Storytelling with Animal Shadows



These dark evenings have inspired storytelling using shadows!  My animal shadow puppeteering skills are rather limited, and shamefully only include a dog and spider. The spider is inspired mostly because of the way it moves.


Greysen doesn’t mind, and listens intently to the adventures of spider and dog, but I realized she has not really tried to take an active part in the storytelling, which is not like her – or any toddler, for that matter. I wondered, is trying to make animal shadow puppets intimidating?


During an inspiring conversation with a friend (Thanks Laura D!), I decided to make some animal silhouettes that we could use as storytelling prompts.


I needed more evidence that I was on the right track. In the days following, we were at the park when Greysen looked down at her shadow while swinging her arms in the air and said, “Octopus.”


Octopus Shadow


The octopus makers!



Based on her love of all things ocean-related, Greysen and Moon’s artistic Tia Stephanie drew silhouettes of several sea creatures. The cast includes: Dolphin, Seahorse, Octopus, Hammerhead Shark, and at Greysen’s request, Sea Dragon.


As usual, we made due with what we had on hand – kebab skewers with the sharp ends cut off, taped to the the cardboard cutouts. I would have used popsicle sticks if I had them, but these worked just fine.


Using a flashlight as the source, I told a short story starring our newest character – Dolphin!

Greysen was eager for a turn. She proudly announced Dolphin’s usefulness as a flyswatter as she swatted the wall.  I watched happily and waited. I did not correct or encourage her to tell a story, and I respected her right to discover and try her own ideas.

After a few swats, she twirled the dolphin in a circle. She brought it close to the light source, then far away. Then, a shift – she focused on the shadow and had the dolphin peck at the wall. “Dolphin eating.”  Watching the wall she made adjustments and manipulated the dolphin silhouette to peck at the floor. “Dolphin eating.”



Mike added a piece of blue cellophane over the flashlight for an under water aura.


After playing with the dolphin for a bit more, she laid on her back and made a butterfly with her hands! Did the animal silhouette give her the confidence to try one with her own hands?


Soon, characters Seahorse and Hammerhead Shark joined our tale.




They sang, “Happy birthday!”



Good night, new friends!


 Do you ever tell goodnight stories in the dark?


Art On The Go




For now, we have a place to host our Infants & Toddlers’ Art Group. I’m so thankful for a warm place to paint on these wet days. Unfortunately, colds in our home kept us from attending our last art group. So I was challenged (and who doesn’t love a last-minute challenge?) to pack up the art materials and keep cleanup as simple as possible for the moms who would be packing things up instead of me (thanks Kimmy and Anne).




 Sensory Play and Action painting


I poured a few drops of food coloring in a ziplock bag along with the finger paint, and mixed it by squeezing the bag instead of packing it in small jars as I usually do.



Aside from the art medium, paper, and/or tools themselves here’s a short list of things I bring with me when setting up art anywhere but at home. This time, I replaced all my reusable cups and plates with disposable ones so that the other parents would have less to take home/return to me.



  • Drop cloth – Doesn’t keep paint from getting everywhere, but it helps.
  • Paint cups or plates for infants – Since I was not going to be able to help clean up, I sent paper plates.
  • Masking tape
  • Clothespins & clothesline – to hang art with. I can always manage to find something to tie the line to and let the art dry.
  • Weights – depending on where we are going I may just use rocks or paint bottles, but it keeps the drop cloth in place when the infants are moving throughout the art area.
  • A trash bag – or two
  • Wipes or cloths – I generally use wipes because we don’t often have access to water.
  • Extra smocks
  • Markers – just in case there is a child who is hesitant to use any of the materials provided.
  • Optional*  easels and clips – I have used cardboard for makeshift easels to provide a hard surface for the children to draw or paint on when we are at the park.


Finger Paints on Textured Surfaces

Since we were finger painting again, I thought I’d set-up a varied texture experience. I cut several pieces of bubble wrap wide enough for a child to keep both hands in front of them.



I also cut several pieces of foil for something smooth, and perhaps cold, to paint on – or in this case, sit on.


