"the hug came flying at me"

"The hug came flying at me. All I saw was thin blue and white stripes and a flash of brown hair. Then, there he was - attached to my side, grappling to me like he belongs there. This is the daily ritual of one 4 year old boy named Alex. He loves people like that everyday, not just me. He loves people with his whole heart and full body. Often, he has some extra wisdom to share while wrapped to me. Today, I learned about snake venom and also candles that super-heroes use at night time. I wish I could live like Alex for one glimmering moment yet I am most grateful to not only be witness to it but be a recipient of that kind of life power joy. All bundled in 40+ pounds of happiness."

If this energy could be harnessed, we could change the world in a blink.

sometimes we talk about god

Sometimes, we talk about super heroes, angels and princesses.

Sometimes, we talk about rocks, sand and mud.

Sometimes, we talk about love, heaven and God. We don't always have the answers or understand it all, but we talk and try to express ourselves.

Sometimes, God and the world are in our art.

Sometimes, it is good to talk about the world, and rivers, and heaven.
And, God.

my break-up letter with the Reggio Approach

 "do nothing without joy." - Loris Malaguzzi, founder of REA

Dear Reggio Emilia Approach,
I will start by saying: "It's not you, it's me".
Yet, that really wouldn't be the truth. It IS you. That is why this letter is so difficult to write.
[I really never thought I would write this letter because, like other long term relationships, one never thinks of them ending or changing. This pang to break-up came suddenly to me last week and I have thought deeply about whether or not to write these words. Like any other break-up, I stand strong in what I have to say yet it does not mean that my heart is not breaking.]
We have known each other - well, I have tried to know you - for over 20 years. You altered my teaching life in the most dramatic way when I was a brand new teacher. In turn, you have changed my actual life - the Who I Am and What I Consider Beautiful and How I Respect Children. I am a better, more thoughtful and patient educator. I am a better narrator. I am a better photographer. You changed me and I will always be indebted to you for the gift of loving being an early learning educator.
[When I was a younger teacher, I thought perhaps I should study the Italian language, I should always use mirrors, I should use black slender ink pens, and - without question - I should have a giant slab of clay just there in the center of the table for children to explore everyday]
However, over all these years, the you that I understand has become something else to millions of others from around the world. You are misinterpreted and misrepresented. You are THE Approach to early education that nearly all who get a glimpse of you begin to introduce themselves by saying: "I am a teacher inspired by the values of Reggio Emilia". Who wouldn't be inspired by you? It is inconceivable to not be inspired by you. The Rights of Children, the Environment as Third Teacher, the Teacher as Researcher, the documentation, photography, natural materials, clay, community, food, light, dialogues...it is all so inspirational. And, we cannot forget The City. The city itself is so inspirational.
[Sigh. I am thinking of the Lions in the Piazza, the Amusement Park for the Birds, the study of Crowds and the phenomenal world-renowned traveling Exhibit.]
 Of course, nearly all who are inspired by you are not from Your city. Nearly all who are inspired by you only see the the hard work you have already done for over 50 years to offer these beautiful, respectful schools to your families. The people from around the world who say "I am inspired by Reggio Emilia" are often trying to "DO" Reggio. Isn't that sort of funny? And a bit sad? That the highest quality early learning center in the world - you, Reggio Emilia - that prides itself on representing its own community, art, language, and culture is being REPLICATED by schools around the world? What happened here? What is missing in the RE message that most believers in you allow their own Culture, their own Children, their own City to not be represented in their School? Isn't it leaning towards crazy that each educator that is replicating you has completely lost the true beauty of their own footprint, their own mountains, their own curvy streets that surely lead to wondrously glorious places?
[I am remembering my first workshop with RE educators in 1992 in Boston. It was their first official lengthy workshop in the US, they spoke entirely in Italian, then their lecture was read aloud again in its entirety in English. One of the most amazing 4 days of my teaching life.]
Within the blogging world, when I asked educators what they value about RE, they shared that the open sense of Time, the Respect for children, the Environment as teacher, the 100 Languages, the teacher and child as Co-Constructors were the keys. I believe in these educators. They do see the richest ideals of RE. Yet I also wonder how many other educators are forgetting to examine what is important to THEM. Rarely, if ever, have I seen or read educators flat out adding - stating for fact - their own ideals from their own school culture that they have weaved seamlessly into their mission. I feel like we - including me - are so dazzled by the inspiration of REA that we don't even consider incorporating our own beliefs or values. THAT is why I am breaking up with REA. I cannot teach in the beautiful school that I teach and keep seeing what is missing from the RE value set.
[I am setting down the glasses that I have worn for over 20 years that kept me seeing schools and spaces only from the RE perspective.]

