Monday, December 4, 2017

The Play Belongs To The Child

Real play opens the doors to the kind of learning the sticks. The learning that is so deeply embedded in a person that it becomes who they are.

Real play is guided by a force from within each child. I liken me setting that up for them as another way we adults see ourselves as superior, we think that we know, more than the child what their own interests and needs are.

I came to the realization that they do a much better job at that than I do. If I see a child showing they need to run, jump, break things, be alone, color big, lift something heavy, work quietly, get up high, be sad, have a hug... I alter the environment so that they can seek and find what it is they need.

If they are interested in pets or zoos or doctors, I trust that they will use the wonderful loose parts to explore that topic through play. I will not set up that play for them eliminating their need to create what they see in their imagination, eliminating their need to construct their own play.

Play they construct has a realness to it, I see something come alive in their eyes when they own their own play.

It ebbs and flows and grows as time passes, the children navigate it, I hold no ownership of it, I seek to teach nothing, I instead allow the seeking to come from the hearts and minds of the children and the teaching to come from the play.

Friday, October 6, 2017

What if they don't want to Read?

Drawing in the dirt can be one process on the way to reading. 

What if they don’t want to learn to read?

By Barbara Sheridan 

A big question that parents have for child directed learning schools is what if they don’t want to learn.

There are several processes that may be happening. 

Is it not developmentally appropriate for them (they are pushing reading way to early in schools these days studies have shown), is it not the right way for them to learn - are they loving hooked on phonics videos but not picking up reading, maybe they are sight reading kids or, like many kids I have seen, developed their own unique encoding/decoding. 

Are they actually working on pre reading skills? Children are often working on skills that may not look like typical classroom pre reading skills. Digging or using sticks in the dirt is one pre reading skill. Working on balance in different positions is another as sitting requires managing proprioceptive input so even moving around is a pre reading skill. 

Are they interested in something else right now which is interfering in the understanding of reading. For some children is hard for some kids who are learning numbers and numeracy to learn letters at the same time because they are both symbolic languages but use different areas of the brain and are used for different processes. 

Teachers can take different approaches in this. Some teachers are instinctual and just trust the process so they don’t necessarily need to know why the child is not wanting to learning to read right now but they do trust that there is a good reason and that the child will develop the skills needed to learn, find the right way to decode/encode or that when they are finished with one process they will be ready to incorporate the next process they are ready for. Other teachers become researchers, observing, watching and reading on child development, psychological processes and/or cognitive studies and strive to better understand how to support the child in their process. 

Self directed facilitators or teachers view their role as supporting the child right here and right now with the process they are currently engaged with and do not worry about the process that the child is not working on. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017



By: Kisha Reid

The beauty of a child-lead classroom is that the children set up their own learning. We, the adults provide an environment rich with open-ended loose parts and allow the children to explore, play, and imagine their many uses. Permission, time, space, support and a genuine interest in their process provide the bases for limitless learning.

This is why the "junk" method works well at our school. Junk provides so many possibilities, has no rules and does not hold much value to the adults in the room; therefore we have less attachment to it, we worry less about it getting broken, ruined, or misused.

It's cheap and you can get it anywhere! In fact, in many cases it's FREE! I once had someone pay me to take their junk!

Its other value lies in its ability to force children to be creative, to make something out of nothing. To reimagine a typical use for an item to make it work for their own ideas. Children are inventors, engineers, and designers in their pay with open-ended loose junk.

When using "junk" children must communicate their ideas and plans, they often collaborate to build up their play. This sparks a need to collaborate, share, and accept the ideas of others.

Play scripts grow and change and are as creative as the loose junk its self. Each new open-ended junk piece makes way for new ideas, new ways of thinking and new opportunity to express ideas with others. 
So knowing all of this makes "JUNK" a very valuable part of a child-lead play-based childhood. 


Monday, June 26, 2017

A Seed Of Inquiry

By: Kisha Reid

" It has a ladybug head, face.. without the dots"
"Yeah, but it looks like it has...."
"It's some sort of beetle"

Children ran from stump to stump flipping them on their side then squatting down softly brushing mulch and dirt to the side, sifting through the earth until they saw signs of life.. a wiggle of a worm, a hole leading to the home of a cluster of ants, the rapid scurry of a centipede escaping the light.  The excitement is thick in the air, so thick you can feel it as they run with such purpose seeming to be deeply engulfed in the mission to discover life; foreign or familiar each discovery is exciting and celebrated.

