Friday, April 10, 2015

How Does Your Story Start?

In 2011, when I finally made the effort to seek out and meet Bev Bos. One of the many things she told me to grab a pen and some paper and to ask the children.... "How does your story start?" Bev was very specific, Do not ask children IF they have a story.... Simply ask, "How does your story start?" and be ready to write..... 

G. age 4-
"I saw the car looks like ours, but our purple car is SO BIG, but our car is purple and I saw Alex's van. I went to work with daddy and I saw a truck and a taxi. I saw the truck and I saw the police and I saw the snow plow. I saw a fire hat and the police and a pilot and a doctor and he was so mad he looked like a tiger and he was SO BIG, but I wanna be so big like my mom. Levin is my friend but Billy is my cousin. I love Grace and I shot it and is trying to get me all the time and Charlotte is a caterpillar and looks like a tiger and he's trying to get me and I saw hats outside and just went home all of the time and he is trying to get me all of the time and he is trying to get me and those are snowflakes and Delainey is my friend too and he is trying to get me."

D. age 4-
"My story is about me and all the cars and the taxi is blocking the way and all of the cars are going really fast. It was a bright day first and the great day was really hard and I went for a walk all by myself and my mom's taxi came and she was waving to me. My ring was up and then it was a really bright day and the sun was right next to me and then I burned myself and my skin got all burned up and I turned into a skeleton. That's it."

L. age 4 -
"A tree was falling down and a person was right below it and the tree was falling down (sound effects) It was in a dark scary woods. This woods was really scary. I was with my mom with Kathryn and Sally and then a monster came out and started to run at us and then another tree fell, fell, fell (sound effects). The monster was dead."

E. age 2-
"Jingle bell uhm milk. I want some milk some more uhm I am a stinker, stinker butt uhm cookie I want muffins. Momma called I want Evie and Ellie. I want Ellie. I want my baby. Ellie, Evie, uhm Ellie. my Evie.

L. age 4-
"One strange sound and I saw eyes peeking out a tree the eyes were so giant and something giant came after me. then the big arms and big hands reached out after me. That's all."

G. age 3-
"I found a deer one night and a bear didn't come though. Nope, that's it."

A. age 3-
"One of my favorite I wanna see it. Momma pick me up and dadda can come get Oliver and mom can nurse Oliver and Oliver can go all by himself and I can go all by myself."

C. age 3- 
"My car bumped into a piece of ice in my backyard and it falled BOOOM! that's silly and my sled broke all the way to the basement and my mom and dad stuck in the tree and it was 2 and was pulling right by mom and the branch and the leaves. Then my ball crashed all the way down into my door and my pants fell into my drawer and all the way into my sink the ball crashed. This is it not. (giggles)

As you can see- I write things down exactly as they are said. Let me tell you, sometimes it is really hard to keep up with the exuberant story tellers. Just do the best you can. Then, take a moment to read back what you have written and ask the child to help you fix what you may have forgotten or misquoted. When they stop, you can ask if there is anything else...  Some days your hand will feel like it is ready to fall off from writing- and then you will write some more!

The children absolutely love to have you write their stories down. Not only does it help them to understand that what they have to say is important. It also shows that words and ideas can be written down to be communicated to others, it shows in a real way that words have significance and meaning. Writing helps us to remember things that are important to us. It is real, it is meaningful language and literacy in action! Children will also be quick to follow your model-- and will spend time writing down their own stories as well.....

After prompting a few times with "How does your story start?" you will probably find that the children will come running to you saying: "I have a story" or "Write this down!"

Now, let me tell you a little bit more about meeting Bev Bos, and how this story started.....

I'm one of those early childhood professionals who spent some time living in my own little world. You see, when you work with young children, especially in your home. That is easy to do. We (home based child care providers)  work long hours with young children, often by ourselves or maybe with one or two other adults. It is easy to drift into our own little world- and do what we do best.  With the growth in social media and the availability to share information, to network, and find like minded colleagues, it is a little less secluded than it once was...

After running my home based program for quite a few years, someone remarked, "You know, you are an awful lot like Bev Bos." I think I kind of shrugged it off the first time it happened, but after hearing it a couple of times, I thought- well, I guess I aught to figure out exactly who this Bev Bos is!!!!! I did a little bit of research and watched a few videos. (This one here is my favorite... well worth the time to watch).

