Category: Social + Emotional

The Power of Words: Put-Ups and Put-Downs

By Mariah Bruehl,

Playful Learning: The Power of Words

As our children go back to school and fill the classrooms or dive into their homeschool experiences, it’s important to remember the strong connection between social and emotional safety and academic success. Neuroscience shows that when a child is feeling stress about personal relationships, their home life, or pressures at school, they are far less likely to engage in high-order thinking and executive functioning skills.

It’s for this reason that the explicit teaching of social and emotional skills at home and in the classroom are essential for our children to be happy and thrive.

One of the most life-changing lessons I have ever experienced is about put-ups and put-downs… If I could choose two phrases that would be introduced into every household and school across the land, it would be “put-ups” and “put-downs.” These are two of the most powerful concepts I have ever taught in the classroom or to my own children. Equipping young children with a deep understanding of these terms gives them the ability to communicate feelings, which may have seemed almost intangible before. The language of put-ups and put-downs provides children with the skills needed for them to speak up for themselves as well as to stand up for others.

As a special Back-to-School gift to you, we are offering our online lesson, The Power of Words: Put-Ups and Put-Downs free of charge! It’s the perfect way to start off a new school year by creating a nurturing and supportive learning community at home and in school.


Free Online Lesson!

Playful Learning: The Power of Words


Enjoy and Spread the Put-Ups!


Glass Half Full: The Power of Positive Thinking

By Mariah Bruehl,

Playful Learning: The Power of Positive Thinking

One of the most powerful lessons that we can teach our children is that they have the power to control their thoughts. Cognitive science has confirmed that positive thinking is a learned trait and that the more children practice this skill the stronger their neural connections become.

Yes, sometimes life sends us challenging situations, but we have the ability to make a choice about how we are going to feel about them. We can choose to see the good or positive aspects of a situation and although it does not always feel like it, there is usually an important life lesson that can be found in almost any circumstance. This understanding enables children to handle life’s ups and downs with more resiliency, which in turn leads to happier, healthier children.

Current brain research has proven that stress inhibits learning. Simply put, when people experience stress, the Amygdala prevents the flow of information into our prefrontal cortex, where executive functioning takes place, thus prohibiting long term memory and higher order thinking. Children learn through emotions, feelings, and experiences. Positive, playful emotions, promote learning, where as negative emotions, like stress and anxiety, hinder it. An optimistic brain works better!


  • A few thoughts on different situations in your life with school, friends, or family.
  • A glass of water filled halfway with water
  • The Positive Thinking printable
  • Writing and drawing materials

Playful Learning: Power of Positive Thinking


Start out by looking at your glass of water. You can explain that how they view the glass can teach them a lot about them themselves and how they see the world.

Ask your children what they see; is this glass half empty or half full? Explain that while both answers are correct, they have the power to choose how they view the glass—through a positive, “half-full” perspective or a negative “half-empty” point of view. Next you can explain that when they choose to see things in a positive light, they will tend to be happier throughout their lives.

Next, Invite your children to think of a challenging situation in their life. Use the Positive Thinking printable and ask them to write it down, along with any “half-empty” thoughts they have or are feeling. Next, encourage them to think of something positive that can come from it and write it down in the “half-full” box. Discuss your responses as a family. See what you can learn from each other’s experiences.

After doing this activity, make sure to keep the conversation going. Help identify when a “half empty” comment has been made and brainstorm ways to find the “half fullness” in everyday situations. The goal is to encourage children to be able to use positive “self-talk” to help themselves get through stressful situations and daily challenges.



  • What are some ways you can support each other as a family to try to find the positive aspects of different challenges as they present themselves? Is there a little sign or reminder you can give each other to change your way of thinking when you need it most?
  • Are there any situations where you can’t seem to see a silver lining? Try to dig a bit deeper and think about what lesson you might be able to learn?
  • Talk about a time in your life that initially felt half-empty, but turned out to have positive consequences.

