What Makes Lakemont Unique

Lakemont TreeLakemont is the curriculum our program is trying out (and continually editing, adding to, and altering like a child with a big lump of play dough). My last blog introduced it, and this one gives you an idea of how it is different from other curricula.

Lakemont is:

  • Constructed on an original Curricular Continuum (see below) illustrating the learning process moving through Evidence of Child Development, Expectations for learning, Environments of physical, emotional, and educational safety, Experiences that are child-centered and designed for purposeful play; Execution of those experiences based on the Human Factor and Developmentally Appropriate Practice; and Evaluation of child progress and program quality based on the premise that Strengths will meet Needs.
  • Based on the evidence of the most well-known and respected theories and research on child development and learning, but is an Eclectic blend allowing for Elasticity in planning for distinctive family and community types, specific program missions, teaching style preferences, and most importantly, individual child learning methods. Lakemont can be used by any program and specifically includes an addendum for use by faith-based programs.
  • Emphasizes that young children learn best by play which includes the methods of Movement, Sensory Operations, Manipulation, Construction, Role Play, and Expression and must be designed through SARA, in which each child must be able to Select, take Action, actively Reflect upon, and Apply his/her learning.
  • Mandates inclusion of and emphasis on:

Literacy in all areas of learning                                                                             Family in all areas of learning, planning, policies, and assessment                   Problem-Solving in the form of daily or weekly challenges                                     Humor as a strength of development, an element of the emotional   environment, and a vital teaching method

  • Emphasizes a philosophy of “Success of the Safest” by mandating the careful creation and continuous maintenance of safe environments with respect to:

A physical environment in which each child is kept healthy, and free from harm
An emotional environment that builds realistic self-esteem and a sense of community
An educational environment whose organization includes:

Staff professionalism and training in child development & learning research
Settings designed, arranged, and organized developmentally
Systems of organized but flexible planning yearly, monthly, and daily

  • Mandates the exclusive use of Developmentally Appropriate Practice, and emphasizes that it is the Learning, not the Teaching, that must be uppermost in the process
  • Suggests the use of a system of individual child assessment of progress and need that uses each child’s STRENGTHS to meet his NEEDS; mandates inclusion of parent input in planning; and calls for a minimal use of formal standardized testing formats.

Lakemont Curricular Continuum








Lakemont – a Curriculum in Progress

Lakemont TreeI’ve been seeing questions from a few teachers asking about what curriculum or what approach they should be using in their preschool classrooms. There are no easy answers because there are many excellent traditional curricula and many wonderful new trends (See two of my old blogs: Mambo #5, parts 1 and 2).

At our school we are using Lakemont, a research-based but “homemade” and unpublished curriculum we think includes everything a teacher who truly believes in the proven evidence of child development and truly uses DAP exclusively in his/her classroom would want. Here’s some basic info on Lakemont:

The Mission is to foster optimum natural development of growth in Body, Mind, and Spirit in children from birth to five years of age by offering them developmentally appropriate experiences in an environment of physical, emotional, and educational safety and to evaluate the progress of that development using each child’s strengths to meet his and her needs.

The Rationale for the creation of the curriculum is to offer early childhood educators a comprehensive but simple research and experience-based guide to use to accomplish the mission.

The Principles are:

  • Optimal learning in young children takes place through Movement, Sensory Operations, Manipulation of appropriate materials, Construction, Role Play, and Expression in ways of their own choosing in an atmosphere of physical, emotional, and educational safety
  • Every child is good simply by the act of existing and as such, deserves the opportunity to grow, develop, and reach his and her optimal natural strength potential
  • Every family deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and with great regard for its integral role in each child’s education
  • Every adult working with the children must be knowledgeable in the areas of child development and brain research and must use only developmentally appropriate practice
  • Every program administrator must be aware of the needs of children, families, and staff and do all he or she can to create an environment that both inspires and supports the accomplishment of the Mission

The Creation of Lakemont was inspired by the editor’s examination and interpretation of the most workable and relevant theories of well-regarded child development specialists, specifically the work of Gesell’s Ames and Ilg; the learning theories of Dewey, Dodge, Malaguzzi, Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Weikart; tested and current research in brain growth and learning; the most practical and adaptable techniques of respected educators; by local, State, and National accreditation and licensing standards; the editor’s years of education, training, experience, and expertise; and with invaluable input from past and present teachers of the Winter Park Presbyterian Church Preschool Program in Winter Park, Florida.

