Letting Kids Create with Too Much




Moon is in that beautiful TOO MUCH stage. She uses too many stickers (22 at last count on one Valentine). Too much glue.  Too many papers taped together in a pile. In fact, Moon spent a fair amount of time picking glue off her fingers. Greysen said she remembered when she used to do that. I do too.

You see, she doesn’t anymore. Greysen can estimate how much glue she’ll need to make two things attach. She has seen what will happen when she piles art materials on top of one another. She had those experiences.





Instead of rationing out Moon’s supplies when she drowned her doily in Elmer’s, I asked her if she needed more. What may be judged as wasted materials to us adults was really glue being used thoughtfully, albeit perhaps not neatly.

When setting out supplies that even suggest a purpose like these Valentine materials did, we often want the end results to look . . well . . . like Valentines. Most of Moon’s finished works were papers glued upon papers, or folded into fans, and sometimes ripped into bits beyond recognition and then glued back together.

And when she had emptied the container of stickers, I gave her more because her work was as much about exploration of materials as it is about making something special for someone we love.





While watching a child punch holes in the border of doilies may seem redundant and make you ache to offer some redirection, I encourage you to hold off and ask yourself, “Have I ever punched holes in a doily?”  And if not, wouldn’t the perfect time for that be the exact moment you are curious about such things?

As parents and caregivers, we offer our children an array of materials eager to see what they will do. All too often, we encourage refinement of their learning immediately by asking them to color in the lines or to use just one dot of glue, without letting them experience the excesses of those experiences to their fullest first.

Some children need those experiences before they can understand how to refine their skills and pull back on the glue bottle.


So during this holiday of so much love, I think it fitting that the Moon created in excess. We’ve got “too much” love going around and I wouldn’t have it any other way.






Developing Attentions Spans the RIE Way

RIE Focused

Circle time is to early childhood education what homeroom is to high school. It is the starting point for the day, and oftentimes the only place children and teachers exchange information about their day. Felt character stories, songs, finger plays, show and tell, the calendar and most other important things of the day happen at circle time. As such, it is understandable that many ECE classrooms insist the children sit still in order to pay attention and participate during this time.


It has been argued that young children benefit from learning to sit criss-cross-applesauce, or on a dot, or in a circle. The thinking is as follows; children develop their attention spans by being very still during a song or story.  The argument being that stillness is critical because children are seldom required to do so, and practicing stillness will develop that skill.


But what about the other children – the ones who are not required to sit still at circle time? How do they develop focus?


RIE Focus_01


On a couple of recent hikes, I noticed how focused and determined the girls become. They have autonomy to try tackle challenging situations. In these instances, the girls were able to play, and naturally they focused when they faced relatively difficult tasks.


RIE Focused




I’d argue that requiring preschool children to sit still on a spot for extended periods is a convenient AND an unnecessary common classroom practice.


In group settings, I prefer to allow toddlers and preschool-aged children the freedom to be comfortable. When we gather, I want them to sit so that can hear and see but if they’d like to lay down or sit in a chair or with their legs straight out in front of them instead of criss-cross so be it.


Focus develops when children are allotted the space and time to pursue their interests. So really, more than being required to sit still, children need to be allowed to play.  Children need uninterrupted time to play and irresistible environments so that they can find genuine engagement. The focus will follow when they’re ready. 



Marigold Dyed Scarves

marigolds01 copy

I’m easily intimated by new recipes, but knowing this one involved silk scarves I was eager to try. I have dyed cheesecloth with blackberries and strawberries but never silks and they came out beautifully.

At the request of the girls’ preschool director, I dyed silks using these golden marigolds.



White silks can be bought in bulk. These were soaked overnight and prepped the following day. I boiled the marigolds in a large pot for an hour. (THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE RECIPE).




Strain the marigolds from the water. I used a sieve and there were still lots of flowers left. Next time, I would spend more time taking the petals out. I thought they would come easily in the rinse or dry but doing it later was more time consuming than I thought it would be.


I added the white silks to the pot to soak making sure each was open enough to sit in dye. Since I was dying 30 silks, I took turns rotating the silks and making sure they each were getting thoroughly soaked. The silks soaked overnight.


We used two bins of water for the kids to rinse the silks out. The plan was for these to dry out in the sun but since the rain was pretty steady, we hung them up in the house making a gorgeous golden laundry line that brightened our rainy afternoon.


marigolds01 copy



marigolds02 copy

Conversations About Death

How do I set the tone for this post?


While everyone else is writing about determination and resolutions, or anti-resolutions and sending images to remind you of hope and happiness in the new year, I want desperately to tell you my story.  Because as much as the new year is about what’s to come, it is also tied to thoughts of the past.


