CPS security chief bans dangerous bubbles from headquarters of America's third largest school system... 'Play In' contrasts with standardized testing craziness on CPS 'Report Card Pickup' day

On April 17, 2013, a large group of parents and children arrived at the headquarters of Chicago's public schools to be told they were not welcome in the headquarters of Chicago's public schools. The children and adults were there to play, but the CPS parents, students and teachers who showed up for the first "Play In" organized by parents and teachers were denied access to CPS headquarters when they wanted to come in and play. The group was forced by CPS security chief Nadine Chou to set up in the hallway outside of the CPS lobby. As a result, the Play In took place in a corridor, rather than at CPS.

Children at the April 17 Play In played with bubbles until they were banned by CPS security Chief Officer Jadine Chou, who said someone might slip.The purpose of this event, organized on the day that Chicago Public Schools held the report card pickup for elementary schools, was to celebrate the right of every child to play in contrast to the sterile world of standardized testing that has dominated Chicago school policy for two decades.

Numerous activities including blocks, Legos, dress up props, puppets, dolls, play doh, art supplies, bubbles and more lined the walls as children and parents eagerly engaged in the different activities. The hall echoed with children’s laughter and conversations about their activities. This is what a good preschool and kindergarten classroom should like, numerous parents noted: Not the test-taking nightmare they’ve become.

The presence of Chicago Police — called by CPS security — did nothing to dampen the atmosphere. However, the representatives from CPS shut down the “dangerous bubble blowing” and expressed safety concerns regarding signs taped securely to the wall.

“They could fall on the children”, one CPS security chief told the parents. The two CPS security officials who took action to protect citizens from dangerous soap bubbles were the CPS security chief Jadine Chou and one of her top assistants.

The play went on even as the soap bubbles were banned.

Two of the children, Lizzie and Sarah, were building a castle. When asked, “How do you decide which blocks go where?" Sarah explained “you have to balance the so they don’t fall.”

She was asked “Could you make it taller than you?”

“No,” she replied, “Cause there’s not enough blocks."

Next she was asked, “How many more blocks do you think you’d need?” Sarah counted the blocks on the castle then stood up and say “Maybe 50 more blocks." That’s what play is all about — critical thinking, estimating, problem solving, creative thinking and using prior knowledge. She doesn’t need to take a standardized test to demonstrate she has knowledge. She just demonstrated what she knows; all you have to do is listen.

Sarah Hainds attended the event with her son Joey “because it’s important to keep play," she said.

"He starts kindergarten in 2015," Hainds continued. "He’s in a wonderful day care, and I don’t want him to lose play time later. I’m really nervous about the excessive testing in the early grades."

Reflecting on her own education, she said: "My kindergarten teacher set the path for a good education for every student.” She told Substance that decades later she still keeps in touch with that kindergarten teacher from decades ago.

“The first teacher is the most important person in a child’s life besides the parent," Michelle Gunderson said. "Because of the Reach Assessments (an assessment given even to preschoolers) being so close to the beginning of the school year, the test comes between the relationship of teacher and child. Just when you’re gaining trust you take children out in the hallway for a frustrating and invalid test. They know when they don’t know answers and experience failure in the first six weeks of school."

When asked why she liked to dress up, Imara age 4 ½ said, “Because you can find stuff, be a rock star, be 130 things!” One little boy immediately corrected this reporter for calling his wooly mammoth a mastodon. He told me “you can tell by the tusks." He giggled with glee when he placed the mammoth on this reporter's head.

“CPS wants to make sure baby anarchists don’t get out of hand,” joked parent John Kugler, who stopped by. Kugler works for the Chicago Teachers Union.

During the press conference, the following statement was made by Cassandre Cresswell, parent of a CPS 1st grader at Goethe Elementary School and a two year-old, (possibly a CPS preschooler in the fall).

