Learning Through Play, Parenting

Budding Photographer

With my blog and Instagram account, the kids are used to me taking 5000 photos of them doing random things or of random objects. Because of this, Emma likes to use this pretend phone…


…to “take pictures” like mommy. Instead of pretending, I handed her my iPhone X (!) one night so she could actually take photos. Yes, I did trust my 4-year-old with my iPhone as long as she held it with both hands and used walking feet. 😉


I did not give her any directions or give her ideas on what to take pictures of. The only limit I set was she had to stay in our backyard and be done when it was dinner time.


I didn’t get a chance to look back through her photos until later that evening when both kids were in bed. I loved seeing the world through her eyes! I also had the chance to see what she valued as important or interesting as she kept taking photos of the same items as they changed or moved.


Her favorite portrait to take is her brother’s. Once she was given an ACTUAL camera, she was kind to give the toy one to Lee so he could join in if he wanted. He was more concerned that mommy left him in the grass with no shoes on (the horror!) than trying to follow his sister around.


She also loves this garden. Earlier this summer she helped us transform it from something out of Jurassic Park to the beautiful little corner it is now. She takes great pride in it and will weed it whenever she sees something growing that’s not supposed to be there.


Many beautiful summer nights have been spent sitting around this fire pit making s’mores and looking up at the stars. I thought her perspective of the fire pit was a perfect example of what life looks like when you’re only 3 1/2 feet tall!


Then she found the filters…


…and the ZOOM


But I think what I loved the most was seeing how many pictures there were of us, her family. Many were candid shots (that blurred or caught us super off-guard) but they were wonderful because it showed what everyday life looks like for our family.


I highly recommend letting your child have free reign of a camera sometime. Yes, you will end up with about 50 random photos on your phone, but getting that glimpse of what life is like through their eyes is totally worth it. I plan on having Emma select some of these to get printed and put into frames to be displayed. I’m hoping it will show her that we value her perspective and her work and that photography truly is an art. After all, who doesn’t want a photo of the sunset in their backyard like this?


Wishing you well,


*All photos posted were taken by my 4-year-old

Learning Through Play, Lesson Planning

It’s Shark Week!

Always being on the move and knowing the importance of play, we don’t really watch TV. With that said, there are only 2 weeks we truly look forward to watching together as a family: NHL opening week, and SHARK WEEK!

Sharks are so fascinating no matter your age. Emma loves learning about the oceans and ocean life in general thanks to shows like Octonauts, the mermaid trend happening now, and her momma always focusing a whole month at school on ocean life. 😉 So, in honor of the 30th Anniversary of Discovery’s Shark Week, I’ve compiled some of my past and present ideas and teaching moments dedicated to Sharks!

In the classroom, we would spend the first week or so doing multiple projects that would transform the room. Before opening the classroom for the unit, I would use blue streamers to make “ocean waves” across the ceiling using the drop tiles. It was dual purpose as it set the tone for the upcoming unit and looked great too! As we learned about different species of ocean animals, students would use materials at the art center to create their own version like this sea turtle. We would then hang up the animals in our floating ocean. Other animals I’ve used included jellyfish, clown fish, angelfish, and seahorses.

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Some other projects included these 3D ocean waves made from construction paper and glue. This activity is great for working on scissor skills since the students can cut their own strips of paper. I love it because it gets them thinking outside-the-rectangle of traditional 2D art and challenges them to take their artwork to the next level.

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I love using sensory materials in new ways. To make these jellyfish, students first used paint to make the watery background. We then used some bubble wrap I had recycled from a package to create the large part of the jellyfish and pipe cleaners for the tentacles.

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Did I say how much I love using sensory materials?! The coral was a tricky task for my 4-year-olds to cut out. By gluing on rice we added some texture as we worked on our fine motor skills. If you haven’t already, check out my post on how easy it is to turn plain rice into Rainbow Rice!

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I love this perspective project below. This is a picture of my finished painting (I love doing the projects alongside the students). There are two ways you could set this up: pre-mix the paint colors and have students order by shade, or have the students mix the colors themselves. To get it set up use 3 paint colors: white, blue, and black and about 10 mixing cups labeled 1-10. In the first cup place just white paint, and in the 10th cup just black paint. Cup 5 would be just blue paint. Then challenge the students to use a combination of blue/white and blue/black paint to create a gradient that flows smoothly from cup 1 to 10. This does take some trial and error, but definitely meaningful! To create the “ocean floor looking up” perspective, start with a white circle anywhere on the paper. Then paint in circles starting from cup 2 and slowly move out to cup 9 as you work toward the edge of the paper. Use the black in cup 10 for the shark silhouettes.