Lastly, I always try to have a tool for children to paint with, just in case they are uncomfortable with getting the paint on their hands. I try to stay clear of anything too gimmicky that may devalue the painting experience.  For example, I cut 10-inch pieces of twine for the children to paint with, which I’d cut much shorter next time.



Art Group versus Art at Home


When I set up paint or sensory places for our art group, I offer them several choices because I don’t always know the children well and their developmental abilities often vary (some are sitting, while others are running). We also have art group once a month right now, so several things at once is still manageable.


When I set up art for the girls at home, and when I used to do it in the classroom, it’s is scaled down quite a bit because I know their experiences and interests. Also, I know that I can offer sensory/art experiences over time.


So, while their friends had several painting options at art group, Greysen & Moon had one option at home.  They, however, were more involved in the prepping process.


Moon mixed the finger paint by squeezing the bag! Greysen squeezed the food coloring and chose the colors, then helped me lay the paper out and tape it in place.


We used white finger paint on bubble wrap, so the focus would be on the texture and sensory experience of the art.  The white, however, was so hard to see that before long we added the yellow and blue paint that Moon had mixed just a short while earlier.


Now that I’ve got the hang of setting up art for a group at different places, I’m eager to try to set up art or sensory experiences for the girls at the park or garden. Have you ever painted at the park or away from home? What do you think would be the biggest challenge to making this happen?


Encouraging Self Care


Last week as I sneezed and sneezed, my cloudy mind was inspired!  I was in frequent need of tissues as I tried to stay near the girls while they played.


Why not move some tissues to Greysen’s level so that she can reach one if she needs it?


Here is the addition of a tissue box to her shelves on the bookcase.


I added a nearly emptied box with just a few tissues.


As to be expected, she was excited about this new access to tissues.  She did not use them sparingly, but since it was just a few tissues it didn’t feel like a big waste.


She stuffed her shirt. I don’t know what to say about that.


After that instance, however, the tissues have sat on the bookcase and only get pulled when there is a nose in need.


By trusting her with access to tissue, she now has one more way that she can care for herself and her needs.

Connections to Our Community through Block Play


As we were driving out of town last week, Greysen shouted “Town!” from the backseat. She has also named a few other places we visit, most often with equal zeal when we arrive at or drive past them. I was excited to know that she recognizes and is excited about these places. It seems that her sense of home and community is indeed expanding.


I thought about her block play. Greysen is at the age where her play is representational. She pretends to go places and see people, but they are all places she has recently been to and people she has recently seen as opposed to imaginary ones.  When we play with the blocks, she most often indicates that the blocks are to represent roads. So, to add to this play, I thought that I would introduce some blocks that represented familiar locales from her life.


I photographed her local haunts: the library, the grocery store, the post office, our house, Dad’s office, and her Abuelito’s office (ASIDE: I printed the pics on glossy paper because I wanted to be sure that they were vibrant representations, but I think this type of paper made the wraparound pics more difficult to adhere to the boxes).


Photographing the buildings was a bit harder than I had anticipated. I originally snapped pics as we went about our regular routines, because after all these are the places we go throughout the week. But, Mike had to go back and re-shoot a couple of them because the angles I shot were not great.


Mostly, I figured that if Greysen recognized the buildings, that would do well enough.


I used boxes that I had saved from Christmas deliveries. The photographs could also be fixed to blocks if boxes aren’t available, but I especially wanted to use boxes to create a tall-ish skyline.



I had planned on using clear contact paper to stick the photographs to the boxes, but I found that taping the photos at the edges was easier. I also covered some of the boxes with plain paper so that the print would not distract from the buildings.


I set it up while she napped.



She was eager to get to it!


She pushed her cars from building to building, telling the stories of her days, “Abuela, go bye-bye. Go get cow’s milk.”



Greysen is familiar with and recognizes each of these places when we arrive at them. I hope that by having these little bits of the town at her fingertips, it helps her to feel more familiar and thus more connected to her community.




Our Experiences with Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)


I was somewhat familiar with the idea of baby-led weaning before Greysen started solid foods, but had not seen it first-hand. The idea of infants being capable of feeding themselves made intuitive sense to to me, but I could not help but cringe at the memories of the occasional infant I have known in the classroom who choked on her or his solid foods.


