2008 Excellent Product iParenting Media Award

I am very pleased to announce that Child of Wonder has just won the 2008 Excellent Product iParenting Media Award!

Here's a tiny snapshot of some of the review feedback which include parents, childcare providers, and experts in the field of education :

Win this shirt!

Calling all children of wonder! Check out this interview at the Artful Parent and leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for this wonder-filled kids shirt which makes a great paint smock or statement to the world about the importance of keeping a sense of wonder alive.

Book Review: The Table Where Rich People Sit

The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor is the story of a family and their conversation that takes place over their very worn out family table. The story begins, “If you could see us sitting here at our old, scratched-up, homemade kitchen table, you’d know that we aren’t rich. But my father is trying to tell us we are.” This family meeting is perhaps one of the best! Our young heroine is upset by her worn out shoes, the car her family drives, and she’s convinced that this is not the kind of table where rich people would sit. That is, until the meeting is well under way. While listing out the family’s “wealth”, she comes to understand what her parents are talking about when her mother says, “We don’t just take our pay in cash, you know. We have a special plan so we get paid in sunsets, too, and in having time to hike around the canyons and look for eagle nests.” This is a story about wealth – the wealth of a family; it is one of our family staples. Don’t miss it!

Creativity Tool of the Week: Rush Hour Game

This wonderful little game is surely worth highlighting here. It is Rush Hour: A Traffic Jam game by ThinkFun.

The object of the game is to get the red car off the board by driving it through the hole on the right side of the game. There are 3 different levels of set-up (determined by the cards): beginner, intermediate, and advanced. It is more complicated than it looks and sometimes kids are better than adults. This is intended to be a solitaire game, but we like to play it together, challenging us to anticipate each other's moves and try to work together in our strategies.

This is a perfect travel game (with it's handy little carrying case), but is great for just setting up somewhere in the home where you and your kids can stumble upon it now and again and play a quick game.

Wonder giveaway!

You still have time to get in on the Child of Wonder giveaway happening over the course of the next few days over at Mother Rising. Go explore all the beautiful and wonderous happenings at Wendy's blog. Look for Wonder Child Satchel and his bubbles and post a comment to be entered in the drawing for an autographed copy of Child of Wonder.
Happy Wondering!

Take the right turn every now and again...

For our walk today, we decided to head to Spencer’s Butte, one of our favorite hiking spots in Eugene. It’s just a few miles to the top and provides a sweeping view of the valley unlike any other in the county. Zeal likes it especially because the last few hundred yards are more like rock climbing than hiking and he loves to bound up to the top and then have a special treat while taking in the view. Our dog seems to love it too.

So, we drive to the parking lot leading up to the Butte, park, get out and start the hike like we always do. Spotting a few women walking ahead of us who were starting to get our dog worked up, Zeal said, "Look at this Mom! We’ve never gone this way", and took a quick right turn. "Come, Bengali!" he called, and they both ran off.

The top is this way, I thought, but followed his and the dog’s lead.

We’ve been in these woods at least a hundred times. We thought we knew this place. And look what we found, hiding on the bottom right of Spencer’s Butte.

"Wowwwwwww!" He marveled. "Whaaaaat iiiiiiss thiiiiiiiis?"

Well, apparently it is the Rise to New Heights Spencer Butte Challenge Course . Here's what the brochure from the rain-protected little box says:

You are lying on your back, stiff as a board, in the arms of your teammates. Your hands are folded across your chest. If your eyes were open, you'd be looking up at the sky. Yet, you've kept them closed, hoping to somehow improve your chances of being passed through the giant rope Spider Web without touching any of its tenuous strands. You and your teammates have diligently planned how each person will go through the web; who will go through first and who will follow; who will step through the holes, and who will be guided through the higher ones. After passing through safely, you breathe a sigh of relief, and your teammates cheer the effort.

The Spencer Butte Challenge Course offers a professional learning opportunity that will help your group explore the dynamics of teamwork. By using experience as the teacher, groups actively explore their abilities, learn team skills, and build relationships...

The course is accessible to youth, adolescents, adults, and people of all abilities.

We played for a bit...

We spent about a half an hour walking back and forth on this one, which for this kid who has had an ongoing interest in simple machines, was extra special. Can you say "fulcrum"?

