My daughter is 10…and she’s in that in-between stage of feeling like a little kid, and feeling like an adolescent. She brought me an undressed Barbie the other day, and said, “Look at her, mom! I mean, who looks like this…see how she bends all the way back? Barbies are so unrealistic.” She paused then said, “Can I explode them?” (She’s been watching Mythbusters non-stop. I blame them.) 

The next day, she came to me and quietly said, “Mom, I don’t think I’m quite ready to get rid of them yet. Is that okay?”…as if she needed my permission to still be okay liking dolls.

Here are the dolls I have in my office. They were made by a dear family friend (and professional colleague), Isolde Hathaway, the director of New Horizons Cooperative Preschool in Boulder. She uses socks so she can get all the different skin tones that they come in. (Um, they are anatomically correct, too, unlike Barbies.)

photo 1 photo 2

Integrated Learning Project

A recurring thought: If people don’t compartmentalize life, why do we continue to insist on teaching content in compartmentalized ways? Integrating content areas is happening at colleges and universities as rapidly as public and private partnerships are emerging in communities. So here’s a radical idea: I’m about to use a design thinking challenge (Design Your Dream Center/Space/School for Children) as a final project in ECE 101 Introduction to Early Childhood Education and have students pitch their ideas to Business 101 students who will then create business plans for their ideas. (!) I can’t wait to see what happens!

Something from Nothing

During read aloud, I read Something from Nothing to the children. It’s a story of a little boy, a Jewish boy and his blanket that gets worn and turns into a vest that gets worn and turns into a necktie, then a handkerchief, then a button, and then is lost. I am surprised to find a tear in my eye at the end of the story when the protagonist of the story, a no-longer-little boy, does indeed create something from nothing. From his experience, he writes a story. And maybe my tears are there because I turned forty yesterday, and you, (yes, you Bud), wrote about getting unstuck on my birthday, and maybe it’s from all those stories I haven’t yet written. More likely, though, it is about a preschooler named Marisa*, institutionalized classism, and technology in early childhood.

“You called the cops on us,” was the opening line in an uncomfortable conversation, because, in fact, we did. Or, at least, someone at the school did. “They came to our house.” Marisa’s mom was embarrassed and ashamed.

In the weeks following this conversation, the warmth and ease of an interaction with Marisa’s family disappear. Note the awkward shuffle. The intention behind my smile. Do they notice that I still care? The eye contact that attempts to reassure. It’s okay, actually. It’s safe here. Despite. The hugs and encouragement for their daughter. Because they keep bringing her to school.

I watch Marisa as she manipulates our new ($500) iPad. She, like all other preschoolers, has learned to navigate the apps with ease after the initial tentative question: “How do you turn it on?” She collaborates with others as she works on literacy and numeracy, and sometimes just something fun. A doodle, maybe some piano.

And then I pause. What kind of lending library could I build with $500? Oh, yeah, I remember. The kind in which I never expect the books to come back. The kind that houses my all time favorites. The ones that have characters Marisa (and others) can relate to and understand as well as the ones that tell of an experience different than her own. With beautiful illustrations. The ones that will be asked to be read again and again.

Or, maybe, the story doesn’t have to live in a book. How can we give young children lasting, meaningful stories from nothing**? And, how does our expensive technology enhance or impede that?

*Name changed
**See future post on oral storytelling

On Blogging

So, I have these amazing colleagues who for some strange reason continue to have conversations with me about, well, whatever I’m thinking about. This is a great thing. One such person–a writer, a connector, a storyteller, and a thinker like me–recently encouraged me to publish my thoughts. Well, Bud, here I am. Doing my best.

Intentional Teaching

As a major assessment for ECE 220 – Curriculum Development, I have assigned students to write an intentional teaching metaphor and revise it as their understanding of intentional teaching changes throughout the course. I decided that the metaphor was a nice way to summarize my own philosophy of teaching in lieu of a brief philosophy statement with one caveat: This metaphor is not a comprehensive lens through which I view the learning and teaching cycle!

Intentional teaching is not…

…reheating a can of soup.


…throwing together a soup with whatever is around simply because people need to eat and someone told you to cook it. It might taste okay, but, really, what’s the eater getting out of it? What, for that matter, are you getting out of it?

Perhaps, intentional teaching is…

Cooking Gourmet Soup


The freshest meats, vegetables, and herbs from

  1. your great-grandmother’s coveted recipe
  2. similar recipes found in cookbooks, your friends, and online
  3. a rare adaptation of your own


  1. Make a “mashup” of the best combination of above ingredients
  2. Adjust seasonings to taste
  3. Don’t rush it. Let the soup simmer, but attend carefully so it doesn’t boil over.

