Hunting and Gathering

I’ve been working with the fabulous Deborah Reber on organizing and planning a book project.  Just typing that  makes me shiver!  Somehow adding the work “project” makes the endeavor seem less scary than just using the b-word alone.  Debbie’s laser insights and common sense approach, as well as her push out of the nest,  are just the perspective I need right now.

Another perspective I need to gather right now is yours.  Yes, you –  Reader and Follower of Wonder of Children.  Whether you are a parent, teacher, caregiver, fellow writer or wear multiple hats, I’m looking for your perspective on the long haul of raising kids.

  • What’s important to you?
  • What’s your role as an adult?
  • What troubles you or gives you joy?
  • What do you crave more information about?
  • Who do you turn to for advice?
  • What advice do you need?

If you’ve got 5 minutes, I’ve got 10 questions for you.  And if you’ve got another 5 seconds, why not forward the link below to others who work with or raise kids? Survey will be open for just a week (I’m on a mission now…closing this phase by month’s end!).

If you’ve got other things on your mind – or other things you’re interested in – just drop me a line.
With appreciation for your time and thoughts,


You can take the survey by clicking here.  Big thanks from the bottom of my pounding heart and tips of my typing fingers!

Responsive Classroom is like a Map Because it Guides Our Journey

processing new teaching tools

As I sat down last month to prepare a week-long course for my colleagues at St. Anne’s School, I was reminded of the first Responsive Classroom course I took in 1996.  Back then, I was moved and inspired, affirmed and challenged and excited with a powerful, youthful zeal.  My enthusiasm was unmatched by those colleagues who did not attend the course with me. I was met with everything from skepticism to “oh yeah, I know that stuff…” to “gee, could you tell me more in case I want to try it one day?” Like any of the warrior poses in yoga,  I stood strong and firm; I wrestled with my own strengths and faults so I might balance and support my use of Responsive Classroom with a sometimes  dissimilar way of thinking.  This struggle fueled me to understand and refine my teaching and to share it with others.

Over the years, I moved to St. Anne’s where this approach was valued and incorporated as a strategic initiative that unfolded over fifteen years (and continues!).  The Responsive Classroom approach is the vehicle for which the school’s mission as an Episcopal school  has been able to unfold organically with a deep commitment by the adult community.  The school and teachers keep a careful eye on child development as we designed our curriculum and classrooms.  It impacted the way we scheduled our days, how we honed our teacher language, and how we viewed parents and families as partners. This approach is a natural complement to the mindset and daily life at St. Anne’s.  Our students know what it means to care of themselves, each other and our environment.  Adults know and believe that this is a process which is influenced by many variables, but that we are village charged with raising these children to be thoughtful contributors to a range of communities.  When I see our children asking tough questions, thinking critically about information they uncover, and then showing equal determination and sensitivity when dealing with peers or social justice issues, I know the work on our social  curriculum is validated.  (This has recently supported by research – just click here to read more.)

Even though these teachers are philosophically on board and geared up to learn more, my  job wasn’t  going to be easy.  The course content is challenging (volume and breadth) and every participant brings his own set of experiences and perspectives to share or develop.  Questions arise as teachers analyze and synthesize new information into their own experiences and knowledge.  Like any good teaching, I was as prepared with the content as best I could, checked on all the nuts and bolts, and took the leap, knowing I was in good hands if I were to free fall.

Thanks in large part to the thoughtful sequencing and the training I received, the week unfolded smoothly. What was obvious, but unexpected, was the burning desire so many expressed to have more time to hash out concepts, brainstorm application of the approach or child development, or begin planning the school year. Minds opened, perspectives changed, questions about practices and strategies arose, things that had been in place suddenly made sense. The energy and excitement among these teachers was inspiring.

Like sending a 16 year-old off for her maiden voyage as a licensed driver, I felt like a big part of my work was done, but I worried whether I had prepared them well enough.  I had laid the foundation by sharing information, fielding questions, challenging participants to think critically and to see themselves implementing pieces of this approach.  I had also stumbled, forgotten details and realized there were areas I need to talk less, listen more, refine my explanations and even ease up and laugh a little more.  This is all part of the learning process made  possible within our community of learners willing to take risks.  We’d all felt a sense of both validation and challenge, because we had taken the time to get to know each other, agreed to support others and be compassionate with those who were here to learn and grow.

teacher collaboration

Teaching – in any form or capacity –  can be complex, messy, challenging, and rewarding. There’s much to learn in the Responsive Classroom approach, but each step towards approximation of mastery of both social and academic skills is a step forward.  If we’re to position children for the best possible academic and social outcomes in school, teachers need to the tools to do the same.  We need colleagues who have the similar  philosophies and who will be supportive and provocative in our quest to refine our practices.  The critical next step is for follow up – including self-reflection, continued learning, and collaboration among teachers and administrators and coaching from mentor teachers.  As the research shows, thoughtful implementation of this approach yield strong academic and social gains.  Our work is not finished.

