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.

Childhood Joy and Preservation

“We Don’t Remember Days, We Remember Moments” – Cesar Pavese

There are moments when I get caught in the wave of paperwork, pedagogy, politics, and the many layers of things that come with working in education.  But, if any of you are true early childhood educators at heart I remind you to get caught in the moment as you begin this year.

Get caught in play, laughter, discovery, and miracles.  If my week was spent on rule making, bulletin boards, assessments, worksheets, and punching out Ellison machine shapes then I might as well give in and sink into the ocean, let the waves of all the other nonsense take me down to the deep bottom.  Because that just isn’t who I am at heart.  I don’t belong in classroom of straight lines in the hall and desks in the room.  And I don’t believe that children do either.

Instead I believe in celebrating and exploring life, soaking in the sun while perched in a branch of a tree, finding joy in the simple things in life, and playing until your heart, body, and mind are full.  These are the ways we create memories.  These are the ways we grow as whole people.  In today’s world we are focusing much on testing and excelling on the academic charts.  But, I ask you:  Do you want our children to score high today and be at the top of academic charts or do you want our children to learn and grow into loving, thoughtful, independent, creative, and innovative human beings for the rest of their days on this beautiful earth.  I know which I want.  And I know that they need many days of a protected playful childhood to get there.

Take the world in through the eyes of a child…

20150909_100211From the branch of a tree soak up the sun and marvel at the rays dancing through the leaves,

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take in the miracles of nature and simple joys of life while watching the story of a monarch unfold from egg to caterpillar, 

(yes!!! we watched the Monarch actually lay the egg!  What an amazing life moment!  Too much in awe to snap the shot!)


become pals with four legged friends and care for them with gentle hands and open hearts, 


feast on the gifts of gardens and local crops, discover (or let a friend teach you) the simple tricks of tasting new things (pressing your finger in the center of a clementine to peel it), commune with friends,


and PLAY!!!!

What is progressive?

Learning from One of Progressive Thought …

I had the most amazing experience of seeing Alfie Kohn himself last Thursday!  It was an amazing and rare experience to listen to someone who is charged with such passion and dedication to the field of education – from a progressive stance.  It is also refreshing to hear someone admit that becoming progressive is a process – once a traditional teacher of English Alfie has evolved into one of the most powerful promoters of alternative education pathways.

Seeing him made me want to share two things.  One, a document that Alfie outlines key factors of progressive education and Two, a piece of writing I have been saving with the debate of using it for blog purposes or publishing or what have you…

Tonight, I have decided that it was worth sharing.  So without further chattering:

One (The article from Alfie Kohn: “Progressive Education – Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find”)

A must read!!!  Located at Alfie’s site:

Do not scroll further until you visit that link and read that article!!!!  You should read his link!  If you get anything out of this blog post, go there!  But, if you have an additional extra minute read this: 

Two (My piece of writing that I was reminded of when seeing Alfie, as I referenced him at the end of it):

The other day, I was reading Their Name is Today:  Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World.

I know, reading leisurely books is maybe not my strong point.  I was recently informed I should read Gone Girl or take another stab at the George R.R. Martin series, Game of Thrones.  But, instead I am reading Their Name is Today (Ok, and Always Looking Up but at a rate of about one chapter a week, so that may not count as a fun non-Early Childhood related book) and I am thinking I will read a book by Janet Lansbury next.  C’est la vie.  I am a little wrapped up in my field.  Anyways while deeply engrossed in a chapter on “taking back childhood” it occurred to me that my dad has given me one of the best gifts of childhood, the lack of expectations.  Don’t get me wrong it is not that he did not have a standard for us to live by but not in the same ways that children are held to expectations today (and when I was a child).  And because of this I feel I was given the freedom as an adult to pursue what I was passionate about and set my own expectations for greatness.  So what do I mean by this?  I was held to the standard of being kind, compassionate, hard working, and respectful but I was never pressured to be the captain of the team, the honor student, the math-lete, the lead role in the musical, or prom queen.  It wasn’t something that was ever encouraged or forced upon me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I played a few school sports.  I muddled my way through a few years of soccer, my best goal being one I accidentally scored on my own team.  I hung out with the brainy people as a quiz bowl team member or envirothon member, somehow having a knack for questions about the Jewish religion and soil.  Don’t ask me why or how, I just did.  I was involved in things… this group and that, etc. etc. etc.  I wasn’t as privileged as some but I did have many blessings that some children may have not.  I participated in life events of the typical public school child.  And it is not to say I wasn’t rewarded for things or encouraged.  Once my dad thought the idea of promoting good math grades could be motivated by a shrimp cocktail (it did work for a moment and it wasn’t the cocktail’s fault, I was really horrendous at math).  And I had family attend my sport games on occasion or the banquets at season’s end.  But, the reality was while I was at home or at school being a normal teenager some of my friends were being forced down paths they did not want or understand:  the next prettiest, funniest, smartest girl ever.  I dealt very little with that pressure and now I can look back and see how that has benefited me, even today.  It is not to say don’t ever enroll your child into a class or sport.  It is to say honor them in not creating every experience into a pressure zone or competition.  I see so many children today being pushed to go above and beyond for reasons that are far from intrinsic.  My greatest accomplishments were ones I desired to achieve on my own.  It turns out that they were things that my family could be proud of too but that wasn’t the main motivation for them.  I did not work hard so that I could obtain praise, trophies, ribbons, awards, etc.  But, I also did not crumble to the point of no return when I failed.  Today we teach children that failure is life ending.  We teach them to feel pressure from the very early years of life.  How many letters can you name?  What accelerated reading level are you at?  What color belt did you earn?  How many goals did you score?  Did you make it to the finals?  Are you scholarship material?  It never ends! The pressure for excellence is intense and it is taking a toll on humanity.  Children are programmed from the very beginning to not be comfortable with failure and live up to expectations at all times.  But, as adults I think we are missing out on how this impacts children emotionally and mentally.  Give children the gift of finding joy in their own accomplishments, step back from creating a child that needs a trophy to feel whole.


