Category Archives: Joyful Literacy

Fantastic Fiction: Encouraging Young Writers

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 … Continue reading

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.

Why Accelerating Reading Harms Kids and Books

We’re in a mad rush to speed up childhood again. This time rushing them through the delights of children’s literature. Children are asked to read “at their level.” For schools participating in the Accelerated Reader program (owned by a publicly … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Good Reads, Books for Kids, Joyful Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

8 Responses to Why Accelerating Reading Harms Kids and Books

  1. Marisol says:

    Thanks for sharing . You always interesting points brindas views about reading .
    I am reading but my children do not
    Freshly at that picture books comics process the routing will
    Forcing thought I could achieve something.
    Now with your contributions better I understand my children
    Congratulations on this special feeling for children

  2. Ariadne says:

    Heather, what a wonderful ideas you share here. I love this “Once they can read independently, kids should be able to move freely within the vast treasure trove of children’s literature.” and this is what we try to encourage in our home as well. Thank you!

  3. deidra says:

    Reading is such a complicated thing. I abhor the leveled reading books as they are boring and yes I will say TOO EASY. Typically they were all about working on a certain phonetic pattern and had no story whatsoever. BORING. I don’t think reading should ever be rushed EVER! It is a sure fire way to turn kids off reading forever. Your child will be your guide when it comes to reading readiness. Let them pick out whatever they want to read regardless of level or literary merit. so much more fun when you go to the library or book store and let them choose with no restrictions or judgement. So cool to see what book they come back with easy, hard, or just right!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, I think we forget that teaching reading is also about teaching storytelling. A story worth telling should be engaging – no matter how simple the words. There are so many good picture book authors who understand this. Children who are independent readers and children who are learning to read deserve to read something worthwhile.

  4. Love the concept of Thinking Level vs Reading Level. Some of my fondest reads as a child were going back and rereading at age 8 a book I had first mastered at age 6, or rereading at age 10 a book I had first mastered at age 8. It was like getting reacquainted with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a while.

    It’s so frustrating that educators focus on the outcomes of education almost to the exclusion of the processes and progressions of education. Every individual learns uniquely, but still we try to achieve the ultimate one-size-fits-all solution. In my fantasy world, every child has an adult mentor who gently guides them through the childhood learning process and adapts any specific “lessons” that are presented to the child’s mindset and learning process at that precise moment.


  5. Shannon S says:

    I could not agree with you more. My 7th grade English class used the Accelerated Reader program. I was an enthusiastic, lifelong reader and an ambitious, eager-to-please student. Naturally, I gravitated to the books with the biggest numbers on the list – why would you not want the most points??

    I have no memory of those books.

    I was capable of reading the words and understanding the sentences, but I was still just 11 years old and just not ready to deal with the complexity of the ideas of the books yet. Bless my younger self for trying, I suppose, but it’s very clear to me now (20 years later) that no purpose was served by this correlation between books and points.

  6. Mike Huber says:

    This has always bothered me. I remember when my child was in first grade and they put the board book Jamberry on their reading list. The school used AR, but I encouraged my child to read what they liked. Now my child is 12 years old. They read a few books at a time, volunteer at a local bookstore, and write their own fiction. They have a poem being published in a local journal this winter. When I think back to the uninspiring books my child was being asked to read in first grade, it makes me wonder why anyone would think that AR is going to create lifelong readers.

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

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Joyful Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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!

Teach Literacy during Temper Tantrums

Effective parenting is often counterintuitive. My favorite time to teach early literacy is when a child is wailing or hopping mad. Sounds crazy, no? The idea of grabbing a pen and paper when a child is screaming, kicking their heels, … Continue reading

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

4 Responses to Teach Literacy during Temper Tantrums

  1. Amy says:

    Heather, I met you a while back at the Ohioana book festival; my son is 25 months. I discovered your book after listening to you on NPR (and also realizing that SYC is only two miles from my house!). We just started writing letters to our son in the last few weeks. I will be honest: I did not think it would work. But it sounded so wonderful that I thought we should do it for practice, so he could “get it” later. Well, he got it right away! It’s stopped every tantrum cold, and last night, the most incredible thing happened at bedtime. Our son was starting to ramp up into a tantrum because he wanted to play with the vacuum at bedtime…and as he began to cry he wailed, “Write note!” My heart must have skipped a beat! We raced out to the kitchen and wrote his note, and that was the end of tears.

