Category Archives: Pedagogy

On documentation

Today was wonderful. After spending the morning with the kids and some friends I got the rest of the day to myself to plug away at my preparations for the start of the semester. I was excited to see that the first email from the PBH Master Class had arrived (PBH = Project-Based Homeschooling.) I read the email in full– getting more excited as I went along.

The focus this week is on documentation. And perhaps not so oddly, that is most certainly one of the topics of great concerns for the grads I am working with this semester. The email was really focused on process (another love of mine)– specifically observational writing, photography and video. But all this in the context of journaling. Of course, that always brings to mind a lonely teenager writing poems at her bedside (been there done that.) But this is, in many ways, a tool for orientation– for reflection. And I know how valuable it can be from the perspective as a designer. And it is certainly something I am excited to be more rigorous about.

What I never considered before and really learned today was the value it brings in the PBH context. As a parent, observing and journaling becomes a tool for encouraging. Lori (from PBH) writes:

Using your journal sends a whole series of messages to your child without your ever needing to say them out loud:

Their work is important and worthy of attention and support.
You are investing time and energy in them.
You are working on yourself.
You are using a tool to help you focus, remember, and plan.
You are paying attention.
You think it’s important to remember questions, plans, and ideas.

And so on. Without you explicitly saying anything, your child picks up on the fact that you care about the work she’s doing:

My family thinks I’m important.
My work is important.
My opinions and my ideas are important.
They think so, and now, so do I.

This is so terribly valuable for me. It feels so liberating– this way of being with my kids. Not as an entertainer, not as a teacher. But that my work is the work of supporting them. And that I take it seriously. And when I take it seriously, they will too.

So after I scanned the email I headed over to the PBH forum. There are two posts in our dedicated class space. I’ve only got through one because I am brimming with ideas. The most profound is that PBH and the Reggio approach are so closed tied to Design Thinking (one of my other works in the world)– it just is astounding. I knew that on a surface level, but once I started diving deeper– it was mind blowing. I have had experiences before where I’ve learned something from a practitioner who works with children– only to have the realization that the methods are also highly effective with adults. It seems to be the same case here. The tools and the methods of PBH and the Reggio approach will be incredibly value to me when I enter a classroom with Design Graduate Students at the end of this week. And I am so excited to share what I am learning with them!

On a final note, I love that we are already practicing some of the tools of PBH. Just today D was talking about how he wanted to learn everything he could about Ninja’s. I nudged him to articulate some of his questions as he was headed out the door. As he spoke, I wrote his questions down on the chalk board so we could explore them more closely another time. He also asked me to write a reminder and go tape it to his bed reading: “D wants to be a Ninja.” Ya know– in case he forgets. (See images)

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Last, I am posting this amazing 15 minute documentary on Documentation in the Reggio School. It was one of the things shared on the PBH forum today. So excellent!


Instead of praise, focus on building a family culture that appreciates, cultivates, and celebrates meaningful work through daily conversation, sharing, dedicating time to it, and giving it a place of honor in your home.

A quote from Project-Based Homeschooling.  Starting the PBH Master Class tomorrow!

The decline in opportunity to play has also been accompanied by a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism, both of which have been assessed since the late 1970s with standard questionnaires given to normative samples of college students. Empathy refers to the ability and tendency to see from another person’s point of view and experience what that person experiences. Narcissism refers to inflated self-regard, coupled with a lack of concern for others and an inability to connect emotionally with others. A decline of empathy and a rise in narcissism are exactly what we would expect to see in children who have little opportunity to play socially. Children can’t learn these social skills and values in school, because school is an authoritarian, not a democratic setting. School fosters competition, not co-operation; and children there are not free to quit when others fail to respect their needs and wishes.

—Peter Gray, “The Play Deficit”

Unschooling in Practice: How do toilets work?


A few weeks ago, Dashiell and I had one of those serendipitous afternoons that captures so much of the pleasure and value of unstructured time — the time that allows us to explore whatever the kids’ interests are. While Dashiell and I were “working” side by side in the third floor studio — he on his drawings, me on email no doubt — I noticed that the toilet was acting strangely in the adjacent bathroom so I removed the lid to the tank to investigate. Dashiell was at my side and immediately curious about the toilet’s inner workings; he announced: “I want to learn about toilets!”

Back at the desk and the computer, we made a quick search for toilet diagrams and looked at several to fill in the gaps of our knowledge of how toilets work, both as singular units but also as a part of the larger waster system in the house. Along the way we watched a few videos explaining in more detail various toilet repair procedures, and we both learned about house waste systems that use collected rainwater and graywater.


