People We Love

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!

Changing Gears

One of the hallmarks, if not THE hallmark, of play-based education and child-driven curriculum is being flexible with daily plans. On Tuesdays we have created a schedule of science activities that we’ve dubbed Science Tuesday (a shout out to my hometown paper, the NYTimes). But Pete Seeger passed away last night and we are HUGE fans of his stories, particularly Abiyoyo, the story of a little boy and his father using magic to make a giant monster disappear. So instead of creating a sound wave activity today, we created our own Abiyoyo by tracing one of the teachers. I think Pete would have been proud.

1-28-abiyoyo-day---pete-seeger-tributWe colored in all his scraggly claws, his matted hair, his ratty clothes, and his gnarly teeth.

1-28-feather-mania-and since we have a TON of feathers that we need to use up, we threw some glue down and had a feather bonanza! Video attached of our giggling:)


So if you thought your child was going to do a certain project today, but this is what happened instead, be grateful. These are the moments that make the dinner table conversation and that’s when you know they’ll remember it for a long time. Chances are they learned a thing or two also:) And if you haven’t read this beautiful South African folk tale, please do yourself a favor and get a copy or check out this video on YouTube.

Natural Art


So we ordered this table from the Nature Explore folks awhile ago and unfortunately we thought our kiddos were taller than they actually are:) It was too high for them to use as anything but a fort to be underneath, which was absolutely fine, but not the original intent. So we had our playground maintenance crew bury it a foot or so and wouldn’t you know…….5 minutes later we get this.

THIS is outdoor art, nature being used as a canvas, and creativity with whatever materials she has at hand. All of which was done without a word from me as to what this table was designed for. THIS is what the idea was behind this playground a year ago when we moved to Wilderness Place; a space where everything that is available in the classroom – art, music, building, writing – is also available outdoors. We are accomplishing this slowly but surely (Nature Explore is not cheap) but we are accomplishing it.

Big thanks to everyone who has supported this vision and here’s a link to Nature Explore if anyone wants to help further it!

Nature Explore Program

What is Happening to Play?

What is Happening to Play?
July 22, 2013


Let’s be the school that helps change the norm back to PLAY!!!

In his article, “The Connection Between Play and Character,” in the Beginnings Workshop curriculum unit Imagination, David Elkind asserts…

“Free, spontaneous, and self-initiated play was once the norm for young children.  This is no longer the case.  Even toys for infants both talk and move with little left to the child’s imagination….  Both parents and early childhood educators, who once encouraged young children to choose their own activities, are being pressured to replace them with adult directed games, sports, and academic instruction.

“All of this reflects a changed conception of the meaning and value of play.  Free, spontaneous, and self-initiated play was once welcomed as a measure of healthy growth and development.  Today, however, true play is often looked upon as frivolous and a waste of time.  Only toys and games that are educational, in the sense of teaching concepts such as colors, or tool skills such as reading, are worthwhile.  In short, even for young children, promoting academic and athletic achievement is now seen to be more important than the encouragement of imagination and creativity.”

Leesons Found in the Mud

We could all take a lesson from the program Brooklyn Forest in New York. I am so impressed with their encouragement of learning through creative play and the preschool program’s  “agenda doesn’t much deviate from getting dirty and making teepees with found branches. Children arrive looking as though they are professional fisherman and dig into mud, make mud pies, look for worms and handle worms. Children are guided rather than explicitly directed from one step to another – from mud pie making to hand washing, for instance – through song, because song, or soft song specifically, is understood to becalm”.

Lifelong Kindergarten

Kudos to MIT for these sentiments on how adults should be more like children in their desire to create and invent. Along the same lines of “everything we need to know, we learned in kindergarten”, the MIT Media Lab encourages inventiveness, expression, and design experiments  in an effort to keep the world of kindergarten a lifelong experience.

The Lifelong Kindergarten group is fortunate to be located within the MIT Media Lab, a hotbed of creative activity. In one corner of the Media Lab, students are designing new musical instruments. In another corner, students are designing new social-networking software. This type of activity makes the Media Lab not just a good research lab, but a good place for learning, since people learn a great deal when they are actively engaged in designing, creating, and inventing things.

