Jot a Little Note..., The How To Dos

What I have learned this year as a preschool teacher…


It is often challenged that Play = Learning.  So it came over me this evening (well actually many evenings ago, as I found this draft hidden in my folder and thought this should be published!) that I have learned so much just from listening, observing, and facilitating play and constructivist experiences with the children.  Now, I am not talking about what I have learned about teaching or how I have grown as a teacher or professional.  By Golly!  I have but that is a whole different story.  I mean how I have grown as a human and what I have learned about the world from the eyes and perspective of the children.  It only seems fair to share these moments because the nitty gritty truth is if these are the things I have collected from this year, I can only imagine that they walked away with 10 fold.

What I now know for sure:

  1. If you have tried all avenues of telling a friend that they are scaring you just tell them “get out of town”.  They will be so shocked that they will freeze and walk away or at least stop and listen to what you have to say.  Plus, if you offer a peace offering like, “Well – you could stay if you don’t eat us” most monsters will oblige with not eating or scaring you.
  2. Crayons are made of wax and “wax is like the things you put in your ears to stop the sound”.
  3. “The longer the tail is (on a kite) the better the kite is.  I guess it just picks up and pushes it to go.”
  4. Crayons are too fat for stencils.  If you need to trace something and you only have a crayon use a pipe cleaner to press along the edges of the stencil and create the outline with the shape of the pipe cleaner.
  5. If you make a mistake just flip the paper over and try again.
  6. All humans have families.  “We are humans and I am her brother and she is my sister because all people have a brother or sister so they don’t get lonely when they play, that’s why”.
  7. That you are only a monster if you want to be and if your spikes are in, just take your spikes out if you don’t want to be a monster and you want to be human again.
  8. If you want to hold a new pet or nature creature simply ask, “Can I say hello to him?”
  9. All living things need water because they get thirsty and leaves make good bowls.
  10. When making lemonade the hard work of juicing lemons is easier if you take turns with other playmates and if you sing “twist and turn” repeatedly, until the juice is all out.
  11. Snails are slimy.
  12. (Roaches are) He is brave for letting us hold him (them). (… and you thought it was vice versa).
  13. Gravity is what makes things go down.  Like when honey falls to the bottom of a lemonade jar. (Yes, they used the word gravity.  No I did not tell them what gravity was in a lesson.  Yes I let them talk and share their own ideas, yes and no questions get yes and no answers.  Listening gets you things like “gravity” to enter conversations.)
  14. What I now know about trees is “that they help people breathe by making air from the pollen that falls from the tree”.
  15. That if you want to learn your letters it is ok to trace them except for Os.  Os are for studying.  “If you are working on your Os you are studying them.  I am working on my Os.  I am studying them.  I like to trace my other letters but O is easy if you are studying it.  You just go around and around and around like a circle”.
  16. Wool smells good and it is soft and enjoyable to braid but wrapping treasures with wool or wire is hard.
  17. When you mix blue and red it “almost looks black”.
  18. Shaving cream: makes great “vanilla sundaes”, “smells like soap”, “turns white (even after it has colors mixed in), gets thin “because of the (cake) pipers”, is good for hiding treasures in, is “soft”, and can be put on your face – but “only crazy kids do that”.
  19. If you need a friend, ask: “How can I help you play today?”.
  20. If you like a project that a playmate creates you can say, “An invention, I’m impressed”.
  21. Racetracks are “delicate”.
  22. “All the good things turn pink”.
  23. It is a good feeling when someone includes your opinion.  It is ok to say “Yes!  You remember my idea!”.
  24. You can “unfreeze it with hot water (frozen play-dough) but it will get gooshy when the ice starts breaking”.
  25. A good friend “smells like cupcakes and cookies”.
  26. Chances are if you see a big rock  and trip over it, it is because it was a pebble and “maybe something knocked it over and it grew”.
  27. If you introduce yourself to a friend you should say, “I am (insert name).  I am from a home”.
  28. If you have a pain in your arm it is probably because you miss your pet at home, “my arm is killing me because it wants to pet her, it just misses her so much.”
  29. “Slow down” … I am always a better person and teacher when I listen to the children when they say slow down. The best moments happen when time is given. I am really good at being present in the moment but sometimes I forget to slow down and give the moment time to be born. So the best thing they have ever said to me is to ssssssssssssllllllllllllllllllooooooooowwwwwwwwwww ddddddddddooooooowwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnnn …

In honor of 2015 coming and going … there are many more things to learn this year as 2016 begins. May I recommend approaching the world with the eyes and spirit of a child.


