“Something got on flames and the car burned and the children died…”


Child: They can’t see their families and they are not allowed to leave.

Child: I want to be Iron Man.

Child: He is strong and can shoot fire.

Child: I am Captain America. When I am a Superhero, I can run really fast.

Child: I want to be Batman. He has Bat Weapons to save the world.

From the mouths of babes. We hear these stories everyday. Stories about the need to save the world. (and boy, is that true!!) Scary stories. Stories about monsters. Stories about natural disasters. And unfortunately, stories about children and adults dying. We are uncomfortable, because we know its our job to protect these children, and to help them feel safe. These conversations are very, very uncomfortable, very discombobulating, but so very necessary.

monster 2

Diane Levin, in her article on war play states, “Most young children look for ways to feel powerful and strong. Play can be a safe way to achieve a sense of power. From a child’s point of view, play with violence is very seductive, especially when connected to the power and invincibility portrayed in entertainment. The children who use war play to help them feel powerful and safe are the children who feel the most powerless and vulnerable.

Click to access Levin_1.pdf

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We have tried a variety of techniques to help children talk about their fears. Some time back, we had very strong winds, and trees were felled, and many homes were damaged. The children came into the program with a mixture of excitement and of fear. “Do you know that the wind was so blowy that it blew the houses down? And many trees too?” We decided to help children deal with their fears by talking about natural disasters. We gave them plastic straws and watercolor paints and watched as they made pictures of the power of the wind.



There are several other techniques that we use to help children manage their fears.

Explore – Encourage your child to talk about his/her fears: this the “tell me more” approach. We sit down with the children and encourage them to talk about how they feel, and we make sure to transcribe their stories.


It’s important to write down children’s stories

 Reassure – talk, reassure. Talk some more….and reassure even more!! Once  children have talked to us about what they are frightened of, we make sure to reassure them. We talk about it at circle time; we give them props to help them make sense of their insecurities.


flannel stories and puppets help children talk about their fears and anxieties

Problem Solve – We had several children who had an irrational fear of snakes. We talked about ways they would feel comfortable, and many expressed that they wanted to touch a “real” snake. So, one of our staff members brought in a snake. Another brought in a musical instrument, a “jarana,” which has the tail of  a rattlesnake in it to help produce the music the instrument makes. The children were totally fascinated by both the rattlesnake tail, and by the real live snake as well.  More conversations followed, and at the end of it, the children felt far more comfortable about the whole idea of snakes, and they all agreed that snakes weren’t  that bad after all!

Books, play dough, dramatic play props:  Read books which feature characters who face similar fears as their own- my favorite is “Squeaky Door,” a story about a little child who’s scared to sleep on his own: he ends of having all the animals of the farm on his bed, and ultimately, the bed breaks! Characters such as the little boy in ” Squeaky Door” give children coping strategies to deal with similar fears. fears. “Books allow children to temporarily detach from their own fear and to look at it more objectively. ”


additions to the play dough table like large googly eyes and plastic straws can help children make their own scary monsters


life size props can be fun, and can help conquer fears!

When anxieties and fears persist, more serious problems can arise, which is why it is important to help children manage , and in fact conquer their fears. I always have generic capes available, and I strongly encourage children to think of their own superpowers to help them feel brave and strong. I do not give them store-bought props, but rather, I sit with them, and help talk them through the process of  creating their superpower props! It seems far more powerful that way!


He made his own booster rockets!

Young children are still working through the understanding of what’s real and what’s pretend.  Here’s an excerpt of a conversation that I had with children:

  • We’re talking about monsters and about ghosts
  • What is a ghost?
  • It‟s creepy
  • How do you know that?
  • Because it‟s creepy
  • How do you know that?
  • Because birds are trying to see them because they’re very creepy from the ghosts and the monsters but the birds don‟t like it but the animals are afraid of it.
  • What do you think a ghost is?
  • A ghost has black eyes and it is white
  • How do you know that?
  •  Once I saw a costume of that in a book
  • Do you think a ghost is real or pretend?
  • Pretend.

” I made a scary mask to scare away the monsters…”

When young children witness”scary” events and accidents like floods, or fires, or even storms, directly (many witness accidents on their way to school) or on television, they are likely to feel afraid and confused. Images of destruction on T.V. (like the replay of the planes hitting the towers on 9/11, or recently, of what’s happening in Syria) and suffering can cause very high levels of anxiety in young children. It’s important to note that young preschoolers are most fearful when they do not understand what is happening around them.