As we closed out our training week, I asked participants to generate similes about their experience. Each of the examples below are as unique, genuine and heart-felt as the person who uttered them. They all speak to the complexity and commitment to learning that we now share.

Responsive Classroom is like a motor because it has lots of moving parts.

Responsive Classroom is like a map to guide our journey.

Responsive Classroom is like a ladder because you take one step at a time.

Responsive Classroom is like hole at beach; each time you dig out and can see things, it gets refilled.

Responsive Classroom is like music you have break down to play it well.

Responsive Classroom is like lava lamp; just as I get a hold of one blob, there’s another one floating out there I try to grab!

6 Steps to Build Perseverance


Perseverance. Determination. Stick-to-itiveness.

The first two bring to mind motivational posters seen in the cubicles of the NBC comedy, The Office. The third is one of those pesky-words from a basal text-book I read in fifth grade.  Neither of which call to mind young children. But I know (because I see it every day) that children are persistent and determined, especially with the careful guidance of adults.

It’s the middle of the year, and while I don’t know if or when winter will arrive, I do know in our school and elsewhere,  children  exhibit the kind of perseverance that manifests itself in later life on the playing field, in the board room and in personal relationships. I bet you know kids like this, too.

Preschoolers and Prek children have left the comfortable and safe nest called home all year to take those first steps towards independence at school and beyond.  By now, they’ve acquired the skills and courage to hop out of the car, mosey onto the playground and care for belongings with very little assistance from adults. They are articulating their wishes and needs and have the neophyte skills for basic conflict resolution.  The feed themselves snack and clean up. They’re learning  hopscotch, one-to-one correspondence, to predict what might happen in a book and to try new things with music and art.  Life might be easier to hanging out at home, but they are showing up at school,  ready to take on new challenges and gain new skills. They’ve tried and tried again. They’ve made dozens of baby steps for which the sum total is a magnificent step in their growth and development.  The same sort of recap could be made for most children at any grade level.

How to foster and develop persistence in young children?  Six basic step that could be followed in a myriad of action plans effective adults use for themselves.  Tailor the specific language and steps to the developmental age of your child and take into account the individual nature, strengths and needs of the child.

1. Name it.
Perseverance  As Jamie Lee Curtis says in Big Words for Little People, “PERSEVERANCE is to try and to try, even though you might want to give up and cry. When doing a puzzle that puzzles your mind, you persevere till the right piece you find.”  When you notice your child sticking to a task, point it out. “Hey, I see you turned that puzzle piece around and around until it fit. That’s perseverance!” Or with older children, “I notice that you made some changes to your essay that really support your topic sentence.” Clear, specific, honest.

2. Teach self-talk
What does perseverance sound like or feel like inside? It’s often hard to recognize and even harder to develop without coaching.  What phrases resonate for you? For your child? How about:

  • “I think I can, I think I can.”
  • “Don’t give up the ship!”
  • “Try, try again!”

With older kids (9-10) surf the net together to find quotes or biographies of folks your child admires – politicians, athletes, philanthropist. There is much written about such persevering people like Michael Jordan, Helen Keller, Gary Paulson, Amelia Earhart and dozens of others.

3. Help Set a Goal
This is a learned skill many adults still struggle with.  Sit down and talk about goals, your child’s own goals and those which you have in common.

  • Establish baby steps so that by starting small, they are attainable.
  • Build autonomy by having your child put for the effort, record progress, or solve new problems which arise.
  • Be open to possibilities or to see things differently; let your child take the lead and don’t be wedded to an outcome you are seeking.
  • Be the reality check for your child. Children are notorious for seeing things larger than they are and need help keeping things in perspective. If they want to raise $1,000 for the Red Cross, lay some ground work to explain what a large undertaking that is and help pare down the project and goals to a more attainable scale.
  • Applaud effort – not perfection. ‘Nuf said.

