About Me

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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


This past weekend I was in Ontario, Canada.  I did one workshop and two presentations to EC professionals just outside of Toronto.  Monday morning, I was invited to spend the morning with a junior kindergarten class in Guelph.  Since retirement, it has been two years since I have spent any appreciable time with a group of 3, 4 and 5-year-olds.  This story of connections comes from my morning spent in the kindergarten interacting with the children.  The story begins as the parents are dropping off their children for school.

The child and the mom are engaged in a dance, the dropping-off-your-child-for-kindergarten dance.  There is no music but they both know the steps to their singular, but familiar dance.  Mom cajoles her son to join in play with the other children inside the fenced-in drop off and play area.  The son takes a few steps through the gate and then quickly returns to cling to his mother.  The dance continues for 5 minutes.  With each passing minute, the mother becomes more frustrated and the son becomes more animated.

The teacher knows this dance.  He knows the child has collected small rocks and he offers his coat pocket to hold the rocks.  As he offers his pocket, he encourages the child to join the group.  That almost works, but the child has to do a couple of more dance steps with the mom before finally accepting the teacher’s overtures.

The bell rings and the children lineup to go inside.  I use the term lineup loosely because these children, who are 3, 4 and 5 years old, have only been attending school for a couple of weeks.  In fact, the boy who has been collecting stones wanders around a bit more searching for new stones before joining the line on his own terms.

The teacher gets the children moving into the school where they drop off their backpacks.  Once they have dropped off their stuff, they return to the outdoors.  The teacher gathers the children in front of the shed where they sing a hello song.  He opens the shed door and the children help him take out big loose parts that the children can use on the playground.  Things such as trucks, tubes, crates, etc.

While the children are helping to take things out of the shed, I decide to look for rocks.  I figure I may have a chance to offer the rock-collecting child some rocks.  I immediately put each rock I find in my pocket.  I try to do it so no one notices I am collecting rocks.  Shortly after I tuck a third rock in my pocket, the rock collector shows up by my side.  He offers me one of his rocks.  I happily accept his offering. That gives me the opportunity to offer him one of mine.  I am not sure if he is surprised that I, too, have rocks, but he is willing to engage in our little game of swapping rocks.  He refuses the first rock and then the second rock.  He does accept the third rock; it just happens to be my biggest rock. 

With three rocks in my hand---the one he gave me plus the two he did not accept--I order them from biggest to smallest in the palm of my hand.  The child understands what I am doing and proceeds to find smaller and smaller rocks and sets them in descending order in my hand until I have seven rocks in my hand from biggest to smallest.  The order is not perfect but approximate.

I find a tube and I start to put the rocks down the tube.  The tube is only an inch in diameter and flexible.  Some rocks fit in the tube and some do not.  The tiniest ones fall all the way through into the sandbox.  However, some of the medium size rocks go in but do not come out the other end. Our investigation reveals that there is something blue stuck in the tube.  When that is removed, anything that fits in the tube falls out the bottom into the sandbox.  This game is great fun and filled with plenty laughter.

Other children come to join our play.  At this point, I step back and watch the children negotiate the tube and the rocks.  They do it quite well without any conflict.  I actually move to another part of the play area to engage with some other children.  I thought he might follow me, but he is perfectly content to play with the others who have joined his game.

After some time, the teacher blows a whistle to signal that it is time to go back inside for the snack.   In the hallway, the children change into their inside shoes and grab their snack from their backpacks.  I sit next to the boy who gathers rocks.  We have not really exchanged a lot of words, but it seems comfortable sitting next to him.  After a short time, I go sit at another table and then a third table just to interact with other children.  My movement around the room is both conscious and unconscious from years of being in an early education classroom.

After snack, we go back outside for recess.  As we head out to the playground, the child who gathers rocks takes my hand to walk outside.  I am surprised and delighted.  Once outside again, he does not want to collect rocks, but asks me to hold a small nylon bag while he fills it with sand.  He offers it to me so I can see how heavy it is.  I give it back to him and he dumps it out and we start again.  I change the game slightly by trying to fill the bag with several different scoops that either work well or not.  At one point, he gives me the bag so he can show me how to get big scoops of sand in the bag.  He takes the bag back and empties it again.  By this time another child has joined us in filling the bag.  This is my cue to step back and let their play continue without me.
I had the great pleasure of playing and interacting with many children that morning.  There was one really intriguing interaction with another child.  A girl got inside a milk crate and pulled another milk crate over her head so she was fully encased in a crate capsule of her own making.  Everywhere I stationed myself that morning, I would turn around and I found her crawling into her crates.  Was she trying to connect with me in her own way?  When I noticed her, I would knock on the top of the crate and ask where she was.  I always got a smile through the crate.  No words, just a smile.  Many children copied her little game, but she was the only one to follow me around.  I finally decided to meet her crate-to-crate.
That is me in the red crate meeting crate-to-crate with the child in the crate capsule.  Two people looking at each other through crates was a first for me. 

I was struck by how easy it was to make connections with children in the span of less than two hours.  This tells me that children are always looking to connect with others.  For me, the best way to do that is to show an interest in the children and what they do.  If a child collects rocks, why not collect rocks with him.  If a child uses a crate as a safe place from which to connect, why not go with it.  Connections are important because connections lay the foundation for relationships.  Relationships, in turn, lay the foundation for all learning.

I want to thank Aaron Senitt for inviting me to join his class for the morning.  It takes a special person to thrive and draw energy from the constant movement and commotion that is a kindergarten classroom.  Aaron is one of them. 


  1. Thanks for taking the time to visit, and then reflect Tom. It was helpful to have another set of sympathetic eyes and ears visit, and being able to share your post helps give others a window into this dynamic world.

    "Not to recognize individuality is not to educate."
    -David Hawkins

    1. That is a really good quote from Hawkins. I also like your characterization of the class: "this dynamic world." I have a few more reflections that I have been digesting. In the span of two hours, so much happens in a kindergarten classroom a teacher must ride the waves instead of fight against them.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this!
    Less is more! No need to spend a lot of money for fancy expensive games. These natural items are what children love best.
    Did I understand it right? The children just go in for the snack and are outdoors most of the time?
    Boy am I jealous!!
    In my country there are very few early childhood educators who understand the importance of free outdoor play and are sure that children must be taught academic skills " in order to succeed in the grownup world.
    I am an educational councelor in childcare centers ages 3 mo. To 3 years and this is what I talk about all the time.
    Thank you for ALL your beautiful posts
    Miriam from Israel

    1. Thanks Miriam. You understood right. Most of the two hours I spent in the kindergarten classroom was outside. These were only two small episodes of so much more that happened in the two hours in the kindergarten. This Guelph colleague tries to spend as much time outside as possible. He is a bit of a nonconformist but he understands them and, even more importantly, respects them.

  3. A nonconformist Tom? Me? I’ll have to think about that...not sure how well I conform to that characterization! I think it is hard to argue against spending time outside though, so very very much is happening with the children...solving problems, neighbourhood around us, trying to corner squirrels that pass through our yard (with some success!)....I do indeed have a grand job.

    1. In a way, all children are nonconformists. Teachers who try to get children conform to how typical children behave conform to the dominant discourse in education and thus try to tame them. I do not see you trying to tame the children, but to embrace their nonconformist nature so they each find a place in the group in their own constructive way. Oh, I forgot about the squirrel. That was a perfect example of using the unexpected to engage the children instead of seeing the squirrel as a distraction. If it makes you feel any better, I like to think of myself as a bit of a nonconformist.