A More Beautiful Question Revisited

Almost a decade after reading  Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, I decided to re-read it, since it is such a thought-provoking book. I’m reading it in little pieces now, savoring each idea!  One nugget I read this week was about the amount of questions children ask.  Young children begin asking “WHY?” and they don’t stop!  Why is the sky blue?  Why can you see the moon during the day? Why do rabbits’ teeth keep growing?  The world is a large place, and little children want to know all about it.  That’s why I became an early childhood teacher 42 years ago.  That’s what I love about visiting the early childhood and elementary classrooms: children keep asking questions, more and more questions.! Of course, that can be exhausting, and you may run out of patience, but that process of asking questions is what separates us from all other species on Earth!  And you know what happens as children get older?  Yes – you are right – they stop asking questions!  

Berger noted that questioning “falls off a cliff” as kids become older.  A Gallup Poll revealed that as students’ progress through the grades, their questioning plummets (76% in elementary school to 44% in high school).  Instead of wondering, older students are busy gathering information and spitting it back in a rote manner.  This leads to massive disengagement from learning.  I was not very surprised by this information, but it did lead me to think and question the classroom practices  I observe each week:  

  • How do we use student questions to spark interest in a topic?  
  • Can the “parking lot” technique be used to display student questions and be a springboard for discussion?  
  • Can we have students generate questions from our essential questions?  
  • Do adults feel like they need to know the answers to all student questions?  
  • What do teachers do when they don’t know the answer?
  • How comfortable are we as adults to ask questions?  

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  

By honoring students’ questions, teachers facilitate learning, which  is relevant and motivates students to question further and seek out possibilities pertaining to any subject.  To be curious and to question is intrinsic to learning. Berger quotes research scientist, John Seely Brown who explains that “…if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things – then change is something that becomes an adventure.  And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running.”

This adventurous spirit reminds me of a time when one of my young three-year-old students was outside playing. He suddenly looked up at the sky and was enthralled by the presence of the moon.  He could not take his eyes off the moon and wondered why it was out in the daytime.  In his experience, the moon only came out at night, and now all that he had come to know was in question.  That was an important moment for him as a learner, and it was an important moment for me as a young teacher.  I could have patted his head, given him a cursory answer, and brought his attention back to something tangible like the sandbox.  Instead, I listened and encouraged his questions and helped him to better understand the workings of the universe.  Indeed, this young boy’s curiosity sparked weeks of learning about the nature of the sky for all his classmates. We read countless books about the moon, created a moon surface, made a mural of the phases of the moon, and even built our own lunar explorer.

Teaching is at its most effective when it promotes risk-taking and relentless experimentation, which is the true heart of constructivist teaching. When teachers and students start asking open-ended questions such as: What do we want to learn?  Why do we want to learn it? How will we go about learning it?  How will we show what we’ve learned? – They are constructing curiosity, which will become a lifelong process.  This approach affords multiple avenues for learning, giving teachers and students freedom to learn in a personal, creative, and active way.

Did I piqued your curiosity? Do you ave more questions?  You might want to read and investigate a little further.

Books by Warren Berger

A More Beautiful Question

Beautiful Questions in the Classroom

The Book of Beautiful Questions

Visit Warren’s Blog:

Want to inspire more curiosity and inquiry in kids?

Celebration in the Wonder Studio: Lunar New Year

A dozen girls gather at recess time to work in the Wonder Studio.  They are in the midst of painting, decorating, and constructing projects of their choice.  This week, I added a box in the shape of a dragon’s head to celebrate Lunar New year.  I quickly cut the box to look like a dragon with a wide pointed-tooth grin.  The girls collected some found objects to make the dragon’s eyes, nostrils, and teeth.  Then we all took turns collaging bright colored tissue paper all over the head in layers upon layers.  Once completed, the dragon would be hung right outside their classrooms to celebrate Lunar New Year.

I have done this dragon project with countless students over several decades.  I love this tradition because it always sparks children’s imaginations and makes the classroom atmosphere festive.  I think the best way for young children to learn about other cultures is through celebrations (food, storytelling, and art). These are powerful ways in which to hold memories.  When I was a classroom teacher, this art project would be the anchor for deep research into the holiday and the Asian culture.  We read widely and began to understand these cultures and traditions more organically.

