Reading Magic

Thursday was picture day. The kids arrived in their beautiful dresses, tiny bow ties and an air of excitement. Spring pictures are always fun as they get to pose together as a class and then take the individual pictures. I passed out the individual cards for the photographer and then waited as the kids went up one by one.

“I’m not a principal. I’m not a teacher. I’m a student! Please give this card to the photographer. I’m going to give it to him when I get there!” 

I heard these words coming from a little guy standing next to me, holding his card. Huh? I looked closely at the card he was holding and realized he was reading the words on the card! There was a checklist that listed, “principal, teacher, student”. He was reading the checklist and making meaning from it. The words “please give this card to the photographer” were printed at the top of the card.

But here’s the thing. This little guy has been struggling learning to write his name. He’s been struggling with getting 1:1 solid. He’s been reluctant to read with me in his guided reading group or in conferences. He recently tested at a level 2 on the DRA assessment.

After our pictures, we went back to the classroom and started readers workshop. I asked my friend to come over and read with me. I pulled out a book about a giant gingerbread man who actually chases after the old man and woman who made him. I invited him to read it with me, telling him it was a crazy twist on the other gingerbread man stories we had read. He devoured it, reading fluently, laughing and making predictions, connecting it to the other stories we had read. It was clearly an easy text for him. It was a level 10 book. He wanted more books, so I let him pick some more to put in his book box and sent that happy, excited reader off to enjoy his reading. He was absolutely glowing.


That 10 minute conference left me with much to think about. Was I holding him back as a reader? Did I have him locked into a level instead of constantly looking for what he was doing well? Was he bored with the level 2 and 3 texts? Did he not see any value in this reading thing? Did he not see himself as a reader? Was he reluctant because he preferred building in the block area instead of reading with his guided reading group during Explore? Were my expectations too low? Was I not looking at him closely as a reader? Did I not really know him as a reader? It gave me much to reflect on, and a renewed commitment to knowing each and every reader in my classroom at an even deeper level than I already do.

Thank you, reader friend, for letting me hear you read that picture card and for reminding me of the importance of looking closely, listening carefully and celebrating the magnificent work our young readers do.

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Day 11

Our Environment


“In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge.”

Lella Gandini (1998)


One of the “big kid” visitors who stops by our classroom every morning before school asked me, “why do you have so many cool things in your room?”. It was a question that has stuck with me. Why do I have so many “cool things” in our room?


I’m a firm believer that the environment is the third teacher, responsive to both teachers and children creating learning together. We co-construct and negotiate the curriculum together. My classroom can’t look like a cookie cutter model, identical to the one across the hall or identical to the classroom from last year. It must grow and evolve based on who is living in the space right now. I believe that our classroom environment can help shape the identities of the children in that classroom and their relationships with each other. Our space gives power and agency to the children in our room.


As I look carefully around the room, I see reflections of the children everywhere. The rainforest was created by them, planned, designed and brought to fruition by the kids who took on this challenge. The block area was redesigned by moving it into a bigger space to allow for more children to build – again, initiated by the children. The huge kidney shaped table is a large collaborative work space for art projects – not a reading table with the teacher at the center. The linear calendar reflects important dates for this class – important events, birthdays, field trips, learning experiences that keep track of our shared journey through this school year. One of our bookshelves became an engineering center to store the marble run, the legos, and other building tools because this year the kids are avid builders. Our storytelling kits reflect dances we’ve done (like our baby beetle dance) and books we have read, with tiny toys to retell the experiences we’ve had. There is a basket of Pokemon cards and Pokemon toys that kids have brought in. The kid’s book boxes are overflowing with books that have been chosen by the reader of each individual book box. The classroom library is arranged and labeled by these kids, in a way that works for them. The chandelier that hangs in the center of our room has pieces of art that each child created that is representative of who they are. The photos scattered throughout our room are of children and their families and shared experiences we want to remember. And because I am also a member of this community, my small teaching table has a few things that bring me joy and that I want to share with this community – a picture of me and Judy Blume, a unicorn tape dispenser, a peacock feather, a bowl of shiny rocks – but it is also a work space for children. The mandatory teacher desk I’m required to have in my room serves a great purpose as a stand up work space for provocations and displays that the children create. Currently, it houses materials to build Calder-inspired mobiles and sculptures.


So why do I have so many “cool things” in our room? Because I have a lot of cool kids. The classroom a reflection of who they are – as individuals and as a community. They own it, and more importantly, they know they have a say in it. Their voices are heard and they are encouraged to contribute and create. They help negotiate what is in the classroom, what goes on our walls, what the space looks like and what is available to explore and create with. Their lives and interests are reflected in the space and it evolves as the children evolve. It’s a collaborative experience of many identities brought together in a year of learning.


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Day 10



Leprechauns and Jaguars

It’s Friday afternoon Explore time in my kindergarten classroom and we have a lot going on. The room is buzzing with the happy sounds of children learning, talking, playing, negotiating problems and enjoying each other. It’s how we begin and end every day.


A group of kids are working intently on building a leprechaun trap. They are debating ways in which to catch the leprechaun without hurting him. Or “her”, as the conversation turns to deciding what gender leprechauns are, because, “leprechauns can be girls, too…it wouldn’t be fair if leprechauns were all boys, right? Fairies can be girls or boys and leprechauns are the same way.” They decide that having a whole lot of tape on the walls, floor and ceiling will make the leprechaun stick no matter where it runs around in the trap. They then contemplate what will happen if we do catch a leprechaun. Will we build it a house…or maybe it can just live in the fairy house? That one is still up for debate.


