Thursday, May 31, 2012

No More Polite Nodding

It was a god awful day in Seattle yesterday. A man described by his family as mentally ill carried a gun into a neighborhood cafe and shot 4 people dead, critically wounding 1 other. He then made his way downtown where he shot and killed another woman. After an intensive citywide hunt, he shot himself when cornered by the police.

I heard the first reports in the morning, half listening, about a shooting in the University District. Hearing that the shooter was still at large, my first thoughts were about my family, of course, and while my daughter's school is only about 5 miles from there, it wasn't close enough for concern. I know several kids at nearby Roosevelt High School, however, and I figured they were on lock down, but then went about my business. Later I heard about an "apparently unrelated" shooting downtown, a mile or so from my wife's office, closer, but still not cause for panic, although the skies were filling with helicopters.

Then I received a text message from my daughter Josephine: "Guy with a gun at (school). On lock down."

Holy crap.

Four of her classmates, two of whom I've known since kindergarten, had been working on a group project at a small park with a view of Lake Washington across the street from campus when they'd been approached by a man dressed all in black, including gloves, wearing dark sunglasses, carrying a gun. They ran, making it back to school to sound the alarm.

It turned out that this armed man wasn't the killer who was on the loose, but rather a man who had heard about the shootings and had decided to carry a weapon, for which he had a license, in his hand, to a school, I can only assume with vigilantism in mind. Josephine, who is friends with all of the student witnesses, said that the police had indicated they felt the guy was, you guessed it, mentally ill: another mentally ill man with a gun, this one hanging around my daughter's school.

News mentions about this second guy have dismissed him as an overly worried jogger. In fact, I've searched the SPD online "blotter" and found no mention of this incident. Am I to assume they just let the guy go?  I hope not, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did. After all, this is America, a place where mentally ill people are allowed to walk around with guns, even around schools, even around my child and her friends. And there are gun industry lobbyists, politicians, and others out there who aggressively support their right to do so.

More children die from guns each year than the death toll of 9/11. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The Children's Defense Fund found that during 2008 and 2009:

  • The total number of preschool-age children killed by guns (173) was nearly double the number of law-enforcement officers (89) killed in the line of duty.
  • African-American children and teens represented 45 percent of all gun deaths in their age group, but only 15 percent of the total US population of children.
  • The top cause of death for black teens ages 15 to 19 was gun homicide.
  • More children and teens died from gunfire (5,750) than the number of US military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
  • Among the 23 highest-income countries in the world, the US was home to 80 percent of all gun deaths, and 87 percent of all gun deaths of children younger than 15.

Every American head should hang in shame, and every heart shout burn with rage. I will no longer sit politely and nod as earnest people try to tell me about how guns are part of the American tradition. Look what your damn tradition has wrought. Slavery was once an American tradition. So was lynching.

Guns in the hands of irresponsible people kill children. Guns in the hands of criminals kill children. Guns in the hands of mentally ill people kill children.  I have no illusion that we will become a gun free society any time soon, but it is time for across-the-board common sense gun control, a position that is supported by 2/3 of Americans.  Guns should be exceedingly hard to get. Gun owners should have to prove they know how to use and store them safely, that they are not criminals, and that they are mentally and emotionally stable.  I know there are already background check laws in some places, but there are so many loopholes they've been rendered meaningless.

Stolen guns kill children. Virtually all gun crimes are committed with stolen guns (80-90% according to estimates), while most of the gun crimes committed with legally owned guns stem from domestic violence. I keep hearing about "responsible gun owners." How about this: if your gun is used to kill someone, even if that gun as been stolen from you, even if that gun was used by an angry spouse, you should be considered at least partially guilty for that death, because as everyone knows, part of being a responsible gun owner is keeping your weapon secure. That failure of responsibility should make you an accessory to the crime.

