Let’s Talk About Purposeful Play

I am so excited to share that in a week or so my new book (with Alison Porcelli and Cheryl Tyler- play gurus and authors of this handy book on choice time) about PLAY will descend upon this fine earth!!!! Now, listen, there is nothing I like to do more in advance of a new book coming out then have imaginary conversations of excitement and anxiety in my head. As a matter of fact, if you wake up at 3 AM to go to the bathroom, please rest assured that I am staring at my ceiling trying to execute everything I learned while writing A Mindset for Learning.

So, in the hopes of getting the word out about the book, and also maybe stop communing with my ceiling in the wee hours of the morning, I thought it might be nice to put out a post that conquers some of the big questions I imagine you might have about the book:

Let’s Start From The Top, The Title:

What is purposeful play, you might ask? Is some play purposeful and some play, well, not? Wait does that mean there is good play and bad play? Is this book about that?????!?!?!?! Okay, well, no. We talked long and hard about this title and here is the big idea we hope to communicate with this title: ALL PLAY IS PURPOSEFUL even, brace yourself, the play that looks purposeless to us as adults. Because, it is not about us, it is about what play does for children and ALL play has a purpose for children. My husband, who plays in bands, spends hours strumming in a seemingly mindless way on his guitar. To the casual observer this may look purposeless, but in fact, it is the way he stumbles upon the riffs that then become songs, which is in fact, his job.

Fig 3.15

Likewise, the child who might be stacking blocks meticulously, or playing a game of superheroes on the playground, or even crumpling paper and uncrumpling it to see what it feels like is doing SOMETHING. Each of those acts has a purpose and value to the child. We have to change the narrative of play from something “fun” or “cute” or “for when work is done” to one of play (all play) being purposeful and meaningful for the joyful intellectual and social development for children. In the book you will see pictures of children goofing off, building. pretending to be knights and we know that each of those things has a deep purpose in the classroom, and makes all teaching and learning more powerful. That is one of the main reasons we open with research and keep it embedded throughout the book. There are biological and sociological reasons that play exists in the world, that it is IMPERATIVE that we support it in our schools and in our society. Play is deeply purposeful, it is purposeful play.

Fig 3.12

For us, it was about choosing a title that is also a lens, once you name something as purposeful, you start to see its value. Alison shares this anecdote:

 “I remember hearing a comment from an acquaintance when Preston (her son) was 6 months old. They had a 6 month old too and talked about how their 6 month old doesn’t do anything.. He just bats at his activity gym, and they just leave him alone to do it. And I remember thinking.. How differently we view these things!! (Of course we were writing a book on this topic so my mind was geared up)  I remember watching Preston “bat” at his activity gym and marveling at how he was really figuring out cause and effect.. “When I hit this it makes a noise!” Once we are aware of the purposes we react differently.  While they left their child alone…Tom and I narrated what was happening and then introduced other toys on the gym that made different noises or moved in different ways.”

Our goal of this book is that every teacher in every school see that play is purposeful and necessary and seek to provide ample time for it for every child. (and by the way, we don’t say play is just purposeful for 5 year olds- this book is for the teachers of older kids as well!)

Okay, so Play is Purposeful, but Why Do I Need a Book About it?

If you are new to open-ended play, this book will help you get on your feet, but that’s not all. Maybe you already honor and encourage open ended non-scripted play in your classroom and school, and you know lots of research about it, but maybe (like me) you are not always so sure what to do besides just watch, or maybe you feel like you are running around solving problems. Or maybe you don’t know how to respond when kids say they are bored, or you have two children who just stare at each other. It is a fallacy to think that kids come to school knowing how to play collaboratively. Many do, but also some don’t. It’s also a fallacy to think that we teachers always know the best ways to support kids emotional development. Its not something always covered in teacher education.

Fig 4.4

Its true that some kids don’t come to school with well developed social emotional skills, or their behavior is at odds with working in a community. We would never look at a struggling reader and punish them. Rather we design thoughtful instruction to support them. So how come we punish kids struggling with social skills of being in school? We can design thoughtful instruction in play to help kids learn to negotiate, problem solve, build empathy, develop a growth mindset. And play is where kids learn how to be with others best. Research has shown social emotional skills to be a better predictor of long term success than academic skills– and (good news!) they can be taught, and (better news!) play is the best place to develop those skills. Our second section deals with all of these topics.

