Why I Declined an Opportunity to Spare My Daughter a Little Heartache



Last fall, something happened to Greysen that is a story worth telling. I usually don’t blog about occurrences this long after they happened, but the impact of this experience on my parenting is significant enough that I wanted to share.

This is Greysen’s third year performing in her dance academy’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Without fail, she auditions every year.  She wears a large paper number pinned to her leotard, and for the last two years she has requested to be cast as a “party scene” dancer.  There are very few girls her age chosen for these highly sought-after parts, but with the optimism of a five year old, she thought that this time it would happen.

This year, my friend – who was at the dance studio when the cast list was posted – texted me which parts Greysen had been chosen for. She was to be a “mouse”, “snowflake,” a “little Russian girl”, and a “gingerbread”.  Of these parts, she was most overjoyed at the idea of being a gingerbread.  Aside from wearing a giant bonnet (one of Greysen’s all time favorite real-life accessories), the Gingerbread girls come out from under Mother Ginger’s larger-than-life-sized skirt. It’s a fun part, and she started to act out the parts she already knew right away. IMG_7626

When she arrived to her first gingerbread rehearsal, my husband heard the instructor share her surprise at Greysen’s presence to a co-instructor. Why, she asked, was she there?  The instructor said to her assistant that she hadn’t cast her in the part.

My husband, who has had some minor disagreements with the instructor in the past, did what he was told and waited in the waiting area while Greysen attended the full hour of rehearsal rather than confront the instructor.  He later explained to me that if she wasn’t supposed to be there, despite the printed cast list and the emails we received notifying us of the rehearsal, that the instructor would let us know.

That night, Greysen beamed as she showed me what she had learned that day. Confused about what my husband had heard, I decided I would speak to the instructor when I saw her later that week.

The next day, the normally no-nonsense dance instructor called me and anxiously confessed that Greysen being cast in the Gingerbread part was a mistake. Anticipating how disappointed Greysen would be from being relieved from the scene, and probably how furious I would be as well, the instructor offered to make up for it by including her in the party scene! THE PARTY SCENE!!

At this point, I just want to illustrate what the Nutcracker means to my daughter. My daughter’s most requested Pandora station this summer was “The Nutcracker” station. This is a child who requests to hear Tzachovsky by name.  This is a child who asks me to curl her hair like they do in the party scene on any random day.  Being cast in the party scene would THRILL her. I mean, Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday – she would be so happy!

The instructor had cast three party scene dancers instead of the usual five girls her age this year, and there was an available costume. It was meant to be!!!

But was it?

I hesitated, and really considered it.

Greysen hadn’t been cast in the part initially.  She would LOVE the part and, as her mama, opportunities to see her happy are what I live for – but did she earn it? She was offered the part to spare her disappointment, not because the instructors thought her the best fit for the part. She hadn’t earned it – it was a consolation.

Should I accept something she didn’t earn just to spare her feelings? I would rather her be happy than sad, but isn’t a little disappointment a part of life?

So, I thanked her instructor and declined it. After all, this was life happening to my daughter right now – I could choose the easy no-bumps-in-the-road kind of experience for her, or I could let her experience life and feel a little sad because there will be plenty of things along the way that she will not be able to control. 

After we said our good-byes on the phone, however, I was agitated. Why should I be expected to deliver the disappointing news to my daughter? In addition to me not wanting to see her sad, I knew how she would likely react – intensely. So, I followed my instinct and avoided the topic by not telling her that day.

Over the next few days, I spoke to my friends and became very resolute that her instructor should tell her that she was no longer cast, and not I. I was so earnestly disappointed for her that I just didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news.

I was also questioning whether or not I should have accepted the consolation part. It certainly would have been so much easier for me to tell Greysen, “You’re no longer playing a gingerbread, but guess what?! Instead you get to play your dream part!”

She attended class and the instructor made no mention of anything, but I also realized there was not a great time to tell Greysen during class about this loss. I really should be the one to tell her, at a time and in a place where she could express disappointment away from curious eyes. I knew all along, but was putting it off.

A few more days passed, and we continued on with the million other things happening in our lives, until one evening after dinner.  I realized Greysen and I were sitting alone at the table sharing a gingerbread cookie my friend had made for her, and I just said it.

I explained that the instructor had made a mistake and felt that she wasn’t ready to play that part. I acknowledged her feelings when she cried, and hugged her when shared her confusion. I reminded her about the other parts and reminded her that she could try out again next year for that particular part. After some more tears, she was okay.



By the next class, she was better than okay.  Months later, she performed in the Nutcracker with all the joy and wonder that she approaches the rest of her life with, only this year she did it with more varied real-life experiences. She danced with the pride of someone who had earned the right to dance in each particular part. She made new friends, and laughed alongside old ones. Most importantly, she experienced a little heartache, but got through it. Resiliently.


Greysen’s First Day of School

I can’t believe it . . . I feel good. I mean, I feel great! To be really forthcoming, I cry too much. I’m a pretty sensitive soul and I was expecting to cry. I mentioned to Mazzy that today may be a day of happy tears. She’s familiar with the concept.

But no tears came. We were greeted by a familiar administrator and with a quick hug she was off to see old friends and teachers. Her first day of “Kindergarten”.

Greysen attends a Montessori school so this year she is returning to the same classroom and teachers. There will be a few new kids and her school day will no longer be a half day. (I requested to have her attend 1/2 day. That was a no.)

As the girls get older, I often feel less sure about the decisions we make. I question whether their days are too scheduled or if their bed times are too early now that they are a bit older. And the most frequently raised question as to whether a conflict was resolved well. But not today.

Today, I have the rarely experienced feeling of I’m 100% doing the right thing. Last spring, she started at her current school. I’ve been very ambivalent about whether homeschooling was a better choice for her than school so to feel so good about today is really a surprise to me.

So for today, I get revel in the glorious and very, very, rare feeling of knowing we did something very right.


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

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

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.