Sandbox Heretic

img_20161018_115141086Last week I reflected on “rule breaking” in early childhood. To prove I’m not all talk I wanted to share this story…

“Keep the sand in the sandbox!” An adult voice called out. It was the rule, it had been the rule. Another teacher walked up to the director “Do we have to?” she asked “Can’t we let them take the sand out of the sandbox?” The director thought for a moment, thinking through our budget and if we could refill the sandbox earlier then intended and any other negative consequences. “Sure” she said “I don’t see why not.”

So, we stopped saying no, and started watching what happened. In teams of three or four the kids worked to fill up a huge plastic jar. When it was full it took two of them to lug it around the playground. The wrestled it up the climber and dropped bits through the holes, watching it sift to the ground. They watched handfuls cascade down the slide and compared it to how mulch slid.

Another group arranged a tire near the sandbox and transported sand to it any way they could. Shovels, buckets, dump trucks. They worked efficiently giving suggestions and directions to each other on how to get it there faster.

Eventually, the kids moved on to other projects and left the sand where it was. New groups of kids came up and started using it for their projects. Creating a construction site, adding it to the mountain they were building in the sandbox. In the end, a lot of it ended up making its way back to where it “belonged” in the first place.

We shared this story with another early childhood educator “You are sandbox heretics!” she laughed “I love it!” It’s a title I’ll wear proudly. Something to remind myself that just because something is the common belief, doesn’t make it right.

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Rules are Rules

img_20161022_103234275.jpgThe hole was big, to kid eyes it was a crowning achievement. As we put the finishing touches on it a lifeguard walked by “You’ll have to fill that in” he said “it’s not allowed.” Slowly we started dumping sand back into the pit. My littlest cousin came running up “What are you DOING?” she asked. “We have to” I said “the lifeguard told us to.” She let out a big sigh and shrugged her shoulders “Grown-ups are grown-ups and rules are rules.”

I’m sure you’ve had that moment. You are told a rule, but not WHY. It doesn’t make any sense. You just are supposed to accept it “because I said so.” I pushed back on that idea this morning during my  workshop on outdoor play.

Together we brainstormed a list of playground rules. Things like “sit on the swings” and “only go down the slide” and “no throwing sand.” When we’d filled up the paper I read through it with them and then asked “Why?” Why did they have that rule?

At first you could tell people were a little offended. It is a rule! We have it for a reason! It is for safety, for fairness, for…but I gently kept pushing. Some of the rules DID have a reason, it was a licensing requirement, or a real immediate safety threat but there were other rules that seemed to be there because it had always been that way.

We talked about “only go down the slide” something that is pretty common on many playgrounds. What would happen if you got rid of that rule? “It’s for safety” was the first response “They’ll crash into each other.”Will they though? They can learn to navigate up and down ladders and stairs and other structures, why not slides?

Like any situation where you encourage kids to take a risk they need to know the limits and the expectations. One playground had only tube slides, it would be harder for teachers to monitor that one. A kindergarten teacher said her kids knew they could do it when it was just them but when the toddlers came out they stopped.  We also acknowledged that different groups of kids would be ready for the rules to relax at different times and they might have to make a call based on group dynamics.

In the end, what I was encouraging wasn’t for all rules to be thrown out the window, but instead to think about why the rules were there in the first place. If they couldn’t come up with “why” then did they really need the rule? Or, could it be changed around a little bit?

This is something I’d encourage educators AND museums to do. Often rules started out for a good reason, but have stuck around because “we’ve always done it” Or maybe the rule is there because the alternative would be a hassle for us…but if we were being honest it isn’t unsafe or really a problem. Thinking through the “whys” for your rules will let you see if it is really the best way to meet your goal.



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Narrowly Defined Grief

I think we have too narrow a definition of when we are “allowed” to grieve.

The morning after the election, my Mom sent me a text asking “how are you doing?” I wrote back that I was “Only ok I think. I’m grieving.” I was not being dramatic, that was really the best description.

Grief isn’t just for when a loved one dies (which sometimes seems like the only “acceptable” time to use that word). It is a personal emotional response to loss. So, you can grieve the loss of a society you thought was coming, you can grieve the loss of a pet or the selling of your childhood home. There is no big or small grief, only personal ones

I think it is important that we open up our definition of grief. I was talking with a friend who was coming to terms with not having any more children. She has a lovely, healthy, happy family…but part of her always saw herself with more kids. She was trying to brush off her feelings but I told her she should give herself permission to grieve. It doesn’t discount how happy she is with what she has, it just acknowledges that there is a loss she is adjusting to.

It is also important to accept that young children feel grief, but in different ways then adults do. It is our job to help them weather and recover from losses…it is not our job to rate for them which losses are “important” or when they are “fine” and should “get over it.”

