I have been reading a book on the research of play (“The Play’s the Thing”, E. Jones, G. Reynolds, Teachers College Press). I came across this great description: “The master player is a child who uses materials imaginatively in sustained, complex dramatic play. He is able to negotiate with others to keep the play going, working out social as well as material problems.” (p. 17)

I immediately thought of many children who fit this description, some who struggle with it, what I have read about improv and a lecture I recently listened to by Brene Brown (https://www.udemy.com/the-power-of-vulnerability/#/lecture/1432428:92).

These pictures are of some recent “master players” at school. Every year, the 4s and 5s usually come together to create a “master player repertory group.” They go from being 2s and threes, or solo players, and become a pack of wildly creative storytellers, using all loose parts on the playground, all toys, all balls, all climbers as part of the story, which changes minute by minute and includes anyone who is willing and able. A story I overheard from a recent female master player: a boy and a girl barreled outside (the home of the best master play) and said (it was near Halloween), “Let’s be scary things!” The girl was going to be a “scary witch.” The next child who came out was invited to this game, and replied: “I don’t LIKE scary things.” The first girl replied: “Okay, we can be nice witches!” All was now right with the world, and the three ran off together.

Tina Fey, talking about improv, said one of the rules was: “Always say “Yes!” Vivi is a “yes sayer”; she keeps the play going by incorporating new ideas into the mix, trusting in the outcome. She is okay with other children’s input. The children who struggle with play have trouble letting go of control. Who can’t identify with this?

Brene Brown was describing “play” as one of the keys to wholehearted living (the opposite of living in shame). “The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression.” (Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are). She describes the difference between play and competition: when two bears play, one pins the other, and then jumps up and runs away, to be chased. The goal is for the play to continue.

How can adults foster play? 1) By not exposing young children to too many “adult ideas of play” (as in, adult-created fantasy in books, movies, cartoons). This replaces what a child can think up, which is based on their experiences (“Lets go camping, on a boat, hunting, fishing”; “Let’s be mommy and daddy tigers, bears, aliens, snakes”). 2) By going outside with them, so that they want to be there, but not providing any entertainment, or at least not all the ideas. Play comes out of not knowing what to do. Adult input can limit this. 3) By not “playing” with them (pretend play). This does not mean don’t wrestle, don’t throw balls, don’t blow bubbles, don’t garden, don’t wash the car, don’t go for hikes! Just don’t pretend play, see above. I tell children: “I’m not good at that”, which is true. My time for that is passed, although I hope I use my imagination in other ways every day. (This may be controversial, and that’s okay. This is based on my observations.) 3) Have lots of loose parts and loose time. If play comes out of boredom, let it happen. Just have some “stuff” around to fiddle with.

“Loose parts” are a “new playground” term. Have you driven by beautiful playgrounds with no children in them? I have. Maybe it is because children also need “stuff” to add to their play: sand and water are the favorites, but mulch and mud and tools and buckets and other containers and sticks and rocks and acorns and pine needles and string are all great. Moving and carrying and hiding and finding are all part of many stories. 4) Let go of “clean.” This is harder for some adults than others. It helps if you remember the fun of mud yourself. If not, try to let it go, at least sometimes. 5) Inside, remember the loose parts! The 4s and 5s at school LOVE to dig through the recycling bin and “make things”: picture frames, mouse traps, masks, helmets, maps. Paper plates and toilet paper rolls may be the best inventions on the planet for play. and, Brene Brown would add: 6) Model play: that is, doing something mostly because you enjoy it, whatever it is: cooking, reading, scrapbooking, taking pictures, decorating your house, writing, running, singing. dancing.

The beauty of boredom :)


(I love memes; have you noticed?:)

I was lucky that one of my first jobs was an afterschool program here in Boone (1982) with a very supportive boss, and a very supportive supervisor at the Board of Ed. We got there at 1:30, and set up an environment in our designated (unshared) space. We were a motley crew of motivated and flakey folks, happy to make $5.25 an hour (well above minimum wage).

Since I didn’t know much, I just tried to set up some open-ended activities to see what the children would do. We would set up a table with assorted “stuff” (paper plates, toilet paper rolls, meat trays, tape, glue, string) and a table for sewing, some board games and sit back and watch. The things that engaged the children, we did more of, the things that did not, we did not. We had the New Games book (Smaug’s Jewels was a favorite), did a lot of singing, and read aloud chapter books. No one under 6th grade had much homework to worry about. We went outside, or to the gym, every day. We borrowed cross country skis and let them ski in the back of the school. We baked, and had a bake sale to raise money for children in Nicaragua. We had conversations about what rules we should have. (I recently taught a class for adults. One of them came up during the break and asked : “What other jobs have you had?” ??? He finally let me know that he remembered me from that afterschool program. He is an adult with 2 kids. He has the same smile.)