Guns kill children.  The simple fact is that the countries with the strictest gun laws have the lowest gun death rates. Yes, I know that there is a theory out there that a well-armed population prevents crime, with Switzerland, where male citizens under 30 are required to keep government issued guns in their home, often trotted out as an example. Believe me, those guns are strictly regulated. They are issued to citizens in lieu of a standing army (which was the real intent of our 2nd amendment). Those citizens undergo rigorous military training. Yes, like the rest of Europe, the Swiss gun crime rate is quite low compared to the US, but it's far from clear that widespread gun ownership has anything to do with it. Experts say it is not an accident that Swiss gun crime has fallen since the 1990's when stricter gun control laws were enacted.

Please don't bring your 2nd amendment argument around here, not today; I'll jump down your throat. Frankly, I don't give a damn about your right to own a gun. I don't give a damn about your right to shoot animals. I don't give a damn about your fantasies of protecting yourself with a gun: that's the thinking of a mentally ill man in black who carries guns around high schools.

Guns kill people. Guns kill children. No more polite nodding.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"It's Just A Phase"

I try to be as Zen as the next guy, you know, setting aside those "wasted" emotions like guilt and worry, those ravenous obsessions that grow to eat up the present if you'll let them. They're horrible party guests, alright, with a tendency to hang around long after their value as goads to improvement or precaution has passed.

I find guilt an easier one to wrangle out of my day-to-day life. I've had lots of practice in my half century on the planet with apologizing, making amends, and committing myself to being a better me going forward, which is all anyone can ever do. I've been a parent long enough now to know that those things about which I feel the sharpest blade of guilt, will not only be forgiven, but forgotten in the long love story that is being a father.

Ah, but guilt comes out of the past, a place already behind us, viewable through that famous 20/20 hindsight and therefore, for me at least, easier to package up and put away. Worry is about the unknowable future, the place we prepare for with, at best, educated guesses. It's harder to keep worry in its place. And as a parent, the moment you put one set of worries behind you, there is another set to keep you up at night.

As a preschool teacher I talk with a lot of parents about their worries. Almost every time I'm pulled aside it's to discuss hitting or biting or shyness or fearfulness or aggressiveness or passiveness or whatever, present tense attitudes or behaviors about which that parent is concerned. Of course, they're always concerned about "right now," about teaching their child to not hurt another or to make more friends, but it doesn't take much digging to know that the real worry is of a future bully or moody loner. This is the bud we hope to nip.

I felt those same feelings too. I worried about those same things too. I still worry about them, although not as much these days as I'm really beginning to see the woman my teenaged child is becoming. No, now I worry about the well-known hazards of the age (drinking, sex, cars, guns) but I'm here to tell you that the person she is today could have easily been predicted a decade ago if my worries had only allowed me to see it.

Parents don't always find comfort in the assurance, "It's just a phase," I know. And perhaps that particular sentence ought to be retired, but for most of the kids, most of the time, it is just a phase, an important one from which your child is learning what he needs to learn to move beyond it or through it or to make peace with it. I know it's easy for me, not being a parent of these children, but rather just being an attentive guy who has stood in one place for a long time, touching and being touched by hundreds of families as they pass my way, to answer "I'm not worried," but it's also true.

The biting will stop. The hitting will fade away. The voiceless will find their voice. The rough will learn gentleness. The fearful will find courage. Your child will move on to the next developmental stage, be diagnosed, and learn to love and be loved. That is all, inevitably, in the future.

Who we are never matters nearly as much as who we are becoming. More often than not, that's how I have to answer parents when they come to me with their worries, "It's just a phase."

My wife and I have a joke we tell one another when the pressures of life are upon us: "This is the critical phase." It's always true; both in that it's critical and that it's a phase.  It makes us laugh because we know when we look back, we'll see that it really was a phase, while the critical part will remain immediately ahead of us, there just itching to be worried about.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pre-K Play: The Mysterious, Haunted, Spooky House Full Of Hearts

On Sunday I posted about the process of creating our Pre-K play. Yesterday came the script and details about the creation of our props and sets. Today, I present the video of our play.