Wait, Did You Say “Thoughtful Instruction?” Should I Really be Teaching Into Play?

Ah, good question 3 AM brain. What does it mean to teach into play? So here is what it is not: telling kids how/what to play. We offer teaching sessions in the book that are NOT a program, but rather an if/then. For example, if your children are coming to you to resolve problems, then you might want to teach this problem solving routine. Or, if your kids are melting down when the blocks fall, then you might want to teach these reflection questions.

Fig 6.5

My classroom community runs smoothly because we used play as an opportunity to teach big ideas like sharing and turn taking that we need as a SOCIETY, but also in school. (Personal aside, maybe Donald Trump didn’t have many chances to play?)In addition, we also show some classrooms where play is happening and teachers are supporting it to help you get a sense of what it might sound like when you use storytelling or inquiry to teach big ideas about play and community. We call these parts “Peek Inside A Classroom.”

Fig 4.10

Alright so, reasons for play, setting up an environment for play, using play to teach social emotional learning, what else is in this book?

This brings us to our last section- the play in work. So, Stuart Brown, who wrote Play, talks about how play is a mindset, not an action. Its why when people encounter tricky things they might say “oh, I have to play around with it for a bit.” If we can help work feel like play, then children will bring their free-est, most resilient, most joyful self to the work. I have a kindergartener who approached a small group that was writing and asked, “Can I play too?” It is not just gimmicks that make this happen (though those can help when needed) but rather infusing all parts of the day with a celebration of joyful interest, kid created materials, and a sense of inquiry.

If you are curious and want to get a better sense of the book, you can read the first chapter here. You can also join us for a twitter chat on 4/6 (#tcrwp) and 4/14 (#g2great). We’ve also got an informational webinar through Heinemann on 4/21. In short, we’ll be everywhere talking about PLAY!

And if you are interested, I have some books to give away. Leave a comment and I will randomly choose 2 names to send a book to!

I Got Very Excited About What I Learned Yesterday

My  husband is not just a talented comedy writer, but he is also a gifted musician. Because music is one of his great loves, our apartment is filled to the brim with records (Actual Vinyl), various musical instruments, and all sorts of technical looking equipment for listening to and making music. One of his most beloved pastimes is fiddling with said equipment to get the sound “just right” a tweak of one knob, a push on one slide, his head tilted to the side listening, listening for that perfect tone.

Now, a bit of transition, but we will get back to the music, I promise.

I have the immense pleasure of working with a staff developer named Kristen GoldMansour in my role as a special ed kindergarten teacher. She is a brilliant staff developer who works specifically with us around building the most inclusive classrooms for our children with special needs. She is one of those people that marries a close and careful study of children with years of experience and a vast knowledge about teaching children. Basically I want her to stand next to me at all times and tell me things. Anyway, we were talking about writing goals and building conditions for success and she drew something that look liked this:


Kristen talked about how there are so many conditions that allow a child to be successful or unsuccessful, and like a sound mixer (Aha! there is the connection!) we have to mix the perfect set of conditions for each child. She listed things like preferred v. non-preferred, familiar v. novel, length of time, group size etc.

Now some of you out there may have known and manipulated these conditions for years, but for me, this brought something into sharp relief. For Silas, who loves trains and is working on beginning reading behaviors and focus, I may have to move the dial closer to preferred texts to ensure success. Why make him work in non-train books if that means he will be unable to practice the work he is learning?  For another child to achieve success, I might have to move the dial closer to “shorter time”. Why keep a child unsuccessful in a 30 minute workshop, if she can be successful in a 10 minute interval?

Sometimes we ask children to be successful when we have moved all the dials to “11” (if you get that joke, high five, if not, I just mean we turn everything to its highest/hardest setting) We say “You have to do this for a long time, in a non-preferred seat, with a novel text in the large group” and we wonder why some kids struggle.

True individualization resides in me being able to craft the perfect mix for each child and slowly raising the dials in the area the child is working on. Perhaps the key is realizing that our goal is that children realize that a thoughtful strategic process can result in success, that a just right risk has its own reward of growth- not that everyone can do it the same way with the dial on 11. If a child can be successful socially in a familiar situation with preferred friends, why are we surprised when that success erodes in novel situations with non-preferred friends, if we haven’t identified and helped ease that transition?

