"I am so far from one!"

One of the joys of being around young kids is getting a glimpse of the world through their eyes.  Here are two priceless stories.

I was lucky enough to take courses from one of the leading Gesell Institute researchers, Norm Heimgartner, during my Master's study. The Gesell developmental assessment is based on observing young learners to document their development on a continuum of growth.

During one of Norm's many research stories, he recounted watching a young boy saw on a board for over 20 minutes. Norm finally strolled over and asked him what he was making.


Such a perfect kid answer to a predictable adult question.  We're product oriented. There should always be an end in sight. Making sawdust comes from an entirely different way of experiencing the world!

Here's another story. 

I was helping a kindergarten teacher colleague assess her students. One of the tasks was to count to 100. After I gave him the instructions, Darrin launched into his counting. He got through the 30s, then the 40s. He was on track to make it--amazing for a kindergartner!

"91, 92, 93, 94 ..." He stopped and looked at me, amazed, eyes wide. "I am so far from one!"

Not only could he count to 100,  he had well-developed number sense for a kindergartener.

I still remember that scene over 20 years later because it's stories like this that remind me to listen ever so carefully to little ones.The early childhood folks have known this for a long time--among them Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, Reggio Emilia, and Vivian Paley. Kids have the right "to grow and learn at their own pace and in their own way" (Arnold Gesell).

Today more and more of our assessments are taking place in front of a computer screen. Assessments are impersonal, devoid of the stories of children's lives. Are kids able to show what they really know? Maybe just as important, what are teachers getting a chance to learn?

Are we there yet? How kids make sense of the world

The concept of "developmentally appropriate" is a backdrop for every learning experience we orchestrate as educators.  You know when something isn't DA because kids don't "get it," or simply because the lesson flops. Kids spout off guesses, call out in confusion, or put their heads down. It's happened to all of us.

Here's one of my favorite "developmentally inappropriate" stories.

I was driving from Illinois to Indiana with a 7 year old. You'll recognize the routine: Every five minutes she asked, "Are we almost there? When are we gonna get there?"

I explained that our trip would take about the same amount of time as the beginning of school until lunchtime. I explained we were driving from the state where she lived--Illinois--to the state right next to it. Maybe I talked about Indiana and Illinois as being two of our 50 United States. I pointed out the sign, "Welcome to Indiana."

The conversation was fraught with abstract concepts that a 7 year old doesn't yet comprehend: states, crossing from one state to another, and the United States. I knew all this after 20 years of teaching kids her age, and knew that my explanation was a stretch for a 7 year old, but I thought I did a decent job of it. 

A few minutes later she called home. Her dad asked where she was, and I still laugh to remember her answer: "We're still in America, Dad, but we're on a different road!"