Later on, Dashiell made his own diagram of the toilet based on what he had just discovered.


In many ways, this is not an extraordinary occurrence. But it contains within it many of the elements of the unschooling approach: paying attention to what your children are curious about, facilitating further exploration and research, activating different modes of inquiry and expression, finding ways to channel that investigation in meaningful ways towards longer-term, sustained projects. The challenge moving forward is to know when to nudge such encounters toward these more sustained, ongoing projects, to connect them with a chain of experiences that encourage a certain depth of engagement. This last point is really well addressed in Lori Pickert’s Project-Based Homeschooling.

“You can’t say ‘You can’t play.'”

I just listened to Act 3 (46:54) of “The Cruelty of Children” on This American Life again. What stikes me the most is the paradigm, the culture, of how we think about children– that they are, by nature, little monsters.  Holt, Illich and Gatto also talk about this understand we have of childhood. We assume that children default to cruelty, bad behavior and meanness. We rarely question the environment that we create for them or our own behavior as a model for their capacity to be cruel. What this episode demonstrates so powerfully is that under the right conditions, children can feel relieved to leave behind any capacity to be mean to others– to excluded, to shun, to bully. One simple rule created a paradigm shift that effected these kids for years to come: You can’t say “You can’t play.”

Listen to Act 3 of The Cruelty of Children HERE.

In fact, one could argue, that our schooled lives foster a cultural attitude that constantly disconnects our actions from our goals. We go to school to prepare for life and work; we work to earn money so we don’t have to work.
….. How do we reconcile the prescribed nature of school with the vigor of youth? Kids want to build the world, and to make things awesome. How do we let them?

From a post on The Saxifrage School’s blog.

A Wilderness of Thought

A Wilderness of Thought – Childhood and the poetic imagination – an Orion article about children and poetry

Idea: We practice reading nightly before bed. The books we read are of the kids choosing. Might we start to allow one text of their choosing and one of ours? Might this be a way to introduce chapter books and poetry with more frequency?

Article: Raising Successful Children

This article covers a lot of the things we talked about over dinner a few weeks ago like– letting the kids take risks, not praising too much (or praising the method not the genius) and just generally stepping back to allow the kids to make their own choices and decisions. 

There are a few things she writes about that I am not too keep on– like the insistence of schoolwork, but overall– I liked it.  A worthwhile read. I posted a few quotes that I liked below the link to the article. 

Raising Successful Children
This may seem counterintuitive, but praising children’s talents and abilities seems to rattle their confidence.”

The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parents do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child.”

The central task of growing up is to develop a sense of self that is autonomous, confident and generally in accord with reality. If you treat your walking toddler as if she can’t walk, you diminish her confidence and distort reality.”

When we do things for our children out of our own needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self.”

“It is psychological control that carries with it a textbook’s worth of damage to a child’s developing identity. If pushing, direction, motivation and reward always come from the outside, the child never has the opportunity to craft an inside.”

A loving parent is warm, willing to set limits and unwilling to breach a child’s psychological boundaries by invoking shame or guilt. Parents must acknowledge their own anxiety. Your job is to know your child well enough to make a good call about whether he can manage a particular situation.” 

Learning to Read and Write

Dashiell is making great strides toward reading! His interest in really knowing what each word is seems to have really upticked.

One thing I have been hoping to do is create a “writing” center for the kids: a place where they can sit down and put pen to paper with purpose.  I have gathered some examples of the supplies and spaces we might like to bring together.
Sew Liberated’s writing center
And a “round up” of writing centers on Playful Learning

Jeremy and I will be getting together on the June 9th to make some more detailed plans about homeschooling and reading and writing is a high priority.

Video games for D&E

Jeremy and I have set aside June 9th as a day that we will start to get organized about homeschooling.  High on the list is managing Dashiell’s persistent ask for iphone video games. We would like to develop some thoughts and guides as to what kinds of games he and Esme can be using at this age.  But we also want some guidelines as to when and how much. Once some guides are established, Abby will be able to do game play with Dashiell and Esme too. Hooray!

Here is one set of recommendations I found recently that I thought was pretty good.  I am going to download some of these for testing: 10 Apps my 3 year old loves. Dashiell is already pretty skilled with the Sid the Science Kid App. He loves it.

Here are some other recommendations and writings on the subject:
Five great websites for preschoolers
There are some great looking downloadable articles here (that i have only skimmed):— such as”Modern Parents Guide to Kids and Video Games” and “Why Video Games are good for you.”