Key takeaway? There is a lot to consider when we design a just right challenge for children, beyond the pure academic or social work. Being aware of all the conditions we can manipulate can make a huge impact in how successful we are in supporting our children.

Click on Kristen’s name to learn more about her- she is amazing.

Watch spinal tap to get the “11” joke.

And follow @ggarlock if you want to see some jokes and references to obscure music from the above mentioned husband🙂

One Small Step for A Classroom, One Big Step to A Better World

So, I’ve been thinking a lot, and if you’ve seen me talk recently, you’ve heard me ask this question:

If the world became your classroom, would you want to live there?

I sit with this question every single day, and it has pushed me harder than any other question I have asked myself. I want kindness, creativity, equity, joy, I want difference embraced and celebrated, I want critical engaged thinkers, I want advocates for social justice. I want an end to poverty, discrimination, gun violence. What do you want? Do you want the world we have today, or do you dream of something different?

I want a revolution. And I think many of you do too.

But how on earth are we going to start a revolution if we do things the same way we always have in our schools? When I saw Jo Boaler at the Learning and The Brain Conference, she said something like “We can’t tell kids mistakes are great, and then grade them down for making them.”  This tension between what we want and what we do is very real and very complicated to navigate.

So what to do?

Well to start, I have been looking at my classroom against a vision of a better world and seeing the choices I make that propagate the status quo, and ask myself, “how can I do this differently?” Sometimes this means taking risks that feel scary and sometimes we shut ourselves down before we start by invoking the mighty “they”.

It’s tempting to blame “they”? As in “they say we can’t ______” But too often “they” is an idea, and not a reality. The idea of “they” can work like a scarecrow in a field, an illusion that prohibits risk and change. And if “they” is an actual person, that means we can lobby and work to change minds, and its our responsibility to work and lobby to change minds.

This is not easy.

But okay, back to looking critically at my classroom. So, one thing I want in the world for people to feel joyful and curious, like they have the power to create change in their lives, and they have the initiative to do so. I have struggled with how that is built in a traditional classroom structure where kids are (intellectually) shuttled from schedule item to schedule item. It has always felt very passive to me, from the child’s position. Yes, they can take charge of their own learning in each schedule area but the structure has been handed to them.

Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong, in their book Tools of the Mind talk about children setting up learning plans and play plans. I’ve also been deeply inspired by what I have been learning from teachers across the globe on twitter about other ways of teaching- Reggio, outdoor schools, and others. So, I decided to hand over the creation of the schedule to the kids for the morning.

The Plan:

Have kids select their AM schedule from 9-11 with each item lasting for 30 minutes,

Behind the Scenes:

I teach in the co-teaching classroom, which means there are multiple adults in the room. If you teach solo, I have some ideas for you to try this at the end of the post. I managed the writing area, my co-teacher managed the reading area and some areas were independent and our group para managed the “running break”.

The Set-up:

We talked about how we, as teachers, set up the schedule every day, thinking about what might best help the kiddos brains grow, but that we realized, they knew even better than us how to make their own brains grow, and so we were going to give them the job of planning their morning. The afternoon is dedicated to choice time so that was already set. They each got this paper.


Cut just means “cut this side”.

Read means independent reading from book baggies(my co-teacher planned to confer at this time)

Write means working on writing projects a la writing workshop style (I planned to confer during this time)

Words means word study and was a variety of games.

Run means a movement break.

Art means using the art materials in the classroom for whatever your heart desires.



It took about 5-7 minutes (most of that was cutting time) for the kiddos to build their own schedules. We ran interference to make sure we did not have 72 kids in one thing at a time by suggesting taking a running break or an art break at a different time. And then we were off!!



A Few Things That You Might Need To Know in No Particular Order:

  • These are WELL KNOWN routines. We have writing, reading, art, movement, and word study every single day. They have specific areas of the room in which they do each of these things so those routines were WELL established.
  • We had more choices than time- we decided we were fine if a child did not do one of the things (including reading or writing) but we would keep an eye to see if it became a pattern. Since they would have to choose reading OR writing, and both work towards many of the same skills, we felt like as long as they were in one, we could help them grow.
  • We have 25 kids so with 5 options and our benign interference, we were able to keep groups around 4-6 for each thing.
  • We met back on the big rug every 30 minutes for kids to track what they had done and figure out where they had to go next.


