The Power of Play, Inquiry, and Reflection


When I started running, my purpose was not to commit to a running regime. I did not set out to be this determined, dedicated runner.  I have to say, I started out with wanting to do some form of exercise that I could do early in the morning when my then 1 year old and 4 year old were still sleeping and my husband hadn’t left for work. That was really it. So, I started playing with running.  I would do short hill sprints right in front of my house.  I found loops in the neighborhood that I could do in less than thirty minutes.  I used the gear that I had – old T shirts, shorts, paint stained yoga pants.  Little care was put into my attire – all I wanted to do was play with running as a form of exercise. The onset of running, for me, was an inquiry.

This year, Megan, a second grade teacher, and I embarked on an inquiry.  Looking back, I think our inquiry was much like the onset of my running – playful.  We took the quote “Ideas live all around us, in the smallest moments and objects.” (from The Writing Units of Study) and built a structure and time for us to study how second graders would use Tiny Topic Notebooks.

With one week left of school I can’t help but look back and be proud that Megan and I were able to remain dedicated to this inquiry.  This was where we started:


The first few weeks, we engaged the kids in observation and study.  We noticed engagement was high. Through the months, the children listened to music, they copied art cards, they observed sports equipment, they revised, and they wrote.  Megan and I created experiences where children were expected to pay attention to ideas.  Each Monday afternoon, the room was filled with productive calm as the children playfully captured ideas in their notebooks.

All year long, Megan and I were using observation as our primary means of data collection.  Over the weekend, as I realized our time together was coming to a close, I knew that I needed something more concrete than my observations and all the pictures I’ve taken.  I needed to somehow capture each child’s voice.  So, this week, Megan and I gave the class three writing invitations:


After explaining the invitations, we did a minute word splash.  I asked the kids to share one word that comes to mind when they think of their Notebook. (yellow post its).  One by one, they left the rug with their Notebooks and piece of paper and the writing began.

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I was, honestly, amazed. I had expected some writing, some good feedback that Megan and I would be able to use as we reflected ourselves on our year long inquiry. I didn’t expect such honesty, passion, and voice from the 2nd grade writers.

As read through each reflection, it was obvious that creativity, curiosity, and imagination in a calm environment are what the children valued each week.  In, Releasing the Imagination, Maxine Green writes, “the role of imagination is not to resolve, not to point the way, not to improve.  It is to awaken, to disclose the ordinarily unseen, unheard and unexpected.”  If teachers build in time, or carve out time, for children to explore and play in notebooks, their imaginations and ideas are valued.  We know ideas are at the heart of writing.  We need to recognize this and build structures for children to realize their ideas, harness them, and play.



“Learning to write is a matter of learning to shatter the silences, of making meaning, of learning to learn.” maxine greene

Nourish and Grow



As the end of the year draws near, I can’t help but look back and be thankful.

Thankful that I was welcome to push in to all four kindergarten classrooms for the majority of the year.

Thankful for Professional Development with Liz Franco and Mary Ehrenworth.

Thankful that we spent a faculty meeting writing gratitude notes to colleagues.

Thankful that I attended the TC Foundational Reading and Writing Institute.

Thankful that colleagues have had healthy babies.

Thankful that colleagues are expecting.

Thankful that joy is spreading and growing at Saugatuck.

Thankful that I had the pleasure of providing 4th grade intervention and got to read some great books right alongside the kids!

Thankful that a colleague and I committed to studying the question “What happens when we devote time to writers using their Tiny Topic Notebooks?”

Thankful that a colleague and I planned and presented our findings from our inquiry at a district wide PD.

Thankful that reading and writing are valued.

Thankful that I read Joy Write!

Thankful that I shared the energy and ideas from reading Joy Write. (My OLW was “doshare”)

Thankful that the colleagues I work with take risks, embrace fun, and learn with children.

Thankful that my building is full of colleagues who stop for energizing hallway conversations.

Thankful that I get to walk into a building every day where we celebrate each other.

Thankful that as 25 years of teaching comes to a close, I remain curious.

I really am thankful. Has the whole year been all peaches and cream, no, it has not.  It is what I am thankful for that helps me realize how it should be.  When I am aware of, and can see what is going well, I can help to grow it.  In our reading and writing conferences with children, we compliment them on what they are doing well before we offer a tip or a teaching point.  Look at what you are doing well, what you are thankful for, and then offer yourself a tip or teaching point.  Better yet, do it with a colleague!

Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to be thankful.  As you look back on your year, what are you thankful for?  Take the time to compliment yourself and your community.  Once you know what’s going well, work to nourish it.

Open and Ready

“I use to think it was a luxury to be curious, thoughtful, and reflective.  Now I know being curious, thoughtful and reflective is a necessity.”  “I have to be actively engaged in what’s happening now.  At this precise moment.”  Debbie Miller,  Teaching with Intention 2008.

I carry a journal.  It is part of my teaching.  My journal has taught me to listen to IMG_5436.JPGchildren.  I learned early on that when I wrote down kids ideas, thoughts, and choices in my journal – I was validating their words, their ideas, their story.  I learned that when I sat back to observe them, they knew what they were doing, their engagement and process mattered.  It became a means of knowing each of my children.

Each Monday afternoon, when I enter Megan’s 2nd grade classroom I have my journal in hand.  I am open, like my journal.  Ready to learn from them.  Ready to watch them make choices and build mindsets.  Ready to hear them share their thinking and stories.  Ready to hear where their ideas for pictures and words came from. Sometimes, ready to sit and take a few minutes to do a bit of the work I asked them to do.