As the children experience the traits of the different life they find, I notice that they have collected data, compiled beliefs and examined theories, each time storing this new knowledge to use as a reference for the next bug encounter.

A natural tendency to sort and classify data unfolds. If you don't watch closely, their keen ability to file and store this new found data could go unnoticed. I am not even convinced that they know they do it. It's second nature as they play with and explore topics of interest.

The interwoven thoughts and understanding that each child shares only serves as an additional resource through which the children collect and investigate their ways of thinking.  As they explore they openly share ideas, think out loud and contribute to the bank of thought acting as a member of a community of learners.

Through this process new thinking is developed, old thinking is debunked or confirmed. Children are in a state of flexibility, welcoming new ways of thinking new perspectives and letting go of old ways of thinking. Play and exploration provoke such an open-mindedness that allows new learning to plant seeds that grow over time into concrete learning that stays with the child into adulthood.

This process is all the more valuable when we allow natural curiosity to be the spark, catalyst, and conduit for learning.

This organic process can not be planned or recreated artificially because the true seed is born out of authentic interest. This deep connection to the experience is born the moment the child or children seek it out and fill the space where curiosity lives in their soul.

No paper bug project will grow this seed, it will only serve as a disconnection from the real thing.  No plastic bug will water this seed, it will only serve as an experience once removed from the real thing thus pulling them further from the experience. No adult providing facts will shine light on this seed, it will only serve as a damper on the flame of their innermost urges to discover, explore, examine, think, hypothesize, conclude, question, test, re-think and repeat.


Keeping the Seed of Inquiry Alive 

1. Allow time, space, and permission for play.

2. Do not hijack play. ( 

3. Allow learning to unfold at the pace of the individual child.

4. Only enter when invited or needed.

5. Welcome ideas and processes of learning that may not feel comfortable or look like your own.

6. Provide materials to support children as they deepen their understanding and question their thinking.

7. Support, don't solve. Support the children through the process of solving their own problems do not solve their problems for them. Forgoing the process robs them of the opportunity to learn from it.

8. Be present, engaged, and live in the spirit of inquiry in your daily work with children.

9. Allow repeated exposure without rushing the child to the next phase, allow the timeline to be theirs.

10. Accept all ideas as valuable.

Monday, April 24, 2017

What Our Garden Grows

One of the richest learning experiences we share at our school is the making, caring for, and harvesting of our school garden. The experience is owned by the children from the very beginning. Long before any seed is carefully placed into the ground our garden begins to grow.. 

It grows a sense of community 

 It grows a sense of                 inquiry 

 It grows a sense of discovery

It grows a sense of resourcefulness  

It grows a sense of pride 

It grows a sense of inquiry 

It grows a sense of imagination 

It grows a sense of responsibility 

It grows a sense of joy 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Neuro-Diversity: It's a Thing

By Becky Gamache 

She blows into our house each day like a tornado.  Backpack, jacket, socks, clothes hurtled in separate directions until she’s reduced to underpants.  She can tell you what the teacher talked about in school that day and if it’s interesting to her she asks questions and/or researches it further. She makes notes about what she wants to learn more about and what books to check out of the library.  She has at least four books going at a time and can tell you in depth about each one.  Her beloveds have been read to tatters. 

 Clothes don’t always feel right.  Noises and busyness can reduce her to tears.  She knows exactly what kind of a day you’ve had by looking at your face or by the tone of your voice.  If there’s tension in the room, it bothers her… a lot.  She feels and understands things on a whole different plane than me, but when she’s able to explain things herself, I always have an A-HA moment. 

By age 9, my daughter Caroline has had the alphabet soup of acronyms thrown at her…ADHD, ODD, ASD, SPD and GAN.  None of these acronyms even come close to helping tell her story, a story that gleans a new acronym depending on who you tell it to.  Instead, I use the term “neuro-diverse” to describe Caroline. 

 I don’t even really know if it’s a thing, but as far as I’m concerned it is the only term that begins to tell her story.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of a diagnosis for my child.  I’m afraid of a diagnosis putting her into a box, surrounded by inappropriate goals and expectations.  I’m afraid of a “one size fits all” approach to education that doesn’t support the diversity of children coming through the doors.  I’m afraid children are diagnosed to be pounded into the mold instead of diagnosed to allow the mold to be broken so the child can grow as an individual. 

