Bullying: Why Zero-Tolerance Doesn’t Work

Anti-bullying programs are well-intentioned. But only real skills work.

Anti-bullying programs are well-intentioned. But only real skills work.

When grown-ups realized bullying was a big, bad problem, they did what they usually do: they banned it. Zero-tolerance. Automatic suspension. Kids forced to sign contracts to report bullies.

Now the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an independent government advisory group, reports that zero-tolerance policies in schools don’t work. That’s no surprise.

You can’t solve a problem by wishing it away. Or banning it. Or expressing zero-tolerance. But you can change a bullying kid and a bullying culture. Yes, it’s completely possible, but it takes hard work.

When stories of zero-tolerance for bullies began reaching my ears a few years ago, I knew the programs would fail. Why? Because changing human behavior means confronting difficult feelings and teaching new skills. Just saying “no” to bullying does not work. Kids need skills to deal with the conflict. So do the adults around them.

As one of the report’s authors said, zero-tolerance programs don’t work because they don’t provide “skill training or replacement behaviors.”

Bullying is one type – and a common type – of conflict. Confronting and reducing bullying requires first and foremost a willingness to confront conflict both by the kids and the adults around them. It can’t be conveniently outlawed (think alcohol and Prohibition). It can’t be removed by singing peace and friendship songs. People need actual training in the art of conflict mediation. This training can begin as young as age two. It’s also never too late. Teens and adults can learn.

To tackle bullying we need different tools: Courage. Honesty. Time. New skills. An effective anti-bullying program involves deep feelings, conflict confrontation and opening minds to new ideas. These take time, and can be somewhat messy, but together children and the adults who support them will emerge stronger and kinder for the effort.

Has your school got it right? How is bullying handled where you live? What stories do you have to share? Have you seen zero-tolerance being phased out and replaced with more effective training?

Be courageous. Take the first steps towards anti-bullying. Dive into the wonderful world of conflict mediation. It starts by kids standing up for themselves. It starts by kids expressing emotions — even big, scary ones – appropriately.

It's OK small cover

Start learning the skills to prevent real bullying. Get a copy of It’s OK Not to Share for a child, school or family you love today.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

3 Responses to Bullying: Why Zero-Tolerance Doesn’t Work

  1. “You can’t solve a problem by wishing it away. Or banning it. Or expressing zero-tolerance.”

    That quote should be sent to every lawmaker, legislator, policy maker, school official, and rule maker in the country. Too often, well-intentioned, but misguided and/ or lazy adults believe that simply passing a law will fix any problem that comes up.

    Our local school district has typical anti-bullying policies that are as ineffectual as most.


  2. Jan Waters says:

    Great Heather! As usual, you are right on! Kids have to learn what to do not just what not to do. Jan Waters

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Joys of a Burned Finger

Healthy risk is good. Kids are safer when they know how to cope.

Healthy risk is good. Kids are safer when they know how to cope.

My son burned his finger the other day as he was helping me cook. I love it when these things happen. Not the pain, of course. What I love is when kids engage in real life and learn how to cope.

We’d talked about the pot being hot and using potholders, but still his finger landed on the rim of the hot pot and he jerked it away the way our bodies teach us in an instant. “You burned your finger,” I said. “Put it under cold, running water.” We turned the tap on.

I’m sure he’ll burn his finger slightly again someday. But here’s what he won’t forget: what to do about it. He’ll stick it into cold, running water.

My father used to teach us how to fall. He encouraged us to balance on logs, jump across streams that were too big for us, and go rock hopping, but he prepared us by teaching us what to do when we fell. The assumption is that sometimes you will fall. If you are living. If you are trying. If you are exploring and discovering and engaging.

Instead of sheltering kids from the burn or the fall, teach them what to do when it happens. This is true of any healthy risk we let our kids take, including sad and angry emotions. Learning how to cope with the ouches of life is what kids need. It’s a lot more safe than sheltering.

Healthy risks young kids can try –

  • cutting with a sharp knife
  • using a real hammer and saw
  • running too fast on concrete
  • climbing
  • leaping from rock to rock
  • hauling heavy bricks
  • handling sharp needles and scissors
  • cooking with supervision
  • playing alone
  • playing outside alone
  • walking to the neighbor’s to deliver a message
  • asking someone to play
  • being told no

My new book delves into why we should put Safety Second. We live in a world of “safety first,” but safety first doesn’t create full human beings. Safety needs to be part of what we do, but when safety edges out healthy life experiences like playing with sticks in the park and using real tools, we need to err on the side of life.

What types of play or experiences have you seen adults ban recently? What risks do you welcome for yourself or children in your life? What healthy risks are you willing to give a try?

UpTheSlide final coverRead more about Safety Second and benefits of healthy risk in the new book “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.” Read it? REVIEW it on Amazon or Goodreads.


Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

10 Responses to Joys of a Burned Finger

  1. Cari Noga says:

    I was astonished this weekend when at an overnight SCOUT camp all the children were told by the director NOT to run outdoors as they might trip and get hurt. I thought Scouting was supposed to be all about outdoor activity! On a similar note, a friend shared how her son’s finger started bleeding at soccer practice after being hit by a ball (who would have thunk, at a soccer practice?) The hit aggravated a prior injury, which the 8-year old calmly explained. My friend, however, who had taken her other two children for a walk away from the field, subsequently received a stern notice that the soccer league was not a drop-off program, that coaches were not responsible (!) and parents were required to be in physical attendance at all times. For safety’s sake, of course. Good grief.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Oh my. No running outdoors at Scout camp? Now there’s a place where children should be experiencing burned fingers – from building campfires. And running!

  2. Jenifer says:

    I love this! I’ve pretended I didn’t see “no running” signs in places where it made no sense to me to limit running. And since my kids can’t yet read, they were none the wiser. :)

    I also love the idea of teaching them how to fall, as well as teaching other safety skills (such as how to cross the street). But I’m not always sure of the best ways to do that teaching, or how to judge that the kids understand a skill well enough to tackle the next challenge (such as crossing the street alone).

    I’ve read Gavin de Becker’s “Protecting The Gift” and I’m familiar with (but need to revisit now that my kids are older) Free Range Kids. Do you have other good resources for helping parents give their kids the skills they need to take reasonable risks and assess which ones the kids are ready for?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Glad you’re running! Crossing the street – observe your children when they don’t know you’re watching, or announce you’re going to let them try and see what they do. In both cases you can be nearby enough to step in if necessary. For non-life and death things, go ahead and give them a chance to try the new challenges. If you wonder if they’re old enough, they probably are. Try interviewing someone from an older generation to find out what kids their age used to do. Good luck and enjoy your confident, capable kids.

  3. Love your message and hope parents everywhere will see how it applies to academic challenges young children face as well. Teachers and parents need to create safe environments in which children can take risks in their pursuit of new knowledge and recognize how a perceived failure can fuel future success. It’s not about the failing moment, be it a test or assignment or wrong answer in class. The most important thing is what we do and model after a failed experience that counts for that is often where true learning takes place, perseverance is learned and growth is possible. Adversity builds strength and confidence. In the words of Mary Poppins, we are all “perfectly imperfect”. Thank you for sharing your message.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, yes. Thanks for bringing up the academic side. Love your words “The most important thing is what we do and model after a failed experience that counts.” Our reaction matters, and school learning is often focused on getting things right and looking good, but failure and healthy reactions to failure are so much more important. Mary Poppins has it right again.

  4. Luiza S says:

    What types of play or experiences have you seen adults ban recently? Hmm, where do I start.
    1. When my daughter was 18 months old, I was chided by a passer-by for letting my daughter play about two feet from a street trash can while waiting in a bus station. `What if she touches it?” (I’ll wash her hands?)
    2. When my daughter was 2 years old, I was forbidden to let her climb up and down the stairs of a restaurant terrace. “She’s going to fall, and you are going to sue me!” (No and no.)
    3. When my daughter was 3 years old, I was scolded for letting her unattended in the house (which was locked up tight) while I was napping. “What if she burns the house down or injures herself?” (No she won’t. Trust me to know what my own kid can handle?).
    4. When my daughter was 4 years old, we were scolded for keeping blunt but sharp scissors on her craft table, and also letting her play with coins and buttons. “She may injure herself! She might swallow them and choke!” (Why would she do that?)
    5. When my daughter was 5 years old, we got a scolding by park rangers because she was jumping from rock to rock at the beach. “The rocks are slippery and she may fall!” (She’s barefoot for better grip, and she’s been doing that for a week already with no harm.).

    These are just some samples of the many times over the years we have had conversations on this topic. People, this kid only learns from experience (possibly all kids do?). Let her have the experience. We promise you we are doing the utmost to control any serious danger. She’s 6 now, and she has not injured herself or destroyed property.

    Thanks for the new book! I loved “It’s OK not to share”. It was a breath of fresh air.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      The one that hurts my heart most is the park ranger story. Kids out in nature should be celebrated and encouraged, not shut down. Thank you for sharing your stories and for keeping a level head!

      • Luiza S says:

        The ironic part about the park rangers story was that there was a playground near the beach that the rangers closed for days after every trickle of rain (“Slippery playground equipment is dangerous!”). Well, at least open the playground if you don’t want the kids to play on the rocks! I couldn’t have made this stuff up if I tried.

        Kids are taught to fear nature these days from all angles. Nature is messy, muddy and icky. Some of my daughter’s playmates on that vacation would freak out if they stepped with their sandals in a mud puddle and would insist their parents clean it. And nature has critters. My daughter was afraid initially to climb on the seaside rocks because of the tiny crabs scuttling between them, so my husband convinced her to hold a few and let them scuttle over her arms and shoulder, to see they tickle but don’t pinch. That worked for her, but the other parents were shocked and were cautioning my husband that she might catch a disease. My husband was annoyed enough to tell them that these are not the right kind of crabs to catch a disease from :)

        It’s not as if we do this to espouse a particular child rearing philosophy; me and my husband were merely born in different times and places, and by those standards we are worrywarts with our own child. And the vast majority of young child rearing advice we see in North America seems to run counter to our desire to raise an independent, self-sufficient adult. Which is why I LOVE your books. I finally have something to point to: “See, we are not crazy and reckless!”.

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What’s Fair and What’s Equal

Treating kids differently does not mean playing favorites.

Treating kids differently does not mean playing favorites.

We don’t want to play favorites. That’s a basic tenet of raising kids. Yet our quest for impartiality can get in the way of recognizing, supporting or celebrating one child.

Don’t play favorites, that’s still true, but kids can handle differences. Life does not have to be equal.

The other day I went to a youth presentation and was struck by how well a 12-year-old boy read. He was clear, dramatic and did his part with such poise that I went up to the family afterwards. “Thank you,” said his father. “We’re so proud of James, and of course, we’re proud of Tyler and Nate also, they’re great kids, too.” He added this in an apologetic rush. This attempt at being equal diminished James’ recognition. James was the one who read. James was the one we were talking about. His brothers can cope if they don’t occupy the spotlight all the time.

We strive so hard to equal, with our words and with our actions. But kids are different, and sometimes those differences mean it’s OK to treat them differently.

This goes for gifts and experiences, too. We don’t automatically have to buy a gift for every child just because we have something that uniquely fits another. Kids can handle it if every day isn’t exactly equal. It happens at birthdays already. Everyone gets a birthday, but it’s not usually the same day. One person gets showered with special attention today, the other one has a turn in a few weeks. The overall balance and value of each individual is what’s most important.

If everyone is praised equally and often (see “Stop Saying ‘Good Job!'” in the book It’s OK Not to Share), it becomes meaningless. Kids don’t need constant praise, but they do value genuine interest and observation: “I was really struck by how clearly you read. I could hear every word even in the back.” That’s recognition. When kids say “That’s not fair!” that’s an excellent instinct for social justice. “Why does he get to stay up late I have to go to bed now? That’s not fair!” Reframe it for kids: “Your body needs more sleep. When Sam was your age he went to bed when you do” (see “Share Unfair History” in the book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide).

So support the kids in your life, celebrate their individuality, and support their interests. Sometimes being fair is more valuable than being equal.

What do you think? It’s a tricky balance. Meeting an individual’s needs –all individuals — can be what’s most important. Have you ever felt stuck in these situations?

UpTheSlide final coverNEW BOOK – Read it? Love it? Write a review on Goodreads or Amazon. Order here.

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

One Response to What’s Fair and What’s Equal

  1. One of my biggest pet peeves is how most people freely interchange the terms “fair” and “equal.” Equal is rarely fair, and fair should rarely be equal. Why? Because we are all unique!

    I feel stuck sometimes, especially with kids when they all want the approval of adults. Your example of praising the 12-yr-old and the father immediately mentioning his other children is a great example. Let the ones being praised have their 100% moment of glory. and insist on the same treatment when the next child has his/her success.

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Making Room for Justice

Speaking up when you don't like something - a great part of kid justice.

Speaking up when you don’t like something – a great part of kid justice.

What would you say if you saw a group of eight 1st and 2nd grade boys excluding a girl from their running game?

Possibly this: Sexism. Girls discriminated against. Our adult minds leap to what seems obvious. We might sigh and despair: it starts so young, especially in sports. We might speak up and intervene; force the boys to let the girls play.

I witnessed this scene recently while volunteering at my children’s school. The kids were playing Red Light Green Light, taking turns to be the stoplight and running up sneakily when his/her back was turned. Except one child – Tessa – didn’t play fairly. She made all the boys go out and picked a favorite friend to win over and over and over.

The kids got mad. Then they did all the right things. They told her exactly what they didn’t like, they reminded her how to play by the rules, and when she didn’t stop they excluded her from the game.

Because I’d seen the whole game from its beginning, I knew exactly why the boys weren’t letting Tessa play. It was Justice. Kid justice. Instead of being mean or discriminatory, they were simply standing up for themselves, protecting the game, and putting her in her place. The game wasn’t fun when she played it like that.

Kids’ actions and game rules do not always look fair to adult eyes. But they may be fair to the children.

Before we barge in, stop and listen, see what’s happening. Ask questions if you’re worried: “Is that OK with you?” Toys and roles may not be evenly distributed, but they may be right for the game, they may be right for the children involved in work or play.

Our goal shouldn’t be that everyone is treated the same. We are not all the same, so being treated the same isn’t respectful. Focus instead on helping kids speak up and set limits when they don’t like something. That’s a courageous act of peace. And sometimes, of justice.

What do you think? Have you witnessed times when adults step in for fairness, with the wrong results?

UpTheSlide final coverMore about “That’s not fair,” respect and justice in the new book “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.” Got it? Read it? Review it!


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2 Responses to Making Room for Justice

  1. Meghan Owenz says:

    Love this! I call it “natural consequences.” Children learn from natural consequences if adults don’t step in and stop them from happening. The little girl’s behavior had a natural consequence – the children didn’t want to play with her any longer. I bet she learned from it too.

  2. Excellent observation. I’m amazed that everything you say about raising children is 100% common sense and based on how children see their world, not an adult’s interpretation of a child’s world.

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Debunking ‘Choice’ in Children’s Behavior

Children's behavior is not all about choices.

Children’s behavior is not all about choices.

Choice gets a bad name in early childhood. Adults scold kids about the “choices” they make on a daily basis: “That was not a good choice” (when she hits her brother). Or perhaps we interrogate: “Was that a good choice or a bad choice?” when kids behave in a way we don’t like. “Let’s see you make a better choice now.”

When it comes to young children, we need to recognize that it’s not all about choice. Behavior at early ages is usually driven by feelings, not decision-making.

Children often can’t explain why they do things,  and heat of the moment “bad choice” actions are rarely thought through. Even if a young child recognizes there’s a choice, she may not be able to select the option the adult wants because it’s simply too hard. Impulse control is a developing skill.

Besides, “choice” implies individual options. Adults often use “choice” to mean: “do what I want you do to – or else.”

When a young child hits a playmate, recognize it’s not a choice. It’s an action driven by intense feelings. Young children express their big feelings with their bodies. It might come out as a scream, kick, shove or bite. We need to stop the behavior, but accept the feeling. “You’re mad, but I can’t let you hit your brother.”

The next step is to acknowledge how hard this is. Don’t pass judgment about “good choices” and “bad choices.” Choice implies control, and these children haven’t fully developed that control yet. If they’re hitting, they’re acting, not thinking. Controlling impulses doesn’t come consistently for many years. Some days even typically even-keeled children are out of control.

Say: “It’s too hard for you right now. I’ll help you stop.”

Think how comforting these words are to an out-of-control, emotionally overwhelmed child. Someone will help me. Someone who’s bigger and stronger when I need it most. No one’s judging, no one’s in trouble. Simply, “It’s too hard for you right now.”

Choice can be hard for kids at the best of times – do I want the red lollipop or the green one? When we think of choice as something to develop, but not something to expect, our own anger will fade at “bad choice” behavior.

Do you find yourself requesting “good choices” from a child? Do you get angrier when you perceive a child is making deliberately bad choices? How can you remain neutral and helpful?

Read the new book yet? Write a review on Goodreads or Amazon!

UpTheSlide final cover

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Debunking ‘Choice’ in Children’s Behavior

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for this. After working in a handful of daycare centers when I was in college, I am horrified and often repulsed to see how that time has snuck its way into my parenting. I tend to default back to those years and I hate it. This is one of those phrases that I have heard, that I have USED, but it has always bugged me, though I couldn’t put my finger on why.

    I love the phrase “neutral and helpful.” So much more effective.

  2. Keith says:

    “It’s ok to go up the slide.” What a great title for a book!

    Thanks for the helpful article, it was very enlightening. I’ll keep it in mind with my little ones (8 and 6, both going on 41).

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It’s Time to Go UP the Slide

UpTheSlide final coverThe book is here! I’m on the radio today celebrating the release of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, and everywhere I go – from Denver to Vancouver to Boston – I’m hearing people share the stress points in their lives with kids. Technology. Homework. Strangers. News disasters. Gender roles. Kindergarten curriculum. Lack of time to play and time with nature. All these topics are in the book. All these stress points.

When things are out of balance, it’s time to question the way things are done. It’s time to go up the slide.

That’s why I’m so excited about this new book. It’s going to make some people nervous. It’s going to make some people mad. If kids get hold of a copy, it could cause a revolution (you mean there’s no reason for me to do this worksheet?!)

As early reviewers said: “It’s going to rock some boats, challenge thinking, and nudge adults in the right direction.” (Jeff Johnson, Let Them Play) and “Heather Shumaker stops to re-examine almost all the conventional wisdom about childhood…She’s my hero.” (Lenore Skenazy, Free-Range Kids).

If you love these ideas and want to support the book – the best way to celebrate is to write a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your favorite book spot. The book is out TODAY, March 8 so it’s open for reviews.

  • Sometimes being a good parent – or a good teacher – means breaking all the rules.
  • If something’s bothering you, it’s time to make a change
  • Just because everyone’s doing it, doesn’t mean it’s right for child development.
  • When adult expectations clash with child development, it’s time to change the adults, not the child.

See you at the top of the slide!

Early Bird gifts – Thinking of of getting a copy? Order a copy of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide this week and receive free gifts as a thank you. This special pre-order offer extended until March 13, 2016. Simply 1) buy the book from any bookstore 2) send an email to slide@heathershumaker.com saying where you bought it. Order here at heathershumaker.com

What stress points do you see in families’ lives? What are big ways you see adult expectations clash with what children need?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

12 Responses to It’s Time to Go UP the Slide

  1. Deidra says:


  2. Roberta Horne says:

    Congratulations Heather! I look forward to reading it!

  3. Congratulations on your new book release, Heather. I see you’ll be in Madison next month at UWWI. Hope to see you there to say hi and get an autographed copy.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Chris, Yes I’ll be there. Will be good to see you and looking forward to signing a copy for you.

  4. On the topic questions you posed, the biggest stress I see is overscheduling of children by their parents. I think downtime has gotten pushed aside because everyone wants their kid to be the best and brightest at whatever the establishment tells them we need. Today it’s STEM, ten years ago it was computer anything, tomorrow it may be stand up comedy for all I know. Give kids “dead time” to just sit, think, daydream, imagine, ponder, ask questions, and I think they have a much better chance of deciding for themselves what path their lives should take.


  5. Warmest congratulations!

  6. Crystal says:

    Please know that I am only trying to understand the logic in no homework when I ask: ” Are your beliefs of over scheduling after school the same for children with learning difficulties? Those that are playing catch up in school and who’s neuro’s suggest non typical practice of social skills and discrete trail ABA?” What is your take on that? For our family I think we have fined tuned knowing limits of my son and that he benefits more from being led outside his comfort zones. That for us is a little social and academic work Afterschool but mostly goal oriented fun. He benefits both scheduled time after school and free time. Most often free time is a new science project that he has come up with:). With the other subjects he looks to be led until he is confident or NEEDS to be led to build confidence. Again, this is all scheduled until he is indepedant. What are your thoughts?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Such an astute question. I think the idea behind homework and no homework is this: the family needs to be in charge of what’s best for the child during after school hours. Depending on family philosophy and needs of each child, after school time can be many different things. You said it well yourself “I think we have fine tuned knowing the limits of my son.” Keep finding that balance.

      As families with special needs children know, there are not only more challenges, there are also more appointments that eat up a child’s day. It’s an enormous balancing act to give kids the playtime and emotional release they need. Homework to me is an assignment dictated by the school to be done on family time. Home goals are everything you do to support your child, your whole child. Thanks for writing, Crystal.

  7. ray wills says:

    Read your interview article in THE NEWS today your title for the new book is excellent Its so good to see that you understand the importance of free play in a childs life.I have recently moved here from England UK where i was very involved in play provision for many decades establishing adventure playgrounds and managing town wide play programmes. I admin a facebook page on play and also write non fiction and poetry.I wish you every success with the new book .Im looking for publisher for mine which is a history of organised play provision over the years largely based on my own experiences.Take good care ,Ray Wills

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Welcome, Ray! I wish you every success in helping to establish adventure playgrounds here in the US. Your experience will be invaluable. Also best of luck on finding the right publisher for your history of play book. Redleaf Press often publishes good play books. Perhaps they would be a good fit?

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Who has Mentored You?

One of Bev Bos's many wise sayings.

One of Bev Bos’s many wise sayings.

I was in California last week, the home state of Bev Bos, legendary early childhood advocate and mentor to thousands. She died the week before I spoke on Feb. 4, and it was fitting that I should be addressing a collection of cooperative preschools. Bev dedicated 50 years to leading the Roseville Community Preschool, a co-op preschool, in California. My hosts dedicated the evening as a tribute to Bev.

I suppose that in some ways, Bev helped write my first book. It’s OK Not to Share is filled with wisdom from the School for Young Children, a preschool in my hometown in Columbus, Ohio. Bev Bos was a great friend to SYC and all the teachers there. They visited each other’s programs and spread inspiration.

It’s OK Not to Share had many mentors: Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Bev Bos, Haim Ginott, teachers from SYC who’d taught 30 and 40 years in the classroom. Some of these inspirations I met, some of them I’ve never met, but their ideas have lived and spread. That’s the power of a true mentor. Someone whose influence is not contained in a single life.

I never met Bev Bos, but I was looking forward to meeting her in April. We were both due to keynote at a wonderful Play conference in Washington, DC. Now the rest of us need to carry that spark on.

Who are your mentors – in life, writing or early childhood? Have you ever reached out to thank this amazing person?

UpTheSlide final cover

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

6 Responses to Who has Mentored You?

  1. My dad was a great mentor. He quietly persevered through whatever came his way, and showed me the value of play, sports, discipline, and practicing to get better.

    Another mentor is one of my two best friends, Dennis. The great lesson he taught me was life is too short to save all the fun and recreation until retirement. He’s had great balance between work and play in his life, and my life is richer because he taught me that by example.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Chris, Thanks for sharing your mentors. Dennis’s example is something so rare these days – and yes, we need to see the living embodiment of it – balancing play and work. As my father says, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

  2. Jan Waters says:

    Thank you for recognizing and remembering Bev Bos. She was the best! Jan Waters

  3. Debbie Silver says:

    I was sad to read your post about Bev. I heard her speak many times and even had the pleasure of having dinner with her at an event! Every time I read (or reread) one of her books, I learned something new. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a compilation of all her wonderful and inspiring quotes, like the one you posted!!!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      So glad you got to meet her, and isn’t it amazing how we are ready to hear certain messages only as time goes on? Good for you re-reading Bev’s wisdom – and I’m looking forward to seeing what quotes you collect!

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Go Up the Slide with Early Bird Gifts

Ready to pre-order! Can't wait to go up with slide with you.

 Ready to pre-order! Free gifts for early birds.      

Author update: Early bird gifts extended to March 13, 2016.

A box arrived on my doorstep from Penguin Random House this week. I thought it was THE BOOK. Instead it was a batch of lovely postcards from the publisher, but this is a good sign.  It means we’re getting close – only 6 weeks to go!

To celebrate and thank everyone who’s an early buyer of It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, I’ve designed a special one-hour exclusive podcast for you. Just pre-order, and you can enjoy this special edition podcast as a gift.

Also, I’ve designed a set of inspirational quotes that you can print and post on your fridge or other spots around the house. A gift to you.

When you pre-order, you can get your copy the day it comes out – March 8, 2016 – and be among the first to dive into new content and renegade ideas such as: It’s OK Not to Kiss Grandma, Safety Second, It’s OK to Talk to Strangers, Recess is a Right, Reconfigure Kindergarten, Banish Calendars, Princesses are Powerful, plus a huge section on elementary school homework. Guaranteed to be a conservation starter.

How do you pre-order and claim your free gifts? Pre-order here or at your favorite neighborhood bookstore.

  1. Order It’s OK to Go Up the Slide at your favorite bookstore.
  2. Send an email telling me where you bought the book to slide@heathershumaker.com

That’s it!

Already pre-ordered long ago? No worries, just send an email to slide@heathershumaker.com telling me about your purchase and you can enjoy the gifts.

Enjoy! Can’t wait to share the book with you.

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Go Up the Slide with Early Bird Gifts

  1. Deidra says:


  2. Anne Donn says:

    Congratulations on your new book. So happy to hear that it’s release is getting close. I love the title. What a great way of seeing the world, as you go up the slide. All is well here.

  3. Saundra Fischer says:

    I am so excited about your new book! Your work has probably influenced me more as a parent and educator than any other author. Meeting you was a highlight last year. Thank you for all that you do!

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Of Karate Kids and Soccer Moms

Is it your idea to have a dancer in the family, or hers?

Is it your idea to have a dancer in the family, or hers?

Karate. Ballet. Soccer. Swimming. Hockey. Art lessons. Music lessons. Theater class. Children’s choir.  The number of enrichment classes out there for children is mind-blowing. Chances are, if you have kids, you’ve signed your child up for one of these fun-filled classes. Or maybe three or four.

When it comes time to decide whether to sign up again, do some careful thought. Besides the obvious overscheduling concern, ask yourself this: is this class really for me or for my child?

Children’s interests come and go. They may like to try tap dance, then give basketball a go. As a parent, it can be hard to know whether you should encourage your child to stay longer with trumpet lessons or acting class, and reap the rewards of getting better, or decide that this particular activity has run its course.

Ask yourself what prompted you to sign up your child for this activity in the first place? Was it your ideas or hers? Did it come from her personality or yours? Then re-evaluate.

It’s fun to sign up. It’s fun to try new things. Stopping – even a child quitting a music or sports program – can seem like failure. It can be hard to let go.

That’s true even if you’re a parent. Most enrichment activities create a parent culture that’s comfortable to be part of. When your child plays soccer, you take on the role of a soccer mom or dad, when your child does ballet, you get used to the ritual of dance recitals and doing hair in buns (Yes, I’ve even had to learn to do my son’s hair in a bun as a ballet mother. Not only does he dance, but he grows his hair long enough it needs to be pinned up.). Kids, too, get caught up in doing the same thing year after year.

Be sure to check-in. Childhood is about exploring and learning, so don’t forget to take turns with activities from time to time. “You want to try baseball? OK, let’s do that this spring. You can go back to drum lessons if you find you want to.”  Beware of the danger of simply adding and adding activities, or continuing something because it’s become a habit.

Enrichment classes today are sometimes just for fun, but often as you get to higher levels there’s a push for the child to commit to this activity to the exclusion of other interests. Travel sports teams. Extra rehearsals. Higher levels. Specialized camps just for basketball or choir. Some kids love the intense focus. But childhood is a time of discovery, not necessarily improving skills.

Remember children are just kids discovering themselves. They’re not projects. They’re not here to live out our dreams. They’re here to find their own.

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Fantastic Fiction: Encouraging Young Writers

Encourage fiction - kids need to write what's in their souls.

Encourage fiction – kids need to write about what’s in their souls.

As our family moves through public school, I’ve heard six years’ worth of teachers explain why kids don’t write fiction in their class.

“Frankly, kids aren’t very good at fiction. They only write about explosions, aliens and robots,” one teacher told me.

One first grade teacher explained fiction wasn’t part of the curriculum (“we focus on essay writing”). Others insisted that students should “write what they know, and kids only know about their own lives.”

Hogwash. Or should I say Hogwarts. Kids know more about fantasy – the stuff of fiction – than most adults. A child writer can describe the intricacies of a mermaid’s life or an alien who battles pirates with explosive powers better than what they had for breakfast.

With national education focus on hard-core skills like essay writing in elementary school, fiction writing is being pushed out from many children’s lives.

As a writer, I know the hardest thing to teach in good writing is Voice. The structure of an essay can be taught later. We need to help our children find their unique voice, encourage their efforts, and give them ample practice. To love writing and get good at writing, a child needs to be able to express herself.  Express the ideas that are bottled up inside. Often these ideas are about aliens, explosions and mermaids at first. If that’s what’s inside a child’s soul, that’s what she should write about.

Kids may not be very good at fiction writing. But they’re learning.

Looking back at my own not-so-good writing as a kid, I learned a tremendous amount each step of the way:

  • First grade. Expressing my ideas felt great. People liked my stories and treated me like a real author. I wrote 12 books about Leo the Lion before I could write. Adults wrote down my dictated words and helped me bind them up to look like real books.
  • Second grade. I experimented with tragedy. I realized that killing all my main characters off didn’t give a satisfying ending, just a sad one. Hmm… this was trickier than I thought.
  • Third grade. I coped with my first rejection letter for a short story.
  • Fourth grade. I wrote an overly-complicated story with unpronounceable names and realized that sometimes a simple story line can be more powerful.

My early stories were not good, but they allowed me to take the next step. What’s more, I felt valued and listened to when I expressed myself through written words. If children need to express themselves with ideas about princesses living in towers or pirates who eat seaweed, then we should let them.

Young writers should write what is bursting from their souls.

Is fiction writing alive and well in your child’s school? What were your favorite topics to write about as a child?

Posted in Joyful Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Fantastic Fiction: Encouraging Young Writers

  1. deidra says:

    Yes fiction writing is alive and well in our school. My son’s stories are so creative. He is becoming a great story teller. Is his spelling, grammar, and punctuation perfect? Absolutely not. There stories sometimes don’t flow very well, but most importantly they are really creative, funny and strange.

  2. ann says:

    I think the problem is teaching to the tests. It is crazy high stakes in public schools that have not found a creative way around to actually teach kids. For those schools that find ways to actually teach, they often find ways to develop the creativity in kids. Creativity in one area helps in other areas. The problem is when you feel like you only have time to teach the facts, the basics, the test, then you can look at creativity as a luxury instead of a necessity. I sure hope this will change soon.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for your comments, Ann. You’re right, it must seem like a luxury, and you’re so right how creativity flows from one area to the next.

  3. I’m so happy you wrote this one. My best childhood moments were being alone, making up wild stories about witches and queens, and yes, even princes and princesses, but the witches, oh I had such good and terrible witches. And in these fantasies, I was allowed to die and resurrect on a regular basis. It is truly the basis for an active imagination.

  4. Jan Waters says:

    What are they doing to creativity???? They are dumbing down kids’ education! Who are these people who don’t value the creative spirit? Preschoolers write wonderful stories and an adult can write it down. We are not educating scholars we are educating technicians. Jan

  5. Anna says:

    That teacher’s reasoning is so crazy. I presume she has also cancelled math, since some kids aren’t that good at it? And art – after all, 6-year-olds’ drawings are hardly known for artistic merit. In my first years of piano lessons, my playing really sucked – clearly my parents should have quit giving me music lessons. In fact, isn’t it the very nature of any skill that needs to be taught and/or practiced, that the student is bad at the beginning?

  6. Katrin says:

    My son’s teacher has them write journal pages twice a week. They all have a blank top for a picture and then lines to write something. Some start with prompters such as “I wish”, “My Mom”, “I wonder”.
    He writes the most hilarious 1-4 sentence stories in his first grade spelling with really simple but extremely expressive pictures.
    I wish there was more writing and encouraging to write, but it seems like I should be happy about what his teacher already does.

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