Today is the 30th anniversary of my brother’s death. Anniversary seems like a stupid word for something so sad, but it is an accurate enough one.


Earlier today, I was driving away from the park and drove right past a cemetery. Instantly, I decided that today I would take the girls with me to visit my brother’s cemetery.


I can’t really explain what reason I have for visiting the cemetery, which is probably why I don’t do it that often. It’s sad when I go.  Seeing how all the surrounding stones have birth dates from the early 1900s while my brother’s is from the 1980s is hard. Those people had long years and most likely full lives.  It’s hard.


The girls have been to the cemetery with me before and with my mom as well. At three and four years old, there are many experiences the girls have had, but a year later it’s like it’s the first time again.


Greysen (4 years) remembered the place and the general circumstances, as well as the routine of our visits. Moon (3yrs) did not. She had very specific questions.  With the same bounce in her step as she had at the park, Moon wanted to look around. She wanted to talk about the flowers, trinkets, and photos that decorate the grave sites.


Moon wanted to know about how my brother died.  Also not uncommon of many 3 year olds, she wanted to ask me the same questions over and over.


Several variations of the same story later, the husband asked, “Are you OK or should I shut her down?” – his playful way of supporting me and letting me know that he would let them know I could answer the questions later.


I instantly replied, let them ask. Let them know.


They were curious and wanted to hear the simple truths of what had happened. Children need honesty from us. It’s something we can overlook or easily avoid by telling ourselves that they are too young or that the truth is too sad.


The simple truth is that children deal with sadness all the time. We may not feel that their reactions are always proportionate to the offense, but there are many days when children feel hurt, disappointed, and sad at some loss that is very personal to them.


Talking to them about my memory of that sad day was a start. My explanations to them may have been an outline of the greater story I will one day share with them, but it was a whole story nonetheless.


Like most varied book collections, the girls have books about death. I bought them Tough Boris and Sophie by Mem Fox before they were born.  The girls talk about death and things dying the way most young children do, with a basic understanding but also with a few specific inaccuracies.


While books and story lines (theater, movies) makes the idea of death accessible, it doesn’t really help make the subject meaningful at this point in their lives.  Books were something I made a point of buying, but eventually I expect that it is our conversations that will really be the resource for my children when they one day have to cope with sadness from their own losses.


So, I guess in the end this was a post about hope after all. Hope that all we do in our honest efforts as parents will one day be something for our kids to hold onto – that our conversations will become reference points for navigating their own paths through the sad times.


Tiny Treasures




Trusting children with little things, may take getting used to but when they are ready small toys can take on the role of treasures.  Tiny toys to wrap their hands around and stuff in those itty bitty pockets.




Things found and things that they can keep as their own without the adults being concerned about whether the treasures get lost.




These little playthings are symbols of the changing season outside.  A way to keep in touch with the natural world through play.




I don’t need to suggest design, play, or use of their imagination. It happens without prompting or modeling. It happens because they know  how to play.



Spontaneous Games




Childhood is the time for idleness. It is the time for long afternoons in the yard catching ladybugs or mornings spent with some paper, tape, and a pair of scissors.




A little time to themselves and the girls invented a game. Some translucent cups and a projected light were their inspiration.




Moon points to a cup.




Greysen catches it and Moon takes it away.




The chance to create games is a critical opportunity for the girls to negotiate with one another and invent.  They decide on rules, boundaries, materials and must cooperate to accomplish their agreed upon goal.


We can easily get caught up in a routine or keeping busy activities.  Its not always easy to remember to allow for down time. How do you keep your schedule from getting too packed?




Facilitating the Learning Process



Right around mid-May, I started to get anxious. There were only a few more weeks left of school, and I was worried about how we would all adjust to this change in our routine. The girls (3 and 4 years old) attend preschool twice a week for four hours each day. It’s not a lot, but it is a significant part of their lives.


Simultaneously, I was also starting to hear about the schools our 5 year-old friends would be attending in fall which led me to realize that by this time next year we would need to know what school Greysen would be attending. One of our options is homeschooling.


The appeal of homeschooling my daughters is the opportunity to provide them with an education that strives to keep their passion for learning intact.


Over this last month, I met weekly with different groups of children and parents for the mutual benefit of our children, but my ulterior motive was to figure out what I really wanted for the girls if we were to participate in a homeschooling co-op.


I will be sharing over a series of posts what I really value in a homeschooling co-op experience. There are lots of other guidelines I have for schooling on our own, but these are all relevant to the benefits of children learning in groups.