Our play always takes place on the Wednesday before Memorial Day, the second to the last day of school. We began our day as usual with indoor free play, but as the time approached I quietly let the actors know it's time to get ready and one-by-one they slipped away to the backstage area where they were met by parent-teachers who helped them don their costumes. This is a part of the process we had discussed the day before and they were looking forward to keeping the play a big surprise.

The rest of us continued playing, cleaned up as usual, then convened on the blue rug for circle time. After a couple songs I asked, "Hey, were is everybody? Some of our friends are missing." Once we'd named our missing friends, I told them, "The 5-year-olds have a surprise for you today," and we all filed in to take our seats in the audience.

Typically, by any objective artistic standard, what the children have been rehearsing on the stage for the last few weeks leading up to the performance, including the dress rehearsal the day before, is a mess. I mean that in the post positive sense possible, of course, with the children still freely exploring the stage, the sets, the props and the material, even as they are "performing," creating each time a dramatic version of "preschool gray." Ah, but for the performance itself, with the advent of full costuming and an audience, the children are usually "scared straight," focused, and ready to hit their spots. This year's group didn't adhere to this pattern, however. Their last few rehearsals actually were relatively polished and they came into the performance relaxed and confident, so much so that the Rainbow Butterflies still carried on their usual buzz of conversation throughout the play, Panther got "lost" in making faces at himself in a mirror offstage and had to be gently jostled from his reverie to respond to his cue, and several of them still jumped off the stage to rescue their paper airplane bats from the audience. A few of the parents told me their kids were nervous beforehand, but it didn't show on stage at all.

When the play was through, bows taken, and questions answered, we enjoyed cupcakes together. The younger children then took over the stage, props, costumes, and sets as I again read through the script, giving them a chance to re-enact what they had just seen their older classmates do, inspiration that will last into next year.

Our tradition is to call this the "last day of school" for the older kids, finishing with a simple bridge ceremony. When they return tomorrow, the official last day of school, it will be as "visitors," while the younger children have now become the new "Pre-K kids." 

I didn't want to distract from the performance by mentioning this before you'd watched it, but I really want to point out the terrific, almost invisible work of our stage crew: Sylvia's mom Toby and Sadie's mom Medora. They rehearsed right along with us. This is how cooperatives work.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Pre-K Play: The Script, Props, And Sets

Yesterday I shared about the 5 month process that lead to this year's Pre-K play. Today I present you with the script in its final form, illustrated with photos of the props and set pieces we created as we went.

In the script, I've tried to honor the children's exact words and phraseology, although I've also added the stage directions as well. This way, serving as the play's narrator, I can tell them, "If you listen to me, you'll always know what to do."

The Mysterious, Haunted, Spooky House Full of Hearts


Sylvia -- Rainbow Butterfly Sylvia
Siena -- Fairy Princess
Sasha -- Leopard
Addison -- Harry Potter
Archie -- Bumble Bee
Sena -- Rainbow Butterfly Sena
Sadie -- Rainbow Butterfly Sadie
Violet -- Rainbow Butterfly Violet
Jody -- Panther

Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts.

This is our Hogwarts. You might recognize the box from this post. We'd rescued it from
getting "all used up," even before we knew what we wanted to use it for, knowing that
 we could use it in the play somehow. Each side is painted in a different color in the
preschool tradition of compromise that almost always results in "rainbow."
 The audience, however, only only saw the pink.

The Rainbow Butterflies go fluttering around. And a Fairy Princess showed up and she looked beautiful. The Rainbow Butterflies fluttered around her. Then they all sat by the flowers.

Leopard came. Then the Leopard sat in the desert. Then Panther came. Panther sat in the desert.

When we sat down to discuss how we were going to make the desert, I'd
expected we would need to create a backdrop, but the kids wanted to make
a cactus with "lots of pokey parts." We wrapped a traffic pylon with
 construction paper, then stuck small bits of tape all over it to represent thorns.

Then Bumble Bee comes. Harry comes out of Hogwarts. Bumble Bee takes Harry to a place with lots of things and a magic bridge that turns to a butterfly one. They got to Hogwarts.

