The Conversation Connection

Teaching  is a long conversation.  It is an interplay of ideas and experiences.  I was attracted to teaching because I love connecting with people, learning about their interests, and understanding how they think. I know from my own experiences as a student that the teachers who stopped and took time to talk to me were critical in building my sense of self and developing my reasoning  skills. Without those conversations, I would not, on my own, have made the connections needed to grow my thinking. 

When I was a classroom teacher, I made it my practice to check-in regularly with each student, not only during reading and writing conferences, but also to check-in on their social-emotional development: how they were feeling about friends and family, how they were able to handle stress. I knew that the way my students felt about themselves greatly affected their ability to persevere and learn.  These teacher-student conversations were so rewarding; they built self-awareness, agency, and community.  Most of the academic content might not be remembered, but I knew the social connections would be.  Students would remember that someone listened to them and valued their opinions.

This week, as I worked with a small group of 4th graders, I was reminded about how important connection truly is. We were working in the Wonder Studio, and I opened up my adjoining office to make more room for their crafting projects. In my office, I had hung a large display of my class photos over the span of my teaching career.  Several students noticed the photos and started asking me questions.  I was intrigued by how their questions were so closely connected to their personalities.  The first one to comment was my logical reasoner and problem-solver, Jasara. She got close up to the photo and saw the date – 1979. “You have been teaching for 43 years!” she declared.  I chuckled. Another student chimed in, “43!  My father is 43!”  Jasara kept analyzing the photos, but what she focused on were the numbers: in 1985, I was teaching for 6 years; in 1993, I was teaching for 14 years.  I was relieved when she couldn’t find any more dates.  I was beginning to feel very old indeed.

Then Maren came to inspect the photo.  She is confident and competitive. Maren looked intently at all the children’s face. “Which one was your favorite,” she demanded. 

“I liked them all,” I declared. 

She narrowed her eyes at me, “You had to have had a favorite.”

I started to feel defensive but kept calm. “They were all great kids: Charlie was a great sailor, Ben made me laugh, Stephanie was quiet and thoughtful, Antonio wrote plays…”.

Maren cut me off, “My mother says she doesn’t have a favorite, but I know she does.” And with that she trounced off to get some fabric.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  If I were to be completely truthful, I enjoyed the company of all the children.  But there are a few who still keep in touch with me, who now as grown-ups take time to reach out to me. So yes, Maren is probably right, but I’m not going to tell her unless she calls me up ten years from now to see how I’m doing!

Darlene was listening to these conversations the whole time.  She sat by my side working and listening.  Finally, she got up and took a closer look  at the photos.  She looked at all the little faces of strange children now adults.  She also went over to some other photos I had on another shelf.  The photos were of some former students, who are now adults, with careers and children of their own. 

Then she came back to my side. “I’m going to be in one of those photo frames,” she said pointing.  Then quickly added, “But they won’t be here in your office.  They will be at your home because you’ll be retired by then.” 

I smiled and gave her side-hug, “And we can meet for tea, and you can tell about all the wonderful things you are doing.” 

Darlene’s face glowed, “Yes, yes! I’ll tell you about my newest cookbook.” This was an inside joke.  I have been encouraging Darlene’s writing through reading and making recipes for the past three years.  I have no doubt that her grown-up face will one day grace my bookshelf, as well as several of her award-winning cookbooks!                        

Hands-on Vocabulary

Last week in the Wonder Studio, I spent four days during recess time sewing with 4th graders.  The thing I learned about 4th graders is that they have definite ideas and want to carry them out quickly.  The Wonder Studio is filled with all kinds of crafting supplies, but the supplies that captured the 4th graders last week was my sewing cabinet.  They wanted to make pillows – all twelve of them – all at once – and not one seasoned sewer among them.  It was a chaotic and happy flow of ribbon, scissors, fabric, and floss.  They soon learned that sewing takes time and patience. 

One industrious student decided she would hot-glue her pillow until I stopped her and had her reflect on her process.  I called the girls over to look at the hot-glued pillow.  We brainstormed ways to make pillows without using up all our hot-glue and make a pillow that would last and could be washed.  I quickly set up some girls with needles and thread, while I showed another group how to make a tootsie roll pillow, which consists of taking a length of fabric, putting some batting in the center, rolling it up and securing each end with ribbons tied in a bow.  The seam can be stitched or secured with bonding tape.  Soon, we had a bright assortment of tootsie roll pillows. 

