February 2012

This morning we had another round of conflict around a toy from home. Our three has a special toy cell phone that beeps and lights up. She is swimming (jumping off chairs onto an open stretch of rug in goggles and underwear) with her friends, and explains when I ask her about the problem, that she put her cell phone down beside the pool, since she couldn’t take it in the water, and her friend picked it up. She thinks the friend should give it back. The friend, a five, pretends not to hear her, presses buttons, talks on the play phone.

I call a meeting to talk this one over. Everyone comes. Yesterday we had a very brief touching upon the concept of toys from home, and whether or not they must be shared. I open this meeting noting which toys from home children have brought today, including the cell phone of the three, a bouncy ball and piece of orange craft foam for a two, a fancy marionette for the five, a gift from her dad’s trip to Italy, two plastic eggs for our three, who brings eggs nearly every day, a stuffed rabbit for our five, a chapstick for another three.

I let the children know that in some places, schools or day cares, there are different rules about bringing things from home. Some places don’t allow children to bring anything from home. Some places ask that children share anything they bring from home. I note that in our day care we have not talked about this very much, not with the children, and not even much with the adults. I wonder what the children think we should do about things from home.

I ask if the children think we should make a rule that no one may bring things from home. They are unanimous that we should not make this rule.

I ask if they think we should make a rule that children must share anything they bring from home. This is harder to understand and to decide. The three thinks he would like to share his eggs. The five thinks she could share her marionette. I wonder if she would need to do some special teaching about the marionette, or if it could be left for all to enjoy without an introduction. The children come up with the idea that some things are “fragile” and must have extra care. One child thinks of his sister’s horses, I think, which must stay in a box.

The three says her mother has told her that the cell phone is hers. I wonder if that means she must not share it. She points out that she shares her toys with her older brother and he shares his toys with her. I wonder if they must ask permission of the other first, and she says they must.  I also say that the interesting thing is that rules at home might be different from rules at day care or school.

I wonder about a toy like one five’s nap time rabbit or another child’s special blanket, or a another child’s pacifier. We have already determined that the chapstick is not to share. The children are clear and adamant that this is so, as it would share germs. They are quite sure that a child must not share a cloth diaper to which he is attached for the same reason. The blanket seems clear as something not to be shared, thought the children have trouble saying why. The rabbit is harder. The children note that some things are put away in their buckets when not in use and we talk about the fact that it is not ok to take a toy from another child’s bucket. That also seems clear.

Still, we are stuck with what to do about the phone and the rabbit. The phone is hard for the three. She tells us it is “special.” We note that if it is left in the day care, it is a toy which others would like to use. She says she was playing with it, and when pressed, she agrees the phone was on it’s own while she was in the pool. The fact that others would not know she was playing with it seems hard to grasp. I try saying it but I’m not at all sure she gets my explanation when I tell her just because she knows she wants to play with it again, if it is on the ground, others may thinks she’s done.

We talk about how to ask for something if someone else has it, about the fact that even when someone has a person’s toy from home, they must be asked politely to give it back. The five gets feedback about answering that request, about not tuning out, and needs help learning how to reply. She gives back the phone in our role play, but says not a word. I suggest that rather than giving the toy back right away when asked, she might also  say, I’m not done. You can have it when I’m finished. But she doesn’t.

There’s a lot to learn. I tell the children this is tricky stuff, but we think they can figure it out. Places that say no toys from home or you must share might have a different view. If a toy was changing a child’s experience of day care, we might ask for a change in our rules or an exception, like if a child was not playing with her friends but only her phone or if a child were not cleaning up at clean up time because of toys from home in his hands, or if a child brought a toy from home to meal time.

Later, we have a chances to test these scenarios out. The three brings his eggs to breakfast. I remind him about no toys at the table at meal time. He thinks back to our conversation, and puts the eggs aside, after breakfast puts them in his box. Then when it’s time to go outside, though, he cries and protests when Liana tells him the eggs must stay at day care. He gets over it, but not without a fight.

The talking goes on so long in our morning meeting the kids begin to wiggle, no surprise. We release them back to play and soon must call clean up for breakfast and time outside.

We’ve been having more meetings the last week or two. They made sense during February vacation week with older kids and less familiarity with our routine, where we needed to make introductions, get to know one another, introduce plans for the day, make choices of activities. This week we have done some meetings, too, one which ended up being about facial expressions and body language which intrigued the kids and teachers both, and today’s about toys from home.