To explore more ways to find peace within and make without, join us in the

Be a Peacemaker Workshop!

Online Class: Be a Peacemaker


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Beyond Memorization: Making Learning Memorable

By Mariah Bruehl,

Beyond Memorization: Making Learning Memorable

In today’s education system there seems to be more and more of a push towards the memorization of facts, formulas, and procedures. While this can be helpful (yes, you must memorize your multiplication facts!) we are living in a different age. We now have access to almost any and every piece of information we need at our finger tips. If this is the case, what should teachers be turning their attention to? How should our children be spending their days?

As parents and educators, we need to make sure that we are not only preparing our children for the next grade, test, or stage of development, but also that we are preparing them for life—a meaningful and fulfilling life. Though skills and knowledge are important, we have witnessed firsthand that they continue to evolve from one generation to another. In order to truly serve our children, we must look toward long-term goals and think about the future citizens that we are collectively raising. We need to see to it that our children leave our homes and our schools with habits of heart and mind that transcend time and act as a means for digging deeper, solving problems, relating with others, and fulfilling their potential.

How is this achieved? By making learning memorable… What if we put as much time, money, and resources into making learning memorable, as we put into making sure children are memorizing? What if…?

We want our children to have positive associations with their school experiences. We want our children to be excited about what they will uncover, create, discuss, ponder, solve, read, and write about each day. We want our children leaving school with lingering questions, inspiring insights, and thoughtful reflections.

Some people might say this is impossible… that schools are riddled with too much of this or too little of that. But, maybe we should begin by asking what if? What if it is possible to make our children’s days matter? What would it look like? Where would we start? What are the little things we can do now? Where do we start?

Beyond Memorization: Making Learning Memorable

Think about your most memorable experiences in school…

What really stood out for you? What made that experience so memorable?

Here are a few things I have witnessed that can move a child’s learning experience from that of memorization to memorable…

  • Offer problems to be investigated rather than data to be absorbed.
  • Provide mysteries to be solved rather than facts to be memorized.
  • Equip children with inspiring tools and materials to be utilized rather than bubbles to be filled in.
  • Engage in real-world situations and outdoor experiences rather than hoping they make the connection between what they learn in school and how to put it to use.
  • Encourage children to take-in information and express what they have learned through a variety of mediums (100 languages) rather than solely through verbal and mathematical means.
  • Share experiences that engage the senses, in which children touch, taste, hear, smell, and observe the subject at hand rather than one-dimensional, disjointed teaching materials.

I know first-hand that there are many teachers that create these types of learning experiences for their students, despite the mandates that are being handed down to them. I also know that some of our most brilliant teachers are leaving the classroom because their hands are tied and they can no longer do what is best for the children they spend their days with.

When we are able to make learning memorable, children (and teachers) come back for more, ask deeper questions, come up with solutions, and integrate their newfound knowledge into real world experiences. What more could we ask for?


For a more in-depth discussion of these topics and more, join us for the Art of Teaching online workshop. Make sure to take advantage of our Two for One Special! We begin Monday…

Playful Learning: Art of Teaching



Raising Confident Women with Joyce T. McFadden

By Mariah Bruehl,

Author Focus: Joyce T. McFadden

With two growing daughters, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to raise them to be confident, strong, smart, kind,  and comfortable in their own skin. Isn’t that what most of us work towards—feeling comfortable in our own skin? For it’s when we find that inner-most comfort, that everything else radiates from within.

As our daughters’ mature, their bodies change, feelings arise, and questions abound… Whether we address these topics head-on, discuss them as they emerge, or hope that school will do the job for us—as mothers of daughters, we are still teaching them life-changing lessons—whether we realize it or not. For they are taking in our explicit and implicit messages everyday—our ways of relating with our partners, our body image, our belief systems, and the secrets we hold…

In my quest to find guidance for the “tricky” situations that arise when raising tween daughters, I came across the work of Joyce T. McFadden and her book, Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women. Reading her work was like a breath of fresh air as she explores the “touchy subjects” that others tend to skim over. Yet, as mothers who are in tune with our daughters we can’t skim over them, we need guidance on how to positively approach them—for if not us, then who?