This past week, our for Building Habits of Writers time (which originally was Tiny Topic Notebook Time, which now after reading Joy Write we could call In the Greenbelt).  I read Ralph Fletcher’s Twilight Come Twice.  I sat down and told the children that today we were going to read this book from beginning to end.  I told them we would not stop and have a turn and talk we would just read and think and read.  “As I am reading,” I said “you should listen and be aware of the ideas that are going through your mind as you hear the words and read the pictures.  The children accepted this job with nods and smiles.  Halfway through the book, I stopped and asked “If you have an idea, put your hands on your head.”  I needed to get a pulse on what was going on for them.  Almost every child quickly put their hands on their head.  Encouraged by their quiet engagement in the read aloud and their work, I continued reading – already curious as to what they would go off and do in their journals.IMG_5547.JPG

As I read the last words,“As you set your table for breakfast, dawn sets its own table, with light that ushers in a brand new day.” and gave pause for them to read the last page, ( the picture seen to the left)I quietly said, If you are ready to get to work, raise your hand, Again, majority of hands went up.  Megan and I called children to gather their sketchbooks and get to work.

The room had a calm busyness as the writers and artists got to work putting their ideas on paper in pictures and words.  I walked around snapping pictures and chatting with kids.  I stopped at Matthew and Noah who were seated at the round table.

Matthew was clearly in process of putting his idea on paper.  He had a vision and I watched his sharpie marker move intentionally on the paper.  Noah was sitting with a blank page.  “What are you thinking, Noah.”  I asked.  “I am thinking about fireflies.  that line in the book made me think of nighttime and how the fireflies really lighten things up.  I want to do a picture but I can’t think of the picture.”    Before I IMG_5559.JPGcould even respond to Noah, Matthew, who apparently was taking in this conversation and stopped his work to encourage his friend.  Very excitedly, Matthew looked at Noah and said “Oh, I got one.  You know the lake, the brook in the back of your house.  You could do that with fireflies going over it.”  I just sat and watched and listened as Noah took his idea and meshed it with Matthew’s idea. I tried to capture their conversation in my journal.  I took a step back and let them problem solve together.  As I walked away, I saw both Matthew and Noah diving into their notebooks harnessing their ideas.

I moved on over to Lexi and opened with “What are you working on?”  TheIMG_5562.JPG words just fell out of her mouth “I got my idea from the color of the sky, the orange.  I remIMG_5561.JPGembered me listening from the window and watching my sister when she was 4, she’s 6 now.  I drew my sister.”  Lexi points to her picture as she is talking.” (see left).My sister doesn’t have curly hair any more, her is is REALLY straight.  I was in the window watching her and she was watching the sunset.”  Lexi found time to write, “I lisin out the windo and heir my sister say…Look at the sunset Jenna (the doll), isn’t it buotiful.  I hope I will spe (spy) this sunset again.” (see right)

It was a gift to sit back and watch Matthew interrupt my conference with Noah.  I  worked to be actively engaged by writing down their conversation.  Matthew clearly had a sense of agency in helping out a friend.  In that moment, I saw Matthew and Noah not just as friends but friends who are writers.  When I sat down with Lexi.  I glanced at her picture and thought “Hmm, that’s different for her.”    Typically her pictures are dainty with details.  I was curious as to what she was thinking.  I never in a million years would have thought that a color of a sky would bring Lexi to a memory from 2 years ago.  It’s easy to forget that kids have memories, too.  As I listened to her share her story, I could tell it wasn’t just about watching her sister watch the sunset, she was reminiscing in pictures and words, she was acknowledging that her little sister had changed – grown up “she’s 6 now, and her hair is REALLY straight”.

When we are curious, thoughtful and reflective and actively engaged as Debbie Miller writes – we get to know our children AND their ideas and memories and how they interact with each other. Taking the time to talk to children with honest curiousity is energizing.  One can’t help but be actively engaged.





Celebrate the Unexpected


I regularly receive emails from Runner’s World.  I love their quotes of the day.  They are applicable to runners and life.  I got the idea to keep a Bullet Journal from Runner’s World (  My initial plan was to record my distance and pace for each run in my Bullet Journal.  It has become more.  When I run, unexpected thoughts and ideas flow through my mind as my feet hit the pavement and I accumulate miles.  I record those random thoughts and unexpected ideas as part of my Bullet Journal.

This past Saturday, after an early morning run, I came home and recorded my pace and my distance and also the idea for a poem – “my run in numbers”.  When I set out at 6:30 Saturday morning, I expected 10 miles.  I didn’t expect a poem.  I love the unexpected.


my run in numbers – and random running thoughts

10 runners – early morning runners, men and women, are they training, too?

3 dog walkers – did the dog wake them begging for an early morning walk?

2 walkers – one power walker, one stroller on round hill road

1 biker – keeping a runner company

2 starburst – feeding the muscles mid run

10.01 miles – one smile and infinite amount of satisfaction





Lines and Costumes

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At a loss of time to sit and write but can’t stop thinking about writing.

So, I read over writing from long ago and found this little nugget.

It’s May and it’s recital month in our home.  Every May, I  sit in the quiet of  morning and draw the costumes hanging – waiting to be worn.  As I draw, I appreciate a years worth of work by three girls that I am proud to call my daughters.  I will imagine them on stage doing “their thing”.  They will tap, and leap, and spin.  It is a gift to watch the beauty of their dance.  I love looking back at the moments I have frozen in time through these line drawings.  They flood my heart with memories.IMG_5312 (1).JPG