I’m not for making kids sit and listen all day. For group life to proceed smoothly, however, if kids are to have input into how things work and opportunities to explore and create the rules, meetings now and then can be a place to get everyone on board, to help children see one another’s perspectives, and to create a sense of community and shared expectation. Kids as young as one can do it, if we give them a chance and respect their personhood and intellect, and help to frame the conversation.

Hello folks! Here is an interesting blog from a principal in Brooklyn leading a public elementary school in a high poverty neighborhood through a transformation to more authentic, hands on, experiential, inquiry based learning. It looks great. The NY Times has written an article about one classes field trip to a parking garage, which is quite wonderful. The article is here for you, followed by a post on the school’s approach to inquiry based learning. I love that an urban, low income school is taking these risks to give kids what they really need, the opportunity to make sense of the world in which they live and to step outside their own experiences into the larger world, complete with blocks and art materials to represent what they know, and adults who talk with them and help them ask good questions to deepen their sense of wonder and their learning.

Enjoy! Thanks to Amy Valens from August to June for posting this link on Facebook. There are so many wonderful things happening around the world. I’d much rather read this stuff than all the bad news that sometimes takes over.


Thinking about gathering the old ESS materials and going through the process of collecting them, connecting with those who were involved or who know of the project has me energized again. I’m thinking of some sort of project around progressive education, and its history over time, of interviewing or gathering interviews from those who’ve been involved, of learning more of the history and context and developments, of gathering materials from various eras, and documentation, such as films, photographs, and writings, of trying to understand what made it work in Dewey’s time, and again in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, how it died out, how it might be revived, how personalities and movements connected and intersected in localities and around the world, how various institutions and organizations were involved, which are still around and how they are working for the future, how politics and economics and technology and social change have impacted education, how progressives are working now, how the future might unfold, how alternatives in education have shaped things in independent and public schools, how the two have shaped one another..

I have lots and lots of leads, many books to read, documents to explore, conversations I hope to have, ideas in my head. I haven’t ever taken on a project like this before, and I wonder how or if I’ll do it..figure the wondering is as important as the content of what I hope to explore..wish me luck..for now I need to get to work at the day job..family day care, inspiration and grounding and place for further questions to evolve, which reminds me that child care and women’s shifting roles have also played a part and I don’t want to leave that out!

This morning I have conversation with my daughter. We eat steel cut oatmeal at the table together, with maple syrup or brown sugar, dried cranberries, walnuts, and milk. We work a bit on her doll house.

My son is here. I wake him. I flip the laundry, take out the trash, the compost, tidy the house, wash the dishes. I am making the salad for the potluck this evening while listening to a podcast I saved in 2009, when I was undergoing major change, one of my first introductions to mindfulness, to meditation, to heart and mind integration. It’s making me very happy in a week full of mixed emotions.

Here is it in case you’re interested. John Cabot Zinn on Mindfulness. He has just finished telling us that meditation brings us to the best part of ourselves. And that hte most important thing in life is not meditation but living our lives and paying attention to it, and bringing awareness, more than thinking to each moment.

Going to stop typing so I can pay attention to the multicolored carrots, to the leaves of lettuce, to the cucumber and her seeds, to John Cabot Zinn and Kristen Tibbett and the voices inside that talk to me nonstop.

Opening to Our Lives – John Cabot Zinn with Kristen Tibbett on Speaking of Faith.

Happy Sunday Morning.


Here is the poem at the end of the  podcast, which I think about when I indeed wake in the night from another powerful dream. Enjoy.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

I’m not a facebook status poster. I can’t imagine a Tweet. I tried to write a novel once. I don’t know what it was. Mostly it was true. Today I’m in a coffee shop for a few minutes on my own. For days I’ve been aching to write, have not. Alone in the evenings, with my kids at their dad’s for school vacation week, I find myself wandering the internet, wasting time, I suppose, unable to read a book or watch a show on my own, or to write a word here.

This week the day care days have been long and full and generally pretty good. I’ve been there each day from 8:15 til well after 5, preparing, being with kids, clearing up. Alice was with me two mornings. The rest of the time was me and the kids, young ones through eight, two elevens yesterday, making our way through the day.

I haven’t cooked an evening meal in a week or more. Each night I’ve eaten with people, my mom and sister over the weekend, a friend or colleague three nights, my son and some other Olin hopefuls last night. Tonight it will be my girl and maybe my other son. Tomorrow potluck with the charter group. This afternoon I’ll have tea with Liana. At the park, I’ve had talks with Macky and Alice and Michael and Sue. Later evenings and early mornings I’ve been on my own, which is new for me of late, eye opening, mind opening, heart opening, soul searching, weird.