These days, I’ve noticed that with more and more emphasis on curricular initiatives there seems to be less and less time to celebrate, less and less time for conversations, and less time for connection. The classrooms are a rush of activity, one lesson after the next – go, go, go.  Don’t stop. Don’t think.  Don’t feel the struggle and joy in learning.

I’m glad I can eke out some time for kids to converse and create; some time to experiment and play; some time to celebrate the small things.  They need to know the joy of taking a risk – of taking a cardboard box and transforming into something whimsical.  There is magic held within that simple box, and I want children to experience that creative power.

As they worked, they began asking questions about Lunar New Year.  They began talking to each other naturally.  Some of them knew quite a bit about the holiday and supplied lots of information with facts and personal experiences. Questions grew and so did the students’ understanding.  They wanted to know more.  They wanted to become part of the celebration.

Books About Lunar New Year

3rd Grade Makers: Creating in the Wonder Studio

Sometimes the best learning environment

for students isn’t a bunch of devices powered by Wi-Fi,

sometimes it’s a huge pile of cardboard

powered by pure imagination.

                                                                        -Krissy Venosdale

It’s January, and it’s finally time for the 3rd graders to have time in the Wonder Studio during recess. They are beyond excited.  I look out onto a sea of eager faces, and they are literally bouncing with energy. I gather them on the porch before we venture inside, “Listen please.  I’m giving you two sets of directions: Number one – go into my office, take off your coats, and put them on the chairs on the left side of the room.  Number two – Then go into the Wonder Studio and sit on the steps. When you are all seated, I will give you a guided tour of what we have in the Wonder Studio today.”

To my surprise, they quieted down immediately, listened to my directions, and followed them to a T.  Note to self: when something is dearly important to children, they will tune in and engage in the process with their whole hearts and curious minds. The 3rd graders have been patiently waiting for this day.  The 5th graders participated in October and November, the 4th graders participated in November and December, and now it is their turn.  The quota for each session was 9 students.  Every single 3rd graders signed up to participate! In order to give everyone a chance, so I increased the quota to 12 students per session.  The studio is a very small space. I crossed my fingers and hoped that this group could navigate the room and materials without too much chaos.  To my delight, they got right to work, setting up their spaces and helping each other.  Long before this day, they had been thinking hard about what they wanted to create.  Soon, the studio was abuzz with activity.

Carlie wanted a small box, which I found for her.  “I’m making a bed,” she declared.

Francee wanted a bigger box and some cardboard.  “What are you making?” I asked.

“A hotel for my scrunchies,” she said, holding up three colorful fabric scrunchies.

I laughed.  I had never thought of making a hotel for scrunchies.  I marveled at her creativity.

Francee’s enthusiasm was contagious, and she soon had two classmates helping her construct the hotel.  It had three floors created with plastic strawberry baskets and needlepoint canvas.

Some people would observe this scene and define it as childish.  I suppose it is, but childish not in a dismissive and frivolous way.  When I think of the word childish, I think of creativity, imagination, a great sense of play, adventure, and wonder.  The studio session captured these childish times: a child painting paper plates with bright colors, another child duct-taping blocks together to make her own version of a Rubik’s cube, and yet another child stringing beads and wooden snowflakes together to make a winter garland.

Carlie has returned to request a stapler. “What do you need it for?” I ask.  I’ve learned to ask this question because often students do not request the tool that they actually need.  In this case, Carlie wanted the stapler to “sew” pillows for her bed.  I looked at the tiny fabric squares in her hand.  She had put a cotton ball in each square and showed me where she wanted to staple.  “May I show you something?’ I asked her gently.  She nodded her head.  “Staples are not the best tool for making pillows.  Let’s try sewing instead.  Would you like me to teach you how to do it?” Carlie nodded again.  We worked together to sew two small pillows perfectly for her cardboard bed.  “Do I have time to make a quilt?” Carlie asked. “Next session,” I promise.

I looked at the clock. “We have five minutes to clean up,” I announce to the girls.  They moan in unison. “I know.  I know.  You have done excellent work.  There will be more time next week.”  They slowly complied, as I stood directing where to put palettes and paint brushes.  Someone had spilled some water and others come to her aid.  We found space for paintings to dry and beads to stay organized.  Francee’s hotel was put on a high shelf, as was Carlie’s bed.

