Become the Curriculum


My willow tree helpers

I recently heard this phrase and it resonated so deeply with me. If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’ll see I truly believe in this concept and I’ve done everything I can to embody it in the classroom. When my PreK class explored the United States last year, we didn’t just look at where the Southeast was on the map or learn there was a big river in those parts. We decided to “Go Big or Go Home” and our room BECAME the Southeast for a couple months. We had a willow tree in the corner, we had a huge laminated Mississippi River that ran throughout the whole class with all the states on it and their unique wildlife cut out and pasted along, and we had regional food of course:)

03c5d825221d11ce302c723fec3f285b9e7e0b38The wildlife on the Mississippi

We made peach pie, mint juleps, ran a “Kentucky Derby”, made a giant cardboard paddle boat, and went to a local cafe famous for their Beignets. Every one of those kids can tell you who invented airplanes, in what city Mardi Gras is celebrated, and who farmed the first peanut. We did this all year with each geographical area and it was one of the most memorable years of teaching in my 10 year career. I really encourage you to understand this concept and try it. LIVE the curriculum in your room and see what happens; the level of engagement will astonish you and your creativity will flow like it’s never flowed before.

498f55552dc4a64962b9382157974a9084faea75The beginning of our paddle boat construction

25 Ways to Ask Your Kids About Their Day

As a blogger, I think it’s really important to never try to act like I have all the answers. I like to give credit where credit is due. This is an AWESOME article about to have an engaged conversation about your child’s day.

#1. What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)

#2. Tell me something that made you laugh today.

#3. If you could choose who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?)

#4. Where is the coolest place at the school?

#5. Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)

#6. If I called your teacher tonight what would she tell me about you?

#7. How did you help somebody today?

#8. How did somebody help you today?

#9. Tell me one thing that you learned today.

#10. When were you the happiest today?

#11. When were you bored today?

#12. If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed up someone who would you want them to take?

#13. Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?

#14. Tell me something good that happened today.

#15. What word did your teacher say most today?

#16. What do you think you should do/learn more of at school?

#17. What do you think you should do/learn less of at school?

#18. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?

#19. Where do you play the most at recess?

#20. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?

#21. What was your favorite part of lunch?

#22. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow what would you do?

#23. Is there anyone in your class that needs a time out?

#24. If you could switch seats with anyone in the class who would you trade with? Why?

#25. Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today at school.


So far…my favorite answers have come from questions #12. #15, and #21.

I actually love questions like the “alien” one (#12). They give kids a non-threatening way to say who they would rather not have in their class, and open the door for you to have a discussion to ask why, potentially uncovering issues you didn’t know about before.

And the answers we get are sometimes really surprising. When I asked question #3, I discovered that one of my children didn’t want to sit by a best friend in class anymore — not out of a desire to be mean or bully, but in the hope they’d get the chance to work with other people.

Sometimes we just need to figure out the right kinds of questions to ask our children….some questions may work better for some kids than others. That’s how it is with my own children. But I want to know what is going on in their lives and how I can help them. So….I will continue to ask…and ask…and ask…

You can still learn in the summer!

This past week I embarked on my first shot as a camp director and counselor of 5 of my former preschool students. If you’ve read any of my blog, you already know I’m an ardent fan of play-based learning. As a preschool teacher, I practiced teaching through play for 10 years. But as a camp director, I honestly hadn’t thought too much about what academics they would be working on during the week. I was more concerned with making sure their last week before kindergarten was a fun one. As I reflect on this time, however, I am not even a little surprised that we ended up with a ton more brain power among the group and the whole experience reinforced, yet again, that PLAY = LEARNING.


We learned how to complete a tricky puzzle with 5 people without one single argument,


that we know how to make patterns out of anything, even bocci balls,


that after reading one of our favorite books, at least twice a day, we not only had it memorized, but also had mastered some awesome new vocabulary words: Slathered, Repaired, Mast, Moat, just to name a few. And when I say mastered, I really mean it. The kids actually used all these words, all week, in the correct context. (We also had fun using “pirate manners” at lunch).

Then just as I was enjoying all this, NPR publishes an article confirming exactly what I was experiencing at camp. Brains are built through play, not just in humans, but animals too. Maybe we all need to go to camp more often.

Article from NPR:

This week, is focusing on questions about why people play and how play relates to learning.

When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.

“The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” says , a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says.

Our friends at have been looking at the role of play in learning. Play is as much a part of childhood as school and an organic way of learning. Check out these articles that dig into play:

Let 'Em Out! The Many Benefits Of Outdoor Play In Kindergarten

Rona Richter/MindShift

Free, unstructured play is crucial for children to build the skills they’ll need to be happy, productive adults.

At a school where free play and exploration are encouraged, children can educate themselves under the right conditions.

Many children in public school are getting less and less time outside, despite the documented benefits of free play.

It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.

But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.

“Whether it’s rough-and-tumble play or two kids deciding to build a sand castle together, the kids themselves have to negotiate, well, what are we going to do in this game? What are the rules we are going to follow?” Pellis says. The brain builds new circuits in the prefrontal cortex to help it navigate these complex social interactions, he says.