Unfortunately, most children don’t get the opportunity to engage in these types of creative activities. In school, they learn specific facts and skills, but rarely get the opportunity to design things — or to learn about the process of designing things. Outside school, they interact with electronic toys and games, but they don’t learn how to invent new ones.

In the Lifelong Kindergarten group, we’re trying to change that. We believe that it is critically important for all children, from all backgrounds, to grow up knowing how to design, create, and express themselves. We are inspired by the ways children learn in kindergarten: when they create pictures with finger paint, they learn how colors mix together; when they create castles with wooden blocks, they learn about structures and stability. We want to extend this kindergarten style of learning, so that learners of all ages continue to learn through a process of designing, creating, experimenting, and exploring.

Our ultimate goal is a world full of playfully creative people who are constantly inventing new opportunities for themselves and their communities.

Make Mistakes

In my sports psychology class I am reading a lot these days about coaching and how to handle your athletes’ mistakes. But what I think about most when I read this material is how it translates to the classroom and our little ones. If you teach in a play-based environment, then one of the goals should be to create an environment in your classroom that encourages mistakes. Lots of them. Play-based atmospheres ideally allow for experimentation and risk-taking because we want these kiddos to try new things for themselves, explore the world of cause and effect, trial and error, and practice persistence. Here’s why:

The Lifeblood Of Learning

“Mistakes are the lifeblood of learning. Without the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them, learning shrivels up. One of the reasons mature people are apt to learn less than young people is that they are willing to risk less. Learning is a risky business, and they do not like failure. In infancy, when children are learning at a phenomenal rate-a rate they will never again achieve-they are also experiencing a great many failures. Watch them. See the innumerable times they try and fail. See how little the failures discourage them. With each year that passes they will be less blithe about failure. By adolescence the willingness of young people to risk failure has diminished greatly. And all too often parents push them further along that road by instilling fear, by punishing failure or by making success seem too precious. By middle age most of us carry in our heads a tremendous catalogue of things we have no intention of trying again because we tried them once and failed-or tried them once and did less well than our self-esteem demanded. Fear of making mistakes is a paralyzing force that robs people of spontaneity, love of life, and a willingness to try new things. It is the no-buts approach to mistakes that gives the sense of psychological and emotional freedom that can unlock the learning process”.

Jim Thompson. Positive Coaching: Building Character and Self-Esteem Through Sports.

Be Thankful

This post just came to me last night while I was talking to a friend about how when I get to work, I have ten 3 year-olds whose faces light up, scream “SUZY!”, and grab my leg. I was telling my friend that if everyone got that kind of greeting when they walked into their office, people would be so much happier.  I have the best job in the world as far as I’m concerned and can’t believe I get paid at all. I get to play baseball every day with my buddy Maclin, hear about how Batman, aka Tobe, had a good sleep last night and caught tons of bad guys in his dream, have an intense discussion with Lola about how she has “7 bones in her body and oh yeah, also a new Dora umbrella”. I get to read Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss twelve times a day if I am asked to, and have dance parties where we get our shake on to local kids musician, Jeff Kagan. I get to help build huge block towers and play with Legos, paint pictures of horses, and pretend to eat “pizza cake” even though it’s 10am. I get to go to the Pumpkin Patch, and the Aquarium, and the Zoo…

and I actually do get paid for this.

So thankful.

Trial and Error

If at first you don’t succeed…..I’ve mentioned somewhere on here before, that cliches exist for a reason. They’re true. So when these kids show me everyday that they will not give up until whatever they are working on is a success, the concept of trial and error comes to life on the playground.

Here’s the metal can “fence” to keep people from driving on the “unsafe icy road”. It wasn’t holding up in the conditions, otherwise known as a 3-year old girl who kept wrecking it.

Solution: fortify with as many other materials as they could find. “MORE” is always better!

As Bev Bos, one of kodokids favorite people, likes to say “Experience is not the best teacher, it is the only teacher!” and “trial and error”, and “if at first you don’t succeed, try again” apply here too.