We built our magic bridge from cardboard boxes on a base of "roller boards"
(small platforms with casters) using a glue gun, then painted it 
(you guessed it) rainbow, making each box a different color. 

The whole thing needed to be on wheels so we could turn it around to
reveal that it had magically turned into a "butterfly one." We made our
butterflies by making a "sandwich" with wax paper as the bread and tissue
paper and liquid starch serving as the filler. Once it dried, we cut out wing
shapes and added black rectangular bodies.

Then the Rainbow Butterflies come and the Fairy Princess. She looked at the Rainbow Butterflies and the Rainbow Butterflies stared at the Fairy. Then the Rainbow Butterflies looked in the water and the Rainbow Butterflies started swimming.

As we painted our box blue to represent water, we discussed the audience's
perspective. What part of this would they see? What parts needed to be blue
to create the illusion and which parts were we painting "just for ourselves?"

Then the Rainbow Butterflies looked all over and saw something that looked like a bad guy in the water.

The Butterflies and Fairy run and sit by the flowers.

These two 5-foot tall fabric flowers were the first set pieces we chose
for the play. I made them several years ago for the Fremont Summer
Solstice Parade and they've lived in our classroom ever since.

The Fairy Princess comes. The Leopard saw the Fairy Princess. Then they sat together in the desert.

Harry comes out of Hogwarts. A big, giant paint ball came falling out of the sky and bonked Harry on the head.

We made this months before we'd even begun talking about a play.
averse." At one point they really wanted to make a paper mache planet
to add to the collection we already have hanging from our ceiling, but
the moment they were confronted with actual paper mache paste, most
of them cringed. The few who did participate only lasted a few minutes.
Violet's dad Eric wound up doing most of the work, but the kids became
attached to it nevertheless. They didn't even want to paint it for the play.

The Rainbow Butterflies come fluttering across the sidewalk and Harry trips on the Butterflies.

Harry stands up.

The Rainbow Butterflies sit by the flowers.

Harry discovers that Hogwarts is dark. (Note: There is a light switch on the stage. I had assumed an adult helper would be responsible for turning the lights off and back on, but in every run-through including the performance itself, one of the cast members would break character to handle it.)

And the Fairy Princess comes and falls in love with Harry. They go into Hogwarts.

The Rainbow Butterflies dive into the water and flutter back.

Then the Rainbow Butterflies look inside Hogwarts. Then they go around Hogwarts. Then they go back to their flowers.

Then Panther pops out of the desert. Harry comes out of Hogwarts and asks for a fight with it. And everyone cheers for Harry.

Then Panther sits in the desert.

Harry discovers there are tons and tons of passageways and discovers he is in the Chamber of Secrets. (Note: To represent the Chamber of Secrets a parent unfurled one of our collapsable tunnels from backstage through which Harry Potter crawled.)

Then Harry goes to Hogwarts.

The Rainbow Butterflies are fluttering and eating.

And the Rainbow Butterflies have a race around the audience! Everybody goes with them. Then they all sit on the stairs. (Note: Racing around the audience has become a Pre-K play tradition, with each year's class recreating these exciting moments from their memories of what happened the year before.)

Panther comes and shoots a web on the ceiling and swings to another web and another and catches a good guy.

Here's our good guy puppet. We made tissue paper and pipe cleaner flowers,
then stuck them into a styrofoam head.

Panther sits on the stairs.

The Leopard lived in the desert. The Leopard goes to the desert.

Harry jumps on stage and pulls a sword out of the sorting hat. Harry goes into Hogwarts.

Panther goes into fire. Then he goes to the desert.

To create our fire, we painted a couple large sheets of paper with red and yellow
paint. When it dried, we cut it into triangles, then glued it on a piece of

The Fairy Princess comes. She discovers the desert and the Leopard almost bites her! She runs away to Hogwarts.

And Harry comes out of Hogwarts and jumps in front! And so the Leopard ate Harry instead of the Fairy Princess.

Harry goes back to Hogwarts. The Leopard stays in the desert.

Panther comes! Then he sits on the stairs.