I was not feeling 100-percent ready to take what felt like a huge risk at the time, so her very first taste of solid food was mashed avocado. It went so well that I could imagine Greysen safely eating thoroughly steamed or otherwise soft enough foods with her small but mighty gums. I felt up to offering her a slice of whole avocado the very next day, and so our adventure into baby-led weaning began.


Greysen fed herself right from the start. She brought food to her mouth, chewed, and gnawed tiny bits of avocado right from the slice, which was tricky because those were some slippery slices. I continued to simultaneously offer her some foods by spoon, depending on the type of food.


For us, some foods lend themselves better to BLW than others. Things that Greysen chewed easily included watermelon, broccoli, avocado, and banana, to name just a few.


Here is a video of her first broccoli. It took a while, but she eventually ate the crown.


Greysen did have a harder time digesting smaller foods like peas, which didn’t cause choking, but instead went through her undigested and whole more often than not.


I felt comfortable with our approach to eating, so with Moon we again started with a mashed avocado. Though she was six months old, just like Greysen was, she gagged a bit. I think some congestion contributed to this difficulty eating, and so we tried foods slowly, and always mashed.


Now eight months, she has the hang of chewing and readily reaches for food. We are again offering her whole foods for her to pick up and eat on her own, and we are finding that the same foods that worked for Greysen work for Moon – though she likes carrots much more than her sister ever did.


I attribute several positive eating habits that Greysen and now Moon have developed to baby-led weaning practices.


Greysen has always been capable of feeding herself, at first by hand and shortly thereafter with a utensil. She would often take the one I was eating with!


Here is a video of Greysen feeding herself at 9 months.  We did not have many infant spoons at the time, so she was wielding one of ours.



Greysen tries and eats a variety of foods consistent with what we eat at meals. No need to cook a baby meal and an adult meal.  At eight months, Moon eats foods from our family dinner. We sometimes continue to pull her cooked vegetables or legumes out before we season or spice our food, but ultimately we are cooking one meal for the whole family. This practice has developed some adventurous eaters who are accustomed to eating what we eat at family gatherings or special events.


I also credit this independent style of eating for establishing an interest and comfort in sitting while eating. I think that it is the major reason Greysen is willing to sit while she eats, instead of eating on the run as some toddler-aged children are apt to do.


Self-confidence in knowing their appetites. Greysen and Moon have participated in feeding themselves since they started eating. Eating on their own timetable has helped the girls develop, know, and respect their own appetites – eating habits I hope they sustain for a lifetime.





Three Good Reasons to Not Do Tummy Time

Playing Underneath the Curtains

Trying to make the best decisions for my children most often means following my gut. When that instinct, however, contradicts the pediatricians’ recommendations – and it regularly does – I worry. Am I making the right decision?


I am never more confident in going against this grain than when it comes to respecting my daughters’ physical competencies and not putting them in positions that they can not get into and out of themselves.

Playing Peacefully On Her Back


More than several years ago, I saw the video “See How They Move” featuring Magda Gerber at a staff meeting.   In the video, infants’ movement are filmed and contrasted while they move on their own and by adults. I was instantly struck by the unnecessary intervention the demonstrating adults imposed on children’s physical development.


One demonstration stood out to me in particular: the child who was placed on their tummy for tummy time versus the child laid on their back.  One struggled, while the other was at peace.


After some discussion and some careful consideration, we as a staff decided to demonstrate our respect for the infants in our care by ceasing to place infants on their tummies.

Here are three reasons why I believe “tummy time” should be nixed in the classroom and at home:

3.  Children don’t like it (though I numbered it third, it is the most important reason). Most infants protest this position because they are not yet strong enough to be in this position comfortably. I cannot count the number of times I have heard a parent state that their child does not like “tummy time.”  We are told that it is in his or her best interest and, after all, why would we not do what is in our children’s best interest?


In my experience, young infants are most often unhappy lying prone for the very reason they are placed there – they cannot lift their heads. Unable lift their head and hold it steady often means that they can not comfortably see. Instead I have seen infants struggle at the discomfort and confusion of being faced down.

