“Here’s how every love letter can be summarized,” says Russell Dillon in his poem “Past-Perfect-Impersonal”

“What is it you’re unable to surrender and please may I have that?”

Horrorscope for Sagittarius





Sent to Members of the City Council of Trenton via email:

Dear Members of the Trenton City Council,

I wish to express my extreme concern and sadness over the planned closure of Stokes Early Childhood Center and the laying off of paraprofessionals, teachers and support staff. While I realize the reality of budgets and finances, it is extremely distressing that you are allowing these cuts to both the city’s most vulnerable children and some of the city’s most dedicated, caring professionals.

As a seasoned Early Childhood educator, I can assure you that some of the most talented people in the profession of education are those working in the field of special needs and young children. The City of Trenton should be the most loyal, caring and protective of special needs children and the families and workers who support them versus closing their schools and cutting their jobs.

While Trenton has continued budget woes from years of mishandled funds and continued investment in charter schools that have no accountability and drain funding from schools like Stokes Early Childhood Center, it is irresponsible to continue on the course you are setting for the education of the youth in Trenton. I implore you to find a way to keep this treasured school alive.

By closing Stokes Early Childhood Center, you are acting against virtually all educational research, as well as the national movement to invest in the youngest children.

There are both valid and invalid reasons why Trenton has such a poor reputation locally and nationally. I was among the first Kindergarten classes at the then newly build Joyce Kilmer Elementary School. I treasure my years as a young student in Trenton and am always saddened by the reputation Trenton has created and maintained for itself over the years. That reputation is in your hands as leaders of the community.

I sincerely hope you consider your youngest residents and the talented professionals who support them as worthy of your time, careful consideration and most importantly, investment.

Thank you for your kind attention,

Heidi Echternacht

If you’d like to email the City Council of Trenton and try to help save this school, click here for their contact information.

Joe Bower: For the Love of Learning

Here you can see just the revolver map of hits to Joe Bower’s blog or scroll down about halfway to see it live on his blog 

Sometimes I wonder if it’s wonderful. Maybe it’s all just a giant puff up that’s making us more egotistical as some articles humbly point out. And then I say no way, just look at this picture of Joe that Chris Wejr shared with us and just think of the way we do the loud, hard work of working quietly, silently, invisibly with kids every day.

I hope his kids know how much his Dad was admired for his work.

Of course, it all did get Joe somewhere. His book, his blog, the incredible connections he made online. Everyone knew him, from the famous to the friend:




For the Love of Learning

Virtual Vacation

One of the advantages to being a teacher is that elusive, tantalizing promise of summer vacation. A vacation filled with lots of time for free roaming head space and adventure after a brutal race to the finish of the school year. One of the disadvantages to being a teacher is that, while you’ve got the time, you don’t have the money to venture very far for very long, unless you are dedicated and skilled at living even closer to the bone during the year.

So this year, I decided to take a virtual vacation. No, I’m not wearing a headset and entering massive multi-player game networks, rather, I’m going old school and just using my imagination to take a wonderful summer vacation. 🙂

Yes, I know, of course I could enjoy my days off without engaging the imagination, but let me tell you folks, it really makes a difference! And it’s free! No cost, low risk and I think you can probably take out travelers insurance on your flight if you like! So what’s the difference between regular summer vacation and a virtual vacation?

I decided on a little imaginary town in France as my target location.

view of the Delaware
Real view of the Delaware River:  photograph by HEchternacht

The first thing I had to do was to get my hotel. I bought a new blanket for my bed, making it a bit more “hotel-ish” and just worked on getting my house in working order. (side note I just moved house 4 months ago- the hotel idea got me motivated bc it was frankly, a somewhat traumatic move in that it was sudden, unexpected and I had fallen in love with the crumbly “Secret Garden”) So, once the hotel was in reasonable order, I was ready to plan my trip!

I decided that if I really were in France, I would rarely, if ever, have a car. Off I went to buy some new clothes for my trip- a summer selection of wardrobe that could fit in a carry-on. That was the last time I drove (barring a few short overnight trips and visits to family). I arranged for grocery delivery every 4 or so weeks for the big things and then have been riding my bike to the farmer’s market a few times a week for local, fresh vegetables and fruits. I put a nice big basket on my bike a few years ago- works perfectly for shopping!