As they worked, I showed them how to fold fabric.  I taught them new terms: warp, weft, bias. They quickly understood my command for pinking shears and why you do not usually want your fabric to fray.  They learned how to attach buttons, separate floss strands, and embroider their initials with a basic straight stitch. As we worked together, I realized that  in just a few short days they were learning and retaining so much new vocabulary.  They needed to know these words to create an object of their own.  Words like batting, muslin, bonding tape, t-pins became essential for communicating their needs, so they learned them and used them quickly.

I remember learning this way from my mother – learning in the moment.  She was a gifted seamstress and could make a dress without a using a pattern.  I thought that was pure magical genius. I didn’t even realize I was learning new skills and words when I sewed alongside her. It was such an organic process. It was rewarding to work hard at something and have a beautiful end product.  Of course, even if my stitches were uneven and my hem was a bit crooked, it still was beautiful to me. Sewing taught me how to work through problems and learn from my mistakes. My technique got better and better the more I practiced. Sewing was teaching this group of girls that lesson too.  They love to be busy, to use their hands, and to learn new skills to make something useful.

This organic way of introducing vocabulary can be applied to other content areas.  Connecting new words with an activity that results in a product will ensure engagement.  The learning will stick because it is coupled with relevant action.  I saw this recently during a 4th grade reading/writing unit on graphic novels.  The teacher introduced new vocabulary (panel, frame, speech bubbles, gutters, motion lines, narration, etc.) Then the students would look for examples in the books they were reading, and then used those newly-acquired skills to create their own stories.  At the end of the unit, the students were deftly using the graphic story terminology.  It had truly become part of their writing toolbox.

Vocabulary instruction should not be viewed as a weekly list of words tiered, graded, and set aside in a neat little pile.  New words should dance out to students, play with them, engage them, make them think and do:  Where are those pinking shears?  Why are frayed edges not always a good idea?  Where is the selvedge end?  Stated simply, new words that demand action are remembered. 

Good Morning, Little Writers!: Conferring in 1st Grade

Every Tuesday morning, I start my day in writing workshop with 1st graders.  This week, they have been composing narratives about fall. Almost everyone is on their final drafts. Almost everyone, but M., who hasn’t even yet begun. These are the kind of writers I have the privilege to support.  I love this challenge.  I love to figure what these small writers need and build a road map with them to set them off on their long writing journey.

The best way to illustrate my conference time with this young writer is to write down our conversation.  As the conference begins, I think of all the experts who helped me become a writing teacher: Calkins, Graves, Murray, Fletcher, Andersen.  Their advice whirls around my head.  I take a deep breath, relax, and remember most of all to be present to this little writer in front of me.

Me: So M., do you know what you want to write about?

M. : Yes! PUMPKINS!

Me: Fabulous! Have you made a plan?

M.: (shaking her head) What’s that?

Me: You know.  A web – those sheet with the circle in the center and the lines.

M.: Like a spider.

Me: Yes – spider paper.

M.: No. I don’t know how to.

Me: Here, I’ll show you.  Let’s make a simple plan – beginning, middle, end.

M. sits down with me at the table in the back of her classroom. I turn over her story template and list on the back – B – M – E.

Me: What happens in the beginning?

M.: I am at the pumpkin patch and I find a GIANT pumpkin.

I write her words down.  She watches me intently.  I go slowly modeling how to think and write and sound words out.

Me: So, then what happens next?

M.: The pumpkin is too BIG.  It’s too heavy.  I can’t pick it up! It is ENORMOUS! (M. holds her arms out in front of her making a large circle).

Me: You can’t pick it up? What do you do next?

M.: I look around and I find a smaller pumpkin. I pick that one up and bring it home to make pumpkin pie.

Me: Fantastic! Now, tell me your story again out loud.

M. tells me her pumpkin story from beginning to end.  She is giggling and dancing with excitement.  She is ready to write.  I turn over the planning paper and M. picks up her pencil to begin.  This is where the heavy lifting begins.

M.: “One day I went to the pumpkin patch. “ How do you spell pumpkin?

Me: Let’s stretch it out.

M.: p-u-m-k-i-n.

Me: p-u-m-p-k-i-n.

M. writes “pumpkin.” Then asks how to spell “patch.”

Me: Let’s stretch it out.

