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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 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, January 9, 2021

Postscript to picture of the year

I am revisiting the play episode with my grandson from my previous post entitled "picture of the year."  The reason I have done that is because it has raised questions for me about the nature of play trajectories.  I have added those questions as a postscript at the end of the original post.   If you have already read the original post, you can skip to the end to find the postscript.

Every year I designate a photo my picture of the year.  It has been a strange year to say the least.  A strange year deserves an offbeat picture of the year.  As a consequence, a photo of a humble, empty oatmeal box is my choice for my picture of the year.

For an early childhood blogger, that would truly seem to be a peculiar or mystifying picture of the year, so let me tell you why I chose this image.

The story begins in November, November 19th to be exact.  That was the date of my grandson's birthday.  He received a couple of nerf guns as presents.  A few days later, he came over to our house to show us one of his nerf guns.  Of course, to show us his new nerf gun, he had to show us how it worked.  In showing us how it worked, he haphazardly shot the gun all over the living room.   

I have no problem with toy guns.  As a child, I played with squirt guns and cap guns on a regular basis.  However, I was not in favor of the scatter-shot nature of my grandson's play in the living room.  I suggested that we needed a target to shoot at.  We went down the basement and found an empty oatmeal box, actually six of them, that we thought would be great for target practice.

First, my grandson set them up in the shape of a pyramid: three on the bottom; two on the next level; and one on top.  We took turns trying to knock down all the boxes.  My grandson then began experimenting with arranging the boxes in different configurations such as stacking all the boxes vertically on top of one another.  Each new configuration presented new challenges for knocking down the boxes.

When it was time to put things away, I went down the basement stairs and asked my grandson to toss the oatmeal boxes down so I could put them away.  When he threw the first one down, on a whim, I threw it right back up to him.  What ensued was a raucous game of tossing the boxes up and down the basement stairs.  One of our objectives was to catch each other's throw.  At one point, my grandson asked to switch places.  Putting away the oatmeal boxes became joyful, rowdy fun that lasted more than 15 minutes. 

The play with the nerf gun may have been the starting point of my play with my grandson, but the play with the oatmeal boxes became more compelling and vital.  Instead of trying to analyze why that happened, I am left with the thought that an empty oatmeal box in the hands of a child---and sometimes, an adult---offers unlimited possibilities for play trajectories.  And that is why the photo of humble, empty oatmeal box is my "picture of the year."

Happy New Year.  May the new year be filled with many unexpected and unpredictable play trajectories that bring some sparks of joy into your life. 



I have been thinking about this play episode with my grandson.  For me, many questions remain about how the flow seemed to be seamless with multiple tangents.  For instance, why did my grandson accept my suggestion to search for a target instead of just continuing with his scatter-shot approach to demonstrating the power of his new nerf gun?  Was it because he welcomed the idea of a more focused action?  Did he sense that his scatter-shot approach would be shut down because it was uncertain what was an acceptable target? 

What happened after we chose a target also raised several questions for me.  Why didn’t we just settle on one configuration of the oatmeal boxes for target practice?  After we knocked down one configuration, why did my grandson continually construct different configurations?  And why, with each new configuration did he feel the need to make up rules about what constituted a hit?  For example, was knocking over the box better than just hitting the box?  Did the need to define a hit declare his need to keep score?  And what is it about target practice that made him want to keep score?

What happened for our cleanup operations also raised several questions for me.  Why did I throw the first oatmeal box back up the stairs?  My grandson and I do have a habit of playing catch and even playing catch up and down sets of stairs, but that has always been with a ball.  Was this just a way to keep our play going?  And why did this play again take on a competitive nature?  We did not keep score who caught how many boxes, but we did experiment with throwing the boxes harder or higher or bouncing them off the steps to make the other person miss.  Was the competition important for keeping this trajectory of play going?  Were we also competing to see who could come up with the most unique way to throw the box? 

Even though I cannot answer my own questions, I have used this reflective exercise in good faith. What I see is that there are moments during play when multiple possibilities present themselves.  The decision to explore one possibility over others is made in those moments.  That may not mean that the other possibilities are lost.  There is always the possibility that we will again throw oatmeal boxes up and down the basement stairs, but if we do, it will never be the same as this first time. That is because genuine play trajectories unfold moment by moment; they are expansive rather than restrictive.  They are often unpredictable, full of surprises and full of joy. 


  1. Your last two sentences sums it up perfectly.
    I am not a formal educator but I spend many days with my grandchildren. These blogs give me much insight into what is happening when I give two preschoolers odd items and then stand back and watch how they interact with them and each other. A year ago I gave them two old planks that used to be shelves. I’ve lost count of the ways they have played with them. They rummage in the house and garage to find what else they need. And they make up lots of rules.

    1. Even though I worked with thousands of children over my years as an early childhood educator, my grandchildren have taught me much about the art of being spontaneous.