Sometimes with our wider adult view of the world we trivialize the things that young children are feeling. They aren’t used to the big emotions that swamp them suddenly. Their worldview is different then ours, closer to home and much more personal. They won’t react the way we think they “should” but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Moving forward, I hope you give yourself permission to feel loss in all of its forms. You aren’t wrong for feeling true grief, even if it doesn’t feel like something you “should” be “so upset” about.

And please, extend the same compassion to the children in your life. By all means, teach them how to deal with the big emotions they feel…but make sure to teach them it is ok to feel them.



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I am a superhero…I can


The morning after the election I sat in circle facing my wiggly, wonderful group of 3 and 4 year olds. It was the first time I’d brought a script with me to meeting. I didn’t trust myself to get through what I wanted to say and I didn’t want to leave anything out.

First, I pulled out our superhero poster. They’d worked hard on coming up with all of the things a superhero does and how they can be superheroes. It was our way of talking about being kind to each other, whether you were “best friends” or not. Together we read

I am a superhero, I can:

  • Help other people
  • Protect myself
  • Be a boy or a girl and like any color

I become a superhero when :

  • People need help and I come
  • I ask for help

Then I told them I had something VERY important to tell them about superheroes.

“Did you know that we are all superheroes?

“As superheroes we have a really important job, more important then getting the “bad guy,” do you know what it is? It is protecting and helping each other

We are team together. It doesn’t matter if we look the same, like to play the same things or are best friends. We are a team

If ANYONE tries to make you feel bad, or tell you to make others feel bad, say “NO! We are a team!”

We’ll repeat this. Over and over again we’ll read our list. It is one conversation out of many…but it is a start.

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I Promise

wp-1466099838684.jpgThis is not an overtly political blog. However, if you piece together my demographics and the things I care about (early childhood education, museums, arts, culture, access…) you can make a pretty good guess what way I lean politically.

Which might explain why I am up at 4:30am on the day after the election with anxiety coursing through my body. I can’t stay in this head-space though, it doesn’t do anyone any good. So, instead, let me tell you what I promise.

As a teacher, I promise to love the children in my class fiercely and for just who they are. I promise to see them as individuals and find what they need to thrive. I promise to teach them how to resolve conflict, work together, stand up for themselves and others and explore with wonder and joy. I promise to support the families, respect them and connect with them.

As a museum professional, I promise to continue to work for everyone’s stories to be included . I will create, design, educate and advocate so that anyone can feel like they walk into a museum and belong there. I promise to not shy away from difficult dialog and to learn as much as I can to be a respectful and responsible professional.

As a mother, I promise that learning will start at home for my children. They will learn to think for themselves, they will learn about consent, they will learn about standing up for themselves and others. I promise that I will do everything I can to raise kind kids. I promise that I won’t shy away from the hard conversations.

As a person, I promise that I will be kind. It isn’t much, but it is the best I can do. I will stand up for you, I will smile at you, I will see you for who you are. I will educate myself and use the privilege I have to make whatever difference I can.

This is all I can offer at this moment. No matter what you hear or read in the coming days, remember that there are many people like me who will do what they can, with what they have to care for you.

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That’s really all I have to say today. Go vote, please.

Working as a docent at the Belmont-Paul Women’s National Equality Monument gave me a new appreciation for that right. There are women at the polls today who have been alive longer then their right to vote.

Thank you

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Kindergarten Readiness: The Inside Scoop

Before I started back in the classroom I took my friend out to lunch. She is a Kindergarten teacher in a public school and I wanted to get the “inside scoop” on what Kindergarten teachers were REALLY hoping that kids would walk in the front door knowing.

She walked me through all of the district expectations, what they would be assessing in literacy and math and language. “But” she said “None of that really matters. What they need to have are the social skills.”

Yes, you heard it right from the source. Whether your child can read or count is secondary to their social readiness for school. It makes sense if you think about it. The teachers have the academic stuff down, but it is much more difficult for them to teach 20+ kids how to behave in a group, how to walk in a line, bathroom etiquette and put on their coats.

If you have a child who is INTERESTED in the academics, I would never stop you from exploring it with them. But, of higher importance is helping them be ready for the classroom environment, being able to follow the teacher’s directions and how to interact with friends. That is going to be their real test.

Still not sure what social skills readiness looks like? Luckily, NAEYC has a short article that outlines some indicators:

  • listening to others and taking appropriate turns for expressing ideas and questions;
  • handing materials respectfully and putting them away;
  • sustaining engagement with an activity or process;
  • identifying and pursuing his own interests, choosing materials and having some ideas about how to engage with them productively;
  • being safe in relation to the group (staying within school bounds) and attending to personal needs (washing hands); and
  • asking for help when he needs it. (From “Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten“)
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