Wednesday, May 20, 2015

5 Ways to Get Your Kids to Play Outside

Being in the outdoor learning field one question I get a lot is how do I get my child to play outside. Many parents report their child gets bored, or might ask to go home rather than settling in and getting immersed in their play. 

The first issue to tackle is looking at how your kids play in all environments. If your child is not playing in general it is a stretch to take them to a forested area and tell them to play.

But what about parents / caregivers who have children that get immersed in play at home, at school, with friends but seem to freeze when they go outside in the woods? There are a lot of elements to forest pretend play that are different than at home pretend play. Here are five stumbling blocks for kids (and parents) and solutions to help them over the indoor/outdoor obstacle. 

1. One difference is loose parts. If kids are used to playing with toys with predetermined usage (swords, dragons, castles) versus loose parts - sticks, rocks, leaves that either have to be constructed in reality or in the minds eye it is sometimes difficult for kids to make that leap. Kids that have this problem you can bring more familiar toys with you (bring dragon) and forget a part (oh, I forgot the swords what can we use!). This forces kids to slowly start thinking out of the box and as they get better and better at using loose parts you can move to using just loose parts or natural forest material. 

2. There is also a sensory element as well. Kids have had their toys at home and as babies and on up they explore by picking up, dropping, mouthing pushing but if they haven't done the same sensory exploration outside they may need to start there to get a comfort with natural loose parts. Even the most experienced and complex pretend players in my forest kindergarten will go back to sensory play during season change as new "loose parts" (snow, ice, mud, puddles etc) are discovered or rediscovered or if we go to a new place. But as they become comfortable with the items they start using them for more complex play. To help kids delve deep into sensory exploration forget pretend, forget stories focus on the feel of the outdoors. Let the creek water splash on your hands, bury yourselves in leaves and jump in piles, have a snow fight either with eachother or against trees or rock walls.  As the children become involved in the sensation it will eventually evolve into more pretend play and you can support their journey. 

3. Often times at the house they have "yes" environments - either because it is set up that way or because they know the rules (like not jumping on the couch) and it becomes a yes environment. They can get down and dirty and play without worrying about what they are doing. If there is a big no environment at the forest - no picking, no exploring, no lagging behind (keep up!!) they are more worried about doing something wrong, or are interrupted in their play, so can't get into deep immersion in the play. Instead take them somewhere they can explore how they want without worry about doing something wrong. As they become stronger at play you can bring them to more familiar places that may have more no's but they can juggle and adapt their play because they are experienced outdoor players. 

4. Friends - outside play for kids naturally involve others (my remembered memories are always with other kids). Kids learn from, imitate and build play with other kids in ways they can't with adults.  Start with kids who are experienced outdoor players and soon your outdoor excursions will involve the play they are learning from their friends even if they are not there. 

5. Adults should get messy too - Parents are often times worried about the product, the result and not necessarily the process (they focus on taking a hike, to find a certain flower, or learn a certain skill). However kids get immersed in process often times don't care about product but learn as they go along. Whether it be a sense of limited time for an outing, a general anxiety of being out of your element, or kids out of theirs, or a need to produce the perfect Facebook picture parents sometimes feel the pressure to "do something" outside.  If parents are overly focussed on a particular goal they often interrupt a child when they are getting off track of the adult goal but it is the full immersion in their process, the getting off track, not their parent or caregivers product, which builds good outdoor pretend players. If you are a product oriented adult try bring a project for yourself to stay occupied and free the kids up for some good old fashioned uninterrupted play.

Monday, May 18, 2015

We've Been Waiting For You

***A little back story. I currently have two boys in my program who are working on some SERIOUS social skills. Saying they don’t get along is an understatement. They bicker and argue, push and hit, and annoy each other to no end. They will tear each others papers to shreds, knock down the other childs block tower, and purposely stand in front of the slide or bike so the other child can't move. 

(Have you seen the movie Grumpy Old Men?! Yeah…that’s them. LOL)

As you can imagine…it’s tiring. Yet I am steadfast in my approach; allowing these things to happen, knowing (still learning) when to stand back and knowing (still learning) when to guide them when I’m needed. Working through conflict is the foundation of the social skills needed for their future, and an important step in their learning and development I simply can not ignore or shut down.***

We've Been Waiting For You.


