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The Battle Hymn of the Kindergarten Republic


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Last night, as I smushed my butt into the kindergarten-sized chair and settled in for curriculum night, I felt all the pride and emotion and anxiety and excitement as the first day. Looking around at Thalia’s work I could tell she was inspired. And it’s not surprising. Her teacher is exuberant and committed. The parents looked friendly. The teacher described science and reading and snacks and art and rules. I was delighted to be part of the New York City public school system.

And then came the stars.

A quick mention of the “star chart,” more a behavior modification tool than a rewards chart, to help give kids a nudge in the right direction towards extra-good behaviors or away from the shedding of bad ones.  It seemed fair. It seemed…like not a big deal at all. After a week in school every kid had a star or two. The end.

Or, not the end?

One hand is slowly raised in the back – a concern about the star chart. But what if our kid feels bad because he didn’t get a star? Then, more questions. Are our kids participating for the right reasons if it’s all about the stars? And are the stars fair? And are the stars good? Are the stars a path to low- self-esteem? Are the stars a public school thing because really, we’re Waldorf parents and I’m still coping with the fact that we’re here [deep breath]? Will stars be the ultimate destruction of our children, in a fight for their eternal souls along with processed foods and those light-up sneakers?

Lines were drawn! The pro-stars versus the no-stars!

I was hoping for blood.

I put $20 down on the mom in the glasses and the purple suede Merrills. She looked like a prize fighter in another life.

Um, wow – this is the most discussion we’ve ever had about the stars in 15 years, the teacher said.

And I started to feel bad. Because my superhero power is empathy. And it was starting to get awkward in there.

“If it weren’t for star stickers, my kids would still be in diapers,” I said with a smile. “So, I’m all for them!”

Heads turned. Three people laughed. Maybe two. The rest glared at me like, who the fuck are you, lady, and shut the fuck up. We’re trying to have a VERY IMPORTANT STAR FIGHT HERE.

I always make a good first impression.

76 shards of brilliance… read them below or add one

Adventures In Babywearing September 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Love this.



Maria Melee September 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Ha. That poor teacher.


IzzyMom September 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Oh man, it only gets worse.

Do you happen to remember when I wrote about the attendees of my daughter's birthday party crying because they weren't going to get prizes for NOT winning the sack races and musical chairs?

Those parents (and the teachers, coaches etc) who cave to them, are training kids to expect rewards (and raises and corner offices) just for showing up and breathing.


Beth September 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm

My DD's teacher hands out tickets for good behavior that can be cashed in at the “prize box” when they get so many. I am all for it but there is also the “teaching materialism” faction of parents. Whatever. If it gets DD to sit down, shut up and learn, use it.


Anonymous September 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Sounds like my kids UWS public school.


Julie @ The Mom Slant September 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm

A line like yours would have prompted me to come up afterward and invite you over for a playdate.


@sweetbabboo September 22, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Oh, I have been there – as the teacher. What parents don't realize is that I spent days, nay weeks, fretting about that star chart. I didn't want to f*** their kids up, I just wanted some consistent, easily understood way to modify behavior that might distract from another student's learning.

So, guess who's gonna be teacher's favorite parent? That's right, you. You, who had the guts to admit that parents, like teachers, are really only doing the best we can for the kids we love.

Of course, now that I am a parent, I do understand parents more, and occasionally fret about a classroom decision. Sometimes, I even have to take a deep breath, remind myself I cannot and will not be my child's only influence, and relinquish my need for control- for the few things I may consider a negative influence, there will be a thousand more positive ways in which he/she will change my kid.

Good for you for seeing that and brandishing your sword of empathy.



Amelia Sprout September 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm

My parents were all about the cooperative non competitive thing. Which is great, except you need to get competition a little bit. That is what makes up life unless you live like a hermit.
My daughter's class does a little of both. Individual good behavior gets you stamps and stickers. Group good behavior gets you a PJ party.
I agree with Izzy Mom, you need to teach kids that real life requires real hard work, and you won't get everything for free.


kilgore September 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Oh gawd, that poor woman. I imagine being a teacher now is the definition of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario.


LLebresco September 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm

I had no idea empathy was a superpower- that's super exciting because all this time I actually thought it was my GD achilles heel. The star fight is a good sign- it means they had NOTHING else to complain about and that was the worst thing they could latch on to- you should be very happy about that :)


Mom101 September 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Lindsay, I can't wait until the “we should be bringing in organic snacks or fruit only” fight!

