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27 March 2015

11 Months

A big hello to anyone who came here after seeing me at NAEA!  I always love meeting other teachers who are passionate about early childhood, process-focused play, materials, and documentation.

Carpet at the NOLA Convention Center rivals airport carpeting.

I mentioned in the presentation that this blog has been highly neglected for 6 months; I was horrified to log on and see that I have not posted in 11 months.  I truly plan to be in this space more often.

In the meantime, here are a few things that have caught my eye lately.

Finland throws out subjects in favor of teaching by topic, or "phenomenon" teaching.

LibraryBox changes the way we can share files in places without internet access.

A new-to-me blog of teacher Pam Oken-Wright, The Voices of Children.

The Play Orbit Exhibition, installed in the London Institute of Contemporary Art in 1970, aimed "to bridge a gap between children's toys and works of art".

Happy Weekend!

18 April 2014

Weekend Links : Design

One aspect of early childhood education that has become more and more important to me over the years is design.  The things, the spaces, the sounds: how do those interact in "ideal" early childhood settings?

Check out some design links for your weekend, after the jump!

28 February 2014

Weekend Links 2.28.14

This was a long, but invigorating week!  I had some difficult times in the classroom, but even after a hard day, I find myself researching, reading and writing about early childhood into the wee hours of the morning.  I described myself as a "child development nerd" in an email to a parent this morning, and I don't know if there has ever been a statement so true.

Check out some links for your weekend, after the jump!

21 February 2014

Study of leggings and sock, 2014

There are few things as wonderful as seeing the photos on the kid's camera as I download them!  This practice feel off of my plans for a while, and I finally pulled the camera out this past week.

These two photos really stuck out for me: it is an unusual angle for a photograph, and the way that P (the photographer) tried to capture both the front and the back of her leg is so deliberate.  She enjoys the language of the camera, and I'm looking forward to talking more with her about these leg photos!

04 February 2014

Preschool Storytelling Film Festival

I smile from ear to ear when I look back at these stories.  From original stories to retellings of favorites, storytelling has so much value with young children!  We're just starting up with bookmaking this school year, so I was inspired to put together this little preschool storytelling film festival.  All of these videos have come from various classes I worked with in the past five years.  Enjoy!

01 February 2014

Weekend Links

Three years ago, I was thinking about a tape challenge that had preschoolers in the US, Canada, and Belgium making their classrooms all sticky!  We had a great time then, and I don't doubt that tape would be an interesting prompt for the preschoolers I'm working with now. I'm just not sure we can spare the tape!  I do feel that if the interest is solid, then there is no reason to put a cap on the materials.  Do you agree?

More weekend links after the jump...

29 January 2014

Interested in Advertising on Bakers and Astronauts?

We're looking for advertisers who would like to spread the word about their product, event, conference, blog, name it!

Please send an email to for more details on cost, size, and placement.  Priority is given to advertisements that reflect the values of Bakers and Astronauts.

28 January 2014

Favorites from Pete Seeger

It is sad to say goodbye to Pete Seeger, who passed away yesterday at 94.  His music and stories for children are absolutely timeless, and we can help his legacy live on by sharing his work with children!

Here are four of my favorites that pop up every year - I hope you might take a moment to listen and, if you can, share.

27 January 2014

Celebrating Process, Part 1

Documentation is somehow both the easiest part of teaching, and the most difficult part. We want to tell stories of learning, play, and exploration that illustrate the small moments in which learning takes place. Stories often have ups and downs, revelations, excitement, and intriguing characters. When we choose stories to share with children, we choose engaging stories that they'll want to hear over and over again. We choose stories that we hope to see them retelling as they run their fingers over the illustration of Corduroy's missing button or the band-aid over the d's skinned knee in Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. We can pick out the right story to add to the classroom library, but what about choosing what story to tell using documentation? We might be gathering words, photos, drawings, and/or video of children at play, but how do we know we're capturing stories?

There is no plot as we watch a child painting. We’re not writing that story. We’re trying to pay attention to the most salient aspects, but we’re not always able to put our finger on what exactly that is while it is happening. A story that we are not writing is unfolding and we are trying to figure out where it is going next.  It feels like writing a mystery novel without deciding on who did it first, and letting the story unfold chronologically.

I took over 200 photos in the classroom the other day, many of them of a block tower that C worked on. He didn’t say much about it, and as I looked at the photos that evening, I was having a difficult time justifying the time and energy that I put into documenting that event. Why did I even begin to take those photos? And when C decided that he was finished, he didn’t have anything to tell me about his blocks. His construction did not look much different at the end than it did at the beginning. So what is the story? Why take the photos?

Earlier in the week, I took photos and dictation of K at the clay table. He made a variety of small objects from clay and talked both to me and to himself as he worked. I sat across from him for about five minutes as he made a bed, a blanket, a pillow, a mountain, and some little balls. The objects are as representational as one would expect from a child who just turned three, and I knew it was not about those products as I took photos and wrote down his words.

In the case of C, I began taking photos because it was a rare occasion of seeing C engaged with a material, with a new look of determination. I felt compelled to document it. With K, it was the beginning of the day, and it was just he and I in the classroom, starting the day.