Which is why it is of paramount importance to have these difficult conversations.



If you are a prince, you can’t wear shorts. You can wear long jeans, a fancy cape and a crown. And you have to have a beard.



“Princesses can only wear dresses
Princesses can wear shorts and dresses and shoes. They have to have a crown.
Princes have to wear a crown.
Princesses need to wear a dress.
If you are a prince, you can’t wear shorts. You can wear long jeans, a fancy cape and a crown. And you have to have a beard.
If you are a princess, you need coaches and gowns.
They can’t wear shorts. And high heels. And they need long hair. Princes need capes and a boy crown.”

Princesses and princes: a big favorite in the preschool classroom! I remember once when we explored the topic of princes and princesses. We got a host of responses about who can or cannot be a prince. “Princes need to wear long jeans, a crown a cape and of course, a beard” and “You can’t be a princess unless you have long hair, a beautiful dress, and a princess crown.”

I asked, “Can I be a princess?” One child looked me up and down, and I expected her to blurt out: No!” But, here’s what she said: “Yes, you can be a princess because you are in a skirt. But Pocahontas had long hair so you have to grow your hair.” Then, she looked at my sporty Keens, and said, “Those have to go. You need glass slippers.”

Why is this important? By having meaningful conversations that challenge stereotypes, we move children from scripted play that sometimes encourages exclusivity to more open ended and authentic play. The conversations had embedded biases. Why Pocahontas? Why long hair? And why glass slippers?

In scripted play,

  • Toys are used as props to replicate as closely as possible a scene witnessed on a TV show or commercial.
  • The toys are most often merchandise associated with a particular TV show or movie. These toys are less likely to inspire creative play then they are to inspire a desire for buying more and more and more stuff.
  • Imitation is the goal of the play. The most intense of this play does not allow for any deviation from the script. The play can inhibit or explicitly prevent creative social exchange between children. Often, children who cannot or will not follow the script are cut out of the play. The attitude can be: “If you don’t play it ‘right’, you can’t play!”
  • It’s often violent. Because preschool and school age children are at a developmental stage in which they are struggling with issues of mastery, control, and power–it is natural that they are attracted to violent, aggressive TV.


We continued to explore the topic of princes and princesses and asked children to dictate their stories to us.

Jeff Daitsman, in his article, “Exploring Gender Identity in Early Childhood through Story Dictation and Dramatization” highlights the role of narration of stories in early childhoo environments. Daitsman shows how the children’s stories reveal the influence of cultural stereotypes yet harbor the potential to move beyond rigid gender boundaries as well. At a time when the art of storytelling and of stories has diminished in early childhood education, Daitsman’s piece reminds us of the power of story to empower children to honor both their own voices and those of their peers.



Story 1:

There’s a princess, a dragon, a knight. There’s two princesses, two knights and there’s a fire breathing dragon. And there’s a monster at the end of the story. And there’s a horsey; actually, a unicorn. And once morning woke up and smelled snow and wanted to ski but there were three big bears. And the brave mermaid saved them from the dragon. Then the bunny hopped over there and asked, “Could I do the story with you?” And then the princess and all the princes were trapped. And then the brave knight came to rescue the princess. And then the bad guys came and killed the princess and tried to get away but they couldn’t. Once again and that’s the end of the story.


Story 2:

Once upon a time there was a lovely princess . And by that princess’ castle, she did not know there was a home of three fierce bears. The bears were planning an evil plan to take over the world. And here was the plan. To trick the princess into going to a lonely tower. There they would lock her in. And then they would take over the world with their evilest plans. And soon a knight came and made the three evil bears dead .


As Nancy Carlsson- Paige puts it, “This is a time when societal influences are robbing children of healthy play, one of the most important vehicles they have for optimal development and learning. We educators need to step in—with the awareness and skill that is uniquely ours—to reclaim this powerful resource for children. Taking active steps to encourage imaginative and beneficial play that truly serves children’s needs will not only reclaim play for them, but also give children the best foundation possible for success in school and in their lives now and in years to come.”

Adapted from Taking Back Childhood: Helping Your Kids Thrive in a Fast-Paced, Media-Saturated, Violence-Filled World. by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Hudson Street Press, March, 2008

It’s important to have these conversations, to challenge their stereotypes and to move young children to a world of mutual understanding and respect.  Today, more than ever before.


The preschool art of writing


My son loved to write. And hated to spell. That was our reality. When he was four, he decided he wanted to be an author, and he wrote a “book.” I gave him sheets of paper with borders drawn on them , much like the pages of a picture book and encouraged him to write his story. And he did.