M.: p-a-ch

Me: p-a-t-ch

M. write out “patch.” She continues with her story – writing, pausing, stretching the words she’s unsure of, and happy in the process. At times, she starts telling me other stories as she writes, and I have to redirect her.  Six sentences are hard work for this writer, but she perseveres joyfully. All of a sudden, M. stops and turns her smiling face to me six inches from my nose.

M.: You are fun! I need to have a playdate with you!

Me: (laughing) M. keep writing.

M.: I love you! You are my favorite teacher!  You are the best! (She says with wild exuberance thrusting her hands toward my face and sticking one finger up my nose).

I lurch backwards and laugh.  This is why I teach. Children have such heart and spirit.  They are fearless to show how they feel.  This moment in time will sustain me all week.  I am grateful to M.

M.: How do you spell pumpkin?

Me: Well M., you have written it four times already in your story. Let’s look back and see how it’s spelled.

M.: Okay! (she says cheerfully).

M. continues and is finally finished.  She is so excited that she’s made a story.  She gleefully reads it aloud to me.  I clap and cheer on this young author.  What have M. and I learned this morning in writers workshop?  I think M. learned: it’s good to have a plan; a story has a beginning, middle, and end; you can stretch out words to help you spell; and it’s fun to share your stories with a friend. What I learned and was reminded to do was to trust the young writer, slow down, listen, support, repeat, repeat, repeat, and be joyful in the process.

Books from Writing Experts

  1. …And with a Light Touch: Learning About Reading, Writing, and Teaching with First Graders by Carol Avery and Donald Graves
  2. Assessing Writers by Carl Anderson
  3. A Writer Teaches Writing by Donald M. Murray
  4. How’s it Going?: A Practical Guide for Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson
  5. Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing by Ralph Fletcher
  6. Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins
  7. The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins
  8. Writing: Teachers and Children at Work by Donald Graves
  9. What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher
  10. Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher

Crafting Kindness

Kindness Deficit

I have been working with children for over four decades.  During that time, I have witnessed a slow erosion of kindness and amicability.  With the onset of COVID, political division, and lack of public safety, these last few years have produced an atmosphere of intolerance. Everyone is in a rush to get to the finish line, but we are not stopping to see that our friend, neighbor or peer may need our help.  An air of distrust permeates our society. As a result, children are greatly affected by what they see, hear, and feel, even if they cannot yet completely understand it. Instead of fostering a sense of calm collaboration, children are being raised in an era of tension, intolerance, and uncertainty.  As schools keep focused on academic excellence, we are losing sight of general civility.  Teachers often say that they don’t have time for the social-emotional side of learning. However, if we don’t put in the time, if we don’t slow down and focus on how we communicate and treat each other, then all learning suffers. Children need a strong, clear foundation of kindness and consideration, so they can appreciate other points of view and become fully functional, productive citizens. Slowing down, listening to students’ needs and concerns, and building in time for communication can make classrooms a model for a civil society.

Kindness Connection

In the rush to teach more and more content, to cover all the necessary skills, teachers sometimes have difficulty connecting with their students.  They forget to ask, “Who are this unique learners in front of me?” and “What does they need to grow?”  A perceptive teacher not only asks, “What content should I teach them?,” but also, “What do they need for their social-emotional development?”  When teachers show interest in students’ family lives, activities and hobbies, and their unique personalities, a bond is made which helps teachers foster their students’ growth, especially when the student faces an obstacle or setback.  Teacher-student connection is the key to a child’s social-emotional well-being, and in the end, it is this important connection that keeps the child motivated and engaged.  If a student knows her teacher cares, then she will want to do her best and try just a little harder. She is not afraid to take risks, and she sees her teacher as a partner in her success.  They have developed a transactional relationship, and she has become invested in her own learning.

Kindling Kindness

There are many ways to kindle kindness, to make students feel safe and honored.  The techniques used in the Responsive Classroom method are proven and give students the confidence they require to fully participate as active classroom citizens.  Instead of rushing into the day, Responsive Classroom teachers, begin the day with connection. They emphasize both teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships.  From the start, this type of community building, fostered each and every day, affords students a stable base in which to exchange ideas in an open and accepting setting.  From this foundation, children can grow confidently and flourish.  They learn to build strong and trusting friendships. They develop the tools with which to be independent and compassionate community members.  This circle of friendship is recursive; it becomes stronger and stronger with each cycle.  Trust replaces skepticism, cooperation replaces competition, and altruism replaces selfishness.

