“Where’s The Mom?” #TeacherMom


Sure, they may be building independence, problem-solving, time-management, confidence, physical health, risk-taking, and more. But the neighbors don’t see any of that. What they see & think is, “Where’s the mom?”

Never mind that when we were kids, such unsupervised play with a pack of neighbor kids was the norm.

Never mind that contrary to popular belief, the world is actually safer today than it was when we were kids.

Never mind that outdoor play actually addresses dramatically more threatening issues our kids face today, such as anxiety and diabetes.

When a someone recently told me that “Where’s the mom?” is the question asked when they see my kids play, it led me to revisit the way unstructured, unsupervised play has declined since when we were kids (sidebar: what about “Where’s the dad?” If we’re going to be judged, at least let it be equal opportunity judgement!). I have started to wonder whether this is less about protecting kids and more about protecting ourselves from judgement (offline & online) from other adults.

Ultimately, we need to find the courage to set aside those fears and focus on kids’ needs. We have been told, “You can’t be too careful when it comes to kids’ safety.” But the truth is that “an obsession with safety carries its own risks,” not least of which include a child’s diminished sense of autonomy. (see “Child Safety Up, Child Anxiety Up. Hmmm.“).

As a teacher, this seems to have direct parallels in the classroom as well. Both teachers and parents are pressured to make all the decisions in the name of safety or future success. Both are put under such an intense microscope, challenging the status quo is risky business. Both face an ever-present risk of severe judgement.

As a result, child autonomy is suffering, but we have the power to change that. We can:

And of course, it always helps when we find our tribe! There are many Facebook groups (one example here) and Twitter hashtags (#StudentAgency & #studentchoice) where you can find supportive teachers and parents who are similarly working toward childhood independence.

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Inquiry into Skills: Research

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

What measures do we take to help our students cultivate research skills? Teach them to google? Help them take outlined notes? These and others might be helpful, but it might be time to go a little deeper and help them further break down what research skills really entail.

According to the PYP, this break-down includes:

  • Formulating questionsIdentifying something one wants or needs to know and asking compelling & relevant questions that can be researched
  • ObservingUsing all the senses to notice relevant details
  • Planning: Developing a course of action; writing an outline; devising ways of finding out necessary information
  • Collecting data: Gathering information from a variety of first- and second-hand sources such as maps, surveys, direct observation, books, films, people, museums & ICT
  • Recording data: Describing & recording observations by drawing, note-taking, making charts, tallying, writing statements
  • Organizing data: Sorting & categorizing information; arranging into understandable forms such as narrative descriptions, tables, timelines, graphs & diagrams.
  • Interpreting data: Drawing conclusions from relationships and patterns that emerge from organized data.
  • Presenting research findings: Effectively communicating what has been learned; choosing appropriate media

This week’s provocation is intended to help students investigate the nature of research skills for themselves.

Resource #1: Fistful of Stars 360 via The Kid Should See This

Also see (also via The Kid Should See This):

Resource #2: Urban Nature hunting tips from Mr. O’Shea

Resource #3: What is dust made of? via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: OK Go Sandbox (lessons on the science behind their amazing videos!)

Resource #5: Biography picture books on scientists. Here are a few great ones!

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to conduct research?
  • What does it mean to be a researcher?
  • When are you a researcher?
  • What tools do researchers use?
  • What are the processes of research?
  • How does research change throughout a project?
  • What is a source? How can we use them
  • What is the role of perspective in research?
  • How can we develop/strengthen research skills?

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18 Best Videos To Get To Know Children’s Authors & Illustrators

As I was updating Goodreads with an old picture book list I’d made, I came across notes I had written about a couple fabulous author/illustrator videos that I wanted to remember to share with my students. And re-watching those just kind of…snowballed into this post.

I always love a good compilation; especially one that gives kids a glimpse into the processes & lives of their favorite authors &  illustrators as people. I hope you enjoy these as much as my very small students and I did!

#1: Oliver Jeffers Picture Book Maker: As playful as all his books. We particularly enjoyed the sandwich hunt.

#2: Little Carmen Deedy Didn’t Like to Read: Loved her story on how she first found the right book. “And I’ve said for a long time that if the right book and the right child find each other, bam…fireworks!”

#3: Author & Illustrator Peter Brown on his Process: Great insight into the decision-making process. Especially his note, “Should I use the word ‘naked?'”

#4: What is Music? from Christian Robinson: Ok, so this one isn’t directly about Christian Robinson, but it still provides insight on him as an illustrator. And it absolutely delighted both my kids and me (for more direct information about him, see this Meet the Illustrator article).

#5: La La La by Kate DiCamillo & illustrated by Jaime Kim. Great perspective to hear about book collaboration.