The storm started again, and the rain was coming down and wetting us more than I was up for. We left amongst minor protest from the dog and a promise to Zeal that we would go back tomorrow.

So here I am plotting to not just get a group of kids up there to do the challenge course together, but to gather the adults in my circle of scout leaders, women's groups, and other organizations we are involved in. For it is often us, the adults, who need the reminders and practice to take the road less traveled now and again. Without it, how are we ever to guide children in that practice?

Happy listening to the children and a very lovely Earth Day!

My not-so-Dirty Little Secret

I'm in the midst of a semi-busy week. Of course, I'm supporting Zeal as he has all sorts of projects he's involved in - among other things, he's getting some special birthday projects ready, working on a project for his book club about the legend of Hanuman, and is in the final weeks of his preparation for the 2nd Annual Eugene Kids Marathon (6 miles to go!)

Amongst all this fun stuff, a few great blog stops are happening (all giving away copies of Child of Wonder), here, here, and here.

I've started getting emotionally ready for my trip to Los Angeles in a few days. I'll be signing books at the LA Times Festival of Books. With over 140,000 people attending and 450+ authors, they are calling it a weekend of bookspotting . I'll be signing books in booth #620 on Sunday from 11am-1PM.

And here's where my secret comes in. I'm excited about going and being able to sign books, believe me, I am. But my real excitement comes from the fact that I will able to get these people's autographs on my favorites of theirs: Maxine Hong Kingston, Cornelia Funke, David Weisner, José-Luis Orozco, and Mo Willems. All in one place!

There it is, cat's out of the bag, I'm a book author-autograph-groupie, and I love getting autographs on my thousands of books gracing our shelves. If it's any consolation, I always have them sign them to Zeal. Someday he might just love them as much as I do.

Interviews and giveaways!

Child of Wonder is showing up in a few of my favorites places in the blogosphere today, The Artful Parent and Mother Rising. At both stops, you can enter to win an autographed copy of the book simply by posting a comment.

Here's a very small tidbit from the interview with Jean at The Artful Parent.

Ginger Carlson is the author of the recently released Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative & Naturally Curious Children, an educational consultant, and a mother of one enthusiastic boy named Zeal.

Note: Readers will have a chance to win a copy of Ginger’s new book at the end of the interview.

JEAN: I love your book, Ginger! It is packed with so many great ideas. I’m sure I’ll be referring to it for a while. Can you tell us why you think it is so important to nurture creativity and curiosity in children?

GINGER: The short answer, but big idea, is that creativity and curiosity–expressing one’s self, the desire to learn, and wondering about the world–is any child’s birthright. No matter the circumstance, it is what we are born with; it drives us as human beings, and in that respect there may be nothing more important that a parent should nurture.

The longer answer is what I often get into on a deeper level in my workshops and speaking engagements; more and more we are moving to become a society that isn’t valuing these things. Sadly, creativity and thinking skills are literally vanishing from learning environments around the country. We can trace this decline back to the Industrial Revolution, but it is now more than ever that we see this lack of importance placed on creative thinking. So I am on a mission of sorts to start up a Creativity Revolution. Will you join me?

Click here to read the rest of the interview

And please stop by Mother Rising and weigh in on creativity to enter in the drawing for an autographed copy of Child of Wonder.

Yes Days

As part of National Poetry Month, today is Poem in Your Pocket day. This is the poem I picked up at this wonderfully special bookstore in Bend, Oregon.

Happy April!
Roll yes around on your tongue for a whole day and night. Invite Yes into your dreams! Let the shape of Yes luxuriate in your mouth for the entire month of April! Watch what happens.

In Crepe Paper
Because there was a rush of Yes
into the mind of the teacher and
because Yes became a sound,

Yes, she said, Yes, to the child at last,
because she finally heard the Yes,
he carried it home like a bright yellow flower,

a big one with petals made of sunlight
to a mother who was waiting for a Yes,
because the word was carried in

in the mouth of her heartchild, that yes
became the answer, the chant, the only
word in her day-long litany.

Yes, Yes, Yes

*from Shout If You Want Me to Sing by Imelda Maguire

And here's the essay that was adapted from the magazine article, that became a chapter in Child of Wonder, that was inspired by the Yeses we strive to have together as a family.

