My Most-Read Posts of 2018

Identifying which posts were most read each year is always an interesting reflective process for me a I look for patterns and why’s. For instance, it’s clear that this year, people were drawn to my most status-quo-questioning posts. Meanwhile, I’m also working on my other annual post in which I share my favorite posts written by other educational bloggers, so stay tuned for that soon!

#8: 7 Ways to Communicate We Care About at-home reading–without Reading Logs

What this post’s popularity tells me: I think many of us are searching for better ways to communicate with families about at-home learning. We worry about practices like reading logs because of how micromanaging they can feel, but we also worry about simply abandoning them because of how important reading is. This post offers specific ideas addressing both concerns.

#7: 7 Ways for Promoting More Choice Within “Compulsory Learning”

What this post’s popularity tells me: It is much easier to throw out the now-common advice, “offer students more choice,” than it is to put it in practice. Especially when it feels like we ourselves are suffocated by mandates upon mandates. The fact that this one was read so often tells me that people welcome explicit ideas of how we might find ways to provide choices even within a compulsory environment.

#6: Inquiry Into Skills: Self-Management

What this post’s popularity tells me: Lack of self-control has historically been a top criticism of youth. But self-management is really a much more universally needed skill.  Resources to help students develop self management skills are thus in high demand.

#5: Strategies to trust students when they seem uninterested

What this post’s popularity tells me: No matter how much teachers supports student agency and choice, there will always be a student who makes them scratch their heads and wonder how best to reach him or her.  

#4: 18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators

What this post’s popularity tells me: Simply put, we love to get to know our heroes on more of a personal level. 

#3: Student Agency: 5 Steps for Beginners

What this post’s popularity tells me: As agency becomes more commonly discussed across the education world, many are looking for where to start: what it means and how we can take some significant initial steps. 

#2: Inquiry into Being a Writer

What this post’s popularity tells me: So many students feel like writing is only something “real” writers do. They do not self-identify because it seems beyond their reach for one or several reasons. I hope this inquiry has led to more kids starting to think about themselves as real writers, too!

#1: Instead of Keeping them in from Recess, What If

What this post’s popularity tells me: As a teacher who has kept in too many kids from too many recesses myself, we just get to a point where we wonder if that’s really our only choice. I think this one was my most read post published in 2018 because we want to find alternatives that get to the root of the behavior and relationships. 

What were your most-read posts of 2018? Why do you think that was?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Our Favorite Books of 2018

It’s time for one of my favorite annual blog posts: a review of our favorite reads from the year! While part of me just wanted to list every single book we loved this year, the rest wanted to stick with the curation approach I’ve come to love about blogging. But I hope you’ll check out my Goodreads profile if you are looking for more recommendations!

So with the help of my kids, here are our top 15 picture books and top 15 chapter books we read this year. Most of these were published this year, but there are a few that are simply ones we discovered this year. 

Picture Books

#15: The Eye that Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss & Jeremy Holmes. My little ones sometimes struggle with longer biographical stories, but the story kept them wanting to hear what was next! 

#14: Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell & Corinna Luyken. Right and wrong can feel so absolute for so many kids; I love the way this helps them expand their perspective a bit in favor of compassion. 

#13: Water Land: Land & Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale. Such a clever and simple way to depict various landforms and their relationships to one another!  


#12: a house that once was by Julie Fogliano & Lane Smith. This one especially tickled my sense of wonder because I have often daydreamed about the memories held by old houses and paths — who walked in the same spaces, what they did there, how they lived.  

#11: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe.  My ocean-loving 4 year old especially loved the illustrations of all things underwater. Kate Messner did a great job of weaving an engaging story of what has been done, and what we have yet to do, for our coral reefs. 

#10: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes. This tree-lovin’ lady adored everything about this read. The detail, the poetic flow of words, the imagination. 

#9: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. Loved the way this book illustrates emotion, and validates the many ways we need to express it.   

#8: Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall. This beautifully captures change over time in several layers. My kids and I enjoyed studying all the detail of the fascinating life inside a lighthouse. 

#7: The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. Teachers trying to convey word choice and story-loving children alike will enjoy this latest work from Peter Reynolds.  

#6: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex. This book makes me think of a cross between “Green Eggs & Ham” and “The Monster at the End of This Book.” Featuring Star Wars, of course. My whole family adored this hilarious read! 