And to clarify, I wasn't the only one defending it; a few brave souls stepped up to suggest it wasn't a big deal. I was probably just the only one rolling my eyes visibly at the whole thing.


Rita Arens September 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

My girl had bands. Three rubber bands around her wrist. If she was naughty, she lost a band. At the end of the day, they stamped the number of bands she'd had ON HER HAND so everyone could see if she was bad or good and the parents would get the message. I was horrified and still think it's utterly ridiculous for a kindergartner. However, she doesn't seem scarred. I am.


Cloud September 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Oh. My. God. The more I hear about public schools in NYC the more I understand why the parenting articles in the NY Times never really resonate with me.

I'm not saying that I wouldn't be exactly like that if I lived there- people adapt to the prevailing culture afterall. But wow, NYC's parenting culture is INTENSE.

I wonder what wackiness will happen when I start school out here in laid back San Diego? Maybe someone will insist that the kids need time for meditation and/or a daily yoga practice?

Anyway, I think you handled it well.


Sue @ Laundry for Six September 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Yes, even the kids who disrupt class and flip over the desks should get stars. So they don't feel bad.


Leigh September 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I have taught elementary and high school special education for seven years and every teacher I know has some kind of reward system. It's obviously more pleasant to reward the good than punish the bad, however, I can promise you, you'll get better results that way. Talk about self-esteem, start punishing a kid all day every day and see what happens to their self-esteem.

Is this not real life though? You follow the rules, you do your job correctly, and you are rewarded in the form of a pay check. Hopefully, a big nice one that you were able to negotiate because your third grade teacher taught you critical thinking skills.

I'm sure the teacher breathed a sigh of relief when you said that. I'm sure ytour comment made her night.


Magpie September 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Oh, how wonderful!

I still remember the mother at the kindergarten orientation who asked “well, what do you do about the gifted kids?” after the principal talked about resources for struggling kids, and “do you teach foreign languages in elementary school?” – I leaned over to my husband and said “I hate her”.


Truthful Mommy September 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm

I love this! My daughter is in kindergarten @ private school and instead of getting stars for good deeds they get them as demerits for talking,not listening, etc. its the one thing that my poor kindergartner loves about school. AS of right now, she is the only child without a star. She thinks its awesome.
I can understand both sides of the debate. A reward system is fine I think at that age, I just want to have to keep rewarding them for appropriate behavior ..forever. You know like..they are 13 and I give them a $20 for flushing the toilet!LOL Happy Mothering!


From Belgium September 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I am so with you on the eye roll.


Laura Mayes September 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I love this story. And it is happening across the country every evening right now. Our version was pretzels vs. raisins. Good snack choices? Or polluted sugar bombs? Go.


Jennifer September 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm

“Well since we are no longer allowed to beat your children or deprive them of lunchtime we've decided that the star chart is the way to go.”

That would have been what I thought in my head. Our kids get “bee bucks” and every two weeks or so they get to go use them in the “store.” I love it and so does my daughter. I'm for whatever works.


Bill/Shredheads September 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm

…they had stars! They actually did. They had stars upon thars!

I'm going to come to your kid's class with my Star On and Star Off machines and make a fortune from the parents.

Our daughter's Kindergarten class has cards – green, yellow, orange, and red. Stay green all day, you get a sticker. Green all week you get a big sticker. Green all month you get lunch with the teacher (I think). It's great, and we've actually made cards for both kids at home too.

As far as I can tell from the other parents, none of the kids feel bad about themselves if they don't get the sticker. Disappointed? Yes. But they understand it's THEIR choice to be good or not.


Heather @Critter Chronicles September 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm

My daughter's kindergarten teacher last year used a color-coded system: if they came home at the end of the day on green it meant they'd ended their day on a good behavior note. Ending on yellow meant they'd somehow messed up and hadn't had a chance to redeem themselves. Red meant there were some serious issues at hand, because her teacher always tried to “catch” someone behaving in order to bump them up a color.

Their teacher also grouped them into table-teams; once a month she shifted the kids around so that the well-behaved ones weren't always stuck with the troublemakers. Each table had a chance to prove themselves as a group who worked together toward pizza parties, so she had the teamwork and individual behavior incentives going for her.

At the beginning of the year she told me that she didn't do small daily incentives, like stickers or candy or toys. Her incentives were going home on green and some days being able to spend more time outside at recess. I liked it, and I never heard other parents complaining. But then again, we were living on a military base so perhaps we don't coddle our kids as much as civilians?