In 2011, I finally made the trip. It was a 6 hour drive to see Bev speak in one of the suburbs of Chicago. The day was worth every minute of travel! I didn't find myself learning or coming back with a ton of new ideas. I did have a few, but what was far more valuable to me was the validation. You see, there are so many times where the pressure is there to do things that I know in my heart are not what is best for young children. There is so much pressure to conform and to allow the push down of curricula and to place unrealistic expectations upon young children. Sometimes it is hard to do what is right-- and it seems like it is getting harder and harder to swim against the ever growing stream of developmentally inappropriate practices out there. The day was amazing, I left so energized and so ready to take on the world.....

On Monday, when I returned to my crew. I did just what Bev told us to do... and I put out the glass jars with oil and water, and I put out some table salt..... just like Bev said to do..... (You can read more about it  by clicking here....)

I also made sure to grab a pencil and some paper so that I could start recording the children's stories.

On a side note, as my story continued... In 2014, I finally made my way to Roseville to attend the Good Stuff for Kids conference spending some more time finding "my tribe" and connecting with like minded souls!

Now--- Do you collect children's stories?????

How Does Your Story Start?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Choose Your Own Paintbrush

Embracing play, and child led investigations means letting go of adult agendas. It means dropping your preconceived ideas of what "needs" to happen at the door, and it means trusting the children. You may have some ideas of what might happen, but what or how things happen are not your decision to make. The investigation belongs to the children.

It does not mean that you as an adult don't have a role. It means that your job is to follow and to help meet the needs of each child, you are there to assist when needed and to be an invisible support.  In the art area it means being ready to help change out paper, refilling paint containers, and assisting children to navigate social situations when needed. It also means cleaning and refreshing places so that it is ready for the next child.

This is HARD! I know- to let go of all of the "cute" projects and crafts that take you hours to prepare, and children seconds to complete. (or were primarily completed by adults because the child could not make it happen on their own). Early childhood art is about the process-- not the product. Yet, so many of the marketed "curriculum" out there offer product orientated experiences for children and don't even get me started on the amount of projects shared online via social media that really, are truly not developmentally appropriate and focus far too much on the product.

Art for young children needs to be about exploring and investigating materials. When children are truly engaged these experiences could take hours, or even days. The process is often repeated again, and again, and again. Children need an opportunity to continue to explore, to master and to choose to engage until they have exhausted their curiosities. This could mean more paper, and more paper, and more paint, and more paint.... and the same thing for a month (or even longer). This is where you need to remember to trust the child-- they know when they are ready to move on. They know if they still need to explore, and as Bev Bos says they need to use too much before they understand to use just enough.

At my house (remember, I run a home based program), we have a rather large art area and tinkering station. The children have almost unlimited access to the materials. (The art area is located in our kitchen and the table is the same table we eat at, so we do need to make sure that we are able to serve meals and limit art activities to outside of meal times). When children choose to create art, they choose their canvas- various types of paper, plexi-glass, and random other objects (wood chunks, cardboard boxes..... ) They choose if they want to paint at the easel, at the table, on the floor.....  the children choose what they would like to use- crayons, pencils, markers, paint..... and what color or type of each.  Children almost always choose paint-- and when they choose paint, they also have to choose their "paintbrush"

Our art area is stocked with a vast array of "paintbrushes"-- all kinds of odds and ends. It is amazing to see the explorations that happen when children can choose and use different types of things to paint with. It is also interesting to see what the children come up with- and what explorations or "paint brushes" they bring to the area.  

Some of our more recent favorites include:

Bath Puffs
Power Drills (with a paint brush instead of drill bit)
Suction Cup Darts (shot with a crossbow)
Hand Drills
Fly Swatters
Mini Rollers
Finger Nail Brushes
Squeeze Bottles
Turkey Basters
Potato Mashers
Blow Dryer

You can find some more idea by following my Pinterest Board WE LOVE PAINT!