#6: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett: So I guess this isn’t directly about Jon & Mac’s lives either, but having met them at a library Author Link, I’d say there’s probably more accuracy than one might guess…

#7: An Interview with Beverly Clearly: So cool to hear about how she got started writing realistic fiction!

#8: bethany bARTon monster painting. No words. Just some great tunes & Bethany enjoying her art.

#9: The Truth About the Writing Process by Julie Falatko. As hilarious as her books and her tweets.

#10: Meet Tomie dePaola. I loved hearing about how folktales shaped him as an author.

#11: Snappsy Did Not Ask to Be in This Video About How to Draw Him from Tim Miller. Just a funny and highly-precise how-to (ie “medium-sized hot dog for the snout”)

#12: 2017 from Carter Higgins. So cool to watch her double-debut year unfold as she used the app, One Second Everyday.

#13: Tour Philip & Erin Stead’s Michigan Studio. Fun to see this pair in their home element.

#14: The Teacher Who Changed Everything with Patricia Polacco. If you’ve read “Thank You Mr. Falkner,” you know this story, but it’s incredible to watch Patricia share it herself!

#15: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Thought Bubble: Kindness. It absolutely blew my mind to hear Amy’s conclusions on a life worth remembering years before hers was tragically claimed by cancer. Her legacy of kindness truly lives on in her books and videos.

#16: Matt de la Pena Author Video. I enjoyed hearing Matt’s “unlikely” story on how he became an author, and how that background helps him work to appeal to reluctant readers.

#17: Peter Reynolds discusses his books: Did you know he works with his twin brother, and has since they were tiny?

#18: Brendan Wenzel: Great to hear how “The Stinky Cheese Man” influenced him as an author/illustrator!

If there are any authors or illustrators on this list with whom you are not yet familiar, I encourage you to check out their stuff right away!

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On Rewards

We talked quietly in the corner. His 10 year-old head hung. He knew that had been a hurtful choice, knew that it had been a series of uncharacteristically unkind choices as of late. We talked about what might be going on lately. He said he didn’t know.

I told him that sometimes teachers use rewards to help their kids make better choices. I asked him, “Do you think we need to set up some kind of reward system for you to make better choices? Or do you think you can go ahead and step up to the kinds of choices we both know you can make?”

His eyes widened, and he replied, “I know I can make better choices.”

And he did. For the rest of the year.

Truly, if he had said he needed some kind of reward system, I would have honored that. Not because I think that such extrinsic rewards are particularly effective, or that they should be applied by and large. But because it might have served as a temporary scaffold.

But for longterm motivation and behavior, I have come to question more and more the place of tangible rewards in the classroom. We’ve seen studies that indicate that rewards actually make the behavior less desirable for kids. And we have seen the remarkable impact of self-efficacy on learning as kids develop specific skills that in turn help them believe in their innate ability to achieve goals.

Even as my critical position on rewards has grown stronger over the years, I appreciate articles like this that add more nuance to the conversation:

“Some people say, “[Offering incentives for reading] should be off the table,” or “This is terrible.” I wouldn’t go that far, just because I’m always a little uncomfortable pretending that psychologists have the absolute answer to anything. My recommendation is, maybe don’t try it first.”

When I unpack statements like this a little more, it makes me think of scenarios like the conversation I described above. I once had a similar conversation with another student who did indicate that having a reward system for a brief time would be helpful to reroute the behavior. As I stated earlier, it was a temporary scaffold, and it was ultimately effective to help him bring his attention to his choices.

So, yes, I’m still wary of incentives systems that might place a child’s attention on treats & stickers over the learning & self-awareness, particularly over longterm use. But I’m working on remaining curious as I continue to learn and assess my past practices to inform my future ones.

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The Third Teacher At Home #TeacherMom

I’ve often mentioned the importance of creating a rich environment to help invite learning (rather than relying on more contrived programs and flashcards that put learning on the adult’s timetable all the time). But like everything else, this has been a bit of a journey for me.

Weird fact about me: I have subscribed to the magazine Better Homes & Gardens since I was 13 years old. (A major influence on my continued loyalty was when they replaced a copy that my very helpful then-2-year-old had “put in the bathroom.” ie, watery toilet grave. I still hope that email with my pitiful story and request for a new copy is pinned to some break-room somewhere).

So while I’m nothing even close to an expert on interior design, by the time kids came along, I had some difficulty consolidating my notions of home decorating with kid-friendly-play.

So for today, I thought I’d share today a little of what that learning environment currently looks like in our home. Some of the learning environment elements include…

Sensory Play

At first, I restricted access to all sensory play (like the box of beans below and play dough) so that they would need to ask each time they wanted to play, because who wants to spend days constantly cleaning this up?? But then I learned how wearisome this can be for all parties involved, which ultimately inhibits play.

