All posts by Kimie Fukuda

Intention Setting and Habits of Mind

Last March, Cedar Teacher Caroline Wolfe wrote a blog post about some of the resources that we use at Opal School when thinking about goals and expectations for children, which includes a body of work by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick identifying 16 habits of mind to use when you are confronted with a problem to which the answer is not immediately known.

Today’s post is in response to a question posed by one of our blog readers:

Are the habits of mind something we discuss with children, or are they used mainly to assess and observe the children to see if they have developed these behaviors?

For example, we were planning to discuss what persistence means with our students -why it is important and what could this look like in our classroom. Do you do something different at Opal?


We believe that knowledge and understanding is constructed through making meaning of our experiences.  Therefore, in the social context of the classroom, we make visible the habits of mind that they are using to grow new understandings together in a variety of ways.   Here are some stories from the preschool classrooms to share a few possibilities for how we collaboratively make meaning of these habits of mind, and what it might look and sound like in action.

In the first weeks of the school year, the Alder teachers pause to consider the next book we would like dive into for our next read-aloud with the children. We noticed that several conflicts came up around waiting and turn-taking in the first weeks of school as the children begin to build trust and strategies for navigating waiting and turn taking. We selected the book Waiting is Not Easy by Mo Willems as a way to approach this idea playfully through our friend, Gerald, the protagonist in the book.

After the teacher began to read the book, she paused to invite the children to begin to connect and make meaning of the text.

Teacher: “What are you noticing? Why is Gerald saying, ‘groooaaaaannnnnn!'”

Child : “He is getting mad. It’s taking too long.”

Teacher: “So you’re noticing that he is feeling impatient, and how hard it is to wait. Give a little twinkle with your fingers if this has ever happened to you before.”

In this exchange the teacher both mirrors back the child’s thinking and invites the rest of the class to efficiently participate in connecting to this idea of waiting by waking up a personal connection.

Many hands flutter up in response.

Teacher: “So something amazing that we are noticing is that you might not want to wait, but every day we see you all waiting to take turns to talk, or to wait in line, or for a material that someone else is using, and so we are wondering–how do you do that? What do you tell your brain that helps you to wait?”

The teacher mirrors back, in a general way, the children’s productive behavior observed in the classroom when faced with having to wait in a variety of situations. Then she invites them to reflect and be metacognitive about how they support themselves to do something hard, like waiting.

Child 1: I just say to myself, “It’s ok, you’ll have a turn soon!”

Child 2: I just tell my brain to wait.

Child 3: Sometimes I say, “groaaaan!”

Child 4: I just think I can do something else.

Teacher: Wow, so you have figured out a little bit of magic – how to make a hard idea a little easier by stretching out your idea to make room for a different idea. That’s being flexible! Are there times you are connecting to right now that you have had to be flexible?

Here, the teacher offers new language to describe these intellectual strategies as a way for children to connect their experiences to a bigger idea (in this case, thinking flexibly).

Child: When my brother is sleeping and I have to wait to play a game

Teacher: Is there something that helps you? The teacher asks this question to offer a gentle nudge to go a little deeper into their thinking.

Child: Sometimes I cry and sometimes I play something else.

And then an invitation to the whole learning community to pay attention to this habit of mind, thinking flexibly. In this way we have elicited children’s experiences to connect to this idea/this habit of mind, thinking flexibly. Let’s keep noticing when we’re being flexible, what helps us and how it feels inside and to our community.


This shared experience and open invitation to be paying attention to when we are being flexible becomes the catalyst and reference point for furthering our shared understanding of this idea with the children. We continue to both pay attention to the inevitable moments that come up in the daily living in the classroom, as well as create situations for the children to continue to practice, reflect on, and connect their experiences of thinking flexibly.


I’ll share one story of how it might sound when presented with one of these inevitable “daily living” moments.

We are about to line up in the hallway and have been supporting the children to grow and share their understanding of their experiences of thinking flexibly – when this is easy to do an when it is a challenge to do so.

Teacher: We are about to line up in the hallway and you might not get to stand just where you wanted to stand. How can being flexible support our community?

In this way the teacher is inviting the children to access what they already know about thinking flexibly and activates their schema for some strategies that they can try.

Child1: I can find a different place to stand.

Child2: Even if I don’t stand next to you, you’re still my friend.

Teacher: What is more important, being flexible and getting there all together with everyone as your friend, or choosing only one person to be your friend?

The teacher invites children to come to their own conclusion about why they might choose being flexible.


Here is one possibility for when the teachers create an opportunity for the children to practice thinking flexibly.