Ambiance can make a difference…

Food can taste different depending on the context. Eating out of a styrofoam bowl is different than eating out of a porcelain one. Lighting, seating, music, smell, visual accents should be taken into consideration.

Begin with the end in mind…

It’s always a good idea to know how you want the soup to taste when it is cooked, so you will obviously start with a standard recipe. However, that doesn’t preclude experimenting with ingredients and testing out the results on different people.

Know WHY…

Choosing ingredients and spices, and putting the right amount in at the right time is the art of cooking. The best chefs can tell you exactly why their recipes are successful.

Adjust the recipe for different people…

Adapt the recipe when serving to someone with allergies or dietary restrictions. Make sure your soup is right for those eating it.

Don’t serve the same soup to everyone…

Find out what your customers’ comfort foods are, and serve things that are familiar, but offer soup from other cultures to widen our perspective. Talk about different flavors.

Get feedback…

Ask everyone you know to taste it and tell you about their experience. Does it need more spice? More time to cook? What have they tried that tastes good?

Ask great cooks for advice. Maybe you can apprentice with a master chef.

The Goldilocks Principle

If you cook it too quickly, the barley might be crunchy. If you cook it too long, the vegetables might be soggy. But, if you cook it just right, the flavors and textures are balanced. It’s enjoyable–for them; for you. Trust me, they’ll let you know if they like it. Guess what. If you get it right,

they’ll keep coming back for more.

Leaf Man (2)

“A leaf man’s got to go where the wind blows.” – Lois Ehlert

After reading the book Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert, we gave the children opportunities to make their own leaf people (and animals) using laminated leaves. Then, we invited them to dictate a story to accompany their leaf art. This is one of the ways that we integrate our school’s focus on integrated art and science into the classroom.

Over the years I have noticed that children’s story dictations have fairly predictable characteristics, and like all development, they tend to follow a progression over time. First, children write lists of often unrelated things or actions.

Once upon a time, a leaf. A Book. Trees. Eye. It’s a eye. Leaves. They fall down. Paint all over. Paper. A door. Lights. There’s lights. Hair. Mouth. A clock. Glasses.

Then they write lists that are somewhat more coordinated.

The wind blowed him away. Past the chickens. Past the people. They were going in their house because it was really windy. Past the houses. Past the big pumpkins. Past the big trucks. Past the leaves.

With practice, and exposure to stories, children begin to incorporate language and storyline from a familiar book, attempting to re-tell the story.

Once upon a time, there was a leaf person and she was so cute. She flew away, then she flew back to her home in a leaf pile. She flew away again. The wind came and blew her away back home. And then she lived happily ever after.

With more experience and maturity, children begin to add descriptive vocabulary and plot to their stories naturally.

Once upon a time, there was a castle and the leaf girl was a princess. A king and queen comed and got the princess to stay in the castle and not go outside. And she didn’t listen and she went out. Then a boy came and took her to a place and bad guys found her and tried to get her and they escaped. Then she went back to her castle and at the night, there was monsters. The monsters tried to hanged her up and put her in hot lava and it had green, stinky water and stuff. The prince saved her, and they lived happily ever after.

Finally, children plan their stories with intention, retaining much of their storyline and language even over several days or with interruptions. (We’re still working toward this, so there’s no clear example to share.)

Watch for these variations. Sometimes children are just waxing poetic. (Well, to wax, in this case, means to grow, but our kids are just closer to poetic-ness if there is such a thing. They certainly aren’t growing into it. They’ve already got it.)

I Knew

The Leaf Man was talking.

I knew.

Other times, they write from their own experience.

There was only one and everybody got it. They said, “Ehh.” They said, “Give me back my leaves.” And they go to their home. Everybody got one. I was so happy, and they grabbed. I grabbed one leaf, and I grabbed it out.

In the Leaf Man inspired stories, you will read the child’s voice, exactly as they have told me the words. You will read improper grammar. (Notice how children’s first “mistakes” in grammar are actually made because they’ve generalized a rule such as: all past tense verbs end in -ed, as in “He runned away.” Later, we have to explain our screwy language to beginning readers and writers.)

You may ask, “Why do you focus so much on writing children’s dictations verbatim?” Well, because writing down a child’s words can be both empowering and validating. Yesterday, I was taking a dictation of a child who had not written in class before. I hesitated before writing one of her words, and she insisted, “Write that down!” The expression of smug satisfaction as I read the words back to her reminded me exactly why I continue to do this. So, while editing is an important part of writing, letting the child hear her own words in print first, is an important step toward understanding the power of the written word.