Tag Archives: discussion

everything you wanted to know about unicorns

Everything you always wanted to know about unicorns

What do you know about unicorns?

  • mythical creatures
  • look similar to horses
  • usually white
  • have a single horn protruding from the forehead.

What else is there to know?

It appears there could be much more to learn by engaging in philosophical discussions, especially with young children, about the existence of unicorns and their features.

For many years I have been a fan of Philosophy for Children (P4C), a pedagogical approach for teaching children to think critically, to wonder, question and reason. The approach is “taught” through student-led discussion in which the teacher is present to offer support, rather than leadership. Students are presented with a stimulus, about which they initially ask questions. When there are no more questions to ask, children discuss their thoughts and responses.

I knew unicorns would be a great starting point for philosophical discussions with children, so wasn’t surprised to find suggestions for conducting an enquiry into Unicorn Horns – Thinking about Things that Don’t Exist by The Philosophy Foundation.

The suggested discussion centres around fictional characters, including the more controversial ones such as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy which I’ve previously discussed here and here.

What intrigued me most in the article was

“The problem (is) characterized in this statement ‘The Tooth Fairy does not exist’, which seems to say ‘there is something that does not exist’, but then if it does not exist then how can it be anything?”

Or another way of putting it,

“‘If there is anything that can’t exist, then it exists, so there can’t be anything that can’t exist.’”

Totally confused?

Me too! Please pop over to the article for greater clarity. Then maybe you can explain it to me.

The article continued with suggestions of other questions about unicorns that could be discussed; for example:

  • Are unicorns real?
  • If something doesn’t exist, can it have any special features?
  • How many horns does a unicorn have?
  • What if a unicorn is born without a horn, is it still a unicorn?
  • What if a horse is born with a horn, would it be a unicorn?
  • Since ‘uni’ means one, is any animal with one horn a unicorn?
  • What about a narwhal? Is it a unicorn?

My thoughts of unicorns this week were instigated by the flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a unicorn. It can be realistic or fantastical. Go where the prompt leads.

Now, I have written about unicorns before, here, here and here.

In a post about security comforters, I explained that a toy unicorn was of comfort to Marnie when she was feeling particularly vulnerable. Her need for it continued into her early school years and its appearance was an indicator to teachers that things were going badly for her again. When, as a confident adult, she returned to her childhood home, she found she had long outgrown the unicorn that had given her comfort as a child.

In some of Marnie’s stories, she was teased and bullied, mainly by a boy named Brucie. Fortunately, she had a good friend in Jasmine who was often there to offer her support.

In my response to Charli’s unicorn prompt, I revisit Marnie and Brucie and attempt to add a little philosophy to their discussion. I hope you like it.

Unicorns aren’t real

“What’s that supposed to be?” sneered Brucie.

Marnie bit her lip.

“Doesn’t look like anything to me,” he scoffed, inviting an audience.

“A unicorn,” she whispered.

“Miss said, ‘Draw your favourite animal.’ A unicorn can’t be your favourite animal–it’s not even real.”

Marnie continued drawing.

“Anyway, doesn’t look like a unicorn with those four horns.”

“They’re not horns.”

“Marnie’s unicorn’s got four horns,” laughed Brucie, a little too loudly.

Miss investigated.

“He said my unicorn’s got four horns. He said unicorns aren’t real.”

“How can unicorns have four horns if they’re not real?” asked Miss.

Brucie was silent.

Thank you blog post

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

Teaching critical thinking in early childhood classrooms with The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Readilearn

teaching critical thinking

Teaching critical thinking in early childhood classrooms is important. Discussions about The Very Hungry Caterpillar can help develop critical thinking

Continue reading: Teaching critical thinking in early childhood classrooms with The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Readilearn

Logical thinking and problem solving – Readilearn

logical thinking and problem solving

Logical thinking and problem solving are important skills for children of all ages to develop, including those in early childhood classrooms. We employ thinking skills each day, in many situations, from deciding the order in which to dress ourselves, complete simple tasks, collect items for dinner or set the table; through to more complex problems such as assembling furniture, writing work programs, juggling timetables, and organising class groupings for activities.

This week I am excited to upload a new interactive digital story that encourages children to use logical thinking to solve a problem.