The Results:

It was GREAT. Some of the issues I had been anticipating did not happen, for example, I worried about the kids who took movement breaks first that they would feel tired by the end or want another movement break- it didn’t happen.

I worried that the independent stations would get silly, but they didn’t, they took their jobs seriously.

I worried that it would be chaotic, but it wasn’t. The kids had tons of great feedback (remember these are FIVE year olds). Many of them said that they felt like they had a made a good plan and would maybe try the same one tomorrow. Some said that they wanted to make their break a little later because they felt tired (break meaning art or running). Almost all said something about feeling proud or grown up or that it was fun.

For me, I felt more like I was approximating the world I am hoping for. I trusted the kiddos would take it and run with it and they did. They brought energy and independence and confidence. They chose their schedule wisely and reflected on it with care. I worked as a facilitator but not as a dictator. They worked purposefully because they were in charge.

Friday was day 3, and we had to cut off the last 30 minutes because we ran out of time, and almost every child begged to extend it after lunch- which SHOCKED me because after lunch is choice time and that is like THE BEST PART OF EVERYONE’S DAY EVER.

Some Thoughts on Doing This if You are a Solo Teacher:

First of all, the kiddos need to know the routines very very clearly, so I would not recommend introducing a movement break on the first day of trying this, so work with what kids know intimately.

Less might be more? Have 3 slots and 4 choices. Or 2 slots and 3 choices Maybe reading, writing, math games, and art or movement? Movement in the classroom is easy enough if you have access to go noodle and the children can use it independently, if not movement breaks might be hard to do as an independent center.

I see a couple options for teaching:

  1. Don’t always plan on doing mini lessons, just plan on conferring and pulling small groups in whatever topic the kids are in. So, for example, you might pull a guided reading group, and then walk away from that and confer with another child in writing, walk away from that and confer with another reader, and then coach into a math game in the first 30 minutes. Then in the second 30 minutes, you might have another guided reading group, then do a writing small group, and then work with some mathematicians. Etc, etc
  2. You might plan to do a mini lesson with one subject (everyone gets a reading lesson, for example, which means you do a reading lesson 3 or 4 times) but you confer with kiddos in the other areas
  3. You use a “teacher choice” option where you have a group of kids all in reading at the same time because you want to teach something very specific and then you have other kids in writing at a specific time because you wanted to do a mini lesson with them on something
  4. plan to be all about one thing one day, and the other things on other days

Okay, this is turning into an epic blog post that is going to take 3 hours to read, so I am wrapping this up.

Final Thoughts:

So for me, this more closely approximates how I think the world should work and so I am helping kids gain the tools to be successful, reflective, independent learners. But for you, it doesn’t have to be this. Taking a risk to change things in your classroom is how we are going to change things in the world. If you have stuck with the blog towards the end, I think you are the type of person who is working for more empathy, more joy, more curiosity, and more independence in the world. Share how you changed your classroom to grow it in the comments below!


Don’t Take My Word For It…

I’ve been so so so so so fortunate to have the opportunity to write books with some amazing thinkers: Christine Hertz, Alison Porcelli, Cheryl Tyler, and Marjorie Martinelli. One of my favorite parts of writing is the research, and the way it can both answer questions and force you to ask more questions.

If I had one hope for the teaching world, it is that we maintain our curiosity about kids and teaching. I just watched Smokey Daniels lead these incredible mini-inquiries at a workshop at the Reading for The Love of It Conference, and it got me thinking, our best teaching also comes from these mini inquiries born of passions. So, in a an effort to help all educators find their curiosity, I am linking to a bunch of articles and posts that have provoked me over the past few years. Happy reading!

Jo Boaler’s amazing website: Brain science, articles for parents, videos, free resources- its a veritable playground. I am maybe obsessed with the belief/brain article.

Reading Readiness Has to Do with the Body: If there is one thing that has stopped me in my tracks lately, it is this article. It has pushed me on my latest  question which is, should we be waiting to teach formalized reading (while still doing lots of read alouds, writing, shared reading, play) I mean like guided reading in leveled books, until kids express a genuine interest? I could write a 700 page book on the pros/cons of that idea and it just needs more thinking and personal play around it.