This is how it read:


And there was a picture of a fat juicy worm.  Page 2 was much the same: more of the worm, and many, many consonants, all strung together.

I was curious and I asked him if he could read his story to me. “Sure,” he said, and he began to read: ” Once, there was a wiggly worm.”  I looked at his writing, and then tried to match it with what he was saying. Eureka! I got it: he wrote the words he heard; however, he didn’t really like vowels! Once = VNS. There= D. A= not there!! Wiggly= VGL. Worm= VM.

And that wonderful story-writing session was the first of many.  I continued to encourage my vowel hating child to write his stories- he would never win the Spelling Bee, I assure you, but he could definitely write stories!!

Young children’s phonological awareness (ability to identify and make oral rhymes, identify and work with syllables in spoken words, and the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds— phonemes—in spoken words) is an important indicator of their potential success in learning to decode print.



Children like to “dictate” stories to the adults. Most often, this happens in the stage of early childhood when they haven’t yet started writing. According to Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, (1962), higher forms of mental activity are constructed and transferred to children through dialogue with other people. A few years ago, after a child made a totem pole with recyclable materials, he dictated his story to the teacher:

“ Once upon a time, there was a koala who was on a branch. The wind was so blowy, he couldn’t get his food. It was still windy. He used his bamboo as a stick. He holded the stick and climbed on top of the totem. It was so windy, he slided down the pole to get down. The end.”

It’s really important to transcribe children’s stories the way that they dictate them: no correcting grammar! As is evidenced in the example above, young emerging readers and writers tend to overgeneralize grammar rules: Held becomes “holded.” And “Slid” becomes “slided.” Overgeneralization is the application of a grammatical rule   in cases where it doesn’t apply.The term overgeneralization is most often used in connection with language acquisition by children.



By listening to stories, children can learn about writing syntax and vocabulary to develop phonemic awareness and concepts about print, all of which are closely linked to learning to read and write.



In one of the school that I worked in, the children at  practiced their literacy- both in writing and in the oral form. All of the teachers were given “tickets” for walking too fast from the kitchen!


“You get a ticket. When you walked out of the kitchen, it was too fast.”


This means: “Don’t touch my work”


“Do you know why it’s called a window? Because when you open it, the wind comes in.”

Dorothy Strickland and Shannon Riley-Ayers in their article on early literacy state, “Retelling stories offers children the opportunity to practice vocabulary and to gain a better understanding of the stories that have been read to them.

They add that an analysis of the research literature indicates specific skills and abilities of children ages birth through 5 years that predict later reading outcomes.

Key predictive skills and abilities that they identify include:

Oral language- listening comprehension, oral language vocabulary


Alphabetic Code-alphabet knowledge, phonological/ phonemic awareness (the ability to discriminate sounds in words), invented spelling

 Print Knowledge/Concepts- environmental print, concepts

English is an alphabetic language, which means that the letters we use to write represent the sounds of the language that we speak. Knowledge of the alphabet letters and phonological awareness (the ability to distinguish the sounds within words) form the basis of early decoding and spelling ability, and both are correlated with later reading and spelling achievement.


Young children can learn to name letters and to distinguish them from each other. They can also begin to develop an awareness of the constituent sounds within words, such as syllables, rhymes and phonemes.


Children should be immersed in language-rich environments in order to develop phonological awareness and similarly, it would be difficult to master the ABCs without lots of exposure to the alphabet (in books, on blocks, on refrigerator magnets, in cereal, in soup, in attempts to write, in having their messages written for them, etc.).



Another thing that my son used to do was mirror writing, “where letters and words are formed in the reverse of the natural way for a given language, is an amazing and outstanding phenomenon.”

Sandra Lange, in an article “In the Mirror, writes, “when a child mirror writes these scribbles are not as easily and playfully written. The letters are written with enormous effort and cramped fingers: the child may turn the picture back and forth, but not recognize the writing. Mirror writing, she states, ” may be how the eye perceives letters. Letters are abstract signs, perceived visually: they are not experienced through the other senses. The visual perception of the eye is based on a physical peculiarity: as with a simple camera, an upside down picture of reality is projected. The child, depending upon visual perception alone, transcribes the picture seen by the eye, which is – following the physical law – an upside down mirror image.

Click to access ChildreninScotland.pdf


So, what can we do? Give them lots of paper, make them books to write in, so that their stories flourish…maybe without vowels…maybe written in mirror images…maybe in scribbles…and maybe, if they want, the children dictate their stories, and the adults write them down.

