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Activity in the Hive: Planning and Documentation Experiment

At the start of October I decided I really needed to come up with a planning process that involved breaking up new provocations and aligning them with a broader plan.

Ever since I read about the Intended Projects document in Working in the Reggio Way (I discuss it a bit here) I have been trying to create my own. This document is an incredibly broad document and defines the overarching themes or concepts you’ll cover in a given period of time. Because it’s such a detailed and long document I really just needed the time to sit down, think through, and then put my thoughts together on paper (so to speak). I recently made the time to do this and to come up with some other pieces of the planning process.

Part of my intention was also to encourage myself to begin documenting Cam’s thinking and learning. This is one of the aspects I really love about the Reggio approach and I think it’s one of the more powerful pieces too because it requires a lot of reflection and listening to the child(ren) on the part of the educator.  

What I have now is essentially a series of documentations that form a beginning, middle, and end. Technically there is no end, but the final document can certainly come at a natural stopping or breaking point and must come after the project has had some time to develop and begin winding down.

My new planning process includes:

  • Intended Projects: This is a document meant to cover the planning for a season or even be a biannual document.  It lays out the broad themes and concepts I want to cover and names and generally plans provocations that will go with those themes.

I identified four core areas I want topics or themes to fall into (Language Arts, Numeracy, Art, and Nature) and then I picked what I wanted the broad topics to be (right now I have Building Letter Awareness as the Language Arts topic). Of course there is tons of overlap and I make note of that. I also have a written statement at the top that addresses both the question “what do I seek to make evident?” and discusses how these topics tie in with Cam’s expressed interests.

There are different types of projects identified within the document too: Umbrella Projects (which are those four core areas), Environmental Projects (these are projects that come out of any of the play areas we have set up in the house), Daily Life Projects (these are projects that come out of her wonderings and musings that happen in the natural course of daily life), and Self-Managed Projects (these I don’t expect to see until Cam is quite a bit older and more independent). Provocations can fall into several types of projects.

Under the general project planning I have a provocation strategies section that contains places to record questions (from me or Cam), materials, scaffolding (any prior knowledge she’ll need or provocations or activities that need to be planned or need to come first), books, and provocations (these are the actual set ups I want to put out). 

I should also note that this is not a static document. I add to it and build on it as I go along. It’s not intended to be perfect or comprehensive the first time around.

  • Provocation (Monthly) Planning: In my Intended Projects I name the provocations I want to set up. In my monthly planning I assigned a week of each month to one of the core areas/umbrella projects. On Mondays I set up the one or two provocations that go along with it (many of the provocations build on each other so there is an order to them). That means each provocation stays out for at least a month and it breaks the set-up process into much more manageable chunks. 
  • Provocation Documentation: This is a final document that will come toward the end of a provocation. It will record a statement about why I did the provocation (what questions Cam had that led there or interest that she showed), notes about context and objectives, materials available, a narrative, what was learned, and follow up ideas. I will also include pictures here. I have yet to finish one of these as we are still in the throes of the our current project How Clothes Are Made. I am hoping this will be a good place to harvest pictures and information to create documentation panels. 

I know all this sounds super formalized and school-y, but it’s all based on what Cam has expressed interest in. I chose Building Letter Awareness because Cam is frequently pointing to scribbles she makes and telling me what word she has written. I think she’s ready to start identifying letters and learning how to turn those scribbles into real letters. I am really interested in keeping a good record of what she is thinking and how she is approaching learning too, so I want to have good documentation of all that. And I am prone to getting lazy about setting things up for her (I’m procrastinating setting up some painting as I type) but if I’m hyper organized and front-load in the planning stage it’s easy for me to follow through. I guess you could say this (should) keep me honest. 

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Keep in mind that I am crazy organized and a total neat freak (always have been) so this may be way beyond what any normal parent wants to do. Any one else do planning like this? How do you approach planning?

Cool Stuff Vol. 1, Issue 1

“Cool Stuff” is a new series I’m starting. I should be doing it most weeks. The intent is to share anything and everything that we’ve found useful and interesting. When Cam asks me questions about the world around us or I note that she’s seen something she doesn’t quite understand, I try to find real life examples, books, pictures, videos, you name it, to help her understand. In the process of doing this I come across a lot of neat things that I thought it might be fun to share with parents and educators.