If I were to narrow down all the things I care about regarding education to a single thought, it would be that I want my children to be active partners in their learning.


Thus, I’ve come up with my five rules for educating during the early years, which I’ll share throughout a few upcoming posts. Let’s get right into the first:


Refrain from being the all-knowing teacher.


Adults can easily fall into the all-knowing teacher role for many reasons. Most often it’s because that was our experience as students. From their seats on the rug, children still often watch their teachers at a blackboard or easel as they direct the learning and impart knowledge.


There is another way.


Consider a comparison between two teaching styles.

The Authoritarian Teacher

What do children learn when I teach?
• Facts and information
• I (the teacher) will have the answers
• How to sit still and listen


Learning facts and information is great. Kids love to learn about the world around them. We have these kinds of learning opportunities all the time, but its only part of the way children can experience learning.


There are many areas of our lives where my children look to me and my husband for the answers. Mike and I do provide guidance and flat out limits when it comes to our daughters’ health and safety, so there is no discussion in that arena. However, anything else is pretty much fair game, and we encourage them to research topics in which they are interested, which often necessitates a trip to the library or a seeking out an expert in the chosen subject matter.


When children are fascinated by something, they can stay engaged for a long time. Sitting and listening develops with maturity, and occurs when children are capable of doing so on their own.


The Facilitator

What can children learn when I don’t teach (and instead assume the role of guide)?

• Facts and information
• I can help them find the answers, but won’t provide them
• How to listen and lead
• How to hypothesize and think of possible solutions


Facts and information are important to learning, which is why I try to help children learn that there are many ways, in addition to using me as a resource, to find answers. It’s a valuable life skill!

  • We regularly make use of reference books, and the library in general.
  • Occasionally we use Internet resources, especially to find images of something we are learning about. I fully expect that we will further incorporate the Web as a resource when the girls are older.
  • We ask experts. Asking others what they know about something is a great way to get information.


In addition to meeting community members or speaking to professionals about their questions, we also look to the children as relative experts. When a child asks you a question, we might suggest speaking to another child who might have the answer. Every child is an expert at something, whether it be at building the highest tower with blocks, writing, or helping other kids feel better. Learning that children can be a resource can develop confidence and foster relationships between children.




We Learn How to Listen.
Children learn how to listen and express their ideas when they can practice speaking within a group of children. Hearing other children’s ideas may inspire their own. By explaining themselves, children can develop communicative skills integral to leadership and participation on society at large.


We Learn How to Hypothesize
When children are not taught a lesson, but rather are proposed with an idea, they have time to hypothesize. A group of children can generate ideas that a lone child might not think of.


To illustrate between a lesson taught with the teacher as an expert versus a teacher as a guide, here is an example lesson on the life cycle of a frog.


Scenario 1: With the teacher as expert, the teacher would explain the life cycle of a frog, likely using visuals or realia. The children would participate in a follow-up activity of some sort, coloring a life cycle worksheet, or reviewing what they had just been told in some way.


Scenario 2: With the teacher as guide, the teacher may start by gauging what children may already know about a frog’s life cycle. In letting children talk about what they know first before teaching, the teacher finds out if they have any questions or misinformation about the subject. Most importantly, the teacher guide can find out what the children are most interested in learning about pertaining to the frog’s life cycle. Perhaps the group will be most excited about how the frog spawns eggs, or why some animals have tails and others do not – aspects of the frog’s life cycle that the teacher expert may not have even included in the lesson.


When children participate, they learn to find the solutions to the questions they have. Which animals have tails, and which don’t? They may take a survey by going on an observational walk of animals in their neighborhood. They might research a reference book, or seek an expert’s opinion by asking a vet to come in and answer their questions… The possibilities are limitless, and so is the learning, which cannot as easily be said for when teaching as the expert.



“For Dewey, education also [had] a broader social purpose, which was to help people become more effective members of democratic society. Dewey argued that the one-way delivery style of authoritarian schooling does not provide a good model for life in democratic society. Instead, students need educational experiences which enable them to become valued, equal, and responsible members of society.”
-James Neill



For me, the first priority in the early years is how children are learning. Learning about a frog’s life cycle is valuable, but teaching in a way that best helps retain that information and how to find that information again is a skill that they can use throughout the rest of their lives.




Neil, James. (2005). John Dewey: The Modern Father of Experimental Education

Inspired by Paint





Brand new jars . . .


Red, yellow, and blue paint mixed in several combinations.







Newly mixed paint means newly inspired children.




Lots of ideas!




The colors were named green-blue, purple, dark purple, purple, blue-yellow and so on.




