Posts tagged 6 and Beyond
Don't Feed Your Kids. Organize the Fridge!

Did the kids eat this morning? I didn't see it with my own two eyes, but what have we here? A hodgepodge of mugs filled with varying amounts of milk or water or.... something... on the dining table. And here, a couple strawberry hulls on the tile floor. And here, a mostly empty bowl of oatmeal by the sink.

Either the kids ate breakfast or we have the most capable rats this side of NIMH living in our house.

I don't need a mountain of evidence (or a secret society of super rats) to know the story. Since they were very young, we have given the children wide latitude in the kitchen. Kids being kids, I can usually tell what they're eating and how much -- with little effort.

Free Range Children

The idea that even young kids can feed themselves can strike people as odd. Isn't setting food out in front of the child two or three times a day one of our most basic duties as a parent?


Certainly, we must ensure our children are eating well, but allowing children some control over their diets doesn't shirk this duty. In fact, it can actually support another critical duty - teaching children independence and self-control.

Choice Leads to Good Choices

Giving kids some control over their diets doesn't mean a free for all. If you want your kids to make good choices, you need to make sure they have access to good things. That takes adult planning and preparation -- keeping the pantry and fridge stocked with easy to access choices like mason jars with precut veggies or a big pot of cooked oatmeal.

But the payoff is worth it. I find that children will ingest more healthy foods and a wider variety of healthy foods when they have control over what they are eating

Five Tips

Want to give it a try? Here are some tips for encouraging your children to serve themselves.

Don't feed your kids! Organize your fridge! Five steps to food independence

1. Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy foods.

It seems like all of us have different opinions on what is "healthy," so do your own research here and run with it. I think we can all agree that getting kids to eat veggies is a good thing, so make sure to stock up on lots of those!

I strongly recommend keeping the junk food completely out of sight or better yet... don't buy it at all. Kids can't make good decisions about cookies. Sugar is just too tempting! We keep a limited amount of chips, cereal, candy, and snack foods in a high cabinet far out of reach.

2. Prepare your veggies ahead of time.

After grocery shopping, I try to give myself about 30 minutes to do some food preparation. I chop the celery and carrots into sticks. I cube the beets. Wash and spin the lettuce. Separate the broccoli florets. Slice the bell peppers and squash. Not only does this make fresh, raw food accessible to my kids, it makes cooking meals MUCH faster!

3. Store your food in child-accessible containers. 

In my fridge, I use more than one type of food container. Mason jars have the added bonus of being see through. Plastic tops seem to be easier for my kids to open than screw tops. Plastic baggies work great for some things. Recently, I've been really into these plastic freezable containers, but large yogurt containers and the like are great options for food storage, too.

4. Make sure the kid dishes and utensils are reachable. 

You can provide a stool so they can reach the family cabinet, you can choose a kids cabinet at eye level, or you can keep their dishes on a shelf. Our kid dishes are on a shelf very close to the kitchen table where they eat.

5. Designate a place for the dirty dishes.

In my house, the children put their dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and wash them. When they were younger, we kept a plastic tub on a low table near the sink that they could easily reach. They didn't have to wash their dishes themselves, but they were strongly encouraged to put them somewhere ready for washing.

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And One More Thing... Be Ready for Weird

Once given free reign, your newly independent kids may choose to eat things that would not occur to you... like a tub of shredded parmesan cheese or a clove of raw garlic or the entire 2 pound container of strawberries.

Click here  to join us in the next session!

Click here to join us in the next session!

Be cool with it.

They're experimenting and exploring their senses.

If they are eating something inappropriate, you can troubleshoot this a couple of ways. You can say, "Hey, kids, I'm saving the parmesan for the lasagna, so if you want some of that, tell me first, ok?" Or you can put the parmesan in the back of the freezer out of sight. Or you can put a Post-It note on the parmesan that says "MOM OR DAD ONLY." 

Over time, they will figure out what foods you allow and what foods you want them to ask about. In our house, all of the condiments are "ask an adult first" foods.

So give it a shot. If your fridge is full of all kinds of good food, they will thank you for it, and more importantly, they will learn competence and confidence in the kitchen.

Surprising Ways to Encourage Cooperation

At one point or another, we all feel the terrible aftertaste of envy in our social relationships. We see the venal colleague who gets ahead or the layabout relative who repeatedly falls into success.

The resulting envy and jealousy is all too human, as Shakespeare well understood. Still, we don't have to reinforce the traits in children.  

Consider the classic parental headache - sibling rivalry. Siblings get jealous of the attention the other receives. They become intensely concerned with equity. They fight. This is all natural.

But we parents all too readily add fuel to the fire. We pit the children against each other and declare one the winner. We visibly reward the child who is on "good behavior" and punish the child who is "acting out." We allow them to fight with each other without intervention. We may even ask them, "Why can't you be more like your brother?"

Want two children who hate each other? Do these things.

(Need more evidence? Read Alfie Kohn's excellent No Contest: The Case Against Competition.)

No Simple Solution

Here's the really tricky part. We may not even be aware we're setting kids up for failed relationships. Imagine a parent who, with the purest of intentions, regularly praises her oldest child for his math skills.

Does the always alert younger brother understand that the intention is to build the older brother's confidence and sense of accomplishment or does he interpret the message to be "you're never going to be as good as your brother"?

And what if it is the latter? Should the parent forgo the praise? Doesn't the older child deserve the kudos? 

To praise or not to praise, that is the question -- a simple question without a simple "yes/no" answer. Ironically, our culture is rife with social rules, linguistic queues, non-verbal tics, and more emphasizing duality as the norm. It's either victory or defeat, right or wrong, good or bad. We learn this as kids and live by it as adults

Musical Chairs Isn't Fun

Teaching kids that there are winners and losers is so deeply engrained in our culture, it feels nearly impossible to root out. Think about that most benign of children's birthday party games -- musical chairs.

