Monthly Archives: April 2016

Let them loose


It is a wonderful thing to see children engaging in imaginative creative play. Let them loose with an assortment of bits and pieces and it’s amazing to see what they can construct, both physically with the equipment and in the ways they interact with their constructions, creating imaginative worlds and stories.

A fabric offcut might be a cape, a veil, an apron, a dress, the sail of ship, a red carpet, or the curtain for a puppet theatre.

A cardboard box might be a car, a home for a pet, a high-rise building, an explorer’s ship or a magician’s table.

A cardboard tube might be a ship’s funnel, a car’s garage, a railway tunnel, a fairy wand, or a telescope for gazing at the far-off stars and planets.

Anything can create magic in a child’s imagination. Sometimes the cheapest things can offer the most value. You only have to watch a young child discard the expensive toy and spend hours playing with the wrapping and packaging materials to see this.

Of course there is value in construction sets and other toys that allow children to imagine and create. However, a cardboard box decorated by the child can be as effective an oven as a fancy store bought one. And while most construction sets come with suggestions of what to build, it is best to put the instructions away and let the children discover for themselves what they can create, and how to incorporate the materials into their play.

While learning to read and follow instructions is an important skill, making only what someone else has already created stifles the imagination and can even suppress the willingness to try, especially if the instructions and constructions are too difficult for the child, and sometimes even the adult, to follow.

I expect young children to have ready access to a variety of materials, as well as opportunities to use them to support their play, both at home and in educational settings they attend. It is something I take for granted as being fundamental to early childhood development. It’s always been, and hopefully will always be.

I was surprised, therefore, when I recently came across an unfamiliar term and theory for describing this type of play.

Loose Parts Theory, according to articles like this one, was first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson. He believed that it is the loose parts in our environment, such as those that can be “moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways”, that stimulate creativity.  The term was unfamiliar, but not the thinking.

It took me a little while to find the source of this theory but I finally found a paper written by Nicholson through this post by Kate on An Everyday Story.

I find use of the term Loose Parts interesting. It is appropriate. However, the creative, imaginative play it describes was occurring long before anyone thought to apply such a term to it. If I suggested that it could be a “trendy” term to describe what has always been, I’d be showing just how much of a slow learner I am. Nicholson proposed the term in 1972!

What do you think of Loose Parts Theory? Have you heard the term before? Did you engage in loose parts play when you were a child, or have you observed children playing imaginatively and creatively with loose parts?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Sharing circles

On Tuesdays I have regularly published a post and response to the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. Today I am breaking with tradition as I wrote the prompt this week and included my flash with it.

In that post I mentioned classroom sharing circles where everyone comes together to share their work, thoughts and ideas, not unlike the sharing of stories and ideas at the Carrot Ranch. In the classroom everyone in the circle is equal, with equal opportunity to see and hear, and to be seen and heard. The focus is lifted from the teacher and shared equally among class members, creating a democracy.

In this post I describe some of the sharing circles I used in my classroom and show how these processes are not all that dissimilar from our own blogging circles.


D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) is a daily quiet reading session lasting about 15 minutes. In these sessions everyone, including the teacher, chooses a book and finds a comfortable space for reading. Some children sit at desks, some on cushions in the reading corner, others prop themselves up against the wall, and others lie on the floor.

The one rule is:

  • Everybody reads without interruption.

This means:

  • Nobody talks
  • Everybody chooses enough reading material for the session
  • No outside interruptions are permitted (unless it’s an emergency)

It is essential for the teacher to engage in personal reading, along with the children, to show that reading is valued and to provide a model of “expert reader” behaviour. Inviting other school personnel to join the session is also valuable. It is particularly important for children, who may not see adults engaged in regular sustained recreational reading at home, to see adults enjoying reading.