Friendship Circle Poem & Craft

As often happens, my classroom reflections become an impetus for poetry.  I recently crafted this poem and art project and hope to share them with some of my young learners.

Books about Kindness and Friendship

Websites for Teachers:

Books for Teachers:

Picture Books:

Chapter Books:

Early Chapter Books (ages 6-9):

Chapter Books  (ages 9-12)

Halloween Magical Read Alouds

This is one of my favorite times of year.  The leaves burst into flaming colors, and the air has just a hint of chill in it.  It is time for sweaters, warm drinks, apples, pumpkins, and Halloween.  I love  preparing for Halloween: selecting pumpkins – round and fat, tall and thin, white, green, and all shades of orange.  I love the goopy-wonderfulness of carving pumpkins, especially to the sound of the squeals of children as wee scoop out piles and piles of pulp and seeds.  We separate the seeds, wash them thoroughly, salt them and pop them in the oven until they are roasted perfection.  We bake all kinds of pumpkin recipes: breads, puddings, cakes, and cookies.  Everything smells like cinnamon and sugar.

Learning along-side children gives me the opportunity to celebrate this season in style.  I can decorate to my heart’s content, and if anyone gives me a side-ways glance, I quickly explain, “I’m a teacher.” They smile and nod their heads.  But the real reason I celebrate is to experience holidays through the eyes of the children.  They still believe in magic, and by being with them, I can capture some of that magic for my own.  We hang orange and black chains across the classroom, we make tons and tons of paper pumpkins, we sing Halloween songs, recite Halloween poems, and get into the spirit of Halloween.

One of my favorite books to read aloud is The Witch’s Child by Arthur Yorkins and illustrated by Jos. A. Smith.   It is such the right amount of scary with a satisfying ending.  The author begins, “Once there lived a witch in the woods… a mean, horrible witch.  She was wicked and cruel, and absolutely heartless and her name was Rosina.”  As I read aloud, I asked the students to listen closely. In front of them was a sheet with questions which I would ask them to respond to as I read. Periodically I would stop reading and ask them to jot down their answers.  Having a place to respond helped the children focus their attention and added to their engagement.  After the story was over, the children were brim-full of ideas that they wanted to share.  This story certainly grabbed their attention and many of them asked if they could borrow it to read it again, which is just what my teacher ears wanted to hear.

The Witch’s Child Questions to consider:

I made my questions short and to the point and wanted them to flow with the pacing of the story.  This was just the right amount of questioning to keep the children engaged without taking away from the action of the story.

1. What are 3 of Rosina’s powers?

3. What did Lina doe when she met Rosalie? What would you have done?

2. What was Rosina’s child made from?

4. What do you think will happen next?

After this story, I taught the children a game I learned when I was a young teacher.  It is still fun thirty plus years later! However, it is harder to be the running witch, so I quickly have students take over the role, which they adore.

Old Mother Witch Game

“Old Mother Witch fell in a ditch. Picked up a penny and thought she was rich.” (Sung to the tune of Peas Porridge Hot)

  1. Players get in a long line, holding onto each other shoulders or waists. 
  2. Old Mother Witch is the first in line. 
  3. Players sing the song over and over again until…
  4. Old Mother Witch turns around and all children must stop.  Old Mother Witch points a finger to one player after another asking, “Are you my child?’.
  5. The players can say no.  But when a player says yes, Old Mother Witch runs after the one who said yes or any other child she can catch. 
  6. When Old Mother Witch catches a child, she puts her in a cooking pot (a chalk outlined circle).  
  7. The children line up again and sing the song until the witch asks her question again. 
  8. Old Mother Witch keeps collecting children, but children who have not been caught can free children from the cooking pot.
  9. When Old Mother Witch has caught all the children or when she gets too tired, another witch can take her place.

13 Magical Halloween Read Alouds:

1. Arthur’s Halloween Costume by Lillian Hoban

2. Boris and Bella by Carolyn Crimi

3. Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds

4. Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex

5. Ghost’s Hour, Spooks Hour by Eve Bunting

6. Pumpkin, Pumpkin by Jean Tihterington

7. Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

8. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

9. The Fox went out on a Chilly Night by Peter Spirer

10.  The Little Old Lady Who was not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

11.  The Pumpkinville Mystery by Bruce Cole

12.  The Roll Away Pumpkin by Junia Wonders

13.  Very Brave Witch by Alison McGhee

Forest Bathing: Autumn Plunge

The last time I was in Vermont, it was summer – July to be exact. Everything was green in the green mountains, and I was in need of some physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. I had read about the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing. I immediately loved the image that came to mind – walking down woodland paths or up steep mountain paths and soaking in all that nature has to offer. My summer Forest Bathing post can be viewed here.