#5: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Poor Penelope has first day of school jitters. She has no idea what her classmates will be like…until she discovers that they are delicious children! Will she be able to get past her, um, sticky first impression?

#4: A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin. I loved the folklore feel of this story. Little Star and her mother bake a big mooncake, but will she be able to resist nibbling a little more each night? A lovely way to imagine what makes the phases of the moon.

#3: Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost. I think this is the only book on our picture book list of books not published, but discovered, this year. My kids were fascinated by the magnified pictures of various surfaces, and the personified germs.  

#2: Square by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen. After meeting these authors last year, I don’t think our book lists stand a chance of not featuring work by these two. But we found Square every bit as delightful as Triangle. Everyone can relate to Square’s emotional turmoil when his friend Circle mistakes him for a sculptor–and he doesn’t want to let her down. 

#1: El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin & Crash McCreery. I loved getting to practice my high school Spanish in this delightful new rendition of an old legend. My kids especially loved the inflatable nature of the goats. 

Read Alouds/Chapter Books/Graphic Novels

#15: Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School by Julie Falatko and Colin Jack. I sometimes struggle with books written from a dog’s point of view. But this duo did nothing but make me laugh! Follow their hilarious plot to save their child from a dreadful place called school. 


#14: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. With Russian heritage myself (though definitely not as close as Vera), I loved the protagonist’s struggle to feel like she fits in. My daughter and I enjoyed this graphic novel, though neither of us will likely ever look at an outhouse the same way again…

#13: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This haunting read will get students thinking about the issues of our day as it follows Jerome, who is killed while playing with a toy gun. I still find myself connecting back to the perspectives of this book, such as when I read these findings that show children who embody any of the 3 “B’s” (boy, big, or black) tend to be subject to harsher treatment at school. 

#12: Gone Camping, A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger & Matthew Cordell. I love the way each poem perfectly captures typical moments of a camp-out, from fear of the dark to grandpa’s snoring. 

#11: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. I hadn’t heard of this one prior to reading Bill Ferriter’s recommendation this year. I absolutely loved the way this student/teacher relationship unfolded. Packed with unexpected twists, historical context, and relatable middle school humor. 

#10: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. A beautiful self-discovery kind of story, but with a faster pace than I was expecting, which I enjoyed. 

#9: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Despite the fact that I may or may not have gone to bed weeping while reading this, I have to recommend it. It tells the story of Amal’s descent into indentured servitude when she should be attending school with the other children in her village.

#8: Refugee by Alan Gratz. Three stories of families seeking refuge are masterfully woven together to convey universal principles of compassion and humanity.  

#7: The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette. When Marty loses a precious gift from his dad who is sick and has little time left, he finds himself on a magical train meant to collect all the things we lose. A beautiful story of loss and love.  

#6: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm. Beans is doing his best to help his family living in Key West during the Great Depression. Detailed, witty, and hilarious, this is a great candidate for a classroom read-aloud.  

#5: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.  A new series that your fantasy-loving readers will devour. Everyone knows Morrigan is cursed — but defying her fate, she discovers a new land, a new organization, and a new chance to prove herself.

#4: I’m Just No Good At Rhyming & Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids & Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris & Lane Smith. Those who grew up loving Shel Silverstein as much as I did will not want to miss this one. My favorite part was the way one story that features a boy whose parents forgot to teach him the number 8 makes its way not only into other poems, but into the book’s page numbering and even acknowledgements–definitely appealed to this immature grown-up! 

#3: Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. Earth’s sun is about to go into a premature supernova, causing the human race to temporarily relocate to Mars until they can take off for a new home. Exciting and exceptionally well-researched science fiction read!

#2: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. The five Vanderbeeker children work to save their home as their family unexpectedly faces eviction. What I love most about this is the independence and problem-solving afforded to these kids. Just the right amount of spunk and tenderness!

#1: Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley. My 8 year-old and I listened to the audiobook of this together and loved every hilarious moment as Frederick Frederickson tries to find his social place, only to be unexpectedly swept downriver and into a disciplinary camp. Another great read aloud for upper elementary grades!

What were your favorite reads this year? Share in the comments!