Sharing The Joy of Risk Taking

As a progressive and play based educator, I spend much of my time (that is not with the children) documenting. This is important to me for many reasons. One is that it serves as communication with families, two is that it is an authentic and meaningful way of assessing children, and three is that it does something very important – it serves as a tool of advocacy.  As an early childhood teacher and advocate, I know that it might take me more time to explain what I already know in my head, what I know is right for children, what is developmentally appropriate, how children learn through play, etc. I also know that my heart will scream – just honor childhood!  Let them be children for the sake of childhood! And though I sometimes wish that all I would have to say is ‘let childhood happen’, I also know that many people won’t do this unless they understand why. I am not sure I would if I didn’t spend years learning why I do what I do. So if I expect families and the world (the systems, the government, the fund providers) to support play and the joys of childhood, then I have to spend time doing my due diligence advocating for it.  Screaming from the roof tops! Defending play and all that comes with it. It is my responsibility. It may mean more work, more time, more everything. But, I signed up for this. Some weeks I might not have the minutes but I try my best to find them when I can. This weekend while documenting (on an amazing new documentation platform we use called storypark, check it out!!!!) I found myself writing about risk taking. We have many brave risk warriors in our group this year! The things they are learning! The things I am learning! Oh!  I could gush on and on. After publishing it I realized it was worth sharing.  So with out further rambling…

The Joy of Risk Taking: The Beams

The children never cease to amaze me! The multitude of things they learn during their play are invaluable life lessons. The Meadow children are brave and filled with curiosity – often taking risks that make our hearts flutter. Even though our “Mommy (or Daddy) Radars” go off, we know as educators that risk taking is critical to healthy child development. It is important that our environments reflect adventures and materials that provide opportunities that are “not as safe as possible, but safe as necessary”, in the words of Bev Bos. By doing this we make sure that children develop a sense of empowerment, independence, and exercise their gross motor skills adequately. It also provides invitations that children see as approachable, rather than them waiting for watchful eyes to turn the other way and seeking out risks that may be unmanageable. We stay close and observe, providing support or caution when needed. Providing real manageable risks for young children allows them to accomplish great challenges. We have to evaluate the challenge with a risk assessment – If a child does this (e.g. climbs here) with me close by, what could happen? A scrape, a twist, a tumble? All things we can overcome together. All things that happen in childhood. All things that are rare and outweighed by the benefits. Our hearts still flutter BUT when they accomplish the risky challenges the celebration in our hearts and theirs is immeasurable. I wish I could capture the smiles in photo for you (but my hands are often hovering for support and not on the camera icon)! Photo or no photo, the pride that beams from the children sends off a powerful energy – that no words could capture.

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Community Playthings shares, in one of their article excepts, why risk is important :

Real play means taking risks—physical, social, and even cognitive. Children are constantly trying out new things and learning a great deal in the process. They love to move from adventure to adventure. They face the risk of mistakes and even of injuries, but that does not deter children. They embrace life, play, and risk with gusto, and they are prepared for a certain amount of bumps and bruises while growing up.
Although no one wants to see a child injured, creating an environment that is overly safe creates a different kind of danger for them. Growing up in a risk-averse society, such as we currently have, means children are not able to practice risk-assessment which enables them to match their skills with the demands of the environment. As a result, many children have become very timid and are reluctant to take risks. At the opposite extreme, many have difficulty reading the situations they face and take foolhardy risks, repeatedly landing in trouble.
When children are given a chance to engage freely in adventurous play they quickly learn to assess their own skills and match them to the demands of the environment. Such children ask themselves—consciously or unconsciously—“how high can I climb”, or “is this log across the creek strong enough to support me?” They become savvy about themselves and their environment. Children who are confident about taking chances rebound well when things don’t work out at first. They are resilient and will try again and again until they master a situation that challenges them—or wisely avoid it, if that seems best.