This Peter Gray article on Risky Play: Boy oh boy. As some of you know, I have a book coming out on play in about 6 weeks, but articles like this still push my thinking about how I look at play- ESPECIALLY the kind that makes adults the most uncomfortable.

Read Alouds with Diverse Characters help Build Empathy: There is a similar article that talks about Harry Potter, but it really pushes me to explore my read alouds. The implicit messages in books, especially in the background and in the pictures, are not something I always deeply look at, but I am trying to now.

How Books Influence our Actions: This sort of goes in a text set with the above one, but the idea that we act like characters we read about makes perfect sense when you pair it with the idea that our brains can experience story as reality.

The Importance of Giving Kids Time to Reflect: This got me thinking: don’t spend so much time reteaching, spend more time reflecting. Less is more!!!!

Why Are We Rewarding With Stickers Anyway? This study talks about how children are more motivated by knowledge than stickers. So you know…. save some money to spend on important stuff- like books and blocks.

Our Talks leads to children’s Self-Talk, it MATTERS: I mean, this whole thing is super fascinating to me- how our internal thinking develops. And the fact we can watch it developing in real time in our kids. I mean, whoa

Make Sure Your Teaching Has PURPOSE! But how do we do this all the time? Thats the mini inquiry I have on this topic.

Okay, I am off to get ready to present today. I hope that some of these articles are new to you and you find something in them that fires your brain up. Do as Smokey did- invite a few colleagues to think with you- ask some questions, investigate more, inquire, PLAY, stay curious. Every single teaching decision I am proud of started first as a question/uncertainty. Share your questions and favorite links in the comments!!!

If You Aren’t Making it Better, You Might Be Making it Worse

This is going to be a rather short post, but I have been thinking something in the document Play For a Change which mentions two views of children- one where we are waiting for them to be adults, and one where they are fully functioning and valuable members of society already. I think I used to think the former (you are learning to be a well balanced happy adult), until I realized that I am still learning to be a well balanced happy adult (and to be fair I know plenty of adults who are less balanced and unhappier than children I know).

Simultaneously, I have been annoyed at the once a year charity blitz that I see in December, all of a sudden the homeless need coats? They didn’t need coats in November? They won’t need more coats in January? And I am so guilty of this, off I go writing checks at the end of the year, and somehow that is enough?

And then, I saw an episode of Chopped with chefs who work in soup kitchens, and one of the contestants said something along the lines of “Cooking is my passion, and I want to use my passion to help others.”

Kids are fully functioning members of society+service and care for others should be a habit not an annual tradition+ we should use our passions to serve= WHY AREN’T WE ACTIVELY TEACHING HOW TO USE OUR PASSIONS TO MAKE THE WORLD BETTER RIGHT NOW IN REAL TIME?

Hence, giving projects were born. My kindergarten team mobilized and we contacted area charities that serve homeless animals, sick children and adults, the elderly, the homeless, and UNICEF. Each teacher took a charity close to their heart, and kids from all classes signed up for one of the charities based on their passion. Every Friday we meet for an hour or so and do work. For UNICEF, kids are making bracelets and notecards to sell for a fundraiser. We are making toys for animals in shelters, we are collecting and sorting donations for several organizations that provide for the homeless, we are making things like mobiles and sun catchers to hang in the children’s wing of a hospital. We are cleaning up trash on the streets around our school.

You know what else we are doing? Authentic reading and writing. We had to read the directions to make the dog toys, we had to read the list of things the homeless need, we read all the things our money could do for UNICEF. We wrote letters to tell others what we were collecting, we wrote to-do lists for getting our toys made, we made signs, we wrote cards. We do math! Counting and organizing, sorting and grouping. And most importantly, we talk. We talk about why charities exist in the first place. We talk about how and why animals might end up in shelters. We talk about how we are trying to make it better now, but one day we might be able to fix the whole problem.

When Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” she didn’t specify an age.

I know there are schools that make this a focus, and I know that there are teachers that make this a focus, but why can’t we just make this a focus for everyone everywhere. My kids are still going to learn to read and write, but more importantly, they are going to build a habit of care and giving.

I am horrified by our country right now. Trump, really? The fact that a  racist and misogynistic man can garner any support means we are doing it all wrong. Teachers helped make the people that want to vote for Trump. Live like your classroom is the world, make it better. Good enough isn’t good enough anymore.

