I cannot tell a lie…

Great article about promoting honesty in children sent from one of the Kangaroo parents – thank you Ted Skolnick!

Back in the ’90s, in the midst of the so-called culture wars, Republican moralist William Bennett published a hefty collection of stories and fables and poems called the Book of Virtues. The best-selling volume extolled timeless values like courage and compassion and honesty. At the same time, Herbert Kohl and Colin Greer authored an anthology called A Call To Character, which also used stories to promote a somewhat different set of timeless values. The dueling miscellanies represented a fundamental and acrimonious division over how to raise and instruct the next generation of American citizens.

The differences between the two volumes of moral instruction weren’t even that subtle, if one was familiar with the vocabulary of America’s culture war. Both agreed on qualities of character like kindness and responsibility. But is unwavering patriotism more desirable than moral reasoning? Does discretion trump courage, or the other way around?

This debate didn’t begin in the ’90s, of course, nor did the idea of teaching values with stories. But lost in the moral bickering was a much more basic question: Does such instruction work at all? Can we really transmit a moral code to our children through the use of stories?

A team of psychological scientists has begun to explore that important question empirically. Headed by the University of Toronto’s Kang Lee, the scientists started with a widely embraced virtue — honesty. They wanted to know if morality tales instruct young children not only in an abstract way, but actually shape their behavior.

Kids lie. This is well known from much previous research. Children begin to lie as young as age 2, usually to conceal other transgressions, and they become increasingly sophisticated liars as they get older. By late childhood it is almost impossible for adults to tell if a kid is lying or telling the truth.

So Lee and colleagues did not hope to turn normal kids into saints. But they did want to see if exposing them to classic stories about lying and truth telling would moderate their behavior. They chose three well known tales for study: Pinocchio, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and the apocryphal George Washington and the Cherry Tree. For those who have forgotten, all three of these moral tales try to promote honesty — but in very different ways. Pinocchio shows the immediate and dramatic negative consequences of lying — a growing, incriminating nose. In The Boy Who Cried Wolf, lying has dire but delayed consequences: The little shepherd boy lies so much about a wolf that nobody believes him when a sounds a true alarm — and he dies. The familiar George Washington story, by contrast, emphasizes the positive consequences of honesty. Young George tells his father the truth and is rewarded with praise.

The scientists expected that all three of these stories would be effective in promoting honesty in kids. They designed an elaborate experiment in which 3- to 7-year-olds were given a fairly irresistible opportunity to cheat in a game, and then were asked whether or not they had cheated. But before the honesty test, each of the kids heard a reading of one of the three stories. Others, the controls, heard The Hare and the Tortoise, which does not deal with honesty or lying. The idea was to see if just this brief, but engaging exposure to moral instruction tempered kids’ natural deceptiveness — and if any of the three stories was more effective than the others.

The results were intriguing — and unexpected. As reported in an article to appear in the journal Psychological Science, both Pinocchio and The Boy Who Cried Wolf failed to moderate the kids’ tendency to lie about their own transgressions. Only George Washington and the Cherry Tree significantly increased the likelihood that the cheating kids would tell on themselves — and this effect was found regardless of age.

So why would these classic tales of lying and consequences not do their job? Well, the scientists suspected that it might be the nature of the consequences. Both Pinocchio and the shepherd boy experience very negative consequences as a result of their dishonesty — public humiliation in one case, a violent death in the other. Young George’s story, by contrast, emphasizes the virtue of honesty and sends the message that truth telling leads to positive consequences. Lee and colleagues ran another experiment to test this explanation.

It was really just a slight variation on the first experiment. All they did in this version was change the ending of the George Washington story to make it negative. The story no longer extolled honesty as a positive virtue, but instead punished dishonesty — just like the other two tales. And the results supported the explanation: The kids who heard a tale of negative George got no benefit from the exercise. They remained as dishonest as all the other kids in the study.

The culture wars of the ’90s are hardly over. Indeed, the country is more polarized than ever over basic values, with those who were harsh and punitive becoming increasingly so today. Evidence shows that parents actually favor punishing deception rather than rewarding truthfulness. These results taken together suggest the opposite — that emphasizing the positive value of honesty is more effective than accentuating the negative.



Set in Playdough, not Stone


At Acorn each classroom has a schedule that we generally follow because, as we all know, consistency is great for young children. However, we are all very cognizant of time being something the kids should control sometimes. When you’ve made the NYC skyline with blocks, you should be able to keep working on it, or at least save it, right? When you’re working on books about the Iditarod you should be able to take as long as you need to complete them, even if it’s a month. We are very attuned to the rhythm of the children and the rhythm of the room as a whole and schedules are not set in stone here.

0331141451Using a “Please Save” sign, even if it is upside-down, allows things to be on their time line:)

Let’s be at the Forefront of this Issue

I am fully aware that I come across a lot of my material and inspiration from my hometown paper, the New York Times, but well, it’s the New York Times. This post is no exception, and in this case, I’m also going to plug the reason behind my pursuing a master’s degree in Physical Education, as well as incorporate my long-term goals for preschool and elementary curriculum changes. This NYT article I read in January is the basis for this post and is alarming to say the least.


“A major new study of more than 7,000 children has found that a third of children who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by eighth grade. And almost every child who was very obese remained that way.”

That sentence alone was enough to depress me, and maybe because we live in one of the healthiest cities in one of the healthiest states, it’s even more jarring to read that fact. But our label of being fit here in Colorado is deceiving. We actually have one of the fastest growing trends of childhood obesity in the nation. Not at the top as far as an existing problem, just to clarify, but a rapidly trending one. Which means to me that we could jump in now and try to reverse the growth.