The class is about to begin to act out a favorite story, but first it needs to be decided who will act as which character, and who will not have an acting role this time. For time efficiency, the teacher has suggested that randomly pulling sticks with children’s names could be how it is decided who plays what part this time, and the children agree.

Teacher: So, there are more of us than there are parts to play in the story. I’m wondering if that might feel disappointing to some of you.

Child 1: That’s OK. I can be flexible. I can tell my brain, “Maybe next time!”

Child 2: Or I can say, “Well, that isn’t the part I wanted, but I’ll try it.”

Child 3: Or, “Maybe we’ll do this again.”

Teacher: Sounds like we are getting some great ideas for what we can tell our brains to think flexibly, which might help our disappointed feelings.

Questions to consider:

What strategies do you find yourself using to be aware of and practice these Habits of Mind for yourself and your students?

How do you make these Habits of Mind visible to yourself and the students?

How do you create conditions in your classroom where children need to access, develop, practice, reflect on and grow these Habits of Mind?



Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. ― Albert Szent-Gyorgyi 


As the children shared images and reflections of their trip to the Portland Farmer’s Market, they stumbled upon a discovery — that there were many unexpected surprises of all kinds within our trip together.

We wondered: How might the sharing of their different perspectives invite them to consider the diversity of perspectives that live within our shared experiences?


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BJ : “When I got on the train, I had a worried surprise.  It felt like I was going to fall off the tracks.  What helped was my mama holding onto my hand and I found out that we didn’t fall.”

CB and IS : “I also had a scared surprise, it felt like the train was going to go off the tracks!”

NM: “My surprise was that the train feeled like there was a rumbling sound.”

FD: “I had a happy surprise, I had a secret window and I sawed smoke out the window.”

MT: “I had an excited and bad feeling surprise — I saw a monster!”

AB: “Me too, a wind monster!”

AG: “My surprise was that the tracks were turning.”

NM: “I also had a silly surprise — there were squiggly peppers!’

NF: I had a happy surprise, My mom and me tried some jam and it was so good!

Me too, me too!

EF: My mom let me have two kinds of cookie (samples) and they were so good, that was a yummy surprise!”

MS: My surprise was that me and my mom saw wiggly leafs, red and black!

AB: A blue guy was helping me and I saw wiggly cookies!

FK: I tried something new, I really liked it and it was meat.

YUM! I liked that!

KW: I wouldn’t like that!

NM: It’s not a nice surprise for the birds.

PM: My dad had a sad surprise, he thought that they didn’t have any gourds, but then I showed him and he realized that they did!



How might opportunities to share perspectives and interpretations open your mind to unimagined possibilities and support uncovering assumptions?

What kinds of shared experiences might be catalysts to crack open new perspectives in your community?

How might you reflect on multiple perspectives together in order to generate an open and flexible mindset that respects diverse ideas and stories?

“When we establish human connections within the context of shared experience we create community wherever we go.” ― Gina Greenlee, Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road


In Collaboration with the Natural World

“The wind comes creeping, it calls to me to come go exploring. It sings of the things that are to be found under the leaves. It whispers the dreams of the tall fir trees. It does pipe the gentle song the forest sings on gray days.”  ~ Opal Whiteley



At Opal School, we look to the natural world as an integral space for living and learning together, a place to become, connect, transform, and provoke ideas.  A place to adventure, explore, delight, inspire creativity and so much more.

We wonder this year what we will learn through nurturing this relationship in the spaces outside, about ourselves, one another and life around us?

How will the natural world evoke creative, imaginative and wonder-filled play in children?

In what ways will our experience in the natural world support diverse perspectives and collaboration?





Children and Teachers as Researchers

Researchers pay attention to their questions, theories and ideas by listening for what provokes, inspires, challenges and engages them.  At Opal School, the teachers see themselves as researchers alongside the children with much to learn from them.  As Loris Malaguzzi, founder of Reggio Schools, states, “The things for children and about children are best learned from children.” What new questions and perspectives will emerge for us about children and learning environments where children’s questions, ideas and thinking are placed at the heart of our work with them?

Below is an encounter that a child had at the table with magnets.  It was his first encounter with this material and I was curious to know how he might approach this new material and what he might reveal about himself as a researcher.  Although this story focuses on one child, it is a story that represents our intentions and approach to working and learning alongside children.  As you read this story, what connections are you making to your own work with children?


“It’s a big boy thing.”

I wondered if within this statement, he was asking, What can I do here? Am I a big boy?


“I made a big-boy-booie.”