Next Panther shoots a web out of his mouth and catches onto a building and sees a good guy and catches him. And he only catches good guys at night.

This is our "building," the creation of which I shared here.

Panther takes the good guy to the desert.

The Fairy Princess flies out of Hogwarts and Harry follows her. And everybody runs around the audience!

Then they all come back and sit on the stairs.

Then the Leopard comes and trips on something.

The Rainbow Butterflies flutter in to see if the Leopard is okay.

Then they take the Leopard to the desert.

The Fairy Princess comes and transforms into a Princess. She sparkles into the air and spins around while she is doing it.

Harry comes and falls in love with the Princess.

They go into Hogwarts.

Bumble Bee comes. He saw a bad guy train . . . And blasts it!

Bumble Bee sits on the stairs.

Harry and the Princess come out of Hogwarts. Harry tries to trick the Princess, but she says, “I’ll always be your princess forever.”

Then they go back into Hogwarts.

The Rainbow Butterflies flutter to Hogwarts to see if the Princess was fine.

Then they go back to the desert.

Panther comes. He opened his mouth and bats came strait out of it!

The children were quite proud of their paper airplane bats. In the actual performance
several of them ran off the stage and retrieved their bat rather than leave it in the 
hands of the audience.

And everybody throws bats at the audience!

Then everyone sits on the stairs.

And then Panther comes again and transforms wings onto him. And flies around the audience! Everybody flies around the audience!

Then they come back and sit on the stairs.

So, the Princess and Rainbow Butterflies come on stage. The Princess said, “Oh, I’m fine.” And the Rainbow Butterflies said, “Well, okay. We guess we’ll be going.” And the Rainbow Butterflies sit by the flowers.

And then Panther comes and says, “Super mode!” and turns into a monster!

Then Panther sits in the desert.

Now the Princess comes again gets scared of the bats and starts to run away and the Rainbow Butterflies save her!

Then they go again and sit by the flowers.

Then Panther comes and transforms into his shape. Then he sits on the stairs.

The Rainbow Butterflies went into the desert to check on the Leopard, but the Leopard wasn’t noticing and the Rainbow Butterflies went home to the flowers.

The Princess comes. Well, since the Rainbow Butterflies and the Princess become friends, the Rainbow Butterflies say, “Let’s play a game! Let’s play hide and seek and the Princess hid first. The Butterflies find her.

Panther and Bumble Bee come. Panther blasts Bumble Bee! But then Panther didn’t mean it and said, “Are you OK?” And then he said he was, so Panther fixed him and they blasted bad guys together.

Our bad guy puppet uses toothpicks instead of flowers. We 
worried some that it would be too scary for the "babies" in
our audience.

Panther and Bumble Bee make sure none of the bad guys are trying to trick them and some were so they blasted them . . . Yeah, we know. We like to blast.

Panther and Bumble Bee sit on the stairs.

The Princess came and found her carriage with a horse and just rided it. She found the Rainbow Butterflies and said, “Hi, Rainbow Butterflies!” and stopped and leapt out of the carriage. (Note: We just used one of our stick ponies to represent the carriage.)

Panther and Bumble Bee come and they transform into tanks.

Then they sit on the stairs.

Everything in the world becomes different, except the Princess.

Harry Potter comes. The Princess comes.

And they fall back in love.


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Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Pre-K Play: Iconic, Archetypal, Foundational Literature

In January, after our December holiday break, I challenged the Pre-K children to think of something they could do for the whole school. This is how we've kicked off the New Year for a decade now. When we started I had no preconceived notion of what that might be, really wanting it to emerge from the children themselves. That group the first year took it on as a problem to solve, determining that we needed a birthday throne, and set about making the very one we use to this day.

Making water in which butterflies will swim and bad guys will emerge.