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Hands-down my favorite project of the week was our life-sized drawing and painting of a great white shark that hung in our ocean from the ceiling. We made our great white 15 feet long. It was a challenge to keep it hanging all week (it was pretty heavy) and sadly I do not have a picture! My SECOND favorite project is below.

Sometimes I give my students a pattern to cut from (like the coral) and sometimes I do not. In this case, I did not give any patterns but had students draw and cut out their own shapes. We started with the large triangle and then added a semicircle for the mouth. Four circles helped create eyes, and triangles for the teeth. How cute did these turn out?! I love how they all look unique!

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More recently, I posted on Instagram about this invitation to play I set up for Emma. We found this tube of sea animals from Safari Ltd and we had to pick it up! While she was napping I had fun setting up this little world for her to explore. She loves the kinetic sand and I love it because there’s no mess! I also threw in a couple of seashells I had on hand because why not?


The blue tray is from a set of 4 we purchased from Lakeshore. We use them all the time for lots of projects. They’re fantastic!


You can’t quite see it, but I also found this amazing t-shirt at Target! Being the amazing budding marine biologist that she is, she immediately knew what it was and double-checked that the animals pictured were in the correct zone. 🙂


Sadly I do not have pictures of the “meat and potatoes” of our Shark unit which culminated in mini projects focusing on a different species of shark for each child. They were very similar to our engineering projects where students researched and documented facts about their shark, created and labeled a digram with their body parts, and charted where in the oceans their shark lives. When the week was complete, the class could name around 15 different shark species and some of their characteristics.

With Emma’s deep interest, we are looking into a long weekend at Newport Aquarium so she can explore the sharks and other animals up close and personal. Now that I’m able to focus my teaching on my children, I’m hoping to be able to immerse them in real life situations when their interests pique. Until then, our family will continue to enjoy sitting together on the couch learning from a distance as we watch Shark Week.

Wishing you well,


Learning Through Play, Parenting

Easy Rainbow Rice

Easy Rainbow Rice

I’ve been seeing some awesome posts recently on Instagram about Rainbow Rice and how to make it. It had been a couple of years since I had made colored rice with my Pre-K class, so I figured it was time to try it out again! I had always used the Vinegar Method where rice is put into a baggie and mixed with vinegar and food coloring in the desired color. It works really well and is great if you have a little one that may try to eat it. The draw back I found was colors were not vibrant and the room would reek of vinegar for a few days. When some fellow learning-through-play moms were talking about using PAINT instead, Emma and I had to try it out!

It was also a perfect time to work with Emma on the order of the rainbow. We have two sets of these bowls from IKEA.  One set we use to eat with and the other is used for playtime! They’re cheap, dishwasher safe (!), and great for sorting. Emma poured some uncooked rice into each bowl and then squirted on some paint. We used tempera paint, but I’m under the assumption that just about anything would work fine.


We also have the matching spoons from IKEA.  Emma had fun mixing up each bowl and watching as the rice was covered in the paint! The tricky part was keeping the rice to stay inside the bowl! I did help out when she was done to make sure the rice was fully coated in paint.


Emma then dumped each bowl onto a drying tray and used the spoon to spread the rice out. She was careful not to mix the colors while they were wet!


It was a sunny summer’s day so we set the trays outside to dry in the sun. It was probably dry within an hour (super hot that day!), but it was also nap time so the trays stayed out for about 2.5 hours. When I went to check on the rice again, not only was it completely dry, it had not lost any vibrancy! It was slightly stuck together in places, so I gently ran it through my hands to break it up a bit.


Once it was all broken up, I was able to snap a couple of “Insta-worthy” pictures before I let the littles ones go!


Emma had a blast! I pulled out our Guidecraft Stacking Rainbow Pyramid for her to have something to transfer the rice into. “Look how beautiful it is all mixed up!” says the 4-year-old. 🙂




The smaller stacking blocks made for good scoops. The various sizes also had Emma working on measurement skills. Which block could hold the most rice? How many scoops did it take to fill the big block?


Even Lee got in on the fun! He couldn’t resist the bright colors and he loves doing whatever sissy is doing!


Being 16 months, he did try to eat it a couple of times. This is where the Vinegar Method would still be helpful for little ones. He found his own little block to transfer the rice into and chatted away with Emma.


It’s moments like this when they’re both working together that make my heart full! We spent the majority of the afternoon filling, dumping, spreading, and stacking the rice. It was a wonderful sensory play idea. We had all of the materials in our kitchen and my craft room which meant it was FREE! The paint method will definitely be my go-to recipe for Rainbow Rice from now on. You just can’t beat how easy it was and how beautiful the result is!