Fuel for your fire:

  • Alfie Kohn deserves mounds of credit for helping educators stray away from empty extrinsic praise.  Take a moment to explore “5 Reasons to Stop Saying Good Job”:

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So all in all – props to the great parents, educators, and great change-makers of the world!


100 Languages of Children: The Beauty of Reggio

The Hundred Languages

The child is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred.

Always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

Reggio by far has been one of my favorite progressive genres.  I love that it serves as a model for reflecting the children and community into its methods.  Respectful relationships, beautiful environments, and child centered practices are just a couple things that sell me on this genre of education.  The above poem sums up a lot of what is crucial for every child on a daily basis.  Children deserve to be heard and it is all to often that their needs and desires are neglected for an adult agenda.  When is the last time you let a child share one of their hundred languages?

For more Reggio resources check out:


Ode to the Super Mom

 So here is me on most days … Ready to conquer the world and play!

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Yep.  Play!  Because that is crucial to human development and early childhood.  So when I look at my $60000+ in student loans some days I am like “yikes!” But most days I am like “yeah!  I got this!”.  So you can imagine I feel quite invested in my work with the children – and not just because of the dollar signs but because I love what I do, I feel it is important, and I see how children benefit from it everyday!

People ask me “why don’t you just teach public school and get all the benefits and security and money…. Waa. Wa wa wa wa”.  photo 2photo 3

They are shocked and appalled that I would invest so much of my time, money, and self in “baby sitting” and silly affairs such as “Play”.  Well I do not sit on babies and PLAY is serious stuff (but that is another topic in need of a  blog posting).

AND… “Been there done that, and it is not for me” is the short story…

 When you are an advocate for play and early childhood and you are put in the PS (public school) box.  PS becomes a bunch of BS (excuse my blunt language)… I just can’t do it.  When I am in that arena I have one million things going through my head about what the children are missing (play, recess, social development, autonomy, identity, time, joy, etc.) that I can’t seem to open that scripted book and shove all that material and testing in their little heads.   It just goes against everything I have worked towards for children.  Don’t get me wrong there are some great crusaders out there that can do it in a fairly appropriate way and they will change the world for some young children  – but my battle is not fought inside out from the PS but outside in.

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Sure I want everyone to hear Vivian Paley’s message of “who will save the kindergarten?”  ( because it is important.  (It was a great keynote to see).  Someone has to do it (save the kindergarten) and I want to help too but just not from the PS platform.

 So I am here in sunny CA  living the dream of an advocate and early childhood educator as I PLAY and promote PLAY and protect PLAY each day in a progressive nature preschool.  And I love it!  The children love it!  And I get to see them learn and grow each day in amazing ways.

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So now you are wondering what does this have to do with becoming a Super Mom…

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Well here it is… Truth is I am not a Mom yet and even though I want to be someday soon – I am not!  And it puts me at a super disadvantage.  Because some days I am stuck in my young naive and triumphant ways – busy trying to conquer the EC world. That I forget just how hard it is to be a Mom… So I will be teaching, blogging, book club-ing, volunteering, reading an EC book,  going to trainings, working on school projects, and when it comes to others being a part of those things or taking on similar projects – I think wouldn’t it be great if everyone put in their all and dedicated their whole self to this cause!  It would change the world for sure!

AND… out of my ignorant mouth or head pops up “I don’t understand why people just can’t … Blah blah blah”.   And later I realize … “Oh yeah… They are a Mom”.  One of the most important jobs in the world!

They are the people who brought the little people into this world… First people to love them, to teach them, and first people to make children their priority.  Super important work!