Next Blog: What Makes Lakemont Unique



STOP TEACHING and Let Them Learn!

scissorsI am stunned at the number of teachers with whom I talk, train, and communicate who are STILL insisting on using very inappropriate methods of working with young children.


It is 2017. We know that children from birth to about 8 years of age learn best through the methods of MOVEMENT, SENSORY OPERATIONS, MANIPULATION OF OBJECTS, CONSTRUCTION (AND DESTRUCTION), ROLE PLAY, and EXPRESSION. They DO NOT learn best from sitting cross-cross applesauce for more than 15 minutes MAX listening to you talk about the calendar. They DO NOT learn best by sitting at a desk trying to make lines and circles with a pencil before they are through wiggling their fingers in pudding, sand, fingerpaint, and dirt. They DO NOT learn best from filling in worksheets by drawing lines from pictures of objects to the letters those objects start with. They never have.

When teachers say, “How do I TEACH math with Loose Parts?” “How do I TEACH the alphabet using Reggio?” “How do I GET THEM READY FOR KINDERGARTEN if all they do is play?” I sigh a big sigh, take a big sip of an adult beverage, gently shake my head and say:

The best learning – what we want for all of our children – happens when we:

  • set the stage with safe objects in displays that look inviting TO THE CHILDREN – not to our lady friends on Pinterest
  • place books and words in every center of learning – even outdoors & the potty
  • find out what is interesting TO THE CHILDREN by observing THEM, asking THEM, and listening to THEM
  • introduce a topic or unit by asking THEM what THEY know and what THEY want to know about it and write THEIR words and ideas on Word Walls to display in the classroom for reference and literacy until interest in the unit has waned
  • use SARA – let them SELECT an area of work/play; give them time and space to take ACTION while we serve as safety monitors, observers and askers of open-ended questions, but do not change their plan of action; give them opportunities to REFLECT on their learning through conversation, song, music, dance, chant, art, role play, and rhyme; and then make sure they have time & opportunity to repeat repeat, repeat the learning and APPLY it in new and wonderful ways

Early Education is not the place to TEACH with a Capital T; not the place for professional suits and high heel shoes; not the place for 16 rules about how to behave and the 16 consequences of misbehavior; and not the place for strictly academic expectations and grading papers with big fat red markers.

Preschool is the place for knowledge of and belief in the Evidence on child development. It is the place of Expectations that match that evidence. It is the place where you create and maintain an Environment of safety and design active child-centered Experiences that are Executed with the human factor and DAP. It is the place where a child’s progress (NOT the worth of the child himself) is Evaluated by your observations and documentation of his/her learning using each child’s strengths to meet his/her needs.

You are the stage setter, the prop master, the cue card holder, and the person in the audience who claps the loudest – but Teachers, you are not the star of the show.

stars of the show

What To Do If. . .

sweat-the-small-stuffGetting back to the ‘series’ of What To Do If blogs. Let’s talk about dealing with the other adults in the early ed environment. This one is about the Boss.

What do I do if my Boss is Wrong? – This happens more than you would think, unfortunately, and it is ALWAYS uncomfortable.

Firstly – Remember that this person –  Lead Teacher, Education Director, Unit Supervisor, or Program Director – IS the boss and as such, deserves the respect the POSITION should be given. We need to presume that the person in the position of authority has earned that respect unless there is evidence that her words or actions prove her unworthy. As professionals, we need to respect her automatically as a fellow professional, and as a simple matter of her holding authority over our employment, we need to be careful in our words and actions toward her.

Secondly – Just as we do with child behaviors, prioritize or do a triage system that tells you if this is an action that is merely annoying, a personal variation on what is normally done, or truly harmful. If it’s annoying or ‘different’ from your way of doing things, ignore it. If it is harmful in any way, take action.

