Sunday, October 2, 2016

Happy New Year!

Hello, everyone!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to the year so far. We've been back for 3 weeks already, but it certainly doesn't feel like it.

That means it's time to buckle up; this is a long one. But you'll love it; I promise hope.

First, let me give you the grand tour of the classroom. I can't really claim credit for it; we had someone come in who set up the classroom for us so we're ready to be rated. Still, I'm happy wih the way it looks and hopefully you'll get some great ideas!

The Grand Tour

The Details

Here's the first thing you see when you walk into the classroom. We usually set out the book we read that day. The children sign their names in a laminated notebook and there's some Conscious Discipline information up top for the parents. The red board is our family board with pictures of children's families.

Here's our Parent Volunteer (Wish) Board. I'm proud of this one; it's a corkboard covered with black fabric. The parents have really responded so far. One of the kids even made a suggestion to bring in a board game, so we added it to the board. How do you encourage parent participation?

Here's our Birthday board, using an idea found on the blog KeepinItKrazy. The kids did great copying and tracing the number of their birthday and were really excited to have their picture taken.
And here are their cubbies. Our director decided to use these fabric cubes and they are just gorgeous. They make the room feel more homey.

Here's our visual schedule. I know it doesn't look like much; we just wanted it up. I'll make it look pretty soon with some of the owl border from our family board.

And here's our job board. We used pockets and tape found at the dollar store. 

And a few signs for our group time. Have you noticed yet that we love Conscious Discpline? Well, we do! The children helped generate the rules and we copied them out onto posterboard. The sign in the middle is a "Wish You Well" ritual for our friends who are absent or upset. Let's take a moment to wish each other well. Ready? 
(To the tune of Farmer in the Dell)
We wish you well, we wish you well, all through the day today, we wish you well!

This was an ugly chalkboard covered with some beautiful fabric. (At the time of this post, it's fallen off and been replaced by contact paper. Does anyone have a solution for this? Share in the comments!)

The Centers

First, here's our Music Center, with lots of Conscious Discipline CDs. 
The kids love the drums. Love them. They like playing them over and over, all day long. 

I don't have a picture of it, but we have a Hatch computer with a touch screen! It's pretty neat-o.

Next to the computer is our Safe Space. We were lucky to find some gorgeous sheer curtains to make the cube a little cozier. One child says he likes the beanbags because they "crunch."

Next to that is our Literacy center. On the shelf, we have a Califone listening center, which currently has Pete the Cat in it. We also have a phonics flip board, some labeled pictures for matching and exploring, and some cute alligator letter matching/storytelling materials. There's plenty of space for themed books and relaxation and you can just see our Feelings chart next to the Safe Space.

And our Writing Center. The organizer was $4 from Scrap Exchange and we rescued the hutch from another classroom. We've added some name tracing activities since this picture was taken. The kids recently discovered the cards and envelopes and have started writing notes to each other. Such great teachable moments!

Here's our Blocks center  after we opened it. We were very intentional about opening centers this year, taking time to talk about rules about centers and how to play with them. So far, the children have responded really well and we haven't had many behavior issues in those areas.
Those curtains let in a lot of natural light; I love it!

The first week we opened up our water center, we dumped some citrus tea into it. It was such a lovely, calming smell and the kids loved it.

Our very colorful (and easy to mantain, which is great since I have a black thumb) plants. We also planted some "Bright Lights" Swiss Chard outside. 

Here's our Science center in front of Blocks. So far, the kids' favorite thing has been weighing rocks and exploring natural items outside. They love asking if we can bring items inside, including a stinkbug that they wanted as a class pet! (I had to veto that one, but we're voting on a pet this week).

Our Dramatic Play area is right next to Blocks. Everyone loves pretending to build and cook. Last week, one of the kids even created a menu and sign for a restaurant. A few others grabbed some paper from Writing center and pretended to take orders while another one manned the cash register. We have a great group this year.

Here's our Math area.