This childish time is essential, so nourishing.  I know it, and the girls know it. We have formed a strong bond.  There is such satisfaction, such a sense of purpose when making something with your own two hands out of your own wild imagination.  We all want to stay here in the Wonder Studio just a little longer.

Stirring the Senses – Part 2

Last week, I planned a winter sensory poetry lesson for out 2nd graders.  I decided to start with a slideshow of winter photographs and then brainstorm words that they might use in their poems. My goal was to quickly set them off to write so they’d have plenty of time to compose their poems and share them.

This week, I executed my plan.  As I presented the slideshow, the girls looked intently at the photographs, which were a mix of nature scenes and people and animals in the snow. After watching silently, they shared their ideas as I wrote them down.  We were collecting sensory words from what we had seen in the photos.  The words would act as a jumping off point to create images for their poems.

Before they began to write, they asked some questions.  One girl asked if she could use rhymes and I nodded my head.  She sparked an idea in my head because I don’t normally compose rhyming poems.  Since I always write when the children write, I decided to challenge myself and write a rhyming sensory poem. I think it is an important part of the writing process for children to see adults writing alongside children.  I made sure the girls were all actively thinking and writing, and then I sat down with my own ideas. One student came over to see what I was writing, but I quickly redirected her to her own writing and told her that I would share at the end of class.

As the children wrote, I circled the room looking at their poetry and making observations that I thought would nudge their writing further.

  • That’s an interesting idea! You’re making an acrostic.
  • Wow! You are using such strong verbs.
  • Oh, you are including lots of sound words.
  • Like each child, like each snowflake, each poem was different, exquisite in its creation.  They took their experiences of snow and thought about how it looked, smelled, sounded, tasted, and felt. They thought hard, they experimented with words, and they formed meaning to share with others.  This time to play is necessary and important for writers. It connected what they have been reading, to what they have experienced, to what they have learned about composing a poem.

2nd Grade Poets: Stirring the Senses

My colleague and friend asked me to cover one of her 2nd grade writing classes this coming week. I eagerly accepted. I was given two choices:  monitor the winter writing assessment or teach a lesson on winter sensory poems.  The decision was an easy one for me.  Given the choice, I would pick poetry every single time.  And poetry with 2nd graders? Nothing could bring more joy!

I have been introducing young children to poetry for many decades, so I jumped at the chance to teach again and this time try a new approach.  I spent the weekend thinking about ways to introduce sensory poems, which would engage these small, curious minds.  I know that the best plan of action is to speak briefly, make it visual, and step out of the way.  Though, I often want to explain and read example after example,  I have found that children have poetry squirming inside of them ready to jump out, and all teachers have to do is invite them to think, wonder, play, and create.

To prepare for the lesson, I sat down and thought about how to construct a winter sensory poem.  I summoned my beginner’s mind. I thought about the taste of winter.  Images swelled up inside me, and I quickly wrote the last stanza first. Since there were four lines in the stanza and five senses, I then knew the format of this poem would be five stanza with a total of twenty lines.  I don’t normally write poems thinking of the structure, but this is the way “First Snow” presented itself to me. 

First Snow

At the edge of the woods
Tall trees stand
Ina a swaying silhouette
Bracing winter winds.

Their boughs creak and thrum
Creating a winter rasping rhythm
Birds stay silent on branches
Muffled by their puffed feathers.

The clouds are as gray and thick
As chimney smoke.
The air is frozen-still 
And smells like snow.

Soon snowflakes whirl,
Dancing on noses and fingertips
Before drifting to the ground.
Flake, upon flake, upon flake.

A faint taste of salt
Is on my cold, cracked lips.
I wrap my arms around myself
And dream of the sweetness of spring.

Of course,  I wouldn’t expect children to work in this way.  However, going through the process again like it was my first time, helped me to better understand how to present sensory poetry to the children. And it reminded me that the process of both teaching and writing poetry should not be rigid with formulas and rules. When poetry is presented as play, then children have a much easier time adopting it and making it their own.