Of course, now that I'm homeschooling my daughter this year, we're using a star system ourselves. :-)


red pen mama September 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm

My daughter's kindergarten has a similar system to the last two commenters, with green, yellow, and red. Although my daughter just loves to come home and tell me about the boy who regularly spends all day in the red, I redirect her to her own color and why she got it (usually green, she's a good kid).

And that teacher is going to remember you for being able to a) make a joke and b) be realistic. Stars don't kill or build self-esteem — parents do. And not by handing out rewards for every little thing their darlings get right either. Check out Nurtureshock some time. It's an eye-opener.


Susan W September 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Man, good for you for speaking up! That teacher is trying to manage a large classroom…she needs tools to do so. Sounds to me like she found one that works for her. If they want Waldorf, they need to dish out the money and pay for Waldorf, end of story.

Sorry, probably too blunt. Just wanted to say I would 've done the same thing :)


Marketing Mommy September 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm

I think that any kindergarten teacher getting push-back about her good behavior incentive system should invite that parent to come in and run the class for a day.


Mom101 September 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Oh man, can't we just create one classroom made up of the children of sensible bloggers?

We'd find something to fight about but it wouldn't be stars.


Momlissa September 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm

You go, girl! I am pro stars, stickers, whatever it takes!! I agree, your statement would have made me want to ask you for a playdate. lol

I think your post was wonderful. Tonight is my kindergarten back to school night, so I can't wait to see how it goes down…

We have a happy face, yellow light, red light and then STAR system. I can't wait to hear the teacher discuss this tonight! I have no doubt there will be *over-parents* in the mix. Maybe I should bring some popcorn!


Issas Crazy World September 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I'm with Julie. I'd of invited you over for wine and cupcakes after a comment like that.

The star chart is sooooo common in kindergarten. My girls both had it. One was in kindergarten in LA, one here. Shrug. People just like to find things to nit pick.


Goddess in Progress September 22, 2010 at 4:03 pm

There must be some kind of rule about if you get X number of parents in a room, it simply MUST go off the rails at some point.

Seriously, I had no idea a simple sticker chart could bring up such controversy!

All hail the sticker chart!


Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) September 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm

In our little orientation, I made some jokes about the kids getting to use their knife skills. Nobody laughed. Dude, I was talking APPLES, not body parts.


Elisabeth Black September 22, 2010 at 4:57 pm

LOL I haven't yet attended my fourth Kindergarten “orientation” Night yet, this joyous occasion is saved until October 4th. However since I've BTDT with the 3 boys I can clearly see where it's going to go. I think my daughter is the only one who has older sibs and so most of these parents are still starry eyed “Awwwww my baby is in Kindergarten.” However I'm in New Jersey and I'm sure the star chart which is used and traded in for treasure box loot is going to be a hot topic.
However I can tell the unintiated by 4th grade (the BTS night I attended last night) most of the parents are no longer convinced that Little Gideon or Madison are the next Doogie Howser and as such allow themselves to be led through in cattle chute fashion asking no questions, and causing no eye rolling.


Marinka September 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Are they yellow six-pointed stars? Because for some reason when I suggested that at my kids school, people became really animated.


HaB September 22, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I hope that when my daughter goes to school that parent night is filled with mom's just like you! Really.

Oh – and the star chart – we have something similar and sometimes on the weekend, we can't even get to lunch time without it and the way it quickly corrects naughty behavior and the sassy mouth of a 3 year old.


Mom101 September 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Elisabeth, another mom in the room said the same thing, also with a daughter in 4th grade. Hm, maybe you BTDT moms have a point?

Nah. Not possible. We newbies know it all.


jodifur September 22, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I like your star chart better than our red, yellow, green chart. Because my kid is color blind and he has no idea what color he is on ever.

Also, tonight is my back to school night and the first parent who asks what they do with the “exceptionally gifted children” I might hit.


Tristina September 22, 2010 at 6:18 pm




Julie September 22, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Mine eyes have seen the GLO-ry of the shiny tinfoil star…

Whatever works. I'm amazed at what things can make parents get their panties in a wad.

BTW, my kid is the one who is causing all the trouble. No matter where it is. Just thought you should know that. You know, in case someone tries to blame *your* kid.


Redneck Mommy September 22, 2010 at 6:30 pm

I was asked by the school teacher AND the principal NOT to attend Back to School night this year. My reputation must precede me.