Anyway, all of this is to say that I believe that children learn from an enriched environment but a boring life. I am an only child, and I promise you that entertaining myself was my life’s work. I was, of course, one of the “free range” era who were allowed (forced?) to wander the neighborhood in search of entertainment. In the suburbs, vacant lots and dead end streets next to creeks are heaven. I think of this as “benign neglect.” if my parents had been too interested in what I did, I may not have found it so intriguing.

Then, with other people’s children, and then my own, I watched this happen again. The most powerful learning often happens with no words, and alone. Or maybe with a friend, and a shared look.

Montessori said, and wrote, that the experience comes before the understanding. I am thinking of my children listening about the snow storms in “The Little House on the Prairie”, after digging tunnels in the snow in our yard. I did not “set up” the snow. Thank god, nature provides so much of a “prepared environment.” However, adult “help” can be a deterrent. Tread lightly, and embrace “benign neglect”, however you can!

Children have been learning through boredom since before we moved out of the trees 🙂

Rainy/Snowy Day ideas

Healthy Beginnings Montessori

37º with a 100% chance of rain…the perfect combination for “rainy day blues”.

There are so many fun, exciting DIY games and projects that you can implement in your daily routine to help your little ones get through days like these.

Purplecandy (http://purplecandy.hubpages.com/hub/PAINTING-AND-DRAWING-ON-STONES) recommends painting rocks/stones – a favorite for our kiddos here at HBMH!
rock painting_1Allison McDonald from No Time for Flash Cards (http://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2014/05/indoor-gross-motor-activities-kids.html) encourages obstacle courses, walking on a balance beam, and various scavenger hunts and mazes to try indoors; anything to get those little feet moving!
indoor-gross-motor-activities-for-kids-_1Asia Citro from Fun at Home with Kids (http://www.funathomewithkids.com/2013/02/contact-paper-window-art-young-toddler.html) suggests contact paper window art. A fun and beautiful way to spruce up a rainy window!
contact paper window art_1

Check out our Healthy Beginnings Montessori House Pinterest Board “Indoor Winter/Rainy Day Activities” for more ideas on how you can turn a rainy day into an fun family adventure! Please share your rainy day activity ideas in the comments…

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Building Vocabulary with Language Objects and Cards

Wonderful toddler activities!

Nduoma Montessori

My son has been very interested in several things recently. He thirsts for words. He points to items and names them or asks for us to name the ones that he doesn’t know. He also brings us some of the pictures of family members that we have around the house and wants us to name each person as he points to them. Finally, he is interested in dressing himself and tries multiple times during the day to put on or take off his clothes. Taking these three interests into consideration, I put out a language activity for him and he loves it and uses it several times a day so I thought I’d share.

Clothes and cards

He takes it to the coffee table. The cards are quite big and don't fit on his table. He also prefers to do it standing. He takes it to the coffee table. The cards are quite big and don’t fit on his table. He also prefers to do it standing.

Take out the basket with the clothes Take out the basket with the clothes

Ideally, the child should…

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What we want


What we want, as teachers, is to facilitate children loving to read. LOVING it. Life long readers. I, for one, don’t even care what they, as adults, read: Jane Austin, or 50 Shades of Grey. Motorcycle magazines, or the sports pages. READING (and learning), yea!!!!

But how do we help that to happen. As parents, your job is kinda easy. Read, enjoy reading, and read to your children things that you enjoy reading to them. That’s it, really.

As teachers and schools and school systems, there is a lot of politics involved. This is partly, of course, because there is a lot of money involved.

Ahhhh, the politics of learning. Who knew? This article cites a “report”. Sounds great. The report is partially funded by the association of Waldorf schools. Waldorf schools do not think that children should be exposed to letters until around age 7. They have apparently found a way to attempt to influence the conversation in this way. Sigh.

No, I don’t think Kindergartens should expect everyone to read in Kinder. My son did not read until he was 9, and any attempt to speed up the process, even with Montessori materials, just did not work. I’m sure that, as we continue to learn more about how we learn and how to teach, we may understand more about the processes that impede learning. I’m sure there are many. But Kindergarten teachers should not feel that pressure, children should not feel that pressure. Do any of us learn well under pressure????

And there is this bullshit about “play based preschools”. I’m sorry, I am so tired of this. Children have been learning alongside other people since the Dawn of Time. Do primitive people put their toddlers in rooms full of plastic crap to “play with” until they are “old enough to learn”? What model are we using here?

Montessori teachers, RIE educators, and many other people feel that children learn alongside others with whom they have a relationship. This school of thought is called social constructivism (Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings.) and includes not only Montessori but include Dewey, Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky (http://www.ucdoer.ie/index.php/Education_Theory/Constructivism_and_Social_Constructivism)

This is not new stuff. It is not radical stuff. It is supported by what we now understand about learning, and best practices about teaching.

So, should we demand that all Kindergarten teachers in the US, who have learners of all types and stripes (non-native English speakers, at-risk children of all types, like homeless children and children who have a variety of special needs, diagnosed and not), teach all children to read by June of the Kinder year? Hell no!