“Yes Days” by Ginger Carlson
from Adventures in Gentle Discipline by Hilary Flower

This way, Mommy! Do you hear the rocks crunching under my feet?” My son darts past me on the walking trails near our home. We spend the morning snooping in the bushes, snacking on only the plumpest berries that drop effortlessly into our palms, and sprinkling “fish food” (crumbled Autumn leaves) into the creek. Today is a “Yes Day,” a day in which I consciously choose to say yes to my child, to honor his spirit, his desires, his choices. Today there is no “We need to…”, “Time to go…”, or “One more minute…” and (practically) anything goes. Days like today fulfill us, bring us closer together, and help us release the struggles long enough to see the wonder in the world through our shared eyes.

I am a stay at home mom who redirected my life (aka quit my successful profession to work at home) in order to soak up this time with my son. Still, I find myself often feeling directed by the places we should be. Many of these ‘should bes’ are places we actually have to be or things that indeed do need to be done in order to make our lives run smoothly (meetings, errands, or household chores); many are my own omniscient-parent have-to’s, outings we go on for his benefit: library story times, playgroups, community activities, visits to parks and playgrounds. It’s easy to get tied into having self-imposed time limits on our day, our week, our life. I find myself comforted by having a plan, a time frame for it all.

Disturb the comfortable. Isn’t that what they say? What would life be worth if there wasn’t a little discomfort now and then? So I’ve tossed my ‘plan’ aside for the day. And what a gift it is when I take the moment to stop and evaluate it all. I realize that letting go of these have-to’s, if only for the day, is how we are able to really build the deep connections I sought after when I made the decision to stay at home with him. Through the simple things we do today, like collecting the knobbliest sticks and then finding things to measure with them, we are learning to understand each other better. That, it seems, becomes the key to nurturing a confident, passionate, creative and valued human being.

As we enter this very freeing day, my heart reminds my head that saying yes, affirming my son as a human being is a gift to both of us. I watch closely as my son’s eyes light the pathways to the soul that is fed by his choices being honored, not having time limits or have to’s for once; I feel my own soul swelling as I inhale his pleasure in these simple moments and take the time to truly draw in his joy, something we all often forget to stop and do in our hectic world. I affirm to myself that the world I am creating for my son will directly affect the world that he will help create as I attentively listen to his movements, his explorations, his problem solving techniques. As a joyous gift from him, I gain insight into ‘his world’.

Like the lightening bug he is, my son takes a quick unbridled left turn down the road less traveled, through the bramble towards a swell of stones that seem to be calling his name. I follow ‘his path’, the one he is creating for himself, away from schedules, away from pressure. Just one on one time with Mommy that helps us recognize the way this puzzle really does fit together so nicely.

In so doing, we are learning to question agendas, getting past reflexively saying “It’s time to go,” or “one more minute”. I now grasp that imposing my agenda on him to go somewhere HE will enjoy (even if that means entering into a power struggle that leaves both of us exhausted) is only training him to look to others for direction rather than gaining sovereignty over himself. I witness him finding strength in the love he feels from me as he is given control over his situation.

So here we are in the eyes of our shared day, viewing the world as it is and as it should be, through each remnant egg shell we discover, each ripple we create in the creek. We are learning to say yes to each other, to the people we interact with, to the ebb and flow of the world. Perhaps these “Yes Days” are only training for us to live a yes life. Even more so, perhaps our “Yes Lives” will be the impression left on our children that in turn creates a “Yes World”.

Hopefully so, but for now I am content to accept the joy we both get from our simple “Yes Days” and even the tiniest of “Yes Moments” when carving out a whole day just seems too impossible. Because there is only one thing I could say when my three year-old circle danced atop a stone mountain in the forest, arms outstretched as if he was tickling the sky and I caught up in time to ask, “Tell me about your dance?” and he responded “I’m changing the world, Mommy.”

“Yes, honey, you certainly are!”

Words from Alfie Kohn

In my workshops, I often recommend parents and teachers read the work of Alfie Kohn. (Seriously, Alfie, I send a lot of traffic your way.)
This is my favorite of his right now, The Homework Myth, but I would like to also share with you (for parents and teachers) this wonderful article, Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!"

And, there is an entire chapter, called "The Other Side of the Mountain" in Child of Wonder on celebrating creativity, which includes information about the (non)use of praise.

Okay folks, here it is:

Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!"
By Alfie Kohn
Para leer este artículo en Español, haga clic aquí.

Hang out at a playground, visit a school, or show up at a child’s birthday party, and there’s one phrase you can count on hearing repeatedly: "Good job!" Even tiny infants are praised for smacking their hands together ("Good clapping!"). Many of us blurt out these judgments of our children to the point that it has become almost a verbal tic.

Plenty of books and articles advise us against relying on punishment, from spanking to forcible isolation ("time out"). Occasionally someone will even ask us to rethink the practice of bribing children with stickers or food. But you’ll have to look awfully hard to find a discouraging word about what is euphemistically called positive reinforcement.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, the point here is not to call into question the importance of supporting and encouraging children, the need to love them and hug them and help them feel good about themselves. Praise, however, is a different story entirely. Here's why.

1. Manipulating children. Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who cleans up her art supplies. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling kids they’ve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?

Rheta DeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, refers to this as "sugar-coated control." Very much like tangible rewards – or, for that matter, punishments – it’s a way of doing something to children to get them to comply with our wishes. It may be effective at producing this result (at least for a while), but it’s very different from working with kids – for example, by engaging them in conversation about what makes a classroom (or family) function smoothly, or how other people are affected by what we have done -- or failed to do. The latter approach is not only more respectful but more likely to help kids become thoughtful people.

The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A "Good job!" to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of children’s dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if they can’t quite explain why.

2. Creating praise junkies. To be sure, not every use of praise is a calculated tactic to control children’s behavior. Sometimes we compliment kids just because we’re genuinely pleased by what they’ve done. Even then, however, it’s worth looking more closely. Rather than bolstering a child’s self-esteem, praise may increase kids’ dependence on us. The more we say, "I like the way you…." or "Good ______ing," the more kids come to rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what’s good and bad, rather than learning to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval.

Mary Budd Rowe, a researcher at the University of Florida, discovered that students who were praised lavishly by their teachers were more tentative in their responses, more apt to answer in a questioning tone of voice ("Um, seven?"). They tended to back off from an idea they had proposed as soon as an adult disagreed with them. And they were less likely to persist with difficult tasks or share their ideas with other students.

In short, "Good job!" doesn’t reassure children; ultimately, it makes them feel less secure. It may even create a vicious circle such that the more we slather on the praise, the more kids seem to need it, so we praise them some more. Sadly, some of these kids will grow into adults who continue to need someone else to pat them on the head and tell them whether what they did was OK. Surely this is not what we want for our daughters and sons.

3. Stealing a child’s pleasure. Apart from the issue of dependence, a child deserves to take delight in her accomplishments, to feel pride in what she’s learned how to do. She also deserves to decide when to feel that way. Every time we say, "Good job!", though, we’re telling a child how to feel.

To be sure, there are times when our evaluations are appropriate and our guidance is necessary -- especially with toddlers and preschoolers. But a constant stream of value judgments is neither necessary nor useful for children’s development. Unfortunately, we may not have realized that "Good job!" is just as much an evaluation as "Bad job!" The most notable feature of a positive judgment isn’t that it’s positive, but that it’s a judgment. And people, including kids, don’t like being judged.

I cherish the occasions when my daughter manages to do something for the first time, or does something better than she’s ever done it before. But I try to resist the knee-jerk tendency to say, "Good job!" because I don’t want to dilute her joy. I want her to share her pleasure with me, not look to me for a verdict. I want her to exclaim, "I did it!" (which she often does) instead of asking me uncertainly, "Was that good?"

4. Losing interest. "Good painting!" may get children to keep painting for as long as we keep watching and praising. But, warns Lilian Katz, one of the country’s leading authorities on early childhood education, "once attention is withdrawn, many kids won’t touch the activity again." Indeed, an impressive body of scientific research has shown that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Now the point isn’t to draw, to read, to think, to create – the point is to get the goody, whether it’s an ice cream, a sticker, or a "Good job!"

In a troubling study conducted by Joan Grusec at the University of Toronto, young children who were frequently praised for displays of generosity tended to be slightly less generous on an everyday basis than other children were. Every time they had heard "Good sharing!" or "I’m so proud of you for helping," they became a little less interested in sharing or helping. Those actions came to be seen not as something valuable in their own right but as something they had to do to get that reaction again from an adult. Generosity became a means to an end.

Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Alas, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise.

5. Reducing achievement. As if it weren’t bad enough that "Good job!" can undermine independence, pleasure, and interest, it can also interfere with how good a job children actually do. Researchers keep finding that kids who are praised for doing well at a creative task tend to stumble at the next task – and they don’t do as well as children who weren’t praised to begin with.

Why does this happen? Partly because the praise creates pressure to "keep up the good work" that gets in the way of doing so. Partly because their interest in what they’re doing may have declined. Partly because they become less likely to take risks – a prerequisite for creativity – once they start thinking about how to keep those positive comments coming.

More generally, "Good job!" is a remnant of an approach to psychology that reduces all of human life to behaviors that can be seen and measured. Unfortunately, this ignores the thoughts, feelings, and values that lie behind behaviors. For example, a child may share a snack with a friend as a way of attracting praise, or as a way of making sure the other child has enough to eat. Praise for sharing ignores these different motives. Worse, it actually promotes the less desirable motive by making children more likely to fish for praise in the future.


Once you start to see praise for what it is – and what it does – these constant little evaluative eruptions from adults start to produce the same effect as fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. You begin to root for a child to give his teachers or parents a taste of their own treacle by turning around to them and saying (in the same saccharine tone of voice), "Good praising!"

Still, it’s not an easy habit to break. It can seem strange, at least at first, to stop praising; it can feel as though you’re being chilly or withholding something. But that, it soon becomes clear, suggests that we praise more because we need to say it than because children need to hear it. Whenever that’s true, it’s time to rethink what we’re doing.

What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. That’s not just different from praise – it’s the opposite of praise. "Good job!" is conditional. It means we’re offering attention and acknowledgement and approval for jumping through our hoops, for doing things that please us.

This point, you’ll notice, is very different from a criticism that some people offer to the effect that we give kids too much approval, or give it too easily. They recommend that we become more miserly with our praise and demand that kids "earn" it. But the real problem isn’t that children expect to be praised for everything they do these days. It’s that we’re tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate kids with rewards instead of explaining and helping them to develop needed skills and good values.

So what’s the alternative? That depends on the situation, but whatever we decide to say instead has to be offered in the context of genuine affection and love for who kids are rather than for what they’ve done. When unconditional support is present, "Good job!" isn’t necessary; when it’s absent, "Good job!" won’t help.

If we’re praising positive actions as a way of discouraging misbehavior, this is unlikely to be effective for long. Even when it works, we can’t really say the child is now "behaving himself"; it would be more accurate to say the praise is behaving him. The alternative is to work with the child, to figure out the reasons he’s acting that way. We may have to reconsider our own requests rather than just looking for a way to get kids to obey. (Instead of using "Good job!" to get a four-year-old to sit quietly through a long class meeting or family dinner, perhaps we should ask whether it’s reasonable to expect a child to do so.)

We also need to bring kids in on the process of making decisions. If a child is doing something that disturbs others, then sitting down with her later and asking, "What do you think we can do to solve this problem?" will likely be more effective than bribes or threats. It also helps a child learn how to solve problems and teaches that her ideas and feelings are important. Of course, this process takes time and talent, care and courage. Tossing off a "Good job!" when the child acts in the way we deem appropriate takes none of those things, which helps to explain why "doing to" strategies are a lot more popular than "working with" strategies.

And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:

* Say nothing. Some people insist a helpful act must be "reinforced" because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded – and a lot of research suggests that it is – then praise may not be necessary.

* Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement ("You put your shoes on by yourself" or even just "You did it") tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: "This mountain is huge!" "Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!"

If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: "Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack." This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing

* Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking "What was the hardest part to draw?" or "How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?" is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying "Good job!", as we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

This doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child’s future behavior) as well as the actual effects of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life -- or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she’s doing in its own right – or turning it into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head

It’s not a matter of memorizing a new script, but of keeping in mind our long-term goals for our children and watching for the effects of what we say. The bad news is that the use of positive reinforcement really isn’t so positive. The good news is that you don’t have to evaluate in order to encourage.

NOTE: An abridged version of this article was published in Parents magazine in May 2000 with the title "Hooked on Praise." For a more detailed look at the issues discussed here, please see the books
Punished by Rewards and Unconditional Parenting.

Copyright © 2001 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact page at www.alfiekohn.org.

Monday Mornings

Hello Wonderers,
Check out the Child of Wonder review on Families.com and if you are in the Bend, Oregon area come down to Between the Covers bookstore. We'll be talking about all things creative and enjoying this beautiful Bend sunshine.

Signs of Creativity

My “job” takes me to learning environments of all shapes and sizes. Usually the signs I see resemble rules to be followed and a series of don’ts or other things to avoid.
Last week, I was delighted to turn a corner and see a sign posted on a door that read “Are you a Dreamer? Come in, come in!”

Signs are ever prevalent in the lives of human beings. They tell us what to do, what rules to follow, what direction to go, what brand of detergent to buy, and even how we should act as parents. For young children they are great outlets for learning print concepts, letter recognition, and making connections. But beyond all that, can they also be an avenue for creative development?

Inviting creativity into our homes and our lives, is in many ways a symbolic action. We may not be as explicit as posting an actual invitation stating, “Please Come to My Creativity Party” but the words we surround our selves and our children with, will certainly encourage creativity to emerge.

Signs can also be used as affirmations in your home. Guide your children in creating their own affirmations for their own creativity. Try signs such as “I am creative”, or “I create”. Make a special magnet to hold creative works that says, “ Look what Sally Made!”

Leave notes and “signs” around the house
A packet of post-it notes can be among the simplest, yet most fulfilling signage tools in your creative home. Leave little notes for one another like “Kisses 4 U” or “Happy Day!” Use stickers or pictures for your pre and early readers to create a Rebus sign. Tuck them in books, lunch boxes, on mirrors, or on the top step of the bunk bed to keep the creative surprise going. And take it even further, by leaving notes for others who may stumble across them: the fairies, dragons, or other magical and mythical creatures your children may have formed a special relationship with.

Communication systems
Open and closed signs around the house and affiliated with certain activities can be a valuable tool if you want to put limits on what can be done when. Flipping over a sign on the computer, TV, or other high frequency and stimulating areas can be a good form of silent-non-arguable communication. Color-code your signs for early or pre readers so everyone in the house can be in on the communication system! One mother of two young boys, has a running rule that after a certain time in the evening, the “kitchen is closed”. Her boys were often asking, “Is the kitchen open yet?” They found it exciting and novel to make an open and closed sign for Mom to turn over when the kitchen entered each stage in the day. Make labels for household items, or your own open and closed signs for specific rooms. But don’t stop there. Signs can be unique part of your child’s creative play.

Incorporate Play
As children engage in different types of play, such as simulations, encourage them to add signs to their make-believe restaurants, banks, train stations and lemonade stands. Consider also labeling items such as refrigerator, door, chair, and other items around your home in order to increase the opportunities for seeing print. This is also a good opportunity to introduce print in a second or third language.

Play with Signs
As you make your own signs around your own home, in your own environment, your children will likely begin to notice them more outside of the home. As you drive around and encounter billboards and other signage in your town, get talking about what else could be happening in the picture. Play I wonder… games and use signs and pictures to tell stories. Often ads/billboards play on words and their meanings. Explore puns and make up new ones.

As children use words, write them themselves, and express their creativity through using labels and making signs, accept their own unique spellings that emerge. Encourage risk taking in spelling by reserving judgment about the way words are written. Be aware of development appropriateness in varied spellings. But also be aware that some children will thrive more and take more risks when they have you modeling. as children need to consistently hear language that is above their reading level, so do they need to be able to record stories and other means of language that is above their writing level. So if your child asks you to write the sign for them, encourage the independence to do it themselves, but don’t be afraid to take dictation for a while. Like all things, find the balance when you can.

As you ponder the question, “Are you a dreamer?” Don’t just cross the threshold of your creative home with your feet. Spread your wings, and fly in, fly in!

Please join me on tour!

As part of the Child of Wonder book tour, I am heading out to cyberspace for a few scheduled stops. At each stop, scheduled over the course of the next month and a half, there will be interviews and reviews of Child of Wonder. Please join me.

Some of the blogs will be doing straight reviews. Some of the stops will include book and special Child of Wonder t-shirt giveaways, so make sure you enter the drawings for ones that do. Please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question at any of the stops.