The very thought that musical chairs could be harmful may feel absolutely ridiculous -- the kind of hippy dippy nonsense destroying our world. And, true enough, to an adult observer, the game is a kind of old timey fun. 

But let's imagine you're not an adult watching the amusing, chaotic scramble. Instead, you are a five years old playing the game.

You're feeling a bit awkward as you nervously walk to the music. With each step, you steel your nerves. Suddenly, the music stops. You lurch toward the closest chair and crash into the seat, edging your best friend out.

Everyone laughs and yells your friend's name. You laugh too, but it's fake. You're a bit sorry your friend didn't get a chair, but gosh you are so much more thankful it isn't you!

A chair is removed. The music begins again. The anticipation builds. You get the hang of the game and intentionally hesitate with each step so that you are always in front of a chair, never in the middle.

More chairs are removed as your friends join the crowd of losers. You realize suddenly that there are only a few chairs left. You're starting to think about winning. Your confidence is high.

The music stops again, and you lurch for the nearest empty seat only to find that there isn't one. Everyone is laughing, and your face burns in humiliation as everyone is pointing at you and yelling.

You smile good naturedly, but inside your stomach is churning. You join the group of losers, and once you sit down, you are immeasurably relieved in the solidarity. Your best friend sits beside you, and you are equal again. You are both losers.

The positive skills taught through the game must outweigh the other, especially in their interactions with each other.

The Lessons We Teach

So is musical chairs destroying our children? Should we toss it and other competitive games out because it might hurt someone's feelings?

Not at all. Competition is natural and has pushed humanity to great heights -- funding the space race and Renaissance -- and great horrors -- fueling war and exploitation. 

By exposing children to healthy competition, we can arm them with the social skills they need to handle victory and defeat with grace and courtesy and guide them away from internalizing -- or worse yet, replicating -- its darker side.

But teaching healthy competition means being aware of the implicit lessons the game or competition is teaching. The positive skills taught through the game must outweigh the other, especially in their interactions with each other.

Consider what is learned from musical chairs.

  • It's okay to put winning above friendship.

  • Rooting for others to lose is socially acceptable.

  • Losing is humiliating.

The answer isn't necessarily to toss musical chairs, but we may want to do it differently. We want children to value their human bonds! We want them to root for each other! We want them to feel good about themselves! What would a version of the game look like that fostered those lessons?

We Make the Rules

The other day, our family got out a bingo-style game the kids had received for Christmas. The kids were excited to play it, but instead of reading the rules for determining a winner, they made up their own rules, making it a cooperative game.

We each used more than one bingo card so we would have lots of pictures to look at. We enjoyed matching the picture cards to the pictures on our bingo cards. We stacked them up when we got extra pieces.

When another player needed a piece, we noticed. It was the perfect opportunity to practice skills like generosity and what Montessori called "grace and courtesy" like this: "My brother needs a bat! I have this extra bat. Would you like to have it?"

Competition was alive and well in that moment -- the drive to complete the puzzle. But so was the cooperation. Not long after the game ended, the boys were back at it - arguing about who got the bigger apple.

The game didn't end the sibling rivalry, but it did reinforce a critical lesson. People may disagree, but when one wins, we all win.

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Please, Don't Spoil Summer Vacation

Sometimes the seasons come upon us shockingly quick. It's not just the weather and fashions. Our moods and ideas about what constitutes good living shift with the season as well. 

This is a good thing. We all need a good shake-up now and then. Besides, we are human animals - syncing with the natural world is only natural. 

But sometimes we find ourselves scrambling to accommodate the seasonal hype around us. We think we need to create an entirely new, seasonally appropriate routine for our children. 

The Summertime Blues

As I write this, summer camp registration is at full tilt. Anxiety, too. Hearts plummet at the thought that we may have missed a grand opportunity for our little ones because we were too slow to register. (Naughty parent.

And hot damn, those classes can be expensive! We find ourselves in a debate about what's the most worthy investment for our families and how much we can afford. 

Five half days of "art camp" + several hundred dollars + a preschooler who does enjoy painting but truthfully loves playgrounds more = money well spent? 

But if we don't sign them up for all this enrichment, aren't we depriving them of The Essential Summertime Experiences of Their Generation? Aren't we RUINING them? 

And besides, what else are we going to do with the kids? People have to work, you know? 

So what's a parent to do?

Over Scheduled

I know that many of you are filling up your summer bucket lists, contemplating vacations, and looking at your calendars thinking about how bored your kids will be unless you figure out how to fill the weeks ahead. 

Out of curiosity, I asked some of my friends for their favorite summertime memories. Take a look at what they said.

"Summers in the country... North Carolina at grandma's. Running down red clay roads. Eating berries off the vine and apples off the tree."

"Outside at the pool all day. At camp hiking and rock-climbing. Reading all day in the cool basement. Ice cream and frozen candy bars. Sailing." 

"Pool from the time I got up to the time I went to bed. Only stopping for adult lap swim."

"Swimming in the dark at night and eating my mom's homemade ice pops after hours of swimming in our pool. And pretending to be Whitney Houston while singing along with 'I believe the children are the future' on our record player."

Is it just me or are you noticing a theme here? I can see these children running around barefoot, fingers sticky and dark with berry juice.

I see them dive bombing into the pool from the highest diving board over and over screaming with anticipation as the dopamine floods their brains and the water cushions the fall. I see their frozen treats dripping onto hot sidewalks.

I see myself as a little girl melting play dough in the hot sun on my backyard slide. Warm thunderstorms, sitting out on the porch with my mama, swinging back and forth and cuddling.

Making up symphonies inside my head while laying under a Texas-sized ceiling fan in a house without air conditioning. That enormous geode my brother and I found in our yard and lugged up onto the porch only to shatter the thing into a million glorious crystals.

The Simple Things

If you ask your children this question twenty years from now what they cherished most about their summers, I'm hedging a bet that it will be something slow, long, lazy, and amazingly simple that you'd never think to put in your summer bucket list.

You can make this happen for them. Just try a little less hard to schedule everything, ok?