A few months back, I came across a song from Tom Hunter and Bev Bos I simply fell in love with. It really resonated with me, what I offer in my program, the importance of relationships and being a part of our group, and the essence of what family childcare is about. I find myself singing this song all day…mostly in the morning when they arrive, various times throughout the day, and sometimes even when the children are long gone for the evening.

“We’ve been waiting for you to come to this place.
Waiting for you to come to this place.
Wherever you’re from, we’re glad that you’ve come.
We've been waiting for you to come to this place.

And if you like to play, we’ve been waiting for you
And if you like to smile, we’ve been waiting for you
Wherever you’re from, we’re glad that you’ve come
We’ve been waiting for you to come to this place.”

The song goes on to include words like “If you like to jump” or “sing”, etc.

During a recent conflict between the two boys I mentioned AND a crying, teething toddler, I began quietly singing this song. It wasn't so much to distract or redirect them. In all honesty, it was my own way of dealing with the bickering and crying I was hearing; to keep me calm and focused.

At that moment one of the boys began singing to the toddler who was still crying, and in the next verse he sang….

“And if you like to CRYwe've been waiting for you. And if you want to SCREAM we've been waiting for you….”

He was on to something. 

As I sat down on the floor cuddled up with the teething toddler and joining the boys, the other children gathered around and we began to add our own verses to the song.

Rip my papers
Jump off chairs
Run away
Get hurt
Fall down
Hunt bears
Kick toys
Throw stuff
Make a mess
Paint my body
Spill my cup
Say boo boo butt

(And they became even more silly, of course….nose picking, pooping, puking, burping and farting may or may not  have been mentioned. LOL)

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not only did they understand the context of the song, they got it. I mean they really got it. They knew in their hearts that they were loved and accepted for who they were.

It’s OK to have emotions.

It’s OK to make mistakes.

It’s OK to be themselves.

That at “Miss Minda’s” house, it was OK to be a kid.

From teething toddlers to temper tantrums, and everything in between. 

I am their safe space. 

Wherever they were from, I was glad they had come.

...And they KNEW it.

25 years from now, I don't want their memories of daycare to be endless lists of non meaningful rules, stop lights or sticker charts bribing them for good behavior, or how I dismissed their feelings while telling them to simply "play nice." 

Hopefully, they’ll be no memories of an uptight provider who was constantly telling them “NO”, yelling at them to sit down and be quiet, or to stop bickering.

No one telling them to stop jumping in the mud or quit making a mess.

I’m certainly not perfect. I have bad days too. I work alone and there’s no one here to relieve me when I need a grown-up time-out. But do I really want them remembering me as a cranky old daycare lady who never had any patience for them?!

Thinking about what memories I want them to have of their time here as a child helps to keep things in perspective for me when the going gets tough. If you think about it, that's a pretty big responsibility.

The children weren't the only ones to learn from this experience. It was a gentle reminder for me as well, that through it all…good days and bad, teething and tantrums…that I was living my whole purpose.....

Waiting for them to come to this place.


This place of play, of wonder and childhood. 
This place of friendships and relationships.
This place of growth, development, and reaching milestones in their own time. 
This place where children are celebrated and enjoyed for who they are, as they are, and right where they are.

My hope is that in 25 years, they will look back and think...

"That was my place."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I'm Growing Children Not Grass!

Don't let them climb branches, 
they'll hurt the tree;
but learning and growing is all I can see. 

Don't let them dig, they'll ruin the yard; 
but holes can be filled, that isn't so hard. 

"Don't jump in the mud!" I hear you exclaim;
but the learning that happens is more than a game. 

Don't pull on the flowers all perfect in rows!
But flowers; like children, 
 are not meant for just show.

"Don't yank it all out!" you holler so crass. 
But I'll tell you once more...

I'm growing children, not grass.

Friday, April 10, 2015

"How Does Your Story Start?" Inspired by Bev Bos

In 2011, when I finally made the effort to seek out and meet Bev Bos. One of the many things she told me to grab a pen and some paper and to ask the children.... "How does your story start?" Bev was very specific, Do not ask children IF they have a story.... Simply ask, "How does your story start?" and be ready to write.....