My master’s degree in Physical Education was inspired by the dramatic reduction my own children saw in physical activity when they entered elementary school. Here at Acorn, our kids are playing and active outside up to 3 hours a day, and in great weather, up to 5 hours. That is reduced to 20 minutes a day at some elementary schools, 40 minutes if your child attends a progressive school. And when I say “progressive”, I mean that the administration understands the multiple studies proving that increased physical activity actually benefits academic grades, behavior in class, and overall attitudes about school. I would be happy to share my thesis with anyone since this was exactly my chosen topic:)

I would love to help reverse this trend of obesity starting in preschool. We can consciously instill a love for daily physical activity and discuss nutritional eating habits right from the infant room, so when they head off to kindergarten they’re already knowledgeable about how to stay healthy. According to Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, the vice president of the Emory Global Health Institute in Atlanta, “It is almost as if, if you can make it to kindergarten without the weight, your chances are immensely better.”

How can we do this here at Acorn? Several ways actually. We can weave physical activity into almost every lesson, even if it’s quick silly games of Simon Says or a “Let’s have a 10 minute dance party before we read this book!”; we can discuss the benefits of all the wonderful vegetables we have at lunch – my class already firmly believes carrots make your eyes sparkle more:), we can create annual events like Thanksgiving Turkey Trots and Mini Boulder Bolder Races, and we can incorporate regular exercise programs like Cross Fit Kids into our curriculum.

We could and should make this one of our biggest priorities at Acorn, in preschools in general, and especially here in Boulder. What good it is for all the adults in town to be triathletes if our kids are knocking on the door of a major health epidemic?

Start to Finish

This post combines at least 4 other previous posts related to everything from persistence and attention span to imagination, literacy, and fine motor skills….

Yesterday on the playground as we’re sliding around on the ice, one of our kiddos declared “Tomorrow we should speed skate like they do in the Olympics!” Well of course I’m going to take that and run with it – today we are conducting an entire Winter Olympics with luge events, ice dancing, snowboarding, and curling.

But that isn’t what I really want to write about. What I want to write about is the boy who takes this idea from start to finish and spends his entire day tracing out gold medals, writing HERO on them, hole punching them, stringing ribbon through and basically prepping the whole class for our day.

This speaks to not only cognitive ability but also physical and social too – I know adults who can’t see a project through from start to finish like this. THIS is what preschool is about.

Girls Build, Boys Draw

Here at Acorn, we pride ourselves on our encouragement of gender neutral skill building. Because we create environments that inspire independent, curiosity-building play, our girls create tall towers and play with airplanes and our boys draw pictures and love to paint.

As the parent of two girls myself, I’m not sure which makes me happier….

photo 3

When I see a girl making a model of the planet Saturn or

photo 2

one of my most rambunctious boys contentedly drawing for almost an hour. But I actually know the answer to that already – it’s the fact that all the kids, no matter what their gender, are engaged, content, challenged, inspired, and learning.

photo 1Girls in Rapunzel hats building cool towers =DisneyIrony:)

Resilience – Taught here

Just read an amazing article about Resilience. I was already a big believer in teaching it early and often; weaving it into almost every teachable moment possible. Why? Because life sometimes presents obstacles and disappointments and if we were to give up on our first try, we would rarely succeed.

The article presents a great list of reasons why we should be incorporating resilience into our experiences with the kiddos…

Among the many things it does are:

* Help you get up after failure and try again

* Help you think optimistically and positively about issues you face

* Help you believe you’ll find solutions

* Help you find alternative ways of doing things if the path you planned on taking is blocked

* Help you think creatively about problems

* Help you “reframe” bad things that happen so that they don’t look so bad anymore, and may even have an upside

Ways to foster resilience:

* Let your baby or toddler explore, and start to encourage independence

* Avoid nagging and criticism

* Make sure your child knows that mistakes are how you learn

* Take every chance to let them feel capable and in charge

* Help them understand and handle their feelings, and understand consequences to choices and actions

* Help them learn to visualize good outcomes-and how they are going to get there

*Praise their efforts, and particularly notice when they try harder, or try again


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.

Go Big or Go Home

We believe at the Acorn School that in terms of curriculum and exploring topics, it’s Go Big or Go Home. We are studying the United States this year in the PreK class and currently our area of interest is the South East. Rather than just pointing to a map or memorizing state names, we are transforming our room and transporting these little minds to the region.

13f65075221287374cabb3521cdafd0526a2436aWe have the Mississippi river (construction paper version) running all the way through the room

061c3e2e8a6d932715de2cacf7e728c8ff30ead4We made a willow tree (it’s pretty amazing what construction paper can create)

03c5d825221d11ce302c723fec3f285b9e7e0b38We cut out all the states that touch the Mississippi river and attached the regional wildlife to our river

498f55552dc4a64962b9382157974a9084faea75We started making a paddle boat to go down our river

We have been playing blues and country music and are having the local cajun restaurant come by with beignets and fried chicken. Virgin mint juleps and Kentucky Derby hats for a day are planned as well a detailed investigation of the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk. Football is pretty big down South so that works out well for us Bronco fans and guest speakers are lined up from Georgia with some peach pie hopefully:)

So basically what we’re saying is we don’t do anything halfway around here when we teach – we explore, we discover, we investigate, we transform, we Go Big or Go Home on curriculum!

Praise the Effort


This article is specifically about girls but applies to boys, adults, co-workers, family, and probably pets too:) Multiple studies prove that as parents and teachers, if we focus on the process, the effort, and the perseverance, rather than the outcome, children will develop better self-esteem and be more motivated to experiment, take risks, and ultimately succeed more often…

Words and phrases to insert into the repertoire:

I love that you’re trying so hard

I love that you didn’t give up

Nice effort!

as opposed to:

You’re so smart!

You finished it so fast!