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The Journey to Adulthood: Age 12 - 18

This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood.


If you've ever thought that living with a teenager is like living with a toddler, you're not that far off. Adolescence, the third plane of development, is a time of great transformation that mirrors, in many ways, that of early childhood (the first plane).

The relative calm of the second plane (6 - 12) buckles under a surge of hormones, bringing with them a body on fire and a mind practically incapable of anything but looking inward.

The Inner Storm

During this time, when we observe young adolescents between the ages of twelve and fifteen, we often see them wallow in self loathing, leap without looking, and sleep until lunchtime.

They seem self-centered and egotistical -- the center of the universe. They are highly susceptible to both addiction and mental illness. There is a shockingly high risk of suicide.

These are children in a crisis of development.

A Four Letter Word for "Children"

Teenagers are hard. Little wonder that many adults roll their eyes at even the word "teenager." Compare it to the word "adolescent," which shares an ending (-escent) with lovely words like "effervescent," "luminescent," and "iridescent."

Roads go ever ever on, Under cloud and under star, Yet feet that wandering have gone, Turn at last to home afar. Eyes that fire and sword have seen, And horror in the halls of stone, Look at last on meadows green, And trees and hills they long have known.
— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

These words convey a general feel of a changing, a flickering, a movement, a shining. "Teenager" does not. It begins with a whine and ends in a raging growl -- two characteristics associated with this plane.

Yet "adolescent" is more accurate. Like the changing, moving effervescent spring, humans in the third plane are experiencing a period of intense, wild, and wonderful change.

The Second Half

By age fifteen or so, the fire is still burning, but the transformation is becoming more peaceful. The creative inner work that was done in the first half of this plane is being perfected. All of life shows this pattern. An ebb and flow.

Ages fifteen to eighteen are the "flow" of the third plane. You are likely to look at a seventeen year old and see a great gain in decision making skills and a resurgence in academic interest compared to a few years earlier. This is a sign that while not fully developed, the child is seeing himself more as an adult, looking outward into the world, the universe in its proper place again.

We have a tendency to think of development as something that happens to kids, petering out sometime after high school, but that is not the case. Development does not stop with the third plane (nor even the fourth plane). It is an endless journey, a road that goes on ever and ever. 

The Journey to Adulthood: Ages 18 - 24

This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood.

The first three planes of development (0 - 6, 6 - 12, 12 - 18) address age ranges that, by most contemporary definitions, fit neatly within our concept of "childhood." But what about someone in the fourth plan (18 - 24)? 

Before answering, consider this. Contemporary Americans would balk at the idea of a 11 year old in the workforce, yet in 1900 18% of the U.S. labor force was under 16. Today, billions are spent making and selling things to high schoolers, yet the concept of a teenager didn't exist before 1922

In other words, our definition of childhood is not an ever-fixed star. It is a social construct that changes to reflect the norms and standards of the time. 

The Endless Journey

Whatever we choose to label those in the final plane, we know it is a period of relative calm and maturity marked by a desire to find one's place in society. Montessori described it as a time "when the individual can develop the spiritual strength and independence for a personal mission in life." 

In keeping with the patterns of the first three planes, the fourth plane covers a six year period. However, the actual end of the fourth plane is a matter of debate. Some researchers argue it ends sometime between twenty-four and thirty. Others argue there is not an ending so much as a fading into older life. The aching and stretches of childhood simply become part of the past and are no longer relevant. 

The road to adulthood is long but the journey of the soul never ending. 

Human Development is Messy. Montessori's Four Planes Helps.

Have you ever raised a litter of kittens? It's pretty amazing. Kittens are only kittens for a short time, little nothings with sharp claws and silky fur. Within just six months, they have changed into long, sleek, almost-adults capable of having litters of their own. 

Watching kittens grow -- or plants sprout -- makes development seem so orderly and straight. We ingest calories; we grow bigger. We acquire information; we get smarter. Inputs and outputs.

Not a Line But a Wave

The truth is that growth happens not in a steady trickle but in waves of passion, long periods of lethargy, occasional bouts of depression and changed interests. Growing is push-pull, grab and release, ache and exaltation.

To us, the cat is the miracle of life in miniature. In July, it's a kitten. By Christmas, it's having kittens. But to the cat, the journey is long and hard and begins before it takes a breath. The time spent in the womb and the effort made in his own birth are intense and miraculous.

We forget that when our kitten's eyes were sealed shut, it must have felt like he was seeking nourishment out of the darkness for ages.

We overlook the energy it required to learn the physical skills needed to hunt for food -- to try and lift his entire body into the air and - for the first time - pounce.

It is the same with humans, but since our childhoods are so much longer, so, too, the journey. By adulthood, we've lost our memories of the darkness of the womb, the ache in our muscles from learning to stand upright and walk. Even the long, painful years we spend yearning for independence yet subject to the whims of adults fade in time.

But these events shape us -- whether in our conscious minds or not -- and when we take it all in, from conception to maturity, we see it is a long road worthy of our admiration. Growing up should be celebrated.

The Four Planes of Development

Still, our drive to find linear order in growth is strong. To counter, we find guidance in Maria Montessori's work. She described human development as occurring in a series of four planes, or periods, and in 1951 developed a graphic to help explain the concept. Here's a version:



The flame at birth represents the beginning of life: the spark of existence. As the child grows up and passes into and out of each plane, different characteristics emerge. They are surprisingly consistent across all of humanity regardless of culture.

The graphic is powerful because it lets us see that development is not as a single, smooth line but rather like waves. It very clearly distinguishes the different planes of development from one another yet shows their balance and unity. Notice, for example, how infancy and adolescence mirror each other, as does the elementary child and the college age almost-adult.

Moreover, it captures the journey within each plane itself -- for example, the change at age 3 from toddler to preschooler. Growth and development become like waves within waves, a turbulent ebb and flow that captures the truth of the matter. Growing up is hard.