Because at the end of it, it’s all about having children write their stories. These stories are worth being written down, worth being transcribed, and so, so precious!!


No more markers, please!


My classrooms have evolved into marker free zones. Literally. Marker. Free.

In my last blog, I wrote about the importance of fine motor movements- the small muscle movements that involve the coordination of small muscles in the hands and fingers. These movements are critical because they are the precursors to later muscle movements such as writing, cutting with scissors, using writing implements or even a fork or spoon, building with small blocks, and tying shoe laces.


When my son was barely five years old, we moved from Pune to Bangalore. He was going to start his school life in the first grade, and we were all so excited! He came home after the first week of class, crying, because he had to draw too many “jalebis.” (Jalebi is a popular South Asian sweet . Jalebis are usually circular in shape.)



I looked through my five year old’s work and saw what he meant. He was learning how to write in Kannada, and the script has several concentric circles. He was also learning how to write in English, and in Hindi. My son’s hand muscles were obviously not developed enough to handle the three scripts of English, Hindi and Kannada (simultaneously) and he was struggling.

https://i0.wp.com/www.ancientscripts.com/images/old_kannada.gif                            https://i2.wp.com/www.omniglot.com/images/writing/hindi_cons.gif

I wondered where I had gone wrong. Although I was a young and inexperienced mother, I thought that I had done the right things by him. We spent hours immersed in developmentally appropriate art:  He drew pictures for us all the time. He “wrote” stories. He played with play dough. He cut with scissors. He folded intricate shapes with him amazing origami skills. So, what went wrong?


My son’s artwork from when he was just under five years of age

Then I realized what the problem could be: He always used markers. He loved them. They produced bright, vibrant colors. They were easy to use. Markers glide on paper and don’t require the muscles of the hand to work too much. Markers are EASY!  And perhaps, not the best tool to give young children if you want to build their hand muscle strength.


Many, many years have gone by since those days in Bangalore. I continue to work with children. But now, my classrooms are largely MARKER-FREE. I do this intentionally. I want to help build those small muscles in a child’s hand so he/she is ready for the demands of a kindergarten environment.


There’s so much more that children can use to produce those vibrant colors AND to build those muscles. There are plenty of conventional AND unconventional tools and implements that children can use to build small muscle strength.


Carrie, Lippincott, in an article on aiding the development of an efficient grasp, encourages parents and educators to give children small crayon pieces to work with. This helps children strengthen the area between the thumb and the fingers.

Click to access Activities_to_Aid_Development_of_an_Efficient_Grasp.pdf


She encourages children to make “push-pin” pictures so that you build the muscles of the fingers to grow an efficient pincer grasp. While I don’t give children push pins to work with, I find small tools that require children to PUSH with their fingers to create colors or patterns: q-tips, rubber stamps, and other stamping tools.


As children grow, the paper size can certainly be smaller, and the implements can become more refined. I vary the paintbrushes, and give children long and narrow paintbrushes to work with. Restricting the paper size occasionally allows children to manage their muscles better.


At least a few times a week, I have paper stapled or taped to the fence to encourage mural painting. This allows children to be creative, and to also work on hand stabilization.

“Once a child becomes comfortable with one hand as the dominant hand, the remaining hand becomes the non-dominant hand by default. While the dominant hand performs tasks such as using a pencil or scissors, the non-dominant hand acts as the “stabilizer.” “


I also have chalk readily available for children. Occasionally, I soak the chalk in water before the children use them. This increases the color intensity of the chalk, and requires children to press the chalk less. It also decreases the amount of chalk dust that is produced. I have roller brushes and even plungers available for children to use as painting implements! I also encourage crayon rubbing, since this requires the whole hand to work.



And there are times when I have ZERO tools available so children can paint with their whole hands- this is fun, and of course, also encourages whole hand muscle development!


It is very possible to have a marker-free environment. I talk to parents and teachers about the choice I make, and try and get everyone on board.

Children adapt to this change far more easily than adults do!