And there's a Manipulatives area on the other side. This is one of our more popular centers, since it includes Legos. If we had the space, I'd add some Legos to the Math center, too.

The Lessons

Week 1

We started out by limiting the centers and toys available. We spent time in the centers with the children, interacting with them and showing them how to use the materials.

Week 2

This week was spent teaching children social-emotional skills. Our center is a huge advocate of Conscious Discipline, with good reason. We taught children the belly breath and the balloon breath.

Do it with me now. Hands on top of your head, fill your belly with air, then blow out pbbbbb! (Fun fact: babies naturally take belly breaths.)

There are lots of strategies we've been using to develop relationships with the children.  One is the use of different greetings hung on the door. It's amazing what happens when you give children the simple choice of how to be greeted in the morning. You learn about the children and establish a connection.  How powerful is it for children to know right when they come in the door that they already have a choice?

Here are the greetings we use:
Big Hero 6 Fist Bump

In the movie, Hiro loves to end fist bumps with his brother with an explosion sound. When he tries to teach it to Baymax, the robot is unable to reproduce the sound and instead says, "Fadalalaala." This is the one we do with the kids.
Each person makes a fist, touches it to the other person's fist, then pulls it back while saying, "Fadalalala." There's a video here.

Butterfly Hug

Each person puts up a thumb, hooks it with the other person's, then stretches out and wiggles the fingers to make a butterfly.

Wave Hug

Each person raises both hands, then waves them back and forth.

Rainbow Wave,

This one's based on the ASL for rainbow.
Put arms in front, hands touching elbows. Raise one hand from the elbow and say, "Hi!"

Keep in mind that the most important component of all of these is eye contact. The children love them and have even started to request them on their own. They've helped some reluctant children enter the classroom. You don't have to use these; feel free to create your own based on children's interests.

During the second week, we also talked a lot about feelings, especially the idea that all feelings are valid. I borrowed a concept from Dr. Christina Christopolous at Duke Unversity, who taught the Incredible Years Dina program in our class a few years ago, and used the terms "prickly" and "warm fuzzy" to describe how negative and positive emotions feel. We had lots of fun acting out emotions with "If You're Happy and You Know It."

The student teacher in our room did a wonderful job of introducing solution cards to help solve conflicts. They've really been helpful and some of the children have started to use them on their own.

Finally, we talked about filling our bucket! First, we read "Have You Filled A Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud. We had a great conversation about kindness to others and learned some good terminology. 

The best thing that came out of it was our class reward system: filling a bucket with fake flowers! Every time the children do something kind, they get to put a flower from baskets scattered around the room in the bucket. When it's full, the whole class will get a reward, such as going to a different playground.

We got to incorporate some literacy during small groups, too. 

Week 3

All About Me

This week we started learning topics in earnest, starting the unit of learning about each other. This includes the children themselves, their "school family," where they live, and pets. Throughout, we're reinforcing the social skills we've already taught them.

Here's a name graph they did:

We didn't take a lot of pictures this time around; we were having too much fun! We added laminated name tracing to the Writing center. During art, we added some mirrors and let them do some self-portraits. There's a packet of lesson activities on my store. Just click the picture below!

We're also talking about the concept of classroom jobs and that each one is important. The children are still working on getting this second concept.

The most important thing I've learned these past few weeks is that social skills are exactly that: skills. Just like some people need more help in math or reading, some need more help with social skills. Even teachers! Every class is different and comes with a new set of personalities to learn. At the end of the day, children just need time.

How's your  classroom so far? What do you do to encourage participation? Let me know in the comments below.

My goal is to write every 2 weeks. So I'll see you Oct. 14!

Happy teaching!