The Story Continues

For all it's strengths, no single image can really capture the complexity of development. The sharp points of the triangles and the heavy lines convey too much rigidity or structure. Growth is more like the gradual lift and decline of a hill, not the stiff peak of a mountain. (Maria must have felt the same hesitation because she later developed a more organic visualization).

None-the-less, thinking of child development in this way is truly powerful, for it simultaneously recognizes the ebb and flow of development while giving it an understandable structure. Like the kitten that seems to age before our eyes, the chart makes tangible what is abstract. The miracle of life in miniature.

Singing Together Is More Important Than You Think

Ever meet someone who claims they can’t sing? Maybe you even greet that person when you look in the mirror. Well, science has a message for you -- you’re almost certainly wrong.

Researchers estimate that only about 2 percent of humans lack the ability to detect differences between musical notes. Plus, music is found in all human societies and dates back ages (we’ve found 40,000 year old flutes).

In short - while the other 98% of us may not have a secret Diana Ross buried inside, we’re almost certain to have the ability to sing.

Circle Time is Good Medicine

Singing makes us feel feel good (promoting the release of oxytocin and endorphin) and is a critical tool for social bonding. In fact, singing may have evolved specifically for that purpose.

In other words, sharing music make society work better. The only reasonable conclusion is that daily circle time singing also makes our classroom communities work better.

And if all that’s not enough to convince you to sing with children, music is great for building up the brain. Researchers have positively linked college students’ access to music programs with their likelihood of graduation and shown that, for younger kids, intensive exposure to music at an early age improves cognitive outcomes.

Teaching Cumulative Songs

Because singing is basically as human as human can be, you don’t need a degree in musicology to make or enjoy it. However, a bit of knowledge about how music works might boost your confidence and get your creative juices flowing. You might even know more than you realize!

Case in point - if you’ve ever sung “Old MacDonald” or “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” you’ve sung a cumulative song. “Cumulative song” is a fancy way to describe a song where each verse builds on the last (i.e., the lyrics accumulate) in a repeating pattern.

Here's an example using the cumulative classic “The Green Grass Grew All Around”:

The Benefits to the Child

Cumulative songs are fun and beneficial. Because the singers must remember an ever growing list of items (e.g., birds, bugs, eyelashes), cumulative songs have a game-like quality good for sharpening memory.

Additionally, because they have simple, repeated structures, they’re easier to teach and learn, making them great for social bonding events.

Their predictability also make them great for improvisation. For example, try leading children in a version of the “The Green Grass” where you get absurdly tiny (e.g., a germ, an atom, an electron).

So get out there and sing with your kids. You may not be pitch perfect, and that’s perfectly okay! 

Ready to try it yourself? Check out our guide and printable for “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”

9 Never Fail Name Games and Songs for Circle Time

As a Kindergarten teacher, I spent years collecting songs and name games that were winners for breaking the ice in a new class during circle time at the beginning of the year. I kept a large stack of index cards of my favorite songs and added to the box as I learned new songs from other teachers.

I now am the proud owner of an index box ridiculously full of hundreds of songs appropriate for the 18mo-6yo crowd. Because music is meant to be shared, I pulled together some of my favorite chants and songs. Who knows...maybe you'll learn a new one to add to your own collection!

1. Hicklety Picklety Bumblebee

For this name game, sit cross-legged on the floor and pat your knees while you chant in a regular, somewhat emphatic voice . It's not an easy one for little ones, so it will be mostly the adult chanting. You want their attention to draw toward you as you get softer so that by the time you are mouthing the name silently, the children are totally focused on your mouth and you have their full attention.

Hicklety picklety bumblebee

Who can say their name for me?

Allison! (loudly)

Allison. (whispered)

All-i-son. (mouthed without vocalizing)

2. Johnny Whoops

This is a name game that starts with your index finger pointing to each finger in succession. Start by pointing at the pinky and when you get to the index finger, "whoops" toward your thumb, say the name on the thumb, then whoops backwards again toward your pinky. The sillier and more drawn out your "whoooooooops" the more laughter and excitement you'll generate. This is a real crowd pleaser. Every child loves to hear his/her own name whoopsing back and forth.

Johnny Johnny Johnny Johnny

Whoops! Johnny

Whoops! Johnny

Johnny Johnny Johnny!


3. Jack in the Box

name games and songs for circle time pinnable

For this name game, the child sits on the floor all curled up hiding his head (the yoga "child's pose").  When you shout, "Yes, he will!" the child pops up...just like a jack in the box, arms up overhead as if to say, "Ta-da!"

Christopher in the box, sits soooooo still.

Will he come out?

Yes he WILL!

4. Willoughby Wallaby Woo

First listen to and learn the tune to Willoughby Wallaby Woo by Raffi. Then just sing this short verse below, substituting in the child's name. If you have an elephant puppet or little stuffed elephant to literally "walk" over and "sit" on the child, all the more giggle-inducing!

Willoughby wallaby woo

An elephant sat on YOU (point finger toward child whose name will be used)

Willoughby Wallaby Wistopher

An elephant sat on Christopher!

5. Pig On Her Head

First listen to and learn the song Pig On Her Head by Laurie Berkner. Fill a bag with small toy animals. Let the child reach in and take one out of the mystery bag and place the animal on his head. Switch the song up by choosing another animal out of the bag or by placing it on another body part. This is a delightfully goofy song.

George has a sheep on his neck,

George has a sheep on his neck,

George has a sheep on his neck,

And he'll keep it there all day!

6. Who Is Missing?

Lay out a blanket or very large scarf on the floor. Ask the child to curl up (child's pose) on the floor, and make a dramatic point of draping the blanket carefully on top.  It then becomes a game of peek-a-boo. It's so foolishly simple, but always a winner! I never had a child who didn't want to take a turn hiding after this game was played a few times and everyone was comfortable. Sometimes you  have to speak quickly because the child won't want to wait for the dramatic pause and will swoosh the blanket off him/herself very quickly. That's just part of the fun.