The following year, a boy named Vaughn, now a high schooler, said, "I want to do a play," and thus was born our school's tradition of ending the year with a performance by the Pre-K kids for their younger classmates. It's a project that continues to emerge each year, sparked by the strong memories of the younger children, who are now the "big kids," and who have decided that now it's their turn to create a performance for their friends. One of the magical parts of the play, I think, is that the younger children are blissfully unaware that it's in the offing. They have no idea that the older kids are meeting an additional afternoon each week to be together as older children, where they incubate many of the themes, projects, theories, and ideas that are eventually brought to full flower in the larger multi-age part of the class. When they see the play performed on the penultimate day of the school year, it is a true revelation for them.

Creating the bridge that will turn into a "butterfly one."

Once the children have settled on producing a play, we begin the writing process, which can take until at least mid-February, re-reading what we have each Tuesday afternoon when we come together, then editing and adding to it. We don't always start with our characters, but this group did. I try to write what they say word-for-word without comment. Not all the children are present for each writing session, as there are always other activities to chose from on any given day, but over the course of our process, they each have a hand in the script, at least insofar as it involves their own characters.

Making butterflies for the bridge.

Sometime in late February or early March, we move our creative process to the stage, where we begin "rehearsals," which are really just extensions of the writing process. Some kids are already capable of imagining words on paper as action on a stage, but most of them need to experience it in context with their whole bodies involved. To an outsider, this phase, which I've arbitrarily decided ends when we briefly scatter for Spring Break, probably looks like just a bunch of kids goofing off together on stage, with a teacher hopelessly reading from a script, but this is really the creative core of what we're doing, as the kids work out every detail of what they will be doing together. 

Here are these notoriously "mess averse" kids, getting messy making "fire," into which 
the Panther will "go." When they finished, they filed out of the room, hands held up like
surgeons after they've scrubbed in for surgery, to wash up in the sink.

During this period, everything may change, including the children's characters. This year, for instance, Jody started as a Dragon, then became a Bat Dragon, then a Spider Dragon, then Spiderman, then a Transformer, until he finally settled on Panther, which helps explain why the Panther that appeared on our stage for the actual performance, swung from webs, shot bats out of his mouth, and transformed into a tank.

Creating one of our backdrops.

In the meantime, as the script takes shape, we begin working on our props, sets, and costumes, either creating each piece ourselves, or cobbling them together from things we already have in our classroom or at home. I've never had a Pre-K group that put more care and thought into their costumes, many of them thinking things through right down to the rings on their fingers.

For five full months then we work on at least some aspect of this play every Tuesday afternoon. In the beginning it may just be 15 minutes of writing, but by the end, the play has pretty much come to consume our entire time together.

Tomorrow I will share the script, then on Tuesday I will present you with a video. To you, an adult, it might look like (as my retired English professor father-in-law once said about most contemporary fiction) "just one damn thing after another," and objectively it is. But what you don't know, what you can't know, is that what you read in our script and see on our stage is now a piece of iconic, archetypal, foundational literature that is as much a part of these children as it is a product of their collective creativity. It's a story both about who they are and who they aspire to be.  They all now know this story as well as any they'll ever know any story. To them it's not one damn thing after another, but rather the mythological story of who they are as "a people."

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Greatest Hits

There was a time when I could have told you the exact anniversary, but it was sometime during the early summer of 2009 when I started blogging. I fretted so much over those first few posts, striving to keep them rather bland and non-controversial, worrying about being attacked from all sides by those angry people on the internet, dreaming about being feted as the next great thing by the mysterious internet image-makers. Then, heart in my throat, I'd click the "publish" button and . . . Then what?

It didn't take me long to discover analytics, the tools out there for variously measuring the crude demographics of your readership: what they read, how long they read, where they live, and so on. If you're a blogger yourself, you likely know all about these statistics and their strange allure, these numbers that come to represent the people who come by your little corner of the web. Before long I was obsessively spying on my readers via those numbers several times a day, often just leaving the window open on my computer to track every nuance. I distinctly remember the first day I surpassed 200 readers in a day, driven by a post about health care reform, my first toe in the pool of water outside the straight early childhood eddy. I must say I was giddy and a little afraid. (This post did attract the attention of angry internet people, even though looking at it now it's was a rather mild post compared to some of the things I write now.)