Perhaps he is posing a theory – Big boys make things – to address his unspoken questions.


“It’s a family.  I made a family.  It’s all the people in my family.”

As he finds a story within the materials, I wonder if he is also asking, what other possibilities live in these materials?

If story is a natural learning strategy that he uses for making meaning, I wonder: What other stories will he tell?  What other materials might we offer him to explore his world through story?

He then adds on marbles on the end, one after the other, and adds subsequent strands from each branch of the base magnet. 

It seems like he might be wondering, what happens when I add on?  How will it change it?


He observes the strands sticking together and states:  “It’s a chainsaw kumasa.”

From the longest strand he adds more marbles until…


The materials present an unexpected surprise.  The strand becomes too heavy and the long strand breaks! 

In this moment I am curious. How will he respond to this problem?  How might his response become a reference point for other problems he encounters during his days at school?



He invents a strategy to support the strand from breaking by holding the bottom end with his hand.

It seems like he is asking, Will they hold if I support from underneath with my hand as I add on and release slowly?





He tests his strategy of giving support to the added marbles with his other hand over and over.


After a time he slowly begins to lower the strand to the table.

He seems to be asking, How does it change when the strand touches the table?  

He begins again, perhaps wondering – What new possibilities might I discover?

“Look at this! It’s a robot! I’m working on my robot!”

As I hear him invite others to see his idea, I wonder about the power of materials as a way to mirror back to himself and his community his growing sense of connection and agency.  How can I build upon this for him? 


“It’s a skateboard robot!”

(Exploring a connection while trying on his neighboring partner’s skateboarding idea.)


“Now it’s a cutter-cutter.  It’s something that cuts down trees!  Zzzzzzzzzzt!”

Additional wonderings I have for this child and encounter:

What other materials will so fully engage him and reveal his thinking?

In sharing it with others, what new theories, questions and ideas will emerge?

What does this encounter help me to better understand about who this child is?  About childhood?

Carlina Rinaldi writes, “If we know how to listen to them, children can give back to us the pleasure of amazement, of marvel, of doubt…the pleasure of the “why”.  Children can give us the strength of doubt and the courage of error.  They can transmit us to the joy of searching and researching…the value of research, as an openness toward others and toward everything new that is produced by the encounter with others.”

This encounter captured my attention for several reasons.  I knew that this new provocation with magnets held many possibilities for revealing children’s natural learning strategies, and I was curious to witness these unfold with as many children as possible.  I was particularly curious in this child’s encounter, as he had just said a tenuous goodbye to his caregiver moments earlier, and I was curious about the power of this material to capture his attention and reveal to him his place as a protagonist in this new learning community in the questions and learning he would likely uncover.  Just how long this material held his attention was remarkable.  These photos are just a sampling of an even longer string of explorations and discoveries with him and the magnets.  If we believe that children arrive at school with many natural learning strategies for making meaning their world (below), what is our obligation to listen and reflect on the implications of these experiences? 


  • Using the senses to look, touch, smell, listen and taste
  • Engaging in play, imagination and games
  • Using story to create meaning and see relationships
  • Tinkering – staying open to what’s possible in the moment
  • Taking things apart, reassembling them, linking them together in new ways
  • Using metaphor and poetic language to uncover and create meaning
  • Engaging others in social interaction and collaboration
  • Being willing to take risks, and experimenting in the absence of fear

As you read this encounter, what research questions and perspectives come up for you?  What other possibilities are you imagining?  Please share your thinking with us in the comments section. 


The Power of Story Part 2

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This post is a continuation of a series on The Power of Story: A recap and introduction from last month’s Beginning School Curriculum night.


Foundation of Story: Schema

“There is a world in every word” ~Carlina Rinaldi

Schema is our interpretation of everything that we know based on our previous experiences.  It is the mental models that we create as we make meaning of our world through our experiences.  Our schema can shift and adjust as we encounter new information and experiences.  Schema is what we activate when we connect what we know to new information.  Uncovering one another’s schema helps us to see how unique we are in our understandings of the world around us, based on our interpretations of our experiences. 

At Opal School, children have many opportunities to uncover their schema in a variety of ways.

Recently we invited the children to “crack open” the word Love as a way to uncover the worlds that live inside of this word. 

Below is a sampling of the wide range of children’s thinking…


Love is sweet and it feels like you are alive. You feel like you are in love. They give love from their heart. You can say ‘you can be my friend.’ Love is kind. When you get mad or feel sad love is still in you.  I love all the people in the world.
Love is hugs and kisses. Love feels softer than anything. There’s love in everything’s heart. 
If you have just some love it’s nothing but if you have a lot of love you have something.
Love is X’s and O’s. Love is when you really like someone.  Love is helping people like you can do something for someone if they don’t have enough time.  You need love for everything you do.  If you don’t have love, you can’t do anything but if you do have love, you can do anything.  

