts) and received the approval to write a proposal to the Office of Economic Opportunity, headed by Sargent Shriver. A dear friend and administrator at CEE, June Mayne, met with me in March of 1965 and we wrote a proposal to OEO, thinking we could help those Washington folks crystallize a program.  We burned the midnight oil.  We thought the proposal was terrific, but we received no immediate response. 

 Finally, sometime in late May 1965, we heard that there would be a Summer Head Start program and CEE would be one of the delegate agencies. We did not receive our categorical breakdown until July 6--- the first day of programming for the children.

By then, we had recruited teachers, assistant teachers, aides and volunteers so that each group would have three adults to 15 children.

With that whirlwind of activity  (and there many volunteers who helped), we recruited 1,108 children in places all over the County.
·      We   enlisted volunteer pediatricians so that each
child was visited at their site by these doctors;
·    We   enlisted volunteer dentists to visit each child at their site;
·      We enlisted volunteers from a group that would later become Thalians,  to be on call if a teacher felt that a child might need some psychological help, or if the teacher might need some support in her work with the children and/or their families;
·      We  organized a committee headed by Suzy Klemer to provide educational and art material and have it packaged so that teachers could have this available in the trunks of their cars (storage space was a real problem at many sites)  Scrapbooks were made for each child and his or her younger siblings;
·       Other volunteers were recruited to work directly with the children including dance, art, literature and much more.

It was a wild and sometimes bumpy road, but we went
on despite the uncertainty hoping for a better world.

However, there were two incidents that will complete the picture of why the Watts Uprising is an important part of this history.  In August, 1965 Wattswas in turmoil and it was in the middle of our program where  many of our sites were located and isolated.  We received a call from a teacher in Watts saying that there were some families without basic resources and especially in need of diapers.  We didn’t think twice before telling her we would come with diapers and more.  June and I  loaded my car, a green four door Lincoln, with canned foods and Pampers  purchased at the local Ralph's; we draped a Head Start flag on the top of the car and off we went. When we were stopped by the National Guard, they looked at the flag, the merchandise in the back seat, and two “sweet-looking” middle aged women and they decided to let us bypass the barriers.   Shaken, but undeterred, we delivered the goods to a Head Start site and grateful families.

The other incident that I recall, as if it were today, concerned a night meeting we held at Nickerson Gardens Housing Project in Watts, prior to the start of Summer Head Start.  June and I planned to go to the gathering to gain support of the parents, whose children we hoped would attend HS.  Sam (Sale) joined us, thinking we needed a male guardian.  During the meeting, a father stood up and asked me “ Why won’t the government give me a job so I can take care of my family, instead of giving this measly program for my kids?”  I had no answer.  I think it is a question that still needs an answer.

* History is often in the eye of the beholder.  This is the way I remembered that event over 50 years ago, so there may be some things that are not the way they have been reported, but they are still vivid in my somewhat “elder-headed” memory.  No need to fact-check with Politico

June 15, 2015


You are exhausted, but still have to go to the market to shop for dinner.  The great/grandchildren are with you today and they will accompany you on your necessary trip to the local supermarket.  You dread the crowded market with all of its “goodies” and entrancing toys, but is there a way to get around the “bribes” and “rewards” that might be necessary to get home with everyone in a contented mood?  It can be very awkward and trying!

We hear and read about bribes and rewards for those we do not admire because they are taking actions not based on what is right, but what will bring them the most money/traction/power.  We, in turn don’t want our great/grandchildren to become adults who live by bribes or rewards that control their actions.

So, how do we help children do what is comfortable/correct/thoughtful in the face of trying circumstances?  How do we help promote “good age appropriate behavior” without bribes and rewards? THAT IS THE QUESTION!

Not to be too preachy, but like many things in life, it is necessary to lay out what your expectations are, before, in this example, you leave for the market. By sharing with the child(ren) the purpose of the trip to the market, the need for he/she to cooperate and what the responsibilities are when you get home, you will have laid out realistic expectations.  Talk about ways Janie might read the shopping list once at the market, and Alex can help find veggies that he would like for dinner. Let it be known that if things get too out of hand, you are prepared to leave the market, without making a purchase. This will be a positive lesson for the next time.

When check-out time comes, you might point out to the clerk how proud you are of the child(ren) and thank them for their forbearance. A little praise can go along way, even telling their parents how well they have been cooperating.

Sometimes great/grandparents have more success with this approach, and we can “thank our lucky stars”.

We know from personal experience that outlining expectations doesn’t always work.  But the thought of doing something because it’s the right thing to do, is worth a little thinking and planning ahead.

We talked to our great/grandchildren about this topic.  Interestingly enough, all of the children (ages 7, 8 and 9) felt that talking ahead about our expectations was a good idea.  They ALL agreed in theory that “bribing” is not good. The reward of doing the “right thing” was a good incentive. 

We hope that the feeling of helping, being sympathetic and doing something that will make a child proud will make our interactions with the great/grandchildren meaningful in the long run.

January 26, 2015


With Spring Break coming up soon, we thought it would be fun to  suggest some creative activities to do with your great/grandchildren. 

Most of these activities are for young readers, but some are for beginning or non-readers.  You’ll have to be the judge of what is appropriate for your family. These activities all involve using the newspaper (that out of date media source), magazines, online resources, throw-away ads, etc.

  • Ask the grandchild/ren to pick a destination outside of the United States that s/he would like to visit.  Using a map or a globe, find that place and also find where you live, so that can be the starting point.  Let the grandchild/ren become your travel agent. Ask her/him to use the internet or ads in the paper, to find the cheapest airfare from your home city to the desired vacation spot.  Have the grandchild/ren compare airlines and other means of travel, if appropriate.
  • Investigate what currency is used, if different from the U.S. dollar, and if age appropriate, figure out how much money a dollar is worth in that country.  The business section of the newspaper often has the current rates, or they can be found online.
  • Find out what local language is used. If you’re all very motivated, learn how to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank-you” and “where is the bathroom, please?”

  • Using in-store ads, mailed advertising pieces, the internet, etc., give your grandchild/ren a “budget” to go shopping.  Ask her/him to cut out both a picture and the price of the items s/he would like to purchase.  Paste them on a piece of paper, and ask him/her to add up the cost of those items, and if there is enough money in the budget to buy them.  If there is enough, how much will be left over? 
  • For younger children, ask him/her to find certain numerals that you and/or they choose (ex: 1, 4, 8, and 10). Have her/him find those numbers in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, etc.  If the grandchild/ren are reading, you can ask them to also find the written examples of those numbers.  It’s important to be “skill” appropriate.

·         Find a short article in the newspaper or a magazine, that is relevant to your grandchild/ren’s interest. (Ex. sports, review of a children’s movie, fashion, history, etc.).  Cut out the article, excluding the headline.  Read the article with the grandchild/ren, and then ask him/her to make up a relevant headline. It’s a great way for you to talk about why headlines are important tools and how they help the reader focus their interest.  If you want to continue the discussion, look at other magazines, online articles or the newspaper, and decide if the headline accurately represent the content or if it is misleading.
·         For younger children, go through magazines, newspapers, ads, and have the grandchild/ren cut out the letters of her/his name.  They can paste the letters on a sheet of paper.  You can also include the letters of your name, mom/dad’s name, etc.

There are hundreds of other ideas like this, but we thought these would be a fun way use items that are recyclable and already in your home to challenge and engage your great/grandchildren.