“Only in math problems can you buy 60 cantaloupes and no one asks you what the hell is wrong with you..” Charles M. Schulz


Every parent, adult and educator has heard  a child say this number (or something that totally sounds like this!) before: “eleventy-two..” or “twenty-ninety-eight…”

Children love math! And children use math words. We just don’t think of it as math! Here is an excerpt of a conversation that children had when building structures with unit blocks:

  • Guys, I built something better than yours.
  • It costs fifty hundred dollars for a tower
  • (looking at the book on sky scrapers ) This tower is in Colorado… and this is in Chicago
  • Teacher: How tall do you think it is?
  • (uses hands to show me) This tall
  • Teacher: In numbers?
  • (finger counts the floors on the skyscraper) 1..2..3..4.. (all the way to 26) It’s 26 tall

“Research evidence indicates that long before entering school children spontaneously explore and use mathematics—at least the intuitive beginnings—and their mathematical knowledge can be quite complex and sophisticated.” According to an article on mathematics by NAEYC,  in early childhood, “math concepts are explored and put to practical use, including: shape, size, length, weight, and spatial relationships such as symmetry.”

Click to access psmath.pdf


It’s important to create an environment that is inviting and that has opportunities for children to use math words. It’s fun to look for unique items for the classroom- I often purchase inflatable animals so children have more of a perspective of size. A few years ago, I bought a few inflatable alligators on amazon. I put them in small wading pools, and the children had a blast. They measured the creatures from snout to tail, pulled them out of the water, and then measured them “standing up”, snout-to-snout.

“Mine is bigger

 No. Mine is bigger

Let’s measure. Which one is taller?

Look how tall this is. This is the daddy”

Conversations such as these allow educators to help children explore complex mathematical ideas, use mathematical words, and on the whole, just become comfortable with the subject matter of math! They use words like longer, taller, bigger, shorter; they understand and use tools like rulers and tape measures; and they begin to understand the ideas of heavy and light.


I often have the children vote on topics: “Which is your favorite flavor of ice cream? I use paper plates with drawings on what they are voting on, and have them place clothes pins on their favorite. Then we help children compare their votes, and come up with the class favorite, and the class “least favorite”- a great fun way of exploring math!


Another great fun math activity is graphing: Using Howard Gardner’s bodily-kinesthetic idea as inspiration, we created a grid of squares on the carpet (with twelve columns to denote the twelve months of the year.) Then we asked children to line up according to their birth month. We then looked around the classroom to see which columns had the most children- the children loved the activity, and again, they used lots of math language: most, least, same and equal!


Whether it’s setting up tables for pretend play, or chairs for a pretend train, they help children hone those mathematical skills they needs. While setting a table with forks, spoons, plates and cups, children are able to practice their one-to-one correspondence, or what we refer to as “real math” in the early childhood environment!


When children get comfortable with mathematical ideas and concepts, the language creeps into their everyday parlance and play, and conversations such as these emerge:

  • I’m the Empire State Building and you’re the Chrysler Building
  •  No, I’m Chrysler
  • And I’m the Empire State
  • That’s not the tallest building in the world
  • But it’s the longest. Empire State Building is the longest in the world.

As educators integrate more math into their classroom, children grow more comfortable with the subject matter, and in fact, dive in quite readily to handle more complex ideas and tasks.

Only then, as Einstein said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think…”



“My classroom is a mistake-making, laughter-sharing, independence-building, brain-stretching, sort of place!”


I am constantly amazed by how children use their hands…and how they build those small muscles.  My classroom is always full of opportunities to help children work those muscles till they get strong enough to use a pencil.

Today’s teachers are very eager to jump onto the STEM bandwagon or the Reggio one, both of which certainly afford amazing learning opportunities for children. When I am asked about my philosophy of how children learn, more often than now, I quote the anonymous source as “My classroom is a mistake-making, laughter-sharing, independence-building, brain-stretching, sort of place!” A classroom or an environment where there are ample opportunities to use the small muscles of the hand to hold, squeeze, squirt, draw, cut, and pinch. An environment that allows mistakes to happen, and where there is a lot of laughter!

Children need manipulatives to work their hands. Manipulatives are tools that help enhance and strengthen a child’s fine motor skills. They exist in most classrooms in the form of blocks, Legos, small cars, etc. By handling objects like blocks, beads or cars, children develop better hand-eye coordination; their handedness (left or right) gets determined, and they are more prepared to hold a pencil and write in their elementary years. Every day, I make sure that children have access to pencils, crayons, scissors and glue. There’s always something sensory for them to feel mold and squeeze. All of these experiences help children build their hand muscles and helps to prepare them to hold a pencil in the kindergarten years.

Having access to easels in the classroom is important. While we give children a lot of drawing and writing exercises on paper on a table or flat surface, we neglect the value that easels provide. When a certain amount of body stability has developed, the hands and fingers begin to work on movements of dexterity and isolation as well as different kinds of grasps.