I had a serendipitous meeting with Joyce (I was pleased to discover that we live in the same town and chased her down in a local grocery store parking lot!) a while back and she graciously agreed to do an interview and lead a book club at the studio. So, it is with great pleasure that I bring you, Joyce T. McFadden…

Mariah: Can you share a bit about the Women’s Realities Study that you conducted? What can we take away from your research?

Joyce: The Women’s Realities Study is an anonymous qualitative study of 450 women ranging in age from 18-105, with a handful of local girls in addition to that demographic.  It’s an unprecedented study because as far as I know, it’s the only one in which all of the content was self-selected by each respondent, giving women complete control over what they wanted to share.  Here’s the link to the 63 open-ended questionnaires so you can get a sense of their content–women could respond to as many or as few as they liked, and write as much or as little as they chose:

What I hope women will take away from the results of the study is a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the realities of our lives–not the game face we usually show to the outside world, but what we girls and women experience internally and often keep to ourselves.  In order to get published, I had to narrow the scope of the results, so I did an analysis of the three most popular questionnaires:  menstruation, relationship with your mother, and masturbation.  It was the women of the study who chose female sexuality, as it’s impacted by the mother-daughter bond, as the topic of the book.

Mariah: Why is it important for mothers to play a proactive role in teaching their daughters about their physical and sexual development?

Joyce: Because when it comes to our girls’ sexuality, they report feeling like they’re working without a net.  Even very young girls know that their mothers share the things they are most proud of and excited about. It’s the things that are shameful or wrong that they keep secret.  So if we don’t teach our daughters about sexual development and how it affects their sense of self and their social landscape, we tinge it with shame and guilt that women report lasts well into adulthood.

Mariah: When it comes to discussing our daughter’s maturing bodies and emotions, why do we need to do more than provide informative books?

Joyce: Although they need information from us, it’s the emotional connection with us that girls are yearning for.  Books alone can’t provide that.

Mariah: In your book, Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Woman, you state that the more “basics” we can give our daughters when they are younger, the more we can build on them as they get older. How do you suggest we get the conversation going?

Joyce: It’s funny that we’re so afraid to start when they’re young, when it’s SO simple to do—far simpler than starting when they’re older and more self-conscious.  When our daughters are toddlers, the small act of teaching them the anatomical names for their body parts, during bath time, when they’re getting dressed, or when they ask “what’s this?” is the easiest way to start giving them a firm foundation.  To them, learning about their earlobe is no different than learning about their vulva. At that age they’re excited to learn about absolutely everything, including their bodies.

Mariah: What is your advice to mothers of tweens and teens who don’t know where to start?

Joyce: My book is loaded with examples for how to have these conversations. The most important motivator for mothers is that the study reveals daughters whose mothers don’t talk to them about sexuality report feeling disappointed in their mothers, and find it creates a chasm in the mother-daughter relationship that can last a lifetime.

Mariah: What are some practical ways that mothers can start to connect with their daughters at any age?

Joyce: Listen to them. Talk with them, not at them. Look over your own sexuality and consider its importance in your life. Let your daughters know you understand their sexuality will play a role in the quality of their lives, and that it’s your honor to support them in their quest for happiness in all areas: emotional, intellectual, physical, interpersonal, and sexual.


Playful Learning: Raising Confident Women


Do You Live Nearby?

Playful Learning: Parent Book Club

Join Joyce T. McFadden in discussing her book at the Playful Learning Studio

Dates: Wednesdays: 5/4, 5/11, 5/18 and 5/25

Time: 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Place: 46 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, New York

To Register, Click Here.


