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.

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. 







Adult Influence on Children’s Creative Play




Last fall, my daughter made this turkey (pictured right) in school. She was quite proud of it, and very specifically explained which parts she did and which parts her teacher did. She happily indicated where her teacher placed a few feathers and adjusted the eyes. Although I was slightly bummed that what my daughter perceived as her own work wasn’t really hers, I shrugged off the experience.


Recently, Greysen wanted a “bird” that she could perch on her finger. I offered watercolor paper (for its rigidity), and she chose a dark-colored marker to draw it. I also suggested pipe cleaners as a possible way to hold the bird in place atop her fingers.  Again, my daughter perceived the work entirely as her own and was proud of the way the bird looked in the end.


Two very different creatures, both made with care, intention, and pride. What’s the difference to the child?


The Turkey Takeover Versus the Helpful Resource
Ok, the turkey project was not taken over, but it was entirely teacher directed. Greysen’s project was, in part, done for her, with materials not chosen by her. The adult gave instruction on where aesthetic pieces should be placed, influencing the overall appearance of this craft.  Aside from its distinct beak, her turkey was nearly identical to the rafter of turkeys it dried alongside atop the kitchen table.


In the second scenario, my intention was to serve as a resource to my daughter. Having knowledge of materials that she was unfamiliar with, I suggested the use of pipe cleaners, as well as stiff paper to support her ideas. All other aesthetic choices were hers.


I refrained from suggesting the use of additional colors or materials, even though we have potentially “bird-ish” materials such as faux feathers and yellow pipe cleaners.


In the end, it is irrelevant whether it looks like a bird to anyone else to her. After all, she was the one who was going to use it.


Product versus process and craft versus open-ended conversations aside, an adult’s role during the creative process can teach children something about adults’ roles in their lives. Children will learn that adults can and should direct them at times. However, we also need opportunities for adults to prove themselves to be resources too. We can show children that we believe in their ideas just as they are and do not need to “fix” or outline their play step-by-step.


Play is the place for children to try out their ideas, to make two-dimensional black birds with unattached claws, or towers that will tumble, or marble runs that won’t work. The pride they feel when their bird is done, or their tower stacked, will persist rather than diminish as it may as they age and come to realize the adult’s role in their work. By supporting a child as they create, we also have a chance to support a child’s self-satisfaction and promote feelings of competence.




Toys That Encourage Thinking

100 Languages

I consider art mediums, materials, and toys to be resources for play. They are the props and tools that children can use to transform their ideas into something they can hold onto. In this tangible state, children can suppose, test, and re-evaluate their ideas.


Children do not need loads of toys for play, but open-ended ones can serve many purposes and are great for making ideas a reality.


Why I Offer Several Types of Open-ended Materials and Art Mediums

Our collection of open-ended materials and art mediums is varied because . . .

  1. Children’s skills are ever developing. Toys that can be used to represent something else (e.g., blocks, pine cones, rocks) as-is may be easier to use than toys that need transformation to represent something (such as dough, paper, and paint).
  2. Children have individual strengths and preferences. Regardless of age, a child may be more competent in one material than others, or simply prefer one to others.
  3. Some toys represent an idea better than others. Making a rainbow with pipe cleaners and Styrofoam may better represent a child’s idea of a rainbow  than a two-dimensional drawing.
  4. Different materials bring about different aspects of an idea. The following photographs depict just that. All the pictures are of Greysen’s image of our family. How she spoke of our family was influenced by the art medium, or toy, that she used to recreate us.


Greysen’s play is most frequently inspired by our family and the roles of its members. She plays out our everyday life, and sometimes things that are occurring in our lives, that she may not fully understand.


While drawing often brings her frustration, she has developed confidence in her ability to build.



Cones and cardboard tubes. This is my family.  Greysen describes us, “This is my dad. He is TALLEST tall.” Tubes and cones inspired play about where we walk, and our family was identified by our height relative to the height of the cone structures.



Dough. This is my family. Greysen describes us, “This is the mom and the dad, the kid and the sister.”  The dough representation of us was used laying flat and inspired play around our family sleeping.



Pine Cones. This is my family. The intricate peaks of a pine cone family were connected simply because they could be.



Dry Erase. This is my family. We are the lines. She is less than happy with this representation of us, and the play is abandoned.




Felt and scissors. This is my family. Also dissatisfied with our family in felt, Greysen leaves her play scene relatively soon after she created it.


Stacking cones or molding play dough into people gives her confidence in her ideas that she may not have had if she only had drawing tools at her disposal.


I expect that, eventually, as my children grow, that the materials they have experience with will become a reference library of sorts. That way,  when they have an idea they can choose the right tool/material to make it come alive.


Starting a Natural Collection



Starting a collection of natural materials sounds easy enough. Take a walk, pick up a few things . . .  I figured I’d have a buckets of things in no time. I didn’t realize that 95% of the time the treasures the girls gathered were rocks. Rocks are great, they just did not make for a varied collection.


In time, our collection has grown. Spring has been full of walks and hikes, so we have now have a modest tray of things we have found as well as things we have collected from our yard.


I wasn’t sure how to offer the materials at first. Since everything makes its way to the floor eventually, I decided  that’s where we should start.