I always concluded my D.E.A.R. sessions with a Reader’s circle. Children would bring their books to the circle and share what they had read. While there wasn’t time for every child to share every day, I ensured each child had an opportunity of doing so at least once a week. Children would:

  • Tell the book’s title and author
  • What it was about
  • What they liked about it, and
  • Read a small section to the class

I loved the way children would look to each other’s book responses to guide their own selection, often asking others to help them find a book that had previously been talked about. We do the same in sharing and reading book reviews on our blogs.

If a love of reading is contagious, Reader’s circle is one of the best ways of spreading the contagion.

love of reading

A love of writing can be equally contagious. One of the things children enjoyed most about writing, other than the actual writing, was sharing it with others. Children would have opportunities to discuss and read their writing to each other in pairs and small groups as well as in the Writer’s circle.

Sometimes we would have a pre-writing circle to share ideas and inspiration. It was rare that anyone would leave the circle without an idea. Surprisingly perhaps, it was even rarer that two would write about the same thing. Bouncing ideas off each other seemed to encourage a diversity, rather than similarity, of ideas. I guess the responses to Charli’s flash fiction prompt demonstrate the same principle.

Post-writing circles provided opportunities to discuss what had been written and to read sections to others. Writers might share what they liked about their writing, or what they were having trouble with. Others might ask questions for clarification, to understand character motivations, or to find out what will happen next. Sometimes, with the writer’s permission, I would use a piece of writing to discuss an aspect of the writing process that would have application for many. If any children were reluctant to read their own writing, I would be more than happy to read it with them.

If a love of writing is contagious, Writer’s circle is one of the best ways of spreading the contagion.

love of writing

Discussion circles could occur at any time, in any subject on any topic where a sharing of ideas was required. I had a lovely smiley face ball that children would sometimes pass around, or across the circle, to each other, to indicate whose turn it was to talk. This ensured that everyone had an opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts, as well as to hear the ideas and thoughts of others. Topics could be as diverse as:

  • “I feel happy when …”
  • “When I lose a tooth …”
  • “On the holidays, I …”
  • “I think children should be able to … because …”

discussion circles

Each of these sharing circles gives children a voice, demonstrating that they, their thoughts, their ideas and their opinions are accepted and valued. Each encourages children to listen attentively and respectfully to others by providing a supportive environment in which they can test out ideas, then reflect and reassess in response to the reactions of others.

These discussions are not unlike those we engage in on our blogs; sharing books and articles read, and videos watched, along with our ideas and opinions and, most of all, our writing.

Thank you

Thank you for the opportunity of sharing mine. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

April 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

This week I had the honour of writing a guest post and flash fiction prompt at the Carrot Ranch. I was writing around in circles.
If you haven’t already popped over to see, I’d be thrilled if you did!
Here is a taster and link.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

April 20The prairies that American pioneers crossed in the mid-1800s must have looked like oceans of grass. The vistas were like that of being at sea with no civilization in sight. At night, wagon trains circled the wagons to contain their livestock, share a meal in fellowship and sleep in the safety of community. Here at Carrot Ranch we have a community of helping hands and now a circling of wagons. That I’m not lost on the prairie is a comfort while I gather my bearings from the unexpected in life. This is an amazing community that I’m proud to share the trail with.

We also had a contest recently at Carrot Ranch and just today announced the winners. I’d like to thank Norah Colvin, Geoff Le Pard, Pat Cummings and Sarah Brentyn for their capable judging and commitment to time. It was not an easy ranch duty! We have…

View original post 675 more words

Lending a helping hand


If I was to ask a group of six year olds what a friend is, I would receive responses such as:

  • A friend is someone who plays with you
  • A friend is someone who likes you
  • A friend is someone who helps you
  • A friend is someone who looks after you when you’re hurt

For just over two years now a group of writers have formed a bond of friendship by playing together each week, responding to a flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. You couldn’t get a more supportive group of writers. In fact, a while ago I coined the term S.M.A.G. (Society of Mutual Admiration and Gratitude) to express the relationship many of us feel.