I ended up replacing the box with one on wheels, storing it under a daybed where the kids can slide it out to play as desired; play dough storage became similarly accessible. As for picking up stray beans, it turns out the dog really likes them, so that helps with the mess factor. But most importantly, sensory play has become a more readily-available choice in our home.

…Book access

I mingle the toys with the books, and try to provide a cozy spot nearby (like the sheepskin rug pictured below) so that reading is always a convenient option. I’m also always shifting the way our books are organized and displayed (more on that in last week’s post).

when I saw this print by a local artist, I knew it needed to be framed near our books.

Open-ended play

I try to provide “toys” that have open-ended possibilities. Our loose parts toys (photo below) are one of my favorite ways to watch my kids’ imaginations fly, but another factor has been simply arranging toys together. Safari LTD animals near a school bus near wooden trays.

…occasionally setting up invitations to play

Leaving shelves open so that we can find new ways to invite play on their level has been helpful here. This little “dining area” has been set up for a while so my kids have largely forgotten about it by now, but it’s often the first thing visiting kids notice when they come over to play.

Design for togetherness

This has been perhaps the most influential element of creating a rich learning environment at home. I used to think that I needed to keep toys and books corralled in a corner so that the grown-ups could enjoy grown-up space. Now I know that when I integrate play into the design, I can cultivate more comfortable spaces in which everyone feels they belong, which in turn invites more shared play.

For us, this looks like no separate play room, plenty of seating for everyone use the space, and shared bookcases arranged so everyone has what they need on their level. But of course, the possibilities are endless and should be based on your family’s needs.

What about you? What are ways you provide that “third teacher” at home?

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Inquiry into Attitudes: Tolerance

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

Sometimes it seems like our world today is overcome with notions of in-group/out-group. But what if we can help our students find their common ground? This week’s provocation is centered on the PYP attitude of tolerance, which involves “work[ing] towards feeling sensitivity towards differences and diversity in the world and being responsive to the needs of others.”

Resource #1: Us Vs Them: Immigration, Empathy, & Psychology via The Kid Should See This

Resource #2: Charter for Compassion by Ben Kaufman

Resource #3: Day & Night by Pixar

Resource #4: What is Public Life?

Resource #5: Most People by Michael Lennah & Jennifer E. Morris

Provocation Questions: 

  • What does it mean to have tolerance?
  • What is the connection between tolerance and empathy?
  • How does tolerance impact a diverse community? How does tolerance impact a community that seems alike?
  • What is our responsibility to cultivate tolerance?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Problem With Our Early Reading Obsession

When I write about how my daughter is succeeding as a reader even though (or because?) I did not force sight word flashcards or memorizing the alphabet on her as a preschooler, my thinking inevitably returns to readers we would term “at-risk” because of their sorely limited book access.

I wonder if my talk of autonomy and following the child’s lead and student choice & voice are another facet of our privilege, overlooking the needs of kids that need to “catch up” with their peers? Is my priority to cultivate the reader over the reading level potentially damaging for these children?

But this question, and all initiatives out there that insist every child must read by a certain level by age fill-in-the-blank (usually implemented in areas with higher number of at-risk kids), leads to a rather slippery slope with regards to development & choice. We must be wary of practices that suggest that honoring developmental readiness is only reserved for children of a certain class.

This wariness should become sharper when we are faced with programs that overshadow books themselves. When programs > books, we run into equity issues every time because only the kids that quickly finish up their program assignment get time to simply read books of their choosing (Matthew Effect, anyone?)

So, how do we…

…work to eliminate the reading ability gap our low-income students face while still honoring developmental readiness and choice?

…seek out accountability that all students are receiving high quality reading instruction while also avoiding silver bullet programs that promise guarantees?

…ensure that in our zeal to help them find words, we do not allow our anxious agendas to swallow up their voices & choices?

Even as we work to identify diverse literary needs and developmental readiness, we can find a more joyful, inviting reading community for all as we focus more on nurturing readers & cultures than on pushing reading levels.

“For too long we have focused on the development of reading for skills, not for the love of reading.  Yet, we need both types of experiences in order to fully develop as readers.” ~Pernille Ripp

(so many practical ideas from Pernille on establishing that culture in her post).

For our early readers, we seem to have been especially caught up in the skills side of reading. We need to stop packing in skills so tightly that they crowd out reading itself.

As Donalyn Miller recently summed up,

Each and every one of our early readers deserve librarians just as much as they deserve high-quality reading specialists. They deserve books in their hands just as much as they deserve guided reading groups. And they deserve teachers who share their authentic love of reading just as much as they deserve teachers who effectively build decoding skills.

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by fear of kids falling behind. But when we start from a place of love of the reading instead of fear, we ultimately lay a literary foundation that is much more lasting and meaningful for all our readers.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto