Tag Archives: questions


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…..to see, feel, hear and touch in ways outside my adult ways.

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The Spirit of Research

A doll house on a low table. A common sight in a child care setting, so common we take it in with a glance.Standard equipment.

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 A small boy approaches the doll house, grabs it with both hands and pulls. Clearly he wants this house on the floor to play with at his level. An adult helps and the house is moved to the floor. But contrary to our expectation, the boy doesn’t crouch down to play with the house. Instead he goes back to the table and grabs the table cloth and pulls it off. Underneath is a water table, empty of water.

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The boy lifts  the lid and climbs inside.  He uses his body, his hands, feet, head and torso to feel the contours and hollows of the table. Abruptly he climbs out and runs across the room to gather pom poms and rocks.  Again he climbs into the water table and fills the hollows with his found materials.

 As the boy moves the rocks and pom poms around learning more about the shapes within the table, another idea emerges. The pom poms and rocks are discarded. Quickly he tucks his body into a ball and fits himself into the contours of the table.

Then the boy says: Put the lid on.

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The adults in the room saw only a table and a dollhouse. The boy saw, well, we will never know exactly what he saw, but it was certainly more than a table and a house.

 We have all had moments like this, surprised by what children do with materials…. the unexpected way a sock can turn into an elephant nose, or a sanitary napkin can be Santa’s beard (yup, I’ve seen it done!)

 Which begs the question…..how do we provide opportunities for these multiple ways of seeing? How do we provide materials and environments that spark inquiry?  How do we create a culture where climbing into the water table is embraced?

 I offer you the words of Carlina Rinaldi:  I would like, …to propose the concept of “the normality of research,” which defines research as an attitude and an approach in everyday living, in schools and in life . . . as a way of thinking for ourselves and thinking with others, a way of relating with others, with the world around us and with life.

 So there, beautifully put is our challenge. What if everything we offered to children, the materials, the environment, the culture, the relationships were offered in a spirit of research?  What if we kept the refrain “children as researchers” in our minds every time we put stuff on a table? What if we considered ourselves co-researchers by the side of children?

 Adapting research as an attitude and an approach can transform our thinking and our classrooms. It can transform our lives with children.

Just watch them.

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.
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Hope For Education

Today’s typical classrooms do not reflect the outside world. If you placed a physician of 100 years ago into today’s operating room, she would be lost. However, if you place a teacher of 100 years ago into today’s classroom, he wouldn’t skip a beat.   Trish McNabb

Danielle and I talk frequently about schools as a political place, a place that reflects the values of a society. We reflect on the spaces that house childcare; basements, church halls, portables; places that not many others want. I tell the tale of my 30 years as an ECE in which I have never worked in a space that was purpose built, how I’ve had my fair share of silverfish (those tiny fish shaped insects….ugh!) invading all cupboards and drawers.  Schools fare somewhat better, but still reflect the above quote.  The teacher from 100 years ago would have no trouble identifying the classroom of today.

But here is an astounding exception.

Danielle and I were honoured to be invited to the Peace River North school district in BC to present to kindergarten teachers and ECE’s. We engaged in wonderful dialogue and reflection, had thoughtful discussion, great food, a snowstorm and a delayed flight.

We were also treated to a tour of the Energetic Learning Campus, a brilliant new satellite school for grade 10 students that defies traditional thinking. Look closely at the photo. The lockers? They all move. The tables and  chairs? They all move. The cool benches and low tables? They move too. The walls? Yup….they all move. The philosophy is revolutionary:

The ELC will foster student engagement by knowing students well, tapping into student experience and interests, and building a strong sense of community through an advisory program. All of the teachers will have shared preparation time where they will have the chance to reflect on and refine their day-to-day practice. This weekly shared-time will provide the occasion for powerful and productive discussion of the issues and needs that teachers identify in their work. 

Here is further food for thought;

I believe that if schools fail, kids lose and therefore society tends to stick to the safe ideas and traditional schooling, knowing the outcomes may not be amazing, but they are predictably mediocre at worst. I realize change is a difficult journey but to take education to the next level it is going to be hard. However, “difficult” or “hard” is no reason not to change.   Trish McNabb

Can we argue with that? Not likely. How about this?

For over 75 years the North American high school has followed three critical “operating instructions” that are so ingrained in the culture by now as to seem natural:

•    Segregate students by class, race, gender, language ability, or perceived academic ability.
•    Separate academic from technical teaching and learning.
•    Isolate adolescents from the adult world they are about to enter. 

Sheldon Steele 

 This is all about high school kids, but don’t these issues resonate for early childhood? Don’t we believe all areas of learning are overlapping, that one “subject” cannot be” taught” in isolation? That we fail to engage children in discussions of the real world? That class, gender and race still impact our programs?

It was wonderful to see a school district intent on exploding the myths of education.

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Jeff and Pickle and Pepper

Joseph told me all about Jeff and Pickle and Pepper as he sat beside the swings. He said he was pretending to be at school waiting for his friends, his imaginary friends. They were coming soon and then they would all play together. Oh.. he had real friends too, Mischa, and Ayla, and they were real, yup, they were. Jeff and Pickle and Pepper were pretend, but you could pretend they were real. They lived in a shed and tore down the spider webs. They were all 4 like him except Jeff who was 20. Joseph had been to their birthday parties so he knew.

I loved hearing about Joseph’s imaginary friends and shared the tale with another educator. She too loved it, but then observed that when she was a child no one had an imaginary friend, it was unheard of. Come to think of it , no one had an imaginary friend when I was a child either.

So what’s that about? Were we just a couple of unimaginative kids? Or were we discouraged from that kind of fantasy?  I don’t know why, but I’m certainly glad I get to hear about them now.

Did you have imaginary friends?