I think we need more jars.


Storytelling With Child-Created Puppets




“What would you like to play?” Me to the girls.


Without a moment’s hesitation, Greysen says, “I want to sew a puppet.”


Since my sewing knowledge is limited, I grabbed felt (my go-to material), and a small sewing kit that I put together when Greysen worked on her first such project.


We worked together. She drew a rabbit on felt, then cut it out. I threaded the needle, set a knot and demonstrated 4 stitches. The rest of the work is her own.



I asked Moon if she would like to draw a rabbit on felt,”No, I don’t want mine to stick together.”

“Would you like to draw it and then we can attach it to a stick?” I ask.



Drawing and sewing are the means by which the girls wanted to tell a story. The girls have drawn and sewn before, but practice for the sake of practice isn’t necessary when they have a sense of purpose.


Learning how to sew, draw, write, or build are ways in which the children can express themselves. They are motivated to learn so that they can share their ideas, or in this case . . . a story.


Here is the story they told.


Why I Think There is No Place for Coloring Pages in ECE





One of the things I miss most about being a curriculum coordinator is the direct impact I could have on ECE practice.  If such a thing existed, my ECE rule book would firmly state, no coloring pages allowed.


My opinion of coloring pages is not about what coloring pages are, but rather what they are not. They are not flexible, and they dismiss a significant part of the creative process.


Imagine presenting this coloring page as a classroom activity after having studied birds for several weeks.


After a child has colored it, what does it tell you about what the child has learned about birds?




Hard to say? It is for me, especially when alerted to the fact that the teacher had instructed the students which colors to use, as well as where to place color.


4 Reasons Coloring Pages/Worksheets Don’t Cut it as an Educational Tool in ECE:


1. They Review the Content Out of Context

When coloring pages are used as a means of further exploring subject matter, they  do so in a limited fashion.


If a coloring page about birds is intended to review that subject or what children have learned, it does so out of context. How could a conversation about hummingbirds be different if it was sparked by a drawing a child made while observing one, or while looking at a bird’s nest?


Artifacts and observations give children context. Content is more meaningful when it is seen in relation to its environment; that is, the real life connections in which the children have experienced it.


2. They Use the Drill, Practice, or Review by Worksheet Method, Which Does Not Deepen Understanding

Coloring pages do not give children opportunities to learn beyond the work or image presented.  Here is an image of a bird. Potential questions that may arise are likely limited to the information suggested by the simplistic, two-dimensional outline.


3. They Disregard the Child’s Interest and Self-Motivation

Giving children worksheets or coloring sheets as a means to review can only give insight into a limited area of their knowledge.

It does not allow children an opportunity to review or further question what might interest them regarding the subject. If a child is motivated to learn more about what hummingbirds eat, coloring a picture of one eating from a flower does not even acknowledge the child’s interest and sets aside their motivation. Instead, children are offered, at very best, “busy work.”


4. They Do Not Accurately Assess Children’s Understanding of a Subject

Teachers need to frequently assess children’s knowledge, not only to document learning, but to know what types of learning opportunities to plan.


How can children show what they have learned about birds in flight, birds building nests, birds’ diets, or hatchlings in this image?



What Can Teachers Offer Instead of Coloring Pages?

Here are some of my thoughts on what teachers can offer instead  . . .

  • Drawing Tools and Blank Paper

Crayons, pens, markers, and a piece of paper offer children a chance to show what they know – to tell us the story they want to tell.

Curious as to what my daughter did actually learn about hummingbirds, I asked her if she’d like to draw one. Knowing she frequently chooses to illustrate her ideas, I offered a pen and paper and she drew the image below, narrating as she went along:


Hummingbird and Nest.
Hummingbird and Nest.


Okay, so this does not as closely resemble a hummingbird as the coloring page does, but it sure does tell me a lot more. Aside from seeing what she is capable of drawing, I learned that she does not know what they eat, despite having colored a picture of one drinking nectar from a flower.


  • Blocks

My youngest daughter does not as easily communicate her ideas through drawings, but she did create this giraffe. From it, I learned that she understood that they have long necks, and two legs.



  • Other Loose Parts

Some time and one meal later, Greysen invited her sister to play “hatching” with her. She brought an empty box into the house, and she and her sister took turns climbing inside, closing the box, and hatching out of it.

This made me wonder if there is a deeper interest in eggs, and so this is one idea from which I can plan future curriculum.


Coloring is fun and CAN BE a very creative process. I think that in an ECE classroom, however, that its limited value as a learning tool should be acknowledged, and that other more open-ended processes should be used as often as possible.