A Conversation Between Brookline Kindergarten Teachers and Texana Teachers via Kennedy Center Classrom Partnership

This past June, twenty-seven of the 34 public school kindergarten teachers in Brookline signed a letter that they read aloud at a meeting of the Brookline School Committee (for the full letter, see here). They basically asked a very important question: why do we continue on this trend of depriving little children of play and joyful group activities, from which they learn so much, and subject them ever more to meaningless, shallow “academic work,” from which they learn so little?

The research is clear. Academic training in kindergarten has no long-term benefit. In fact, it may cause long-term harm. It does not reduce the education gap between the rich and the poor, which is the usual reason offered for such training. It slightly increases academic test-scores in first grade, but by third grade the benefit is lost and, according to some of the best studies, by fourth grade those subjected to academic kindergartens are doing worse—academically as well as socially and emotionally—than those who were in play-based kindergartens.

On the other hand, study after study has shown that young children need time to play; it helps children learn to persevere, increase attention and navigate emotions. In other words, play is not frivolous; it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function, which allow children to pursue goals and ignore distractions. The play can be purposeful (teacher guided), but there also needs to be time for children to explore freely without teacher direction. This is essential in the development of curiosity, and the ability to follow an idea or a project through.

As the open letter of Brookline kindergarten teachers made perfectly clear, there is no arguing that students learn best through play and real experiences that allow them to explore and make connections, build some background knowledge, and develop problem solving skills as well as a deep love of learning, have confidence in their abilities as learners, strengthen social-emotional skills, create deep relationships with peers and teachers, be an active part of a community of learners and explore relationships with others in order to develop a sense of empathy. Teachers in Texarcana, took it a step further.

The Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council's ArtsSmart Institute for Learning hosted the Performing Arts's partnership courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts's. The purpose of ArtsSmart program, led by TRAHC's education director Jennifer Unger, is to place artists in local schools and trains local teachers to enrich the classroom experience via arts education. Imagine a classroom where teachers are spending time working directly with students, forming trusting relationships, and engaging in meaningful teaching experiences that address students’ needs as a whole through art integration methods that engage them in amicable and respectful dialogue with their peers. It can be a place where children learn how to fail, so they can try again and find their way, learn how to justify their own ideas and solve problems. Imagine a classroom where children learn how to fail, so they can try again and find their way.

Arts inclusion seems to make a real, substantial difference. One teacher talked about how reorganizing her classroom space, based on workshop ideas, in one day completely changed how her classroom ran. Another teacher remarked on the way arts integration kept students on task. They were not distracted; students focused and forgot the rest of the room was even there.

The final quote comes from Melanie Rick, the director of Focus 5, Inc., a national arts integration consulting company, in charge of running the art integration lesson in the Spring Lake Park classroom: When we're integrating the arts, we're teaching in a much more constructive way where kids are the ones doing the problem solving and thinking, where kids are the ones who are active learners, not passive learners, where kids are talking and collaborating.

Here Comes Ingo the debuting picture book by artist Odeta Xheka (Winner of The National Parenting Center’s Seal of Approval, Indie Reader Approved, Book of the Year by Creative Child Magazine) is a further step in the right direction when it comes to integrating art in early childhood development.

IndieReader Approved: Here Comes Ingo is a stunning visual story...with underlying themes of love, tolerance and kindness and will make an excellent addition to any storybook collection.

The National Parenting Center: Chances are very good that you have never seen a children's book quite like “Here Comes Ingo.” The quality of the books construction is terrific, and as we have noted here, it certainly stands out in the sea of children's books. Add to that the stunning, hand-crafted artwork which has an almost dreamlike quality to it and you have a book that doesn't really fit into any traditional book category, and that's not a bad thing, at all! Clearly, this is a very original children's picture book. Beyond being a children's picture book, it could absolutely be seen as a work of art.

  • Brookline Kindergarten Teachers
  • John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
  • Texana Regional Arts and Humanities Council
  • ArtsSmart Institute for Learning
  • Melanie Rick, Focus 5, Inc.
  • Here Comes Ingo by Odeta Xheka