Dragona's Lost Egg

Dragona has lost her egg and turns to her friend Artie, owner of a Lost and Found store, for help. Artie is confident of helping her as he has many eggs on his shelves. He asks Dragona to describe features of her egg, including size, shape, pattern and colour. He uses a process of elimination to identify which egg might be Dragona’s. Children join in the process by choosing eggs with the characteristic described.

What is Dragona’s egg really like, and will Artie be able to help her find it?

You’ll have to read the story to find out.

The process of writing this story also required a problem to be solved; and I love nothing better than a good problem to solve.

What’s an ovoid? Do you know?

what's an ovoid


To find out, continue reading at: Logical thinking and problem solving – Readilearn

Why school this way?



Any material being read, or listened to, will connect with individuals differently, depending on their prior knowledge and interests. An idea might spark curiosity in one, that another would dismiss as inconsequential. Sometimes a reader will pick at a thread that hadn’t been intentionally placed for further investigation. Oftentimes, authors don’t get to benefit from readers’ feedback, and may not be inspired to conduct further research for themselves.

But bloggers do!

Or bloggers with wonderful readers who participate in discussions and share their ideas! I am always grateful to you my readers for your encouragement to keep on learning. You are constantly challenging my assumptions, offering alternate views, and inspiring me to seek more information. I love it.


While I emphasize the importance of maintaining a sense of wonder, and of encouraging children to ask questions, I’m not always good at asking those questions myself. I learned that lesson well;  so am appreciative when others stimulate questions.

During this past week there have been a couple of robust conversations here: one about audiobooks and cheating; and another about common curricula. The conversations branched into fields as different as science fiction and history. Thank you to those who joined in.

In This too will pass I mentioned that each state in Australia had its own set of curricula. This places an extra burden on children changing schools, particularly interstate. The mention of our new National Curriculum made Charli Mills curious about how US education evolved. She assumed it was fairly uniform across the states, with the school year developed around farming so that children could help out in the fields.

old school room

I thought that our Western systems of schooling had originated with industrialisation. However, Charli responded saying that industrialisation had had little influence on education in the West (of the States). So of course I was compelled to check my assumptions!

A Google search brought me to this document Industrialization and Public Education: Social Cohesion and Social Stratification which does seem to verify a relationship between industrialisation and schooling. (But one of the most interesting things to me is the cost of a chapter, and of the entire book this first page comes from. Have a look!)

money bag

I also found an abstract of Chapter 2 Long-Term Trends in Schooling: The Rise and Decline (?) of Public Education in the United States, from another book, that seems to support Charli’s understanding of the homogeneity of education in the United States. I haven’t read it yet, but it could be informative.

I couldn’t let the topic of schooling and industrialisation go without sharing a talk by one of my favourite educators Sir Ken Robinson. This is a shorter animated version of a longer talk, which I’ve also included if you are interested in listening to the original.

This is the animated abridged version:

This is the original:

Now, I have to wonder, in light of the discussion about cheating mentioned earlier, would watching the shortened version qualify as having watched the talk, or would it be considered cheating?

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.

How was your day?

Have you ever been asked that question and simply answered, “Same ol’ same ol’” without making any attempt to elaborate or delve deeper into the day’s activities.

If so, did this mean that you didn’t enjoy your day and that there wasn’t anything interesting in it?

Sometimes much of what we do on a daily basis can become routine with activities seeming to flow from one to another without a great deal of change or significance worthy of a remark.


There are many reasons people don’t immediately share what has happened in their day, and the lack of a truly amazing outstanding event may be just one of them.


Similarly, in response to the question “What did you do today?” school children, often simply answer “Nothing” (as described by SHECANDO) without making any attempt to elaborate or delve deeper into the day’s activities.

Parents and others often jump to the conclusion that the child’s day has been uneventful and boring and, unless the child later volunteers some information, or the parent has a specific question to ask, that may be the end of the subject.

However, just as with adults, there may be a number of reasons the “Nothing,” response is given, including the generalised nature of the question.

Some reasons for this failure to elaborate, although unspoken and often unidentified, may be:


Courtesy of eLearningbrothers

‘I’ve just finished a hard day, I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“So much happened today, I don’t know where to start.”

“I don’t think you’d be interested in anything that happened to me.”

“I can’t really think. What do you want to know: something bad, something funny or something amazing? I didn’t get into trouble.”

Additionally, if children are not already practiced in the art of sustaining conversation with an adult, then these discussions will rarely come easily or spontaneously.