SMAG ccbyncnd

This week Lisa Reiter, who blogs at Sharing the Story, showed that the ability to lend a hand is not restricted to friends who live close by. Although they live at opposite sides of the Atlantic and half the world away from each other; and despite the fact that no request for help had been made, like the true friend that she is, Lisa saw a need and immediately assisted Charli by writing this week’s flash fiction prompt and post. You won’t be surprised to know that the theme is helping out.

This ties in beautifully with a TED talk I listened to this week. The talk by Australian humanitarian Hugh Evans is titled What does it mean to be a citizen of the world?  Hugh talks about the organisation he co-founded: Global Citizen; which is described on the website in this way:

Global Citizen is a community of people like you. People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges—and use their power to get other people involved too.

We bring you stories and actions that make a difference. That help fight extreme poverty and inequality around the world, and support approaches that will make life more sustainable for people and the planet.”


These are some of the points I have brought away from Hugh’s talk:

  • A global citizen is “someone who self-identifies first and foremost not as a member of a state, a tribe or a nation, but as a member of the human race, and someone who is prepared to act on that belief, to tackle our world’s greatest challenges.”
  • Hugh describes himself as “one of those seriously irritating little kids that never, ever stopped asking, “Why?” He went from asking questions like, “Why can’t I dress up and play with puppets all day?” to why couldn’t he change the world?
  • He had already been raising large amounts of money for communities in the developing world when, at age fourteen, he spent a night in a slum in Manila and thought, “Why should anyone have to live like this when I have so much?
  • “that of the total population who even care about global issues, only 18 percent have done anything about it. It’s not that people don’t want to act. It’s often that they don’t know how to take action, or that they believe that their actions will have no effect.”
  • Hugh initiated the Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park. Tickets for the festival couldn’t be bought, They had to be earned by taking action for a global cause. He said, “Activism is the currency”.
  • By becoming a global citizen one person can achieve a lot because they are not alone – there are now hundreds of thousands of global citizens in more than 150 countries

“We, as global citizens, now have a unique opportunity to accelerate large-scale positive change around the world. “

“Global citizens who stand together, who ask the question “Why?,” who reject the naysayers, and embrace the amazing possibilities of the world we share.”

He finishes his talk with the challenge:

“I’m a global citizen. Are you?”

Hugh’s contribution to the world is a great recommendation for encouraging children to ask questions, isn’t it?


Here is his talk if you would like to be inspired by his own words. You may find other points that speak more clearly to you.

This brings me back to Lisa’s helping hand which, while not on the same scale, clearly demonstrates the opportunities that exist to help if we take the focus from ourselves and place it on others in an attempt to understand their situations and how we might be able to assist.

Lisa’s prompt is to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about offering to help someone. What’s their situation? What’s yours? Do they think they need help? How is it received? Could you be misinterpreted?

child helping

For my flash, I’m bringing you back even closer to home, to a situation with young children that will be familiar to many. Little ones love to help and hate to be helped in almost equal measure. “Let me do it!” and “I can do it myself!” are two frequently heard phrases in households with little ones. Opportunities for both are essential for their developing sense of self, independence and confidence. Both require a great deal of patience on the part of parents and a larger allocation of time than one would normally feel necessary. I think I must have been in a rush and didn’t have time to wait in the queue when patience was being dished out. Fortunately, my children shared some of theirs with me. Sadly, not always soon enough for their benefit. (Sorry, Kids.)

A playdate at Bella’s

Mummy checked the calendar. Oops! Her turn for cake. Dulcie was engrossed playing. Great! Just enough time, if ….

Scarcely was everything out when up popped Dulcie. “Let me do it!”

Too pressed for winnerless battles, Mum kept one eye watching Dulcie, the other on the clock.

With the cake finally baking, Mummy suggested clothes to wear.

“No! I want this one,” pouted Dulcie.

 “Let me help with the buttons.”

“No! I can!” objected Dulcie.

Only thirty minutes late, with warm cake and buttons all askew, they arrived.

“Come in,” greeted Bella’s mum, “Looks like you need a hand.”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Who teaches whom?