Hmmm....someone is missing! Who is it? Who's missing? It's...(pull off blanket in a big swooosh).....Kaitlyn!"

7. Yoo Hoo! 

I learned this one back in my college music education class and I have no idea who wrote or published it, so feel free to link up the tune if you find it. Until then, make up your own little tune to sing to the words. This time the child hides behind something in the room (a desk? the couch?). You begin by singing and "hunting" with your eyes.

Somebody's hiding inside the closet.

I wonder who it could be... Yoo hoo... You hoo...(child sings back from the hiding place)

I wonder who it could be. ....It's Evan!

8. Clapping Names

So simple but also fun! Just go around the circle clapping each child's name with each syllable.

Let's clap Harriet.  Harr-i-et!

Now let's clap Kathy. Ka-thy!

9. Who Do We Appreciate? 

Be forewarned. This is not a quiet chant. It's a rile-em-up and make them feel like a million bucks chant. For this one, you're going to put on your very best cheerleader voice and grin, clap your hands and at the end wiggle your fingers up in the air like you've won the game!

2-4-6-8 Who do we appreciate?

Zachary! Zachary! Yaaaaaaayyyyy Zachary!


We Have a Moral Obligation to Teach Storytelling

There’s a famous story about a chained elephant that goes something like this:

“When the elephant was younger and weaker, its owners put a huge chain on it. When it was older and stronger, they put a small chain on it. Though the older elephant could easily break this new chain, it had learned it was pointless to try.”

Queue life lesson about having a growth mindset, changing the patterns of your life, breaking free from the shackles of your mind, etc.

I’m not going to pretend as though I’ve not trotted out this chestnut myself. It does a decent job of making a point about, well, growth mindsets, breaking habits, and such. But it is also dangerous.


  • Fact: The newer chain is small.
  • Fact: The older elephant is strong.
  • Conclusion: The elephant could break the chain if it tried.
  • Ergo: It’s not the chain on its leg that is holding the elephant back but the chain in its mind.

So very logical, which is precisely why it can be so very dangerous, for it makes a saint of facts and a devil of story. If only the elephant would use reasoning and data – to let the truth flow from the facts – it could undo the false story holding it back. Put another way, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to trash reason, the scientific method, or fact-based evidence, and I am certainly not here to advocate for “alternative facts” or whatever the word du jour. But I am also dead set on the notion that it is to our very great peril that we underestimate the power of story. Yes, we must root our stories in fact, but we can’t assume that the facts alone are what make something compelling.

Building a Stone Path

It’s the Stone Path principle. Facts are like stones. They have strength and integrity. Stories are the path itself. They take us places. And here’s the rub. The stones don’t know or care that they’re in a path. They’re just stones. It’s the path builder – the storyteller – who determines where we go. The facts have strength. The story has authority. Which is why a compelling story beats a boring fact more often than we’re comfortable with. Or as linguist George Lakoff says, “lies are not as important as the truth that defines who you are.”

So where does that leave us? To be sure, the answer isn't too go full-tilt Pinocchio. We must strive for a truthful recounting of the facts when we communicate. The further erosion of public faith in scientific and reason-derived factual evidence is, frankly, terrifying.

But we must never forget that the facts don't speak for themselves. We, the storytellers – the path builders – must give them voice. And above all, we must stop thinking of the artful retelling of facts as a moral failing. It's a human trait - part and parcel of us. When we fail to acknowledge this fact, we leave ourselves open to deception (he said it so it must be true), confusion (I don't understand why people believe what he just said), and frustration (why won't people believe me; I've got facts on my side.)

The Bias in Education

As does so much, education plays a central role in solving this problem. To start, we must acknowledge our societal bias to equate the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) with rigorous, valid academics – and, implicitly, view all other subjects as “other.” A serious study of the arts, philosophy, theology, and other “soft” subjects helps equip us with the skills needed to appreciate the role both fact and story have in our lives. Yet we consistently rob the arts of their vitality by putting them on a pedestal – literally on a pedestal in an art museum. We visit the arts; we live amongst technology. We love a song; we rely on the electrical grid. We have math nerds but art snobs.

And if those stories aren’t enough, look at the facts as told via school funding. As the Washington Post reports:

"Schools in areas serving children from low-income families have reduced or completely cut their arts and music programs. These programs tend to be the first casualties of budget cuts in hard-pressed school districts already struggling to meet other demands of the academic curriculum, and they are rarely restored.”

The story isn’t much different for schools serving middle- and higher-income families, either, though with greater wealth comes greater opportunity for enrichment beyond the classroom. That once a year family trek to see The Nutcracker helps offset the loss of the school’s theater program.

But it doesn’t help make the arts any more vital or relevant. They remain on a pedestal – distant and removed from everyday life. And with them sits the belief that the truths they convey are not facts. They’re just stories.

I knew we left that chain somewhere. It’s around our legs.


Conflict Resolution Starts in the Sandbox

The sand beckons them. One child reaches for a shovel and kneels, prepares to dig. The other takes off his shoes and swishes his bare feet back and forth. “A sand angel!” he exclaims. His whole body is in the game now, back flat, head still, arms flailing. Again and again he returns to recreate the form his body makes in the sand. Each time, more sand is kicked up into the air, his vigorous movements creating a spray in the blue sky above.

As the sand flies higher, the digging child, the neighbor caught beneath the storm, must make a choice. Sand is getting into his hair and into his carefully dug hole. But what should he do?

Here are five possibilities he might consider:

  1. Yell “HEY!” and forcefully shove the offender away.
  2. Quickly get up and leave the sandbox until the offender has finished.
  3. Draw a line in the sand and tell the offender never to cross the boundary.
  4. Threaten to destroy the offender’s project in return.
  5. Engage the offender in the digging project.

Depending on the child’s temperament and also based on what has worked well for him in the past, one of these options might be more appealing.

But which is the right way to handle it? The ethical choice?