I want to be committed to where I teach, what our school believes in, and fold in what our own educators choose are the values of our City and Community. This doesn't mean others should do the same, that's the point. Follow what makes sense to you. It's just that, for me, I realize being inspired by you, Reggio, does not let me see anything else.
[I am a member of NAREA. I have traveled to Boston, St. Louis, Boulder, Calgary, and many cities in California to learn from Amelia Gambetti, Leila Gandini, George Forman and others. I have traveled to Italy. I have seen the Exhibit perhaps 10 times. I own nearly every quality book published about Reggio. My first edition 100 Languages yellow book, dog-eared and highlighted, is my educator bible.]
I hope we can still be friends.

fearless water color painting by a 3yo artist

This is my 3 year old friend, Ila, as she engages with paint at home. Her mother, Alexa, knows Ila is hands and body IN when involved with paint. Alexa has paint out for Ila whenever she would like it.

Ila has great freedom at home to explore with all her senses and with all her bright spirit.

At our school, we have the indoor and outdoor areas set up with provocations or explorations for the children. The children may choose wherever they would like to be and engage with whatever materials they choose. The teacher role is well defined to support play, social function and choice.

This particular day, in the classroom we had table easels for water color paintings. Ila came over and started her own work. She began with a red swoop:

After that, Ila began her full painting journey with a lot of BLACK painted here and there, just so, and one more spot right    about    there.

Ila had already added hand prints yet seemed inspired to add more. She was very thoughtful and detailed in her efforts as she painted finger by finger, then full palm back on the paper.

Ila worked on her painting for about 20 minutes as she went back and forth with color, hands, color, hands.
Sometimes we would chat together about what her hands were doing, how the paint felt when the brush stroked over her finger or how sometimes her hand print was light or dark on the paper.


When Ila completed her work, I asked her if she would like to tell anything about it, that maybe something was happening inside her painting. Ila dictated her story to bring her painting to life for everyone.


I am not sure I can say anything else.
Ila's work - her spirit of work - says it all. 

I am inspired to live just one day just like her. [smile]

*Alexa and Ila's family are no longer at our school. Alexa gave me permission to use her and Ila's first names and to allow Ila's face in the photos.

called to teach, called to play

I was thinking about Teacher Tom and Jenny at Let the Children Play. I was thinking about how teachers we know in the blogosphere are teachers We Know, I mean Really Know. We know what they believe in (children's right to play), we know their mission (uplifting children's play) and we know they each have been called to their work (being educators who Play alongside children). Tom and Jenny certainly Chose their work, but they really were called to it. Thankfully. Their voices in the blogosphere have changed educators and parents perspectives on Play as THE WAY for children to truly, authentically learn.

I was thinking about how each of us have a calling, really, even in the tiniest of moments. For me, when I think of children, I am pulled toward the word Choice. I realize I have written about Choice before, such as I NEED to Do This and Following Emily . I value it maybe more than most other elements of early childhood education because without it the other elements would likely fail.

Here are a few photo examples of Choices being made in children's Play. Each fascinate me in their own way as it seems these children were Called to this specific Play, at this specific moment, and remained engaged in their Choice for lengthy periods of time.

This 4yo girl starting swinging these four swings. She began at one end, gave the first one a push, then moved to the next, next, next. She then circled her way back to the first one to keep them all in motion. She worked here for nearly 15 minutes, alone, keeping all swings swinging.
Two 3yo girls collecting bark and sticks, sitting on tree seats, holding pine cones, magnifiers and - of course - one saw.
3 children with 3 ladders looking in - perhaps - 3 different directions at our neighbor classroom yard.
I observed one 3 yo girl working with a crate full of dinosaurs. First, she arranged them this way, with tails touching in a circle. Then, she aligned them in two rows. Then, partnered them up. Very intentional work.
This 3 yo boy worked for over 20 minutes in the sand area. He dug a deep hole first. Then, he spotted the tires amid the sand and - one by one -rolled and hauled them to layer over his sand hole. After 3 tires high, he peered in, asked me to look in, also, then ran off.   
This 4 year old girl worked for over an hour in the sand and water area, most of the time by herself. She became engrossed in testing out the floating properties of the pine cones. Did you know that some float and some sink? (It's true!). She also tested trying to attach a sinking pine cone to one that did float to see if they would float together. (Any guesses?)

What have you been Called to do?
Did you have a Choice?
Do you get to Play alongside Children?


a child's plan in a play-based school

Children's ideas are supported inside the classroom and outside.
I was speaking with a colleague, Maria, yesterday after school. Maria had been extending an interest of the children by offering musical instruments and music books on our outside patio. Our school had had a community event over the weekend where the university band came and played. The children had been mesmerized and inspired during the party.

