The How To Dos

The Toll of Testing …

“To the bigwigs at Pearson, your child is just a number, a statistic.”    (excerpt from link below)  

And since schools spend a huge chunk of the year prepping your child and administering tests from Pearson and companies like Pearson what are we saying schools view children as or as a society as a whole?  

Food for thought… in this next link is a posting from just another blogger.  I can’t verify her experience or even give credit to the truthfulness of her post but it gives a scary perspective to what happens after a student is put through the process of testing.

I can’t say I even agree to submitting students to the stress and rigor of testing in the first place.  I feel the validity of test scores are questionable.  But even if we don’t consider who writes the questions, why these specific questions are even considered good measures of a student’s intelligence, or how appropriate it is to gauge student success by a single assessment each year without considering their whole human development – Even if we don’t… and we still end up to the point where we submit the piles of answers for scoring… what happens then?

How accurate are they graded?

Are they real reflections of a child’s answers?

Are these answers accurately representing what a student knows and has learned?

Are these questions representative of valuable knowledge?

It scares me to think how inaccurate or how lacking in valuable content the questions and data on a test are from the start and then to consider it being skewed afterwards is even scarier.

Visit this link to consider your perspective on the validity of testing and test scores:

Common Core, Testing, and Opting out in NYS:

Will Pearson continue to thrive in states like NY or will activists inspire change?

Pearson has been linked to many testing controversies, including brand placement in testing:

The toll of testing seems to be hitting the forefront of the education field, students, teachers, and families on a daily basis.  There is a lot of buzz and some advocates pushing for opting out.  One can only hope that enough buzz and push back will change education in a way that will end test-driven curriculum and high stakes testing.  

Opt-out in CA:

Opt-out in NYS:

Take a moment to research and be informed on testing.  Explore the controversies!  Explore your perspectives!  

The How To Dos

Back to Basics: 3

When first becoming an Early Childhood professional, many years ago, I felt like my pile of resources and things to know reached the sky quick.  I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago during in-service as we discussed how truly amazing educators all have truly amazing moments just as much as they have truly horrible moments – and the reason being is we are constantly tweaking our methods and practices.  The unique platform of being progressive is not just that curriculum is structured (as it should be for children) as a top down practice and not bottom up but also that as educators “we have never fully arrived”.  Progressive education means that our practices, environments, and beings are always evolving and changing.  A difficult but miraculous feat!

So for those of us that need to be reminded of some good ol’ practices or for those of us that are green – I thought remembering why and how we support children with praise was a good topic to touch on today.  It is simple and foundational in the beginning of the year – children must see how authentic we are willing to be with them from the start.  I could think of nobody better to guide this topic than Alfie Kohn himself.  So, with no further ado – I give you the article that changed the way I praised children:


September 2001

Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!”

By Alfie Kohn

NOTE: An abridged version of this article was published in Parents magazine in May 2000 with the title “Hooked on Praise.” For a more detailed look at the issues discussed here — as well as a comprehensive list of citations to relevant research — please see the books Punished by Rewards and Unconditional Parenting.

Para leer este artículo en Español, haga clic aquí.
Hang out at a playground, visit a school, or show up at a child’s birthday party, and there’s one phrase you can count on hearing repeatedly: “Good job!” Even tiny infants are praised for smacking their hands together (“Good clapping!”). Many of us blurt out these judgments of our children to the point that it has become almost a verbal tic.

Plenty of books and articles advise us against relying on punishment, from spanking to forcible isolation (“time out”). Occasionally someone will even ask us to rethink the practice of bribing children with stickers or food. But you’ll have to look awfully hard to find a discouraging word about what is euphemistically called positive reinforcement.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, the point here is not to call into question the importance of supporting and encouraging children, the need to love them and hug them and help them feel good about themselves. Praise, however, is a different story entirely. Here’s why.

  1. Manipulating children. Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who cleans up her art supplies. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling kids they’ve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?

Rheta DeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, refers to this as “sugar-coated control.” Very much like tangible rewards – or, for that matter, punishments – it’s a way of doing something to children to get them to comply with our wishes. It may be effective at producing this result (at least for a while), but it’s very different from working with kids – for example, by engaging them in conversation about what makes a classroom (or family) function smoothly, or how other people are affected by what we have done — or failed to do. The latter approach is not only more respectful but more likely to help kids become thoughtful people.

The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A “Good job!” to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of children’s dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if they can’t quite explain why.

  1. Creating praise junkies. To be sure, not every use of praise is a calculated tactic to control children’s behavior. Sometimes we compliment kids just because we’re genuinely pleased by what they’ve done. Even then, however, it’s worth looking more closely. Rather than bolstering a child’s self-esteem, praise may increase kids’ dependence on us. The more we say, “I like the way you….” or “Good ______ing,” the more kids come to rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what’s good and bad, rather than learning to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval.

Mary Budd Rowe, a researcher at the University of Florida, discovered that students who were praised lavishly by their teachers were more tentative in their responses, more apt to answer in a questioning tone of voice (“Um, seven?”). They tended to back off from an idea they had proposed as soon as an adult disagreed with them. And they were less likely to persist with difficult tasks or share their ideas with other students.

In short, “Good job!” doesn’t reassure children; ultimately, it makes them feel less secure. It may even create a vicious circle such that the more we slather on the praise, the more kids seem to need it, so we praise them some more. Sadly, some of these kids will grow into adults who continue to need someone else to pat them on the head and tell them whether what they did was OK. Surely this is not what we want for our daughters and sons.

  1. Stealing a child’s pleasure. Apart from the issue of dependence, a child deserves to take delight in her accomplishments, to feel pride in what she’s learned how to do. She also deserves to decide when to feel that way. Every time we say, “Good job!”, though, we’re telling a child how to feel.

To be sure, there are times when our evaluations are appropriate and our guidance is necessary — especially with toddlers and preschoolers. But a constant stream of value judgments is neither necessary nor useful for children’s development. Unfortunately, we may not have realized that “Good job!” is just as much an evaluation as “Bad job!” The most notable feature of a positive judgment isn’t that it’s positive, but that it’s a judgment. And people, including kids, don’t like being judged.

I cherish the occasions when my daughter manages to do something for the first time, or does something better than she’s ever done it before. But I try to resist the knee-jerk tendency to say, “Good job!” because I don’t want to dilute her joy. I want her to share her pleasure with me, not look to me for a verdict. I want her to exclaim, “I did it!” (which she often does) instead of asking me uncertainly, “Was that good?”

  1. Losing interest. “Good painting!” may get children to keep painting for as long as we keep watching and praising. But, warns Lilian Katz, one of the country’s leading authorities on early childhood education, “once attention is withdrawn, many kids won’t touch the activity again.” Indeed, an impressive body of scientific research has shown that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Now the point isn’t to draw, to read, to think, to create – the point is to get the goody, whether it’s an ice cream, a sticker, or a “Good job!”

In a troubling study conducted by Joan Grusec at the University of Toronto, young children who were frequently praised for displays of generosity tended to be slightlyless generous on an everyday basis than other children were. Every time they had heard “Good sharing!” or “I’m so proud of you for helping,” they became a little less interested in sharing or helping. Those actions came to be seen not as something valuable in their own right but as something they had to do to get that reaction again from an adult. Generosity became a means to an end.

Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Alas, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise.

  1. Reducing achievement. As if it weren’t bad enough that “Good job!” can undermine independence, pleasure, and interest, it can also interfere with how good a job children actually do. Researchers keep finding that kids who are praised for doing well at a creative task tend to stumble at the next task – and they don’t do as well as children who weren’t praised to begin with.

Why does this happen? Partly because the praise creates pressure to “keep up the good work” that gets in the way of doing so. Partly because their interest in what they’re doing may have declined. Partly because they become less likely to take risks – a prerequisite for creativity – once they start thinking about how to keep those positive comments coming.

More generally, “Good job!” is a remnant of an approach to psychology that reduces all of human life to behaviors that can be seen and measured. Unfortunately, this ignores the thoughts, feelings, and values that lie behind behaviors. For example, a child may share a snack with a friend as a way of attracting praise, or as a way of making sure the other child has enough to eat. Praise for sharing ignores these different motives. Worse, it actually promotes the less desirable motive by making children more likely to fish for praise in the future.

*Once you start to see praise for what it is – and what it does – these constant little evaluative eruptions from adults start to produce the same effect as fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. You begin to root for a child to give his teachers or parents a taste of their own treacle by turning around to them and saying (in the same saccharine tone of voice), “Good praising!”

Still, it’s not an easy habit to break. It can seem strange, at least at first, to stop praising; it can feel as though you’re being chilly or withholding something. But that, it soon becomes clear, suggests that we praise more because we need to say it than because children need to hear it. Whenever that’s true, it’s time to rethink what we’re doing.

What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. That’s not just different from praise – it’s the opposite of praise. “Good job!” is conditional. It means we’re offering attention and acknowledgement and approval for jumping through our hoops, for doing things that please us.

This point, you’ll notice, is very different from a criticism that some people offer to the effect that we give kids too much approval, or give it too easily. They recommend that we become more miserly with our praise and demand that kids “earn” it. But the real problem isn’t that children expect to be praised for everything they do these days. It’s that we’re tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate kids with rewards instead of explaining and helping them to develop needed skills and good values.

So what’s the alternative? That depends on the situation, but whatever we decide to say instead has to be offered in the context of genuine affection and love for who kids are rather than for what they’ve done. When unconditional support is present, “Good job!” isn’t necessary; when it’s absent, “Good job!” won’t help.

If we’re praising positive actions as a way of discouraging misbehavior, this is unlikely to be effective for long. Even when it works, we can’t really say the child is now “behaving himself”; it would be more accurate to say the praise is behaving him. The alternative is to work with the child, to figure out the reasons he’s acting that way. We may have to reconsider our own requests rather than just looking for a way to get kids to obey. (Instead of using “Good job!” to get a four-year-old to sit quietly through a long class meeting or family dinner, perhaps we should ask whether it’s reasonable to expect a child to do so.)

We also need to bring kids in on the process of making decisions. If a child is doing something that disturbs others, then sitting down with her later and asking, “What do you think we can do to solve this problem?” will likely be more effective than bribes or threats. It also helps a child learn how to solve problems and teaches that her ideas and feelings are important. Of course, this process takes time and talent, care and courage. Tossing off a “Good job!” when the child acts in the way we deem appropriate takes none of those things, which helps to explain why “doing to” strategies are a lot more popular than “working with” strategies.

And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:

* Say nothing. Some people insist a helpful act must be “reinforced” because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded – and a lot of research suggests that it is – then praise may not be necessary.

* Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement (“You put your shoes on by yourself” or even just “You did it”) tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: “This mountain is huge!” “Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!”

If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: “Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack.” This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing

* Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking “What was the hardest part to draw?” or “How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?” is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying “Good job!”, as we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

This doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child’s future behavior) as well as the actual effects of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life — or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she’s doing in its own right – or turning it into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head

It’s not a matter of memorizing a new script, but of keeping in mind our long-term goals for our children and watching for the effects of what we say. The bad news is that the use of positive reinforcement really isn’t so positive. The good news is that you don’t have to evaluate in order to encourage.

Copyright © 2001 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author’s name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact page at
The How To Dos

Back to Basics

In my regular busyness of life and engaging in reflective practices while also embarking on a journey of bridging advocacy with poetry – my blogging has seemed to dwindle. But the thing about writers and EC people is your brain is always firing. My brain is always firing! So much so I wish I could shut it off at times and actually get a full round of sleep or through a whole session of meditation. Lately when quieting the fire I have been thinking about how I ended up here in the first place and it really comes down to building a strong foundation. So in honor of strong foundations I will be sending out a blitz of resources that contributed to my foundation as an early childhood educator and advocate. I will try to credit the sources as much as possible but some of these are being yanked from my secret hidden pile collected over the years. So apologies in advance for any thievery. I think I will take a break from squawking and ranting and just kick out a bunch of building blocks for the next few weeks. Hope they inspire and intrigue you. With out further adieu…

My first building block (in no order or preference or importance):


p.s.  Click to enlarge and clear up a bit, as I said these are from my pile so many will be snap shots.  And if anyone knows the origin of this awesome piece I would love to credit it!  🙂


The How To Dos

15 Responses to “All They do is Play”

Silence are moments that we sink into during reflection and growth spurts.  My newest journey has been exploring life through the lens of spoken word and Jam Poetry.  It is a beautiful thing that I have been focused on listening to as much as possible.  As a poet myself I have been inspired to blend this art with my own passions.  My first attempt, Early Childhood Advocacy – of course.  So my first recording is surely a work of a novice but my heart is laid out in it – so with out further introduction…

My link to 15 Responses to “All They do is PLAY” :

Spoken Word Script:

15 responses to “all they do is play”…


1.  Yes, you are correct all they are doing is playing and by definition  “Play”  is an activity that has no purpose or objective outside of pure enjoyment or amusement.  But of course I am sure you have never benefited or gained any new knowledge or information from an activity that you chose simply for enjoyment.  No… Wait don’t forget your ginseng green tea, wouldn’t want your brain power to diminish on the way to your yoga class, soccer game, happy hour ( you don’t say?  Your best ideas pop up in your head during those “free moments”).    It’s a shame that can’t happen for children.  Free moments were amazing ideas are born…  Don’t get me wrong I love tea and yoga but what have I done in my 30 years of life that justifies my right to play over a child’s.

