When you look online or in stores for toys for young children, many toys are offered for lots of money where they make noises, have lights, music, and other such things. None of them are necessary. Empty plastic containers, with and without lids and empty boxes are wonderful toys for exploring all sorts of learning. Comparing sizes by putting one thing in another teaches science and math without anyone instructing the child. Listening to the difference in sounds as these containers and boxes are clapped together or banged on the floor or against a table teaches difference in pitch, volume, and other musical concepts. More to come.

You don’t need a book to tell stories.  Story telling happens in all cultures, and has been going on far longer than the written word.  Any time you describe something that happened already, you are telling the story of what happened.  The more you do it, the easier it gets.  The first stories can be 1 statement.  We ate lunch.

Then add to it.  What did we eat?  “Pittr buttr”, which was how my second one said peanut butter.  What else did we eat? Apple.  Did we have anything to drink?  Milk.

Here’s the new story.  We ate lunch. We had peanut butter sandwiches. We drank milk.  We cut up an apple and had it for dessert.

It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

Do you want to tell the lunch story again?  Each time, you and the child/ren can add things – We were hungry. We wanted something that we could eat quickly.  We looked in the pantry.  (What did we find?) We found a jar of peanut butter.  We got a knife (where was it?) from the drawer.  We got bread from the counter (or refrigerator, or bread box).  We got plates.  (What did we put on the plates?) We put a slice of bread on each plate.  We used the knife to spread the peanut butter on the bread. We put another slice of bread on the top. We took out glasses…

You get it. This can take longer than the original lunch.  But as you add details, the child remembers and helps you add some more details.  And as you retell the story, the idea of order – what came first enters in to it as well.  There are many lesson plans on how to teach sequencing, but when children are in the habit of thinking about what came first, and then, and then, sequencing is not hard for them.

The idea is that any experience, when remembered, is a story.  Stories help review things that happened. Help remember how problems were solved like how the child/ren helped find something important. Help remember how upset/sad/angry they were and how it worked out.  And help children learn to make their own stories.


Someone asked how to introduce loose parts in an early childhood center where the teachers were not familiar with them. It would have been better to  introduce the idea at a staff meeting first. But it’s too late for that now. 

So I suggested what I did when introducing the study of balls.  I assembled 3 large bins of many sizes and types of balls, and put 1 in each of 3 classrooms.  I told the teachers that the only rule was to observe – and they couldn’t “teach” anything about them.

The staff meeting was 3 days later.  I told everyone about what I had done and asked each of the 3 teachers what happened.  One said “They didn’t learn anything, they just rolled them around and around.”  I asked her to tell us more.  They rolled them on the carpet and on the bare floor. They rolled them up and down ramps they made out of blocks.  Again, she said they didn’t learn anything.

The second one said they tried bouncing all of them. Some did bounce and some didn’t. Some of the children kept on trying to bounce the ones that didn’t bounce. Some children, after trying them, only would bounce the bouncy ones.

The third teacher said they threw the balls to each other.  First, they gently tossed them from very close to each other.  She did tell them not to throw them AT each other.  I said that was okay.  That morning, a few children made a throwing game – they stood on different sides of a cabinet and threw them over the cabinet.  Then they sat and threw them over the cabinet and tried to catch them.

The first one said, “See, I told you they didn’t learn.”

I said when children explored freely without adult interference, they explored different properties depending on their interests and their friends’ interests.  Without adults telling them what to do, one group investigated rolling, one bouncing, one throwing. 

This is PROOF that children learn by doing and by investigating on their own.  If I tried to set this up, I couldn’t have done any better.  I was SO excited by these results!

That was the first step towards developing studies of balls.  First children explore, then adults can come in and expand the learning opportunities.

This works with balls, loose parts, rocks – anything they can touch and move on their own.

Most often, children who make things, especially pictures, collages, block or rock or other structures, have no idea before-hand about a finished product.  They just make things.  Sometimes, after they are finished, they look at it and notice it looks like something.  One of my children made a sort of rectangle, looked at it for a while, and said, “Look, Mommy!  I made the refrigerator!”  He said it with surprise and pride at the same time.


Either they know what they made or they don’t. If they don’t, the question makes them think you want an answer, so many children will often say something to please you.  This is starting them on the slippery slope to lying. Yes, lying. Because making words up is lying.


If they do know what they made, the question can lead to thoughts of:

  • I’m not such a good artist (builder, etc.) or you would be able to see what I made.
  • You aren’t paying attention, just asking a question and not really looking at my work.