Maria shared about Lance deciding to make his own Drum on Monday using cardboard and paper. Maria then shared the most special part: The next day, on Tuesday morning, Lance had made a plan at home before school with his mother. He had told his mom that today when he went to school that he would create a trombone and that she should come to the end of class when Storytime (meeting time, circle time) normally happened because he would play his trombone then.
Lance's first trombone. He made 4 others in following days.

Lance DID make a trombone at school out of huge recyclable tubes and milk caps for the buttons and lots of tape. 

Lance DID perform the university song during Storytime - with 8 other children who also invented instruments that day.
Lance's mother DID make sure to arrive for Storytime (parents are always welcome to join) to see and hear the trombone.

THIS is the beauty of a Play Based School. 
Lance knew that his ideas and plans would be supported and encouraged at school. 
Lance knew that school was where he made his own choices about where he played, with whom to play, and what materials with which to engage.
At our school, if Maria had not had music items or recyclables set out the next day, the teachers would ensure Lance could access whatever he needed to complete any plan he made.
Lance's dedication to his lengthy project, the pride he felt to complete it just how he wanted, and commitment to work along side 8 other friends who were designing flutes and tubas and drums - priceless. This exact play and plan could only happen where the teacher role is facilitator. We are there to uplift the work, ideas and world of the children.

Can you hear the trombone?

choosing joy looks like this

I hope you have a day like this today,
or maybe tomorrow,
or maybe everyday if you are lucky.

Do you have a caption idea for this photo?
What do you know about this 4 year old girl?

can you hear me now? "la la la la la!"

At the heart of my commitment to early childhood is my commitment to documentation and photography to capture learning as it unfolds. 
It is a special experience when I discover a photo from a friend that sparks something in me to write a blog post that connects with child development in a specific way.
My high school friend Laura posted a photo of her husband and daughter on a social networking site. The photo caught my attention because - to me - it was clear that the child was making a statement, her own Very Deliberate statement.
It made me think about how some children instinctively Want To Be Heard and Have Something To Say from a very early age.
Can you hear Ella? "la la la la la!"
Mom Laura shared with me that Ella, 22 months, had been attending her big sister's school play. Ella was a bit too disruptive during rehearsal and was 'asked to leave' til the show started. As she left rehearsal, Ella shared her disappointment  "Oh, man!" for all to hear.
After the show, Ella ran right up to the stage and straight to the microphone to sing "la la la la la...!" Dad Isaac was right there with Ella to enjoy her vocals and likely to swoop her away when her solo was completed.
Laura shared that Ella loves to sing and dance and has an extensive vocabulary in English, Spanish and Hebrew. It seems "la la la la" is universal for toddler singing in all languages.

From the educator lens:
1. Children develop their own sense of self, their own sense of wanting to share information or not, their own comfort level in having attention or not.
2. Children have their own motivation to "go straight to the microphone" and yet also it can be something that has been supported by family or school where children have had opportunities to talk and/or share in a trusted group.
3. Children might learn to embrace that role of Sharer or Teller of Information. Some children might not like it still and prefer to have a quieter role.
4. Ensuring the children have opportunities to share their opinions, be an expert (drawing circles, singing La La La, standing on one foot), lead a nature walk, explain their artwork, tell about a favorite book - all these afford authentic contexts for children to speak, lead or explain something. 
5. The "Having Of A Voice" won't always be natural like for Ella yet allowing chances for celebrating what children DO have to say is an absolute gift.

 Here are a few ways that children have a Voice in our classroom:

My 3 year old friend Z created this easel painting and dictated this exciting story.
"This is a rainbow crocodile name Popcorn. She likes to snap and eat people!"


My 5 year old friend K created this wood puppet who is holding a paper bouquet of flowers. Here is her story:
"Once upon a time, the puppet went to the forest to get some wood from a tree. It was scary and she saw a ghost but it was really her friend Bear. Then she saw her friend Rabbit.
The End." 

This 4 year old friend climbed one of the ladders in our grove area, spotted something important and made her announcement: "Look! I see my friends way over there!"

This 4 year old friend had private time with all the swings. She kept going from swing to swing to keep them each in motion, round and round, over and over.
She never said a word.

Sometimes, there is nothing to say. Finding an alone space and being with yourself is a beautiful message. Of course, this 5 year old just might be singing or talking to herself in this red tube, we can only imagine.

Thank you to Laura, Isaac and especially Ella for the inspiration for this post on the many many Voices of Children...La la la la la la la!

telescope to mars in loose parts play

"I can really see the big trees but I am pretending to see Mars."
Loose parts play. 
Isn't it wondrous? Rocks, boards, pvc pipe, gutters, cones, and more.