Love, Amy

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

On Child Tragedies

Hello, everyone! 
I'm sure you've all heard the news by now about the two-year old who is missing after begging dragged away by an alligator after wading in a pool. This comes only a few weeks after a child fell into a gorilla pen.
It's very easy and therefore tempting for our first thought to be, "Where were that child's parents? Didn't they see the signs? What were they thinking?"
But take a minute to think about child in your classroom. You know the one that needs a little extra love. The one that's across the room cutting hair in the blink of an eye. The one that keeps making escape attempts. The one who feels like they take every minute of your eight hours a day, because they never sleep. The one who of course you love, but are secretly relieved when they're out a day. 
Now imagine the parents. Imagine them spending 12 hours with this child, attempting to get them to sleep, get them ready in the morning for their big trip. It doesn't help that the child is excited. Imagine the long car ride and the battles, large and small, that must occur constantly.
My own nephew  (turning 3 already in July!) is like this. I love him and I know his parents are great people who only want the best for him. But he has tons of energy. Last time they visited, we all had to keep a very careful eye on him or he'd be across the street before we knew it. 
So next time you hear about a tragedy like this and someone blames the parents, remind them what it's like. Because we've all been there. 
Until next time!
Love, Amy

Friday, May 20, 2016

Farm Life

Hello, teachers!

I don’t know about yours, but our students lately have been fascinated by growing things. They love digging in the garden on the playground and watching plants come up. We’re starting a container garden soon, so I’ll edit this post with pictures once they start coming up!

And where do we grow lots of plants? On farms, of course! It doesn’t help that I have been playing a LOT of Stardew Valley lately, so my mind is right there on the farm along with the kids. Come join our class as we journey onto a farm and get a glimpse of what life is like there.  


One thing you can tell about our classroom is that we love art. For farm week, we let the kids do some marble painting on some cow shapes. 

The next day, we started a project to work on cutting skills, something our kids really need practice with. They tore and cut green paper, then glued it all over a giant piece of white paper. The next day, we provided cutouts of farm animals and encouraged the students to choose some and glue them on. Those who were able cut out their own animals. As you can see from the picture below, our farm animals don’t like to follow the rules of gravity!

We also sang Old MacDonald had a farm and encouraged them to draw their own animals. We put them into a class book called “Old MacDonald had a Farm!” They loved looking at their pictures in the book and singing the song.

Then, since some of them were interested in flowers, we printed out some paintings of flowers. The kids loved looking at them and were inspired to make their own paintings. I didn't get any pictures of these, but one girl took the time to put her green right below a spot of red, just like the painting.

Motor Skills

This was a fun one. Have you ever pretended to milk a cow using a rubber glove? No? You should try it. I know it’s one that keeps popping up on blogs and that’s because it’s so much fun for the kids and great for fine motor strength! We mixed up a little bit of white paint with water, then filled a rubber glove with it, tied it off, and poked tiny holes in the fingers. The students loved squeezing the fingers and figuring out the best way to get out the “milk.” Some of them got literal and thought it really was milk! We let them smell it to find out the truth.


Something that worked well with music this week was printing out the lyrics to “5 Little Pigs.” We went through the song a few times as the kids kept requesting it. Then we posted the lyrics on the wall. Throughout the week, children continued to request it and we saw some of them pointing to the lyrics on the wall as they sang it to themselves.


Do you know how easy it is to create grid and number games? It’s so easy, I ended up making 2: one is a grid game in which children roll a die and put that number of horses in the barn squares using one-to-one correspondence. The kids loved counting the pips on the die, counting the horses, and seeing how many horses still needed to go in their barns. Click on the picture below to download it for free!
The other one is a numeral matching game. Students matched the number of eggs in a basket with the numeral on a chicken. To help them out, I also wrote the numerals on the backs of the eggs so that children could match them directly. Self-help skills! Click on the picture below to download it. This one's free, too!


I saved the best for last. We told the story of the Little Red Hen and had lots of fun deciding whether or not the animals should get any bread at the end of the story. Then, we made our own bread. But first, we made our own butter.

We put heavy cream into a recycled container and shook. “Shake it off, shake it off!” Ok, we shook more than the kids did, but they had fun trying. We looked at it several times throughout the process. “Is it butter yet?” Then we stuck it in the fridge.