Please, share how you are changing the world, one classroom at a time in the comments below.

Let’s Debate: Homework!

When I first started teaching, I used to revel in making homework packets. It felt like I was being a Real Teacher. Fill in the missing vowels! Match the rhyming pictures! Sight word word search! Both fun and practical!

Then I would spend an insane amount of time looking at said homework packets, not planning, not studying authentic work, not reflecting on student learning and actions throughout the day, but studying those (fun! practical!) word searches to make sure all the sight words were found.

I noticed three things:

  1. Some of the work was clearly done by parents, as in, BY parents, as in, that is the handwriting of a thirty year old.
  2. Some of the work was not done
  3. Some of the work was done incorrectly

So, I started wondering a few things, mainly what was the point? You’d be right in judging the quality of the homework I assigned- it stunk.

So I tried assigning better, more authentic homework: read for 30 minutes, do this math sheet  that reinforces what we learned, practice your sight words.

And then I had nieces.

And I saw members of my family stressing over getting homework done, I saw a 5 year old squirming through her math sheet looking longingly out the door, and I heard the arguments and bribes to “just get this done” and I thought, again “what is the point?”

First: What is homework?

I think we should start with what I am viewing homework as: anything required of children outside of the school day: worksheets, required reading, dioramas of the first Thanksgiving, flashcards, whatever.

Start by asking yourself, what do I think is the point of this?

I think there are a few common arguments for homework, and my hope here isn’t to decide for you, so I am providing all the links I can so that you can decide for yourself. I am taking two big points to heart: anecdotes are not the same as data, and find the truth in the opposing side. My hope is that it feels honest and balanced and fair:

Argument: Homework is essential to success in school:

I think we can all call up anecdotes for and against this argument. So rather than engage in a pointless debate, lets call up the wisest of the wise when it comes to educational research- John Hattie. According to  his research:

“Homework in primary school has an effect of zero”

Follow this link to hear the rest: http://visible-learning.org/2014/09/john-hattie-interview-bbc-radio-4/

Let’s consider that for a moment: homework in grades K-5 has no discernible impact on how children do in school. Now, if you go on to the link, John Hattie does not then conclude that all homework should be put in a rocket and sent to space. He thinks it can be made better. I don’t disagree, I just think time is a precious commodity in teaching and would rather we all spent our time on something more meaningful that does have a greater impact on our students: building relationships, developing our own professional learning, reflecting on and studying student work to be more responsive.

And research does say that ill-conceived homework actually DOES impact learning… negatively, that is. In fact, take Robert Marzano and Deborah Pickering words on it:

” Thus, simply assigning homework may not produce the desired effect—in fact, ill-structured homework might even have a negative effect on student achievement. “


If you follow this link, you will find it presents a fairly balanced case for and against homework (with research!) but you’ll find some of the same information: it doesn’t have all that much of an impact in primary grades and it is worse to have bad homework than no homework at all.

My conclusion is much like that of doctors: do no harm. Unless I (and you) are going to commit the time to creating meaningful and powerful homework and ONLY meaningful and powerful homework, and then take the time to provide thoughtful, provocative feedback, your children are better off with no homework. And by the way, that thoughtful and meaningful homework still doesn’t have all that much impact- so you know- there’s that.

Argument: Okay, even if homework doesn’t really have much impact on academic success in primary grades, it still helps children become responsible/develop good study habits/ prepare for the future


I mean, does it?

Does homework really prepare children for their future more than a chance to play? And before we get into an argument of “its not either/or” The truth is it is for some kids. They sit in school for 6 hours, and then they go to an after care until someone gets off work, and when they finally get home they have homework to do and then bed. What if they didn’t have that an hour of homework? Could they enjoy quality time with their families? Could they read what they want when they want? Could they play? Could they get bored and then invent something to overcome the boredom? Every single one of those things has value. We have our kiddos for 6 hours, if we can’t teach what we need to teach them in that time, we need to reflect on our own practice.

Matt Glover, in The Teacher You Want to Be, has an amazing essay called “Reconsidering Readiness”. He write in it: “Teaching aimed several steps ahead of students with idea of giving them a jumpstart into what comes next will not provide them with what they need- and may in fact hinder their growth and development.”