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Me: In Poetry, Song, and Art

By Mariah Bruehl,

MichelleTitleWhen I was a classroom teacher, one of the most relaxing, yet beneficial professional development opportunities I attended was a “Picture Book Read In.” After various speakers, such as a local librarian who had been on the Caldecott committee, teachers had an opportunity to peruse new picture books at their leisure. I was always able to discover new books that sparked new ideas and new lessons.

It seems like there is always a steady stream of amazing books being produced, and this year is certainly no exception. There are many exciting new picture books and three of these that caught my eye are autobiographies or biographies.  Aside from the interesting life stories, these books are especially attractive because they feature outstanding artwork, and they also focus on unique and diverse individuals in the fields of poetry, music, and art.  Picture books easily engage children in non-fiction text, and these books can easily integrate reading, writing, and the arts. The more connections children can make across domains, the more effective learning opportunities become.

Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess is about the life of poet e.e. cummings. My favorite aspect of this book is the creative way the words themselves are incorporated into the illustrations. I love the use of the font style and the way the poems are presented throughout the book. Also, the book includes a nice chronology at the end.

Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews is an autobiography. This book will resonate with children because it takes place in modern times. Troy is 29 years old, and the book covers his accomplishments and musical drive as a young child. The watercolors and collage by Bryan Collier are amazing.

Draw What You See by Kathleen Benson is a biography of Benny Andrews and features his actual paintings as the illustrations. What a better way to introduce his life and his art to students than by using his artwork. The book also ends with an nice timeline, and a listing of each artwork including the title, medium (mostly oil on canvas are featured in this book), and date created.

With each book covering an individual from a different artistic talent, there are so many possibilities for activities after reading and discussing these books, all of which can be adapted for different age levels and abilities.

  • Write an autobiographical poem
  • Compose an autobiographical song
  • Paint a picture of an important moment in your life
  • Create a timeline of your life so far
  • Create an autobiographical collage

I have created a printable booklet to inspire some of the ideas listed above (click on the photo below to download). A quote of e.e. cummings that speaks to me is, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”.  Children thrive on expressing themselves and exploring what it means to be who they are. Poetry, song, and art are wonderful ways to delve into this. The booklet also has a chart to compare and contrast the individuals featured in these three books. An important comprehension skill with non-fiction reading is being able to locate and process factual information. Use of engaging texts, such as these picture books, is an excellent way to introduce and practice this skill in an interesting way for children.

Extending the reading of a book with supplemental experiences enhances children’s’ understanding as well, here are some links to use:

Me: In Poetry, Art, and Song

Growing a Sense of Place at Your Farmer’s Market

By Mariah Bruehl,

Growing a Sense of Place at Your Farmer's MarketHave you considered just how much place shapes our lives?  It influences our attitudes, values, skills, and behaviors.

We have explored “sense of place” a bit together here at Playful Learning – what it is, why it’s important, how to nurture it.  I love thinking of sense of place as not only one’s interactions with the environment but one’s personal dialogue with it.  We each create unique life stories based, in part, on our experiences with our environment and our interpretation of those experiences.  As I ponder what sense of place might look like for each of my children, I become more and more aware of the individual strands that may be getting woven together to form their unique stories.  One of those strands for our family is the local farmers’ market.

Growing a Sense of Place at Your Farmer's Market

Most communities have farmers’ markets, large or small.  Does yours?  Do you visit, even if only occasionally?  Children can learn a lot at farmers’ markets – color recognition, social skills, math concepts, etc. – but sense of place?  Yes!  Farmers’ markets are not only a showcase of the results of our community members’ hard work but a display of what the land on which we live and depend can support.  I grew up near the coast where fishing and boating were a way of life.  My husband grew up inland and further north where children were let out of school to help with potato harvesting.  My children are growing up in an area surrounded by family owned farms.  They can see where their food is grown and raised and can even harvest some things themselves.