Learning From Animals

Much of what scientists know about this process comes from research on animal species that engage in social play. This includes cats, dogs and most other mammals. But Pellis says he has also seen play in some birds, including young magpies that “grab one another and start wrestling on the ground like they were puppies or dogs.”

For a long time, researchers thought this sort of rough-and-tumble play might be a way for young animals to develop skills like hunting or fighting. But in the past decade or so suggest that’s not the case. Adult cats, for example, have no trouble killing a mouse even if they are deprived of play as kittens.

John Poole / NPR/YouTubeWhere does play come from? Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp gives a playful answer in this NPR animation.

So researchers like at Washington State University have come to believe play has a very different purpose: “The function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways,” Panksepp says.

Panksepp has studied this process in rats, which love to play and even produce a distinctive sound he has labeled “rat laughter.” When the rats are young, play appears to initiate lasting changes in areas of the brain used for thinking and processing social interactions, Panskepp says.

The changes involve switching certain genes on and off. “We that play activates the whole neocortex,” he says. “And we found that of the 1,200 genes that we measured, about one-third of them were significantly changed simply by having a half-hour of play.”

Of course, this doesn’t prove that play affects human brains the same way. But there are good reasons to believe it does, Pellis says.

An overview of the Berkeley Adventure Playground, where children and their parents can paint, hammer, saw and run free.

An overview of the Berkeley Adventure Playground, where children and their parents can paint, hammer, saw and run free.

David Gilkey/NPR

For one thing, he says, play behavior is remarkably similar across species. Rats, monkeys and children all abide by similar rules that require participants to take turns, play fair and not inflict pain. Play also helps both people and animals become more adept socially, Pellis says.

And in people, he says, an added bonus is that the skills associated with play ultimately lead to better grades. In one , researchers found that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s social skills in third grade.

Another hint that play matters, Pellis says, is that “countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less.”


75 Books that Build Character and Teaching GRIT

Awesome link to a great list of books. Character building is key to our little ones becoming happy, resilient, motivated, and responsible adults. My oldest daughter is heading to middle school and the principal is a former Marine who, on the first parent meeting, discussed that teaching GRIT is his primary goal for the next 3 years. LOVE IT! So here’s a link on that too!

NOT Day Care

Great article in the Huffington Post about how we need to change the way we talk about early childhood education. We are NOT day care. We are more and we change the lives of children and their families!

Day Care Disrespect: Why What We Call Child Care Matters

In March, a study was published in Science magazine that contained remarkable statistics about the effects of good child care on later life. Briefly, it was found that not only did people who received stimulating, appropriate care in their earliest days have stronger cognitive abilities, compared to a control group who did not, they were also notably healthier physically once they reached adulthood. This study makes plain what logic has always dictated but what we in the United States don’t always act on at the institutional level. Good child care from the earliest days — both at home and when the parents are at work — is absolutely crucial to the development of healthy, productive adults.

The authors of the study use the term “high quality early childhood program” to describe the kind of care that the children who grew up to be healthier received. But when the story was reported in the New York Times, the paper used the term “full-time day care” to describe the program. For those of us in the field of early childhood development, the term day care, so common that even an august institution like the New York Times would use it, day care is a maddening phrase. Here’s why: the term day care diminishes how complex and nuanced offering good quality child care is.

Despite the millions of people who must use child care outside the home, for many of us, day care, unlike the term preschool, conjures up visions of children warehoused all day in an uninviting, unstimulating environment. This stereotype has been fostered by the unevenness in quality of the early childhood care that is available. Unfortunately, there are terrible child care programs like this — but the best of them provide care that serves the child and the family far beyond the “day” and well into the rest of the family’s life.

The term “day care” emphasizes the fact that the child is away from home all day as opposed to the fact that what’s happening (if it’s going as it should) is that the child is being molded for life — and if he or she spends 40 hours a week in a child care program, it can be as important or arguably more important than time at home. Further, in a good child care program, the parents learn as well, as is further demonstrated in the Science study. Work like educating children in many ways — from teaching math concepts and letter recognition, to helping them learn how to label and understand their emotions, and how to get along with others — and the list goes on, and on, and on. To genuinely care for the child as a whole human being with thoughts, feelings, needs, and the ability to learn, no matter their age. Child care professionals care for children, so we should call the work that they do “child care” or even better “early childhood education.”

The term day care prioritizes the “day” over the “care” — and days don’t need any care. They just roll along on their own. We know children do not roll along successfully on their own. We know the good outcomes that can occur when they receive good care — this recent study proves it yet again. And that’s why it’s so crucial that these programs and the skilled people who serve them need to be named properly. High quality early childhood education comes in many forms — and its benefits last far more than a day.

Experiencing the curriculum, not just learning a lesson

One of the things I think a good preschool does best, is creating experiences for the children, not just regurgitating information about a topic. We are exploring the United States this year in PreK and while exploring California and learning about Napa Valley and grape growing, we went to a messy, fun place….see video below to experience how we teach the kids about California.