12/15/18 update: Having just finished reading Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech, I feel compelled to mention it here, too. It reminded me strongly of what I love most about Brene Brown’s work on connection, vulnerability, and living from a place of love over fear. Absolutely a contender for a classroom read aloud as well!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

My Favorite “Learning” Toys in our House #TeacherMom

What do you think of when someone says, “educational toy?”

Google certainly advertises what many of us imagine: 

But the toys that bring the richest learning to my children look nothing like this. The toys that make them think, that invite them to talk out their thinking, that spark make-believe play — they look much less, well, educational. 

Especially since reading this article on the site Zero to Three about characteristics of toys for toddlers that are rich in learning (featuring qualities like open-ended-ness and problem-solving), I’ve been thinking about what exactly these toys look like for kids, (not to mention with this holiday season upon us). 

So today’s post is a reflection on which toys promote the richest play for my kids (aged 8, 4, & 2), and why. Different toys will appeal to different children for a variety of reasons, but there are certainly some universal lessons on play to be found in the why. So let’s dive in!

#1: Loose Parts box

How it’s packed with learning: In addition to being a great tactile experience — the kids love the rough and smooth wood grains, the woven coasters, and the silky scarf — these objects provide endless possibility for play. One day, it’s a kitchen set, and the next, it’s a zoo. 

#2: Animals set

How it’s packed with learning: These animals feature in much of my kids’ make-believe play. Special favorites are the ones that include a baby and parent. This is definitely a toy that grows with kids, delighting a broad range of ages. 

#3: Lock box

How it’s packed with learning: Problem-solving skills abound with this toy. Particularly since there are 3 compartments inside in which to stash all sorts of treasures.

#4: Magnetic tiles set

How it’s packed with learning: I am amazed at the creativity these tiles elicit. Rockets, houses, buses, even “gift boxes” are constructed and reconstructed each day. I like the way it requires geometric problem-solving as well. 

#5: Go Fish card game

How it’s packed with learning: This is a beloved game for all of our kids. Even though the youngest doesn’t quite understand it, he loves to instruct adults to “go fish” and watch them comply. I also like that there’s opportunity for literacy building with the labeled pictures. 

#6: Play-Doh

How it’s packed with learning: The sensory experiences, creativity, and fine motor skills development are endless. Especially when we add a few tools, like these play scissors and a rolling pin. 

#7: Play Tunnel

How it’s packed with learning: In addition to the physical activity this tunnel provides, it also lends itself to a great deal of large-scale make-believe play in fort-building and playing house. 

This last bonus photo was at the 4 year-old’s request when he saw me taking pictures of all his favorite toys. It just goes to show how you never know what kids will treasure!


Engaging play facilitates powerful learning. What toys spark this for your kids? 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into SDGs: No Poverty

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

Extreme poverty is defined as a deprivation of basic human needs, such as food, shelter, sanitation, clean water, and education. The Sustainable Development Goal to end extreme poverty by 2013 is within reach–the number has declined by half between 1990 and 2015, and this global goal aims to finish the job. Share the following resources to help students inquire into this goal and to learn ways they can make a difference.

Resource #1: Extreme Poverty: Choices by US AID

Resource #2: United Way Poverty

Resource #3: Poverty, Inc

Resource #6: 5 Ways to Fight Poverty by Outreach International

Resource #5: Living On a Dollar a Day photoseries by Renée Byer. See more from the series at Time.

Resource #6: Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting

Provocation Questions:

  • What is poverty?
  • How can we be more aware of extreme poverty in our communities?
  • What is our responsibility to help end extreme poverty?
  • How can we support people living in poverty in a way that promotes human dignity?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

9 Homework Assumptions to Scrutinize

1. Reducing or eliminating homework would further put poorer kids at a disadvantage. Though this might seem to be an equity issue, it is, in fact, a very presumptuous position. Asserting that these families require supplementation assumes current at-home learning experiences are insufficient. Working instead to ask, listen, and respond to what the needs are is a much more equitable approach.

2. Homework encourages families to come together for education. I have come to be suspicious of programs and approaches that view families as an appendage to the school rather than school as an appendage to the family. We should be wary of the idea that only by the school’s intervention will a family come together in support of a child’s education.

3. Homework is the only way for parents to know what’s happening in school. If parents don’t know what’s going on at school, the solution is not to burden students. Rather, it tells me the school needs to work on building stronger partnerships, starting with cultivating student ownership for better communication.