Love is your heart. Everyone gives love. When you get mad or feel sad, love still follows you.        

My mom and dad make my love grow when they hug me.  The hugs go into my heart.

Love is bigger than the earth.  You get love from your whole family, even your cousins. Love is when you play with someone. Love is really strong, like the wind. When you get mad or feel sad, love is in your heart.  Even if your mom says, “no” love follows you. 

Love is hugs and kisses. Love is strong as cement and strong as a tornado. Love lasts not for just one minute.

I give my love to Matthew and he gives it back to me.  I have a million hundred love for them (my family).    

I feel love when people are happy and when I am happy.  When my mom gives me hugs, I feel it.    

Rainbows make me happy, they are filled with love and happy feelings.  Everyone loves rainbows.

Love is helping somebody.  We love the whole world and the whole planet. 

Inviting children to share their mental images is another way to reveal one another’s schemas.  We recently explored this concept of sharing mental images by inviting the children to share what came to mind when they heard the word LOVE.  Specifically we asked them to use tempera paint to explore these questions:


What does love feel like?  What does it look like inside  your heart?

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I mSKMBT_C552D14021214522ade it round because I feel a round feeling in my heart. ~PY

This love is big.  It’s as big as the classroom.  ~KP

Love is a happy feeling.  This is the happiest one you ever saw! It’s excited AND happy!   ~LC

The brown (paint) feels sad because sometimes my sister hits me but the purple is all around it and it is really happy when my sister hugs me again.  The black is even more happy than the purple. ~HF


SKMBT_C552D14021214510The dots are tears.  Tears are for love but they are also a sad thing.  Love feels a little sad.         ~TO

 I chose these colors because my daddy likes blue and my mommy likes green.  I used the same colors but they are different.              ~ZB Quinn


 I had to use 3 pieces of paper because the feeling is SO big!    ~QD

These are my loving feelings.  Love is happy.  Love lasts forever.  Only Mother Earth is stronger than love.   AH

Yellow dot is the sun and the different color circles show the love.  The sun makes it warm.   ~MS

Schema as a part of Storytelling:059

Oral storytelling, reading books, etc. are ways that we find out how our schemas differ from one another, maybe even uncovering questions when someone doesn’t have the schema to access a part of another’s story.

This happened last month when a student returned from a trip to Hawaii shared, “There was a hammock on the boat.”  And another raised his hand and asked, “What is a hammock?”

DM: What is a hammock? 

BP: It’s a kind of?

QD: You lay on it.

HF: And swing on it.

Teacher: it’s sometimes clipped between two trees like a blanket swing.

TO: You can sleep in it but instead of a bed it has two ropes and a blanket and the blanket is in the middle and it tips like that.

QD: It’s actually wrapped around a tree and clipped to the hammock and the other side is clipped to my fence.

DM: not a tree?

QD: No

Teacher: Does this give you a clearer picture in your mind of what a hammock is?

DM: yes!


Opportunities such as these to explore the idea of schema supports children’s understanding that we have unique experiences, even though they may can be assumed to be the same (ie. going to the dentist, getting a haircut).  Inviting children to tell their stories, invites them to give language to their experiences and how they interpreted and made meaning of these experiences.  They also get to find our how the telling of their experience was then understood or misunderstood by their peers.  This is where asking questions is so important.





At our last curriculum night, Early K parents had an opportunity to play with the connection between schema and storytelling by sharing stories and images that come to mind when they heared the word: tomato

While reading the following strories, consider the complexity that schema invites.  How does this relate to the idea of creating a common understanding, or “shared language”, and all the dialogue and time necessary in doing so?  How does it help to understand the role schema plays in developing empathy and new perspectives?



“Makes me think of my dad.  He does this awesome heirloom salad and corn, cream and butter..”

 “Some Russian people I work with grow the craziest tomatoes, they bury fish and the tomatoes come out as big as watermelons.  They go fishing and bury the remains with the tomato plants.  I’ve also been seeing a lot of patients come into the clinic with the flu and a great source for rehydration is tomato juice”

 “Makes me think of my dad a lot of people in the south like to grow tomatoes and brag about how soon they can get their first one.  He says, ‘it’s  not American to not eat tomatoes’.” 

“I see the color red.  My friend, she bugs me because she always says, ‘hold the tomatoes’.”