 I call her neuro-diverse because I want the adults to change how they approach her and her learning.  I want the adults to recognize in her what I do and seek to understand like I do.  I want the adults to think of all children as neuro-diverse so that each child’s story and their journey into learning is their own. 

Unfortunately, where I live, the majority of school environments are set up for collecting arbitrary bits of data that have no real depth or understanding of what kind of learners the children are.  Each year is a carbon copy of the last.  If a class is struggling to learn a concept, the teacher feels pressure because now he is behind his grade level partners.  Learning is focused only on the “big test” and weeks of instructional time are devoted to reviewing for or practicing how to take it.  This is not the environment my neuro-diverse daughter thrives in and I would argue most children do not either.  

The environments where my daughter has thrived have been ones where the adults were responsive to the needs of all the children.  Those adults reflected on how they engaged with children and the interactions they had.  They wondered why behaviors were triggered or interests were piqued, looking to themselves and the environment for answers.  Those adults understood that all children are neuro-diverse and to be a responsive teacher you must continually observe, document, reflect, adapt and modify.  

There are children in our midst with and without diagnoses; they all deserve the mold to be shattered.  It’s the only way responsive teaching happens.

Becky Gamache has been an early childhood educator for over 20 years. She is a Home Base Teacher and Family Advocate for Head Start. Over the years she has been a consultant for early childhood programs, a presenter at local and state conferences and is adjunct faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. She lives in Hermantown, MN with her husband and two daughters.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

In The Process Of Trying

By Kisha Reid

A story of what is learned, in the process of trying:

It was the first really hot day, so in no time the children began asking for water. Cheers filled the playground as the first drips of water flowed from the pipes, it had been a long winter with very little snow, so the return of this natural loose part was highly anticipated.

The flow of the water immediately generated interest, busy children moving about all with their own ideas and methods of exploring them.

One child, in particular, noticed the water draining from the sand pit, " Hey the water's getting out a-dare!" he shouted as he ran off, he returned toting a heavy rock walking in a sort of rocking motion in order to balance the weight of the rock as he transported it from clear across the playground. He was visibly intrigued by the route the water was taking as it left the pit. He squatted close to the edge of the pit and quietly watched the water curve around the surface of the stumps and trickle down between two. " It's gonna flood the school!" he said in a voice that revealed a bit of anxiety and fear, at this point I was not sure if the feeling was fear or a part of a dramatic rendition of fear. I asked myself " Is he really scared that the school would flood? I didn't dare interrupt his process to ask the question for only he really needed to know that answer. I was merely a bystander to this unfolding of discovery.

He purposefully wedged the rock in the space between the two stumps, then waited and watched. A few seconds passed before he noticed that the rock only created a new path for the water to flow. Water began to trickle down and around the sides of the rock. This both seemed to frustrate and fuel the desire to figure this out and solve his problem.

He scanned the playground and when he spotted a pile of blocks, he was off again, this time returning with each hand stretched across a block. swinging by his side as he made his way back. Noticing the space under the rock, he began to shimmy the blocks under the rocks edge. He repositioned the rocks a few times after assessing how it's placement altered the flow of the water. When he was satisfied with their placement he returned to source additional materials to dam up the flow of the water.

The flow had now become a trickle, but the water was still escaping. He had added bricks, smaller rocks, and packed sand in the cracks of it all. In the end, he never stopped the flow of water, Many adults would see this as a failure, some would even see this as an opening to "teach" him by doing it for him, asking him leading questions or just telling him he can't stop the water.

He had a goal that he didn't reach, but if you look a little closer and observe a little longer, it wasn't stopping the flow of water that would deem this a success, it was what he learned in the process of attempting to contain the water.

He added to his layers of understanding about the properties of water, it's power, and how it's path adapts to its obstructions. He learned that his ideas were valuable, that it's OK not to solve the problem on the first try. His urge to figure this out pushed his physical limits as he carried heavy materials, he planned and thought through his plan adapting as he gathered new information about the water patterns, he felt a sense of purpose as he worked.

The space between this encounter and the next will be the time to process all of this new understanding. When he returns to this play, he will be starting from a new point of understanding, he will have a much deeper relationship with the water. I hope he doesn't figure it out anytime soon because there is so much to be learned in the process of trying.

 Trust in the natural development of children through play means that we allow that learning to be theirs, give them the full control of the process and how they internalize the learning they take away from "their" play.