The Parent’s Dilemma

To the adult observing, perhaps it is clear who was in the wrong and who should be the one to change his behavior or leave the sandbox. We, the adults, have created a rule, and that rule is “No throwing sand - EVER,” because let’s face it: a sobbing child with sand in the eyes is no joke!

As parents, our instinct is often to intervene immediately and not risk the possible sand-throwing war that could ensue between the two parties. We are also aware of a culturally confining unwritten book called Good Parenting, which instructs: Remind everyone of the rules and strictly enforce them at all times. The consequence of not adhering to this parenting format puts one in a bit of social danger. No one wants to be thought of as the bad parent.

Really Good Parenting

Courage is required for thinking outside of the box. As well, constantly intervening in potential conflicts is both exhausting and, to be honest, a thoughtless approach to child rearing. It is the dog barking at every passing stranger - regardless of whether or not he is here to burgle. If we want our children to learn how to make the ethical choice in the sandbox, we must see ourselves not as rule enforcers but as ethics mentors.

We must teach them to think critically and very quickly through a series of questions that may look something like this:

  1. Does the sand-throwing pose an immediate danger to oneself, the community, or the environment?
  2. Is the sand-throwing intentional?
  3. Does the sand thrower see the digger sitting there nearby?
  4. Is violence (shoving) necessary in order to stop the danger?
  5. Would stepping away to observe allow one to get a different point of view (and out of danger)?

Why World Leaders Throw Sand

Imagine, now, that we are not talking about two children in a sandbox but two world leaders engaged in an international conflict. Their options are very similar: retaliate physically, ignore, build a wall, threaten to destroy, negotiate by finding mutual interests…

To make these choices, leaders need the ability to see the world from a different culture’s point of view and also to be able to quickly determine the most probable positive outcome of an action.

We want skilled, experienced persons who will think not just about satisfying their own ego or ensuring their nation’s safety but also about the global community at large and the effect of their actions on the Earth. The questions they must ask themselves are, not surprisingly, similar as well.

If we want to create the ethical leaders of tomorrow, where do we begin?

We begin in the sandbox.

Kids Deserve good Poetry: Daffodils

There is a scourge on children's literature, and it is bad poetry -- sing-songy, not-quite-rhyming lines rife with an uneven number of syllables. But it doesn't have to be this way. The world is full of great verse -- A.A. Milne, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Edward Lear... You get the idea.

Sure, reading William Blakes' "The Tyger" might require a mental stretch from your kids (and maybe you, too) but that's a good thing! Plus, great poetry is simply fun to read!

Pro Tips

Poetry (like its cousin, music) is ancient, which is probably why children have such a natural affinity for it. Still, it never hurts to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Here are four:

  • Read it Morning and Night: Try reading poetry before bedtime or while your child is eating breakfast. Those two times work really well for listening.
  • Make it Available: Keep a poetry anthology on the dresser or in with the cookbooks. Adding poetry into your daily routine will make it, well, routine!
  • Don't Overthink It: Don't feel like you must pair every poem with activities or discussions of new vocabulary words or anything "schoolish." Just read and enjoy them!
  • Repeat: When reading a poem, go through it twice in a row if the kids allow it. This is especially important with the short poems. 

The Poems

To help you started on your good poetry adventure, here are three daffodil-ly poems to chew on.

Nursery Rhyme from The Little Mother Goose

Daffy-down-dilly has come up to town

In a fine petticoat and a green gown.


"Daffodowndilly" by A.A. Milne

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet

She wore her greenest gown;

She turned to the south wind

And curtsied up and down.

She turned to the sunlight

And shook her yellow head,

And whispered to her neighbour: "Winter is dead."


"I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" by William Wordsworth

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed---and gazed---but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:


For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.


Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Break the "Good Job" Habit with These 21 Alternatives

Excess praise can be damaging to our children's intrinsic motivation (working just for the pure pleasure of it - not to please anyone else), but what should we do instead? Constant "good jobbing" is a habit, and habits can be hard to break. But it can be done!

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The easiest way to stop saying "good job" or "nice work" if you are committed is to simply start by swapping out the praise-heavy phrase with a more neutral one.

Keep in mind that a child who is used to getting lots of praise will keep asking for it, so using more than one of these suggested phrases when your child keeps probing may help get both of you past the praise dependency. In my experience, most children (even the most persistent praise-seekers) become self-satisfied when there is a meaningful dialogue.

Below are some phrases that might work for you in your home or classroom. None of them will fit in all situations, and if used without the intention of connecting more deeply with a child, they will definitely not work. Use them as a starting point, and before long, your automatic "good job" will become an automatic "something else."

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The List

1. "Hmm!" Smile and nod. That's right. Bite your lip if you have to. Just don't say it! Smile and nod. Smile and nod. And then listen. What will the child say?

Example: Child brings you a puzzle that has been completed. "Hmm!" Now look the child in the eyes, tune in, and listen. What does the child say about his puzzle?

2. Tell me about this! 

Example: Child has glued a yellow circle onto an orange piece of paper and comes to show you the big gluey mess of artwork. "Tell me about this!" What the child says may surprise you.

3. I can see that you_____. (describe what you see)

Example: Child has scribbled with chalk on the chalkboard with pink and blue chalk and brings you over to see. "I can see that you have been using pink and blue chalk."

4. You look proud. Are you? I'm glad you_____. (describe the accomplishment)

Example: Child chops strawberries into a bowl to serve herself and then invites you to look. "You look proud. Are you? I'm glad you know how to chop your own strawberries now. It's nice to serve yourself when you're hungry."

5. Describe + How did you do it?

Example: Child presents you with a handwritten, hand-drawn, haphazardly stapled book that you recognize is very similar to one of his favorite bedtime picture storybooks. "You made your own book. How did you do it?"

6. Thank you! I appreciate_____.

Example: Child gives you a love note in pictorial form - drawn for YOU. "Thank you. I appreciate you thinking of me." Never underestimate a simple thank you!

7. Describe + I appreciate your hard work / effort.

Example: Child loads dishwasher perfectly and looks to you for approval. "You loaded the dishwasher perfectly. I appreciate your hard work!"