So whether your community has a flourishing farmers’ market with an abundance of offerings or a small market that features mostly baked goods and herbal concoctions, you and your children can learn a lot about your place and what makes it unique.  To help your child grow his or her sense of place at a local farmers’ market, bring the printable below and have fun exploring!


Saying Goodbye to Summer

By Mariah Bruehl,

Saying Goodbye to SummerAs August comes to a close and the month of September approaches, “back-to-school” is likely on the mind of every family. Planning ahead for the school year is important, and there are numerous resources with tips for a smooth transition. But with transition in mind, this momentous time of year can remind us that we are not only looking ahead toward a rich school year, but also looking back and saying goodbye to the summer and whatever it brought for yourself and your family.

How can you leap into September while also celebrating the summer and recognizing the special months we have passed through? Whether your children will return to traditional school, a homeschooling year, or something else entirely, there is something powerful in honoring what has come before.

Routine and rhythm are important for children of all ages, along with family traditions. Family traditions help give children a sense of order and a sense of place in the world, as well as a strengthened familial bond. When approached with intention, traditions can help children foster a relationship with themselves, as well as family and the world at large.

This can be the year you introduce a new family ritual of saying an appreciative goodbye to the summer months before bounding ahead into the high energy of another school year.

There are countless ways to curate your own family goodbye to summer, but the most important factor is to make it meaningful for you.

Perhaps there is a special hiking trail, campground, or beach the entire family can return to one last time before school starts. Summertime is full of outdoor pursuits, so try to find a way to bring the outdoors into your ritual.

You might spend a day preserving summer fruits for the chilly months ahead, or engaging in other cooking or baking with summer ingredients. A shared meal of seasonal food would be a powerful tradition to begin. You could also preserve summer flowers or herbs by drying them or pressing them in books.

With your children, you could create a memory book of the past summer with photographs, ticket stubs, memorabilia, quotes, family jokes or anything else that reminds the family of fun times. Another twist on a memory book could be a summer nature journal, detailing any outdoor adventures and including descriptions and pictures of various flora and fauna that were discovered.

While thinking about the past summer, you could invite everyone in the family to write down or share aloud a favorite memory. Ask each family member what he or she learned this summer, or how each person has grown.

There may have been challenges over the summer, and while it can be tempting to ignore the harder times, these moments or events should also be recognized, perhaps with the intention of letting them go.

Another element of saying goodbye is, of course, acknowledging that there is change ahead and something new is on the horizon. An end of summer celebration could also include wishes for the coming school year or intentions moving forward into the new season. Write these down, and either keep them to look at next summer, or toss the scraps of paper into a campfire. Another evocative ritual is to make a wish or visualize a memory while tossing flower petals or stones into a stream.

However you choose to shift from summer to fall, try to make that shift meaningful this year. How can you send off August with intention, while welcoming the months ahead?


10 Books for New Kindergarteners

By Mariah Bruehl,

10 Books for New KindergartenersIs your child starting kindergarten soon?  Are you sobbing as you’re reading this?  Maybe your heart even aches a little.  Let’s face it—the transition into kindergarten is a big milestone for our children.

I had the privilege of teaching kindergarten for 8 years, but being on the other side was a very different experience.  This year, my daughter will be starting first grade (and yes, my heart still aches thinking about another school year), but I’m here to tell you that we survived the first few days of kindergarten.  Was it scary? Yes.  Was it hard to say goodbye? Yes.  Were there tears? A few.  However, we were fortunate enough to have THE BEST teacher we could have hoped for.  When the teacher tears up during kindergarten orientation and thanks you for sharing your children with her, it feels like you’ve won the lottery.

As a former kindergarten teacher, and now former kindergarten parent, I can tell you that the best advice I can give you is to have courage and be brave in front of your child.  If you are nervous, they will know.  If you have negative feelings about the transition, they will pick up on them.  Your child will follow your lead.  Don’t let them see you cry or worry.  Stay positive and tell them how amazing kindergarten will be, how much they will learn, and the new friends they will make.  