Many higher level concepts are learned through play, often times a child is unable to totally verbalize what they fully understand. This does not negate their level of understanding of the concept. This is why quizzing and testing are not valid methods to use when attempting to measure understanding and mastery. Simply observing a child at play will give you a much fuller scope of their level of understanding of the world around them.

Other times children are chomping at the bit to share the details of their new discovery. Being there to receive this verbal processing without hopes of pushing or pulling them past their current understanding allows the child's learning to unfold as they explore the process of learning. Often just having space to think, or hear themselves verbalize their understanding causes them reach a higher level of understanding. As the adult, I often repeat their words back to them, or notice when they are wondering something.. " Oh you were wondering if the rock would hold the water in?" This interaction is always a reflection, never an interruption as the child is at play and is meant to echo their current path to understanding, not alter it.

This type of authentic learning unfolds in layers, with each layer it is sweeter, it is deeper, it is more filling. By allowing children plenty of time and space to play around with ideas, make new discoveries, and connections we provide the perfect recipe for learning.

Lakisha Reid
Owner and Educator at Discovery ELC

Co-Host of Dirty Playologist Podcast -

Founder of Play Empowers-


Hijacking Play

By Kisha Reid 

The other day two of the boys in my group spent the majority of the day in the mud kitchen, They filled pots and pans with natural loose parts, packed in dirt, rocks, and water into muffin tins and worked long and hard planning a party complete with a very well decorated cake. They used kettles to fill cups with mud mixed water and laid out found pieces of felt on wood stumps as placemats for guests.

 After spending the day setting up they collected paint chips and set off to cut up tickets. "What color do you want?" they asked as they cut tickets off of the color reel.

As  an educator, I am able to observe this play, see what each child is getting out of it, visualize their thinking, their process and ultimately their learning. I understand the value in the children's own natural intrinsic motivation.
As I observe children in the "Zone" I watch as they solve problems on the spot, share ideas and consider the ideas of others, collaborate on completing a task, use past knowledge to take themselves further in their thinking and understanding, in effect stretching their own learning. It's like their mind is set free and their vision is clear.

If  I am watching from a, what I call,  "outside of the bubble" position I can see the rich learning present in this type of organic play.  I can see the whole picture and all of it's moving parts. I can see children who have a deep understanding of numbers, fractions, equal parts, volume, one to one correspondence, language, vocabulary, and an understanding of how tools work. Not to mention the scientific understanding that is gained from manipulating natural loose parts, mixing mediums, and hands-on experiences with the Earths treasures. I see children who display impulse control, respect for others, turn taking, critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to create an imaginative story line based largely on past experience.

Now, what do I do with what I see, do I take it and plan a "CAKE MAKING DAY?" no, I allow the children to own the idea, it's theirs.. they own it. I will not hijack their play to make it fit into my mold of where it should go. I will not steer it in any direction, I will not rob them of the right to create their own play, by creating it for them.

If they evolve to the point of wanting to make this "pretend" party into a "real" party I will be there to support them as they write the list of what they need, I will take them to the store and shop for their needs, I will provide them with all the time in the world to experiment with this idea and again.. get out of their way and allow it to unfold, allow the natural learning to take place, to allow the children to own their process.

They have all of their life to learn how to do it "right", right now is the time to learn how to figure out what their "right" way is and that takes experimentation.  If they look to me as an expert in cake making and ask for my input, I will be there, asking questions, reading labels, and filling that role, but until I am pulled into the play, I am not barging in..                                                                     
 -Lakisha Reid 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why The Box ?

By Emily Plank

It’s a well-worn theme of childhood that children would rather play with the boxes in which their toys were packaged than to play the toys themselves. But why? Why the box?

The answer lies in one of the primary functions of play in children’s lives: children use play to make meaning.

Through a series of back-and-forth coos, play is the way that babies learn to differentiate between “me” and “you.” With their whole bodies and full voices, toddlers play through daily welcome routines with peers, running and jumping and fake-falling as a way to say “Hello. I’m happy to see you.” Three-, four-, and five-year-olds develop increasingly sophisticated play scripts portraying the events of their lives: doctor, library, bus, parent and baby, grocery store, school. They add elements of fantasy to deepen the meaning of these moments.

As an adult, this particular purpose of play that I relied on as a child has been transformed by spoken and written language. At the end of the day, for example, I recount my comings and goings with loved ones by telling them what happened. If I encounter something intimidating or unknown, I will quickly send a text or call a friend for support.