G. age 4-
"I saw the car looks like ours, but our purple car is SO BIG, but our car is purple and I saw Alex's van. I went to work with daddy and I saw a truck and a taxi. I saw the truck and I saw the police and I saw the snow plow. I saw a fire hat and the police and a pilot and a doctor and he was so mad he looked like a tiger and he was SO BIG, but I wanna be so big like my mom. Levin is my friend but Billy is my cousin. I love Grace and I shot it and is trying to get me all the time and Charlotte is a caterpillar and looks like a tiger and he's trying to get me and I saw hats outside and just went home all of the time and he is trying to get me all of the time and he is trying to get me and those are snowflakes and Delainey is my friend too and he is trying to get me."

D. age 4-
"My story is about me and all the cars and the taxi is blocking the way and all of the cars are going really fast. It was a bright day first and the great day was really hard and I went for a walk all by myself and my mom's taxi came and she was waving to me. My ring was up and then it was a really bright day and the sun was right next to me and then I burned myself and my skin got all burned up and I turned into a skeleton. That's it."

L. age 4 -
"A tree was falling down and a person was right below it and the tree was falling down (sound effects) It was in a dark scary woods. This woods was really scary. I was with my mom with Kathryn and Sally and then a monster came out and started to run at us and then another tree fell, fell, fell (sound effects). The monster was dead."

E. age 2-
"Jingle bell uhm milk. I want some milk some more uhm I am a stinker, stinker butt uhm cookie I want muffins. Momma called I want Evie and Ellie. I want Ellie. I want my baby. Ellie, Evie, uhm Ellie. my Evie.

L. age 4-
"One strange sound and I saw eyes peeking out a tree the eyes were so giant and something giant came after me. then the big arms and big hands reached out after me. That's all."

G. age 3-
"I found a deer one night and a bear didn't come though. Nope, that's it."

A. age 3-
"One of my favorite I wanna see it. Momma pick me up and dadda can come get Oliver and mom can nurse Oliver and Oliver can go all by himself and I can go all by myself."

C. age 3- 
"My car bumped into a piece of ice in my backyard and it falled BOOOM! that's silly and my sled broke all the way to the basement and my mom and dad stuck in the tree and it was 2 and was pulling right by mom and the branch and the leaves. Then my ball crashed all the way down into my door and my pants fell into my drawer and all the way into my sink the ball crashed. This is it not. (giggles)

As you can see- I write things down exactly as they are said. Let me tell you, sometimes it is really hard to keep up with the exuberant story tellers. Just do the best you can. Then, take a moment to read back what you have written and ask the child to help you fix what you may have forgotten or misquoted. When they stop, you can ask if there is anything else...  Some days your hand will feel like it is ready to fall off from writing- and then you will write some more!

The children absolutely love to have you write their stories down. Not only does it help them to understand that what they have to say is important. It also shows that words and ideas can be written down to be communicated to others, it shows in a real way that words have significance and meaning. Writing helps us to remember things that are important to us. It is real, it is meaningful language and literacy in action! Children will also be quick to follow your model-- and will spend time writing down their own stories as well.....

After prompting a few times with "How does your story start?" you will probably find that the children will come running to you saying: "I have a story" or "Write this down!"

Now, let me tell you a little bit more about meeting Bev Bos, and how this story started.....

I'm one of those early childhood professionals who spent some time living in my own little world. You see, when you work with young children, especially in your home. That is easy to do. We (home based child care providers)  work long hours with young children, often by ourselves or maybe with one or two other adults. It is easy to drift into our own little world- and do what we do best.  With the growth in social media and the availability to share information, to network, and find like minded colleagues, it is a little less secluded than it once was...

After running my home based program for quite a few years, someone remarked, "You know, you are an awful lot like Bev Bos." I think I kind of shrugged it off the first time it happened, but after hearing it a couple of times, I thought- well, I guess I aught to figure out exactly who this Bev Bos is!!!!! I did a little bit of research and watched a few videos. (This one here is my favorite... well worth the time to watch).