    I love your book. I am so glad I discovered it…you have given me the gift of better parenting, because it was not modeled for me. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You warmed my heart with your story.

      Writing dictated notes is my #1 favorite part of the book, because it’s SO EFFECTIVE and so respectful of the child. But many parents are hesitant to try it. The idea seems foolish.

      Love your strong recommendation: “He got it right away! It’s stopped every tantrum cold.”


  2. Briana Feinberg says:

    We have had the same experience with our son. He loved it immediately, and now asks to write notes when he gets upset. Sometimes he even finds the solution to his problem and puts it in his note. This is one he dictated last week: “Dear Mommy, I’m crying because of animal cookies. I want to eat them now but Mommy said ‘after lunch.’ No, not after lunch. I want to eat them now. It’s hard to wait. I want to eat eggs and then eat animal cookies. Mommy says ‘OK.’ Let’s eat. Love, E.” He is 28 months old. I also shared this idea with another mom and she used it with her 4-year-old who was terrified to walk past a sculpture of a hippo at the zoo. We met there the other day and her daughter told me “I wrote a note to the hippo asking her to be nice and I brought it with me to give her.” Her mom told me it was the first time they ever walked past the sculpture without a problem.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Love the examples! So glad the hippo turned out to be nice and doesn’t bother that little girl anymore. Your son’s problem-solving is amazing. How wonderful to watch his brain work it out. May you both have many years of writing notes together. Thanks so much for sharing your stories.

How to Find a True Play-Based Preschool

When I wrote about Centers in child care programs last week, a reader asked me a fundamental question: How do you find a play-based program?  How do you know if a preschool or daycare is truly play-based?  Her question deserves a … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Joyful Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

16 Responses to How to Find a True Play-Based Preschool

  1. “True play is child-directed and child-initiated.”

    Yes! A great post to Tweet and Google+!

  2. Kelly says:

    The preschool my twins will attend when they are old enough (technically, they are now, but I’m waiting until they’re actually preschool-aged) is called Habibi’s Hutch, in Austin TX. The sole reason it’s at the top of my list is that it is a truly play-based center. There is a loose schedule, and by loose I mean they have lunch at approximately the same time every day and a short rest time after that to recharge for the afternoon’s fun. Check them out!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Love the name! Food, rest and play – the best recipe of all. So glad you’ve found a home (hutch).

  3. Madeline says:

    We are lucky enough to live near Bev Bos’ Roseville Community Preschool. I was nodding the whole time reading your post! We have no alphabet on the wall, but we do have clipboard, paper, and pens. We walk up to a child and ask: “How does your story start?” You should hear what they have to tell us! If there is a fight over an item, we ask: “Ask her if you can use it when she’s done.” We have the kids speak for themselves and the results are amazing.

    Some people have shared you tube videos of the school if anyone wants to check out what an amazing place it is!…0.0…

    (By the way, I am writing this with food coloring stained hands from being at school when they were doing the ice, salt, and food coloring activity.)

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You get to go to Bev Bov’s school? I’m jealous. True and tremendous play going on there. Thanks for sharing the videos. Here’s a video I made about Free Play, too

      Story dictation is one of the most loving and respectful ways to introduce literacy to kids. Kids are natural storytellers and should be storytellers first. No alphabet needed. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great article. You’ve really hit on a lot of great points. But there are different depths and components to play, and the role of the caregiver in young children’s development cannot be over-emphasized. In their book From Neurons to Neighborhood, the Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development writes, “While hours of care, stability of care, and type of care are sometimes associated with developmental outcomes, it is the quality of care and, in particular, the quality of the daily transactions between child care providers and the children for whom they are responsible, that carry the weight of the influence of child care on children’s development.”

