January 2012



I wanted to share a good article with you about research being done on the act of making things- some call it tinkering, some call it design and implementation. Here’s an excerpt from the article:


A group of Harvard researchers is teaming up with schools in Oakland, Calif. to explore how kids learn through making. Through an initiative called Project Zero, they’re investigating the theory that kids learn best when they’re actively engaged in designing and creating projects to explore concepts. It’s closely aligned with the idea of design thinking and the Maker Movement that’s quickly taking shape in progressive education circles.

Though it’s still in very early stages — just launched at the beginning of this school year — researchers and educators at the school want to know how kids learn by tinkering – fooling around with something until one understands how it works. They want to know what happens cognitively – how thislearning process helps form habits of mind, builds character and how it affects the individual.

To do that, they are working with both private and public schools in Oakland, headed by the Harvard researchers and 15 participating teachers who meet in study groups every six weeks to share ideas and to form a community.

“It’s not a lesson plan; it’s not a curriculum; it’s a way to look at the world.”


Harvard Wants to Know: How Does the Act of Making Shape Kids’ Brains? | MindShift.


What’s in a Name?

By Hedda Sharapan

At the Oregon AEYC conference last month, I had a wonderful conversation with an Iranian woman who talked with me about her work in America with children.  She spoke with an accent, so I made sure to listen closely when she told me that her name is Nassrim (Nuss-REEN).  I repeated it to make sure I heard right.  When I saw her the next day, I wanted to make a point of calling her by name, but was it “Nuss-u-rin” or “Nussrim?”  Well, I’m still not sure I remembered it right or said it correctly, but from her warm smile, it seemed she appreciated that I tried.

I, too, have a rather unusual name, so I’ve had the experience of feeling uncomfortable when people call me “HEEda” (instead of “HEAD-a”) or hear my name as “Heather” which is more familiar. So maybe I’m extra careful about names, but in this multi-cultural world, that’s especially important for all of us.

Fred always made a great effort to pronounce correctly the names of the guests who were on the program or visitors in the studio. For one set of Neighborhoodprograms, he had an exchange visit with Tatiana Vedneeyva, host of a popular children’s program in Russia, who spoke very little English.  Fred spent a lot of time learning key Russian phrases, as well as the correct pronunciation of her name (Ta-tee-AH-na Ved-NAA-vuh,)  When you watch this video, you can see how much care he gave to making her feel welcome.

A Way to Say “I Care about You” 
Names are so much a part of our identity and self-image.  I’ll bet you can remember how much you appreciate when someone uses your name (and pronounces it correctly) when they’re talking with you.  It makes the conversation more personal.  Think about how much it contributes to relationship-building when you address someone by name.

A sign of respect
In our multi-cultural world, we’re all aware that there is a great deal of diversity in child care, with many languages and many cultures even in one classroom or family child care.   Just trying to pronounce someone’s name is a way of acknowledging that person’s heritage…a way of showing interest and respect for our differences and similarities, whether you’re talking with a child, a child’s family, or even another staff person.

Some sounds are difficult
It’s a fact that there are sounds which are natural in some languages that the brain, ear, and tongue learn early on – but are nearly impossible for someone unaccustomed to that language.  A friend of mine made sure to include “Hanukah” when she talked with the children about the winter holidays.  But a Jewish child in the group corrected her, saying “No, it’s not ‘Hanukah!  It’s CHanukah” with the Hebrew guttural CH that she couldn’t even approximate!  At that point, we can even say to a child something like, “That’s hard for me to say.  It helps me to hear how you say it.  Can you say it again for me?”

An effort worth making 
Most people really appreciate if you just try to pronounce their name correctly.  But it’s not always easy.  I’ve had the experience of trying and then asking if I got it right…and getting it wrong and having to work on it more than a few times.  Besides learning names, you might even want to work on a few key phrases in a language of an adult or a child in your care, like hello and goodbyemilk, potty, sleep — andthank you(which Fred always said was the most important phrase in any language).

When you’re trying to use unfamiliar names, words and sounds in your conversation with someone, you might find that you’re listening more closely to each other, maybe even laughing together as you fumble with the language, all of which can create an even warmer connection and stronger relationship.









Susan MacKay, from the Opal School has a wonderful blog.  After spending time with her in Reggio Emilia, I began following her.  See what you think.  Do you agree that story is a powerful way to gain insight to ourselves and those we encounter each day?  If so, how can you, in your practice, embrace “story”?  How can you use “story” to make visible to parents and the community the learning that is occurring within your schools?  Could you share stories with parents on a story night?  What about sending stories into the local newspapers?  Could you self publish classroom compilations?


Playful Literacy

At Opal School, we have spent years asking ourselves– What is the relationship between play and language? In Reggio Emilia a decade ago I heard Jerome Bruner state that we learn the syntax of our language to tell stories. I’m sure we are born driven to do this: to connect, express, relate, inquire, research, discover, explore. I’m sure this is true no matter what circumstance we happen to be born within. I’m sure that as joyfully and naturally as we learn to speak our stories we can be supported to write them down, and to desire to read the stories of others. And I’m sure that school can be a particularly rich place for these things to happen. Because at school we get to encounter the stories we might otherwise never know.

Maybe these are the stories of distant authors that a teacher we wouldn’t otherwise know brings to share. And maybe these are stories of the others in the room, from the neighborhood or from across town, who bring with them experiences we wouldn’t otherwise know. And as they share, and as we share, we get to know more about our own selves. How are our own experiences, and our ideas about those experiences special, unique, interesting, original? And do I have the language I need to get it right? The more clearly you show me how well you see me, the better I know who I am.

This is literacy. And it happens through play.


Playful Literacy – Opal School Blog.