Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas stories

I ran into a parent of two former students of mine at the grocery store yesterday. I asked about the boys, and remarked that they must be getting to the age (at about 6 and 7 years old) where they aren't really sure wether to believe in Santa. She said Santa is real at her house. A friend informed the boys that there is really no such thing as Santa. It's only your parents pretending. Without skipping a beat, the younger answered, "Maybe Santa doesn't come to your house. He doesn't waste his time on people who don't believe in him."
Like a small child, I wonder every year, what is Christmas really about THIS year? I turn to stories for clues.
My very most favorite Christmas story of all time is Trina Schart Hyman's "How Six Found Christmas".  I use it in the classroom to get children thinking about the sounds, smells, tastes, sights, and textures of the Christmas season, and I really love the way it ends: "Christmas is not only where you find it; it is what you make it."
My next favorite Christmas story is "Star Mother's Youngest Child" by Louise Moeri,  also illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.  When the young star comes down to earth to experience Christmas here for the first time, he prods the first person he meets, a poverty stricken, grumpy, old woman, into celebrating with him. Their Christmas is simple, but "it is enough".

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Playing with baby

One of the joys of babies and young children is that you get to introduce them to the world, first through your voice and touch, then through giving them safe things to play with and talking with them about the things you see, hear, touch, smell, and taste together. Through play, children develop their minds and bodies and learn skills that will help them be successful their whole lives long. Playing with our children, having fun with our children, makes them smarter! 
Last night I gave eight month old River a lime to play with. She examined it carefully, turing it over in her hands, discovering that she could hold it better with two hands than with one, banging it on the table to see what sound it made. After a while I gave her a satsuma, too. She repeated her process with the satsuma, then picked up the lime again. She examined the lime, then the satsuma. I could tell she was comparing them, noticing how they were the same and how they were different. She won't have the language to express the differences until much later, but she's already examining the world with the eye of a scientist.
I'm doing a series of pastels and watercolors of children and their adults playing together. Here River is enjoying the way her mother is blowing on her cheek, and expressing her pleasure with a smile.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

santa in a box

Here's Santa in a box again, next version.

Monday, November 24, 2008

santa in a box

Last year when Zander was three, he was Santa. Every day he wore his santa hat and his santa jacket and pants, and his santa boots and belt, and his santa beard. When other children protested, "you aren't REALLY Santa!", Zander insisted, "Yes I AM!" On the playground he would come up to children and ask what they wanted for Christmas. Under the slide was the house, and the ladder to the slide was the chimney. His favorite game was to make a cardboard box into a sleigh, with the biggest teddy bear as a reindeer, harnessed with silky scarves.
Pretending to be Santa is not unusual in small children. Calla was Santa when she was three, and Case used to wrap up toys from the classroom and, as Santa,  deliver them to his classmates. 
Here is my first attempt as drawing a child pretending to be Santa. Hope to post a better one soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Bookstore Kids

I've noticed that children and adults often see movies or books completely differently. I'm thinking of a time when the adults felt that playground games at the elementary school had gotten out of hand; children were playing "predator". Where did they learn it? Parents in this community are very careful about what they let their children watch on t.v.  It turns out that children had been watching nature shows on public television--which featured a lot of predatory animals.
Sometimes children will ask me to read again and again books that no trade book publisher would even look at. A friend self published a book about her dog, Cap, as a fundraiser. Her mother illustrated it with paintings most third graders would be proud of, and the cover featured a photo of the dog. My preschoolers loved it! Why? The cover and text convinced them it was about a real dog, a friendly dog they might someday meet, and the illustrations were just fine.
The bookstore kids, Amelia (almost 9) and Peobe (5) love a book their mother, the owner, found too amaturish to carry: I Love You More, by Laura Duksta and illustrated by Karen Keesler.  Amelia said "I like it that it says 'I love you more than' so many things."  Was it the repetition? Or more likely that the book really made Amelia feel loved. Perhaps she identified with the child who was being so loved.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