In 2011, I finally made the trip. It was a 6 hour drive to see Bev speak in one of the suburbs of Chicago. The day was worth every minute of travel! I didn't find myself learning or coming back with a ton of new ideas. I did have a few, but what was far more valuable to me was the validation. You see, there are so many times where the pressure is there to do things that I know in my heart are not what is best for young children. There is so much pressure to conform and to allow the push down of curricula and to place unrealistic expectations upon young children. Sometimes it is hard to do what is right-- and it seems like it is getting harder and harder to swim against the ever growing stream of developmentally inappropriate practices out there. The day was amazing, I left so energized and so ready to take on the world.....

On Monday, when I returned to my crew. I did just what Bev told us to do... and I put out the glass jars with oil and water, and I put out some table salt..... just like Bev said to do..... (You can read more about it  by clicking here....)

I also made sure to grab a pencil and some paper so that I could start recording the children's stories.

On a side note, as my story continued... In 2014, I finally made my way to Roseville to attend the Good Stuff for Kids conference spending some more time finding "my tribe" and connecting with like minded souls!

Now--- Do you collect children's stories?????

How Does Your Story Start?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Don't just do something. Sit there.......Part 2

This is the second post on facilitation in a two part series. 

In my forest kindergarten the children are very big dragon slayers - building and fortifying  their castles from dragon attack to looking for dragon tracks to actually (shudder) going to look for them in the dense woods, it is a huge group activity. 

Do I get involved? The short answer is no. The longer answer is if I am needed to as part of the facilitation process. 

Why? Here is one example. 

We have one boy who joined us after dragons had invaded our camp. His first day here visiting he and his parents happily took part in the dragon searching. After he had been at school for a few days he watched me instead. The children were communicating wonderfully, cooperating at building a ship to escape the dragons and needed little input from me. 

He pulled back and watched me for a bit. I wasn't sure if he needed something or if he was just in his own head so I waited. I stepped away - checking something out one of the kids wanted me to see. Then I stepped back. He was still watching me. He seemed to make up his mind as he turned around, grabbed a stick and started drawing on the ground. 

I should interrupt to say I was thrilled. I had sat and done forest art as a provocation on and off for what seems like years. Always the same  response - the kids would come see what I was doing, shrug their shoulders and go back to fighting dragons (or whatever they were engaged in at the time).  

It was at this point the magic began. It was also at this point I did nothing. I could clearly see this was his process.

He started to draw. First a Popsicle, then a tree. The others came over one at a time. Much like their reaction to me when I drew they shrugged their shoulders and went back to their play. At one point when he was finished he brought me over to discuss his drawings. To ask me to take a picture. I did but was very careful to keep my enthusiasm out of his exploration. He placed a high value on his work, he needed no facilitation from me to value his work. He asked only to document so he could show his mom. 

That doesn't sound very magical you may be thinking. But here's the most important part of the process. We waited. 

The next day at Forest Kindergarten another boy, who is an art shoulder shrugger, picked up a stick and started to draw. This is called for all our scaffolding friends the zone of proximal development. He drew a beautiful horse, then a house, then (of course) a dragon. The other children would pop over, look at the boys drawing, admire and return to their play - much more engaged with the art than with anything I had attempted. Since then his mother reports he has become obsessed with drawing, sometimes going through a whole construction paper pad in the span of two days.

This is magical and would not have been possible if I would have been involved to a larger extent in the art creation. 

Because I was not involved our artist was seen as the creator, the one with the great idea, the one who leads. At best with me involved he would be seen as co-creator, co-idea person and co-leader. At worst (and often the case when an adult is involved) his role in the activity would have been discarded completely by his peers.  If I had been involved with the dragon play I would have missed the art facilitation completely and likely kept the others children's attention focused on that and they, as well, would have missed the art. 

At this point some may say well what if you let him teach you. To which I respond - the kids in my Forest Kindergarten are not stupid. They know I know how to draw and me pretending to be taught would lead them to pretending to see him as creator and leader.  I want real authentic community, not pretend community. There are many times when a having a child as leader is proper facilitation. This is not one. 