This week I saw this happen in true action. Some of the children dragged the balance beams off of the tires to the hay, looking for a more challenging risk of big body play and balance. While this proved challenging for many it sprouted many great things. Some children mastered it with ease. While others asked for a hand to hold or the beam to be lowered. Some even decided to not take on the challenge or to do so in new ways, such as, only on the wide beams, only while sitting and scooting up, or not on the “slippery” one (the stained one was more smooth than the raw wood). Some of the children asked for help from a teacher or playmate. Some tilted the basketball hoop down and made a “portal” or doorway onto the hay that was to be crawled through before taking on the challenge. The most amazing thing happened during this moment because after a child would crawl through they would stop and look down and assess if they wanted to climb down by beam or jump of the stairs of hay. Some would look and say things such as, “no way”, “This is so easy”, “come closer”, “I don’t need you here” (in which I would take a step further back), or “I think I like the stairs better”. Once I even saw a child put a pumpkin on the other side of the beam. When I inquired as to why, they said, “because it is heavy and it will keep it on there, then no one will fall” (what amazing risk calculating and consideration for community members!). All week I spent at least a few minutes at this location or smiling from a distance watching other teachers and children work there.

As I sit here, reflecting on this experience, I light up with joy and awe of the children. I can’t help but think of the quote: “A ship is safe in the harbor but, that is not what ships are made for”. The things children are made for, are greater than many people ever allow. It is such a blessing to see these young ones brave the many waves of life and play.


If There is One Thing You Will Do Tonight…

If there is one thing that you will do tonight, do this!  Vote! Click the link below and vote:

I could write about the many reasons why you should support pop-up play and adventure play (risk taking, independence, self-worth, innovation, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, etc.) but the truth is they (The Wonderful, Talented, and Fabulous Playworkers/Founders, Jeremiah and Erica Dockray) explain it best here:

So before you fall into your pile of pillows and shut your eyes for the evening click these links and vote.  It takes just about as long as it will take you to watch those buzzfeed videos your like, shorter than a TED talk, as long as it will take you to brush your teeth or scroll through Hulu or your Facebook newsfeed, Come on you can do it! Make a difference and click VOTE. There is one more day to get the votes to the top and I for one think it is well worth it.  I hope you do too. 🙂 Thank You, ahead of time, because I know if you took the time to read this – you will take the time to vote!

Childhood Joy and Preservation

Who is your hero?

Did you rough play as a child?  Cops and robbers?  Cowboys and Indians?  Did you jump from the couch and body slam your playmates like wrestlers on T.V.?  Did you chase someone down with a water gun?  Did you tie a cape around your neck as a superhero cape and run around like Batman, Superman, or Captain America?

I did.  Matter of fact once on a 4th July I remember telling an officer that we did have guns during a check for fireworks.  I am sure I even offered for him to play and somehow arrived to the explanation of having water guns.  But to a child around age 6 or so that was my reality of guns, they sprayed water at people.  My parents never seemed overly concerned; probably were the ones who bought them for us.  I am not trying to down play the reality of guns.  At some point I remember being told they were dangerous (I had heard the sounds of them go off in the distance as a child – whether during the night when living in the city or in the woods during hunting season) and only seeing one once when my father shot a rabid raccoon.  But, somewhere along the lines I began to decipher the difference between gun play and the real deal.  And maybe that is the problem nowadays.  There is no more conversation, no more sorting out of things as a child.  You just get the no, don’t, zero tolerance of it all.  Kids are being sent home and punished for pop tart pistols and others are not realizing the danger and permanence of a shooting and going to school with guns and becoming young offenders, changing their own and others lives before they have even began.  I don’t believe the world was that much less violent 25 or so years ago.  I don’t think I was that much safer than children today.  But, I did have the freedom to play and was given the chance to absorb knowledge on these topics in a child friendly way – and not only did I not turn out to be a violent offender, I turned out to be a teacher, a teacher that will probably never own or shoot a real gun.

Rough play was a part of my everyday childhood.  Maybe it was because I grew up with mostly boys.  For the first 10 years of my life I grew up in a fairly urban setting but most weekends were spent with family members in a rural area and I had the freedom to run about the fields and woods with whatever theme of play came to mind.  I am not sure if any adult ever intervened in the play, told us it was too dangerous, told us we were being violent, or asked us to stop.  At least I don’t recall.  Matter of fact the only time I remember being told to stop is if we were inside the house and too close to knocking over the furniture or if I played the girl card and screamed out “he’s hurting my spleen! (not that I even knew where a spleen was)”.  There was plenty of rough and tumble in my family and not one of us has grown to be a violent human being.

