Category Archives: connection


We Never Really Know


I know this amazing family who when they heard a baby needed adopting because his young parents were not able to care for him said “We will love him.”

It took almost a year before the foster system would allow them to bring him home due to cross province adoption policy. When they brought him home he was diagnosed with sensory processing and attachment disorders. He screamed at the parents and his new sister twenty four hours a day. It was challenging, weaker people would have buckled under the pressure but they said “we love him.”

The day before the adoption was to be put before the judge to be finalized, they were informed the adoption was being challenged.  For two and half years they agonized over the possibility of losing their son in private. Their son’s needs became more challenging as they agonized. Weaker people would have thrown in the towel but they said “He is our son and we love him.”

During the final months of their agony they had to attend a trial in which they heard testimony of their son’s tragic beginning. They heard stories of addiction, neglect and violence.  At the end of a trial that drained them emotionally, they found out they would have to agonize just a little bit longer as the judge wrote his ruling. The judge informed them at the beginning of December that he would have his ruling to them by January. The agony grew.

January came and went with no ruling. February came and went with no ruling. In the third week of March they received a call. “The judge will deliver his decision by 10:30 a.m. the next morning.”  At 11:37 the following morning they received an email informing them that he was their son.  I had the honour of being there when they found out he would be staying in their family. I knew this family was in agony. Living in fear every day of being torn apart but I did not know the depth of their agony until I saw the mother finally break down in tears. Tears that released the private agony she had been suffering for the last two and half years of her life.

It is an emotional story. Every time I think of that family I am filled with emotion and gratitude.  This is not the point of my story though.  This mother privately agonized. The whole family agonized in private. They took their children to preschool and didn’t utter a word. The parents stayed strong for their children and suffered privately. As Early Care and Learning professionals we never know what a family struggles with in private. 

I believe with that knowledge we are given choices. We can choose to connect with each and every person who walks through our doors.  We can choose to put our judgements aside. We can choose to care for the parents as well as the child.


A Kick in the Pants

Kids and cameras…  I just can’t tell you how much I love kids and cameras.


This week I sat with six 3 year olds and watched as they took photos. Each child took photos from the chair in which he or she sat, but you’d never know it from the resulting pictures. What each child ‘saw’ from their chair is so distinct, so interesting, so not what an adult would see.


The medium of the camera lens inspired them to look at surfaces of carpet, floor, legs, ceiling, blankets and dolls. They held the camera in many different ways inviting many different viewpoints: tops of heads, close ups, (very close photos of my mouth, teeth and chin…all of which I deleted!)


And that is the fascinating thing, kids see things differently. And I need to be constantly reminded of that, because all I see are things the way I alway see them….The photos make me consider multiple ways of seeing, to remind me of the many possible viewpoints. They inspire me to consider “seeing the known” in new ways, and open questions about my ways of seeing and understanding.


 So it’s not just that I love the photos, it’s also a kick in the pants …to try things, go upside down, lie on the floor, put my feet in the clay, taste the paint, shake the plastic red teapot with the plastic lemon inside (a shout out to Fort St John educators!) shoot the toy cars down the ramp, bang the drum as hard as I can… see, feel, hear and touch in ways outside my adult ways.


The Heart Shaped Leaf



“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.”

Rachel Carson


Yesterday while outside a child came up to me with the glimmer of excitement in her eyes.  She was clutching something in her hand.

“Danielle I found a heart shaped leaf.” She unrolled her fingers to reveal a small green leaf in her hand.

 I asked if I could take a picture and she excitedly said yes.  We talked about where she found it, what kind of plant we thought it might be and if we could find a leaf book that would help us figure it out. She proclaimed she had such a book at home.  Plans were made to do some research. She then excitedly went to show the other children. Soon heart shaped leaf hunts had started and theories were being constructed on why the leaf was heart shaped. The moment was but a small fraction of my day but it has stayed with me.  As I sat at my computer last night preparing to write a narration on our explorations outside, I couldn’t help but pause and just look at the picture.

I found myself in a deep state of reflection. I thought about the opportunities that are constantly presented to the children and I when we go outside. I found myself trying to think of a parallel experience in the classroom.  Treasures have been found but usually I put them there. Rarely do we find something that is surprising to everyone in the room.  Except for maybe a spider or a bug, which did originally come from outside.

I found myself thinking of a classroom visit I did a couple weeks ago where the teacher said excitedly to me “We are trying to spend more time outside. We are allowing more natural play and learning like the nature kindergarten.” I wondered later in an email to her if teachers felt like the nature kindergarten was legitimizing outdoor play. Yes she replied.