ThirdlyTry VERY hard NEVER to gossip about her actions, words, mistakes, ineptitude, lack of knowledge or professionalism with your coworkers unless there is reason to collaborate about a serious infraction that endangers the children in your care.

We use a system of assessing child progress we call OCDRP – Observe, Collaborate (in complete confidence and professionalism), Document, Refer, and Plan. OCDRP may work well with this issue too. If you observe the actions/words of your supervisor and find there is something that goes against what you know to be good, proper, appropriate, and ‘right’ for the children and parents in your program, and you honestly feel action needs to be taken, you might ask a coworker (collaborating in complete confidence) to observe and see if their feelings are similar to your own. If you see anything that causes harm to child, parent, or program, then document your observations.

Next – Be brave and take your concerns (including your observations and documentation and any brave collaborating coworkers) directly to the boss in a private closed-door conversation. Just as you would do in a parent-teacher conference, begin with the positive strengths you see in the way she manages the program. (‘I do so love working here. The parents and other teachers are wonderful’). Then be as honest as possible in telling her your concerns. (BUT, I have a real concern in the way you. . . and I need to talk to you about it).

There are a few things that can happen with this conversation. The boss may agree that she is in error, apologize and make changes; she may suggest a compromise in her actions that will satisfy both of you; (here you make a plan for improvement) or she may say you are wrong and since she is the boss, things will be done her way. If you are not happy with this last option, you refer to the boss’s boss for assistance.

– If the boss or ANYONE in your center is doing something that harms children, you must immediately speak up to your supervisor and if action is not taken, you must go to the proper authorities according to you licensing procedures.

Some examples I’ve encountered: Director passing by litter on the grounds saying, “Not my job to pick up trash”; Lead Teacher taking coffee breaks while Assistant Teacher handles all children alone on playground; Head Master remaining in office all day leaving Office Assistant to handle all parent concerns; Program Director ignoring ‘favorite’ teacher’s inappropriate methods of handling discipline; and Education Coordinator refusing to train or reprimand teacher for not understanding the need for/not using DAP.



Everything Old is New Again

Fred RogersI’d like to talk a bit about the positive and negative nature of some of the philosophies and practices I’m reading about these days in ECE blogs and articles.

Many years ago, I met Fred Rogers – the real, in-the-flesh Mr. Rogers – and asked him if we early educators needed to upgrade our methods or systems because of the great changes in our world since the 1940’s, when most babies and toddlers stayed home and ‘school’ started at kindergarten for 5 year olds.

Mr. Rogers said, “NO!”

He said that although technology, social issues, communication, and knowledge about the brain and learning may have changed, child development has not and will not change in our lifetimes and beyond. Human beings still grow the same way and small children (birth to 8) still learn by ACTIVE EXPERIENCES with nature, manmade objects, and ‘friends’, both adult and young. We may use different words to describe what we do to assist that development and make sure it is healthy, but the bottom line is that we teachers must accept the truth – the evidence – of child development and never waver from the fact that children must be active to learn.

Saying that, I also must say that in ECE, there is really nothing “new” in philosophy, but there are there are some terms that are treated as if they are new, like “Play”, “Loose Parts”, “Reggio-Inspired”, and “Inquiry-Based”.

Play – There is an outstanding push recently (a push back, actually – against the loss of recess in public schools and the very damaging use of standardized tests to determine a child’s worth as a learner) for play-based curricula. Play is not new. Good ECE teachers have ALWAYS used play as the basis of learning. This is what DAP is all about.

Play consists of Movement, Sensory Operations, Manipulation, Construction (and Destruction), Role Play, and Expression (every kind of expression). Play is most purposeful if it is child-chosen and child-directed but the learning gained through play is of the highest quality when there is a human adult available to keep the play safe and to ‘nudge’ it with the right kinds of questions WITHOUT CHANGING THE CHILD’S PLAN FOR PLAY. So – Play? YES! Play without safe nudging? Not always.

Loose Parts – Come on, Teachers. We’ve been collecting what other people call ‘junk’ for 50 years. Learning can happen when your children play with potty paper tubes, masking tape, twigs, leaves, rocks, pots and pans from the kitchen, or any safe, raw, open-ended objects. You do not need to buy cute pre-made gee-gaws from the craft store. So – Loose Parts? Yes! Cutie Pie wooden cutouts expressly made and advertised to be ‘Loose Parts’? No. Legos, Lincoln Logs, Duplo Blocks, Manipulative Math builders and counters are all loose parts.