The next day, we made bread!*
Using this recipe, the students watched and counted as a teacher measured the ingredients. The children were able to stir a few times and watch them turn into dough. I had brought in my mixer with the pastry attachment to mix it up properly. When we were finally done, well. A picture is worth a thousand words.

*Now, I do have a warning for you. This took ALL DAY. As in, we started in the morning and weren’t able to bake it until the afternoon. Part of that is my fault for not reading the directions and finding out that it needed to rise twice (once for the dough, once again when you pinch the dough into rolls). So if you use the linked recipe, read it all the way through and make sure you let it rise twice. It might even be better to let it rise on the first day, then stick it in the fridge and bake it the next day.

For lots more activities about farm life, I have a lesson plan available for the price of a cup of coffee on TeachersPayTeachers.

What kinds of activities do you do with your class while studying about farms? Comment below!

Happy Teaching!

Love, Amy

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Few Random Thoughts

Hello, everyone!

I know it's been a while since my last post. It's been a busy year so far! I did a training about play for adults, which I'll post soon. I'm also working on a Farm Life activity pack. And, of course, if I have a lesson plan, I'll need a blog post to with it!
So here's a mini post of random thoughts I've had that don't merit a full post on their own.

Every behavior has a reason. But if you can't figure out the root cause, a calm voice and loving hand go a long way.

Everyone just wants to be loved and feel like they matter, from children to directors.

Some days, I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. Then I look around and notice everyone else seems to be, too, so it's ok! We're all mad here.

Free art is necessary for creativity. Crafts have their place. What matters is the skill you want the children to learn.  Start with the skill, then find the activity.

You can write the best lesson plan in the world but when the children find something they're interested in, get ready for it to be derailed.

Twitter's really just a grand conversation with the entire world. Hello world!

I met Ernest Cline last week, the author of one of my current favorite books: Ready Player One. He's written a screenplay and published another bestseller. He said that his career as a writer started out as
telling stories with Star Wars toys.  At the time, he probably thought he was just playing. It makes me wonder how many authors, actors, CEOs, and artists are in my classroom right now.

Warren Robinett was at the signing, too, having been mentioned in Ready Player One. He programmed one of the first adventure games and hid his name as an Easter egg inside it. He was instrumental in changing the shape of storytelling in video games as well as making sure designers got credit. Just by doing what he loved.

By the way, don't get me started on the benefits of video games; we'll be here all month.

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" has the perfect metaphor for teaching. "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,/but I have promises to keep/and miles to go before I sleep/and miles to go before I sleep."

Our students don't have standardized tests, thank goodness! Instead they get tested every day: observed by teachers, tested by peers to see how they'll react. Some of them learn lessons the hard way as they learn to navigate life in a trial by fire.  This is why only the best teachers can teach early childhood. (I'm sure every other teacher says the same about their grade!)

You know you're a teacher when: you spend your free time on LinkedIn, Twitter, and reddit's "ECE Professionals" subreddit talking about education. Oh, and that geeky site with all of the new gadgets and games? They also have parenting articles, which of course need comments by a professional.

You know you're a teacher when you go shopping and spend more on the classroom than yourself. Even if that's not what you went shopping for.

You know you're a teacher when your spouse knows all of the education acronyms. And they're not even in the field.

You know you're a teacher when you can take kids not listening, getting hurt on the job, and working long hours without batting an eye, but that one child's situation makes you break down.

You know you're a teacher when naptime is the most restful part of the day and it's not even you taking the nap.

You know you're a teacher when you get hugs and "I love you"s every day at work!

Look for a post next week about farm animals.

Happy teaching!

Love, Amy

Friday, January 1, 2016

"I Can't!"

Hello, all! Welcome to a new year! I'd like to start out by addressing an issue we've all dealt with. 

"I Can't!"