Here's the schedule:

April 4, 2008 ~Review: Cheerio Road, the blog of author Karen Maezen Miller, Los Angeles, CA
April 7, 2008 ~ Review: The Zen of Motherhood, Oklahoma
Date TBA ~Review and Interview: Families.com
April 17, 2008~ Review: Lauri’s Reflections, Colorado
April 22, 2008 ~Review and giveaway: Laura Williams' Musings, Tennessee
April 29, 2008 - Review, interview, and giveaway: Do Life Right, Arizona
Date TBA ~Interview and giveaway: The Artful Parent, North Carolina
Date TBA~ Review and giveaway: Mother Rising, Virginia
Date TBA~ Review: The Parenting Pit, Australia
Date TBA~ Interview: BloesomKids, Malaysia
May 2008~ Review, the blog of Katrin Stelhe, Germany
June 1, 2008~ Interview: The Green V, Eugene, OR
December 2008 ~ Interview: Mother Rising, Virginia

and go here to see my in-person schedule.

This place is not appropriate for children, Mommy!

Can I just say what a horrible place a bookstore is? Okay, I know I just can’t say that and not back it up. And as a writer of books myself, I might just be shooting myself in the foot for saying such. But heck, I’ve got two of them. Feet, I mean. I do realize that it is not quite like having one of my kidneys removed, but I’ve decided I will sacrifice my foot (the left one to be specific) for the sake of children and their cognitive and soulful development. Because my building frustration has truly gotten the best of me.

Bookstores (and let me qualify that by saying the “box” bookstores, you know the ones I am talking about, not your local indie place) are more and more the most insidious places. Increasingly, I am feeling they are the places my son might call, “not appropriate for kids, Mommy.”

I challenge any brave soul among us to walk into the biggest of culprits ⎯Borders, Barnes and Noble, Target (she says in hushed tones)⎯ and find an upfront display that does not include any of the following: holiday tie-ins, corporate tie-ins, characters from a movie, or even worse those “books” that will make your children “smart” because they have BUTTONS.

No, no, don’t listen to me. Please just go visit your local library instead. Here’s a tiny starter list of great reads you might find there:

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

The Dot by Peter Reynolds

Frederick by Leo Lionni

If…by Sarah Perry

Ish by Peter Reynolds

Miss Rumphius by Barabara Cooney

The Maggie B. by Irene Haas

Mud is Cake by Pam Munoz Ryan

Oh, Were they Ever Happy! by Peter Spier

Purple, Green and Yellow by Robert Munsch

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran

Sky Castle by Sandra Hanken

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman

And you could always request your library get this one too. :)

coming home

Days away feel like eternity and the missing is fierce, especially when the being away is a conference about the well-being of children and one is constantly reminded of the ones left behind.

I arrived in the night. The house was quiet, but filled with energy. Here's a bit of what I found in the wee, dark hours:

The floor that is wonderfully not-so-clean anymore:

A bit of art in place of a fingerprint smudged wall:

The simple gift, a lid and box made of recycled index cards (pennies are very valuable to this little one, so a gift of 6 of them is precious):

Evidence of an indoor camping trip because the rain was fierce (somebody's ready for summer):

And because somebody, like his mother, is a planner, part of the list that apparently got them ready for the evening.

And, finally, the note and flowers that greeted me, when he was too sleepy to:

When he woke in the morning, he said,

"Did you see the flowers, Mom? They're unique, don't you think? Well, not unique to them, but to me they are."

Love this kid! It's good to be home.

Activism and lovely notes to boot!

On this 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and after spending the day learning and talking and digesting and processing the oh so difficult task we face of rearing children who think and wonder in this world (and hopefully stearing ourselves towards solution), I am struck by the activism that exists in this enormous and getting smaller world we live in. I am pleased and truly honored to be in the presence of so many of these precious human beings who are still so close to their humaness.

And it doesn't hurt that a certain momma zen priest had something nice to say on top of it all.

clean floors

Anyone who knows me knows I am an huge advocate for constructive messes. But sometimes you just can't take it anymore. Before I left for Boston, Zeal and I spent a few hours reorganizing his mess, uh...I mean his room.

I love this, Mommy, he said. It's so great to be able to find everything I want to play with.

And I love that I can see the floor for the first time in about a month. It isn't covered with wire sculptures, lego creations, or those darn little tickets he makes incessantly.

I expect they will all have reappeared when I get back. For now, I'll just savor this little photo of a clean floor.