I have also found that the easiest way to introduce children to new experiences is through books.  Literature allows children to make connections to characters and talk about their fears and worries.  Books can validate our feelings.

As you prepare to send your kindergartener off into the world, take some together to read these books.  I promise they will help your child (and you) make it through the very first day… and maybe even the second day.

10 Books for New Kindergarteners


  1.  How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

What if a dinosaur came to school with you?  This book is a favorite in our house and always makes us giggle.  Besides being fun to read, it also allows children to think about how to (and how not to) behave when they are at school.    


  1. Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!  by Nancy Carlson

In this book, Henry can’t wait to start kindergarten.  He jumps out of bed, eats his breakfast, grabs his school supplies and has lots of questions for his mom.  But when he gets to school and sees how big it is, he starts to have second thoughts.  This is a perfect book to read with your child who may be hesitant to start school.


  1.  Timothy Goes to School by Rosemary Wells

Who doesn’t love Rosemary Wells?  Timothy is looking forward to his first day of school, but then he meets Claude who seems perfect in every way.  Timothy’s insecurity creeps in until he finds a new friend who feels the exact same way.  Do you have a child who is a little shy or has trouble fitting into new situations?  Introduce him to Timothy!


  1.  The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

If you don’t share any other book with your incoming kindergarten, please share this one!  Chester Raccoon does not want to go to school and leave his mother.  So she kisses his paw and tells him that when he feels sad, he can press his paw to his cheek and feel the warmth of her kiss.  Are you crying yet?  Believe me, you will.  If you are worried about separation anxiety, this will help ease the transition.  It ‘s also a springboard for coming up with your own goodbye routines.  Sniff, sniff.


  1.  Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

I still read this to 2nd and 3rd graders every year.   Wemberly worries about EVERYTHING from the crack in the living room wall to whether there would be enough cake at the party.  So when school starts, she has a whole new list of worries.  Read this book and ask your child what their worries are about school?


  1.  Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate

This book introduces your child to kindergarten and gives a behind the scenes look into what her teacher may be doing to get ready for the first day!  It’s also an alphabet book.


  1.  The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing

A must read as your child is settling into bed the night before his first day.  I won’t give it away, but the ending is adorable and will hit home for parents as well.  I used to read this to my kindergarten parents during parent orientation and usually needed to pass out a few tissues.


  1.  Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

Another book to help with separation anxiety and a child’s fear of being dropped off and left at school.  In this story, little llama is excited to see his new classroom but has second thoughts when it’s time for mama to leave.  He’s worried she may not come back.   


  1.  Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

I always buy my children a back to school book, and this is the one I gave to my daughter before starting kindergarten.  I love the review on Amazon: “For one brave boy, kindergarten isn’t just a grade – it’s a destination.”  My daughter was SO thrilled to start kindergarten, and I knew that it was the beginning of her lifelong journey through school.   Kindergarten is definitely an adventure into a whole new world, and this book takes that metaphor to a whole new level.    


  1.  First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg

Do you or your child already have that pit in your stomach?  Although this particular story is about a girl who is starting over at a new school, incoming kindergarteners will relate to having similar feelings of not knowing anyone.  The surprise ending will make you smile, and your child will realize that it’s not just children who experience the first day jitters.

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Nurturing a Sense of Wonder

By Mariah Bruehl,

Nurturing a Sense of Wonder

Caterpillars turning into butterflies, bean seeds sprouting and growing into nourishing food, the constant, yet ever changing phases of the moon, the sun setting and rising every day, the clouds gracefully floating across the sky…

These are all extraordinarily beautiful events that take place on a daily basis and are there for the taking when we slow down, enjoy, and explore them with the children in our lives.