For the inaugural post of Cool Stuff I would like to share:

3 Rules to Spark Learning: Nothing here that the Reggio Emilia approach doesn’t do, but it bears repeating. However I think it hits home that you don’t have to commit fully to the Reggio approach to value and adhere to these principles. (6 minute video from TED Talks Education)

I’m Not Patient Enough to Homeschool: Just yes on this one. It really ties into my belief that toy and baby companies are trying to convince us that we don’t know what we’re doing so we need to buy their products. (Blog post from Kate at An Everyday Story, a fabulous homeschool & Reggio blog)


Activity in the Hive: Extroverts, School and Traditions

Well, the big news around here is that Cam is going to school in September. We decided to put her in a three-mornings a week nursery school. This may come as a surprise considering all my talk about homeschooling, but circumstances have changed a little bit and this makes more sense at this point. I’m going back to work two afternoons a week which won’t coincide with her program, but will reduce the amount of time I have to work on other projects. I’ll gain some of that time back while she’s in school.

More importantly, I’ve thought a lot about what to do for Cam and I realized what an extrovert she is. While I think more traditional school programs have a false sense of socialization, this program actually addresses that. Regardless, I think at this point she needs a few hours a week to be involved with other kids. I’m introverted and struggle to get her the socializing she needs because I’m inclined to stay home.


I’m really excited about this school. It’s the Peregrine School, the Reggio school here in the area. Their program looks wonderful and we spent a long time talking with the program director who is a doctor of education and has taught in teacher training/credential programs at one of our local universities for years. If we are going to go to the trouble and expense to send Cam to school I want it to be for a program that I love and the Reggio program is.

The first day of school also means the start of a new German tradition for us. German school children receive a cone of goodies, called a schultuete, on their first day of school. Traditionally this is done only in Kindergarten or first grade, but it has apparently expanded to older kids. I’m going to make a cone that we can use for the next few years. I’ll post pictures of the cone and Cam with it.

This is, of course, bittersweet for us. It feels like a really momentous step in her growing up. I’m sure Cam will handle this transition with her usual aplomb while Tom and I stand at the gate and cry. 🙂

Image source: AKPool, Little Girl with Schultute

Traditions Banner

Notes from Working in the Reggio Way: Progettazione

Since readingthrough Working in the Reggio Way I’ve been revisiting chapters of the book, reading them more thoroughly, and doing the journal work she recommended doing along with the book; essentially using it like a workbook. This has been really informative both for how I see working with Cam and for examining my own thoughts about education.

In terms of more practical, hands-on application, the chapters on planning and observation have been incredibly useful. I feel like I now have a clearer idea of how to approach these things in a Reggio way. In my last blog post about this, I noted that I have read Authentic Childhood, another fabulous Reggio book, but it was so theoretical. That was what I needed when I was first approaching the idea of the Reggio Emilia approach, but now I’m at the point where I need more concrete ideas and examples of how it’s done. Working in the Reggio Way has a been exactly this kind of book.

My understanding had been that the Reggio Emilia approach has no set curriculum and that all activity is thought up by the children. It sounded like anything goes and anything and everything happens. I found this idea incredibly intimidating and didn’t really know how to ease in. How do you know exactly what provocations to set up, especially if you know your child isn’t familiar with everything in the world? Is there some kind of starting point? Do you just jump in? Does that mean there is no planning until you’ve observed and made mind maps? Do you observe your child or class for a week then begin “using” the method?

It turns out that my understanding was true, but it’s not exactly how it sounds. Firstly, there are several different kinds of projects that occur in a Reggio classroom. They are, of course, all tied together and may fit more than one category, but as Julianne Wurm points out, when trying to wrap your head around it, it makes sense to look at it in a more linear way. Throughout the chapter she uses the Italian word for planning, progettazione, because there is no good English translation that doesn’t carry other meanings. This idea carries over to her definition of several of the projects, they have words for them, but the English words carry some baggage.