At the art table, two kids are carefully constructing masks to be jaguars in our rainforest dramatic play area. They are looking closely at a picture, talking about the teeth, counting the number of whiskers, picking out materials that will make the mask look and feel like a jaguar and making big plans for the jaguar play that will begin next week. (ummmm…that may be my SOL on Monday…yikes.)


Meanwhile, a group of kids are building a structure with MagnaTiles and unifix cubes. The unifix cubes are Minecraft people who live in the structure made of squares, triangles and rectangles. The kids talk about what shapes they are using, how to make the structure stronger and deciding roles that each person will play as they go in and out of this structure. To be honest, I don’t really understand the Minecraft play, or the significance of 3 unifix cubes as a person, (and believe me, it HAS to be 3!) but the five kids deeply engaged in the play do. And that’s all that matters.

Finally, a few kids are making mobiles and sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder and our visit to the National Gallery. They are building their art and talking about what the shapes look like, what colors they are and how they could fit together. They are cooperating, collaborating and so very proud of their art.


I stop and take it all in. Kidwatching. As I watch and listen, I am in awe, yet again, by the power of play. The thinking and creating that happens during our Explore time goes way beyond any standards or curriculum. It’s kid created, meaningful, authentic and deep.  I am grateful to be in a school where play is allowed, honored, encouraged and respected as a critical part of our early childhood classrooms. I wish all schools, and all children, had that gift.

Nothing without joy.

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Day 9



From Failure to Possibility

I’ve failed at the Slice of Life challenge. Life got in the way, and I haven’t written my Slice in a week. I feel like it’s just one of many balls I’ve dropped in the past few weeks. I committed to a daily running challenge and failed at that after the flu got in my way. The stacks of professional books and work to do continues to pile up on my dining room table. I’ve promised to discuss books with people, to complete online courses, and to do a ton of things in my classroom. Not to mention the friends I haven’t seen or talked to in weeks.  I make a list, cross two things off, and add six. Then I lose the list. This pops up in my Timehop from two years ago:


A familiar conversation this time of year, apparently.

But today I’m choosing to reframe my thinking. To climb out of this fixed mindset of being a failure and take the advice I constantly give my kids – “a mistake is a chance to learn something new”.  How can I keep saying that to my kindergarteners if I’m not living it myself?

“There are no failures. Just experiences and your reactions to them.” Tom Krause

So maybe instead of saying I failed, I can learn from this, let it go, stop beating myself up and jump back in. I can change my self-talk. I can be flexible and embrace what I’m feeling right now as an opportunity to learn. I can have more empathy for the young writer who gets frustrated when a plan doesn’t work out, for the reader who struggles to read that new book he wants to read with his friend, for the five year old who wants to go across the monkey bars, for the kiddo who might see himself as failing. And like I tell my kids so often, be persistent, be flexible, give it another try, jump back in. So today, I jump back in.

I’m going to slow down, recommit, prioritize and remember what really matters. Breathe. Pause. Listen. Focus. Stay present. Remember my #olw for 2018 – joy.

Nothing without joy.


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Day 7 (for me) Day 14 (of the challenge)

Currently – In Our Classroom

watching – tall block towers, pieces of art in various stages of completion, children making books, book boxes bursting at the seams, a vet clinic that has just about lost the excitement, legos that have been made into Bayblades and are spinning all over the room


listening – to children talk about art, “I see….I think…I feel….”, and to children learning how to navigate conversations in authentic ways


appreciating – the freedom to allow kids to play and a large space to give kids multiple spaces to play, work and live for 180 days

loving – the excitement around our field trip to the National Gallery of Art tomorrow

dancing – the life cycle of a mealworm, which is actually not a worm, but an insect – they become baby beetles

wishing – for more time to do documentation of all the learning that happens every day

planning – the launch of our next PBL – creating an geometry art museum

creating – a collaborative art piece on a canvas with blues and greens for the background – looking forward to adding more things to our mixed media piece

reading – Art Is…, Alfie: (The Turtle That Disappeared), Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True, The Big Umbrella, The Water Princess, Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder, Action Jackson, Be Kind, The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, Love


writing – nonfiction books, guided reading books for my kids about friends and things they love, labels for our beautiful stuff to create with

wondering – about Reggio practices, about culturally relevant teaching, about what worked well today and what didn’t, about where we are going next

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Day 6

Through the Fairy Door

Our fantasy characters became our confidants. We would talk and listen to them and tell their stories at will. They did not mask reality; they helped us interpret and explain our feelings about reality.
—Vivian Gussin Paley, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play


Fiona is our classroom fairy. She visits every so often, leaving us notes and surprises. Fiona made herself known one fall day when the kids in the class noticed our fairy door on the wall. The next day there was a letter waiting. The kids write her notes, leave her presents and celebrate the magic that is Fiona. Every single kid buys in to the fantasy play that our fairy brings. She begins her visits each year once the kids notice the fairy door, and classes talk about her from years past. I love it.

Today when the kids arrived, Fiona had made our play stand into a magical fairy garden. There was an invitation to play with the fairy stones, the glitter, the natural objects and the books and writing paper that Fiona left us. It’s another space in our classroom where kids can go and play and imagine that Fiona is real. She becomes their confidant, their friend, their imaginary player in our kindergarten classroom. She provides another path to creating narratives, solving problems, inventing situations and seeking meaning in a five year old’s world. The play is filled with talk and imagination, literacy, wonder and joy. It’s truly as magical as Fiona.

“Let me end with what for me may be the most important aspect of play we learn from the children: it is in play where we learn best to be kind to others. In play we learn to recognize another person’s pain, for we can identify with all the feelings and issues presented by our make-believe characters.”

– Vivian Gussin Paley, from The Importance of Fantasy, Fairness, and Friendship in Children’s Play – An Interview with Vivian Gussin Paley


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Day 5