I can’t tell you how freeing the no driving is- I really do feel like I’m on vacation! And free from the idea that I’m not doing that great thing you always think is out there- I’m limited to what’s in my town, walkable or bike rideable.

Now that I’m here :), I go to places I might not normally go, change my routine, eat and cook more in my fabulous flat- stare up at the stars at night and imagine I’m not at home- or that I am. I even bought an actual book of fiction- (that takes place in France, oc) And I’m going to dust off my good camera and start taking photographs again.


I must say, I do live in a gorgeous, fun place, so my imagination doesn’t have to work all that hard. The weather is great and the language barrier is no problem. Except when my good natured friends ask, “How’s France?” and I burst out giggling.

I love it here. 🙂

xo friends,

Happy Summer Vacation

Outdoor Maker Space: No Purchase Necessary, Assembly Required :)

Note: I was double inspired to write this post after a plastic product marketed to students to help them attach sticks together crossed my path. One of the many great questions that emerged during this project was “is it fair game to use non-native materials?” 

My colleagues and I were challenged to create a Project Based Learning experience for students K-4 the last week of school. Since we were low on materials (all the classrooms were already packed up- long story), we decided to spend the week outside, with our guiding question being, “What do we need to live outside for the week?” What emerged was passionate and personal learning while experiencing the out-of-doors in a new way for everyone.

First off, Monday morning, it was raining, so we began with watching some clips of this Forest School video to help us gain some perspective over what was possible. It really helped that the children in the video were waaaaay younger than us. If they could do it, so could we. (There was NOT ONE COMPLAINT- not one!- and we spent three days out in the rain!) 

So then we went about talking about what we needed. What struck me the most was that just about every kid raised her hand and said words like “teamwork!” and “collaboration”! They answered as if it was all settled- we’d go out into the woods and do the collaboration and some teamwork and BAM! we’d have food to eat. It seemed that that was the answer they had deemed correct at some point and so kept repeating it, without really digging into what that actually meant. 

But teamwork to do WHAT?” I kept pressing. Finally some realists piped up, “shelters!, food!, fire!, the rules- the rules of what we should do!” Ok, now we were getting somewhere.

After brainstorming and discussing it a bit more, we decided to divide ourselves into five groups:

Finally, we were ready! Out in the rain we went. Each group quickly got to work. The teachers texted each other throughout the experience, sharing photographs and videos with each other, while helping to guide the students and focus their thinking and questions.

poisonivy mushroomfood:medical pouch form:function whatneed

Of course we needed to build a bridge right next to the bridge :)
Of course we needed to build a bridge right next to the bridge 🙂
Finally a solid start on the second shelter
Finally a solid start on the second shelter
Of course we needed a sink
and we needed a sink!
We have a ton of witch hazel in our forest! A plant expert came in to help us identify plants.
Apparently, we have a ton of witch hazel in our forest! A plant expert came in to help us identify plants.
Several serious attempts were made at making fire. This one involved adding potato chips as fuel . Even when the teacher finally brought over a lighter, the children STILL really didn't quite figure out that it wouldn't light bc the wood was wet.
Several serious attempts were made at making fire. This one involved adding potato chips as fuel . Even after a teacher finally brought over a lighter, the children STILL really didn’t quite figure out that it wouldn’t light bc the wood was damp….
found shirt being dried and used for future bandages. Also, rocks work great as pencils.
found shirt being dried and used for future bandages. Also, rocks work great as pencils.
Though it was never explicitly discussed, the
Though it was never explicitly discussed, the “culture” quickly emerged that only natural materials could be used except those that were “found”…

Our final presentation of the project was giving a self-guided tour of the centers- the majority of the kids were still seriously focused on perfecting their projects. While some did put on the “Presentation Polish”, most were so busy STILL ENGAGED with the work, they barely noticed the tours!

Outdoor MakerSpace from Heidi Echternacht on Vimeo.

We added a natural twine to the mix on the second day as it really extended the possibilities of invention
We added a natural twine to the mix on the second day as it really extended the possibilities of invention
heavy exploration into the possibilities with mud as an adhesive. She is trying to build a chair...
heavy exploration into the possibilities with mud as an adhesive. She is still working to build a chair while students ask her questions during the presentation phase.
Presentation feedback and discussion on what was working/not here in this design for a chair :)
Presentation feedback and discussion on what was working/not here in this design for a chair 🙂
The Explorers group presented this beautiful map detailing the project areas and school grounds
The Explorers group presented this beautiful map detailing the project areas and school grounds

We had a fabulous week together and each student and teacher really LEARNED and LOVED something new while working together in new ways- it was a blast!