The teachers do have a set of projects with set provocations and they do do some curriculum planning (progettazione). They may use these every year with little or no tweaking. However, they are very broad ideas that can encompass a lot of learning and exploring. I would call them umbrella topics. Wurm called them a project theme and says “this is the foundation, projects that all the children will do in the course of three years [the length of the program]”. Where the learning goes depends entirely on the group of children and their ideas and interests. The provocations that go with these projects tend to also be broad or open ended and, again, how the children approach them, interact with them and what they get out of them is entirely up to the group of kids and changes from year to year.

To make this a little more concrete, Wurm explains that one of the schools she apprenticed in had the Color Among the Hands project. She describes it as ” a color theory project in which children use many different languages to explore and create their own understanding of color theory”. While there was plenty of room for the children to discover and follow their interests within this project they would also have some set provocations such as painting on easels that would give the students jumping off points. 

There are also environmental projects, projects and learning that are inspired by the different areas of the classroom (such as the block area, the house play area, etc.). There are daily life projects which come from daily exposure to the world and ideas children

Reggio Emilia.jpg

wonder about. Wurm notes that these are spontaneous. There are also self-managed projects which are projects undertaken by individual children or small groups. These can be big or small and can be child- or teacher-initiated. Wurm stresses that the lines between these various projects are very fluid and it’s important not to become too rigid when thinking about them.

The projects remain flexible and child-directed because of one type of documentation called the Intended Projects. This is a planning document that is added to and edited throughout the year as new projects and ideas arise. It is also begun at the beginning of the year to get things started. I plan on discussing this in more depth next week in a post about documentation as discussed in Working in the Reggio Way.

One of the ideas I really love about the Reggio approach is that it isn’t standards based or driven. There is no end point to the learning and you believe that the children will learn what they need to learn without setting some goal. It also values the process of learning and exploring over a product that can be used to give a grade or check a box.

A New Daily Rhythm

As I noted in my last post I’m working on creating a better daily rhythm. At this point I feel like I have a handle on the breathing in and out rhythm of the day. Now I want some anchor points in the day and week (laundry on Friday, cleaning on Thursday, and the like). Cam is also trying to involve herself in some of my activities so I need to find ways she can help and include them in the schedule.

There are two aspects to a written agenda and to-do list, though, that I am trying very hard to resist. The first is becoming a slave to the clock and the second is becoming a slave to the to-do list. I would like to have a schedule that allows extra time if we’re having fun, not one that requires we shut things down to get on to the next thing on the list. I also feel myself getting too tied to the to-do lists I’ve been creating. I need to write down what needs to be done becauseI forget, but it can really drive me to forget to do other things like connect with Cam.

So, I’m going for a few words that will guide our days and the idea that at the beginning of each day I can reflect on what needs to be done, when I will do those things, and what our daily words will look like (i.e. bike on driveway for “go outside”).

Daily Rhythm

Breathing In, Breathing Out

Heaven on EarthA few months ago I read a wonderful Waldorf parenting book, Heaven on Earth. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something to give you a sense of what Waldorf parenting looks like and also want some concrete ways to parent in that way.

Waldorf is very focused on creating and celebrating rhythms. Rhythms of the year, rhythms of the home, rhythms of the heart. (I talk a bit about rhythm here and give some other wonderful resources.) One suggestions Heaven on Earth makes is to look at your daily rhythm as breathing in and breathing out. Expanding and contracting.

I understood it to mean, and Oppenheimer suggest it can mean, that as we go through the day, Cam and I come together and then move apart in our activities. Cam is a very independent, busy toddler and she is very good at engaging in activities where she doesn’t need me to be looking over her shoulder (although she spends a good amount of time talking to me during these independent activities), but she is also still only two and a half. She needs cuddle time, time that I focus primarily on her or an activity we do together like baking.

We start by breathing in. Cuddles when she wakes up and breakfast together. A little chat or two. Then we move apart to get clean up and washed up and play a bit. From there we spend the rest of the day breathing in and out. Sometimes one period is longer than it wasthe day before. I observe Cam for indications on how she’s feeling and what she needs and adjust accordingly. Those days when I push it, I can I tell in her behavior that I’ve taken too long to come together (or break apart!). She’ll get fussy and clingy or push me away.

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It’s such a simple idea, but it works really well for us. Using this breathing in and out rhythm has worked wonders for creating a smooth, calm, happy day for us. Not that our days were horrendous before, but it’s really streamlined our rhythm.

