Tag Archives: Danielle Davis


I wonder why?

WP_20130402_017Watching children’s creative processes always amazes me. You really get to know children through the way they create. Their work tells you something, even random paint splotches tell you something.  You get to know the children through their art and the process in which they engage with the materials. I know that Eunice is about to get serious about her painting if she kneels to paint. I know that Lily is going to start planning if she asks for a really large paper. I know that Brendan will create city plans if he grabs the masking tape.  Sometimes though something happens at the easel or art table that makes me wonder why?

 This morning when I was prepping the easels I was short one metal cup for paint. So one easel had only two choices of paint instead of three, I didn’t think much of it beyond being annoyed that I couldn’t locate the third cup. I went about my morning with the children engaging in dialogue, listening and documenting our learning.

 I would change the paper at the easel from time to time, as one does in a preschool.  The more I removed the children’s work from the easels the more I noticed a pattern emerging.  At the easels that had three cups of paint I was seeing very representational paintings; trees, suns, flowers, crosses, roads, etc. I was noticing in these images the colours were not mixing. If an object was painted in green it didn’t have any other colour on it.

A painting from an easel with three colours.
A painting from an easel with three colours.

On the other hand what I was noticing at the easel with two colours was experimenting with mixing colours and paper being covered in colour. I noticed children experimenting with painting with two brushes at once, using circular motions to mix the colours and large strokes of paint.

A painting from an easel with two colours.
A painting from an easel with two colours.

I started to watch the children painting.  Why? I kept asking myself, I contemplated all the possibilities. Could it be the colour choices at the easels? Was it the way I presented them? Was the other provocation I had set up in the room with the rainforest book and drawing influencing the children’s use of the colour green? Do pink and yellow just beckon to be mixed? Was it the brushes?

 Wanting to explore this further and see what was causing this pattern, I set up the easels the exact same way, right down to the brushes I provided. You know what it didn’t happen again and again I ask why?

 What are your thoughts? Why do you think this pattern emerged?



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.


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


What Kind of Educators are We Allowed to Be?

IMG_9363Kim and I have been talking advocacy lately. Speaking engagements are becoming opportunities to pull out our soapboxes and implore all early care and learning professionals to speak up, and advocate for ourselves, the children and the families we work with.

 Kim’s rant yesterday talked about the pressure. Mine is about the outside forces that are deciding what our programs and classrooms should look like. An alarming trend is emerging as we talk to more educators, teachers and administrators. Outside forces are deciding what they can and can’t put in their rooms and what kind of play is allowed. We have heard stories of educators who decided not to allow paint, sand or any messy sensory play in their classrooms because pressure from the Janitor. We were told of a school where teachers had to get rid of couches in their classrooms because the fire marshal told them couches were a fire hazard. Licensing officers pushing centres to get rid of trees and bushes in their yard.  These outside forces are deciding what kind of educators we are allowed to be.


When did these outside forces become experts in early childhood?


Why are we letting them decide what is best in our programs and classrooms?

 Here is my rant though. They are just doing their job. We must also do ours though and part of our job is to advocate for the kind of practice that we believe in. We must become articulate about why we do what we do. We must talk to our administrators about our concerns. We need to talk to these outside forces about our practice and explain to them why we need messy play, soft surfaces and natural elements. We must implore them to not only look at the risks but the benefits as well.

I have been there. I have felt powerless. I have felt the pressure to conform my practice to others wishes. I CANNOT do that anymore though.

My licensing officer and I have a great relationship and I am never afraid to ask her why. This took time, I won’t lie it was scary the first time I questioned a licensing recommendation or requirement. It is Licensing’s new practice to negotiate with licensees.  The more I ask why or negotiate with licensing the more comfortable I get with advocating for my practice.


Shouldn’t we decide what kind of educators we want to be?


I must give credit for the title of this post to Cristina D. Vintimilla who asked the question “Who is the educator allowed to be?” in her chapter These Ventriloquist Walls: Troubling Language in Early Childhood Education in the book Flows, Rhythms and Intensities of Early Childhood Education Curriculum edited by Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. A book I highly reccomend to help you on your journey of becoming more articulate and advocating for your practice.


My grandfather and I when I was two.

My mentor

My grandfather and Helaina in 2010.

A couple years ago my husband and I drove my grandfather back from another emergency visit to the o.r. in Victoria to his home in Campbell River. Upon arriving we were greeted by the local home care nurse, who wanted to go over grandpa’s medicines and care. She sat across from my grandfather and said “Well Mervyn we need to come up with a plan for you.”

“Plan, I don’t like that word.” He said.

The nurse sat there looking confused.

“You see” he continued “When I was a social worker I didn’t like coming up with plans for the people I worked with. Plans imply there is something wrong and we have to work on it. What I tried to do was find out what that persons strengths were and I nurtured them.”

I silently chuckled to myself as he continued to school the nurse in strength based practice. My grandfather is the reason I hate checklists, assessments  and learning goals.  See my grandfather schooled me as well.

When I lived up island every week I would make the trek from Courtenay to Campbell River to have tea with my grandfather. We would talk about social justice, equal rights, race, pain, children and love. My grandfather and I would often joke that we were solving the worlds problem’s in an afternoon. We couldn’t understand why they weren’t listening to us. Often at the end of my visit he would hand me a book to read. Don Quixote, Winnie the Pooh, Life of Pi, Jude the Obscure, the list could go on.  My grandfather would share such wisdom during those visits. He didn’t do it by saying Danielle this is the way to do it. He would tell me stories from his days as a social worker. The stories he shared stemmed from questions I was having about my own practice, need for advocacy and life.

When I moved to Victoria my visits were less frequent but in times of questioning I would call him and we would talk for hours.

Saturday I visited my grandfather at the nursing home. I walked into the room and found a frail man, who couldn’t talk. He was happy to see me. He wouldn’t stop kissing my hand. So I pulled up a chair and told him what was happening in the world. I told him about Idle no more, Chief Theresa Spense’s hunger strike, I told him about Helaina starting preschool, I told him about the work Kim and I were doing, I told him about Christmas with seven small children. I rambled on about my belief that change is happening. I told him I talked to his friend Peter. I cried as I told him that I lost a baby just before Christmas and how his son(my father) doted on me. I told him how I wished the world would realize how amazing my dad was. I told him everything I could think of and I tried not to be sad that he couldn’t share a story with me.

Most girls have a box of old love letters tucked away somewhere in the back of their closet, I don’t. I have a box of cards and letters my grandfather wrote me.  From time to time I go through those letters, sometimes they make me smile, sometimes they make me cry, they always make me think, So much wisdom. Today I am thankful for those letters, his wisdom, the tea shared and the school of Mervyn Davis.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

My grandfather and I when I was two.
My grandfather and I when I was two.