8. Your face looks happy! It feels so good to_____.

Example: Child: asks you to watch him perform a physical trick on the playground. "Your face looks happy! It feels so good to stretch your muscles, doesn't it?"

9. I am so happy for you because_____.

Example: Child masters the monkey bars and she runs to you to celebrate. "I am so happy for you because I know you've been working on those monkey bars for a long time!"

10. When you __________, I__________.

Example: Child builds a very tall tower with blocks and asks you to look look look! "When you started that tower, I didn't have any idea how tall it was going to get! Super tall!"

11. What was the hardest / easiest part?

Example: Child learns to ride a bike up and down the block. "What was the hardest part about learning to ride? What was the easiest part?"

12. When I was a child, sometimes I liked to_____. Do you like to_____ too? 

Example: Child hands you a list she made of -at words. You read cat, hat, sat, mat... "When I was a child, sometimes I liked to sing a rhyming song. The caaaaat saaaat on the maaaat la-la-la... Do you also like to sing your rhyming words?"

13. Wow! May I______?

Example:Child constructs a crazy invention out of straws, paper towel rolls, masking tape, and paper clips. "Wow! May I try your invention? How do I use it? Would you show me?"

14. Hmm... I wonder what you’ll come up with next.

Example: Child makes dominoes topple over in an interesting pattern. "Hmm... I wonder what you'll come up with next."

15. You did it! 

Example: Child has been trying very hard to write his name and finally has written all of the letters correctly on the page. "You did it!"

16. I've noticed that_____.

Example: Child builds an airplane out of legos and comes to show you. "I've noticed that you've been working on your lego building skills and you are starting to make a lot of interesting things.")

17. I love seeing you_____. Would you like to_____. 

Example: Child sits and reads a book. When he gets to the end, he closes it and tells you he can read it. "I love seeing you teaching yourself how to read. Would you like to read this book to me? Or would you like for me to read it to you?"

18. What did you learn from this? 

Example: Child works hard to match all the pictures of animals that live in Africa to the continent of Africa. "What do you think you might have learned from this?"

19. How did you come up with the idea for this?

Example: Child has made a paper airplane and decorated it. "How did you come up with the idea for this?"

20. You sure are growing! I remember when you weren't able to_____, and now you can_____.

Example: Child has brushed her teeth, for the first time, by herself. "You sure are growing! I remember when you weren't able to brush your own teeth. I brushed them for you every day. But now you can brush them all by yourself!"

21. A hug or a pat on the shoulder. As long as you are giving physical affection regularly and not tied to specific behaviors, feel free to connect with the little one without any words at all! A hug can sometimes say it all.

Patience and Practice

Like anything else, learning how and when to effectively use these phrases will take practice. Pick a few to try out and get familiar with those first before moving on to others. It's a guarantee you'll find opportunities to use all of these phrases within a single week of time spent with a child, but it will likely take much longer to solidify the new habit.

Click here for a printable version of this list

Before You Say "Good Job" Again, Read This

"See my picture? I made it for you. Do you like it?" When a child comes to you with excitement to show you some of his work, it can be difficult not to respond with praise. On the tip of the tongue is a positive response such as "I love it! Great job!" or "Did you draw this for me? Very nice!" I hate to burst a bubble, but if praise is the constant go-to, there's a problem.

Getting praise can be addictive. Everyone wants affection, and if drawing a pretty picture and making it for someone else is a path to getting some positive attention, it's only natural that the child will do it again.

And again.

And again.

Pretty soon he'll forget why he was excited about drawing in the first place. He'll scribble anything on the page in order to feel the glow of a compliment. He may have started by working for his own pleasure, but with lots of praise, he begins working in order to hear his work validated by someone else.

Getting the warm fuzzy at the end of completing a task becomes the focal point of the entire process, rather than the satisfaction that comes from one's own effort.

The Praise Addiction

It can feel as good to give these accolades as it does to receive them. The praise may even be completely genuine in the beginning. We all want to make someone feel good, and that, in turn makes us feel pleased with ourselves. We can make people feel good, and that feels goooooood!

But what once was an honest, happy surprise becomes tiresome as we are presented with the hundredth drawing (now mostly scribbles without effort). We've run out of compliments, and we settle for a minimalist "Good job!" or offhanded "High five!" with a fake smile. We have exchanged authenticity for a habit.

While steeped in good intentions, this dynamic is not healthy for the child or the parent.

Praise is one example of extrinsic motivation, where one takes pleasure in working for the sake of a reward (in our case, the compliment), as opposed to intrinsic motivation, when one works for the joy of the work itself. It seems a benign practice on the surface until you realize that the more "good jobs" we provide, the more we are inadvertently trivializing the child's work, leading to lower intrinsic motivation.

You heard that right. By good jobbing our children, we are suppressing their desire to learn for the sake of learning. No parent intends for this, of course, but it is proven again and again in study after study. It's time to think before we speak.

External Motivators

Some educators believe that children need praise to become motivated to finish a task. Giving praise is without a doubt motivating. Rewards are very, very strong external motivators. There's no question about that. In Montessori, however, we have a different view of the child. Maria Montessori reminded us that young children will absorb what they need in order to develop into healthy human beings simply from their environments. Motivation comes with the territory. Learning new skills takes effort, self confidence, and determination, yes, but it is a natural state of being.

If the joy of the work alone is not enough to motivate a child to complete the task the teacher intends for the child to complete, we believe that perhaps it is the task that is at fault and not the child. When the child finds the perfect match between activity and interest, desiring only to please himself, that is when you see the real deal excitement for learning.

Praising a child for his efforts to learn a new skill is like praising a tree for absorbing water from the ground in order to grow taller. It just doesn't make sense.

A plant that is given a nourishing environment and treated with reverence will flourish, and so will a child. A compliment here and there can be meaningful if it is well phrased and descriptive. Even physical contact such as a hug or a brief touch on the shoulder can show admiration for the enthusiasm and hard work. Open communication about the benefits of taking on new challenges and feeling proud of accomplishments will always be helpful! What is not helpful is a barrage of meaningless, superfluous accolades.