Wishing you well,


Family Outings, Parenting

Our First MLS Game

We took some time last week for a weeknight family outing! With Matt’s new job we actually have some time in the evenings to spend as a family of 4 and we’ve been taking advantage of every minute! Although Matt and I were both music majors, since we’ve been married we have followed Columbus sports (and sports in general) pretty closely. Soccer is a game that is easily played in the backyard and one both Emma and Lee love! Always trying to give our children real life experiences, we found a great deal on Columbus Crew tickets and decided to take the kids to their first game. To say Lee had fun is an understatement! We thoroughly enjoyed watching him and interacting with him all night!

(I do have to put a quick disclaimer in that Emma was running a fever for the entire game. She didn’t complain a bit even though we could tell she was miserable. Poor girly!)

Of course we picked up some new gear for the occasion from Homage. Matt and I have a shirt for just about every sports team in our state. We call them “Just In Case” shirts for that moment when we randomly pick up tickets and need something to wear!


We had amazing seats for $20! We ended up right above the tunnel where the players entered/exited but far enough way from the infamous Nordecke that the kids weren’t covering their ears the entire time. Here you can see Lee standing in front of our seats with a perfect view of the pitch and the players entering the field.


It was also Star Wars night, hence the Wookie and Darth Vader leading the team out! Emma did get a kick out of hearing John Williams music played over the speakers in the stadium. It was one of the few times she perked up.


You can tell from the video here that Lee wasn’t hindered by the chanting at all! In fact he LOVED it! He is so responsive to music and a strong beat; I’m interested to see if he has inherited any musical abilities from Matt or myself.

Not only did Lee have fun chanting and clapping along with the Hudson Street Hooligans, he loved the food! The following is a picture montage of my sweet 15-month old eating a giant pretzel.


Pure. Joy.


After all of the cheering, all of the clapping, all of the eating, and following the ball across the field, the little guy had to have a souvenir! He is now in love with his soccer ball and always tries to get us to play with him! “Ball” was one of his first words, so I think it’s pretty safe to assume he’s going to be a sports kid! Even though he’s not walking yet, he’ll push the soccer ball toward one of us and shout until we roll it back to him. We then rinse and repeat until someone gets too tired to play (usually the adult).


Needless to say, our family had an amazing time at the Columbus Crew game! It was a great family friendly event that both of our kids enjoyed. Although Emma was not feeling well, she got first-hand experience at what a professional soccer game looks like and witnessed some of the rules in action.

Professional sports and Columbus go hand-in-hand. Our family experience here is one many families enjoy throughout the season at a Crew SC game. The city of Columbus is fiercely loyal to its teams, and I would be extremely saddened if our MLS team was moved to another city. If you’re from the Columbus area, or just an avid MLS fan, take a look at the website and see how you can help #SaveTheCrew.


Wishing you well,


Curriculum, Lesson Planning

21st Century Learning in Early Childhood

21st Century Learning in Early Childhood

What is 21st Century Learning?

The short version? The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (or P21) was the answer to major companies saying students were graduating college and were not ready for the work force. My husband who was a manager for a big-box retail store would come home complaining his associates would not be able to get projects done or would bicker and argue over the smallest details and never make actual progress. Basically, our students were graduating book smart but socially stunted. Companies like Intel, The Walt Disney Company, Ford Motors, and Pearson were looking for the “4 C’s” to be included in students’ education: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

Graphic from P21

While shown separately here to make referencing easier, P21 values all aspects in this framework, including the pools to help facilitate learning, equal in their importance. Everything is integrated into the overall outcome.

21st Century Learning in an Early Childhood Environment

The ironic thing about 21st Century Learning is most preschool and early childhood centers are already doing it. As professionals, we know better than anyone that a child learns best through play and interacting with peers. Not only that, we intentionally set up our day to have students work and learn together in groups. It is very common in the block center to see students using both woodblocks and toy animals. What usually happens is the students will use the blocks to create houses or shelters for the animals to live in. They then act out imaginative episodes with their peers. While this might seem like simple play to the average viewer, the trained early childhood professional knows it is much much more than that! Students are using their creativity and critical thinking skills to first build a shelter out of the blocks. Is it big enough? Is there a roof? They then collaborate with their peers to share their resources and build a structure together. The rest is all creativity and communication. Is it raining outside and our T-Rex needs to go to sleep? Maybe he’s hungry and needs a car to drive to the grocery store! The dramatic play here is endless. This is just one example, but learning opportunities like this happen continuously in all centers.