I find myself thinking of Gilchrist, of Retreat. What is it about time alone that is so qualitatively different? What is it in the message about listening inside I want to believe? I’m looking for guidance on lots of levels. I no longer pray. I still search and wish to know. Conversations help a lot. Listening inside, too. I have no idea in the world how long this stage of midlife will go on, only that it endures, as I do, wondering, as I have been for several years, what next, what next, what next?

Here is today’s Writers’ Almanac, once again speaking to me. I’ve become rehooked, have been dreaming powerful dreams and waking in the night to find solace in the poems, which arrive around 2 am. Fortunately, I’m not often up that early, but by 3 or 4 or 5, I usually have my fix.

Enjoy today’s poem. If joy, more life and less worry are the ticket, I hope I’ll find my way.


My Dead Friends

by Marie Howe

I have begun,
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling—whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s ashes were —
it’s green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says I’ll do.

“My Dead Friends” by Marie Howe, from What the Living Do. © W.W. Norton & Company, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today I opened the packages I had requested last week when I was on the trail of the old ESS (Elementary Science Study) materials produced by EDC (Educational Development Corporation?) in the 1960’s and 1970’s. My school age kids are with me for the February vacation. Our school is on hold for another year. Perfect time to play around with science.

Inside both envelopes, to my surprise, was the same booklet on Mobiles! One had a note from the used bookseller on it’s condition. The other had a note from the gentleman at the Museum of Science who had sent me the last of their ESS materials, having cleared out the last in their donation to our school of science materials no longer needed in the Museum’s collection.

I thought I might interest my six, who was restless. Turns out I could not capture his attention. I, or the Mobiles, did catch the attention of some others. One girl spent a long time cutting shapes of the thin cardboard that came in the packaging, as the booklet illustrated many other children doing. My three loved the book, wondered if each child pictured there was me as a child, white, black, boy, girl. My six loved collecting the sticks from the yard, stuck his together in a sculpture of an A for his sister, using the twist ties I offered as a substitute for the various metal clips illustrated in the booklet. Another six made a mobile, or started one. A seven strung sticks together with string, stopped there. Others gathered around in the project room  messing about with the flubber we had spent our morning making.

I’m back in the world of elementary science. I do love these early primary kids, so much fun, basic skills. Time to end the day. I’m on a new trail, following my predecessors exploring the material world with children..stay tuned..

Here’s the booklet we enjoyed today..more are on the way:)

Well, guess what? I must have the last two copies..no picture or link available. I’ll scan it if I get ambitious, so you can enjoy it, too.

This weekend I’ve traveled with my sister to visit my mom, to stay in the home where I lived as a girl, to spend an afternoon in the company of my aunts and uncles and cousins. Alongside this visit, I’m absorbing the change in plans for our school, keeping distant track of another home, home for the ideas I love that relate to school and how we learn. There are elders and homes all around, if only we can take them into our hearts and make them our own.

Few of you may find this reading to your liking. For me, reading it and visiting my family, even this morning reading family history and geneology, ground me in who I am and in what I believe. For a glimpse, read this introduction to Holding Values: What We Mean By Progressive Education. I’ve read this book several times. Each time it’s new and not, layer upon layer of meaning here, history, belief, pedagogy, practice, children, adults, learners, political, personal.

How is it that we as individuals find our many homes? That is a question I hope to pursue for awhile, making and remaking home as I go, in many, many ways.

Here is a link to the North Dakota Study Group’s web site. There are many fascinating pieces there which I’ve been enjoying from a distance this weekend while others I know and admire have been there in real life. Not my trip to make this year. Maybe someday I will. Also, here’s a link to the reading the group was invited to do before the meeting, posted by Brenda Engel, who writes about the work of this particular group so eloquently, I have run to read more of it each time I’ve had a few minutes in between visiting with my family. Very good to have home in mind and in reality to visit. And now, I’m off to my other home, in Somerville, where friends and family and work and pleasure of my everyday life await.

NDSG Home:


Intro to Holding Values:

Click to access engel_reading_2012.pdf

If you crave to learn more about progressive education, democracy, social action, learning in community, following passions, making commitments, life stories, love, history, politics, explore these sites. There is a treasure trove here for those wishing to hold some of the stories of these important ideas during the turbulent times in which we live.

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