I'm happy to report that my obsession with you as a statistic has faded. It's exhausting living on that kind of they-love-me-they-hate-me roller coaster. For the past year or so, I've been checking the numbers, maybe, once a month and then only when something strikes me as particularly odd, like it did a couple days ago when my volume of email suddenly began to overwhelm me. It seems the post Seven Things To Say Instead Of "Good Job!" struck a cord with many of you, causing it to make the rounds in a wider circle than my writing normally does. Yay!  Thank you for sharing!

While I was there, I got curious about my "greatest hits," so to speak, and found that this post has already risen to number 2 on the all-time charts. And while I have a few end-of-the-school-year type posts I'd like to get to, I also know from my years looking at the statistics that weekend readership tends to fall off, while depth of readership rises. So instead of "fresh" material, I thought I'd put together a reading list based on Teacher Tom's all-time most popular posts.

1)     "Spoiled Brats"   I'm quite proud of this post and it remains at the top of the charts. It was nominated for Most Influential Post in the 2011 Edublog Awards and lost out by a single vote. It's a sort of treatise on how to treat your child like a fully-formed human being without resorting to the command-and-control awfulness of what is  often referred to as "tough love."

2)     Seven Things To Say Instead Of "Good Job!"   I wrote this post around a collection of photos that got me reflecting on the interactions I'd had with kids who had been eager to include me in their accomplishments. Many readers seemed to think that the objection to the phrase "Good job!" is that it's simply overused, thus rendering it meaningless. That's part of it, but the real reason I try to avoid it (along with such pronouncements as "That's beautiful!" "You're so smart!" and "I love it!") is that it puts the focus on external validation (i.e., adult approval). Making informative statements instead of praise is how I acknowledge a child's effort, their internal drive, rather just "rewarding" them with my opinion.

3)     Hitting   In this post I offer practical tips for what to do about 2-year-olds who hit, including an 8-step plan for learning through conflict. I'm a little embarrassed to see that the entire post is in some odd typeface. I don't know how that happened, but I'm too lazy to dig through the html code to figure it out.

4)     Watching Television Is Relaxing   This post exploded for a few days and brought me many new readers, largely because some nice folks with much larger audiences than mine linked to it.  In it, I use science and research to show how TV is no different than any other narcotic, at least in how it affects the brain. I received a lot of praise for this piece, but it was tempered by some very, very angry responses as well, mostly from people who either felt they had no other choice (for their own sanity) than to put their kids in front of what my mom called "the boob tube," or who were exasperated with me for giving them yet another reason to feel inadequate as a parent.

5)     Our "Tall Paintings"   I'm soooo happy that one of my preschool art project posts is in the top 5. I'm particularly happy that it's this one. Although there was a great surge of readers during the first few days it was up, this post has picked up "hits" almost every day for over a year.

6)     If You Really Want A Smart And Happy Kid  This post, in only a few words, really does say everything I know about being a good parent.

7)     The Language Of Command   This post, in which I forcefully advocate speaking informatively with young children, preceded the "Spoiled Brats" post by a day. It was reader response to this post, especially from those who worried about "spoiling" children, that prompted me to expand upon and clarify my thoughts the following day. I'm quite proud of this post as well. This, along with "Spoiled Brats," forms the basis of not only how I try to work with young children, but with people of all ages.

8)     I Have This   This post is about the limits of "direct instruction" (the method of teaching being used in most schools in America) and the expansive nature of play-based or inquiry-based teaching. 


9)     This Is What We Are Up Against    I've written, to date, 70 posts in which I discuss my opposition to corporate education reform and my thoughts on what real, positive, research and data based education reform might look like. This is the one that readers seem to like the most. Warning: I pull no punches.  People with Libertarian tendencies really don't like this post.

10)    This Is What Math Learning Looks Like   People who are not entirely sold on a play-based curriculum often ask how children, if left to pursue their own learning in their own ways, ever learn math. In this post I show you what math learning looks like in pictures and in words.

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