Don’t get me wrong.  It alarms me when the children sniper shoot each other behind the rocks or they don’t read the social cue of someone being sad and continue to growl at them or push each other over.  But, I wonder if we say zero room for rough play, if we don’t let them experience the difference of being the “bad guy” vs.  the hero- then how will they know before it becomes real.  Isn’t that what play is about: exploring the world and testing theories out, sorting the real from fantasy?  When watching the children rough and tumble or entering their play it brings a whole new world to the forefront, an awareness of what their fears are, how media impacts them, and what they believe are their rights and weaknesses.  Rough play may be scary but telling the children to bottle up their feelings and not explore the world seems even scarier to me.  If we ask them to stop they hide it and what if they bottle up all the curiosity, wonder, misunderstanding until they are older – is that not how we give birth to school violence and bullying?  I have to believe that there is value in this type of play.  I have to believe that we are taking something away from children by not allowing them to engage in it at all.  I am not saying to allow them to rough play without boundaries but just to say maybe it is not time to take the chance away from exploring who is the hero?

Maybe it is time to stop saying no and start saying how…

How can we allow rough and tumble in early childhood in a way that feels right for children, teachers, and parents?  What ways do you allow children to explore war play or superhero play?

Every community and every child is unique so each plan for allowing rough and tumble play adapts to each community.

Take the first steps: play with them, examine your own feelings when the children engage in this play, experiment with how you support play (providing capes, pool noodles, plenty of space and extended outdoor time, or playing music to support role play or set a relaxed environment).

Sometimes it is about allowing the role-plays to occur naturally and only intervening when safety seems to be an issue or if another child is alarmed by it.  Phrases like “I can not let you use the stick as a sword because I am afraid someone will get hurt, what can we use that is softer?” or “Are you OK if he pushes you?” are simple conversation openers to helping children problem solve rough play on their own terms.

I believe there are times around a younger audience that setting boundaries for the children may be necessary, “I see that Timothy looks scared so I am going to ask you to play something different right now” or “I noticed Bailey told you to stop shooting her but you didn’t listen to her words, I am going to ask you to not play guns until you are ready to listen to her”.

Other times it is just about letting the children design the rules and reflect upon their play, giving each child a time to have a voice.  Sitting down and discussing or writing the rules together that are child created helps the children set their own guidelines and share what is comfortable or uncomfortable for each person.  It also allows teachers to understand the play more deeply.  Often when examining how the children navigate this play discoveries of their empathy, creativity, fears, and ability to engage in complex play are revealed.

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So tie on your cape and grab your pool noodle!

Today might just be the day to let Superman fly through the classroom.


Some great online resources on rough and tumble/superhero play/war play:,%20F.%20Rough%20Play.pdf



Learning Through Play?


Came across this amazing cartoon this morning while browsing through a group I am in on Facebook.  Yes, sometimes I am a social media junkie.  But, most of my social media junkie moments are still focused in the EC world.  Yes, I still need a life.

But, back to the important part – this cartoon!  What I love about this is that we can probably all relate to this.  Many parents are wondering just how is play learning?  And we are struggling on how to communicate it!  This cartoon breaks down just a few ways that learning and growth is happening during play.  Now the fiery passionate advocate in me could continue to be flustered over this or I could step back and realize that knowing play is learning is not something that comes naturally to everyone – and really not to us either.  If you are teaching through play, chances are that you have spent time studying play while obtaining a certificate or degree, reading books, attending conferences, and the many ways early childhood advocates refine their knowledge.  So, why do we get baffled when a parent wants evidence?  Many of us, I am sure, just want all of humanity to honor childhood for the joy and window of wonder it is.  The push down of American education has greatly taken its toll on childhood and the preservation of play.  The obsession with results has hindered the ability to nurture children with love and support as they grow into whole beings and not just brains filled with splinter skills.  So as educators how do we battle the inevitable.  The fact that society is pushing traditional skill driven education is not going to change over night.  What can we do today to sell PLAY?

I think the first step is to find tidbits like these cartoons to share with parents and community members.  Small steps sometimes take us on far journeys.  Each day as early childhood educators we fight for children and their right to play but sometimes we forget to create allies with small steps.

Take a small step… share this cartoon or simple supportive bits of evidence of how play is learning.  Maybe it is a photo with a caption, a brief article, a documentation sample… Take a moment to share the little pieces that sold you on PLAY, these little pieces might just be what changes the world for children, education, and you as an educator.