More than anything we want our children to be captivated by all that the natural world has to offer. For it’s that captivation that will lead to the desire for deeper understanding. The universe holds unlimited lessons for us and is filled with what can seem like magic!

Here are some simple tips on how to nurture that sense of wonder within ourselves and our children…

Notice the Small Things

The art of noticing is a gift that will last a lifetime. It’s powerful when we slow down and take the time to notice the little things that are often overlooked in our busy grown-up lives.

Simple things like the clouds moving, the colors of a sunset, or the squirrel in your front yard can seem enchanting to a young child.

It’s also fun to notice how things in the natural world change over time—look at the same flower everyday, watch the changing leaves on your favorite tree, or track the time that the sun sets. Sharing these small moments with your child encourages them to develop an awareness and appreciation for the world around them.

Learn Side By Side

Many of us feel that we need to be experts or have all the answers before we dive into a new area of learning with our children. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

What children are looking at more closely than anything else is our attitude towards science. Simply by getting outside, showing enthusiasm for new discoveries, asking questions about observations, and modeling ways to research the answers to the questions we don’t know—we are modeling the scientific method in action.

The goal is to model for children that life is not always about having the right answers. In fact, having the right questions can actually prove to be a more important and rewarding skill in life.

Provide Resources for Deeper Explorations

The goal is to encourage outdoor explorations and then to support further inquiry and research at home. In my experience, I have learned that while it helps to have a project or activity planned for outdoor investigations, it is also important to follow your child’s lead if they want to stray from the topic at hand.

As parents we have this luxury because we can always revisit our original goals at another time. When children are outdoors we should encourage them to explore, look, listen, touch, pick apart, compare, collect, sketch, and anything else that comes naturally. This allows for open-ended investigations that are lead by their own curiosity and desire.

It’s when children return home (or to the classroom) that we as parents and teachers can deepen the experience by providing relevant resources for further research. It is helpful to begin with a child’s questions.

I have found that taking the time to look through our collected treasures—sort them, classify them, and create a fun nature display—offers the opportunity to reflect on the day’s experience and good time to record questions that came up.

Setting up a science area, nook, or basket where children can readily have access to child-friendly field guides, books, and other inspirational materials allows them to seek the answers they are looking for.

Make Connections

For children at every age it is beneficial to talk about the connections between things. Many of us learned about science from the two-dimensional world of textbooks. We learned a sequence of facts about a variety of topics in a linear progression. Yet, we do not live in a two-dimensional world and science is filled with multi-dimensional relationships that cannot be fully understood or appreciated through the memorization of disjointed facts.

Parents have a great opportunity for pointing out the connections between all living things and the important role that each one plays in the web of life. Children inherently understand this relatedness and listen to stories about the natural world with the same anticipation as a bedtime tale. You do not need to be an expert and there is a lot that you will learn with your children as you go—in the back of your mind simply remember to look for opportunities to connect your child’s object of interest to a cycle, a season, a food chain, or another living thing.

When children begin to internalize the interconnectedness of all life, they will naturally become more aware of the important role that humans play and hopefully more conscious of the impact they are making within the world.

For Further Exploration…


Are We Imposing a Glass Ceiling on Our Children?

By Mariah Bruehl,

Are we imposing a glass ceiling on our children?

As a society, we tend to underestimate the potential of children. As educators, we are trained to adhere to developmental models, and as parents, we feel the pressure to check off a predefined list of specific milestones at each age and stage of development.

Although these behaviors are natural for parents and educators who are striving to do everything they can for their children, they may at times (often unwittingly) impose limitations on our expectations. This narrowly defined focus may cause us to miss out on other signs of growth, insight (and possibly brilliance) from our children.  As our children get older, the checklist becomes even more standardized when they move into a one-size-fits-all educational paradigm.