 “My daughter likes cherry tomatoes, she likes me to cut them in half and she likes to make faces with them.”

 “I see all the different colors and shapes, tiny ones and big ones.  Eathing them just like that or salsa, my mouth is watering…”

 “Italy, because I was in Italy a long time ago near Naples and they have amazing tomatoes because of Mt. Vesuvius…”

 “I was thinking how much I like to eat them, but I am the only one in our family who does.  Today I ate them on a bagel and when there are tomatoes in our home, I can eat them all.”


 Here are some sneak peeks for topics to follow in this blog series The Power of Story

-Structures that support storytelling (Story Workshop, oral storytelling, Story Theater, Mentor Texts, Students as reference and support

-The connection between literacy and the arts

The Power of Story Part 1

“When we say ‘old friend’, what we really mean is, I know your story and you know mine.” 

~Ralph Fletcher, Writing instructor/Author


The Power of Story

In January we hosted a curriculum night for Beginning School parents on the topic, The Power of Story. We enjoyed meeting with many who were able to attend, and hope in this post to both revisit and reach out to those who were not able to make it by touching on some of what was shared.  Although we won't try to re-create the whole evening for everyone, we will pull out some key points, with examples that were shared to illustrate the points.

 Why Story? 

– To connect with one another
- To make meaning of our experiences and the world around us 
– To feel a sense of belonging 
– Stories take care of us 
Of course there are many more points to ponder, as far as WHY STORY, however these are big ideas that ground our work, and which we spent some time discussing together.   
Stories are a way that we share a bit of ourselves with one another and connect with one another, so of course this was how we started out evening, inviting parents to share what they are noticing and enjoying.
“Since we’ve been back to school, I feel like I am watching her grow in front of my eyes…”  

“My child is singing, it’s not something he’s ever done; that’s another avenue for literacy.  We had a long car trip to California and he’s been making up songs…” 

"Over the break my child said ‘let’s find all the letters of the alphabet in our livingroom.  It was really tough and I gave up, but my relatives were really impressed he was leading the game and it was all about discovery…” 

 “I have a question: Should there be a difference between sharing stories from reality and those from the imagination?"



Diving into stories and questions around superheroes with materials

Meaning Making

After sharing some of our experiences through story and waking up new connections with each other, we began to unpack the idea of story as meaning making
We know that children are born with a strong desire to make meaning of their world.  One theorist suggests that "a child's first cry is a why."  Story is one way that we make meaning of our experiences in the world.  

An example of this idea happened for a Beginning School student over winter break who was bit by a dog, resulting in four stitches in her foot.  On the way home from the hospital she asked that her family “not talk about it ever again”.  When she returned to school – in the safe setting of her community – she showed her stitches to a friend and shared a sneak peek at morning meeting about her experience.  The following week, her teachers offered bandaids as a material in story workshop to invite and provoke storytelling, as they knew this held the power to invite children's voice; develop empathy for and grow new perspectives to consider. 

After hearing a few stories from her peers, she drew the following picture and explained:

Picture1 Picture2

How fortunate for this child that she is in a learning community that recognizes the power of story to begin to understand and make meaning of her experience–her questions, her fears, her sense of well-being.  She continues to use story as a way to revisit and heal from this encounter as she shares in a recent Staircase Land story:  I went to Staircase Land…there are two guards at the door.  They have a guard dog that LOVES children.  He really loves children and is nice to ALL of them.  He’s a Dalmatian dog.  The guards protect Staircase Land from Bears and Wolves


050 (2)Theorist Jerome Bruner proposes that we learn the syntax of our language to tell our stories.  This brings us to another idea–that we are wired for connection.  "Connection feels like a hole in your heart that has just been filled," states one former Opal 1st grader, and it is through story that we connect with one another and build a sense of belonging.  We explored this idea early in the Fall during reader's workshop as we paused on a passage in a book, Will You be My Friend, by Nancy Tafuri. 

Blue Jay is confronted with the dilemma of remaining in his wet, cold home during a rainstorm, or responding to an invitation from Bunny to join him in his warm, dry home to wait out the storm.  Blue Jay does not know Bunny yet, and the children speculated that he would need to muster his courage.  This presented a chance for the teacher to invite children to share their connection with this idea of vulnerability by asking, "Was there ever a time when your courage helped you?" 

 I was scared when I had to swim to my Grandma, but now I can do it! ~ZB

 When I walked on the rocks across the water.  ~JW

 I had to be brave when I walked on the slippery rocks to the deep water. ~QA.