Does a five year old really need to develop study skills? And in claiming they do, does that not hinder their development of empathy and agency that is gained in play and pleasure? Does a 6 year old? Does an 8 year old?

I’ve realized that for a long time I viewed being 5 as preparation for being 6, and being 6 is preparation for being 7, and so on and so forth, and now I realize that being five is only that, we don’t help children “get ahead” by taking away their childhood.

Argument: But I have to give homework, “they” say so

“They” is everyone’s favorite boogeyman. “They” is the new ghost story. “They” is a weak excuse for not standing for what you believe to be right. I am not saying that administrators, superintendents, etc do not have policies around homework. But those people have names, and because they have names, you can find them and start a dialogue around meaningless and harmful homework practice.

If you can name someone who is making homework policy that is meaningless and therefore harmful (see above article) you  have an ethical responsibility to hunt that person down and start a discussion.

If you can only say “they”, then either find out who “they” might be, or realize it is actually your own choice and own it. I don’t have a research article for this fact, only that change never comes from complaining about people that don’t exist.

Argument: Parents expect homework

Parents used to expect corporal punishment. Times change. We help change them.

So in conclusion:

  • Homework has very little impact in the primary grades
  • “Busy work” homework can have a negative impact on schooling
  • Time spent doing homework is time away from being a kid and doing totally healthy and helpful “kid-like” things
  • Time spent creating and reflecting on homework as a primary teacher is time away from creating high quality classroom instruction

Truth talk: Time is limited, ours and kids. Why waste it on something that doesn’t make that much of a difference any way?

And now the moment of truth. Do I give homework? Nope. Every year I set parents up with information about what will help their child become the best five year old they can be (or 6, 7, 8, year old): Schedule play dates, try to eat dinner together when you can, tell or read stories together. If parents ask for ways to support their child, and I agree that the child could benefit from additional support, I offer games and authentic activities they can engage in with their child with the caveat that it should be fun and done together.

My friend and all around smart person Shawna Coppola is also writing about this on her blog http://mysocalledliteracylife.com/2015/12/31/four-stories-that-homework-tells-children-about-school-learning-life/. We hope that you will join us in the conversation.

Happy New Year!



Everyday Miracles

I was biking home from work today when I passed a group of tourists on the Queensboro bridge. I cross the Queensboro bridge twice a day, which means this year alone I have crossed it 110 times. Usually I zone a bit, consider what I should make for dinner, reflect on the day, curse the incline, feel morally superior to the drivers, and before I know it, it is long behind me.

The tourists were pointing and taking a pictures of something behind me and I thought, “Is something on fire? Was there an accident?” Because why on earth would this group of 4 people, clutching a New York guidebook, be stopped on this blustery, trafficky bridge? I turned as I rode to look, and what did I see?


Well, to clarify, nothing that I have not seen at least 110 times. A view of the city over the river, a fading sun glancing off glass, all framed by the beams of the bridge. It wasn’t until I saw the tourist reaction that I realized the miracle of this thing that I have come to regard as commonplace. And then it struck me, I need to become a tourist in my own life.

Everyday miracles can just become everyday, and nowhere is this more true than in the classroom. Just because I have seen dozens of children learn to zip their coats, does not mean that I shouldn’t feel THIS child’s excitement at doing it for the first time today. Nor, should the many many holiday breaks I have lived through mean I can’t feel the near hysterical anticipation that a child feels because this is her FIFTH Christmas EVER. I think the key to staying vibrant and connected to children is to never stop realizing that you are tourists in their life. To that end, nor should we cease to become tourists in our own.

I am not the first to suggest that wonder is a critical aspect of instruction, there are many many people who write wisely about wonder, curiosity, and joy: Georgia Heard, Kristin Ziemke, Steph Harvey, everything Reggio ever, and I urge you to chase down their work and read it.

I also urge you to go read this post on gratitude, and how talking about the good parts of your day can change your mind, and your life http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2012/08/here-are-the-things-that-are-proven-to-make-y/

Since reading this post, we close out our classroom day with a gratitude circle, but even so I missed the big idea: the best thing is not synonymous with the biggest thing- sometimes it is watching a child learn to zip, loving the lunch you packed for school, or remembering that you love the place where you live.

The best thing that happened to me today was realizing all the little things I had forgotten could be best things.

Happy Holidays!