As is our tradition, my husband and I travel up to Vermont in October to witness the leaves changing color in all variations of radiant yellow, orange, russet, red, crimson, and purple. This year was a spectacular display. Whenever we went there was vibrant color – a real-life watercolor – colors blended into each other and the sky was a clear, cloudless blue. I could not wait to get into the woods, to surround myself with color, with the natural signs of the changing seasons. As I walked, I took photos and wrote poetry in my head. This is what my Autumn plunge created.

Ingenuity

Webster dictionary defines ingenuity as “skill or cleverness in devising or combining,”  while Oxford describes it as “the ability to invent things or solve problems in clever new ways.”  When speaking with children about the word ingenuity, one adventurous student replied, “Maybe it means a new engine.”  And in a way, she is correct.  Ingenuity is like a new engine: it is revved up and ready to go.

This week, I’ve been forced to relax and reflect at home due to a classic head cold. I have not sneezed this much in a long time!  Wandering my small space, I began to think up interesting brews that might make me feel better.  I am a tea drinker, so I like to experiment: mint tea with lemon and honey, black tea with orange and cardamom, green tea with ginger, lemon, and honey, chai tea with extra cinnamon and cider, the list goes on and on.  I sip cup after cup and feel warm and comforted. 

As dinnertime rolled around, I realized I needed more sustenance than tea, so I started thinking about soup.  I didn’t look in my many cookbooks – No!  That would be too ordinary, too mundane, too reliable.  I decided to invent some soup recipes.  I needed strong flavors that would clear up my sinuses.  First, I made a hardy chicken tortilla soup, full of tomatoes and a bit of jalapeños.  The next day, I made a miso broth filled with onions, garlic , ginger, lemon, and snow peas.  It smelled so good, that I kept sticking my face over the pot to breathe in the aromatic steam. Then, I thought back to my Italian roots and made a vegetable-based soup filled with pureed basil and garlic, potatoes, and chickpeas.  The smell of basil always reminds me of my Grandpa Tony.  He was a consummate gardener and grower of basil.  The soups were all wonderful.  I loved creating them from scratch without any compass.  I just let my mind flow and combine the tastes I love.

Feeling a bit better from my soup consumption, one afternoon I took a short stroll around my neighborhood. It was a warm September day – blue skies with a bit of a breeze to let us know fall is surely on its way.  Suddenly, I became aware of wild movement.  I look across the street and a girl, about eleven or twelve-years-old with long dark hair, is sitting at the top of her driveway on a red stool with wheels.  The stool resembles an office chair without a back.  In her hand is a large push broom.  The girl propels herself down the inclined driveway, using the broom as a kind of oar or rudder.  She is whirling and twirling down the drive.  She leans back on the stool and is giggling with delight.  She uses the broom to steer herself back uphill and does the whole swirling motion again and again. I move quickly on. I don’t want her to see me because I don’t want to interrupt her joy. 

As I walk away, I smile to myself.  Witnessing that type of ingenious joy reminds me of when I was eleven and twelve.  My friends and I loved creating games out of things we found in our yards and around our neighborhood.  One time, we made a hammock of old woven rope.  It was a wonderfully intricate invention.  When I hopped in, it enveloped me rolled me around and out onto the ground while still keeping hold of my left foot.  I lay on the ground writhing in laughter. My friends had to rescue me, and that was all part of the experiment.  Another time,  I found an old skateboard with chipped wheels.  I was adamant that it was still useful.  I hopped on it down a steep hill with an old hockey stick for balance.  Thank goodness for that hockey stick.  The skateboard hit a stone and abruptly stopped, and I had to use the stick to break my fall.  Even when my inventions failed, I was not deterred.  I loved the process of experimentation.  I loved thinking up new possibilities.

As I walked back to my home, I saw my young neighbor again.  She was still in the process of creating her red stool ballet.  Her body was staying back and forth in a curlicue fashion.  She was pure poetry in motion. Maybe she was inventing a new Olympic game: a cross between luge and curling or skateboarding and polo. Or maybe she was just having fun!

