Monthly Archives: February 2013

Cut the Interrogation Habit

We recently got a new set of blocks for my son.  Castle blocks – the kind with painted drawbridges and turrets.  He loves all things knights and horses, and so far many towers and dungeons have been built, crashed and … Continue reading

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

12 Responses to Cut the Interrogation Habit

  1. I don’t remember being quizzed or interrupted during play as a kid. Mom and Dad were more than happy to let me play by myself or with my siblings or other children. I can’t imagine them wanting to jump into my play time like in your examples.
    Dad did play sports with us all the time- football, baseball, basketball, hockey, tennis. But that was “playing catch,” “playing H-O-R-S-E,” wiffle ball, etc., and always as an equal member of the team, or the opponent. But other than try to help me with my pitching mechanics (when I was ready to learn), he always “let us play.”

    He played to win, which taught me how to be a good loser, how to strive to improve, and then at the end of the day, win or lose, he was still Dad. Any teaching during play of that sort was when we were older and decided we wanted to improve in our sport.

    Dad coached me and my brother most of the way up through junior high school, but the earliest years when we played sports it was just for pure fun and physical activity. Mom was always a loyal fan in the stands for us and never tried to teach us after the fact. We got a hug after the game, win or lose. Thanks Mom and Dad. You did it right for me.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Love your stories, Chris. Thanks for sharing. Your parents gave you plenty of room to play and learn and supported you along the way as you went through your own trials – wonderful!

  2. Laurie says:

    Heather — I recently experienced a similar sense of dismay. While shopping for a gift at a well-known toy store (that was dismay enough), I came across SEGREGATED isles:

    Toys for Him
    Toys for Her

    WHO decides these things? A girl might well like a “boy” toy, and a boy might well like a “girl” toy.

    Another great post, thank you. I love the way you dish food for thought…

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, yes. The ‘his’ and ‘her’ toy marketing is getting really out of hand. It’s much more extreme and segregated than it used to be. Glad this post gave food for thought.

  3. deidra says:

    Once again spot on! I don’t ever recall being quizzed as a kid either. My parents just let us play. When we got older, I remember my father teaching us different card games, like hearts, gin rummy, & cribbage. He taught us the basic rules, but always allowed us to play our own hands unless we asked for help.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks! I think quizzing kids is much more prevalent these days. Sounds as if you had some great family card games!

  4. Juliette says:

    Those snippets on the backs of toy packaging telling you to quiz your child do annoy me!

    Interestingly our son learned his colours (early in fact – at about 20-22 months) by him quizzing me rather than the other way round. When you’ve been asked ‘what’s that?’ for the tenth car or crayon in a row, you find yourself naturally saying what colour it is. It felt like he learned them very easily over the course of a month or two without any conscious effort from me other than answering his questions. As a result all the ‘educational’ toys designed to help your child learn colours feel really bizarre and unnecessary to me. I was also quite surprised when I discovered that he knew all his shapes one day as I have absolutely no idea where he picked them up!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Juliette — how funny that your son was the one quizzing you! Love the story – thanks for sharing. You’re right, kids soak up so much, and anything marketed as “educational” I say beware!

  5. Thanks for the reminder and advice! I like how you give alternate sorts of questions (or give us permission to just stay quiet—sometimes it helps to have someone else’s permission to do this.)

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You’re most welcome. Silence is truly golden, but the messages we get often tell us otherwise. I think many people feel the way you do.

  6. Waldo Maricich says:

    What children play with has to do exactly with what the parents bring into the home. Most of the time, they are usually plastic. Certainly, these items can be a lot of fun for the children. However, they can be limited in many ways. Instead, it’s time to explore the benefits of wooden toys because they have so much more to offer.`

    Latest piece of content on our own web blog

  7. Erin says:

    Oh, the constant quizzing is infuriating! I have a 23-month old, and Grandma and others constantly quiz her. “What color is that flower?” “What does the kitty say?” I have explained that we should not ask a toddler a question that we already know the answer to, but they persist in questioning. It’s doubly frustrating when the adult asks the same question over and over. Have you found a way to help others understand this concept?

Chuck the Calendars

  While researching my book, I’ve visited a lot of preschool classrooms.  Preschool, pre-K, Young Fives, kindergarten, Montessori, public, private, charter, you name it.  I’ve observed too many to count.  One thing I almost always see in each early ed. … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

17 Responses to Chuck the Calendars

  1. Laurie says:

    “Time will settle down in their minds soon enough. Why impose our ordered rows of time on them now?”


    “We need to respect that kids have better things to do.”

    yes, Yes, and YES again!

  2. deidra says:

    I agree wholeheartedly on the weather part. Kids need to go out in ALL kinds of weather. One of my favorite childhood memories is the time my mom let us put on our swimming suits and run out in the rain. It even hailed a little bit and we had blast collecting the hail in buckets.

    You are so right. Kids that age don’t need calendars.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Hail in buckets! What fun. Sometimes my kids put bike helmets on when it’s hailing and listen to the sound pinging off their heads.

  3. Nancy says:

    Bev Bos says there are 3 C’s that do not belong in early childhood classrooms — calendars, clocks and computers! I totally agree!!!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, yes. Excellent wisdom. Bev Bos, as usual, is right on. All three C’s creep in unnecessarily to young kids’ lives. Thanks for sharing your comment.

      • Madeline says:

        My daughter goes to Roseville Community Preschool (where Bev Bos is the Director) and you will be happy to hear that those 3 C’s are still banned!

        • Heather Shumaker says:

          Lucky you! Anyone’s who’s curious about what early childhood can really be like – take a field trip to Roseville. Enjoy, enjoy.

          • Madeline says:

            I double pinky swear that I never take it for granted that RCP is 10 minutes from our house. We are so lucky.

  4. Grace says:

    If I wasn’t at my desk, I’d be cheering loudly!!
    I think teachers of young children don’t KNOW what to do with group time. But it’s precious! It’s time for building community!! Not for drearily hashing through meaningless rituals because “SOMEthing should look “school”-y.”

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I can hear your cheers, Grace. Yes, group time done the right way is indeed precious. Love your phrase “Something should look ‘school’y.”

  5. Marianne says:

    Finally!!! (someone who validates my opinion) I took my big calendar down several months ago. I just do not see how it helps the children. They are all over the floor when we do it – so it is clear that they are not interested. The do love doing the days of the week song and the months of the year so I feel that hearing those names will plant the seed for calendar learning later on.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Hooray! A calendar banished! Thanks so much for sharing your story — and kudos on your insight in observing children and trusting them to show what they need.

  6. Carlene Mogavero says:

    I am a Waldorf pre/kindergarten teacher. I’m happy to say we have never done calendar time and we have always gone outside to play in all seasons and all weather.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Wonderful, Carlene. Waldorf teaching certainly understands the power of nature and the outdoors. Especially needed now in our indoor culture. Bravo!

  7. kat says:

    AMAZing take on calendars. Thankyou for putting in such concise words what I have been feeling for many months but not recognising! Yay for no calendars!!!

Keep the PRE in preschool

I wrote an op-ed piece about the President’s call for universal preschool for 4-year-olds, and my editor replied asking ‘surely you don’t think having the kids learn the alphabet and numbers 1-10 is too academic?’ Well, er, yes I do. … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Joyful Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

29 Responses to Keep the PRE in preschool

  1. Sarah says:

    I feel like I have someone in my corner! I was having a debate with some folks about why I think the president’s new pre-school directive is a bad idea. You have perfectly summed up my feelings on the matter. Bravo, and thank you.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You’re welcome! It’s hard to articulate sometimes. So much to learn at early ages, but “play” often gets manipulated to fit many agendas. You’re not alone.

  2. Bob says:

    Thank goodness!! Bravo from a former SYC parent in Columbus, Ohio. :=)

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Hello! And yes – as alumni of a true “play school” you know the tremendous value of a true, high-quality program.

  3. Margot Haney says:

    Thank you! You are absolutely right! I have 6 children and I just read to them lots…they all learned to read and spell on their own without pre-k.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      “Reading to them lots” – the most marvelous thing. Good for you! Kids of all ages love being read to, even after they learn to read.

  4. Laurie says:

    Heather – I sure wish I’d known you when my son was little. But then again, you were about five years old! Great information as always, thank you for creating a space to share it.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, yes, then I was living preschool! Glad you like visiting the site, Laurie. You’re most welcome.

  5. Oops! Don’t get me started on this topic. I used to be a teacher and bought into the public education model lock, stock, and barrel. Thirty years later, I say the system is broke and unfixable unless the “public” in public education is scrapped and the entire education system is rethought.

    What passes for education today is more like indoctrination into how to become a docile worker drone who relies on government to tell us what to do, how to think, how to behave, and that government has all the answers and will care for us from cradle to grave.

    To me, the truly happy people in life are the ones who butted heads with conventional school wisdom and authority and went in their own direction. Think successful artists of all types, entrepreneurs, idea developers, creators.

    I wholeheartedly endorse Heather’s ideas for pre-school. Better yet would be a world where both parents had sufficient time to spend with their children so that pre-school effectively moved from a centralized building to each family’s home and neighborhood. That way parents can experience the true joy of helping their young person develop into a “successful” adult.

    The FEDERAL government is the absolute LAST entity that should be involved with children’s education. STATE government, maybe, if only for organizational purposes. LOCAL government, better but still not perfect, because even small groups of children and their parents will have radically different needs and wants. PARENTS should be the first line of education. Not practical in current society, I concede, but what we should strive for in an ideal world.

    I’ve probably said too much already. Good post, Heather. Keep fighting for what our children really need.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      An interesting change of heart, Chris. Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts as a teacher and a former teacher. Sure is hard to know how to educate fellow human beings, isn’t it?

      • That it is, Heather. I think the ideal teaching situation is one-on-one, with a mentor who is tuned in to the child’s way of thinking and seeing the world. Of course, that’s probably cost-prohibitive for most.

        Second best is parents who actively interact with their children daily (home schooling or at least careful evaluation of what the child is learning and experiencing in school).

        Mass market public school is the weakest option for helping each child reach their maximum potential. Some do fine there, but the “special kids” (Any way you want to define special) usually fall through the cracks.

        We need to keep trying to get better at it. Education is the great equalizer.

  6. deidra says:

    Well said Chris. This has been the hardest thing for me in the public education system.

    Great post again! Most of the things you mentioned would be good for kids until the graduate. As the get older, the activites may change somewhat based on age, but all children & young adults should have free time to play & explore during the day.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks, Deidra. You’re right – a lot of this can be extended for older ages – at least the underlying concepts.

  7. Sarah Crozier says:

    I guess I wish there was balance. After teaching Kinder & 1st grade for 10 years….I began staying home with my first child and opened a preschool and childcare in my home. I have a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and elementary education, as well as a master’s degree in education with my endorsment in literacy instruction. When I taught in public school I always had “too much” play for most of my principals. They would ask why I needed playdough and house centers in kindergarten…they would question thier “academic” need, and what they will b learning. I would respectfully explain and encourage them to remember that this was early childhood education. I would point them to sources of excellent early childhood research and resources.

    I have always wanted to teach in early childhood. It was hard finding a college program that would even cover early childhood in my area. I was sure that once I got into the early education “world” and out of public schools I would “fit in”. But now I find I have “too much school” for preschool.

    We have such an amazing time everyday. But we talk about letters and number all day. I find the kids curiosity limitless. They want to know about everything around them! We read, sing, dance,play, snuggle, write, learn our letters, build forts, dig in the sand, play in sensory bins, dress up…so much.

    I guess what I hope is that we can all work together to encourage each other. With our diverse personalities and interests to walk on this journey together. That we can give each other what we give our student….love and encouragment to progress on this amazing journey of spending our lives enriching the live of children.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You’re right, there is tremendous pressure on early childhood educators to defend play in the classrooms. They are in a tight spot with many principals. Good for you in finding the right spot for you to share your love for kids. Fantastic! Numbers and letters can be naturally integrated into kids’ lives just as hugs, forts and food are. Our job is to keep everything relevant and age-appropriate. It’s so easy to tip into adult agendas. Thanks so much for sharing your comment.

  8. Nichole says:

    I just spent the last few days at the National Service-Learning Conference. One of the presenters did her dissertation on Service-Learning in pre-school. She found some beautiful results with helping to solidify the natural empathy that is pretty innate in toddlers (“Mama, don’t cry.”). Anyway, if I was going to add anything to your list for what should be in pre-school, it would be age-appropriate Service-Learning.

    I think we have a problem with trying to advance our children too quickly. Make them grow up sooner and then they will grow farther, right? I don’t think so. And I think it’s a disservice to them to force them to abandon the amazing parts of thinking and being like a child.

    Really great post. Thanks.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks, Nichole. Being part of a community and helping others – I’m guessing this is the core of ‘Service Learning” — this kind of learning is certainly best done in a hands-on setting with plenty of time and room for practice. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Melanie Nollsch says:

    Thank you! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am continually concerned about the curriculum “push down” I see when visiting college students doing their preschool practicums. Well educated and well intentioned teachers often succumb to the pressures of the school, the parents, etc. We need to keep advocating to keep the pre in preschool! Well said!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Melanie – thanks for your comment. Is it the visiting college students bringing in more “push down?” Are they learning the academic curriculum part in their classes? Or do they arrive with a sense of importance about play and then change later because of pressure? I’m curious what’s being taught in early childhood college classrooms.

  10. Kimberley says:

    Wonderful, wonderful post. My children are unschooled and my three-year-old is teaching herself to write because she treats it more like drawing. She knows how to count because we count change at the store, or she does a puzzle and asks to have the numbers named, or she counts teaspoons with me while making dinner. She works through most things on her own (til the crying starts) and learns from her own mistakes. She processes her emotions through play and pretend and later comes and talks to me about feelings she’s had. She won’t be going to school but if she were, this would be a perfect ‘pre’ experience to prepare her for it.

    Didn’t mean to make this about Logan 🙂 but I wanted to express that I really love what you’re saying. I understand the need for preschool and I wish everyone was aware of the disparity in quality among them. Toddlers and children do not deserve to be treated as though their value lies in what they can contribute to the workforce. Thank you for the post! Play is the *work* of children and it’s a message that needs more attention.

    The Single Crunch

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Love the examples you gave – writing and counting integrated into daily life. Yes – it’s always beautiful to see a young child “writing” on paper. Enjoy your unschooling experience with your daughter.

  11. chturner says:

    Let’s remove the ‘school’ altogether. Let’s home educate and let’s keep kids in their parents’ care, or close family or friends whenever possible. This culture of ‘preschool’ is doing just that – sending them to a building of strange adults and same age children soon before they do it all over again for 13 years with strange adults and same age children. Having preschool turn into what it has was only a logical progression to the day care culture we have instituted. It’s the adults and the work culture that needs to change, that needs to be thrown upside down, and shaped into the family centered community that it is supposed to be.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, and bravo – adult work culture is certainly out of pace with family and children’s needs.

      Given the need for day care (our family certainly relies on it) – it’s good to consider the many quality in-home daycares where small numbers of children are cared for in a home setting. So different than institutional preschools. Home daycares may be hurt by the new push for preschools, too.

  12. Holly Schurter says:

    I agree pre-school should allow children to play and wonder and laugh and explore! But couldn’t the best pre-school educator be right there in their own home? A stable home and a loving family provide a good foundation for learning, and yes, I know that, sadly, many children don’t have that; I realize most women work and don’t “stay home” with their children — but if we are talking about what is best for children, let’s affirm the importance of good parenting, complete with allowing children to have a childhood. Let’s honor family life, and recognize the importance of fulfilling our obligations to one another. Let’s turn some of our educational effort toward helping parents understand how to parent well. Let’s keep pre-school as an option, not a requirement, and when a family chooses pre-school for their child, yes, by all means let’s keep it a time of unstructured learning. Let’s remember that play is the work of childhood.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Teaching parents, helping parents, supporting parents — yes, yes. This is so vital to the national conversation. Even the most loving and stable homes could do with support when it comes to parenting. Thanks, Holly.

  13. James says:

    Thanks for that article. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say. I am in England and our pre school children come under a toddler curriculum called the early years foundation stage which has many bulletpoints of abilities that children are expected to do by a certain age. It is very robotic and assumes all children develop specific skills at the same time. My sister went to a parents evening for her 3 year old so and the teacher said her son is struggling recognizing numbers, my sister says he is only 3 and is hardly a priority at that age. Thanks again, all the best.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Sounds as if England the US are very similar in this — unfortunately. Teachers are under a lot of pressure to conform to the standards. Kudos to your sister for standing up for her 3-year-old and all 3-year-olds everywhere!

  14. Harriet says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I can’t tell you how I felt when I read it; it was like you were inside my head and heart writing my thoughts and feelings. Ten years ago I resigned as Preschool Director of my local School District (in Sothern California) and started my own non-profit preschool program housed in a local Community Center. I am so happy to now be in a place where decisions can be made based on what’s best for children and families without having to answer to a State Dept of Education. My staff and I have created a wonderful PRE school and we too are worried about the Feds ideas for Preschool education. My worry is it will only be the families with money who can choose how their young children are educated and everyone else will have to send their children where the education is free, and unfortunately dictated by non-early childhood educators and heaven forbid, politicians. I feel it is the children from low income families who will be hurt the most from this Universal Preschool debacle. All children need a play environment rich in language and creativity where critical thinking skills are encouraged and play that’s guided by adults trained in coaching emotions and conflict resolution. And no, our school does not drill the alphabet or counting, but it is highly praised by the Kindergarten teachers who get children from our school and see them as competant, creative, brilliant and skilled peace keeping individuals. Thank you again for your wonderfully written article!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thank you, Harriet. I’m so glad I could express what’s in your head and heart. Congratulations on creating a wonderful environment for young children to learn what’s truly important. I’m not surprised at all that your graduates are considered competent, creative and brilliant!

      Sounds as if you are a kindred spirit – you may be interested in my book “It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids” – filled with lots of free play, emotions and conflict mediation ideas.

Firefighter Cake

Once I learned of the glories of adding dry ice to a birthday cake, I couldn’t resist. My first creation was a volcano cake, complete with red lava frosting and dry ice smoke cascading down.  When my son turned 5 … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Cool Cakes and Costumes, Celebrating Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

15 Responses to Firefighter Cake

  1. Oh my gosh, Heather, I love, Love, LOVE it!

    I also resonate with your sentiment: “I’m not big on presents, but I do love experiences.” You gave the best gift of all – phenomenal memories that will be carried and cherished well into adulthood.

    Your experiment turned out exceedingly better than mine:
    And while the story was supposed to be fiction, it was based on actual events

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for sharing – wow in return – I’ve never tried flash fiction. Or should we call it flash nonfiction?

  2. That is just fantastic! Now my mind is really going…, thank you!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Can’t wait to see what you come up with for a fun bday cake! Let me know how it goes!

  3. Deidra Gorgos says:

    all I can say is WOW!

  4. Zane says:

    I just showed this to my girls. They were in awe and had many questions—about the dry ice especially! Thanks for sharing, and Happy Birthday to Luke!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You can get dry ice for ~ $1 at Meijers. We had fun exploding the lid off a tupperware container after the cake fun. The pressure builds up as the CO2 builds up inside the jar — and then BONK! The lid pops off. Extra fun if you put a little toy figure on top of the lid who jumps off spectacularly.

  5. Cute idea for a cake. Very clever.

    My best birthdays were sliding parties (January birthday in MN). A bunch of my friends and I would take our sleds, saucers, and toboggans to the nearby sliding hill and race up and down until we were too cold to stand it any longer, then goback to my house for cake and ice cream.

    I can’t remember a single present I received for all my combined birthdays age 1-18, but I’ll always remember the sliding parties.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Your sliding parties sound wonderful! Yes – very telling. “I can’t remember a single present I received for all my combined birthdays age 1-18, but I’ll always remember the sliding parties.” How true.

  6. Wendy says:

    That is awesome!

  7. Amber Grant says:

    Great cake!! What type of container did you use for the dry ice inside the house?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      We used a small glass candleholder, but I’ve also used a plastic container – most recently the small measuring top to children’s medicine bottle.

  8. Birthday cakes are my hobby for the past 3 years and I just love making them. Thanks for publishing this.