Although understanding the milestones of child-development is important, perhaps we should pose some questions…

  • Do they prevent us from noticing and nurturing other traits, characteristics, or strengths that are equally important?
  • Do they on some level, impose a glass ceiling by predetermining what children are and are not capable of?
  • Do they on a subtle level, cause us to dumb down our language, responses, and expectations of our children based on this “common knowledge?”
  • Do they lead us to believe that children are only considered capable if they process and demonstrate their understanding in predetermined ways?

Observant parents and educators realize that there is much more to children than meets the eye. Children are inherently driven to actively investigate and make a positive impact on the world around them. When presented with stimulating and engaging experiences, children intuitively take full advantage of the opportunities to learn. It’s up to us as parents and teachers to encourage children to tap into their potential by nurturing these internal processes.
Maria Montessori once said:

“The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future. If what we really want is a new world, then education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities.”

― Maria Montessori

Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, agrees about the untapped potential of children:

“All people, and I mean scholars, researchers, and teachers, who, in any place have set themselves to study children seriously, have ended up by discovering not so much the limits and weaknesses of children, but rather their surprising and extraordinary strengths and capabilities, linked with an inexhaustible need for expression and realization.”

― Loris Malaguzzi

By realizing that children possess hidden potential that may exceed our narrowly defined expectations, we can make a more concerted effort to help them unleash it.

However, this DOES NOT mean pressuring children to read by age five. Shifting the content of a third-grade curriculum to a fourth-grade level and claiming to have raised “standards” is not the solution.

Too often, current school curricula do not leave much room for exploration, investigation, or at times, even questions. Combine that with mandated, high-stress, high-stakes tests, that are written to confuse and trick children, and teachers who are being evaluated based on those scores—and you have a recipe for disaster. Not only are we placing a glass ceiling on our children, we are tying the hands of our most gifted and talented teachers.

Have you noticed an increase in your child’s level of anxiety related to performing in school? Does your young child already feel as if they can’t keep up academically? Is this how we intend to inspire the next generation of children to live into their potential? Given the recent cognitive research that shows how stress inhibits meaningful learning, I hardly think so.

The Potential of Children...

What if Maria Montessori was right?

What if children are capable both intellectually and emotionally of far more than we as a society ever allow them to reach or express?

What does that mean for us as parents and educators? As a society, are we placing our resources, talent, time, and energy in the right places?

The good news is that as parents and teachers, we can tune in and do little things that can make a big difference for the children in our lives…


Find little moments to slow down and be fully present with your child. Let go of expectations, set plans, or preconceived ideas of how this time will go. Be present with your child and follow their lead. Listen intently and make suggestions based on an interest they express. Pick-up on one of their ideas and run with it. This shows the children in your life that their questions deserve answers, their thoughts are interesting, and their ideas are worthy of coming to fruition.

Free Time

With so many facts and skills being squeezed into the school day and more pressure to cover greater amounts of data, one of the best gifts that grown-ups can give their children is time to discover and pursue their personal passions. For it’s the endeavor that is chosen approximately 10 minutes after the infamous “I’m Bored…” declaration that shows you where your child’s true interests lie.

Tune Into Your Expectations

If given the support, children will rise to our expectations. It is up to us to constantly check in with ourselves about what we are really expecting. If we are tired of seeing a certain behavior in our children, we need to make sure that we are not actually looking for or setting them up for that behavior.

On the other hand, when we really believe that our children are capable of doing something, more often than not, they do. Hold the picture of them being respectful, treating their siblings kindly, sharing their things, or whatever your goals are for them, clearly in your mind. Then, speak to them, treat them, and respond to them as if they are on their way to achieving that goal. When you really believe that your children are capable, then the inevitably slip-ups, simply become teachable moments.

There is nothing more exciting than when our children surprise us with their brilliance, insight, and creativity. Let’s give them every opportunity for them to show us their best selves…

For a more in-depth discussion of these topics and more, join us for the Art of Teaching online workshop. Make sure to take advantage of our Two for One Special!

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Playful Learning: Art of Teaching