2 – I know, unbelievable!  After all how could they be learning while playing.  Can’t quantify that!  Can’t measure it on a scale.  No # assigned to it.  I’m sorry you only have 75% performance while digging that bucket full of sand…  I don’t care that you just learned the difference between More and less Or Heavy and light, Or how not to knock out Johnny in the side of the head when he takes your shovel.  Because really are those foundational math and social skills that important?

3 – so there is this famous physicist, he invented the theory of relativity “all motion must be defined relative to a frame of reference and that space and time are relative, rather than absolute concepts”.  Einstein.  Oh, yes!  You know him.  He also says “play is the highest form of research”.

4 – you know I have to tell you… There must be some sort of conspiracy going on here.  I mean some group of people got together and gathered all this supportive research and studies, wrote these super expensive books, conned hundreds of educators to attend seminars, even convinced me to spend over 60,000 dollars on a piece of paper from higher education institutions… Simply to make me falsely believe that supporting whole child development through active and hands on, authentic, meaningful, interest based experiences is how children learn best.  Wait that’s play… And suddenly that concept kinda seems maybe slightly true?  To me but still not to you.

5- 3 years ago David Bornstein of the NY times in response to recess cuts blasted that … More than 150 years ago, Charles Dickens created a fictional character, in the novel “hard times” – Thomas Gradgrind – a schoolmaster whom had no use for play or imaginative pursuit of any sort, if something did not demonstrably add to the productive capacity of the nation and could not be justified with facts and statistics, it had no place in a child’s education.

Dickens invented Gradgrind (and introduced him in a chapter entitled “Murdering the Innocents”), emphasizing the focus on rational pursuits and quantitative measures over all else.

Eerily this seems to mirror today’s times.

6 – 60 minutes of math

7 – 60 minutes of reading

8 – 20 or less minutes of recess.

9 –  Age 5, 30 minutes of homework,

10 – 12.5 minutes of play,

11 – 11% child depression rate

12 – 11.5 daily youth suicides,

13 – 74.3 million children left behind.

14 – While watching your child play today, soak in their laughter as if it will shield you from the hot burn of the sun.  Let the air fill with the rise and fall of their soprano giggle and watch as their eyes light up with wonder as they discover new things.  And when you ask them what do you notice?  How do you know that?  Tell me about that… Let the windows open up and flood you with breezes of knowledge.  Because while your child may be able to count to 100, chant out the letters of their name, or match a shape to it’s name – take a moment to be a part of what they really know.  Let them share their ideas and observations of the world.  Hand them the keys and allow them to open the door to the “100 Languages” they have to offer you.  Because red is just red until a tomato bursts between your teeth, and 100 seems small until you count the turns of a tricycle pedal while your small feet press them vigorously in rotation, and a triangle is a just another 3 pointed vector until it stands for home on a map or the bottom of a marking stamping love in a card.  Round is just another adjective until it is spotted in the concentric circles and curves of feet scribing the words “I was here”, trailed across wet sand.  When skills no longer become splinters we save up to burn for good test scores, but meaningful impressions we have gathered through our journey of life – is when PLAY will truly be honored as a means to learn, to stretch, to grow, to explore and succeed.

15 – We do not listen to the voices of the young.  They tell us I am learning, I have discovered, I have come to know… but we turn our backs to them.  Plato once said, “Our children from their earliest years must take part in all the more lawful forms of play, for if they are not surrounded with such an atmosphere they can never grow up to be well conducted and virtuous citizens”.  But we steal these moments from them and then ask them to be whole.  We never consider that by trading A and B for C and D –  we might get results we never desired.  We can’t turn back a clock and give them these years back – when we find tears in their eyes from the pressure of failing, a gun in their hand because their sense of community is lacking, a pile of pills to pop, and irrational liquid fire impulses to stop, what can we say to the children once they have grown – but that we have failed you by not leaving you and PLAY alone.

~ Jeanne McNiff, Author and Advocate

The How To Dos

For the <3 Love of Play


For the Love of Play!

barbara card 2 041

Play brings Joy – Happiness – and purpose to our lives!  PLAY simply should exist in children’s lives (and adults) for the LOVE of PLAY!

Yet, we are still wanting evidence that it somehow supports academic progress, success, and proves PLAY has a deeper purpose!  Guess what!  It does!

So while my tiny voice inside mimics Gandini’s Reggio voice from a conference a few years ago, in saying “You Americans!  Always obsessed with evidence and product!”  I will also meet you half way and tell you where to find your toolkit!  Fill it up!  And use it well!  Advocate for PLAY!  Study it!  Defend it!  and better yet practice it!  PLAY! (I don’t care if you are 5 or 99!  You need to PLAY!)

Pile of Evidence:


Have resources on the value of play?  Please share!