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 4

I recently read a post from Racheous: Loveable Learning blog encouraging the use of real tools and items in children’s play. I think Rachel put to words something we’ve also been doing with many of Cam’s creative play toys.

The Montessori Method definitely encourages using real items that are sized down for children, such as tables and chairs, aprons, and kitchen utensils, and the Reggio Emilia Approach encourages the use of real materials in the atelier, such as oil pastels, paints, and scissors. I think we’ve taken that one step further and given Cam a number of items for her creative/imaginative play that are real adult items. She really seems to love most of them, especially her barcode scanner.

Just to name a few of the tools:

  • old rotary telephone & phone book
  • barcode scanner for her grocery store
  • garden tools including a wheel barrow
  • boxes and containers from our real food in her grocery store
  • carpet sweeper, broom, spray bottles and rags for cleaning
  • basket of maps
  • tool box full of real tools: hammer, saw, clamps, wrench, screwdrivers, etc.

Small pieces

Now I know the both the Waldorf and the Reggio Emilia approaches encourage lose, open-ended pieces in the imaginative play areas to encourage them to develop their imagination, but I think it’s okay to have a mix of real and open-ended toys. We have tons of basic blocks, small wooden pieces, marbles, tiles, colored balls, recycled materials, etc. And Cam plays with those for sure. She can actually be surprisingly creative when imagining what these things can be and in applying them to her building. But nothing beats the look on her face when she finds a barcode and runs to her room to scan it.

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 3

Next up in talking about our toys should be a fairly short, but I think important, discussion of wooden vs. plastic. You can see the earlier posts in this series here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Both the Montessori method and the Waldorf philosophy advocate using only really high quality wooden (and glass and wool) materials with children. It has something to do with absorbing beautiful aesthetics early on and the natural feel and warmth of wooden objects. I get it, I really do, but I also disagree.

We have a lot wooden toys and when we can afford them I do tend to purchase them. They have a beautiful feel and look. But I take issue with this idea in a number ways. First, they are often unaffordable. I will skip buying several cheap plastic toys in order to get something much nicer in wood, but ultimately I’m interested in having things to keep Cam engaged and active. If that means she needs plastic, then so be it. I’m not going to make her wait months and months while I save the money for a wooden toy (that in three months she may not be nearly as interested in) when there is a perfectly acceptable plastic version.

I’ve also found that not everything that is available in plastic and that Cam is interested in, is available in wood. She is very into construction equipment and Bruder makes some amazing plastic working models of these trucks. I found one and bought it for Cam. The wooden back hoes just don’t have the same appeal and the Bruder stuff is really nice. She is also into puzzles. There are wooden puzzles out there, but not nearly enough to keep her busy (and going back to the previous point, the bigger they are the more expensive they get). So she has some cardboard ones too.

Not all wooden toys are created equal. Wooden toys that are affordable are often not very high quality. There is one particular toy company I haven’t been very unimpressed with. I would rather we have a quality standard for our toys that looks purely at quality of make and at Cam’s interest in it, than one that rules something good out based solely on material.

The thing is, we live in this world and we have access to toys that are made from a variety of materials. I’m okay with that. This is just our philosophy. I really respect people who have made a commitment to having fewer toys and only beautiful wooden toys. Sometimes I find myself wishing we were those type of people, but we aren’t. We like to get materials and toys into Cam’s hands that she wants to play with quickly and without breaking the bank.

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 2

Two weeks ago a talked about how I have come to accept that Cam has toys and how I feel better now that they are organized better. Today, and for the next couple of weeks, I wanted to talk a bit more about how we go about selecting toys. The thought processes beyond does she need this?, because that answer is always no.

One idea I have really gravitated toward is the idea of both a mix of “boy” and “girl” toys and gender neutral toys. When Cam was very small I read the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. It’s a fabulous book written by a feminist who points out that there are some really dark undertones to the pink princess culture that is taking over little girls. I totally agree with her ideas, but I won’t go into detail here, mostly because this isn’t what this post is about and because I don’t want to get too feminist and frighten people off. 🙂 Suffice it to say, her point is that the pink princess culture tells girls to value their beauty (a subjective thing) over anything else and ties their self-worth to their beauty, as well as over sexualizes them. I highly recommend reading it, or other books that tackle the topic, and I want to address one aspect of it in another post .