Should we “protect” children from being expected to learn anything until age 7, so that they can joyfully “play”? Hell, no, either. Children want to learn what people know and do. That is why they learn to walk and talk. They are hard-wired for this. To deny them this is to tell them that they are incapable, and need “special service”, creating dependency and helplessness. For some, the extended time in “pretend play” causes them to lose a grasp on the reality of what is going on around them, and what the other children/people are doing and saying.

Yes, this is not a complete rant. I am not saying that children need to sit and look at flash cards, either. Of course not. Most of them cannot sit at all! Children learn through movement, relationships and relevance.

But please do not fight an absurd assumption (all children can and should learn to read by age 6) with an equally absurd one (no one should have to learn anything until age 7).

Adult problems


Megan and I were on the playground together this week. She filled up the water table and several other containers, as the children love both water and ice. It is winter in the Northern Hemisphere where we live. Within ten minutes, there was great enthusiasm AND most of the water had been poured out to make a “river” and a “lake”. We clutched each other and said: “adult problems!”

Ugh. It is a real pain to get out the hose and fill up the water table, always. It is messy and you get wet, and you have to wind it back on the holder and ugh. Adults do not enjoy this (unless they are completely enlightened and can Be Here Now.). And then all of the water is gone. This also happens with sand. The children are SO excited by New Sand. It is white and clean and dry and wonderful. They go and tell their parents: “There was New Sand on the playground today!” And then they throw and carry it all over, in buckets, wheelbarrows, in spoons and bowls. They cook and mix and carry and spread it all over, and then it is GONE. Adult problem.

We obviously add water and sand to the playground because the children enjoy it. They also learn a ton about physics, and social interactions. It is the currency of the playground. So, we deal with it.

Lots of things that children do are a pain. It is a pain when someone, learning to self-toilet, poops on the floor. It is a pain when someone vomits in your lap. It is a pain when they whack the ice with a shovel and look shocked when it breaks. It is a pain when 2 year olds dump everything out. It is a pain when a 5 year old, very carefully carrying the movable alphabet, trips and spills all 208 letters, and they must be put away. However, this is what is needed. Sometimes we can teach around it, and sometimes it will just take time and experience to learn that pouring water towards yourself makes you wet, or that throwing sand gets in someone’s eyes, or that pouring out all the water makes no water, or that making a lake in the sandbox will be temporary.

AND, we believe that this learning is very important. It might be the most important things that we do, or that we set up for them to do, or that we allow. We are observers, so that there is more safety, or less danger, but we are there to “create the environment”, as Montessori said. Setting up an environment for children means allowing them to make mistakes and explore, so that they can have their own insights, which, as we know, are the most valuable ones, because they are truly ours.

If we allow children not to wear mittens and so feel how cold their hands are, they can reflect on that another day. And that is learning for a lifetime. So many of these things are.

Things Your Grown Children Could Tell You About if You Knew to Ask

old+lady+at+computerOkay, that is a terrible title, but there it is.  This is obviously for old people like me, or those who are tech averse, or both.

Both of my sons have recently changed my life.  One came home and hacked every electronic device to make it run better/faster.  The other turned me on to podcasts.  P-O-D-C-A-S-T-S.  Wow.

I have been running again, and was bribing myself with books on Audible, on my Android.  (Had to go through two sets of earbuds- any tips on that, guys? I forgot to ask.)  Books are expensive, though.  And I got addicted to Terrible Fiction that was easy to listen to while gasping for breath.

Podcasts.  Of course, he mentioned it about 12 times.  Then he told me how to listen to podcasts.  I use Stitcher (http://www.stitcher.com/).  He also told me some podcasts to listen to.  A great one is Hardcore History (http://www.dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-series/).  NPR has a bunch of them.  I love Rachel Maddow (http://www.msnbc.com/now?campaign=msnbc_tve_2014&vendor=Google&medium=Search&creative=rachel_maddow), but then, I am an old liberal.

You can learn about organic gardening (http://whyy.org/cms/youbetyourgarden/) or spirituality (http://www.onbeing.org/podcast/help) or sexuality (http://www.savagelovecast.com/).

I have to say, I am an information junkie.  I just “cleaned off my desk” (I can see some of the wood), so I am very reluctant to throw any information away. The reality, of course, is that I have only so many hours in a day that I can motivate myself to read non-fiction.  So, I can listen to smart people while I am doing necessary evils.  This has changed my life while weeding the garden, cleaning the bathroom, folding laundry, raking leaves.

More on Montessori and Play


This was recently posted on Facebook on the Montessori Research page. The point Angela was making is that the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) and Montessori are often not in alignment. This article gives a definition of “play”;  Angela points out that the Montessori philosophy would agree with this definition, but that we wouldn’t use the term “play”.  What word do we use?  You know it: “work”.

1. Children make their own decisions.
2. Children are intrinsically motivated.
3. Children become immersed in the moment.
4. Play is spontaneous, not scripted.
5. Play is enjoyable.

 (Angela Murrey, Montessori Research Interest Group).108679640_b3c51d50c1_z