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

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?




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.

The Relationships of Childhood


When I look back through the blog, I notice how much my early posts focused on the girls’ individual experiences – what they did and how they did it. Now that they are older, I can more easily see how their world has grown. Their relationships now extend beyond our immediate family.


The relationship between the girls and me.





Their relationship to each other.



Their relationship to friends.




Their relationship to the natural world.



Their relationship to their world.





These relationships have simple roots but such deep potential.


The Distress of the Dress

play clothes

play clothes


It is so easy to say I don’t care about my daughters’ clothes when their preferences match my ideas of what is important.


Unfettered play, climbing trees, and canals built in the sand or mud is how I dreamt of my children playing. And they do. They do play that way, I just never imagined Greysen would prefer to do it in dresses.


Dresses?!? Dresses and fancy shoes. Not the running through the grass barefoot, holes in the her jeans kiddo I had imagined.


After really watching her play, I came to see that clothing did not impact her play in any way. She plays and is just as focused and unconcerned about her clothing as she ever has been – as long as she is wearing a dress.


So, if it doesn’t hamper her play then why does it matter that she wants to wear a dress? I’d prefer that she didn’t care about her clothing. I wish she didn’t insist on wearing a dress every day, especially since she only has a couple.


More watching, more conversations led to more understanding. I’m learning that her preference for dresses is not exactly a reflection of her values. Nor does it seem to define how she defines beauty which was a concern because she had once cried out that she wasn’t beautiful if she wasn’t wearing a dress.


Allowing my daughter to be whom she wants to be and like what she wants to like when it in opposition to things I value has been difficult for me to support.



Ultimately, if I really don’t care about her clothing then I shouldn’t care that she does. This disparity between our appreciation for clothing feels like the first  significant difference in our priorities and I think will be a landmark in her becoming her own person. Thus, I will learn to embrace the dress because most importantly I want to embrace my daughter.

November to Today




The last two months went something like this . . .


Thanksgiving. Sold our house. Christmas. New Years. The Flu. Pneumonia and moving out of our house but not yet into our new one.




But we are healthier . . .




and happier.




The girls are feeling better and we visited friends today. We are getting back to our routine and I will be getting back to this blog, which I have missed so much.


Thanks for taking the time to read our story.

– Marisa


Observation and Answers

In the early years, our children ask questions regarding  . . . well, just about everything.  We answer their questions – sometimes only as best we can – and are happy to help them get those answers they seek. However, when children only look to adults for the answers, they continue to be dependent on us.


How else can we help children develop skills to find their own answers?


On this morning, Greysen told me that she needed a stop light for her block road and small cars. I suggested she make one. On any other day, she would have scribbled something and anointed it “stop light” but not that day. This time, she replied that she did not know what one looked like. I told her that I knew where she could see the one for herself so she could then make one. I decided to act as her guide rather than the expert.




Research.  Whenever possible, we use references such as photos or books to look for the answers to her questions. I answer her questions, but I also offer her the means by which she can look for the answer herself. On this day, a short walk took us to our reference point.


toddler drawing


Drawing by Reference. I invited her to draw something to remember the lights by.  She repeatedly looked to over to the light as she drew.


Emergent literacy


As we walked home, she noticed another type of traffic sign and drew this as well.  I had no expectations nor did I give her directions on how to draw it. The drawing was incidental to what she was beginning to understand about herself – she could replicate in drawing things she sees. She was creating a reference.


emergent literacy2


Once home, she cut out her image and together we taped it to a block to be used in her play.


I thought she may be as excited as I that she was able to create something she could use in her play, but instead of pride or excitement, she only showed focus.  She continued her play and used the light as she had originally intended.


In Reggio Emilia, Art Materials Does Not Equate An Art Experience.  Even though she was using colored pencils for her drawing, this was not an art experience – at least not as we think of them at home.  Her efforts were purposeful. Her drawings? An extension of her building play rather than a form of  creative expression.


Access to materials (e.g., art or building) and time to play are the means by which children learn skills such as researching, referencing, and self-reliance.  I’d like to include other ways for the girls to find their own answers aside from video, which I think they are still young for. If you use other resources, I’d love to hear about them.