So while we avoid toys that are meant to market or are just plain inappropriate for a young girl, what about other toys? The Montessori materials and a lot of Waldorf toys tend to be gender neutral, meaning they don’t really have culturally assigned conceptions about which gender should be playing with them. Those are toys like puzzles, the knobbed cylinders, art supplies, wooden building blocks etc. For a long time I just wanted Cam to have toys like that, but that isn’t realistic. I have curated a lot of high quality gender neutral toys, but it was much easier when she was a baby to do this. I still think they are incredibly important to have around and definitely strive to find them. But I was foiled in this idea when she was drawn to baby dolls.

That led me to start curating things like high quality “girl” and “boy” toys. Nice baby dolls. Homemade dolls. She even has a couple tutus. She also has books about “boy” things like trucks. She has wooden railroad sets (mostly left over from my husband’s childhood), tons of toy cars (also from my husband), and lots and lots of Legos.

To me, the important thing was to have a mix of toys. And never to tell her “oh that’s for boys”, as many girls sadly do get told when they are small about things like cars and building blocks. Cam is very spatial and mathematical, so she is drawn to building blocks and other things that you might call “boy toys”. And she loves to take care of her dolls and stuffed animals as much as she loves to play with her trains and look at “scoop dumps” (what she calls construction equipment) when we go out.

A word about toys with specific characters. I think these types of toys are meant to inspire brand loyalty very early and are marketed especially to children in a kind of underhanded way. But we do have a few. What to do? I just don’t use the names of the characters with Cam and let her decide. So a Snow White lego figure we have is just “the princess”.

Ultimately we live in this world and this culture. We can’t avoid it all and nor should we have to. Cam likes “the princess”. I just want to give her lots of positive messages about herself, her self-worth, and help her be able to make smart decisions for herself about what she wants in her life. I also want her to have high quality toys that she wants to play with. And few cheap ones she felt she couldn’t life without. 🙂

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 1

One aspect of the Waldorf and Montessori approaches that I love is their minimalistic approaches to stuff. Fewer toys, less clutter, better organized storage. It’s also probably one of the hardest aspects for us. Cam has a lot of toys.

For a long time I worried over how much stuff she had. It spoiled her; it looked messy; a lot of if was cheap. But then I also realized, especially when I went to get rid of things, she plays with almost all of it. Especially the little things that seemed like clutter, the stack of Starbucks cards or the three sets of blocks she has or all those stuffed animals (so many stuffed animals!). I also noticed a good portion of the things that she has were Tom’s and mine when we were little (particularly the stuffed animals) and I didn’t want to get rid of that stuff.

So I stopped worrying about it. We try to buy her high quality toys when we buy her things, but we also aren’t going to sweat the dollar-bin car that she wants to keep in the car or the tiny set of hinges she wants from the hardware store. She’s attracted to those things and, in playing with them, gets something out of it. Be it fine motor practice threading the teeny tiny screws through their holes on the hinges or pushing the car along a make believe road and talking about fire engines while she does it.

Cam is incredibly lucky and there isn’t anything wrong with that. I also feel like I have finally gotten a good handle on our organization. She has a well stocked classroom that has tons of art supplies, open ended materials like blocks and small pieces like rocks, pinecones wooden balls and number tiles. I tend to switch out the books that are out and the puzzles and some of the “educational” toys that she loves (peg board, stacking toys, etc.). I recently did a deep clean in her room and closet and did donate a few things (I was a bit concerned that the shelves we have in her closet were getting too weighted down). I also straightened up and put a box of toys that she’s too young for (toys from Tom’s and my childhoods) out in the shed so I don’t have to sort through them all the time.

What’s the point of talking about all this? Mostly I think I just wanted to share our philosophy on our space and our toys. I think it can be difficult seeing so many beautiful spaces on blogs or on Pinterest or where ever. It gives you clutter-free envy and house envy. But I think it’s nice to know and to believe that what we have is also good and that other people out there don’t mind the mess and the abundance of things.

Below is a gallery of pictures from our classroom and Cam’s bedroom. It shows the various areas and methods of storage. As I said, it’s messy in some places, but it’s all (mostly) accessible to Cam and all important.