So while I am busy in the EC world wondering what everyone else is doing – 80% of the time I could really step back and see all the amazing people doing what they can and trying to be a Super Mom at the same time.  And if we really think about it all those small things and big things mixed together add up – they count!  So I want to say Thank You to all those Moms!

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Because truth is I have no idea how I am going to do it!  How am I going to be this loving, nurturing, holistic, present Mom and still change the EC world?  Because while most days I look like this.

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Some days I look like this.

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So if I already have those days how will I ever be on top of my game on both being a teacher and a Mom?

I don’t have the answers yet.

But what really came out of all this wondering is that I know a lot of SUPER MOMS!  And not because they have perfected the process but because they do their little parts in the world around them – whether it is career, community, or what have you and they have also been loving, caring, compassionate, and, loving Moms – all at the same time.  They haven’t perfected balancing the world and Mommy-hood but they have done a darn good job at managing everything while still loving, nurturing, and providing for their little one.  I see them make consciousnesses choices everyday about the well being and happiness for their children.  And most likely if I know them then that means they are letting their child PLAY – which is one giant step towards making the right decisions for your little person (in my biased but educated opinion).

So here is to the Moms!

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 Ignore all the young overachieving judging comments from people – because chances are they never sat down to think about just how hard it might be.  That saying – ” ignorance is bliss”…. might be true but “understanding is the first step to acceptance”.  Truth be told the world could use a whole lot more understanding and acceptance.  We could use more praise for Moms and less judgment – isn’t that what we want to teach our children anyways?
So I know today I won’t figure out how to balance it all yet – because I am not in that world yet.  But I can extend my apologies and gratitude to all those Super Moms in the world and challenge others to do the same.

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The How To Dos

Following the Child’s Lead

When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.

― Fred Rogers


Following a child’s lead is crucial to the success of progressive education.  But, it is much more difficult than it sounds.  It is easy to say that we are going to listen to a child’s idea and base our plans on it.  However, catering to the child’s idea and facilitating it in a way that helps it flourish is a challenge.  One of my cooperating teachers said it best this month, “sometimes our idea of wedding, trains, or garden are different from what their idea is”.  As teachers, we may notice that the children have an interest in a particular topic.  But, the adult in us can not get upset when we tailor the environment to this interest and the children lead it into another direction.  Instead we must follow the child’s idea and provide them with support.

A couple months ago the children in my preschool were in love with trains (actually, they still are).  They pulled carts around filled with friends or items.  They stopped at pretend stations and traffic lights.  The children recruited teachers and children to be the train pullers.  They sang songs or made train sounds while riding.  They gravitated towards the train track building sets.  As teachers, we ran with this theme.  We built box sides to fit over wagons for train cars, provided whistles that sounded like a train, placed a gear set on a manipulative table, staged the outdoor dramatic play house as a train station, and so on and so forth.  We thought this theme would burst into weeks of exploration.  We discussed maybe bringing the theme inside and exploring how the mechanics of a train works or incorporating some other aspect of train play.  Turns out the children had different ideas.  They still love train play months later.  However, that week the “train station” became a movie theater and the train box sides became sleds for the compost pile.


The adult in us wants to say “don’t take apart the train, please” or “movie ticket, this is where we buy train tickets”.  But, we can’t.  If we are truly respecting that a child’s idea has value we need to follow their lead.  We need to grab the shovels when they ask, bring them paper for their rockets, allow our staged areas to transform into other areas of purpose, and let go of a portion of a theme that may just not fit what a child is asking for.

This presents one of the biggest challenges to me thus far in progressive education: extending the theme.  This is a task I use to master.  Webbing the theme out and providing weeks of activity based on a theme was easy for me.  However, this year my classroom is multi-aged (2-5), the classroom is a well spaced indoor classroom with 2 acres of outdoors and a team of teachers, and the interests of each child varies tremendously.  Following the children by selecting an interest that a large portion of the class population is intrigued by and that will last over time is tricky.  Each teacher will have their own environmental or contextual challenges.  However, I do not feel it is impossible to meet the children’s needs.  As time passes I feel that myself and the teachers I work with will be able to overcome the challenges.  I emphasize this because “Rome was not built in a day”.  I will not have this perfected the first few attempts and it can not be expected that any other teacher will either.  It takes practice.  Some days will be better than others.  Mastery of this will come with time and practice; The most important task is to stay dedicated to following the child’s lead.