 I went to the beach and I was a little bit scared to touch the starfish on the boat, but I did.  ~PY

 In this way, the children are experiencing the power of story in hearing one another share these vulnerable experiences, and see how each story invites them to add their voice, nurturing a sense of belonging through connection.  

 How do we define LITERACY at Opal School?


At this point in the evening, we paused to reflect on our definition of literacy at Opal School—which we define as the act of making meaning of ALL that we encounter.  This means that if we were to limit our thinking to the idea that literacy begins when children are reading and writing, we would hold the view that preschool age children are illiterate. 

Literacy as meaning-making means asking questions, making connections, learning to express in a variety of ways our experiences in the world—through the arts, sciences and through language. We know that preschool-age children already are doing many things that strong readers and writers do. Readers and writers play with language; play with inference, dialogue, and voice; use their imagination; take in information about the world and make detailed observations; use their senses; perceive relationships rich in variety of perspectives and contexts; and so much more! Readers and writers consider their audience and structures of story as they provide context, details, and sequence events.  They explore the connection between writing, illustrating and drafting by developing their ideas through drawing and construction to tell and generate ideas for stories.  So how do we see our role as parents and teachers in light of these ideas?

When a parent plays with her child; walks together and observes details in the world–patterns, textures, light, tastes, emotions; when we play together with voice and expression; when we sing songs and read books; when we set up areas for drawing and dramatic play, cooking and building–we are nurturing literacy development!

Sneak Peek for Part 2 Power of Story Blog Post:

Schema: The foundation of Story

What role does it play in developing shared understanding and language as well as expanding perspective and empathy?

How does this post stretch your own definition and understanding of literacy development?  What connections are you making?  Join our dialogue by adding a comment to this post!

Teaching and Learning: A Reciprocal Exchange

One day last week, we invited the children to capture in their journals some sneak peeks from the stories in their lives they had been sharing.  As we invited one child to capture his story about climbing a ladder with his dad at home, he hesitated, "But I don't know how to draw a ladder." 

Hearing this, a nearby child offered, "You start with two lines down and then connect them with little lines going across like this," as his finger dashed out horizontal marks in the air between them. 

Doubtful, yet drawn in by the gentle coaching of his peer, the first child sat down and began to "have a go".  When we say at Opal School that we promote a social-constructivist approach to learning, this story that follows is an example of what we mean.041Listening in, I was struck by two things–the gift of vulnerability and courage of the first child and his willingness to accept the coaching of the second child.

I was also struck by the second child's trust in seeing himself as a resouce, allowing the other the gift of being mentored.  He gently leaned in and offered advice, but did not offer immediately to do it for him.  There was no judgement, just a suggestion of how he might begin, and a simple, "That's good," as he proceeded.

The next hurdle came as the first child attempted to add himself on the ladder, "I'm not really good at drawing people," he said.


"Start with a circle for the head, then draw lines out to the side for  your arms like this," the other replied wiht more finger sweeps in the air.


The first child continues sighing and pausing. 

"It's hard isn't it?" The second child offers, then adds, "Do you want me to show you?"



Gently taking the pen, he adds on arm, reaching for the next rung on the ladder.


The first child considers this gesture, and picks up the pen again.


Together they consider how to add his legs.  I'm noticing the expression on the first child's face as it shifts and changes. From doubt to interest, determination and to joy.

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As the first child takes the pen back into his hand again, the second child suddenly pauses and says, "What do you want to draw?  You should just do what you want to do."  Both boys smile at this idea and with this last bit of advice, the second child eases away while the first child completes his drawing: 081

The second child does not go far, however.  He decides to check in with others, and while listening to their stories, decides he will capture them in "writing", repeating back their words as they are spoken to him.



As they spoke, he nodded, encouraged, and remarked, "that's great, good story, wow, you did that?" 

Here are a few of their stories as he has captured them:



Again I reflect on the implications of what has just happened.  More than capturing their stories, he took time to listen, give back their words and they in turn were willing to share their stories with him.  I can't help but wonder how their responsiveness to him communicated this idea that he can take on a meaningful leadership role.  And what gift in return did he give to them through his own encouragement? 

Here is teaching and learning at it's best.  When I think of what I need to be able to learn, it takes courage, willingness, openness to ideas and vulnerability.  When I think of what it takes to lead, it takes empathy, flexibility, responsiveness, and encouragement.  These children do this so naturally.  There is so much we can learn from them, and I can't help but wonder about the meaning these experiences hold for them as they continue to grow into their roles as learners and teachers.