    The field of interpersonal neurobiology has been illuminating the importance of attachment and relationships in early brain formation. It is not so much hands-off play, but facilitating experiences in which young children feel safe and secure, but have opportunities to formulate and modify their own schemas in open-ended exploration with a reflective caregiver, allowing children to bring implicit impressions into focal awareness.

    I am a strong advocate for play and appreciate the attention you are bringing it in your work. But there is a great deal of depth to young children’s development that goes well beyond play, and I am eager to see these issues be brought to the forefront of awareness. I look forward to reading more of your insights into parenting and early childhood development.

    Check out our website, but keep in mind, just as the moon is reflected in the dewdrop, our website is only a small reflection of the real work we do. Keep up the great work.

  5. Yes, I’m pleased to say, I do! Campbell Child Development Center is truly a play-based program. We are seeking families who wish to partner with us in support of play. Come observe and/or set up a tour to see if our program is a good fit with your parenting philosophy. For more information about Campbell Child Development Center, please check our our website at, our Facebook page at, or check us out on YELP.

    Thanks for the inspiring articles in advocacy of young children!

  6. Thanks for sharing this blog. Great information. Little Pearls, Play school in Vasant Vihar is having a wonderful environment for our kids. We provide a variety of playing activities for our little kids.

  7. Lisa says:

    I’m an RECE and I think your post is excellent. It should be shared with educators all over the field; when I was hunting for a play-based centre to work in I came across a profusion of centres like you described. In the job description they said play-based, but interviews and tours revealed a disappointing reality. You can’t just call yourself a play-based centre because it’s a hot buzzword. It’s an entire philosophy and I love that you included risk and mess within it.

  8. Verena says:

    We live in the Charleston, SC area. I was born and raised in Germany, I am a child educator myself and a true play based preschool is what I would want for our daughter. Most preschools back home are play based. It’s not hard to find. Where we live now is quite the opposite. I’m actually shocked. There is one school that follows the Reggio approach, but the commute is too long and it’s out of our price range. I am so sad that my daughter won’t get to experience this. At this point I am just keeping her with me. We do lots of playdates with lots of free play time, mostly outdoors. Still, I truly wish play based approaches were more common and appreciated by parents and teachers alike.

  9. rebecca says:

    Hi! I’m currently looking for a true play based preschool in Columbus, OH. Are there other ones that you recommend in addition to School for the Young?


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Rebecca, SYC is certainly a wonderful choice if you are not put on a waiting list. If you don’t get in, I’d suggest giving SYC a call and asking them what other good play-based schools they recommend in Columbus.

  10. Suzanne King says:

    I love this article – I am looking for a play based preschool in the Corona, CA area- Eastvale, Norco, Corona, Riverside, Ontario, Chino and Chino Hills are the surrounding areas. ANY suggestions are greatly appreciated!

Why we should read “Old” books to kids

A librarian recently told me about the purging system librarians use. “You can’t expect kids today to like the books their parents liked. People always think they can read their childhood favorites to kids. It just doesn’t work.” I beg … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Books for Kids, Joyful Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Why we should read “Old” books to kids

  1. “You can’t expect kids today to like the books their parents liked. People always think they can read their childhood favorites to kids. It just doesn’t work.”

    Them’s fightin’ words!
    Like you, I oh-so beg to differ.

  2. We read mostly “old” books to our daughter. It never occurred to me not to. Our parents read “old” books to us. They are just as much a way of learning about the past as a history textbook. And there are reasons why they are classics, because the stories endure.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      And much more exciting than a textbook, too! Sounds as if you’ve had some lovely reading times as a family. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Lucy says:

    I read dozens of my parents’ favourite books when I was a child. I don’t know where the librarian got the idea that kids will only read books with shiny new covers. The Borrowers series, The Wouldbegoods, The Alice in Wonderland series, the Hobbit, and Kipling’s Just So Stories, were all favourites of mine, to name a few.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Wonderful! The language and rhythm of some of these stories can be just as compelling as the adventures. Keep on sharing them.