Not convinced? Take some time to process it while reading these two excellent books chalk full of evidence about what motivates humans to work and enjoy what they are doing.

But if you're already convinced and just need a little nudge in the right direction, I'd like you to think about what qualities you'd like for your child in regards to his work habits.

Do you want to raise a child who...

  • thinks learning/working is boring or a waste of time
  • needs to show you his work all the time for confirmation
  • doesn't trust that you are honest in your opinion
  • loses interest in hard projects in lieu of easier ones
  • evaluates the quality of his work by his perception of your satisfaction

Or do you want to raise a child who...

  • thinks learning/working is fun
  • doesn't need to show you every time
  • seems genuinely interested in your detailed opinion
  • gets excited about new learning projects, especially challenging ones
  • evaluates the quality of his work by his own feelings of satisfaction

Seems like an easy choice, doesn't it? A little praise now and then in admiration of the child's effort - no harm done! Lots and lots of praise - time to meditate on why you're giving it.

Yes, Early Experiences Shape Our Lives. Yes, We Can Change.

Though Sigmund Freud's star has fallen quite a bit over the decades, his studies of the mentally ill laid the groundwork for modern psychotherapy. In his deep discussions with patients, Freud uncovered a correlation between childhood traumas and emotional difficulties in adulthood.

The fact that our childhood experiences can scar us for life seems obvious to us today, now that the field of psychology is well grounded and respected as an academic subject, but back then, Freud's work was groundbreaking.

The Human Spirit

One of his notable contemporaries was a young medical doctor and educational theorist named Maria Montessori. As a scientist, Montessori felt compelled to take his assumptions about the nature of the human spirit and challenge them.

Her conclusion -- Freud's studies, however significant, gave a skewed view of humanity. (Another great example of how Montessori was a person ahead of her time).

In The Secret of Childhood, she insists that in order to understand the true human spirit, we need more than to study mentally ill adults. We need to study the normal child in as natural a setting as possible, so we can understand what makes a healthy adult as well.

Permanent Impermanence

Everything that happens in childhood (including the pre-natal genetic coding) affects the adult personality. If you could look back in your past and see your childhood hopes, dreams, interests (what Montessori calls "the child's soul"), you would see a mirror of your adult self "grasping the realities of human life." In some sense, we are today who we were then.

But do not despair in your "fixed" faults and anxieties. Recent discoveries, such as neuroplasticity, show that adults are able to grow new neural pathways in the brain and even generate new neurons themselves. In other words, we can overcome even strong tendencies toward certain personality traits. It takes effort, but it can be done. And it starts by preparing for a life of continued growth while in childhood.

Freud was right. Our early experiences matter. But there is more to us than the scars of childhood. Children are incredible beings -- revolutionary, powerful, and possessed with the potential to transform our world. To help them reach their potential requires strength, sacrifice, self love, and a reverence for their ability to never stop growing.

A Beginner's Research Project

When we walked into the rainforest exhibit building at our local zoo, we were hit by a wave of warm, moist air. A soft fluttering of leaves drew our eyes up into the foliage, and a small, black monkey scampered into view. We stood still and watched that monkey for a very long time as it hopped from branch to branch, and when we came home, the impact of the experience was evident in the children's playful behavior. The oooh-ooohs and aaah-aaahs rang through the house.

What's a grown-up to do? Join them, of course! When the children have an experience that really impacts them, use it as the teachable moment. Here are a few tips to guide this process.

1. Choose a time when the children are relatively calm and ready to learn. A great way to get kids to calm down is to rev them up first! Trust me on this. A good romp gets the blood going and brain cells firing.

One monkey song I adore (who doesn't?) is Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed. It's even better if you are actually jumping on a bed, but even if you aren't, I recommend that you join in with them and act the part of the doctor, examining their heads and shaking your finger gently at them. Another funny monkey song I love is Aba Daba Honeymoon, an oldie but goodie written 1914 and famously recorded by Debbie Reynolds in 1950. We usually use rhythm sticks to tap the beat, and during the musical interludes, we twirl and jump.

2. Model brainstorming out loud. When the kids seem exhausted from the jumping, hold up a picture of a monkey and comment to yourself out loud something like this: "This is a monkey. I like monkeys! This one has a loooooong tail. I wish I had a long tail like that! I bet it would be fun. Hey, I wonder why monkeys have tails...."

3. Write your ideas down. If your child has the patience to brainstorm a million ideas about monkeys with you while you write them down, enjoy this learning time together. If your child is not the patient sort and is ready to move on, just scribble this this one idea down on a scrap of paper or on a dry erase board.

4. Research to find the answers. Use whatever resources are available to you. The next time you are at a public library, check out a few nonfiction monkey books to read at home. Look for nature-oriented monkey clips on YouTube. Type your questions into Google. Check out the Enchanted Learning Monkey webpage for inspiration and child-friendly information. Don't worry if your children are not coming up with their own questions and answers about monkeys. Remember that you are modeling this mode of learning, and it will pay off big time. Your children will surprise you someday with their own entire research project.

5. Make a hands-on impression. Choose a hands-on activity to go with your research study. If you are learning about monkeys, you might be interested in this crayon-rubbing activity. It would work for any jungle-related theme.

Here's an example of an activity I created using some basic leafy and viney designs cut out of a cereal box.

We placed the cardboard designs on a tray and put a white piece of paper on top. Rub, rub, rub in various colors. Ta-da! Jungle! We added our monkeys into the trees. My youngest did the rubbing himself and asked me to draw the monkey. (No problem, babe, I'm modeling this, too.) My oldest finished his jungle monkey and then used the cardboard piece that looks like a palm tree to create a beach scene on his next piece of paper. That kind of spontaneous creativity is the kind of thing I love, and it only happens if you model the process on a regular basis.