The importance of play to a young child’s development and learning is a recurrent theme on my blog. Equally so is the recognition of parents as their child’s first and most important teachers. Alongside this is my acknowledgement of the contribution made by my children to my own learning, especially to my understanding of how children learn.

Although I was often reminded that I had declared, “I’ll teach him,” when a younger brother was born, I had never given a great deal of thought to the teacher-role of siblings. How much that had to do with the reminders of my promise only coming when “naughty” things were occurring, I’m not sure.

Whatever the reason for my lack of consideration, I was quite delighted when I came across the post Siblings are a young child’s most influential teacher by Deborah Stewart on Teach Preschool. In this lovely post Deborah provides a wonderful list of lessons learned from siblings, and supports it with beautiful photographic evidence of her three gorgeous grandchildren.

Included in her list are things like learning to:

  • be imaginative
  • trust
  • be brave
  • try new things
  • be kind
  • laugh, and
  • love.

I have a large number of siblings from whom I’m sure I learned many things. As my younger brother could testify, probably not all of them were good. Deborah’s post challenged me to think about what those lessons might have been.

My big sister and me © Norah Colvin

My big sister and me © Norah Colvin


Here are some of the (better) ones I thought of, that weren’t on Deborah’s list:

  • to share, to take turns, and to wait (unless there’s only a few more cookies or lollies on the plate, then you’d better get in quickly before someone else does!)

marshmallow 5

  • that you can’t always be first or win, and
  • that the world doesn’t revolve around you
  • to make our own fun by creating our own games
  • to get along with children of all ages
  • to play without the constant participation or supervision of adults
  • to look out for and look after each other
  • to plan together
  • to forgive and get on with it
  • that a combined effort was more likely to get us an ice cream from the ice cream van than a succession of individual appeals.

Some of these lessons weren’t easy, and some are still in progress, but important life lessons nevertheless.

What about you? Do you have siblings, or are you an only child? If you have siblings, what have you learned from them?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.


Don’t fence me in

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia.

The following statements taken from the Mayo Clinic website explain agoraphobia as:

“a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.”

“The anxiety is caused by fear that there’s no easy way to escape or seek help if intense anxiety develops.”

“Most people who have agoraphobia develop it after having one or more panic attacks, causing them to fear another attack and avoid the place where it occurred.”

“Agoraphobia treatment can be challenging because it usually means confronting your fears.

Sometimes, as Charli says, we can face our fears head on and defeat them with the choices we make. Other times we may need support to help us overcome them. Sometimes therapy and medication may be needed to help those suffering the debilitating effects of anxiety. I will not be discussing those paths in this post. Nor am I going to talk about the anxieties of children with Asperger’s or Autism. There are others who do a much better job of it and are much more knowledgeable than I, such as Sherri Matthews and Shawna Ainslie.

school cropped

However, it is not uncommon for a child to occasionally feel anxious and stressed by situations that occur at school. The incidence increases when children are placed in situations that are inappropriate to their development and don’t respect their needs. Sometimes the anxiety and stress is manageable and alleviated by more appropriate circumstances outside of the school environment. But sometimes the distress to the child and family can increase to a level at which more help and support is required.

A school environment more suited to children’s needs would reduce the number of anxious and stressed students, parents, and teachers. Creating a nurturing and supportive school environment requires a firm understanding of child development and a belief in their ability to learn. It also requires that children are respected and appreciated for who they are, and that they receive timely and appropriate feedback, encouragement, and support.

last child in the woods


In recent posts I have mentioned the importance of play, and of time spent in, and learning outdoors, in nature. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv espouses the importance of nature to the development of healthy children, as well as to the physical health and well-being of adults. Perhaps more time in nature would provide the calm that is needed to combat the hustle and bustle of modern life and pressures of formal, test-driven classrooms.