So if we’re already doing it, why isn’t it being recognized? Honestly, it’s because by nature teachers are modest creatures. We’re not explaining all of the learning happening during the day. We have to remember that the majority of the people we serve do not have degrees or training in any sort of education field. While it is something educators eat, breathe, and live, to the untrained eye this same dinosaur and blocks scenario just looks like simple play time. We also need to educate our parents and families on what learning looks like in early childhood because it’s not all finished worksheets, flashcards and writing samples. I always coach my teaching staff to brag about all of the learning taking place in their lesson plans. Those daily reports are their time to show off all of the wonderful experiences in their classroom so why not take credit for everything happening? If you come from a center with a prescribed lesson plan, what does your newsletter look like? What do your conferences look like? Make sure you’re giving yourself all of the credit you deserve!

Wording is everything!

Below is a sample lesson plan from my Pre-Kindergarten classroom. The theme was “Engi-nuity” where we were studying famous buildings and architecture from all over the world. At the end of our two weeks, each student selected a structure to recreate using whatever materials they thought would work best. I’ll first show you some examples of how I worded the lesson plans, and then show some final products at the end.

Sharing Our Ideas & Art History: During morning meeting we used our Promethean Board to look at the architectural design of the Eiffel Tower using Google Earth. We learned about the lead architect on the project, Steven Sauvestre, and why he designed the Tower using triangles.

Developing Our Imaginations, Music & Movement: As we worked during Project Time, we listened to traditional French music so we were totally immersed in the culture of the time period the Eiffel Tower was built. Our teacher would point out different instruments like the accordion so we could hear its timbre.

Building Our Skills, Computer & Technology: We researched famous structures all over the world while utilizing the program “World Explorer” on the computer. To properly navigate the program, we needed to use simple mouse skills like “drag and drop” and click on specific items when prompted. We will use the information we gained during this individual activity to help guide our selection of a structure to recreate.

Building Our Skills, Manners: We worked together as a class to build a 3D puzzle of the Eiffel Tower. While it tested our critical thinking skills, we also had to collaborate and communicate as a team to finish the puzzle correctly.

Sharing Our Ideas, Literature & Language: We worked in small groups to research information about our chosen structure. With help from our teacher, we worked on our handwriting and phonemic skills as we wrote three interesting facts on our structure information poster.

Becoming a P21 Exemplar

While the wording of your lesson plans is a great first step to P21, I must stress that like any accreditation, there is a process involved. If your center is interested in becoming accredited as a P21 Exemplar, I recommend taking their Preliminary Quiz to see if your center should apply. There are also great resources on STEM, professional development opportunities, and even a parents’ guide to 21st Century Learning and citizenship on their main website.

Wishing you well,



Disclaimer: Photos and information used with permission from Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

It’s Okay for Kids to Feel Disappointment

It's Okay for Kids to Feel Disappointment


This past weekend my little guy turned one. We are so lucky because he also shares a birthday with my sister, so it’s twice the fun! My sister and I are three years apart just like my kids, Emma and Lee. When birthdays come around in my family there has been a tradition that the other sibling would also receive a small present so they wouldn’t feel left out. The thought here was that it would be hard for a younger child to understand why their sibling was receiving gifts but they were not. This way no one was left out and everyone felt included.

So when Lee’s birthday came around, I’m not sure why I was surprised that every member of my family also bought Emma a present. While I know that my parents always meant well, I’m not sure I agree with the tradition when it comes to my own children. In this world of “everyone gets a trophy” there’s not much room for teaching children compassion and generosity for others.

Before Lee’s birthday, we spent time talking with Emma about how we were going to celebrate the day Lee was born with family, cake, and giving him and her Aunt presents. The day after Lee’s party, she asked my husband why she had also received presents from everyone. “It wasn’t my birthday, daddy,” she said. “When I went to my friend’s birthday party, I gave him a present, but I didn’t get one. It was his birthday.” Emma was genuinely confused. She was also 100% right.

As parents (and educators) our instinct is to try to save our children from any sort of discomfort. So in an effort to save Emma from feelings of sadness, she was actually robbed of the experience to work through those emotions and learn from the situation. Our ultimate goal is to teach her compassion and generosity for others, so why not give her as many opportunities to do so? If we were to wait until she were at an age to be able to “handle” being left out, what age would that be? When infants learn to walk do we not work with them several times each day until they finally master the skill? We also work with our children on learning letters, colors, and shapes until it is completely ingrained. Social-emotional skills are no different. The more opportunities we give our children to identify and work through their emotions the more adept they will become. Being able to function socially in everyday situations is an important life skill that definitely outweighs my need to “protect” my child from disappointment. Giving children the skills they need to cope with emotions can only result in more well-rounded, compassionate human beings for the future.