There is a continuum regarding hand development in young children, and it is this knowledge that helps teachers equip their environment in such a manner so as to enhance the process in young children. When children begin to hold things, they start with the fisted grasp. Between the ages of one and two, young children tend to hold toys, pencils, crayons and other utensils with their entire fist. Then they move to the palmar grasp, around ages two and three. It looks the opposite of the fisted grip. The child’s thumb will point down, and the little finger will be up and off to the side; the elbow will also stick out to the side. From the palmar grasp, young children aged four and five move on to the five-fingered grasp, an immature grip. All five fingers are engaged in this grip, as the child uses four fingers to push a utensil against his thumb. Most children reach a mature three-finger grip by age five or six. In this hand-grip, a utensil is held between the thumb, index and middle fingers. When children do not have anything to work their hands around, it is not just writing that suffers, everything is affected – physical/motor, cognitive and even social-emotional development

Research quoted by Christopher Bergland on his blog suggests that creating a robust connectivity between both hemispheres of the cerebrum and both regions of the cerebellum is key. This new research on the role of hand-eye coordination in the early development of toddlers is another clue for practical ways that we can give toddlers and children the best odds for learning; create social connectivity and also lay the neural groundwork for maximizing their potential.

Bergland says, “These initial neural connections will play a crucial role in optimizing a child’s human potential for a lifespan.” Play dough, small cars, balls, etc. are necessary materials to help strengthen these neural pathways. The significant push for the classrooms should be to equip the environment with materials that will assist to establish stronger hand-eye coordination.


tongs 2


Tambe, J. The Art of Math and Science, Read Out Loud Publishing LLP; (August 30, 2016)

Tambe, J. A Kaleidoscope of Children


“And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.” – Maurice Sendak


  • When you die, you never come alive again.
  • It means you never come alive again.
  • And what does “alive” mean?
  • It means that you’re walking and when you’re dead, you cannot walk anymore. You cannot talk or eat.
  • You never can go anywhere
  • Can I become alive again?
  • You can’t become alive again- not even on a Friday or a Saturday
  • You become extinct, like the dinosaurs.


The dreaded “death” conversation visits us often in a preschool environment, and as educators, we always wonder what do they already know about this topic? Do these children believe in heaven, in which case are they going to say that when you die, you go to heaven? Or, like so many children, will they just be confused about the topic and worry insanely about bad guys, death and what might happen in the world they live in?

It’s important to try and understand what children already know– what’s their baseline. It gives you a starting point for a conversation. Here’s an excerpt of a conversation we had about what children think it means when you are dead.

  • When people die, their battery stops working.
  • You die when you are old.
  • Or you could get sick or hurt to die
  • There’s pipes in your brain. When they aren’t connected, that’s because you’re old. That’s when you’re dead.
  • You could die any time.
  • You can die by a bullet from a police gun. (so sad that a child said that: it tells you of the times we live in.)
  • When you die, your lungs don’t work anymore. If you can’t breathe, you die.


Bad guys need handcuffs: the children made each other handcuffs with pipe cleaners and beads.

Children need to have these real conversations to make sense of the world they live in. They are not oblivious to what is happening around them, and if anything, a conversation with a trusted adult only reassures them and lets them know that they are safe. Children listen to adults, and they pick up words like “passed away…” or “cremated,” and understand neither concept.

In an article in an online family education magazine, the author states, “Pay attention to avoiding the use of euphemisms for death, which can create misunderstandings and powerful fears among preschoolers. If you say that someone who died has “passed away,” “passed on,” or “gone to a better place,” your child may think, “Oh, a better place. When’s he coming back?” If you describe death as like “going to sleep and never waking up,” your child will never want to go to sleep again. And if you describe it as “going away and never coming back,” your child will never let you go on a trip without making a huge scene.”



Helping children deal with fears: Making play dough monsters that are scary with lots and lots of eyes

One day, I watched as a group of children played with some plastic animals. The child I observed held a snake in one hand and a scorpion in another. The animals “struggled” against each other: “The snake has poison and the scorpion is stinging it, Jayanti!” The animals struggled, till eventually, they died. “They passed away,” the little boy said. Then he lifted an upturned basked, and pushed the animals underneath. I caught a glimpse of many creatures under the basket.

“What’s happening there?” I asked. Here is what I was told:

“The animals are passed away. they are dead. The basket is their cemetery and they will now go to the clouds to be cremated.”

“Oh! And what does passed away mean? ” It means you’ve gone forever.  Forever and you go to the clouds and be cremated.”