By backing away and only responding when needed the newest boy was able to gain a valued role in the community from the other children which allowed him to learn about himself and his role in the group. The others also gained respect for the new student. Facilitating the group, not group involvement is what made real, authentic community. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Hogtied and Happy

This was a long morning of the type of play many would stop in it's tracks.. call it " not meaningful" and poo poo it.. We, instead asked the children if we should open the door so that they could have more space to run and hide.. It was a whole class deep meaningful game of, I don't know what to call it.. but "WAR" comes to mind. Although I didn't hear any talk of guns or bombs.. THIS TIME..I did know that there were three sides.. the boys, the girls, and the ones we call the flip-floppers, the flip-floppers are the ones who sway to the side of the winning team or play the part of the rescuers. I remember this type of play as a child, running wildly, almost feeling as though I was escaping real danger, breathing fast and deep, hiding behind rocks and logs to take a breath and then running off screaming " You can't catch meee!"

I am saddened by the thought that many children do not get to play in this wild unbridled way anymore. Adults are typically in the shadows or hovering overhead frantically asking for peace. Peace.. IS being tackled and giggling so hard you think you may pee your pants, peace is sitting watch after you just captured the leader of the other team. Let's take off our old adult lenses and put on our youthful eyes.. remember what it was about this type of play that called us to it over and over again as children.

The most peaceful part about this play is the fact that they know they can quit when they choose to. Each child is a willing participant; they all want the play to be sustained, therefore they are all playing to have fun and not to hurt. Does this mean that no one gets hurt? No, some days children go home with the proof of such play, scratches, scrapes, and bumps.. rarely do we have tears, the children are so enthralled in their play that they don't even stop to nurse their boo boo's. And I know I know I know, many of you are gasping in disbelief that we have rope on the playground.. that we let them play with it and that we let them use it to tie each other up.. Well to start, we did not offer them the string and say, "here go hogtie a friend". The ropes are used for many things including making our beloved swing, but that is a whole other story, I'll get to that later.

It is our job to monitor the play and ensure that the children understand the safe ways to play with the materials that we provide.

When stopping this kind of play we are not allowing the children the chance to use their whole bodies to play, heir whole minds to moderate that play. We are not also  allowing them to practice expressing and reading expressions. We are not allowing them to be the victor or feel defeat. We are not allowing them to be true to themselves. Children need to run, jump, push, pull, roll, hide and be the victor.

Now about that rope..

Here is the same type of rope, this time used to create a swing.

The Story of The Swing

The children created the swing, they asked me to connect the wood to the rope. it has been there for months. In the beginning there were issues with turn taking, as a class we came up with the 7 swings rule.. that quickly became an issue, no one can enjoy swinging in JUST 7 swings.. We as a staff decided to trust the children to govern their own swing. We decided that like with other items they did not have to give it up if they were using it. Every child knew they had the power to use the swing as long as they wanted. At first it was hard for the waiters to wait, but once they realized that when it was their turn, they had the same rights things began to simmer down. We witness children setting their own rules, their own games, and limits. No longer was there begging children posted near the swing, they waited, they waited until the swing was free and then they took their turn. It is so amazing to see the children share, communicate, negotiate, and relish in their freedoms.. the swing is just one example of this.

Again the story is that of children who all have a common goal. They are able to come up with some understandings and agreements in order to make their play community one that they all can live in. By allowing THEM to set their guidelines and standards, they gain the ability negotiate, rally for a belief, or settle from time to time.

So before putting a stop to an idea, type of play, or the use of a material, think about what can come of it, how it will benefit the children and why they are gravitating towards it. Ask yourself, What are they getting out of that play, or material?

here's to many more days of play and being hogtied and happy!

Friday, March 27, 2015

My love affair with loose parts

Kids really get to know the environment if they can dig it, beat it, swat it, lift it, push it, join it, combine different things with it.  This is what adults call creative activity...a process of imagination and environment working together.
- Robin Moore

Loose parts and I have been best friends since way before I even knew that loose parts were an actual thing. 

The small, progressive preschool I chose for my boys -  and later - for myself had an outdoor space rich in loose parts - both natural and man made.  The children had ready access to all manner of sticks, planks of wood, bricks, stones, mesh, fabric, rope, tyres, tree cookies, crates, sand, dirt and mud and - here is the important part - the time and permission to use them in whatever direction their imaginations, creativity and curiosity took them.