What are our babies learning from us when they tell us that they do not like lying on their stomachs, and yet we leave them there anyway?


2. Practices that encourage parenting against instinct should be questioned. We, as parents and educators, are inclined to respond to our infants’ needs, feed them when hungry, and be present when needing rest. However in the case of tummy time, we are expected to push that instinct aside and ignore our worried babies.


Does the benefit of tummy time outweigh encouraging parents to set aside the discomfort of their infants?


Tolerating tearful tummy times is justified by the rationale that children will experience unpleasant things in their lifetimes. The long-term effects of some unpleasant experiences, such as vaccinations or tummy time, are deemed to outweigh the unpleasantness.


1. It’s unnecessary. Placing your infant in a position that they are not physically capable of holding themselves demonstrates a disrespect for those movements that our infants are capable of doing. We are communicating to our infants that this is what they should be doing, rather than honoring their individual time tables and naturally unfolding strengths. Learning to hold one’s head occurs in time as children grow and gain strength.
Tummy time is not only meant to strengthen a child’s neck, it is also instruction for parents to make sure the infants head is not constantly against a flat surface which can cause plagiocephaly or a flat head.

The time infants spend time in car seats or under toy bars can limit their head movements, resulting in flat heads. So, tummy time lessen the effect of such restricted movement.



Floor Time - Looking at Plant

Floor Time In Lieu of Tummy Time

I never placed Greysen or Moon on their stomachs until they were well beyond being able to get there and back on their own. But even before the girls, I had the benefit of seeing the unfettered development of many typically developing children in my care. Rather than tummy time, we practice “floor time”. Laying infants in a comfortable position on their backs on a firm surface with interesting things to look at (toys or adult faces) offers infants a similar opportunity to develop their neck muscles without imposing an uncomfortable position on them.


Both Greysen and Moon can hold their heads up and learned to do so on their own time and without tears. More importantly. listening to my instincts has given me some confidence to hold onto in other times and decisions I have made regarding their care in which the results are not immediate.


Infant & Toddler Toy Shelves


It’s time to reorganize the girls’ toy shelves to accommodate their latest interests and Moon’s new ability to access the shelf on her own. The girls share a room, and thus the toy shelves and play space.


Here was our toy shelf before our commando-crawling Moon could reach it on her own.




Here is our toy shelf now. In addition to rotating some toys out and others in, the toys are arranged so that the smallest items sit atop the highest shelves, safely out of Moon’s reach . . . most of the time.



Infant Toys Shelves
In setting up toys that both girls would have access to, I kept a few things in mind.

Nesting Cups & Papers


1.  Less is more


Infants only need a couple of one type of toy since they are typically exploring at this age. Rather than set up the entire set of eight nesting cups, which Greysen would use to stack, I only set out three, which allows Moon to do all the things she can do with cups, including taste, bang, drop, and push them.


Fewer toys allow for more focus, and increase the probability that they will explore that toy longer (or at least return to it).


2. Containers that organize


Baskets, bins, and bowls keep toys together, helping the shelf look organized and attractive. I am especially fond of the ball basket since it allows for the toys to be seen easily. I found the basket and the leaf-shaped wooden bowl that holds some shells at a second-hand store in town.


Balls & Seashells

3. Playthings that are reflective of her interests, experiences, competencies


Moon has been interested in shaking things, and her collection of paper continues to fascinate her.


Due to an interest of Greysen’s, we have been going to the beach every two weeks or so, and so a small assortment of sea shells are available to both girls.  Moon has been throwing the balls and moving after them. I used to have six out in a different area for Greysen, but since Moon has been the one using them the most, I moved them down low, making it easy for her to reach.


Toddler Cubes:


1. Less is still more . . .

Greysen is now engaging in imaginary play and using her life experiences as starting points for play. In light of recent interests, she now has several fish and sea creatures to tell a story with, and enough blocks to make a tunnel.


2. Reflective of her interests, experiences, competencies


They are many ways to organize a toy shelf but, the kids’ interests take precedent. I also try to make sure that there are a variety of playthings and books that support all the five areas of development (cognitive, motor, language, emotional, and social) throughout our home.