We all have that one child that just doesn't want to try. "I can't do it." "It's too hard." "You do it for me." "I don't want to try." I have one in my classroom who says phrases like, "I can't listen." It can be frustrating at times. We get caught in an endless loop of encouragement, cajoling, and incentivizing. Sometimes we can feel we aren't getting anywhere with this child.  We wonder where this attitude comes from and why they don't have any self-esteem.

But all hope is not lost. There are several strategies we can use with these children.


     The first is to realize that anxiety is a very real and normal part of the human condition. We can't control it, we can't rationalize it, we can't reason with it. All of a sudden, it's there. With its giant head looming, telling us "You can't. This is a very real problem and you can't deal with it." Children are definitely not immune to anxiety. You've seen it when children throw a tantrum over seemingly nothing. I taught one four-year-old girl who got very upset if she accidentally used too much glue and it made a blob on her paper.
    What's important to know is that while we know it's nothing, we're on the outside looking in. In the anxious mind, it's a very big problem with no solution.  Once we recognize it for what it is, we can begin to address it, using very calm and objective words. The key here is to acknowledge the feeling while offering reassurances. "I see you're upset about that. The glue spilled and it's ok. I still love you."

Calming Techniques

Hands, Holding, Embracing, Loving, Child, Girl   If you feel that what you're saying is feeding into the problem, try changing the subject. I've worked with children before where acknowledging the feeling only made him focus on the problem. Once I started talking about a toy he was interested in, he was able to switch gears and calm down enough so we could find a solution together.

Singing can help, too.  Music engages the whole brain and speaks to us in a universal language. It physically changes our heart rates. Anecdotes collected by Dr. Sacks actually suggest that our brains need music; some people deprived of hearing suddenly started hearing all kinds of music in their heads. Try singing the child's favorite song or even just humming in a soft, rhythmic pattern. The brain loves predictability and a repetitive song or rhythm can give the child something else to focus on. If you need help finding something, try one of the songs or "I Love You" rituals  on the Conscious Discipline site.


  Use touch; or don't. Touch is very powerful. The very first sensation we have when we're born is being held. As infants, a mother's touch communicates safety, warmth, and love. Touch lets us know that another person is there with us to help us. If the child will let you, rub his back or give her a hug. Hold a hand or cuddle him on your lap. Depending on your situation and training, some children may be able to be physically restrained by a teacher if they are so upset that they're hurting others. A teacher I worked with had been trained so that she knew how to hold children without hurting them or letting them hurt others, so I would defer to her in those situations.
See You Again, Meeting, Encounter, Joy, Hug, Together    You also need to respect the child's space. Some children are uncomfortable with touch for a variety of reasons (sensory issues, abuse, personal boundaries, culture, etc). If a child reacts negatively or tells you to go away, it's perfectly fine to sit a safe distance away so that you can still keep an eye on him. This way, you don't add to the child's anxiety, but are still nearby just in case. There's a child in my classroom now that is very resistant to pottying and frequently screams at me to "Go away!" once he does get into the bathroom. When he's calm, I've started talking with him about other things he can say, like "I don't need help right now."  I close the door to the bathroom and keep an eye on him through the window. When he's ready, he calls for help because he knows I'm not far.

The most important way to help children with anxiety is to help them avoid it altogether and be proactive. 

This includes:

  • Talk about feelings throughout the day, not just when they happen. Explain that we all have positive and negative feelings and validate them. (I worked with a researcher who used a gumball and a pompom to illustrate "prickly" and "fuzzy" feelings.) Remind them that it's not the feeling that's wrong, but some of the actions we might take because of them.
  • Give children a safe space and teach them how to use it. Invite them to put their own items and books in it. Make it soft, comfy, and protected. There are lots of ideas on Pinterest and Google images. Your director can also be a good resource, especially to stay within state guidelines. A couple of years ago, I worked with an OT to make a safe space using a cardboard box. The children helped us paint the interior a dark blue, then stick glow-in-the-dark stars inside. The dark helped calm some children and they felt enclosed inside the box.
  • Teach children breathing techniques and Yoga. The Conscious Discipline site has some great visuals, but there are lots of other resources online, too. Make sure to help children focus on exhaling longer than inhaling.
    •  A simple visual like bringing your hands together and apart can help. 
    • I've also seen a straw with a pinwheel on one end and a flower on the other. Smell the flower, blow the pinwheel. Smell a skunk, blow the odor away. Smell a flower, blow out a candle. Use your children's interests to help you think of your own and hang pictures in the safe space.
  • Focus on the good feelings associated with breathing. Encourage them to watch their belly go in and out as they breathe (This is called "belly breathing" and helps the core, which in turn strengthens writing abilities). Use words like "calm" and "relaxed."
  • Teach the "tense and release" relaxation technique: tighten up the toes, then wiggle them and relax. Move up the body to finish with gently shaking the head. Visuals help here, too. You can use this resource from SkinNurse or use the children's interests and input to come up with your own.
  • Encourage creativity by asking open-ended questions and providing open-ended materials. Creativity gives us the ability to solve problems and have resiliency.
  • Read books like "The Way I Feel" by Janan Cain or "It's Ok to Make Mistakes" by Todd Parr. Help children connect to it by modeling it. "Have you ever felt angry? I felt angry this morning when Johnny didn't want to make a good choice. How did I handle it?
  • Involve children in the process. Ask them for input, to model, what they like to do, etc. 

The Power of "I Did It!"

Setting and reaching goals is important, too. The world might end, but at least you can say you reached that one goal. Behavioral goals, reading goals, any type of goal will work. Just make sure it's reasonable.
Task cards are useful for this, too.  Maybe a child gets frustrated because he wants to draw or build and just doesn't know how. Or maybe she's disengaged. Giving children a task card with listed steps gives them an attainable goal that's broken down into smaller ones. You're empowering them and saying, "You can put two blocks on top of each other. Now you can add a third one."
The phrase "You did it!" is incredibly empowering to children. It gives them a sense of self-worth and accountability. It shows them that tasks can be done and enables them to take on more challenging tasks. In my current class, I have a student who can barely speak, but he can proudly exclaim, "I did it!" when he accomplishes something. 
If students are really having trouble with a task, you can say, "You were close. I bet you'll get it next time." This reassures them that it's ok to make mistakes and they are allowed to try again.

With all of these strategies, remember that there is no instant cure-all. It takes time, repetition, and staying calm through the storm. But all storms pass.


   You may notice the tone of this post has been a little more serious than others. You also might notice that this is the first post in a few months that I've made. This is because I've been struggling with my own anxiety. There were some circumstances at work that caused a lot of stress for both me and my co-teacher, who is now somewhere else. This past week in particular has been hard for me and I opened up a little more to my administrator than I usually do. When I was cleaning the classroom, I was reminded of the student I mentioned in the first paragraph and was suddenly struck by the realization that that's been me the past month. I've been caught in the trap of saying, "I can't do this without..." "I need more.." Instead of focusing on what I could do, I let anxiety get the best of me and I listened to it.  So I was inspired to write this post.

If you ever feel yourself saying, "I can't" or "It's impossible," I want you to know:

  1. It's ok.
  2. I love you. (Me, a random stranger on the internet, wants you specifically to be happy and healthy! How about that?)
The above techniques have another name in the adult world: "Cognitive Behavior Therapy." That's right; the same strategies we teach our students can be used by us, too! Go back and read through it, replacing "student" and "children" with "me."

Know you're not alone. 

Talk to a co-worker, a family member, or me! You can always email me at and I'll be here for you. 
Another great resource for free, anonymous chats and resources is  I've been on both sides of that site (chatter and listener) and there's a fantastic, caring community there.

Finally, you're normal. You're human. You make mistakes and it will be ok. It's a brand new year and together, we'll get through it.

Happy New Year.


*The previous strategies come from a mixture of Incredible Years, Conscious Discipline, and personal experience. Images from,, and

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Gender roles in Fairy Tales

Hello! Welcome to the fourth and finals installment of my fairy tales series: gender roles. I promise not to bash Disney too much.

If you want to catch up, you can read parts one, two, and three by following the links.

This post is about gender in fairy tales, specifically females. We don't want to leave out the boys, because we know there are lots of strong male heroes in fairy tales already that they can relate to. You are reading fairy tales to your boys, right? Involving them in storytelling? Ignoring the marketing that says superheroes are for boys and princesses are for girls? Good. I'd like to focus on princesses.


When you think of fairy tales and, be honest: what pops into your mind? Disney princesses, right? Now, I promised not to bash Disney too much. I grew up with them; my favorites were the Little Mermaid and Belle (mainly because she was a bookworm). I enjoyed Tangled and I love Alan Menken's music. Disney has classic, timeless stories, but the fact is that most of their female protagonists are princesses that need to be rescued because they have very little power of their own. You may have heard the theory that Belle has Stockholm Syndrome. Ariel literally doesn't have a voice. Cinderella cries until her fairy godmother shows up. Occasionally, Disney will give us a character like Mulan, who saves the empire.  Frozen comes close, since the main conflict is Elsa learning to open up and stop letting fear rule her. And she does save her sister at the end, which gives this movie bonus points.
And it's not just Disney. All you have to do is Google for "videogames and girls" and "superheroes and girls" and you'll find enough material to keep you reading for days about the lack of good representations of strong women in children's media. Why is this important? The fact is that little girls look to the women in their lives so they can emulate them.

Role Models

One idea Bettelheim mentions is that it does not matter if the protagonist of the story is male or female; children can identify with them no matter who they are. I have a problem with this because, while children have loose concepts of gender, they still identify with those most like them. Children's stories star children, not adults. And while children can certainly identify problems in the story as their own, their play reflects the gender roles they see in the world. As children grow, they see someone like them act a certain way and emulate them. If boys see primarily heroes and girls see primarily helpless princesses, then those are the behaviors they're going to copy.  Research supports this as well. Here's an article from the Guardian and this one from APA.

Mighty Girls

Some have started offering solutions to the lack of strong women. There's a fantastic movement called Mighty Girls, a collaboration between Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Together, they show girls real-life heroes that are women as well as modern fairy tales with a focus on heroines. Target, meanwhile, recently decided to stop sorting their toys by gender so that boys and girls can choose toys without bias.

So if our early experiences provide models for us and shape our perceptions, what does that mean for fairy tales?

Wait, wait, put down those pitchforks! Don't light your torches just yet. Because, as it turns out, we only get out of stories what we put into them. Even Belle's Stockholm Syndrome (some language in the previous link).

The Grimm Truth

The classic fairy tales by Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson show a different side of princesses from Disney. These princesses have agency, making choices in their own lives. Remember Bowdler? Changing fairy tales lessen's women's roles as well.
Grimm's Cinderella, for example, is very much the maker of her own destiny. She's the one who buries her mother in the backyard, waters the resulting tree with her tears, and completes the tasks her stepmother sets her (with a little help). She repeatedly asks to go to the ball, even when told "no," and actively hides from the prince using cleverness. This is a far cry from simplified versions, in which a fairy godmother simply appears at the right time.
The Little Mermaid, meanwhile, is a beautiful story of true love and sacrifice. In order to gain her legs, she must feel as if she's being split apart; when she walks, it will be as if she were walking on sharp knives.  When she finally meets the prince for which she suffers so much, he's already engaged to be married. At the end, she chooses his happiness rather than her own by refusing to kill him on his wedding night, fully accepting the consequence that she would turn into sea foam. Her sacrifice is rewarded when she is allowed to remain as a spirit watching over the happy couple.
It turns out that Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, and Frozen are true to the spirit of the source material, at least, while there are several others that Disney hasn't made yet, including Hansel and Gretel, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and The Seven Ravens.

Happily Ever After

You can see that there are some great heroines in fairy tales. Now, you might argue that the main goal of these women is still to find their prince. But something I found interesting is Bettelheim's theory that a main theme in fairy tales is maturity. I've already talked about what heroes can teach children, and the ability to make good decisions is a sign of maturity.

Sleeping Beauty, for example. She pricks her finger at 16 (or 15). What usually happens at 15 or 16? In medieval times, it meant that children started getting older, prepared to be married or to take on an apprenticeship. Girls turned into women, ready to start bearing children. So, according to Bettelheim, Beauty turns 16, she pricks her finger, bleeds, and enters a resting state. This state represents the reflection that we all go through when we mature. We may write in journals, listen to music, talk to others about who we are. We're introspective. Now the prince, after a certain period of time, must struggle to save the princess. He represents the battles and trials that we go through in adolescence on our way to adulthood.

Snow White shows this as well. Her happily ever after cannot come after she escapes the queen; she is still a child. Instead, she is warned against danger and falls to temptation several times. Just like Sleeping Beauty, the heroine falls into a deep sleep for a long time. When the poisoned apple falls from her mouth, she is able to wake up having finally learned from her mistakes and ready to enter adult life. The prince, meanwhile, must win her from the dwarves and gives them whatever they ask. He must fight for her. And what do we want? To be worth fighting for!

Then there's the fact that many fairy tales that don't end with a wedding at all. The 3 Wishes and the Fisherman's Tale are both about couples who are already married. Rumpelstiltskin doesn't end until the queen's child is already born, long after she marries the king. Her trial comes when she must use her resources to find Rumplestiltskin's name.

The Moral

Children learn from the world around them. The messages they take from various sources will be entirely their own, based on the struggles they are going through. It's up to us to make sure the children have the freedom to make those choices while being there to talk them through it.

"This is exactly the message that fairy tales get across to the child in manifold form: that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence--but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious." --Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: the Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Gender-specific praise

Hello teachers!

September's a great time of year, isn't it? If a new year is starting for you, there's the excitement gettimg your room just the way you want it, meeting new staff, and welcoming more little ones into school. I'll borrow a phrase from a training I went to once and say that it's like opening a brand-new box of crayons. Even if you work in  year-round setting, it's nice to take a moment to reflect on your classrooms and possibly change it a little.

I really am working on gender roles in fairy tales, but there's a lot of information out there and a lot I would like to say, so I want to make sure that I get it right.

Perhaps it's because I've been thinking of gender roles lately that I noticed something happening in the classroom this morning. A teacher was in our room with us so everyone would be in ratio. We were all making sure to use specific praise and say something positive to the children as they came in. As they were playing, we asked them questions about what they were doing and giving them words (since they're one).  Then I heard, "What a pretty dress!" "All of the girls are wearing pretty dresses today!" Then, to a girl, "You have a bag! Are you going shopping?" Meanwhile, the boys who carried a bag were simply asked where they were going. If there were any details, they involved grocery stores.

Now, what's wrong with this picture? There's nothing wrong with the statements in themselves. Of course people go shopping and the girls were wearing pretty dresses.

The problem begins to show up when this type of language becomes a pattern. We know that children get their self-worth and abilities from us. If we don't recognize their art, their brain patterns change. Slowly, the child won't be interested in art because their environment is telling them that it's not important. The brain is very adaptable, especially at this age, and constantly removes or adds neural pathways based on outside information. It's why we use specific praise and positive commands; we want the child's brain to say, "This is essential information for this environment!"

So what do you think happens if we focus only on appearance for girls? Are we training them to become thinkers and leaders, or are we reinforcing the stereotype that we claim to disdain when we reject Barbies? What if, instead, we started saying, "What's in the bag? Are you off to collect some samples?"

Let me know your thoughts below! How do you encourage critical thinking and positive behaviors in your students?

Happy teaching!

Amy Latta, KidatHeart

Pursuing Wonder