It is one thing to look back on this story and consider the experiences of the individuals, and what they have both gained and received from this encounter.  When we choose,however to consider that they both came away as competent, powerful learners, and consider the implications this has for our learning community as a whole, we see possibilities and further our inquiry into the merits of relationship-based education.

What does it mean to be an explorer?

"What does it mean to be an explorer?"  To walk into the Early Kindergarten is to be met by a community of explorers!  The images below are what you can expect to see on any given morning.  They are showing us already how much the children know about what it means to be an explorer through their own investigations!  Here are just a few sneak peeks of what they have shown us they are interested in exploring…


What happens when I join in?  What does it mean to work together? 

What happens when all the colors meet together on paper? What does it look like when they are all playing together?  How is it like our own community?


"Look! I made a letter!  What letter is it?  Ok! Who wants to make a shark?"

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 How many seeds did I collect?  How might this chart help me find out?

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How might we play together?

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How might we figure this out?     

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What can we find out about volume, measurement, teamwork?

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How tall can we make it?  What happens when we all work together?

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 An investigation of ramp building leads to others…   

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Early K October 7 2013 328Early K October 7 2013 183


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What stories might we find here?  What does partner work look like, sound like, feel like?

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What can I learn from others?

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"Do you want me to show you the steps for building it?"Early K October 7 2013 160

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"What else do you see?  I'm writing it down!"

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What can magnatiles do?  How can I connect my idea with yours?  How can I get the materials I need and still make sure there are enough for my friends? 

 To Be an Explorer….

When the children first arrive at school, we have a block of time we refer to as "Explore Time."  Together we have been constructing what it means to be an explorer: What is possible during this time block? What are shared expectations for this time?   One child explained, "Explore means to try new things you've never tried before." "When you're an explorer," D.M. explained, "You learn more and more things."  To find out more, we asked the children what their thoughts were on this idea:

"It's important to find out more things because you could forget the things you already learned."  ~D.M.

"The more you learn, the more you grow smarter."  ~T.M.

"It would get old if you did the same thing every day."  ~D.M.

"You might get bored if you only did the same thing."  ~Z.B.

"If you try new things, you will learn more things." ~M.F.

"It's important to learn new things every day because then we can do anything!" ~J.W.

"Because then you can build anything you want if you keep trying new things and then there is cooler stuff to do!"  ~Q.A.

How does it feel to be an explorer?



"Sometimes you're surprised!" 

As we continue our work of building a learning community, we will continue to create shared meaning around key words that are foundational to our work with one another. As language is so strongly attached to images and experiences unique to each individual, "cracking open" words is essential for creating shared understanding and a sense of belonging.  We point out words we are cracking open as we see it in action and reflect these stories back to the whole group as reference points. What did it feel like? Sound like? Look like?

It’s been an amazing few weeks of seeing them scaffold each other’s interpretations of this work of becoming a learning community, where they are learning from one another!

For your own reflection:
Hopefully these stories are helping you build your own interpretations around our goals and expectations as well as the guiding principles for the school.  How does this post help put legs on the guiding principle listed below or the goals and expectations for Opal School students listed in the handbook?  We'd love to hear your comments and the meaning you are making around what we are sharing! 

Children & Adults as Researchers & Co-Creators:
Our school is a learning community where children and adults
collaborate as researchers to co-create and document experiences that
have originated from their relationships, challenges and choices. 
Teachers are engaged in continuous discussion and dialogue.  They
collect raw data and use this information to plan, prepare, provoke,
assess and inform the community of the school’s practices, learning, and

New Beginnings in Creating a Learning Community

Early K 1647Early last week, the children entered the classroom to find the sensory table filled with warm, soapy, green colored water.  The water had become a “friendship of green,” created by the children as they investigated color and friendship earlier in the week mixing  blue, pink and yellows into a giant water vessel  while responding to the question, “How can you help these colors to make friends?   What will happen when they meet water?  How will you know they are friends?" 

This water was added to the sensory table as an invitation to help the color friends "play" together and as a celebration of the friendships that had taken place in the water with the children's help.  Throughout this investigation we've invited the children to reflect on their own experiences — were they, like the colors, taking those risks to mix and begin to explore friendships?

Early K 1662This investigation emerged on the first days of school as we listened for the children's questions in the way they explored their new classroom and community.  We heard questions about color at both the message center and in the block area, "What happens when I mix yellow and blue?"  "How do you make purple?".  We also heard unspoken questions on friendship and sense of belonging, through observing gestures and behaviors such as,  


"Will I have a friend?  How might I connect to others here? How might I begin?  What if I'm not ready?  Will I be ok?  What if I miss my family?" 