Sometimes specific questioning, requiring more than a yes/no answer, may elicit a more detailed response that in turns leads to a more in-depth discussion of the day’s events, e.g.


“Who did you sit with at lunch today?”

“What games did you play at recess?”

“What story did your teacher read to you? What was it about?”

Knowing something of what occurred during the day helps parents formulate appropriate questions to elicit conversation.

In my role as a year one classroom teacher I believe in the importance of these conversations between children and parents for a number of reasons, including:

  • to keep parents informed of what is happening the classroom, which in turn encourages a positive attitude and participation;
  • to develop children’s language skills by engaging them in conversations which require them to describe, explain, respond and exchange ideas;
  • to develop children’s thinking skills and memory, “What did I do today?” “What did I learn?” “What happened before/after lunch?”
  • to provide a time for reflection and review e.g. “What can I do now that I couldn’t do before?” “When we were doing x, we had to y. Oh, now I get it. That means . . . “
  • to provide opportunities to sort out feelings and emotions  experienced during the day, but not yet dealt with e.g. “I don’t know why that happened at lunch time. Tomorrow I will . . .”
  • to strengthen the child-parent relationship by sharing ideas, attitudes and events in their daily lives.

In addition to giving children reminders before they left for home in the afternoons, I developed a strategy that specifically targeted the need to provide parents with a window into the child’s day in order to arm them with sufficient information to instigate robust discussion.

I called this strategy

Class news


Each day I published class news which the children pasted into a book to take home and read with parents. These days many teachers, like Miss Hewes, use a blog to keep parents informed. However there were no blogs around when I began doing this in the 1980s!

The class news consisted of three main sections:

  • News of individual students
  • Class things we did today
  • Class reminders

News of individual students


Courtesy of eLearningbrothers

Each day 2 – 3 children told the class about an item of interest to them e.g. an activity, a recent purchase, a family event, or a wish.

After each child shared their news, the class and I cooperatively composed a brief summary (one or two sentences at first). I scribed and the children read. Later in the day I printed this out for the children to take home and read to their parents.

As well as being a very effective literacy learning strategy (which I will write about in a future post), it helped parents get to know the names of classmates and a little about each one; it provided a discussion starter about which their child could elaborate. It also affirmed the children by providing each a turn of “starring” about once a fortnight.

Things we did today

In this section I would tell parents briefly about a few things we did that day, e.g.

“Mrs Colvin read “Possum Magic”. We talked about what it would be like to be invisible and discussed what we thought would be good and not-so-good about being invisible. Then we wrote our very own stories about being invisible. We had some very interesting ideas!”

“We learned about odd and even numbers by finding out which number of different objects we could put into two even lines.  Where can you find some odd or even numbers of objects at home?”

“In art we learned about lines: straight lines and wriggly lines; long lines and short lines; jagged lines and curved lines; thick lines and thin lines. What sort of lines can you see in your pictures?”

When parents are informed about things that have happened during the day, they have a firm basis for opening a meaningful discussion with their child. This in turn validates the child by giving importance to the child’s activities.

I often included a question to help parents realise that they could easily extend the child’s learning at home.

Class reminders

A reminder or two would be included if particular events were coming up, or payments needed e.g.

“Sports day tomorrow. Remember to wear your sport uniform and running shoes.”

“Friday is the final day that excursion payments will be accepted.”

These reminders helped to reduce the possibility of a child being upset by forgetting or missing out on a class activity. They also provided parents with another opportunity for discussion and the ability to enthuse their child with the anticipation of future events.

Publishing the class news like this every day did eat into my lunch time, but the advent of computers in the classroom helped as I was able to set up a template and print copies on the classroom printer. In the “olden” days of the spirit copiers, every day meant starting out again and having to go to another room to churn the copies out by hand.

I continued using this strategy throughout three decades of teaching because I believe in its power to develop readers and talkers, and to involve parents by keeping them informed of classroom learning and activities. Having already received a child’s answer of ‘nothing’ to the question “What did you do today?” I was determined that no child from my class would have a reason to answer in the same way.

What questions encourage you to open up and talk about your day?

What questions encourage you to keep your mouth shut?

What do you think of my daily class news?

What other strategies do you suggest to encourage communication between parents and children?

All images courtesy of www.openclipart.org unless stated otherwise.