In fact, it is not just “perhaps”. In his article The School of Nature Louv provides evidence of benefits to learning that nature-based and place-based education can bring. He says, “greening schools may be one of the most cost-effective ways to raise student test scores.

earth in mind

David Orr agrees. In his book Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect, he also stresses the importance of learning about, from, and in nature.  He says, that, “all education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are part of or apart from the natural world.”

It is easy to talk about the failings of the school system and suggest ways it could be improved. It is more difficult to make the desired changes happen. While the majority of teachers work hard to create warm, supportive, nurturing environments for children, there are many situations over which they have no control. It is important then to have strategies for dealing with anxiety and stress if they occur.

stress can really get on your nerves

I recently came across a book that may be useful if your child tends towards anxiety.  Stress Can Really Get on Your Nerves aims to provide children with strategies for coping with stress. Written by Trevor Romain and Elizabeth Verdick, it is published by free spirit Publishing as one of a series aimed at helping 8 – 13 year-olds “get through life rough spots”. With Trevor’s fun, cartoon-like illustrations on every page, the book promises to turn stressed out kids into “panic mechanics” with a toolkit of suggestions for reducing their own stress levels. I’d have to say, they’re not bad strategies for anyone’s toolkit.

I first heard about the book on the free spirit publishing blog in a post by Trevor in which he explains how drawing helped him cope with his learning difference. Trevor may be an outlier, but his story certainly provides inspiration for those who struggle in the traditional classroom.

cropped forest

I think time outdoors, breathing the fresh air, and enjoying the natural world is a great antidote to stress. I may no longer gambol in the grass, but I can sit in stillness and quiet, appreciating the beauty around me as I unplug from technology and reconnect by grounding myself in nature. I’m not sure how that works for agoraphobics with a fear of open places though. Perhaps having more time in nature as a child and learning techniques for coping with anxiety and stress could work as a preventative. But it’s only a thought. I am no expert.

This brings me back to Charli Mills and her flash fiction prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a response to an agoraphobic moment.  I have used the Mayo Clinic’s broader interpretation rather than the “narrow” definition of “fear of open spaces”. (I’d rather not be fenced in!) I hope my story portrays a recognisable response that could occur in a variety of circumstances. Please let me know what situation you think of as you read, and whether you consider my attempt successful.


She could hardly manage to chew, let alone swallow, the morsel of cereal occupying her mouth.

Her vacant stare and stifled moans alerted him.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m trying,” she mumbled, and squeezed her hands between her quivering knees.

“You’ll be fine. You haven’t had an attack for months. And, you’re prepared.”

“I know.” She pressed her arms against her gurgling belly. “But …”

He waited.

Finally, she looked at him. “But …”

He sponged her clammy forehead.

She looked away. “What if they don’t like me?”

“They won’t like you. They’ll love you. Come on. I’ll take you.”

What did you think of as you read? I wrote the piece about young teacher about to meet her first class. Did you pick it?

While anxiety about school is more commonly thought of as presenting in children, it is not uncommon for teachers to suffer from school anxiety as well. We accept that teaching is a stressful role, but for some it can also cause anxiety.

I think there are few who are immune from anxiety. We need to be more open in talking about mental health in general. Recognition, acknowledgment and supportive discussion are important factors in helping to overcome the effects of anxiety.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Let’s Talk About Purposeful Play

Earlier this week I shared a post and a new book, The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis, about the importance of play for young children.

the importance of being little
Today I wish to share another post and another new book about the importance of play. This book by Kristi Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler is called Purposeful Play with the tagline Igniting Deep and Joyful Learning Across the Day. (Hint: Click on Kristi’s post here for a chance to win a copy of the book. Read more about the book here to download the first chapter free!)

Purposeful play
These three teachers begin by stating that all play is purposeful and explain ways of honouring children and their play throughout the day in early childhood classrooms. This book is full of practical ideas for teachers who want to incorporate more play to foster children’s learning and maintain their enthusiasm for and enjoyment of it.
If you wish to make your teaching day more playful, either of these books will provide ideas to get you started.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.