What is your favorite paintbrush to supply to the children? Please stop by and share on the Play EmPowers Community Facebook page or leave me a comment below!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"No Boys Allowed!" Exclusion in Play


A few years ago, hearing that statement would have stopped me in my tracks. At the time in my journey, with all good intent, I would have made sure that exclusion was not a part of our day. "Everyone plays or no one plays" was part of our mantra.  I was concerned about everyone feeling like they belonged and I used my power as the adult to impose that false sense of community upon our program. Looking back- I do a palm slap..... what was I thinking? I mean, in reflection I was trying to create an environment that was not real, and that was in no way helping the children I was entrusted to care for. My job, as their teacher and caregiver was to assist them in being where they are developmentally and to help them navigate their social world. Creating an environment that was not real- that was falsified by "everyone is friends here" and "everyone plays" prevented the children from opportunities to experience their full range of emotions and to problem solve when conflicts arose. Children need the opportunity to experience ownership, they need the power to make choices. Exclusion is tough, but it is real. It is honest, and it happens to us throughout our entire lives. So, what happens when you allow children to exclude?  Let me share a few examples....


I run a home based program, we can have twelve children present at any given time. Due to various part-time schedules, the make up of children (aged from birth to aged 12) changes each day. Additionally- some days we have a major difference in gender. One day in particular, We had a group of girls (aged 2-4) that were having a great time playing together and one four-year-old boy who was intently watching the girls play. After a period of time, he decided to jump right in and join the play. 

"NO BOYS ALLOWED!!!" yelled one of the girls, as the young boy came into their playspace.

Without skipping a beat, the young boy said. "That's okay, I'm a girl!"

The young girl then shrugged her shoulders and replied, "Okay, you can play."

That was it, done deal. All of the children continued to play for quite some time, together without the need for adult intervention. What would have happened if I heard the initial statement of exclusion and jumped in to force it? Would play have continued? or would it have stopped because of my interference? Would the children have continued to play and expand upon their explorations? I would have prevented them from the opportunity to work out a solution on their own. 


In the summertime, our program tends to look much different from the school year. Some of our families have been with us for almost a decade and the older, school aged children like to come back during the summer months. It is sometimes a challenge to juggle the age gap, but the benefits often outweigh the drawbacks. Sometimes the "big kids" need their space. One of these instances was during their creation of an outdoor fort. They were quite adamant in the beginning that the younger children were not welcome in their play space. 
They were so adamant about keeping children out that they dug a moat around the space!
This was difficult for some of the younger children in the beginning. When children are having a hard time navigating this social exclusion, I am there to support if needed. First, I make sure that they really need my support. I wait, watch, and listen. When they do need me, I remind them of what the other child(ren) said... "I heard (child's name) say........ it sounds like they need their space. I know you really want to play too, but right now we need to respect their choice. What do you want to do while you wait for them? or what do you want to do while you wait for a turn?" Sometimes the child's choice is to continue to ask, or to watch the other children play. Sometimes the child chooses to do something different or to play the same thing somewhere else........ There are a lot of options.  In this specific situation, all of the younger children we extremely interested in the fort the older children were making.  

One of the three-year-olds was adamant about being able to play. He continued to go back to the area where the older children were playing to ask if he could enter their fort. After awhile, when he kept hearing "no" he decided to ask "why not?" The older children responded that they were afraid that he was going to break the fort. He assured them that he would not, and was then permitted to join in on the play. Within an hour- all of the children were given permission to enter and join in on the play. 

When I reflect on these situations and how differently they played out than various similar situations in the past, I see the gifts of time and power. The children are now trusted to experience exclusion and given tools to help them deal with those feelings and situations. They are also given the power to decide when they are ready to share their spaces and their play. Interestingly enough, when given this power they tend to exclude less and to find ways to play together more! 

It took a lot of patience and trust on my part to make changes to allow the children to exclude in order to include. It took a lot of self control to wait, be there to support and to listen.  I often find myself carefully observing and reminding myself to WAIT... Asking myself Why Am I Talking? This gives the children more time to work things out on their own and me an opportunity to reflect on when it is necessary to jump in for support. 

I feel as though I am always learning and growing, and that each new child or group of children provide me with a new challenge and opportunity to learn and grow. Thanks for stopping by to share a little bit of my journey, I'd love to learn more about yours too! 

Exclusion in Play....