Children, with their formal spoken language skills still developing, draw on a rich capacity to play in to process things that I process with words.

Open-ended toys like boxes help children make meaning out of their world because their use is so flexible. Blocks can be built into castles or animal cages or used as fire hoses. Fabric can be pinned into ballerina skirts or folded into baby blankets or left of the floor as hot lava. Cardboard tubes can be telescopes or trumpets or material for art projects.

When children have access to a variety of open-ended toys, it’s like giving them access to a complete lexicon. On the contrary, sitting them down with the shape-sorter is akin to giving me an Italian-English dictionary and forcing me to tell about my day in my non-native tongue.

Why the box? Because a box can be anything.

And with anything, children can make meaning of their world.

Bio: Emily Plank is an author and speaker. Follow her at or on Facebook, and read more in Emily’s book, Discovering the Culture of Childhood.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mirror Image

By Lakisha Reid

Children are born scientists. From day one they study the world around them. First and foremost in their world are their parents. They hear our voices from the womb, they connect with our heart beat, our sleep schedules, and enter the world eager to connect and be loved. Early on they began to follow us with their eyes, they perk up their ears when they hear our voices, they seek our physical touch and emotional connection. They watch, listen, and feel who we are, how we move, the sounds we make, the expressions on our faces. 

They begin to form ideas and generate data based on their interactions with those that take care of them. 

As they grow into toddlerhood, they begin to form more complex language, they have studied the sounds made by their parents and others around them, They have looked for meaning in these words. Through this observation, toddlers define and properly use words learned directly from parents. 

They feel love, connection, protection, and power when parents and caregivers are loving and responsive to their needs.

 They feel isolation, disconnection, vulnerability, and powerlessness when parents and caregivers are not responsive to their needs. Through these early interactions, the child's emotional blueprint is designed. 

As children leave the solo play and parallel play stage and become of age to take on play partners, they reach back to their foundational social experiences. A child who has experienced rejection, excessive punishment and reward,  bribery and other control based tactics learns to use these same tactics in play. 

A child who hears harsh language, negative feedback, and physical punishment will learn that this behavior is a part of their culture, this will be written into their blueprint. 

As caregivers and parents, we must always remember that we are being observed. Our actions and behaviors have a direct effect on the actions and behaviors of our children. We ARE their first teachers. 

As parents and caregivers, we should make it our practice to take a look in the mirror and reflect upon the image that we see. 

The mirror I speak about is the mirror of our child's eyes, look deep into their eyes, if you look deep enough, you will find your own reflection.  Do you like what you see? 

 Lakisha Reid 
Founder of Play Empowers-Sharing The Power Of Play, 

Early Childhood Presenter and Consultant
Co-Host of Dirty Playologist
 Owner/Educator at Discovery Early Learning Center

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Powerful Messy Play

Rethinking Our Practice- Art 

     Created by a small group of 3&4-year-old children

It's a collaborative work that pushed me to the limit of my comfort zone, but I did some self-talk as I noticed the deeply engaged children exploring the paint in ways that are natural for children. They were in a state of mind only reached while in play, they seemed so enthralled with the process as the paint dripped, splashed and blended together, this creative freedom seemed intoxicating. The children were pulled deeply into the experience, closely observing, thinking, then adding elements as if answering questions or playing out assumptions they held in their minds and hearts.

Often as adults, we see experiences like this a frivolous, wasteful and careless.

With closer observation and a shift in mindset, we can see that this experience is bursting with meaning. It is providing each participant with a sense of belonging, a sense of power, freedom of expression, and pure joy. Moments like this are of utmost value and should be the goal of every preschool environment.

Supporting these intrinsic needs in young children in our programs requires educators to reflect on their program culture and environment, then alter their practice and design.

Program Culture:
What do your policies say about powerful messy play?

How do you support and inform parents about the importance of powerful messy play?

What verbal, non-verbal and/or unintended messages are we giving children about powerful messy play?

Program Design:
How does our program design support or hinder the act of powerful messy play?

Who are we designing for?

How can we alter our classroom design to support powerful messy play?

Starting here will create a ripple effect that will take you and your team to a place of deep reflection, re-creation, and rethinking of your practice around powerful messy play.

by Lakisha Reid 
Founder of Play Empowers, 

Early Childhood Presenter and Consultant
Co-Host of Dirty Playologist Podcast Owner/Director/Educator at Discovery Early Learning Center