4. Positive Spin – “Believe and  you can achieve”
If a child is to believe they have the capacity, skills and the confidence to meet goal, they need to see, hear and feel that you believe that they can accomplish that goal – especially when their confidence is wavering. Be watchful. Listen. Notice. Share clear, specific and positive ways that you observe them putting forth effort and accomplishing small steps toward the larger goal.  This will likely fuel them into taking the next step, too.

5. Provide Reminders

It’s no news that children have short memories. And if they’re tweens/teens, remember their brain is rewiring itself for adult life and at times, they are neurologically younger than they appear.   What seems like a fabulous and extensive project one day, could easy be cast aside or forgotten about in a day or a week. By breaking big projects into small steps, they can work little by little and day by day. Provide reminders about the big goal and prompts to ignite their interest in the small steps. And it’s okay to take a breather from a bigger project; in fact, scheduled breaks help children learn to sustain the energy to engage in long-term projects and learning.

6. Set Up Supports
Rome wasn’t built in a day. We all have set backs.  Remind your child that once a task has begun, it’s important to see it through completion (there are always exceptions, but be sure to make abandoning a goal the exception and not the habit or rule). Use tips 1-5 to talk about the smaller steps that lead to a larger goal. Use examples from your own life where you’ve felt like giving up but persevered. Or call on those characters from the good books you’ve found.  There’s an old Chinese proverb, repeated often by Lance Armstrong, that says, “fall down 7 times to get up 8.”

All kids have passions. Determining what that passion is and how to authentically support it can be the rub for parents. Ask, talk, listen to what your child is passionate about and find out what has deep meaning for them. Find a project for them to pursue  and practice these steps to fostering perseverance.  Summer perfect time to tap their passions, scaffold learning of new skill and let kids show their ability to persevere.

6 Easy Things to Teach and Practice Focus

preschool "meditation station" - a place to practice breathing and focus

Last week’s blog, Focus,  offered some background on focus, mindfulness and executive function.  This week’s blog focuses (bad play on words, I know!) on a few quick activities that can be easily used to help build focus in young children.  With some minor tweaking and creativity, they can also be adapted with older children.

It’s easy to bring more focus into your day with young children with just a bit of planning and thought.  The first step is to ready yourself to be  focused. Be clear on your priorities, both long- and short-term.  Be mindful of the values, rituals and goals you have for your child. Keeping in mind your  beliefs and hopes, as well as what is developmentally appropriate for children at any given age.  Of course, you also need to take an honest look at your unique child.  Not every child is born to be a soccer player, to read at age five, to play an instrument with grace and skill, nor be destined for an ivy league college.  But each child has his own gifts and talents, ready to be acknowledged and celebrated, as well as growing edges and needs that require your nurturing support.  Read the literature on what to expect at each age and stage; suggestion can be found on the Book Shelf and below and think about the path you and your child are taking.

Hopefully, you can carve out time everyday to be focused and present with your child, or others. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said,

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

Children watch, learn and develop their own habits and outlook by watching those closest to them.  Do they have the opportunity to see you focused and calm?

One you’ve got yourself focused, here are six things you can do to help develop focus in young children:

  1. Give ‘Em Jobs – Putting on coats independently, sorting laundry by color, finishing what’s on their plate before getting more (or desert), walking the dog, putting groceries away.  Raise the bar, give them some time and encouragement – see what they can accomplish. Don’t expect perfect, just approximation!
  2. Stop and Start – With little guys, try Stop/Start – Old fashion games like “Red Light/Green Light” or Freeze Dance or “What time is it Mr. Fox?” let children practice moving and stopping.  Sometimes inhibiting action is a tough, but making it fun helps secretly develop the mental wiring that leads to self-control. With older children, give them the space and expectation to mono-task – a puzzle, a walk, a game, setting the table.  No screens, no music, no distractions.
  3. Speaking and Listening – Practice taking turns listening and speaking. Tough task with kids, for sure!  One of the most easily accessible activities in Tools of the Mind is modeling what a reader and a listener both do. By providing a photo of an ear and a mouth, children have a concrete visual reminder of what their task is – and have a greater likelihood of inhibiting the impulse to talk when they are the listener and to “reading” the pictures or words when it is their turn.
  4. Play – Yes, play. Old-fashion play with puzzles, sorting games, imaginary play that lets kids develop their own story line (not the latest Disney movie story line).  Nothing fancy, but if you are looking for flash, test drive computer games ahead of time to see what it really asks of a child. Ditto for TV.  It’s not always all bad, so look for content that is age-appropriate and meaningful. Preview or watch with your child to discuss elements of the show – can s/he recall characters’ names? Sequence events? Both require activation of working memory.
  5. Breathe – Sounds simple enough, but taking a few minutes throughout the day to get grounded and breath deeply goes a long way.  I see this every day with children – whether they are physically worn out, emotionally drained or exuding energy at a time they need focus, working with them to breathe deeply and fully enables them to focus on what is immediately ahead. This works wonders for adults, too!
  6. Look in the Mirror (or smart phone) – Gallinsky cites a “time famine” wherein we are all strapped for time, energy and resources.  Take a critical look at your own time and how you use it. Can you model for your children being more fully present? To stop when you say you’re stopping (years ago my kids figured out that “five minutes” in Mom Speak is “more like a half hour!”)  Consider disconnecting for a period of time every night so you can give your full attention and focus to your family. Your kids will appreciate it, and you might even find some of what comes in can sit untouched in your in box!