  4. Nicole says:

    I love “old” books, and have always read them to my son, right along with new ones. There have been a few he just couldn’t get into, but many more that he adored! I think they’ve enriched his literary background immensely, and plan to keep reading them as long as he’ll listen.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Bravo! Keep on reading– all the way through high school if you can. It’s a great way to get past the first few sticky chapters of some classics.

  5. Yes we should read old books to kids, just like we should be playing ‘old music’ to them as well. Would your librarian also say that kids wouldn’t like listening to old classical masterpieces? HA! Like you say, classics (no matter what type or genre) are classics for a reason.

Intentional Parenting

Last week my kids helped me celebrate my birthday with a new family tradition:  Reciting poetry.  I asked everyone to memorize a poem and recite it on my birthday.  The result was lovely.  I felt serenaded.  The kids glowed.  Since … Continue reading

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

6 Responses to Intentional Parenting

  1. Great list, Heather. All I can think to add is:

    Always be learning- the lifelong education idea

    Exercise your body as well as your mind- as you state, much can be learned by children from playing, and a healthy body also improves one’s self-esteem and confidence


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Great additions, Chris. And as far as exercise goes, this message is more important than ever for today’s kids and parents. Maybe we need one that says “get outside every day.” Bravo!

  2. Heather – You rock! I love your list, thank you for sharing it.

    One of the things we do on purpose — by intent — is practice kindness. It’s as simple as that.

  3. Gina says:

    I am new to your blog (referred by Abundant Parenting), and I am enjoying your point of view immensely!

    I have just been making a list of skills and priorities that I want to pass on to my daughter, so this list is timely for me. I also appreciate the suggestions in the comments.

    My 5 year old daughter will be starting kindergarten next month, and I am trying to prepare her and myself for the transition. I want to keep encouraging her free spirit and natural curiousity, but it seems that many schools don’t subscribe to that notion, so I need to find ways to balance their “scheduled” learning style with more free play at home. Thank you for the many great ideas and support! 🙂

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Great to have you, Gina! Welcome aboard.

      Your daughter is lucky to have you, and I’m sure your list is packed with good priorities. So glad to hear you’re creating your own list.

      Yes, lots of open, unscheduled time at home will be even more important. Hopefully your kindergarten teacher will allow true free play during the school day, too, but kindergarten teachers are under lots of pressure and it’s rare to find a teacher who can give kids as much play-based learning as kids need. Good luck!

Like, Like

As parents, we’re all English teachers. Our kids learn the sound and rhythm of language from day one, and we enhance it – mostly unknowingly – every day since. I consider part of my motherly job description to be helping … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Joyful Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

7 Responses to Like, Like

  1. This is great! My grandmother was an elementary school teacher so I learned proper grammar from an early age. But we’ve been living overseas for the last five years in non-English speaking countries so it’s easy to get lazy when you’re only hearing broken English for so long. Also, our daughter is in an Indian preschool where the language is pretty much 19th-Century British Colonial English. We’re headed to the United States for a year so I’m hoping all our English improves then.

    I will have to watch the “likes”. I’m so conscious of it in writing but sloppier when speaking.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for stopping by! Love your story of being surrounded by different types of English overseas. I’m sure your grandmother would be proud of your efforts to keep away from lazy speech. Best of luck on your return to the US. Should be interesting to find what differences you note (speech and otherwise) in your time away.

  2. I hate “like” only less than “you know” as lazy language. I have no ideas how to get rid of it. I think it’s a function of our fast pace lives. People don’t have time to think before they speak, so they stall for time by saying like and you know as placeholders.

    Perhaps the only way to banish lazy language is to encourage respect for words and the unique meaning each word brings to a sentence. But I don’t see that happening with any of the younger generations.