two blogs, two audiences

Some of my favorite artists are children. This pirate is by a very talented 5 year old, Mead Gill. 
As I think through this whole blogging  thing and how I want to approach it, I realize that I have two primary audiences I hope to reach. One is children and their parents. After raising three sons and 20 years of teaching young children, I find that interacting with these people is one of my favorite things to do, and media for young children, especially books, really lights my fire. I would rather see "Happy Feet" or "Howl's Moving Castle" than most adult films, and I can't seem to stop buying children's picture books.
The other group of people I enjoy playing with is creative adults, especially people passionate about children's media (such as the people at the kidlitosphere conference I went to in Portland) and artists and free thinkers. 
I would like to focus this blog (childrensplay) more on children and their parents, though Kidlit bloggers will find things of interest here once I get the review process started. On my Sunflowerpeople blog (, I will focus more on artists and on the creative process. At least, that's my plan now. I suspect there will be some overlap, so feel free to put both blogs on your must read list.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

sunflower people

I've been painting sunflowers while wall street collapsed and my bank failed. The sunlight shining on and through the petals and leaves was SO joyful! I feel as though I'm mining the sunflowers for joy to share with people in the depths of winter when we all need cheering up. Or now, when worries about the economy have people feeling scared and upset. 
  This blog is in transition. The stories I share are less about my immediate experiences with my current students--as I have none this year--and more about the child within me. Should I start a new blog? Yes, I think so. Look for a new blog soon.
I am developing a visual language, Sunflower Speak, using sunflowers to express human 
feelings and situations. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

school starts

School started last week for all my young friends--but not for me! I'm taking a 
sabatical this year to focus on my long time love for writing and illustrating children's books. I did some illustrations for Royal Spy, a middle grade novel by Marjorie Watkins, and we are working together on a web site for this book and for Rotaida and the Runestone, which was Marorie's first Rotaida book.  The site is in process, and you can see where we are at with it so far by visiting  I did the colorful map, the illustrations for Royal Spy on the web, and this illustration for Rotaida and the Runestone.

I plan to continue adding anecdotes about kids from time to time, as I remember them, and to keep  you updated on my adventures in the publishing world. Meanwhile, the sun is shining through the yellow petals of the sunflowers in my sunflower forest, and I'm in seventh heaven painting them! 

The sunflower forest happened quite by accident. We had sunflowers 2 feet across last fall! There was also a variety of smaller sunflowers with black seeds popular with the birds. I think somehow the flowers got their pollen mixed up, because this year I have sunflowers from barely 2 inches across to almost a foot, and from 18 inches high to 8-10 feet high! The kids planted the seeds well, though quite by accident. We buried apple mash from our apple pressing in the garden area, and all winter long the children dug and stomped and got their boots stuck in the mud where the seeds fell. In the spring, something sprouted all over the garden. I thought maybe it was baby apple trees, but no, it was hundreds of sunflower plants! I gave away at least 40 plants, and still have a forest of sunflowers, as well as sunflowers over by Thomas the Train and the swing set, and among the potatoes (which are also volunteers).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I've been thinking lately of those children who, while brilliant, don't fit well in the current educational system. Many of them are boys, but not all. I'm thinking of boys especially, because this year my class has been all boys, and what has worked well in the past has not worked well this year, although every one of them is truly brilliant. I kid you not. Each has really amazing individual talents, interests, and perception. I feel privileged to have been their teacher, though I haven't always known how to reach them.
As I've been talking with people, some interesting stories and thoughts have been coming up. One friend, Jennifer Easly, who is a child psychologist, feels that many children born now are "Indigo" children, with sensitivities and needs that don't fit in the school system we have. They may be labeled "hyperactive" or "attention deficit", or  "oppositional". She is doing parent education to help parents with the different kind of parenting these children need. While our educational system focuses on where children fail to meet the standards, she encourages parents (and teachers) to focus on children's strengths. This is SO important!
Another friend was part of a group of parents who created an alternative program within the public school on Vashon, which he said lasted about ten years. His youngest daughter was so stubborn, he said that she refused to learn (or perhaps she refused to perform, to let on what she knew). She wasn't reading until 6th grade. In the alternative program and at Charles Wright, she was never made to feel wrong or not good enough, and so she never felt a failure. This daughter, now grown, is handling legal issues on intellectual property rights for a major firm--internationally!
Don't get me wrong. My own three sons were educated in the public schools, and I really appreciate the work their teachers did to bring out the best in them. Still, especially with the current focus on getting children to read earlier, many children do get the sense that they just aren't good enough, and never will be. As do children who have trouble sitting still, or whose minds work faster than the teacher's or the rest of the class.
I would like to invite you to add your comments to this discussion, as I have a strong interest in teaching children who don't fit perceptions of how children should learn what when, and I am interested in learning from you and your experiences.