Greysen has been interested in all things ocean-related. A recent trip to the aquarium bolstered this passion, along with an ignited interest in previously unfamiliar sea creatures, namely sea horses and octopi.


3. Non Gender-Specific Toys


For the same reasons we prefer open-ended toys, we look for playthings that can be used in a variety of ways and not limit play in any way. Toys that espouse gender stereotypes like this one that I saw at our local chain store potentially promote gender role stereotypes, particularly in the conversations adults have with children around play with such toys.


4. Wood Toys


I almost always prefer wood toys to plastic, and I would replace her plastic cars with wooden ones in a heartbeat, but the investment is not an option for us right now. So for now, Greysen has access to cars that belonged to Mike – it’s best to reuse anyhow.

So that’s our reorganized shelf! I’m sure we will need to rethink it once Moon starts to try to stand but it’s working for now. How do you organize toys for children of multiple ages?

Why the Term Messy Art Misses the Mark for Me



I can’t recall ever having referred to children’s art experiences primarily as messy art. It is certainly an accurate description, as they do tend to get messy if the medium allows for it.


The term, however, doesn’t connect to children’s art, exploratory or otherwise, for me.
Most often, when I watch children play and use art mediums, I notice that they are not getting messy for the sake of getting messy – messy just happens on the way to discovery. I’ve seen infants crawl through paint, usually to reach something. Toddlers, on the other hand, will often cover every inch of exposed skin. But, in those cases, it’s always very purposefully.


In the classroom, I remember caring for two children in particular who would pause during art, looking at the paint or art on their hands, but they would always still get past the mess because of their interest in the material.  They were interested in artistic experiences, despite the mess.


For me, descriptions such as “exploration,” “focus,” or “wonder” are more specific terms that elaborate on children’s artistic experiences and help me to appreciate these moments.

The Value of Repeated Art Experiences: Gluing Again!



As I admitted to the first time I offered Greysen glue, I was unsure how best to set up this material so that her learning would continue. I was fairly confident that she would enjoy gluing again, but how should I set things up to provoke a sort of next-step learning experience?


In their early years, keeping art materials simple and the tools few helps the child stay focused.  Repeated experiences with the same art mediums gives the child time to consider different aspects of an art material. To create a familiar yet interesting experience, I offered her glue exactly as I had last time, but added a few drops of food coloring to add to the experience.






Greysen has just started to explore glue, and I’m not sure at this point what she understands or remembers about it.  An atelierista that I studied under often remarked that a child’s first experiences with materials are predominately exploratory. They may handle the plaything or art materials in ways that are playful and superficial. It’s only after they become more familiar with the material that they come to get a sense of what it can do, and impart their ideas on what they want it to do.


Glue & Food Coloring
She immediately mixed the colors and continued spreading the glue.  Just as soon the glue started to dry, she returned her full attention to her hands and the bits that had begun to dry on them.




Suddenly, an idea! I could see it in her eyes.

Wet Glue!



Dry Glue!












Maybe a comparison test?


Interesting to Who?


In retrospect, adding color to the glue was of only minor interest to her. She is primarily interested in what happens to glue when it dries. I have been guilty of adding what I think may be interesting elements to clay that are not related to what her interests are at all.  She has, on more than one occasion, tossed them aside and proceeded as she wished.


I could give her things to collage and glue, but she is still interested in glue on its own. So for now, let’s do it again!  I’ll give her more glue soon, but perhaps in a different way. A bottle maybe? I do know one thing for sure – I’ll hold off on the color for now.

Choosing Preschool Programs

Child Led Group

It can all be summed up in a single question posed to me by a mom while we were spending a lovely morning at our community garden, “Why did you go?”


This February will mark two years since I was employed on-site in an early childhood center – AKA, preschool.


In my time away, being a mama has forced me to take a new perspective on many things in my life. I think I was curious if it had done the same to me regarding early schooling.


I now live in small Californian agricultural community. There are many preschools in town, but none that explain their philosophy in social constructivist terms. I’ve been wondering, for some time, what I can expect from a “traditional” approach to early childhood learning, as I have never worked in a school that takes this approach.