Reggio-Inspired – The Reggio Emilia Curriculum is one of the most wonderful and developmentally appropriate systems of early learning ever created and I would urge all ECE teachers to study it and use as much of it as is relatable to their learning communities as possible. The idea of the ‘100 Languages of Children’ and the use of the environment  as a teacher in the process are the essence of excellent early learning. Creating Provocations (displays that inspire, invite, and interest the children to participate) is a lovely idea, but many American teachers do not grasp the idea that the provocation must appeal to the CHILDREN and not to the teacher and the followers of Pinterest. So – Reggio? YES! Pinterest-beautiful with fairy lights and lace? – Not unless all your students are 35-year-old ladies.

Inquiry-Based – This is a great way to teach (designing experiences based on the children’s interests and questions). It gives the children ownership of the learning process by assuring that you are offering experiences that are relevant to them. The only difficult part of this system is that some teachers are reluctant to let go of that ownership and some have difficulty seeing the value of the learning gained from it. So – Inquiry-Based? Yes! and Yes! Just look at your program’s educational objectives (I call them Strengths) and see where they match up with the wonderful things your kids are learning from working on projects and solving problems that intrigue THEM!

Just sayin’.




What Do I Do When. . .?

herbie blockbuilderTransition Troubles

Every community of little learners has a couple of Herbie Blockbuilders who find it very difficult to move from one room to another, one activity to another, or one center to another. I call these guys Herbie Blockbuilders. Herbie is a kid who never leaves the Construction Center. Know your Herbies and prepare yourself, the environment, and Herb. Ask yourself: Is it Him? Is it Me? and What Do I Do?

Is it Him? – Yes, most of time it is. Herbie refuses to move for a number of reasons. He is comfortable. He is enjoying his strengths. He may be in a stage of obsessiveness ( Two) or he may even have some symptoms of OCD, but this is not your job to diagnose. He may be reluctant to leave his work for fear of it being taken, removed, or changed. Any of these may be what’s happening, but no matter what his reason,

HERBIE IS NOT ‘JUST STUBBORN’, so please do not label him that or call him that!

Is it Me or the Environment? – Could be, if your schedule is so tight that Herbie doesn’t have the time he needs to feel ready to move; if your day to too packed with ‘extra’ classes in other locations (Art, Music, Second Language, etc.); or if your expectations for Herbie’s attention span are not on target. Normal birth to 8 year-old attention spans can be from 30 seconds to five minutes per year of age, but some children can focus for a very long time if their needs are being satisfied.

What Do I Do? – Know who your Herbie is and immunize by giving him warnings that he has 5, 4, 3, 2, and then 1 minute to move. Use a timer or the clock (that great inanimate object meanie that we use by saying, “Oh, Herb. So sorry. The clock says it’s time for. . .”) Give him some ownership and decision-making options by telling him he may choose to move by himself, or you will be glad to help him (taking his hand and moving him along). Give him a job!!! “We cannot go to the playground without our Line Leader, Door Holder, Light Checker, etc.”

We want Herbie to experience a variety of learning opportunities, so the best and most appropriate and intelligent way to do this is to bring the learning to Herbie whenever practical. Vary the materials and tools in the area he is ‘stuck’ in. Use his interest and strength in Construction to introduce literacy (put books in the Blocks); math (count, measure, sort, and compare the Blocks); science (weigh, study the texture, put the construction materials in various media like water, sand, beans, and mud); and social studies (constructing bridges, tunnels, buildings and environments alone or in group projects).

Try never to demean Herbie’s learning style. See his ability to focus as a strength to be used to build need.herbie blockbuilder 2


What Do I Do When. . .?

diving inTrying to do a series of blogs giving suggestions to teachers who have questions about particular behaviors and situations. Here’s one on the Don’t Want To’s. Next time we’ll talk about the Herbie Blockbuilders and the Wanna’ Go Homers.