Greysen took the tray to the building area immediately.


Since then, the girls have also used the natural materials exclusive of other toys, like this “den”.



In addition to the things the girls pick up, I now gather and save a few things for home. Our collection is small but growing. It may not be enviable but has inspired play around here and that’s all I can ask for.


Do you collect natural materials for your children to play with?  How did you grow your collection?


The First Three Years of Art


What do Reggio Emilia art experiences look like in the first three years?


When I first started learning about Reggio Emilia’s approach, most of the project work I was reading about and had seen occured with preschool-aged children.  I had a hard time finding examples of what infant and toddler play with art materials looked like. Eventually, working in a Reggio Emilia inspired infant/toddler program, I saw first hand that which I guess I already knew.


While some toddlers tell stories and find ways to communicate their ideas, art mediums are largely used for exploratory purposes in the first three years. That is to say, through play, discoveries are made.


Children are invited to play with a variety of art mediums and open-ended materials over time.  As the children become more familiar with the medium/material, the invitation to play may become more complex. Something as simple as adding water to the play can deepen children’s understanding of what they are playing with. Paper, for example, transforms when wet, or clay – something solid enough to climb on when dry – drips and softens.



Over multiple experiences, children will learn lots about a specific material’s properties, from its limitations to its possibilities.




By playing with art mediums and other open-ended materials, children are archiving information gained through play. In time, children will have a reference library of sorts, built through experiences, that they can use to both create and share their ideas.


Supporting Morning Farewells


Like so many things in our lives, our daily “Have a good, fun, day!” routines with Mike have changed as the girls do.


Young children may be ready to say good-bye one day and may hold on tight to you the next.  Even within healthy attachments and positive environments, children may feel ready to play and see you later or want you to read one more book before you go.  Not only are you saying good-bye to your child, but often there is a change in their context which may contribute to how they feel about saying good-bye.


As infants, I would hold the girls if they were upset to say good-bye to Mike. Now, as a toddler, Moon is capable of moving the child-sized furniture around. She regularly moves one of the chairs over to the window to climb up and watch him leave. Mike waves good-bye to the girls from his car before he drives away every morning, regardless of whether we are waiting there or not  . . . just in case.


Moon likes to linger a bit after he drives off. She’ll call out things she sees, typically dogs and birds, but may comment on other exciting things that happen outside our front door. She hasn’t shown signs of distress or unhappiness, but I  began to wonder if she needed support since her ques are usually subtle.


Support for Transitions. By support, I don’t mean guidance or a lot of explanation. She understands this process and seems to be getting along well. Maybe I was just beginning to question my own busyness in the morning, and wanted to be sure that I wasn’t missing anything.


  • Be Present. On the days she stays at the window after Mike has left, I spend a minute or so standing by her.  I may comment that I will miss dad for the day, or I may not. Mostly, I just want to share a moment with her and follow her lead. Sometimes my presence goes unnoticed, and sometimes she reaches for me – I would not have known that she sometimes needs a hug had I not taken just those few minutes to check in with her.


  • Representational Toys. I added these recently gifted gnomes and one of our wooden peg people to the window sill to give her an opportunity to process any feelings she may have about saying goodbye. She uses them most days, “walking” them along the sill, leaning them into each other for a quick kiss. I can’t be certain that they represent her feelings about Mike leaving, but the toys are there should she want them for that purpose.



In the Reggio Emilia tradition, I’ve been trying to think of additional ways that the environment can support this transition. Something simple, something portable. Perhaps a photograph of Mike and the girls on the shelf next to this window?








Our Lives Reflected in Play

Unstructured Play

In education, assessment is the follow-up to any learning activity. Quizzes, tests, and final products are all intended to be evidence of what children are learning. At home, we too have a less intrusive way to get a glimpse into our children’s understanding, by just listening and watching their play.


In play, children can work out feelings and ideas, and perhaps even gain some understanding of their lives. Pieces of our lives are being reflected in my daughter’s play this week.


Our Family

“This is the Mama and Dada. The big sister is sleeping with her own blanket and the mom is angry that the babies want to sleep with her.” -Greysen.

We are moving away from bed-sharing. I was so glad to hear her thoughts as she explained this scenario to me.  I clarified that in real life our decision to transition out of bed sharing is not the result of anger or some other emotion, but rather backaches (more specifically, four tiny kicking feet all through the night).


Fish Tank

We have been trying to establish an aquarium since December, and have been visiting the pet store for much needed advice for the protection of the surviving fish.


I later found this with a cover right next to our real fish tank.


A Bake Sale


This is an invitation to play that I set up after Greysen was walking around baking things for a bake sale – something we participated in recently.  I swapped out our groceries for goodies.



A Cemetery


On her way to visiting the cemetery, my mom stopped by and left us essentials, which the girls immediately incorporated into their play. Between this conversation and one she heard in passing about baby Patrick’s passing (Progressive Parent), Greysen came up with her own ideas.


This is Moon laying down at the cemetery where Greysen instructed her to next to “dog”.


Greysen: “We are laiding [sic] down in a cemetery. We are dead.”
Me: “You are dead?”
Greysen: “No, we are sleeping.”



Do your children regularly talk about your lives in their play? If you are interested in sharing, please leave a link or comment below.