My plan was simple.  I will set the mood with a slideshow of winter scenes. Then, we will generate a list of words that express the sights of sounds of winter, which I will write on a chart so the children can reference it during poetry construction. And then, I will invite the children to start writing.  Mid-workshop, I plan to invite students to read their poems in progress.  I think this helps young writers keep the revision process in focus and playful.

As they finish their poems, they will read them to each other, further revise, and finally set their poems down on fresh paper.  Since they are 2nd graders, they will want to illustrate their poems.  Indeed, I anticipate one or two reluctant poets will need to draw first and then create a poem from their image.  As with the first snow of the season, I wait eagerly in anticipation for Tuesday afternoon with our 2nd grade poets.

Inspiration and Handiwork

Over the years, bloggers have blessed me with new ideas, book suggestions, encouragement, beautiful artwork and photographs, and myriad moments of inspiration.  I have learned so much from strangers, and I am so grateful for their knowledge and generosity.

My latest spark of inspiration comes from Adam Zucker who blogs at Artfully Learning. Last week, Adam wrote about Black Mountain College in North Carolina and its founders, teachers, and alumni.  He wrote about the life and art of Ruth Asawa. I had never heard of her, but I had read and studied the work of her teacher, Josef Albers.  As I looked at the work of Ruth Asawa, I had a tingling “Aha” moment. I had such a strong visceral reaction to her sculptures. They were curved and intricate biomorphic shapes. Her organic wire sculptures reminded me of some macramé sculpture I created in graduate school as part of my Master’s thesis in Creative Arts Education forty-three years ago. I carried those sculptures around for years and gave a few away to friends.  I had forgotten about them until I saw Ruth’s sculptures.  I said aloud to myself, “Oh! I wish I had known about Ruth Asawa forty-three years ago.  Her work would have greatly influenced my art and pushed me forward.”  I never thought of weaving with wire and stayed with more common materials such as paper, fabric, yarn, jute, and hemp.

I made twelve sculptures with accompanying poems. Two sculptures I remember very well.  My work was centered around the women who influenced my life.  The first sculpture was a rectangular wall hanging in a natural jute tied onto wooden branches on the top and bottom.  The knots were predominantly Josephine knots in honor of my maternal grandmother, Josephine, who I never met.  She died at the age of forty-six from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Family members always told me that I looked like her.  I never believed them until I came across a photo of her at the age of sixteen.  My heart skipped a beat when I looked at her eyes and smile. Yes, indeed, I look a lot like my grandmother.  I wanted to create a sculpture that would reflect my connection to her.

Another sculpture was a replica of a head of long chestnut hair.  My childhood friend, Roxanne, had the most gorgeous long, straight, thick hair. My hair was short, fine, dark brown, and curly.  I coveted Roxanne’s hair.  I craved long thick tresses that I could toss, braid, and put in in an elegant bun.  I found a wire-framed oval, and I tied long strands of wool year in multi-shades of brown.  Then I created different kinds of intricate braids down the length of the sculpture.  To add interest, I woven in some gold engraved barrel beads.  This is the hair I would have wanted.  This is the hair of my amazing dear friend.  After the exhibition,  I packed Roxanne’s hair in a box and sent it to her in Boston with a note expressing how much her friendship meant to me.

As years went by,  I turned to watercolor and collage for artistic expression.  And my time was spent more and more teaching children.  In my teaching, I always shared the connection of art to literature, and exposed my young students to various artists, genres, and materials.  I knew it was important for children to explore the world of art and use their imaginations to create their own work. This free expression is crucial for building identity, self-esteem, and for nurturing creative minds.

With a little research, I found a picture book A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa by Andrea D’Aquino.  She recounts Ruth’s childhood on a California farm, her interest in nature, and her studies in art.  She was influenced by choreographer, Merce Cunningham, the visionary designer, Buckminster Fuller, and the abstract artist, Josef Albers.  As Ruth developed as an artist, a trip to Mexico introduced her to write weaving.  When she returned home to San Francisco, she began to tach art and create beautiful nature-inspired wire sculptures.

I cannot wait to try my hand at wire sculptures.  After all, I have been waiting for forty-three years!  Maybe I can combine wire and fiber.  I am looking forward to playing and creating with this new-found idea. 

Josephine Knots in Copper Wire

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!                        

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