“I wonder why all these animals died?”

That’s because people killed it and shooted it… and stepped on animals.

If you want animals to live forever, don’t step on them. And don’t use real guns.

And please don’t kill them. And if you have a home, make them your pets.

Out of the mouths of babes….


“Please excuse the mess. The children are making memories…”


Why do I love my job? Because I’m privileged to be part of the magical journey of a child while she is making memories…albeit messy ones!

Children learn while using their hands. More often than not, if you walked into a classroom of mine,  there would be a riot of colors, paint on classroom furniture…maybe some on the floor…and yes, perhaps, some on the children …and some on me too!   I am an intentional teacher- I plan for these messes to happen.  “Intentional teachers have a purpose for their actions; they make decisions for a reason. The intentional teacher plans carefully in advance, but also has enough knowledge to make thoughtful decisions throughout the day, even during the unplanned, spontaneous, ―teachable moments, that inevitably arise.”

Click to access bredekamp_ch3.pdf


I plan activities where children can work with their hands in multiple ways: holding crayons and pencils; cutting with scissors; pounding clay; squeezing glue from a bottle…the opportunities are many!  Why? Children need to work with their hands.  Working with their hands help children develop the correct way to hold a pencil, and the correct way to hold a pair of scissors. Children are “made” to write too early. Just yesterday, I read that children as young as TWO have tuition to get ready for their entrance exams into kindergarten! What is the world coming to? These are babies, and young children- children who don’t quite have the strength or the dexterity with which to manipulate fine writing and drawing instruments.


One of the best websites I have found that has wonderful advice for hand muscle development is http://www.therapystreetforkids.com/fm-pincergrasp.html

The authors emphasize the importance of strengthening the muscles of a child’s hand.  “An important aspect of having a rotating thumb is that it is able to form a “web space” between it and the index finger when both tips touch and form a circle.  Think of the A-ok sign.  It is called a “web space” because of the extra skin at the base of the thumb and index finger that has the appearance of a web, similar to animals that have webbed toes.   An open web space is important for holding writing and drawing tools correctly.  When the space is open and the writing tool is held with the thumb tip and fingertips, this allow for greater precision and control.”

Sometimes , we work on using hands AND feet! My cousin, Gauri uses this incredible technique with her children:  It’s really difficult for a child to hold a piece of yarn with one hand while he tries to string beads on it with the other. So she came up with this brilliant idea- she makes a loop with the yarn and loops it on her child’s big toe. With the yarn stable,  he used his fine motor skills to pick beads and  from a tray and string them on the yarn to make me a lovely necklace!

064-copyTo help build the muscles of the arm (in addition to the small muscles of the hand) I always provide easels for the children to use.   “Children’s development follows a general pattern from large to small muscle.  And, as children exercise their large and small muscles, they also improve their eye-hand coordination. ”


My favorite early childhood educator said it best: “If it hasn’t been in the hands and the body, it can’t be in the brain!”


“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.” – Walt Streightiff


“What are you looking at?” The child nestled in my lap stared, mesmerized, at the sky. She pointed to the sky and asked me, “Do you see those clouds. They are not clouds. They have magic. They move. And there’s a unicorn hiding there. Can you see it?”

Try as I did, I couldn’t see the magical unicorn- it stayed hidden to my jaded eyes. I looked up at the sky and tried in vain to imagine the cotton-woolly clouds to be prancing unicorns. “Imagination,” as Albert Einstein stated, “is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

I returned to my classroom the next morning, looking for ways to create a little more wonder. I sat down with my dear friend and colleague, Todd, and sketched a rough plan for an extension to a regular light table. Todd, being Todd created, in a matter of a few hours, an incredible stand with a mirror at a 45 degree angle that could be placed such that the mirror would reflect what was on the light table. and that’s how the wonder began…


I love light tables! They are just the greatest addition to a preschool environment. We decided to set it up in a fun way for exploring  light, shadow, color, color mixing, translucency and transparency.We set up the light table with translucent plastic baskets. The children loved the setup and brought in a bunch of dragons to the light table, (we couldn’t find any unicorns!) We began to talk about what they could see. Here’s how the conversation went: Do some of the baskets have more light than others? I wonder why that happens. Let”s see what happens when we put a basket on top of another one…Look the color “changed!” Why is there no light coming through in my dragon? What happens when we put different colors on top of each other? Do the colors mix?