Apparently I've been around the block one too many times and they find my visible eye rolling and constant snickering distracting and it freaks out the newbie parents.

Since I've heard it all before, I obliged them. After all, I can eye roll and rebel rouse at the monthly school council meetings. Heh.

I love my small town school.


Liz@thisfullhouse September 22, 2010 at 6:30 pm

All my kids ever got were dots.

Because, who cares, really, if you don't get a dot and, if you did, those kids would NEVER make it here in Jersey!


FreeRange Pamela September 22, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Our kid's kindergarten is doing the green/yellow/red card thing, and if they do something really spectacular they get a purple — the school's (and basically the town's) color. My thought is that those teachers have gone through years and years of learning what works and what doesn't… I can only learn from their greatness ;-)


Karianna September 22, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Thank goodness my community is a bunch of robots who nod and smile at whatever the teacher says.

(That is, unless *their* child gets in trouble or isn't deemed the most perfect-wonderful being on the planet. Then it is a whole new ballgame.)

My kids “flip cards” if they misbehave (the lowest one is red so if you flip down to that, you are expelled) take-if-bad/add-if-good marbles to a jar (when the jar is filled they get a party) and earn fake money (by sharpening pencils, etc) that can be used to purchase prizes (in 4th grade it is an auction, so a bit more complex.)

So – we're up to our ears in various rewards systems here. And the kids LOVE it. AND, apparently they are both super-awesomely-good at school. Plus, since my 4th grader earns money for doing his homework (more money if it is done well) he actually cares about his homework.

It is actually a “real life” scenario after all, because one would suppose a better job would be rewarded (higher salary, promotion) whereas a lackluster job would not. (Sure, we know it isn't that cut and dried, but…)

Eh. Whatever. It is working.


Athena September 22, 2010 at 6:48 pm

My kids' kindergarten teacher (who has been around over 20 years and is AWESOME!!!) had a “choice box.” It was a little dry erase board and if you made a “wrong choice” your name went in it. My kids never got in the choice box! And the school gave out stickers the kids wore saying “ask me about blah blah blah” and they would tell you that they helped clean up or behaved in line at lunch or whatever.

I live in CT and grew up in OK. I think I would kicking Waldorf mommy in the taco. I can't STAND people like that. We are in New Haven now, at a magnet school. There is no snobbery (that I have seen) there. Probably because the ghetto moms would pop a cap in Waldorf momma's ass. Or maybe its just a nice school. I don't know.


St. Louis Smart Mama September 22, 2010 at 6:59 pm

If these parents are this worried about the stars, how are they going to cope with the serious issues in their kid's lives, you know like when they don't get into Harvard because their kindergarten teacher ruined their self-esteem?


Cloud September 22, 2010 at 7:09 pm

After I posted my last comment, a friend reminded me that there is in fact at least one elementary school in LA that starts the day with yoga exercises.

And I'm enough of a Californian now it sounds like a good idea to me. Hey, I wish I could start my work day with some nice Sun Salutations instead of a steaming pile of nonsense in my inbox.


My Kids' Mom September 22, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Really, is no one going to bring up The Sneeches? Dr. Seuss would have known exactly how to deal with those parents– he'd have “put start upon thars”!


Motherhood Uncensored September 22, 2010 at 8:46 pm

I'd have suggested non-organic mainstream MnMs.

Or corporal punishment. What a good old smack on the ass will do instead of stars.


Melba September 22, 2010 at 9:34 pm

To the “But what if our kid feels bad because he didn't get a star?” camp – GOOD! He should feel bad. Shape up next time, buddy. :)

As someone who recently had to work with a large group of Millenials who all expected large raises, bonuses, and other perks simply for showing up to work, I'm very much on the side of the fence that believes kids should learn what it's like to be disappointed by the consequences of their own actions. Yes, there should be a losing team in the soccer game too. Not everyone wins every time. That's life, kids.

I love the story though… hilarious that there would be an all-out star battle at kindergarten. Good lord I hope I don't have to deal with that here. We'll see I guess.


Randi Skaggs September 23, 2010 at 12:11 am

Wow. You just described so much of my experience as an NYC public school teacher. And why we got the f*** out of dodge.



Jennifer Mendelsohn September 23, 2010 at 1:00 am

Marinka's comment just made me laugh out loud. As usual.


Jenn September 23, 2010 at 1:14 am

Yet another brilliantly funny post. I'm a public school teacher. I am not above “bribery.” I teach high school, so my bribery comes in the form of homework passes and candy instead of stickers.


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