Every day there are children who are not eager participants in the wonderfulness you have planned for them. It seems no matter how creative your inviting provocations and learning experiences, how much fun other children are having, or how much you know these children would enjoy joining in, they simply won’t budge.

These discerning little people come in three different categories, but we have to ask ourselves the same question about all of them: Is it him? Is it me and/or the environment I’ve created? What can I do for this child?

For the Don’t Want To’s:

Is it Him? – Most of the time it is just this child and not your classroom aura. He may be going through a perfectly normal stage of separation anxiety or discomfort (18 mos., two and a half, three and a half, or 5 years). He may have had a bad preschool, daycare, or nursery experience in the past. His personal preference for handling life may be to wait until he is thoroughly comfortable before jumping in – this is part of his personality – what we all get from both our genetics and our environment. He may be naturally hesitant.

NOT SHY!!! Please do not label him “shy”. Do not call him “shy” or “stubborn” or any of those things. NOT FAIR and NOT RIGHT!

Is it Me or the Environment? – Usually not, but there are children who are legitimately fearful of crowds, noise, and over stimulation. There are also children who are put off by the ‘teacher rush’ – a well-meaning adult who rushes and gushes with a flowery sing-song voice thinking it will encourage an uninterested child to participate.

What Can I Do? – Gently take his hand and walk this child around the room so he can see what might appeal to him. Observe his face for signs of interest. Try not to compare him to the others by saying, “See? Look at Herbie! He loves the blocks”, but simply state the facts. “Herbie is building a castle. Annie is working with clay.” Always have some quiet one-man/one-puzzle type activity for children like this. Talk to his parents to see what catches his attention at home and see if he’d like something similar.

Be patient. Some of us are divers and some of us like to put a toe in the water first.


captain jackWhen one or two children refuse to: participate, transition to another activity, follow directions, fuss, complain, or tantrum, we look at the children individually to figure out what the problem is and how to resolve it (see “What Do I Do When. . . ?”).

But, when half or more of your children display these behaviors, on a weekly or daily basis, Captain, My Captain, It’s You.

What Do I Do? – Take a good look at the three aspects of your classroom environment.

Physical Environment

  • Cleanliness – organized chaos is fine; chaotic organization is not
  • Good Lighting, Air & Temperature – physically comfortable?
  • Space – too many kids for a too tight space? 35 square ft. per child!
  • Safety – arrangement of furniture; traffic patterns; too much stuff?

Emotional Environment

  • You – warm, friendly, smiling, laughing, listening, making eye contact, playing, respectful, know & say their names correctly, respect families & culture
  • Your “Rules” – Values of good health & nonviolence; Modeling of behaviors; Appropriate expectations and consequences; Noticing ‘good’ more than ‘bad’ ( see the VMAN system of behavior management in past blogs)
  • Your Team – a sense of community (Mrs. B.’s Bees) including parents, children, & you; a warm, polite, professional sharing aura among coworkers; OPEN COMMUNICATION

Educational Environment

  • DAP     DAP     DAP     DAP     DAP   in every aspect of work & play with children
  • Process Over Product and Pressure – it is ALWAYS the learning process and NEVER the test score, big red X on the worksheet, color-in-the-lines art, “right” answer, or cross-cross applesauce sitting that is important in your classroom
  • Practice Over Purchase – it is more important to spend time interacting with your children than spending money on cute, pretty, post-on-Pinterest provocation products
  • Is It Fun to Come Here? – and if it’s not always “fun”, is it interesting, stimulating, exciting, safe, and comfortable?
  • Work – does every child have a job every day so he feels part of the community?
  • Learning Methods – do the children learn by Moving; Exploring with their Senses; Manipulating Materials; Constructing, Destructing & Reconstructing; Role Playing; and Expressing themselves through facial expression & gesture, spoken word, art, music, drama, dictation, and written word (when ready)?
  • SARA – are there daily opportunities for child Selection of work/play/materials; a schedule that allows plenty of time for hands-on, gross and fine motor Action; moments and ways to Reflect and recall and reinforce learning; and opportunities for Application of the learning to repeated or brand new use? 