If I think about who that documentation is for, it is for our whole classroom community. I could say that C’s is information that I can show back to him so that he can feel excitement and pride about the work that he did, but it is much more than that. It is a story that can be valued by other children, by parents, by teachers. I could make it a story about fine motor development or spatial awareness, but I was not telling that specific of a story as I observed C at play. Perhaps in the future, I’ll need to gather information about spatial relations, gross motor skills, or self-regulation. These photos may help tell that story as well.

With K, I began to document because it was the beginning of the day and it was just he and I. I sat with him at the clay table and he was being unusually chatty, so I suppose I was gathering his words primarily. He was able to represent his words with the clay, and the photos compliment the quotes I was able to gather. But like C’s blocks , there isn’t exactly a “finished product”. So how do you tell a story that seemingly has no ending? How can you call that a story?

After feeling overwhelmed with photos, reflection on the process of documentation brought me to the conclusion that I was thinking about things in a way that is quite contrary to how I think about most other goals in the classroom. Everything that is shared with children, from materials to stories to songs, is about exploring and experiencing. We don’t sing songs to hear them sung perfectly, and we don’t experiment with art materials for the product. The choices made in the classroom are about process, and that is what we can capture with documentation. That is the fundamental difference between documentation and an old-fashioned bulletin board. We can share the product, or we can share a story. That story might be five minutes of paintbrush experimentation or three months of planning an amusement park for birds. Either way, chances are that children will revisit that documentation if it represents their work. If it is made available to them, they can gain the same pleasure from those photographs of their clay bed and blanket as they do from being able to share how Lisa reattaches Corduroy’s button.

For my own work, This reflection is reminding me to always celebrate process over product. And as long as the pictures are digital, there is no harm in taking 200. I do feel more confident about sharing stories but short and long with children and families. Documentation is one of the many reasons that I long for a co-teacher! If you have colleagues to share photographs and stories with, I urge you to – it is an invaluable resource.

16 January 2014


Returning to the classroom in January is always refreshing.  After a few weeks without the daily routines, we all come back with fresh eyes, ears, and hands.  Perhaps I speak for more than just myself when I say that I have resolutions, both big and small, in mind in this second half of the year.  From continuing on with some elements that felt successful to trying new things, January feels like a second chance on the school year.

One thing that I noticed in the first few days of January was the level of independence that the children have now.  So much of our work is focused on self-regulation and community that it takes that holiday break to look at the classroom community (and individual children) with fresh eyes.  I recall September being an endless whirlwind of grabbing, screaming, zipping, unzipping, dressing, undressing, and emotion.  Today I stood and put on my own shoes to go outside as the children put on their own shoes.  It is the simple things that are so hard to see when they are so ingrained in our daily routines: stepping back puts a different light on it all.

I've also been hearing more conversations between children, seeing them interact without the mediation of myself or another teacher.  They invite each other to play; they are able to clearly state if they would like to be left alone; they don't pull each other's socks off!  The development of their relationships has been far from linear.  In the early years, a child is just another kid one day and a best friend the next, and that new openness to peer interaction is a wonderful thing to see.

All of these things said, the goal of preschool (or life) is not to float along in a conflict-free bubble.  Conflicts are what got us to where we are now.  And with fewer children needing support for small problems, we open up our time to different problems, questions, and curiosities.  We take the time to work on every problem that arises because that is our work in early childhood.

Because this was such a young group at the start of the year, we were very focused on the social and emotional aspects of our day.  We did a few projects, but the bulk of our work was free play.  With free play, children can constantly work near and with other children, and I can focus on stepping in for support.  I spend the first 90 minutes of the day as a facilitator: talking through conflicts with children, encouraging children to go deeper with materials, or getting more red paint.  It would be ideal if all of those things could happen at the same time, but needing to wait for that assistance, perhaps, builds in a natural way for children to begin to solve their own problems.  Some high-priority issues will always come first, and children who are waiting to be read to might need to wait.  Chances are, they'll begin to look at the book themselves, or request that book when we all gather together later.  It is just another way that we embed real-world problem solving into our day.  I don't expect three-year-olds to exude patience, but learning to wait a minute and delay gratification is naturally occurring in our day, and practice doesn't hurt!

As I enter the new calendar year, with fresh eyes on the school year, I think a lot about my role with these children, in this community.  In September, in the children's eyes, I am a playmate and a grown-up.  I can help them with complicated things like opening a container or getting dry clothes.  I can read a story or get clean water for the paintbrushes.  I can pretend to be a dinosaur who loves apples and peanut butter!  The evolution of my relationship with each child as an individual and with the group, as well as their relationships with each other, has been our real work this school year.  It has been an absolute pleasure to see children turn to each other rather than me when they need their jackets zipped.  I have the luxury of spending more and more time observing and documenting as I play the role that I truly love:  facilitator.

I hope I can find ways to document and share the journey that we have been on as a classroom community.  This is not a revelation - we actively work on community building, emotional intelligence, and relationships all day, every day, in preschool.  It was important for me to take some time to reflect on the evolution of this aspect of the school year - seeing where we began, where we are, and where we might go next.
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