Tips for following the lead of a child:

Observe and Listen – Watch how the children play.  What areas do they enjoy?  Track how many times they visit certain areas or topics.  Listen to what they talk about.  They will tell you what they want to do and what they want to know.  There are times that I will come right out and ask them, “what should we learn about next?”.  But, at other times I flip through my documentation (pictures, anecdotal notes, and language clips) to see what commonalities exist and what ideas seem to continue to resurface.  Sometimes a deep exploration and interest is easy to find and at other times the hints are more subtle.  For example, this week we started to really focus staging our environment for the children to explore gardening.  There was not a pile of notes showing this interest but two events that made it apparent that the children were interested in this topic.  Everyday our director invites the children to travel up to the garden with her and harvest some of the vegetables we have planted.  Sometimes we gather them to cook, to give to our families, or to feed our preschool bunny and tortoise.  But, this invitation always is widely accepted.  The children gather in bundles to travel up to the garden.  They dash up to the top to be a part of the harvest.  In addition to this we recently planted some bean sprouts on the window together while exploring the story Jack and the Beanstalk (another theme that came from their interest in giants and fairy tales).  Almost every child wanted to be a part of the planting and then they excitedly watched as the seeds sprouted.


These two small observations could go unnoticed.  There was not piles of documentations of the children in each area talking about the garden.  Our environment was not staged to encourage this.  But, the fact that the children always want to visit the garden and be a part of planting tells us (teachers) that more of our environment and activities should be dedicated to this. It is important to remember not all note worthy observations are verbally delivered from a child (especially when working with infants and toddlers).  Watching where a child goes, what learning experiences they gravitate towards, what objects they continuously pursue, what experiences make their eyes light up are all clues to what makes a child tick.  Every child has the right to be a part of the classroom.  Be sure to write down that Molly always carries a baby doll around or Johnathan played with blocks and cars the entire day.  The things we see children do and hear them say are the maps to what they are ready for next.

Staging the Environment – The next step is to take the collection of your observations.  Choose a theme that the children have demonstrated a strong interest in.  Plan the classroom environment around this theme and be sure to incorporate what the children are asking for or showing a need to know about.  Sometimes this process includes making a list with the children.  While they are playing doctor with the stuffed animals ask them “If we had a doctor office for the animals what would we need?”.  The children may tell you: band aids, blankets, stethoscopes, medicine, etc.  This gives you information for what you need when you set up a dramatic play veterinarian hospital for the children.  Sometimes the props the children ask for may surprise you.  Try to incorporate authentic materials for the children to explore:  real scrub shirts and stethoscopes for the vet/doctor’s offices, real firemen hats and boots for the the fire station, and real seeds and shovels for the garden shop.  Providing real items allows the children to expand their knowledge of and build connections with the real world.  The environment should be reflective of the children and the classroom community.

Following the Cues – This is crucial and often where a great plan can fall apart.  This is the area that I myself and working on improving.  Once the environment is staged follow the children’s cues.  When the children ask for fabric to make a cast for the doggy or tape to measure the length of a jump- go get it!  Don’t just say that is a good idea!  Go get it!  If you can get it that moment do it!  If you can’t then the next day tape and fabric should be there and ready.  Extending learning and play can only be done by continuing to observe and provide for what the child needs.


In progressive programming the teacher is the facilitator.  If a child asks for something and it doesn’t seem fitting ask what their plan is.  Maybe they have a great idea that needs to be facilitated.  As a teacher I can say that I am a great fetch-er.  I will usually get what they ask for.  But, the difficult part is taking the cues gathered from the week and rolling that information into the next week.  It may mean staging the next week with the same theme but with more or new but related materials.  It could also mean that the materials need to be adjusted to what the children really need.  Again, a teacher’s idea of what something should be could be different from what the children envision.  The end of the week does not mean the end of the interest unless the children are asking for something different or the cues that they are providing communicate “I am looking for something else”. If the children do not dive into and environment that was staged for them ask yourself:

  • Did I truly record their interest?
  • Did I invest enough thought and ideas into the theme so that each area or most areas catered to the interest?
  • Did the areas have multiple purposes? (Each learning area should have multiple ways to explore.  If a child can only participate by using one linear method then the area has lost its flexibility to each individual learner.)
  • Was my vision of the interest different from their interest?  (and if so) Do I have the ability to re-stage this in a way that will meet their needs?
  • Did too much time pass from when the interest was recorded?  (Some ideas need to be addressed in the moment and others can be stored away for the following week or even months later.)
  • Was there something in the environment or other events that the children found more important?

Taking the Lead – A great teacher takes the lead by giving the children the power to lead.  As an early childhood educator you can not just be a supervisor.  You have to be a facilitator and sometimes even a play-er.  As Fred Rogers says, the things we play with and the people we play with do make a difference.  One of the most important jobs for a teacher is to be the person that provides the materials and environment needed for deep and rich explorations.  This can only be authentically done by following a child’s lead.  Play will provide learning but a child will tell us what they are ready to experience and learn.  The learning experiences that stick with us, whether we are an adult or child learner, are the ones we have invested an interest in – the ones we say “I need to know that”.