Who Turns the Lights Off When We Leave Kindergarten? by Tom King

Part of the series: Global Issues in Education

Boy and Girl Jumping on Ball

Thanks to Twitter today, I saw an inspiring website article today in Edutopia.com by Mitchel Resnick, entitled,  “Kindergarten Is the Model for Lifelong Learning.”  I encourage you to read it!

Dr. Resnick directs the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT’s Media Lab, from whence many other good ideas have emanated: Sherry Turkle’s publications on the sociological implications of computer chat (subsuming  the billions of text chats, I’m guessing ), plus Seymour Papert’s  seminal work 40 years ago with Logo’s Turtle computer software.
There’s lots more from that MIT corps, but suffice it to say Resnick’s conclusions are simple and worth our consideration:

“…kindergartners playfully create stories, castles, and paintings with one another, they develop and refine their abilities to think creatively and work collaboratively, precisely the abilities most needed to achieve success and satisfaction in the 21st century.”  – Edutopia

He talks too about a new computer program they developed for kindergartners, called “Scratch,” a free download, and all the community interest and participation evoked by a Kindergarten student whom he anonymously calls “BalaBethany, a malaprop name if there ever was one, made up by permuting the real-life name of Bela Banathy, one of the founders and forerunners of instructional systems thinking. So, it’s clear Dr. Resnick still likes to play too.As another reviewer noted, many of the sound points made remind the reader of Robert Fulgham’s classic book some years ago, “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.” It’s all true of course: holding hands while crossing the street, say you’re sorry, don’t hit, flush, and the biggest word of all: Look! And that last one is, of course, what education is all about.

Why can’t the powerful model of kindergarten be extended into the upper grades? That’s a good question. And there are far too few “good” answers. Among the biggest obstacles is we group our learners by how old they are instead of what their needs are. Followed closely by the fact that there’s little chance to play and learn in groups, talking is not tolerated, naps are not encouraged when your brain is tired (see my earlier blog on “Sleeping Students), there’s no milk and cookies, and learning is way too often boring and no longer fun.

After kindergarten, labels get hung on learners like an albatross and too many of them give up and become negative self-fulfilling prophecies: “I didn’t think I could do it, either.” How sad!

What can we do? Bring some of the fun back to learning. Break some of the rules….especially the ones you think you can get away with: more collaborative group work, answer fewer questions but ask more, let them teach you, give them the tools to show what they know.
Say, “Look!” more often., “Hey, everyone, look at this!”
When the lights start going back on in their eyes, you’ll know it’s working.


Tom King is a retired math teacher, the founder of the Saturn School of Tomorrow, adjunct professor for 35 years +, husband, father, grampa, friend, tennis and golf partner, coffee buddy, reader, photographer, poet, and a marveling lifelong learner. He blogs at Tom King’s Blog of De-Fog and tweets by the handle, @profTK. Read his previous contributions to Teacher Reboot Camp.

Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell), Facebook.com/ShellyTerrell, and on her blog, TeacherRebootCamp.com, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at https://www.slideshare.net/ShellTerrell/presentations


  1. I love this. The first day my kids, and YES!!! they are my kids, I do more parenting than most of their parents! Are in my class we start this discussion about fear in the classroom. Students are scared by the 8th grade. Scared to move, talk, or stick up that hand. It is like they have gone through a war and they have PTSD. So I work to fix that. I almost feel bad about it because I know they face more of the same in the years to come. But they learn to be autonomous learners by the end of the year and for most of them, the fear is gone. In my class we break rules, daily!!! We use forbidden technology, eat the forbidden fruit, and make a lot of noise. We travel out into the building, they use expensive, fragile, and dangerous equipment. They even ***gulp*** SIT IN MY CHAIR!!!! Lordy it is anarchy!!! Not really, it is the innocence of kindergarten all over again!! And guess what?? The my kids love it!

    • @Sciteach4u,

      Well said! If only we could give them timed reminders over the years to tactfully ask for forgiveness and keep pushing the boundaries of their learning envelopes.

      Maybe we could convert some of them into teacher-helpers who would volunteer their learning-community services in the later grades.

      I’m all for trying more ideas and finding what works.


  2. Tom, excellent post. I am, unfortunately, seeing classrooms go in the other direction. Many kindergartens have started looking like first grade. There is little time for play or imagination. Instead students trace letter after letter on worksheets, and start getting prepared for standardized testing. We need more play in education, we need more stories.

    • @ktenkely, Thanks, Kelly.

      You’re right…so much of what’s done today is driven by the obsessive-compulsive focus on testing and standards to the detriment of learning.

      Someone wisely said once that it’s akin to pulling up our flowers frequently to see how the roots are doing.

      All we can do is keep reminding folks we need to do what’s in the best interests of the learners and not the politicians.

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