Our ultimate goal is to teach her compassion and generosity for others, so why not give her as many opportunities to do so? If we were to wait until she were at an age to be able to “handle” being left out, what age would that be? When infants learn to walk do we not work with them several times each day until they finally master the skill? We also work with our children on learning letters, colors, and shapes until it is completely ingrained. Social-emotional skills are no different. The more opportunities we give our children to identify and work through their emotions the more adept they will become. Being able to function socially in everyday situations is an important life skill that definitely outweighs my need to protect my child from disappointment. Giving children the tools they need to cope with emotions can only result in more well-rounded, compassionate human beings for the future.

Wishing you well,



More for our Boys

Below is a Facebook post I had published this past November. I have been asked to share that post again and welcome your feedback and discussion!

heart breaker

Lee has been growing recently and currently has very little clothing that fits him. So at the end of a very long work week, I took both kids to a clothing store before heading home. If you’re a momma or know kids at all you know this process must be done quickly otherwise impending meltdowns ensue. I picked up several things, but one was this sweater made by Carter’s. When we got home I showed off all of the new things to my husband, Matt, and cooed over this one saying, “It even says ‘handsome like daddy!’ It’ll be cute for Valentine’s day!”

Today I can’t believe I actually spent hard-earned money on this and I’ll tell you why.

When Emma was born I knew that I wanted her to be her own person. Yes, I know those things get influenced by Matt and I’s personal interests and tastes, but I didn’t want her to not do something because it wasn’t what “girls do.” She loves things like tea parties, unicorns, Sophia the First, and magic wands. But she also loves hockey, dragons, Dude Perfect, and swords. As a result, I have this amazing daughter who confuses pediatricians because “daddy uses the vacuum” and “I wasn’t a princess, I was a knight for Halloween.” We always try to encourage her so that she can complete any task she puts her mind to. Yes, she might need some help in the process, but ultimately the success is hers and I never want her to feel like she needs someone else to help her do it.

There are two other things that really influence our parenting style: The Golden Rule and Conscious Discipline. Treat others as you want to be treated, and remember that it’s ok to feel the way you do; it’s how we handle those emotions that not only make us stronger individuals, but better citizens. We teach her that her actions, both positive and negative, have an effect on others’ emotions. Through this, we try to teach her empathy, consequences, positive intent, assertiveness, and composure.

There’s been a big push recently in the education world and society in general to do a lot of these things for our young daughters that Matt and I have done with Emma. STEM education, #feminism, pictures of women CEO’s and clothing for girls saying things like “do all things with kindness,” “Love will light the way,” and “kind heart, fierce mind, brave soul.”

But what about our sons? The same major clothing retailer that’s selling those wonderful tees for girls also has these tees for our boys: “I’ve got game,” “heart throb,” “let the shenanigans begin,” and my personal fav, “boys will be boys.” Why is this ok? Why do we tell our daughters to be kind, brave, and gentle but our sons to party, hurt the feelings of others and you’re forgiven because you’re a boy?

I think what bothers me the most is that it’s so easy for us to gloss over these societal norms and not pay attention to the bigger message something like this sweater—for a baby—passes along to our boys. The only thing I was thinking when I bought this was how cute and sweet I think Lee is now and how handsome I believe he will be as he grows up. That does not give him an excuse to intentionally hurt another person. I know, I know, “Heather you’re being ridiculous, he’s only a baby. He doesn’t even understand that his clothing has letters on it.” But then that turns into “He’s only 4, he can’t read yet,” and before you know it he’s 8 and then 14 buying God only knows what at Hollister and Abercrombie that just perpetuates the issue and the cycle goes on and on and on.

I’ll keep this sweatshirt though. No, Lee will never wear it, but I’ll keep it as a reminder that I want more for my son. I want him to grow up the same way we are raising Emma—that he can be and do whatever he wants. Whether that’s an athlete, doctor, scientist, ballerina, secretary, or stay at home dad is completely up to him. We will teach him that his actions have an effect on others and The Golden Rule is applicable in all walks of life. These sayings and social norms will still continue around us and they will only stop if we actively make them. I can’t make another parent see things the way I see them or force retailers to stop producing merchandise like this. But I can teach Emma and Lee that it’s not ok. And they can teach their children. And maybe, just maybe, the cycle will stop.

Wishing you well,