The children experimented further with solid objects and with translucent objects and the rich conversation about light continued. Then one of the children noticed the mirror above them, and soon the children started talking about their reflections. “Look! I’m up there. But I look upside down.”


Lauren Elrick, in her article  “35 Enlightening Light Table Activities for Kids” states, “Light tables assist children in sensory development, encourage growth and nurture their curiosity. This, in turn, helps children develop a variety of necessary competencies … to increase activity in the brain, promote self-esteem, self-motivation, cooperation and a host of other helpful skills.”



In “Light Table Explorations,”,  Jeanne Vergeront says that “Light invites spoken and unspoken questions.” She speaks of the importance of light tables and highlights the vocabulary that a child gains while interacting at the light table: “The vocabulary of light, its properties, and effects emerges and grows from these explorations: bright, glisten, glow, glimmer, shimmer, soft, shine, sparkly, shadowy, luminous.



The children spoke of colors in a wonderful, sensory way:
• “I made hot lava color” (while combining a red and a yellow cup by placing one cup inside the other)
• “Yellow looks like mustard”
• “Blue and yellow- I got green” (while placing a blue and a yellow plastic cup on the light table)
• “I made purple with red and blue” (while combining a red and a blue plastic cup while placing one inside the other.)


Oprah Winfrey said, ““You have to find what sparks a light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world.” We think we found the spark, and we loved watching the children illuminating their world!


“Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.” -Walt Disney

Preschool teachers often ask children what they want to be when they grow up, and the answers are always interesting. They range from ” I want to become an astronaut to “I will be a  garbage truck driver,” and are almost always, the sweetest of responses.

There has however been a paradigm shift in our thinking, and today, the question asked is, “What problem do you want to solve when you grow up?”A while ago, the children in my class were very interested in “creating” traffic, with a view to resolving  the traffic problem.

Here’s an excerpt of a very interesting conversation that they had while playing with cars:

  • Traffic is a long, long road and then police have to clear the sides so it won’t be so trafficky. Everyone would say, ―get off the road man, get off the road.
  • Teacher: How can we make sure that there’s no traffic on the roads?
  • That’s up to the police. They know the secret.
  • Traffic is when there are a lot of cars behind each other and it’s going very slow. Then you have to wait for a while or for a long time.
  • How can we stop having traffic on the roads? Or what can you do if you are in a lot of traffic?
  • You just cut in front of people if it takes a long time. That works.
  • When there’s a long line of cars. You get to wait. And if there’s traffic, cars can go another way. You just wait. In freeways, there’s no traffic ever. I think in New York, there is.
  • I think you should have no traffic lights so you can keep going fast. And then cars will crash. And we won’t have any police.
  • You have to have traffic lights.
  • You can go really fast and cut the line.
  • You can also go a different way.

Traffic maps

We sat down and created “mind maps” to collect the materials we needed to make a traffic jam. The children ran around looking for all the cars that they could find; meanwhile others began to plan what the road and tunnels should be made of. Soon, we had a collection of magnetic tiles to make the road with, and some wooden blocks to create tunnels. Based on the maps that the children had created, they set out to create traffic!

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Tunnels might help, and perhaps street lights would help too!

We talked about what we could do to alleviate this problem of traffic. Many children said that they were frustrated to have to sit in their car seats for hours on the freeway. We brainstormed ways in which we could perhaps reduce the problem. We engaged in a process of “Metacognition”- higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills when children are encouraged to reflect, predict, question, and hypothesize.


Creating off ramps to help reduce the traffic on the freeway

We sat down to plan what we could do. This involved the following:

  1. recognizing the problem
  2. predicting what could go wrong
  3. proposing solutions
  4. anticipating glitches
  5. hypothesizing what would happen if..
  6. and finally, deciding on actions.

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Arches might help slow traffic; creating split roads might do that too

The children created off ramps, bridges, “split roads” and big and small roads, all the time trying to understand why the problem existed. Would it be different if the road was long? Would the problem change if there was a slope? What if we had tunnels? Would traffic slow  down or speed up? So we created opportunities to help the children understand the problem, and to encourage them to continue to think creatively.

Driving cars on the slide (on a slope): Does speed cause cars to switch lanes? How about a cardboard roll tunnel? Will that help speed up or slow down traffic?


Learning about road safety and rules: what do road safety signs really mean?

Can safety signs help people slow down?

As Margaret Mead rightly said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” It’s really important to help children become responsible adults- have real conversations with them. Ask them what they worry about. Ask them what frustrates them, and then help them think of things they can do to make the world a better place!