Small Wonder

September is more than half-way over.  I am beginning to settle in to my school routine: getting up early, working long days organizing student support, and coming home exhausted only to organize some more.  It sounds tedious and parts of my job are very routinized, but then there is the wonder that sneaks in every day.  The wonder from young children engaging with their world.  That I would not trade to witness for all the money the in world – honestly.  Wonder is what sustains me, what pushes me through, what is on the other side of the routines and everyday drudgery. 

I realized that I have been either going to school or teaching in a school for sixty-two years, more than half a century, most of my life!  That is indeed a long time, and I know when the time comes for me to stop doing school, it will be a hard transition.  I absolutely love school.  I love getting up in the morning, picking out a school outfit, getting to school and seeing friends,  going through my way and learning, going home to think about all that has happened in the day, and then doing it all over again until summertime greets me at the end of the school year.

Every day there is a new surprise. Every day, something I didn’t expect happens.  This is sometimes positive and sometimes negative, and whichever it is – it is always a learning experience.  My days are electric, and that’s how I like them.  This is not to say my day are frenetic and haphazard.  No, the electricity comes from learning alongside children.  I get to see the world again through that childlike lens of wonder and discovery.  It fills me with joy, and I am reminded how exciting learning something can be.

One of the best ways I know to spend my time is visiting the JPK classroom, which is home to our three-year-old students.  I started my career teaching three-year-old children, so when I enter their classroom, it is like going back in time, and I feel young again. Three-year-olds are the friendliest people I know.  They engage you from the minute they meet you and want to be your friend.  They like to share information and will tell you without any hesitation what they are doing and how it is going in their world. Even if sometimes they are shy, they are still willing to come up and quietly share what they are thinking.  They thrive on connection.

I came to help out on the first day of school.  As parents were separating from their children, I noticed one little dark-haired girl, Avery, was having trouble letting her mom go.  I sat next to her at the playdough table and engaged her in a conversation long enough for her mom to say good-bye and leave.  We continued to play with our pink playdough balls, and I asked Avery if she’d like me to make a snowman. Her face lit up with an exuberant nod.  She requested that I make snowman after snowman in various sizes. She giggled and clapped all the way through.  I encouraged her to make a snowman, but she just shook her head and said, “You do it.” We played and chatted at the table until it was time for the children to clean-up and for me to get on with the rest of my day.

The following week, I came into the JPK room to find Avery once again sitting with pink playdough.  I sat alongside her and said hello.  She gave me a big smile and commanded me to make a snowman.  I started to make one ball and stopped and said, “You know you can do this.” She shook her head.  “Yes, you can,” and I said, “I can show you.”  Avery looked up at me, and I showed her how to move her hands to make a ball. She took some playdough and tried to form a ball.  She moved her hands back and forth.  When she opened her palms, she looked down and frowned.  “It’s a snake,” she said.  I smiled and explained, “When you move your hand back and forth it turns into a snake.  When you move your hands around in a circle like this it becomes a ball.”  I made a snake and then a ball. Then I helped Avery to move her hands in a circle. I told her to put the playdough on the table and move one hand on top in a circle.  She followed my instructions and slowly removed her hand uncovering a perfect little pink ball. Her face lit up like she had just witnessed magic.  Her face was a glow of delight that spread to me and to all the other children at the table.  I wished I had taken a photo of her.  Her expression was pure joy and happiness.  I tucked that image away with me and will keep it with me to use at times when I need a boost.

A few days later, I returned to Avery’s classroom.  When I walked in the door, she looked over her shoulder and beckoned me to come see what she was doing. When I saw, my heart over-filled with complete joy.  Avery’s playdough mat had a long line of pink balls lined up one after another and stacked one on top of another like a great pink snowball wall.  I laughed and said, “Oh, you have been busy!  You know how to make snowballs now!  You don’t need me.”  Avery smiled at me, patted the chair next to her. “Sit down,” she said, “Come play.”  Who could argue with that?

I know this seems like such a small thing: a child playing with playdough, learning to make shapes.  Some people might say, “This is the way you spend your day?  You get paid for this?” And I will proudly declare, “Yes – I spend my day in joy and wonder.  I spend my day cultivating play and creativity because it is through these little joy-filled interactions that people learn and grow and invent new ways for our world to be a better place. And so to all of you I say, “Sit down. Come play.”

Avery playing practicing her new skill: PlayDough balls!

A Wall of Wonder