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-