If your physical, emotional, and educational environments are in order, you will have fewer moments of rough waters, more smooth sailing, and you might even find some hidden treasure mongst yer swabbies!smooth sailing




Measuring the Value of Play

newsieI’ve Got Good News and Bad News – Neither of it New News

First, the good – there is a wonderful, welcome, outstanding trend in Early Education that is definitely not new, but still terrific. It is the return to play-based, child-centered, developmentally appropriate practice; the increase in the number of outdoor and forest schools; the use of ‘loose parts’; and the increase in programs incorporating the excellent aspects of Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Inquiry and Challenge-based curricula.

And now the bad – there is this foolish, misguided and just plain wrong philosophy/practice taking place simultaneously in US schools of creating educational goals for learning and behavior that are not in line with what we know to be true about child development; setting young children up for failure by disallowing the very methods they use to achieve high quality learning; and then expecting the children to attain these goals and their teachers to measure their progress by use of standardized tests. 

So, What Do We Do?

First, you must believe, live by, and insist on the philosophy that each child from birth to age 8, be allowed and encouraged to use these six methods of learning on a daily basis:

  1. Movement of his body
  2. Exploration with his senses
  3. Manipulation of a huge variety of raw, natural, and manmade materials
  4. Construction, destruction, and reconstruction
  5. Role playing through imitation and imagination
  6. Self expression through facial expression & gesture, spoken word, art, music, drama, dictation, and written word

All of these are PLAY and all of them result in quality learning!

And Then:

  • Set developmentally appropriate educational goals (I call them Strength Expectations)
  • Create a physical and emotional environment that encourages play (see 1-6, above)
  • Let the children play (see 1-6, above) while you join in to supervise for safety; offer facts or language as needed; and ask open-ended questions like ‘what if’? ‘how did you’? and ‘what do YOU think’?
  • Observe the play
  • Recognize learning when you see it
  • Document the learning by photo, samples of saved work, & notes for a portfolio
  • Compare your observations & notes to your stated educational goals (Strength Expectations)

Voila! Learning Measured.



Loose Goosey – Some Stuff About Stuff

Loose Parts

toilet paper tube manUsing Loose Parts as educational material is not new. Preschool teachers have been junkyard scroungers for 50 years. We’ve been collecting potty paper tubes, wood scraps, kitchen utensils, yards of fabric, pieces of plastic, nuts, bolts, leaves, twigs, and ‘stuff’ for use in the classroom for a long, long time.

What is new is the return to the fact that one-use plastic toys and worksheets do not give children the opportunities for choice, creativity, and REAL learning – and that realization IS a great thing.

(REAL learning is learning that contains SARASelection, Action, Reflection, and Application. It is child-initiated or child-chosen; it is active; it can be reinforced by reflection through words, drawings, pretend, song, dance, and even print; and it can be applied to ‘old’ and new uses).

Young children learn best by:

  • Movement
  • Sensory Operations
  • Manipulation
  • Construction (and destruction)
  • Role Play
  • Expression

The best way for us to give our children opportunities to use these methods is to offer them open-ended experiences with loose parts – both natural (stones, twigs, leaves, gravels, etc.) and manmade or man-tweaked (blocks, beads, nuts, bolts, keys/locks, food containers/lids, and the like).

As they move, feel, manipulate, build, pretend, and talk, draw, and write about their play with loose parts, the children will develop the skills of intelligence, language-literacy, math, science, social studies, fine motor, and social-emotional wholeness they need for success in school and in life.wordpress-nutshell

Finding Loose Parts – Though nuts are great examples of Loose Parts, you don’t have to go nuts collecting Loose Parts. You do not have to go to the store and buy stuff to use as loose parts. You do not have to go on Pinterest and see ‘pretty’ arrangements of loose parts. Here’s an easier way: ask your parents to save ‘stuff’ – give them a list; take your kids outside and watch as they collect stuff that interests THEM; make sure your loose parts are safe for the children; and use your store-bought materials (legos, duplos, Lincoln logs, counters, blocks, & builders – all those “manipulatives” you’ve already got – and let the children use them as loose parts with open-ended, creative, wacky, ugly, ORIGINAL intention.

Loosen Up!