Curious? Read more:

For Kids, Self-Control Factors into Future Success

Mind in the Making

What is Executive Function?

Planting the Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness With Children

Tools of the Mind

Teen Brain: It’s Just Not Grown Up Yet

Dr. Joann Deak, The Deak Group

What works for you? What works for your child(ren)? Share your experiences by leaving a comment below.

a calming rock

Resolutions and New Days

photo courtesy of E. Wells

If you’re like me, you’ve heard more than enough about new year’s resolutions.  (After I wrote that, I was re-reading old blog posts – funny thing, a similar thought was posted last January in Here We Go, 2011 ).  I’m really not being redundant!

As the calendar changes, so do outlooks, diets, and  exercise habits.  The thing is, the new year is just a new day. Just each of the other 364 days in the year. And the first week in January is one of 52 new weeks we get to start. Is there a need to fuss over new year’s? Instead, could we set a strong example each day or each week?  This  process of self-reflection and growth helps children take ownership for their learning and their life and can=, in fact, become a routine part of life that surface more often simple new year’s resolutions.

In many elementary classrooms, the idea of resolutions is evident  at this time of year. Often September hopes are revisited and revised mid-year and there is some discussion of growth.  As a Follow Up To, Here We Go, I wrote about how one third grade class worked through the arduous process of reflection and goal setting. Some of those kids have stopped by recently to tell me what current hopes and goals they’ve set.  Very cool to see how they use that  example and forge ahead in their new developmental stage.  In many classrooms, January is the time to stop and practice these important life skills. But the key lies in using that reflection on personal and academic growth on a more regular basis.

As young children struggle to understand the concept of time (“this year” s. the school year that is barely halfway over) and begin wrestle with how to achieve lofty goals, they are beginning the lifelong process of evolution. To do this, they need thoughtful adults to help them identify the objectives and tasks requisite toward achieving any type of  goal. Concrete thinkers can to begin to identify  their growing edges and decide the next steps – beyond meeting  obligations that yield extrinsic rewards. The challenge for supportive adults is to keenly and authentically ask questions and observe in order to discern what is truly important to the child and to work collaboratively to set small steps of achievable objectives.  Practice with these steps – identification of areas to grow or change,  breaking down larger tasks into smaller one, and  diligently working to move forward – are life skills that serve children throughout their schooling and life.

No matter how valuable this process is, the truth remains that each of us have the power to set goals each day, not  just each year. Just like an intention set during a meditation or at the start of a yoga practice daily goals can be simple and actionable, not to mention, heart-felt.  When we are honest and compassionate with ourselves, we can set small and achievable goals every day for both ourselves and alongside children.  As we model  honest self-reflection and clearly identified purpose, children can see how being mindful and open to growth each day brings positive results.

In the classroom, this might be something as simple as, “think of one way you can take care of our materials today” or “what is one hard thing you think you might try in math workshop.”  Follow this up with reinforcing language (“I noticed you took some time to straighten the books in our biographies basket…”) or time at the end of the day for a quick check-in (“how did it feel to try the math challenge?”) and you’re taking a child to the next step.  Beyond just thinking of what could be done better, more thoroughly or with a greater sense of purpose, you are offering  keen observations and carefully crafted questions that help to  build confidence, autonomy and positive attitude on learning and life.

That’s more than a new year’s resolution. It’s a fresh start each and every day.  All the best in the new year and each new day!