The Yin & Yang of Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education is, and has been, traveling simultaneously down two separate paths of learning approaches.  Down one road (in my mind, this one is paved with clearly marked stop signs and pedestrian crossings) is the traditional or academic approach. Learning rudimentary facts about colors, shapes, the ABCs, 123s, and the calendar are the markers by which learning is measured. Down the other road (in my mind, a dirt path that crosses a creek or two) is the learning-through-play approach, or progressive education. Learning how to think, ask questions, and seek answers about things that you are interested in is how learning is done. This path is less clearly marked, with milestones of learning varying from child to child or group to group.



The Tried and True
An academic approach to early childhood education, I think, is the standard way classrooms approach education. I do imagine things have changed over the years in light of research that supports young children learning through play. I do not often see dittos in preschool, but I do still see a stress on learning facts.


This is the way I remember learning in my early years, and it’s the way many of us spent our “learning years” throughout our education. The academic approach is respected for its commitment to readying children for grade school.


Now, with our local moms group’s preschool reconvening after the holiday, I decided to try and put my expectations aside and see what Greysen would look like in that setting.


First Preschool Visit
This morning, we attended a preschool group hosted by a group of moms I belong to. More committed, loving moms I’ve never met. I felt so welcomed and genuinely listened to that I can not express my gratitude for the experience enough.


The activities were age-appropriate, carefully set up, and thoughtfully planned. Greysen spent time at each of the three tables – play dough, practical life, and a craft table. Here, she is using the Montessori planned activities. I will absolutely try some of these at home.


Learning, Learning and More Learning
The group leader and her daughter gathered us to an eventful Circle Time. Greysen dutifully sat at the edge of the rug between her besties, C & L, and focused on the mom/teacher. We sang a “hello” song, during which the children jumped into the circle and chose their name from among all the children’s names that each mom had hand written on a piece of colored felt. Greysen’s was written with her first name on a green circle that she had chosen. After each child had a turn picking out their name, the children returned their felt to the center, where they were lined up and counted in English, then Spanish, then backwards.  Then a letter box was passed around with things that started with the letter of the week, “K.” Each child had a chance to pull out things from the box and show the group.





Cut to a social constructivist school, where children construct their own knowledge. That is, they make the choices as to what they are learning.  Children are gathered together some on the floor some on a couch listening to other children’s ideas. In this classroom children are not merely the focus of learning they lead.

Child Led Group


Be it about space or flowers, their learning is their own, as opposed to subjects being chosen because of the time of year or tradition. Symbols like the 123s and ABCs are learned, but when it is meaningful and relevant to the child. Learning letters is not done because a teacher decides it to be so but rather when it is meaningful to the child. Children become interested in symbols to communicate ideas and want to learn to write to remember their ideas or share them. Facts, like colors, are learned through experience and play, and not taught in a setting with the children as the audience and an adult at the helm.


I have no doubt that traditional activities result in learning. However, less transparent is what exactly children come to understand from these activities. When reciting numbers, a common traditional teaching practice, it’s hard to tell whether children understand that 10 is more than two. In an example of learning through play, numeracy becomes very meaningful when a classroom vote is taken and tallied, determining whether children should go outside or stay inside.


Emergent Lessons on Color


Back at the preschool visit: We then stood and gathered in a circle and sang a song that had the months of the year and then a classic tune – “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” We played in this manner for the better part of an hour. The morning went on from there, and I wondered what Greysen retained from these experiences. What will she learn from these experiences over time? Most importantly to me, how was she learning?


We came home and sat on our patio, finishing the lunches we pecked at during preschool. We changed diapers and lingered in the warm midday sun. Moon inspected a pine cone, while Greysen climbed in and out of her car, telling me “good bye.”


I brought some paint out and prepared the easel, which she was eager to get at. Greysen and Moon painted and played for the better part of an hour. For the second time this morning, I found myself wondering, what did Greysen retain from this experience? What will she learn from these experiences over time?


Two approaches, two paths, and two ways to get where you want to go. When it comes to school settings, I am less concerned with my daughters learning how to give the right answer, and more occupied with them learning how to ask questions. Learning about your interests and spending time in work or play is how adults live when time is their own, and why should children’s lives be spent any differently?