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In response to the children's questions,we engaged in a game with that Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the schools in Reggio Emilia refers to as "the ball toss" that begins with the children as they present an interest or question to the community.  The teachers who are listening and paying attention, respond with an invitation for the children to explore the question in a new way, throwing the ball back "in a way that makes the children want to continue playing the game."  Asking the children for their help in introducing the colors to one another seemed like the perfect provocation to explore their questions further.
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 The children were intrigued and delighted with the provocation.  As we came back together for a reflection meeting, we asked the them,

 "Do the colors want to feel safe?  What words might they need to hear to find their courage?  What do you need to feel safe and find your courage?"

 M.S.: Just try it!

C.Y.: It will be fun! 


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Early K 1438Early K 1405

Early K 1434

As we
prepared for the transition to clean up and gather for morning snack,
Michelle paused and contemplated what to do with the green soapy water in the
sensory table.  She reflects, "I wondered to myself, 'Should I empty the
contents into the sink?  Can I let this water simply go down the
drain?  Can I let go of the green water and the symbol of relationships
it had become?'"  She turned to Kimie and asked her, “What should we do
with the water?”  The question stopped Kimie short—was it time?  Were
they ready?  Were we ready?  Together we scanned the classroom.  Before
us was a classroom of children engaged, connected, and together.  We had
our answer.  The children had spoken so clearly. 
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As adults, we tend to
hold on, but children have a beautiful way of reminding us that it’s
okay to let go. Michelle reflects, "I nodded and thought to myself, Coming
together had moved from the unknown to a reality.  A reality we could
celebrate.  I was reminded of C.Y.’s words, 'Come on, it’ll be fun.' 
And F.B.-R.’s comment as blue and pink suddenly became purple, 'It
happened so fast.'

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Early K September 24 2013 141The more we explore these questions, new questions emerge.  We are continually listening for their responses and next questions as we wonder how to support their larger work of constructing what it means to build a learning community where every individual feels integral to the whole.  The children have added their own interpretations of what has happened to the color and water:   "The colors are friends now.  They aren't scared anymore–they're having fun!"   We asked them if they thought this was happening to our community in the Early K.  "Yes! Yes!" they replied.  "What color does it make when all of us are playing together then?"  We asked. 

"Brown!" "Black!"  "I know, Green!"  were the first responses.  Then D.M. spoke, "It makes every color in the world!" 

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"Wow! What would that look like to see every color in the world become friends?  Do you think that you could show us what that would look like, maybe with paint tomorrow?" 

The children are planning on creating their own images and sewing them all together to create one quilt of what it looks like when ALL the colors are playing together.



We had been hoping for an opportunity to invite the children to participate in a collaborative project as a way to experience the power of working together.  What a great opportunity to construct a visual reference point for our work together in becoming a part of a learning community while continuing to play with color through paint! 

And so with this provocation, our investigation of building a learning community and finding our place among it, as well as exploring the magic of color and water continues. We can hardly wait for tomorrow!
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Summerland Part 1

 Copy of IMG_0823IMG_0202Early in the Fall, the children began to notice how quickly signs of Summer were beginning to fade.  They tried to capture summer in paint on paper with a boquet of mystery sunflowers left in our room, and in mixing Summer’s greens, but we wondered together, where else might their Summer stories continue to live and grow?  

     Summerland is a project that emerged from both the children and the teacher’s interests.  Elijah

The children wanted a place to capture and revisit Summer, even in the cold, grey winter months.  I also knew that several children in the Brazil sunflower 9.12group really loved and needed a place to act out stories in a “small world” setting, as they began the year in a new community.   I also wondered how a sense of belonging and connection could be found by working together on a challenge and game to capture Summer.  What messages will they take away from this project about collaboration, connection and contributing to a project that belongs to the entire community?  What might they discover about one another and about themselves? 

    We asked the children how they might like to construct "Summerland", a place to hold their storiesIMG_5841 and collaborate, to brainstorm ideas and work together–they loved the idea.  Trees came first, after the idea was put out that, "Summer is when trees bloom green on their leaves." 
Next, they began planning immediately.  Their ideas included, but were not limited to, the beach, a campground, swings, flower boxes, farmer's market, waterslide, pool, waterfall, river, fireworks, hummingbird, and more. 

Download Summerland plans
Characters were added…to the structureIMG_5840

Still more is being added to this all the time–What do you think the children are learning from this experience?  How does working on a collaborative project over time nurture a sense of belonging and build relationships, with self, materials, others, ideas?IMG_5839