Do you know what I noticed?  Children engaged for long periods of rich, co-operative play.  Curiosity sparked and imaginations ignited they followed their own interests for days, and in some cases months. Children became expert problem solvers and dispute resolvers.  There was very little need for "supervision" in terms of behaviour management challenges which was the norm in other centres I had worked at.  

Building ramps
My eyes were opened to the power of loose parts.  I started to sing their praises on my blog, and at last count there were 50 odd posts on loose parts alone.  Why?  What the children did with loose parts knocked my socks off, every single day.

A pile of rocks was moved to a "rock factory".  The rocks were ground by hitting them with bricks.  This evolved into a rock shop.  Rocks were decorated.  Signs were made.  The children at the school next door were invited to come and peruse their wares.  This went on for weeks.

Over time, I noticed that things in the play department were really rocking when the loose parts available supported the schemas in children's play.

Enclosure, trajectory, transporting, positioning, connecting, rotating, transforming - loose parts are the raw materials that support children's innate urges in their play.
Making cubby houses was a constant.  The urge to create spaces of their own is strong.

Resist the urge to step in - unless invited - and you will be amazed where the play takes them.  I promise.

Often a project would ebb and flow - a manic hour of work in the morning and then the work site may sit untouched until the next day.  It may look haphazard but rest assured they know where everything belongs and why.
Making traps continued for months on end.  
 When children play with loose parts, they are not only developing their imagination and creative thinking - they are solving problems, moving their bodies, calculating, measuring, inventing, negotiating, co-operating, respecting and learning how to get along.  

What more could we want than that?  But don't just take my word for it.  Try it yourself and see!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why There Is No "Climber" in my Play-Based Playground

Now this is kindergarten readiness!! 

In this short 45 second video, two of our soon-to-be kindergarteners demonstrate their ability 
  • to build body awareness, strength, and coordination through locomotion activities
  • to build awareness of directionality and position in space
  • to use both sides of the body to strengthen bilateral coordination
  • to build upper body strength and stability to gain controlled movement of shoulders
  • to use eye-hand coordination, visual perception and tracking, and visual motor skills in play activities
  • to create and articulate a plan in sequence
  • to engage in activities that build understanding of words for location and direction
  • to use imaginative thought to create something of their own design
  • to represent their ideas symbolically
  • to work together collaboratively
  • to listen to the ideas of others and be flexible in negotiations
  • to teach a younger classmate a new skill
  • to demonstrate empathy and compassion for a classmate
  • to assess and modify risk
  • to discuss strategies to prevent injury
  • to talk about ways to solve or prevent problems and discuss situations that illustrate that actions have consequences
  • to explore and identify space, direction, movement, relative position, and size using body movement and concrete objects
  • to listen to and use comparative words to describe the relationships of objects to one another
  • to use mathematical thinking to estimate size, distance and mass
  • to make predictions about changes in materials or objects based on past experience.
  • to manipulate a wide variety of familiar and unfamiliar objects to observe, describe, and compare their properties using appropriate language.
  • to understand the physics of a lever and the impact of adjusting the fulcrum
  • and to work and learn cooperatively, constructing knowledge together.

Many of these criteria are included in the Massachusetts Department of Education's Early Childhood Program Standards and the Guidelines for Preschool Learning Experiences. According to this document: "the mark of a superior teacher is the ability to select materials and interact with children in ways that help them learn through their own play and these planned activities. Young children need many and varied opportunities to: 
■ Plan: children consider what they are going to do with materials and how they are going to do it. 
■ Play: children use materials and equipment in ways that best suit their personal curiosity and understanding. 
■ Reflect: children recall things that happened to them, reinforcing or questioning their understandings. 
■ Revisit: children practice skills and replay experiences in many different ways, with each activity refining or modifying previous learning. 
■ Connect: children, with the help of staff, connect new knowledge with past experiences, creating links among subject areas and areas of skill development."

We found when we took our climber out of our playground, the children's play became more creative and complex. The challenges to the children's motor development, their language, their mathematical and scientific thinking and their social interactions became greater when we removed the climber and replaced it with loose parts of all kinds. Now the children dictate their own play instead of being dictated by an immovable, fixed structure that dominates the play space.