None of these answers are encouraging of the child or respectful of her feelings.  What can you say?

  • Please tell me more about this.
  • If it’s a picture – I see some colors – a lot of ___.
  • If it’s a structure – I see bigger pieces and smaller ones.

The idea is to notice something about it, and tell something about what you see without labeling it.  This shows the child that you look and see the work and that you are paying attention. This counts!


Sometimes, I ask questions and get strange answers.  In a recent workshop series I asked what I thought was a simple question.  Some didn’t answer and others told me things that seemed unrelated to my question.

The problem, as it usually is when the answer doesn’t “match” the question, is the question itself, often combined with the listener’s understanding of what is behind the question.  An example – “Do you want chicken for dinner?” is answered by “Are you saying you want to go out for dinner?”  Or the same question is answered by “What? Leftovers again?”  More clearly, I could have asked, “Do you want chicken or fish?”  or “We have chicken vegetable soup and roasted chicken in the fridge.  Would you like one of those for dinner?”

In classrooms, when teachers ask questions and children’s answers are not what the teacher expects, the teacher often thinks the student doesn’t understand the subject matter.  I’ve seen this when I supervised student teachers.  They would ask a question that I had trouble following, and when the child couldn’t come up with the answer the student had in mind, the student teacher told me that the child didn’t “get it”.

The more clear the question, the easier it is for the person being asked to come up with an answer related to the question.

Preparing for a workshop on science for infants and toddlers, I asked some colleagues for input.  Some suggested I bring special items to teach how to teach about certain aspects of science.  MY point is that special lessons are unnecessary and interfere with little ones’ exploration.

Lots of things go in the mouth. Are they hard or soft, bumpy or smooth, and which ones feel better when teething? 

They push and throw things and find out if they push something off of a table, it will fall.  After many, many tries, they find that the item always falls down – not up, not sideways.

Some things do come up again, such as balls.  But when balls finish bouncing, they are down and stay down until someone bounces them again.

These and thousands of everyday explorations are real science learning.

Adults can help by giving them materials, time, and space to explore. Adults can sportscast – “You threw the spoon. It fell onto the floor.”  Science words would be,  “It was UP on the table, now it’s DOWN on the floor.”

Every year, before Thanksgiving, there are “cute” images of turkeys.  Children are taught poems and stories and songs about the turkey who got away, children waddle around going “gobble, gobble, gobble” and in many classrooms, they trace their hands to make a turkey.

Every year, I ask the same question:  Why is this the only animal that is personified for a holiday where it’s the main food at the dinner?  I know there are children raised on farms where they eat the animals they raise.  BUT, they are not taught to pretend to BE those animals.

In early childhood classrooms, children waddle like ducks, flap their arms to “fly” like birds, “swim” like fish, etc.  BUT they are never taught to do this when that animal is going to be on the table! Yes, teachers have to be mindful of the families who may be vegetarians or vegans.  But the main focus in most classes in November is the turkey.

I’ve always wondered about stuff that others don’t often wonder about.  This one gets me all the time.  How did teaching little ones to pretend to be the food they will eat get into the story??

Back in the day when I taught little ones, the very youngest were part of learning to thank others.  Staff thanked each other and the children.  When they are tiny, they don’t need to get into the historical significance and the harm later done to the natives who welcomed them and shared food with them. 

Let’s start a movement to keep the THANKS in Thanksgiving and remember to thank each other and those who help us as we go about our daily lives.

And PLEASE find other decorations for this time of year!

Who ever thought that there were so many decisions to make when making a new website? First, you need a domain name.  Fortunately, that part was done.  I’ve had this domain name since early 2000. 

Then you have to research to find a host that’s offering what you want in a website, and you want to get one that offers help that you can actually reach (this one is a big deal – note that you have to pay for this help), and don’t be too proud to use the help like crazy.

The process includes writing stuff only to have to write it all over again. There are so many new things to learn – like how to make words show in lines that don’t act like new paragraphs with too much space in between, how to add pictures – how to make them the size you want and put them where you want.  I’m still working on this one! 

Make sure you save every step as you go or you lose hours of work. Yesterday’s help session had the helper show me something to change and wonder why we couldn’t see the change. Surprise!  He forgot to click the “update” button  so it had to be done again.  

What a lot of learning! But the thing I’m learning most is to push my old brain to its limits, nearly every day. What an exercise! 

The important message is that we keep learning. Exactly what we learn isn’t as important as that we are learning.  Learn. Then learn something else.  Then learn something else.  It’s a pattern – keep it up for at least 100 more years!