4. Homework develops study skills and responsibility. Actually, no studies have proven that homework improves non-academic skills. [read more here]

5. Homework prepares students for the next level. It is irresponsible to allow possible future demands to ignore the current developmental needs of a child. Excessive focus on the future robs us of today’s opportunities. Consider the effects of preschool becoming more focused on drilling ABC’s than on gross motor skills: more kids enter kindergarten unable to sit up in their chairs due to lack of core strength and balance.

6. Other countries assign more homework and their students perform better than ours. Finland, anyone?

7. Homework → good grades → success. Quite aside from the shaky-at-best claims that homework does actually improve grades, this assumption leaves student well-being out of the equation. Which always makes me think of this profound tweet from Amy Fast last year:

8. Students won’t practice at home unless we assign homework. Maybe this is true if we never give them the chance to practice without our personal intervention. But anecdotal experience has proven otherwise: my 8 year-old loves making math books, writing stories, and crafting scientific models, all without any official assignments. Just this morning over breakfast, we had a casual chat about the difference between multiplication and division.

9. There is no choice but to assign homework because of… There are a lot of reasons that might make us think we have no choice if we want to accomplish our learning goals, but the truth is that there are many alternatives available. See for example 7 Ways to Communicate We Care About At-Home Reading — Without Reading Logs.

Less assuming and mandating. More listening and connecting!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What Matters Most to YOU About your Child’s School Experience? #TeacherMom

Much of what I write here comes down to this question. But when it came down answering it directly for an interview for my cousin’s class, I was surprised at how difficult it was to decide.

What matters most to me? Really, no less than a preservation of my child’s humanity. Her empathy. Her creativity. Her curiosity. Because only when she finds meaning for herself will the learning follow.

Cultivating humanity exists in the small details. Non-examples include choices such as:

  • assigning worksheets that are excessive or developmentally inappropriate and then faulting children for being inattentive
  • focusing more on the data and products than on the child
  • consistently depending on extrinsic incentives instead of choosing to have the harder, ongoing conversations about broader, more intrinsic values

Examples include:

  • honoring students’ agency by inviting them to the planning table for their own learning
  • proactively working to communicate with families, not because we want behavior conversations to be less awkward, but because we want families to know we truly care about their children
  • trusting students to monitor their own bathroom use

These are the kinds of approaches that send a clear message to students: you are valued. Your voice matters. You bring something unique to our group that cannot be replicated.

These messages matter not only for the sake of individual wellness (which is a worthy goal in itself), but for the sake of our collective future in an increasingly automated world. Realizing that “human beings are our most valuable resource” (as referenced in the recent article, “Educator: In Finland, I realized how ‘mean-spirited’ the U.S. education system really is”) should be of utmost importance in meeting the needs of the individual and the whole.  (see also the great video Adam Hill shared in his post, “What are Soft Skills & Why do Students Need them More than Ever?“)

Going back to that interview, other questions posed included:

  • What matters most to your child when they go to school?
  • What is the most important quality for a classroom teacher to possess?
  • What makes you the most nervous about sending your child to school?
  • If your child misbehaves, how would you hope the teacher handles it?
  • What rules are the most important for teachers to have?
  • How should teachers best communicate with parents in regards to their child’s behavior?

What might happen if we use these kinds of questions as conversation-starters between teachers and families? How might collaborating to figure out what we hope school will accomplish impact our communities? And most importantly, how might seeking for understanding and connection help us cultivate humanity on the scale of the both the individual and the whole?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into SDGs: Climate Action

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

Today’s provocation centers on the global goal of Climate Action, that is, the need to take “urgent action on climate change and its impacts.” Use the resources below to help students consider what this might mean for them!

Resource #1: HiCamp – A Letter to Congress By Christopher Newman

Resource #2: SciStarter Citizen Science video

See also the Earth Challenge 2020 & video here.

Resource #3: Planet Under Pressure by Moth

Resource #4: Climate Action Plan by Squint/Opera

Resource #5: What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers

Provocation Questions:

  • What is climate?
  • Why does our climate require action?
  • How does global citizenship connect to climate action?
  • What is our responsibility to take action for our environment?
  • How can one person make a difference?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto