Author Archives: Heather Shumaker

Dealing with Disasters

The plane over the Ukraine this week shocked the world’s adults. What about the children? It can be tricky to talk about disasters in the news.  Kids don’t need to know about many disasters, but some events are so big … Continue reading

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Yes, There are Bad Guys

When the film “12 Years a Slave” came out, an adult friend of mine asked: “Should I watch it?” Yes. It’s an uncomfortable topic, and difficult to watch in places, but the history it covers deserves attention. Adults must participate … Continue reading

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4 Responses to Yes, There are Bad Guys

  1. Your best point was starting a dialogue early and adding bits of information gradually as the child grows and understands more. Sound advice.

    I don’t remember when I first heard of historical atrocities. I guess around 5th or 6th grade. We had a large Jewish community in town, and the teachers would occasionally bring in Holocaust survivors who lived in town to tell us first hand what they went through. Seeing tattoos of their prisoner numbers on their arms helped me understand that real people were harmed, not just a statistic in a history book.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, we had real life people come to our school, too, but this is almost a thing of the past as far as WWII goes. We still can make it human for people by telling stories, especially stories about children so kids can identify with them.

  2. Emily Plank, Abundant Life Children says:

    Did you happen to see this article? — Similar to what you are talking about. When we traveled this last spring, we were faced with some difficult history in some of the countries we stopped in: Vietnam and Ghana, in particular. Plus, we saw evidence of lots of human suffering. We kept the conversations simple, but we told our kids about the Vietnam war and about the slave trade. We also told them that we have a responsibility to work for fairness for everyone — these lessons have been significant. I think you bring up a really good point about not waiting for 7th grade when they get flooded with all the horrors at once.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes! Thank you, Emily. Some good thoughts about what the role of children’s books is. Books are a godsend for teaching about so many difficult topics.

      Wow – sounds as if your kids saw slave centers first hand. Sobering. Glad you were able to give them simple explanations that fit their ages. This is the first step in a life long of caring and justice-seeking ahead of them.

      It’s important we show what we’re working towards, and not paralyze kids. Thanks for sharing.

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Groups and Forced Participation

Kids spend much of their young lives herded into groups. Now we’ll sing, now we’ll march in a circle, now everybody clap your hands. Many group activities are terrific fun for young children. Kids often gravitate toward the group and … Continue reading

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16 Responses to Groups and Forced Participation

  1. Patty Horvath says:

    I really loved this article. I am a para professional in Dade Co. Schools and have been trying to get this across to the teacher in my class all year. It is good to see it in print. I also liked the examples to connect with these children.

  2. Jenifer says:

    I was thinking about this regarding my daughter (who is almost 4) and kindergarten/grade school. She’s always been comfortable and happy watching activity at preschool or anywhere else until she feels ready to join (which doesn’t always happen). I worry about her being forced to join story time, and worse, music class or gym class. She’s got two years until she’s eligible to start public school, so I know she’ll change a lot, but it’s definitely something I’ll be giving a lot of thought to over the next couple years.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Three is an age many kids thrive as observers. Glad you’re thinking about this issue. Sometimes just letting other adults know you’re fine with her observing style is all it takes to make everyone comfortable. An “It’s OK with me if it’s OK with you” can take you a long way.

  3. I am very grateful for your article. You have touched on a very delicate subject and handled it perfectly, I am not sure what happens in the classroom of all ages, but we forget the individual child the moment they enter a center. Your article deals with all ages in care. Some of the youngest infants are exposed to circle time and report cards when they enter care. Often times a child’s facial expression isnot taken into account when herded into group activities. I understand that children have to comply, but when they cannot for whatever reason, they can be labeled as non-compliant, learning disabled and the list goes on. Your post is so valuable. I wish we could rethink these group activities for the very young. There will be plenty of time for children to stand in line and wait.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I am an EC teacher in a self-contained classroom for children with autism. We have desks, bean bags, etc. where students can sit away from the group, yet have parallel participation. In addition, we have “break cards” available for those willing to sit with the group, but may become overstimulated during a lesson. Students with autism often struggle to look, listen, sit, and process information simultaneously. It is often in their best interest to let them keep a comfortable distance and interact at their own pace to avoid anxiety, overstimulation, and/or unwanted behaviors. Thank you for this article. I think it applies to all children, especially those with sensory processing issues.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You bring up important points. There’s such a range of individuals, and groups do provide an enormous amount of stimulation. Keep up your wonderful work.

  5. CJ says:

    I like this but I would like more information on what is developmentally appropriate. What age do we start working with them to identify what they are feeling so they can learn to get over their fears? I doubt a fifth grade teacher is going to be ok with a child sitting out of whatever activity they choose, at some point we have to teach them that they are going to have to do things they don’t want to, like homework. I definitely agree with this article but there has got to be a next step here to transition them from young learners exploring themselves and their world to academic achievers that are learning that the world has rules and expectations of them.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’d certainly ask a 2-year-old on up if they’re scared of something, or something’s bothering them. You never know what it might be. A scary-looking tree branch by the window, a kid who pushes them… As for transitioning to the next stage, that’s an excellent question. I believe it’s a gradual combination of both respecting individual styles/ fears and setting expectations. Other ideas?

  6. In my recently published book All About Bullying (Alles over pesten, see url) I approach the problem of bullying from a psychological, sociological, historical and philosophical perspective. The idea of a childhood in which a child grows up with allmoste uniquely other children from the same age (as happens in schools), is quite new. People used to live in vertical groups (different ages), which had two important benefits: 1) your position (and status) is a given fact which automatically changes in time (for new group members arrive and old members die) and 2) social knowledge about group life can be transferred from one generation to the next. These are two important features that lack in schools, where children have to define their position in the group against other group members of the same age, and without the knowledge of how to be a positve and supportive group. That is an important reason why bullying is a main problem in schools. Now, with regard to your story I would like to add the possibility of bullying: the child is bullied, the group is not safe. Of course this refers to your suggestion that a child might be worried, but if he or she is bullied, there is also a possibility that he or she cannot tell you about it, for this will reinforce the bullies and the child will severely be punished for telling.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Best of luck with your book. Yes, groups are not always safe. Kids – spectators, not just the picked on child – need support speaking up and setting limits on behavior that hurts people.

  7. Loved this line, “Don’t force kids to participate, but don’t let their actions disrupt the group.”
    Thanks for this nice short article!

  8. vannamaria kalofonos says:

    very very true- it’s hard to convince teachers to allow children not to participate or join when they are ready

  9. Gina says:

    Thank you for this article. On my son’s first day of Kindergarten, I was asked to see the teacher after class. She told me my son was extremely defiant. Horrified, I asked what happened. She said he refused to to stand up and introduce himself when it was explained that the whole class would have to. She then asked if he frequently displayed this type of defiant behavior. I thought “Really?? A new school, new teacher, new classmates, is it any wonder why he might be hesitant?”. It’s too bad she didn’t read this article.

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Of Cauliflower and Cardboard: Finding Good Daycare

When I was on maternity leave and searching for good daycare, I had definite ideas about what I wanted to see before trusting my child to a stranger. My original criteria included being home-based, play-based, having no TV and good … Continue reading

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2 Responses to Of Cauliflower and Cardboard: Finding Good Daycare

  1. Kelly says:

    These are the signs of a good provider, in my book, after working in child care for 15 years. Luckily, after a rough start, we found someone that meets all of these needs. You want to walk with 8-10 kids (including my two year old twins) to the park a block away on a regular basis? Perfect! You have a “no thank you bite” policy on veggies? Perfect! You spend the majority of your afternoon outside? Perfect! You spend the majority of your mornings reading stories either one on one or in small groups and then engaging the kids in elaborate pretend games? Perfect! If a child doesn’t want to participate in the activity you planned for the day, you let them choose from a whole host of developmentally appropriate but challenging and fun activities? YOU ARE MY HERO.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      So glad you found the perfect spot for your family. Sounds as if you have a confident provider and I hope you shower him/her with thanks. As your story demonstrates, it’s common for families to start off with a “rough start” and then settle in to finding the right person to fill their needs.

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Summer Slide or School Slide?

As the school year wraps up, the usual things come home in my kids’ backpacks – stubby pencils, forgotten jackets, artwork, end-of-year piles of papers. But one item startled me. It was a note assuming I was scared of summer: … Continue reading

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8 Responses to Summer Slide or School Slide?

  1. Erika Cedillo says:

    I loved your post!! We are just experiencing the first year at school with my oldest daughter and I was getting on that mood but your post just reminded me that summer is about life and fun. I really loved it!! Thanks for reminding us how much our children learn from playing and exploring the world around them.

  2. I agree with everything you wrote, Heather. One of my strongest recurring end of school year memories is all the plans I was making to “do stuff” during the summer. Nothing related to school usually. Mostly games I wanted to play, places in town I wanted to explore, what my friends and I would do with our days, going to the beach, playing baseball or softball, going to the local park and doing all the activities the “park leaders” would facilitate.

    Perhaps most important, the chance to run, jump, climb, get caught in the rain, do “nothing” and come home at the end of the day dirty, sweaty, tired, but glad it was only one day out of about 90. So I guess what I learned during summer was how to be a kid.

    I don’t worry about anything being lost during the school year because the act of learning in a certain genre is what’s really taught. By genre I mean- music is an aural language and playing music or singing teaches us to use that part of our brain which requires us to use our hearing to analyze, adjust, synchronize with other musicians. Math is a numerical language that teaches us to use the calculator part of our brain. Reading is a visual language that teaches us to develop our word and thought forming skills. Visual Art is a tactile, sensual language that teaches us how to create or reproduce shapes, colors, three-dimensional objects and better understand what makes an object pleasant to look at or touch.

    When I was in band all through school, I rarely remembered any pieces we performed or practiced that year. But the next year I had improved and was able to play successively more difficult music because I had gone through the process of developing my skills one piece at a time, one note at a time. It’s the doing part of the learning that’s most important, not the retention part of the learning. Retention comes after the doing.


  3. Heather Shumaker says:

    Thanks for sharing your memories, Chris. Love your phrase “it’s the doing part of learning that’s most important.”

  4. CJ says:

    Thank you for this post! I’m so sick of hearing about the “summer slide” in the media I want to scream! As a preschool teacher for the last 12 years, every year I seem to see more and more 3-5 year olds who don’t have the chance to just explore, dream and, yes, learn during the summer. And they are, in my opinion, suffering because of it. My children are grown now, but I was very blessed to be able to let them have their summers to “think their own thoughts, play their own games, and take a break from academics.” They were able to do things and explore things during the summer that they didn’t have the opportunity to during the school year. My oldest, my daughter, in now in a very competitive graduate program studying Physical Therapy. My youngest, my son, will be a junior in college this fall, and plans to continue on in grad school in Audiology. Did they suffer “summer slide” during their summers “off”? Absolutely NOT! They have become well-rounded adults because they were able to do all that you talk about in your post. Very sorry for the long post, but I wanted young parents to know that it IS OK!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for your encouragement to all parents raising kids out there. Fear and worry can get out of hand. Many thanks for adding your voice.

  5. Nikki Stahl says:

    Your new slogan:

    It’s okay to play.

    I want to wear a t-shirt and shout it from the rooftops!

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Screen Time for Parents

I remember when I first saw someone walking down the street with a cell phone to their ear. It was a remarkable sight, and not that long ago.  Now what’s remarkable is seeing someone who’s NOT got a device attached … Continue reading

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4 Responses to Screen Time for Parents

  1. I think the electronic distractions will get worse until it gets so pervasive that it becomes “cool” to not be attached to an electronic device. Unfortunately, our kids will suffer because they’ll learn to behave by watching Mom and Dad. And when the kids have children of their own, their children might rebel against their parents completely ignoring them because they’re a slave to their devices.
    I only hope we don’t become a world of zombies wandering around with our eyes glued to a screen.

    My only tip is that real life is not what you see on a screen! Put it away and look at the beautiful scenery instead of videoing it with your cell phone! Bend over and smell the flowers instead of googling roses on Wikipedia to find out what they smell like. Attend a concert in the park in your town and listen to a live band rather than check the latest one-hit wonder out on YouTube.


  2. Nikki Stahl says:

    I still don’t have a smartphone for this reason. It’s too hard to parent while being that distracted. And, I’ll admit that I’m just as addicted to the Internet as everyone else.

    There are so many emotional/educational/social development reasons to not be on a cell phone when you’re with your children, BUT what gets me the most is how unsafe it is.

    We live in a region surrounded by water and everywhere I go I see parents with small children, near water, distracted by their cell phones. You see it so much, it hardly even registers in your brain that it shouldn’t be done, but when a two-year-old wanders into a boat ramp with a car backing down, and nobody notices, it is just terrifying. I’m hoping there comes a day when beaches and other public water access areas have signs posting about the dangers of phones and kids.

    Of course, this is not just limited to water. The just-walking toddler on the top of the jungle gym makes me cringe just as much.

    But, I shouldn’t just write about it here. I should do something about it!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful post. “It’s too hard to parent while being that distracted.” Parenting requires a lot of multi-tasking as it is, devices can make our patience and thinking skills even more fragmented.

      Beaches and phones – yes, that is a new danger. Thanks for pointing it out.

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Watching our Words

Tired old phrases often come out of our mouths when we talk to kids, especially in times of frustration.  Do you find this happening to you? When we’re exasperated, our minds reach for the first thing that comes to the … Continue reading

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2 Responses to Watching our Words

  1. Leanne Dyck says:

    My training as an Early Childhood Educator helped me to rewrite some of the script I’d written as a child minder. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t run.” I learnt to say, “Walking feet.”
    Well, when you say, “Don’t run” all the child hears is run. And even if they hear the entire sentence all you’ve done is told them what not to do. You haven’t given them an option. Whereas, “Walking feet” gives them that option in a nice, tidy two word sentence.
    I’m looking forward to featuring you on my blog this coming Friday, Heather.
    Happy wiiting

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks, for sharing your story, Leanne. Yes, we can all learn new words!

      It can also be really wonderfull to say “Run!” (finding places where kids can run). Location is the big deal here, ex: “This room is for walking. Go outside if you need to run.”

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What to Say Instead of “Sorry”

Kids love the word “sorry.”  Just say “sorry” after you push someone and the adults are appeased. It’s magic. One short word and you’re off the hook. We expect kids to say “sorry” because we want kids to patch things … Continue reading

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6 Responses to What to Say Instead of “Sorry”

  1. One of my favorite parts of your book, Heather. You nailed the key: you can’t force remorse.

    I’ve often been surprised by kids’ kindness, but I think in most situations it was because the kid had suffered the same ailment (bad cold, scraped knee, getting hit by another kid) so they had real empathy and they knew what would make the wounded kid better because they had received similar treatment when they were the hurt party (ex, Mom kissed the booboo, or gave him/her a hug or a favorite stuffed animal, etc.)


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Nice that it rhymes, too!

      Kids often don’t know what to do after they did something wrong or hurt someone. The more we model and give them ideas to truly resolve the problem, the more they rise to the occasion. Love your examples of kids following models they’ve witnessed many times.

  2. Great short synopsis of why we ought not force children to say they are sorry. I love your book too, and sometimes it’s nice to have an easy-to-digest post like this to share with a new friend. I’ll be sharing it out from our “Respectful Parent” Facebook page soon.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Glad it was helpful, Dawn. Many thanks for comments and thanks for sharing it with others who may benefit from re-thinking “sorry.”

  3. Thank you for summarizing this, Heather. I’ve found your explanation and alternative very helpful both with my toddler and with the primary school pupils I teach. I like that its simple and effective – most other approaches designed to develop empathy and remorse end up more like a lecture.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You’re welcome. Yes, it does work for many ages. As you say, it’s not a lecture – it’s the kids talking to each other and developing skills and values inside of themselves.

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Mothers Aren’t for Hitting

If you know young children, you know about explosive anger. There’s lots to be frustrated about when you’re little, and this pent up emotional energy often breaks out physically.  Kids hit, kick, cry and yell. Hitting per se is not … Continue reading

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4 Responses to Mothers Aren’t for Hitting

  1. I hadn’t thought about the domestic abuse connection to allowing children to hit, but wow, does that make sense! And your alternative, to hit a pillow (or other inanimate object that can’t be hurt) is brilliant.

    I’ve always been an advocate of providing a punching bag for adults to beat up when they’re angry. Not a human punching bag of course, but one that boxers use. Or one of those inflatable plastic figures that are weighted on the bottom so you can knock them over and they bounce right back up, ready for another left hook.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Oh yes, I used to love those inflatable bounce-back punching toys. We had a clown. More often than not, its momentum would cause it to knock us down.

      Punching bags for all ages can be extremely helpful. Get it out. Get the emotion out on a safe target.

  2. Vicki says:

    Thank you. My usually delightful and sweet 3 year old son has started biting me and throwing himself at me. I already talk to him directly with “I won’t” sort of statements, but the biting and throwing himself keep shocking me into loud responses like “OW!” Thank you for the reminder to stay calm and direct, and especially for the important and easily-forgotten reminder that mothers are people too.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You’re welcome. Keep setting limits on what you do and don’t like for your body. “Mothers are people, too…mothers are people, too…”

      If your little guy is typical, you’ll see this kind of behavior of attempted attacks continue when he’s four, too. Get ready to be strong and consistent. Your sweet boy is still there, but there will be times he needs help controlling his emotions and physical energy.

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Climbing UP the Slide

If you’ve ever been on a U.S. playground, you know one of the biggest controversies is this: should kids be allowed to go up the slide? The fact the question exists at all shows there’s a split between what’s good … Continue reading

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9 Responses to Climbing UP the Slide

  1. Erika Cedillo says:

    I’ve think of this issue many times. Mainly when my oldest was very little (she’s now 5) and I kind of “learned” that you should teach them to go on their bump. But in the back of my mind I would also think that going up is also fun, but I held myself from encouraging her to do it. Until she was older and more stable (3years), I realized that at her daycare they had a slide where they were allowed and kind of encouraged to climb up and that was an aha! moment for me. It was just a matter of waiting for her to be older and stronger to practice that skill. Now with my second that is 17 months, we are in the process of teaching her to go down on her bump only while her sister explores going up. I finally understood it’s a matter of safety and development. As for the harsh look of other parents, I think the only issue is you make sure your children don’t take over the slide and allow others to have a chance, and to teach them of being mindful of younger children. Going up or down, I think it’s a matter of physical ability and they need to learn what they can do! Don’t you remember how strong you felt when doing that? I like to see how proud she feels when she masters a new challenge, a new structure.

  2. My little babe just started going down slides (at 17 months) and she already tries to climb up them also! It must be some rite of childhood!

  3. Christy Qualin says:

    If other kids aren’t gonna slide down when my toddler is trying to climb up, I’m okay with it. Have never encountered negative vibes or comments from other adults. My playground pet peeve tho is people who bring their dogs! It’s for kids, not dogs!

  4. Jan Waters says:

    All kids, I believe if left alone, want to go up the slide at some point. The only problem I see is that some want to go up while some are coming down. But then what a wonderful opportunity to problem solve a conflict!! Jan

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, very true – another chance for getting practice solving conflicts.

      Love your statement “All kids…if left alone…” We need to remember to leave them alone sometimes.

  5. David Parker says:

    Just make sure you don’t let our nanny government decide!

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