I am part og an amazimg new collaboration over at

My first post on exclusion in play is now live! Hop on over amd check it out! (CLICK THIS LINK).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Building a Fort

DIY Upcycled Translucent Blocks

DIY Upcycled Translucent Blocks aWe are always looking for ways to repurpose, reuse and "upcycle." After one of our family dinner excursions, I was inspired to make these DIY  Upcycled Translucent Blocks to use on our light table.  Please note that this post contains affiliate links. 

cream tower

When we go out to dinner, my family often entertains each other by building structures with the various things on the table at the restaurant while we wait for our food. We have made some very interesting towers and creations with the coffee creamers and the single serving jam containers. After one of our recent ventures, I was thinking about different things we could use to build at home... and voila..... the inspiration:

baby food containers

Empty plastic baby food containers! However, I didn't just want to use them as is. I know they are fun to build with without doing anything with them, but I wanted to add some color and make a nice set for our light table. So, I gathered my supplies. (If you remember we have used the lids from these containers before to make suncatcher ornaments).

You will need:

  • Acetone Fingernail Polish Remover

  • Cotton Balls

  • Empty Plastic Baby Food Containers with Lids

  • Suncatcher Paint

  • Paintbrush

First, I used the fingernail polish remover and a cotton ball to remove the ink from the plastic container. This is not absolutely necessary, but I wanted to remove the label. I was inspired by this post by Sweet Pennies from Heaven.  Instead of using a cloth, I opted to use a cotton ball being that the ink area was quite small. I dabbed a bit of the acetone nail polish remover on a cotton ball, held it on the ink for a few seconds and then gently rubbed to remove the ink completely. Then, I washed the containers well with soap and water.

After the containers dried, then it was time to paint them up! I opted to paint the inside of the containers because I did not want heavy use to cause the paint to chip.

suncatcher paint blocks

I squirted the paint into the containers and lids, used a brush to cover all interior surfaces and waited for it to dry. Most of the containers needed at least 2 coats and each coat took at least 24 hours to dry each time. It is a matter of personal preference how many coats of paint you would like to use (and I would imagine would be different based upon the type of paint you have). I also thought about coloring the inside of the containers with permanent markers, but I haven't tried that yet :).

diy upcycled translucent blocks

After the containers were completely dry, I placed the lids on them and set them out near the light table!

playing with new blocks on table

I have thoughts of making some more of these blocks with random things inside.... now to tinker with a good glue option to keep them sealed!

(If you are looking for information about our DIY Light Table, you may want to check out these links: Our Homemade Light Table Revamp, DIY Light Tables)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Painting at the Easel with Hand Drills

Painting at the Easel with Hand Drills

With the extreme weather this week, we have not been able to spend time outside. (When I say extreme, I mean that the windchill has been so cold that the local public schools have closed). With the extra indoor time, our easels have been busier than normal! Today, one of the "paintbrushes" of choice was a hand drill.  The set up for this is quite simple, instead of using a drill bit-- screw a paintbrush into the drill, set out for exploration and... sit back and watch!

paint with drill at easel ccs

It usually takes a bit of concentration and tinkering to figure out how to make the drill work. Sometimes the paint never makes it onto the paper as it is quite engaging to spin the brush in the paint.

paint with hand drill ccs2

The drills are always available for us, and having them at the easel is a very different experience from painting with them on the table or floor. A different muscle set is required to hold the drill up to paint on the easel.

hand drill painting ccs3

hand drill painting

I cannot remember for sure where I first saw this idea, but I'm pretty sure it was inspired by Teacher Tom.  What is your favorite item to set out for use to paint at the easel?

If you like to paint with non-traditional items- you may enjoy this older post I put together with a 101 Ways to Paint Without a Brush

or you may enjoy my Pinterest Board WE LOVE PAINT! 

Looking for a hand drill???? You can find one here (affiliate link):

Thursday, January 1, 2015

14 Photos from 2014

Life has been wonderful, amazing, and super busy! One of my goals for the new year is to get myself back into a regular blogging schedule where I can share a bit of our world with you on a more regular basis!

For now, please enjoy a look at 14 seconds,

14 photos from our play journey over the past year.















(If you are looking for more photos, hop on over to our Facebook Page)

Thanks for sharing in our journey, and hopefully I'll be back soon to share more of our adventures in as we learn through play!

My friend died

 I learned a hell of a lot from Dan Hodgins.  He was mentor, a friend, and a "bone shaker" for many of us in the field of Early Ch...