"Last year when our school was planning for the longer day, I read a report from the Alliance for Childhood, 'Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why children need to play in school' from 2009," she said. "It includes a call-to-action signed by more than one hundred experts in psychology, education, medicine, and anthropology from Jonathan Kozol to Linda Darling-Hammond, T. Barry Brazelton, Howard Gardener, and Jane Goodall. According to the report, “[a] full-day, six-hour kindergarten class should probably have at least three daily play periods of an hour or longer, with at least one being outdoors.”‬‬

"The days of CPS kindergartners are now seven hours long, and they typically only have 20 minutes to play each day — on those days when the children have an unstructured recess. Just like in her kindergarten year, my first grader has only a single period of free play in her classroom per week, time where the kids are truly free to choose exactly what they are interested in working on or playing with. The lack of play is only made worse by the narrow academic focus. There's an overemphasis on reading and math skills and little else starting very rigorously in kindergarten or even Pre-K. And it's been driven by the fact that with No Child Left Behind, high scores were required in third grade on state tests. I find this highly disturbing not only for my own child but for our entire society. It is even more disturbing now that high-stakes testing is commonplace in Pre-K to 2nd grade. My daughter's class will have seven standardized tests (NWEA, DIBELS, TRC, Fountas & Pinnell, Class math, REACH, and CCSS benchmark) administered to them in total 20 times during this school year. It is simply insanity."


Parent Kirstin Roberts talked about the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child which states play is a fundamental right of children. Play is how young children explore their world; build relationships, experiment with their environment, test theories and construct knowledge. “The right to play in our early childhood classrooms is under threat in the Chicago Public Schools," she said. She also talked about the inappropriateness of direct instruction, seatwork, increased testing and test prep. Child centered curriculums are being replaced as teachers are forced to arrow their curriculum to tested areas and teach to the test.

According to Concordia University Associate Professor Isabel Nuez, a member of Chicago land Researcher and Educators for Transformative Education (CReATE), “One of the most destructive consequences of having no-educators running our districts and schools is that we have forgotten the fundamental principles of human development. Any developmental psychologist will tell you that young children learn through play. There is no debate on this within the discipline. Maria Montessori Johann Petalozi and Friderich Froebel were scientists. Their vision for education is based on research, not touchy-feely desire to let the children play just because they enjoy it. A play-based curriculum for early childhood classrooms is developmentally appropriate, because play is the way children learn.”

In a statement of support for this event, Penn State education professor Dr. Timothy D. Sleker wrote, “What a breath of fresh air to hear of a ‘play in.’ Instead of rigorous academic preparation why not vigorous activities that celebrate the work of children? Why not celebrate play? There is nothing more stimulating to the mind of children. At a time when policy makers have decided that children need to be read for ‘college and careers’ this ‘play in’ will help remind all of us that nothing prepares a child for life more than vigorous play.”

And to put the reader's mind at ease — bubbles, signs, Legos and puppets injured no children.

No arrests were made and all had a good time. "More Than a Score" members also passed out petitions against the misuses and overuse of testing in CPS. They planned to pass them out later in the day during report card pick up at local CPS schools.


April 18, 2013 at 8:25 AM

By: John Kugler

Out of Touch

It was sad to see CPS call police on children. You could see the disdain in the CPS office workers eyes at the sight of parents and children who were "disturbing" their busy day.! It was like they were saying " Children! how dare you interrupt the busy work we do." They were so stupid and out of touch to throw small children into a dirty pedestrian walkway rather than take them up into a nice warm office for milk and cookies. Funny how children will always show you the truth.

April 20, 2013 at 12:48 PM

By: Janet Meegan

Play in the Classroom

My oldest is in 2nd grade. When he was in Kindergarten, there were toys in the classroom for children to play with. Last year they changed the K classroom. No more toys. My youngest who will enter K in a few years won't get to play at all. It's frightening to me. Thank you parents who came out to this event. Our kids were sick and we didn't want to share germs. That truly would have been dangerous.

April 21, 2013 at 9:03 AM

By: Susan Ohanian


The Play-In was a brilliant tactic. I love the description of pre-schoolers' demonstration of critical thinking, estimating, problem solving, creative thinking and using prior knowledge. I'd like to see this become a traveling Play-In, making appearances at the corporate offices of those supporting Rahm/Byrd-Bennett. You could start, of course, at City Hall, and then move on to Drinker Biddle & Reath's Corporate and Securities Group, National Louis University, Chicago Urban League. . . . I'd like to know how each entity greets those preschoolers and their bubbles.

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