    I try not to say like and you know, but accept that I’m as guilty as most in misusing them, but always try to speak with some sort of eloquence.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      “You know” is another ubiquitous one. When people say a filler word too much they don’t even notice it. One way to get rid of those is to ask someone to say “beep” every time you accidentally say the word. Another good method is to join a Toastmasters speaking club – there you get lots of people helping you improve your speech.

      Keep striving for eloquence!

  3. Liz P. says:

    I had a high school English teacher who banished ‘got/get’ from all our essays and that has stuck with me for 20 years now. She was also strict about our use of ‘that’. If a sentence sounds fine without ‘that’ (go ahead, say it out loud!), she told us, then do not use it. These days, when I find myself overusing these words, I will amend my speech and repeat my sentence…hoping that my awareness of my lazy language at least sounds intelligent and makes up for my crazy sounding repetition 😉

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I love your English teacher. “Got/get” are good ones to target – and “that” too! I find I skip reading the word “that” in books when I read aloud to my kids. It’s clunky and unnecessary. Thanks for sharing your story – wonderful what an influence one careful, opinionated person can be.

  4. Adele says:

    One of my favorite and most helpful writing hints is to avoid using the word “very”. If you need to use it, a writer-friend once advised, you’ve got the wrong adjective.

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.

Modern Memorization

When my grandmother was losing her memory, she still remembered the poetry she had memorized as a girl.  She had no idea who I was (“this is my great friend…(pause) tell me again how we met?”), but out for a … Continue reading

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Joyful Literacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

8 Responses to Modern Memorization

  1. Deidra says:

    Great Post. The photo is beautiful. I still know my child hood phone number by heart, random parts of the “Midnight ride of Paul Revere, the lyrics to “Show Me the Way to go Home,” and various other things. I often feel smart phones have made us dumb. Growing up, I probably knew everyone of my friends phone numbers by heart!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I just heard on NPR today that it’s a problem when we look up information on our smart phones and find information too fast. We don’t have time to wonder. The radio expert was suggesting that we wait 20 minutes before looking up an answer, pause, and exercise the human brain capacity to WONDER for a while. This is not a problem for me since I don’t have a smart phone…

      Love it that you have snippets of “Paul Revere” and “Show me the Way…” in your head!

  2. Heather – The poems I can recite from memory are the ones that my teacher, Mrs. Kline, had her students memorize in the fifth grade. To no surprise, in my heart she stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of all the other teachers I’ve ever had — and that’s saying a lot. When I was in my 20’s, I made a point of locating her and telling her what being her student meant to me. Needless to way, we both cried (happy tears).

    I agree with the list of items you suggest our children learn, by heart. Sadly, I’ve encountered many adult clients who don’t have a handle on half of it.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Laurie, What a wonderful gift you were given in 5th grade! I’m so glad you told Mrs. Kline. A life gift indeed.

      Teachers out there – can you introduce poetry memorization into your classes? It carries forward.

  3. Fleda Brown says:

    I would never have started writing poems if I hadn’t listened to my father recite them all through my childhood. Nothing is more magical than hearing memorized poems. I am a lousy memorizer. My great loss. I have several lines of hundreds of poems, but I can’t seem to hold a whole one for very long.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      The world is so glad you started writing poems! Thanks to your father. I agree there is something magical about hearing something memorized. I take my kids to the Beach Bards each summer where anyone can tell a story or recite a poem – as long as it’s from memory. Something glorious about that.

  4. Ah, memorization. I lament that it is one of the casualties of the Internet Age, and perhaps one of the negative “unintended consequences” of going electronic.

    I will always memorize important phone numbers because to me nothing would be worse than needing to call a family member or friend in an emergency and not having one’s cellphone available to speed dial the number.

  5. Heather Shumaker says:

    Yes, numbers. I agree it’s important to store vital information in our heads. I never was much good at remembering numbers — words I can remember! I still have trouble remembering my own phone number sometimes (!) but I do have several phone numbers memorized.

    I wonder what our culture’s current lack of memorization is doing to our brains?