I thought of how I have observed play that continues to be revisited over long periods of time.  I am talking months here. Children engaged in play that they designed.  Trying on roles of strength and vulnerability to see how they feel.

I thought of all those times I decided to go outside even when I didn’t want to and how almost always I was thankful I did. How something amazing and/or unexpected always presented itself.  Like crows breaking into our backpack and flying off with our snacks, a young falcon in a turf war with said crows flying and dipping overhead, a sap tree that magically turned blue after the first frost, the Camus lilies that bloom in the spring and make our green hills seas of blue and I thought about how I couldn’t of planned any of that.

I can create the loveliest stream with fabric, tape or paper for the children to jump over in the classroom but I cannot recreate the sense of accomplishment they feel from jumping over the deepest darkest mud puddle.

I can give them climbing apparatuses to challenge their bodies but I cannot recreate the mind body connection a child builds from running on the rough unpredictable surfaces you find in nature.  

I can plan elaborate treasure hunts with beautiful jewels to be found at the end but I cannot recreate the sense of wonder a child feels when they find something as special as a heart shaped leaf.

What is my role then?

I remembered Lella Gandini’s wise words she shared with us this fall “It is not the job of the teacher to be prepared, it is the job of the teacher to be ready.” This is what I believe outdoor play requires of me, to be ready.  It requires me to look at the world with fresh eyes,  be ready to think with the child and embrace my sense of wonder.


“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in” 

Rachel Carson



When my son was 4 he built a playground for caterpillars. He made it from cardboard and it was an enclosed space with a slide, some swings and some ramps for the caterpillars to crawl up and down. It took days to make, and many caterpillars were encouraged to play in it. Then one morning he discovered there were no caterpillars in the playground, only caterpillar fluff. Seems my 2 year old son had found the caterpillars and the scissors and……well, all that was left was the fluff.

 Cardboard continued to be an essential play item for my boys, from making a miniature city of ruined buildings for warhammer, (if you have preteen boys you likely know what that is) to a giant skate board park for finger boards (tiny skateboards).

 Parents and ECE’s have long recognized the value of cardboard: it’s free, accessible, and multi functional. Add materials from the recycling bin, some glue, tape and paint and the possibilities are limitless. But without two key elements all these great materials will never reach their potential: time and space. Kids need time to develop something out of cardboard, which means they need to work over a period of days or weeks. Which in turn means that the project needs a place to be stored.  ECE settings are notoriously short on space, and time is often chopped into small chunks for play, snack, outside time, nap etc. But look at what can be achieved when these barriers are overcome!

My good friend Sarah Hilliard at Lansdowne Preschool followed the children’s interest in robots……

boxes, egg cartons, fruit flats, paint….
and hours of collective work, became this….
a robot with a crown.

And the next year her kids were fascinated with castles so…..

became this!

 And if you still need more motivation check this:  an international cardboard challenge inspired by a 9 year old boy and his cardboard creation. 

Imagination, creativity, hands on learning, building community, sharing stories, inspiring wonder, possibility, and engagement……all this can be had with cardboard!

Share your cardboard stories with us!

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Everything is Better on the Beach: Part 2

Danielle is right, everything is better on the beach.

 This past weekend, my family and our closest friends went camping. We’ve been doing these trips annually for 27 years starting with the four of us and one baby. Now there are four adult kids plus partners, 12 of us in all. While the trips were wonderful when the kids were small, there is something even more amazing about camping with them now that they are in their mid 20’s. Watching these intelligent, talented and caring adults still enjoying each other’s company well, if you are the parents of adult children you know what I mean. So there we were with lots of great food, campfires, guitar and banjo music, maybe a bit of wine and beer(!!)…..and the beach.

 We set ourselves a challenge: make something from materials found on the beach. We brought along a few hand tools, some sandpaper, some string, some glue. We spent an entire day at it, no deadline, no expectations, no pressure. Some people started making something and never finished, others gathered materials and then just left them in a pile, and some didn’t do anything at all. Others made intricate and complex pieces.



The found materials didn’t demand perfection. They are beautifully odd, randomly curved, smooth and cracked, rough and silky. They allow a freedom in creation that commercial materials don’t offer. Perfection is not an option.


At the end of the day we all felt equally satisfied whether we made anything or not. There was joy and camaraderie in the making, mistakes and imperfections were embraced as part of the creative process.


No matter our age we all thrive in the freedom to play, to create, to embrace a project of our own choosing…..or make a pile of sticks and leave it be.


The spirit of the beach……that ‘s what I want all year.