I am so excited to share that in a week or so my new book (with Alison Porcelli and Cheryl Tyler- play gurus and authors of this handy book on choice time) about PLAY will descend upon this fine earth!!!! Now, listen, there is nothing I like to do more in advance of a new book coming out then have imaginary conversations of excitement and anxiety in my head. As a matter of fact, if you wake up at 3 AM to go to the bathroom, please rest assured that I am staring at my ceiling trying to execute everything I learned while writing A Mindset for Learning.

So, in the hopes of getting the word out about the book, and also maybe stop communing with my ceiling in the wee hours of the morning, I thought it might be nice to put out a post that conquers some of the…

View original post 1,278 more words

Let them play!

Play is essential to learning, and creating an environment which allows for play while nurturing children’s learning and development is as important as creating an environment that nourishes and encourages the growth of plants in a garden. The link between the two was first recognised by Froebel in the early 19th century when he coined the term “kindergarten” which translates to “garden for children” (kinder meaning child and garten meaning garden), and created the first educational toys.

Froebel “devoted his life to educating children and developing methods to maximize human potential”. He was the first to recognise the importance of a child’s early years (birth to three) and considered creativity to be something in all of us.

Froebel’s kindergartens were the first “formal” education for young children and his work greatly influenced that of other educators such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. His beliefs, for example that children have both unique needs and capabilities are still influential today. He believed in the importance of play and some of his toys were favourites of people such as Buckminster Fuller and Albert Einstein.

I have touched on the topics of playcreativity and children’s uniqueness in previous posts. A respectful, encouraging, nurturing and stimulating environment underpins all that I value in education; as does a belief in the power of play to develop understandings of self, of others and relationships, of the world and how things work, and to inspire thoughts of what could be, to imagine possibilities never before imagined.


While Froebel’s beliefs, and those of his followers, are still valid, sadly they are often disregarded by those who wield the power in education, who dictate otherwise.

In a previous post I shared an article by Paul Thomas who attributed his readiness to learn at school to the richness of his home environment. He also decried the formal tedium of school lessons which contribute much to curbing a child’s enthusiasm for learning. Paul is not alone in his views. There are many teachers who agree with him, myself included, as I have shared many times before, including here and here.

I am not the only early childhood teacher to be saddened and appalled by the formal approach that has been enforced upon teachers, replacing play-based approaches in classrooms for children as young as four. With the administration of standardised tests and the publication of graded results, children are labelled successes or failures before they have had a chance to develop. Those children from privileged backgrounds, as described by Thomas in Formal Schooling and the Death of Literacy will be immediately successful. Those from less advantaged backgrounds will be labelled failures. Unfortunately, the labels are often reinforced with little chance of replacement.

A+   F

I am always gladdened when I hear another expounding the benefits of play and the importance of child-centred approaches to learning and teaching. I hope that when enough voices unite in this important message, the tide will start to turn, and those with the power to make changes will do so in favour of children.

the importance of being little

This week I read another article stressing the importance of play for young children. The article, written by Susan Gonzalez for Yale News, introduces a recently published book by Erika Christakis The Importance of Being Little. I have not yet read the book, but I know that I will agree wholeheartedly with its content. The title itself tells me the value of its message.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In words reminiscent of my poem “Education is” Christakis says that “schooling and learning are often two different things.” Here is just a sprinkling of her thoughts reported in the article.

  • children are capable and powerful but our expectations are often mismatched
  • we ask too much of children pragmatically but not enough cognitively
  • there is too much teacher-direction and not enough time for play in many preschool classrooms
  • teachers need to take the time to listen to children’s stories, to laugh with them, to get down on the floor, at their eye level, and figure out what makes them tick … (through) … respectful observation
  • childhood pedagogy should be based on ideas, not on the repetition of simple skills
  • respect for early childhood as a life stage worthy in its own right and not merely as a training ground for an adult future

These are ideas I have oft repeated here on my blog. Please read the article in full and, if you are as inspired as I am, read the recently published book The Importance of Being Little. I’d love to know what you think.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.