These children have accomplished all of this in just 45 seconds! Imagine what they can do in 45 minutes! And beyond! The power of play!

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Love Of Literacy : Creating A Literacy Rich Culture In The Classroom


Creating A Literacy Rich Culture In The Classroom

I remember when I first opened Discovery, I was so eager to settle in and have a culture, a way, a feeling of our school. I was, like I often am, rushing what should happen naturally. As time went on I was reminded that a culture is something that is cultivated over time, it simmers and sizzles until it boils over. As much as I wanted to dig in.. I had to allow things to happen at it's own pace. I already knew this about children and how they learn, I knew that they could not be forced to learn and develop, that it would happen naturally in an environment full of rich material and a culture that supported play.. I used this same mindset to settle down my inner voice and let the classroom culture take shape.

One thing was for sure, play would be at the center of what children experienced at our school. Why play? Well because Play develops relationships, relationships with people, spaces, materials, and ones self. We understood that these relationships would be of great importance to the classroom culture.

With relationships as a main focus, we began to closely observe the children. Through our observations we noticed the connection and closeness that was nourished while sharing stories, books and simply chatting together. We had designed the classroom with ample access to reading and writing material, but with the new knowledge of the children, we began to fill the shelves with books that supported the interests of the children in the classroom. We blurred the lines between "Centers" in the classroom by adding reading and writing materials in all areas of the classroom, by doing this it became understood that writing and reading did not happen ONLY in designated centers.

By providing books that matched the interest of the children and allowing them to read  naturally in groupings of their choosing, on the lap of a teacher or alone at any given point in the school day, we created an environment that merged the joy of reading with the joy of play.  Children could be found deep into a book as a marching band marched on by, children giggling in delight didn't even threaten to tear a child away from his book.  

We also found it important to offer ample opportunities for children to write and mark make. blank books made of folded paper then stapled along the spine, blank paper, lined paper, chalk boards, journal books, memo pads, and any other type of paper we could find is nestled in all areas of the classroom. A myriad of writing tools accompany them. Clip boards, and mini notebooks create a mobile writing device that add to play of all kinds. cardboard, scraps of wood dry erase boards were also placed thoughtfully around the room. 

Simply adding an easel and large paper to the block area encourages plans to be mocked up and sketches to be made. 

We do not do worksheets, we do not practice any writing curriculum or have any teacher directed writing sessions, it's not a chore.. or work, it's PLAY..  

Children write and mark make ALL day, children read and tell stories ALL day. Our end of the day story is an event.. We call it the book vote. Everyone meets at the rug. Small blocks are passed out as tickets, three or four books are laid out after each title is read and displayed for all to see. Then the vote begins! The children are called up a few at a time to place their vote. It's always exciting to tally up the votes at the end and see which story won. This time fosters a sense of community, a sense of democracy and a love of and excitement for reading. 

We found that there are a few key things that helped to develop our literacy rich culture. 

- We provided ample accessible books and reading material 

- We talked with and listened to the children 

- We asked " How does your story start" ( Bev Bos) 

- We provided many tools for mark making and writing 

- Plenty of play give the children to opportunity to play out ideas and events in    stories and books. 

- Reading one on one, small groups, and whole group situations naturally. 

- Never having a forced reading time or a lesson in reading. 

We dictate the words of the children reading their own words back to them and their classmates. Dictation is so much a part of our program that now the children attempt to dictate for each other, the act of dictation is showing up in play!

Never before have I seen children flock to reading and choose it when play is an option, my theory for this is;  they are never forced to sit for group "reading time" they are never punished by being sent to " go read a book" they are not worried that they will miss play time because play is not scheduled between all of the other stuff.. it is the other stuff. They have associated reading and mark making or writing with spending time with loved ones, with laughter, sharing ideas, playing and learning.  They do it for pleasure, not because they are pressured. 

Their love for books and reading continued to grow, to the point that children began asking to take favorite books home. This prompted us to create a book borrowing corner in our classroom. The children and their families check out books to enjoy together at home, this home school connection reinforces the importance of reading to children and with loved ones.  

The children have truly developed a love of literacy