Teachers on this project:

  • Dominique DiMeglio and Susan Beshel (Food and Medicine)
  • Elena Nickerson and Gaby Vovsi (Toolmaking)
  • Stacy Cramer and Judy Shakespeare (Explorers)
  • BA Cagney and Muriel Adams (Safety and Peacemaking)
  • Carolyn Brougham and Heidi Echternacht (Shelters)

NCGS Conference Presentation

This session focuses on developing STEM skills in an Early Childhood setting. Special focus will be on room design, developing the engineering thinking process and lines of inquiry, and specific paper crafting design techniques and challenges. Videos will be provided to help further illustrate and demonstrate projects in the Early Childhood setting. Additional focus is placed on developing PLN’s to continue individual teachers’ professional development and networking.


Room design


Collaboration vs Competition and Process over Product

About Me/Links 

That Prickly Tech Feeling

Fantastic post and points from Liane!

Musings from my Scattered Mind

Tonight I spent an hour of my evening, as I often do, engaged in the Kinderchat conversation. Tonight we were discussing Google in the Classroom. It was a quieter chat for me. I didn’t engage as much as usual, and the evening chat left me with that itchy, prickly feeling like Leonard’s sweater from a Big Bang Theory episode. (The Itchy Brain Simulation) It took a bit of DMing a couple of friends to work out that prickly feeling.

There was a great deal of conversation at first about teachers using Google to collaborate with other teachers, parents and admin. I don’t have any problem with that. I love using Google with my tiegrad classmates and friends to communicate, share and do projects together, If I had parents who were willing to share their email address with the school, I would gladly start up a gmail account and…

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Authentic Children’s Work

To me, one of many things that separates the pros from the joes is if they can distinguish authentic children’s work. Can you? 🙂

Contrast these images with an image search of “authentic children’s bulletin boards” Indeed, the bulletin board is the worst offender. Usually completely designed and conceptualized by the teacher, the child simply paints his or her circle green and the teacher assembles it into a caterpillar, plant or leprechaun. The child has absolutely no idea why he is glueing cotton balls onto lambs or cutting strips of paper for a lions whiskers….

So let’s take a look at some ACTUAL work of children….
At first glance, the taping of the doors makes you mad. “Who taped the doors?” you want to say. But wait a minute and look at the larger picture. This is a fully purposeful taping. They are taped to prevent them from opening and so to keep the tension on the rope tight.

— Heidi Echternacht (@hechternacht) December 11, 2014

I think they were measuring the length of the cabinet and realized they couldn’t hold two rulers there so they taped it. Totally logical.

Contrast this completely student created center on “Horses” with the former science curriculum consisting of guessing how many seeds were inside the pumpkin and then counting them. Do we care?

This student included skeletal models of horses, research books and a book she wrote with a partner. A teacher never would have thought to include horse jumps in a science center on horses….

Making a “soup”. We later noted that the beans puffed up when they were in the water, but the popcorn did not.

When you lose it behind the bookcase, it’s lost. Unless you can devise a system for retrieving it… 🙂

What does this say about this student in math?

This child’s self-designed project simply involved folding paper and counting the squares. Wallah, multiplication.


Social Studies
So this child made the flag, now how to get it to stand up? Well tuck it into the tape dispenser, obviously….

When teachers say they “have the students come up with the class rules” at the beginning of the year, do they look like this?

Art The scrap box is a fantastic source of art.

I just have to include this because I think its absolutely incredible

This is a whole ‘nother topic I’ll leave for a next post, but here’s a related project

Well taped to the wall, this authentic student work lays out the plan for how to get a turn (you only get one) and write your name on the piece of paper. The student also has started to list the individual classrooms by grade (1C, etc)

This student driven project blurs into STEM as we work to design “non-fiction” centers. The ballet studio was a busy hub for weeks.


Authentic student work is completely driven by the student. The teacher is there to guide, question and help form the habits of mind and culture that takes the child to the next level of wherever it is that they are.

Can YOU recognize where students are? Can YOU discern REAL authentic children’s work?