Children working with loose parts out in the sand area have the opportunity to invent and reinvent during their play. Everyday can be different or perhaps a follow up on previous play scenes - such as pirate islands or brewing up muddy water poison - and using boards for bridges or gutters for water delivery or boulders for islands.

This particular day in the sand area was interesting for me as I observed two distinct inventive uses of one particular loose part - a large pvc pipe that is basically a connector type pipe with three large holes that could be used for attaching straight tubing or end capes. 

In our sand area, we have a wood play house structure with a small deck in front of it. Along the outside fence post, the pvc pipe was propped up on the corner post.

Making coffee with O's coffee machine.
 My friend O came over, positioned the pvc pipe to suit her needs, then went off to get her two pitchers of muddy water. O came back, poured water through the top positioned hole with one large pitcher and caught what she could below in one of the two lowers openings with the second pitcher.
Me: O, I see you doing some pouring with your pitchers.
O: Yes, I am making some coffee. This is my coffee machine. Would you like some coffee?
Me: Yes, thank you!
O continued her coffee making for quite some time, making different brews with different amounts of water and mud. 

When O was finished and had moved on from her coffee machine, two other girls went inside the wood house to do some cooking. One girl L came out onto the deck, turned the pvc pipe in a new direction, then peered out.

Me: L, I see you are using the white pipe.
L: Yes, I am looking out my telescope. I can really see the big trees but I am pretending to see Mars.
Other children then came over and also wanted to see Mars. L shared her telescope and the friends began inventing other things they could see from the telescope "the moon" "my house" "Disneyland".

The use of loose parts allows for FREEDOM for children to be completely in their own play, to see the world in the way they see the world at that very moment  - a telescope or a coffee machine - and to engage in their world of play honestly and completely as themselves.

"Look in my hands!"

Most days at school I am the observer of discovery. Children play and invent and reinvent, and I document and photograph my interpretation of what is happening.
I love my days using my educator lens and valuing the children's work in the very moments it is all unfolding.

There are moments, as well, however, when discovery is delivered to me - literally - by the hands of children. This week, on one particular day, within a short time frame,
2 children came right up to me to show me their most beautiful findings.
My camera was ready.

"Look! I made a heart out of sand!"
"Look! I have a big metal rock and a small black rock!"

I love working in the world of children.

To be allowed to witness the discovery of Amazing and Beautiful things that exist in the world in the spontaneous time frame that children find them - well - that is the reason I continue to teach.

As adults we don't "discover" sand heart or rocks: I know I would not see these things anymore if it weren't for the children.

What have your children discovered lately that was amazing and beautiful?

mud muffins from the outdoor kitchen

Oh, to bake in a muddy sandy outdoor kitchen.
Oh, to collect the sand,
bucket up the water,
sprinkle it all into a muffin pan,
smash it and stir it with a long blue spoon, and - don't forget - add a dash more water with a metal teapot...

Oh, to bake in a muddy sandy outdoor kitchen.
Come on in, order up a muffin and have a chat with this 4-year-old baker..there will likely be some magical ingredients in this clever recipe.

What are some of YOUR favorite tools to have available in your sand/mud area? 

three words: Uncover Their Story

I was inspired by Scott at Brick by Brick and his 'One Word: Listen' post this week.
I reflected back on my own post from last year with MY One Word: Brilliant post and do feel like I lived fairly brilliantly for 2012.
Uncovering Jack's story of his straw and stick flying aircraft.

My new word for 2013 is not one word but three...
My focus is to Uncover Their Story when working with children. 
To do this, it requires

I am fascinated by Process - and the Diversity of Process - by which individual children embrace their play.
I am fascinated by Use of Materials and how attaching, connecting, layering and technique come together to create some sort of collage or aircraft or kite.

I am fascinated by the life of children.
I am eager to Uncover Their Story and share those stories with you.

Do YOU have a word for 2013?

complex materials prompt inventive design

I am thrilled to write my first 2013 post for Zella. Bring on the New Year and new stories about children and their learning processes.

I have been thinking about the complexity of play and the importance of offering diverse materials for construction. Block play combined with pieces that roll or tilt or stack increase children's ways of thinking about balance, symmetry or design. 
Wow. Using brick blocks, window blocks, kapla block, and carefully placed blue rolling balls on upper tiers. Wow.
Observing the choices of these two children as they built this raised tower was fascinating.
Notice the exact symmetry of placed colored brick blocks, the equally symmetrical placement of window blocks in rectangular and triangle shapes, and the criss-cross kapla blocks placed on top. Amazing. 
Then, add carefully balanced blue and red rolling balls to the tower. Each ball was set slowly, made sure it didn't roll, then the hand let go and went to get another ball. 
This kind of work is no accident.

What kind of materials do you offer to prompt inventive construction and a unique kind of small motor work? 

 Happy New Year and Happy Building with Complex Materials.