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?


Pumped about the Popplet

Well, sometimes it doesn’t take much. Been exploring new options for a Job Chart. Tried making a popplet. Am still uploading the videos and images but I think it’s a go! I assigned each student a number and that is their job for the week. I chose a number to start bc of privacy issues. Am still experimenting! I can eventually teach the kids to update the popplet as the numbers rotate throughout the various jobs.


Job Chart

Presents and Presence

Well, do you put the update at the beginning or the end? It always feels like the last post or the last presence is the final one and yet it all mangages to keep going. I think last year I said, “this is my last year of making presents” and I know for sure I was uttering that while trying not to say swear words in Kindergarten while making this next one….

I didn’t update this last year. It’s January 2015 now and I’m still on vacation. I guess now’s as good as time as any to remember last year. Here’s the photo of what the kids made for Jane Hirshfield:


I thought she seemed kind of fuzzy and cozy so I thought yarn was good to use. Like her hair. It seems pretty good now that I’m writing it all up, but just before I wrote this I was thinking, “this is stupid”. People probably don’t even want this stuff. I got my brother’s family a giant solar system mobile for Christmas. I could tell he didn’t like it. They are trying to get rid of stuff and they don’t have much room.

It was still the same one as the last year. We weren’t talking then, just like now.


Seems I’m on my fifth year of presence and presents. This one was for Edwidge Danticat and the Good Lord knows I did not know what to make. I was wracking my brain to think of something.

Several days before: “Have to dream up scalable secret project today for a famous writer. Still no ideas other than it has to be done in secret w a hint of danger.

“Something w hems BC hems are secret…. Words sewn into the hems of something…can’t do shawl…a belt? Something softer…”

“I still don’t know what to make. Will only have 2 or 3 days. Hems, graffiti, danger. What can I make?!”

Finally, the morning I was supposed to start it just came to me “A tote bag kind of thing. Sewn. With secret hems inside it. Appliquéd. Will dye the fabric. There’s going to be story treasure boxes inside the bag in case she ever gets writers block these will unblock her.”

The kids secretly passed the cloth from kid to kid on the playground to sign it. No one told the teachers. Kids from 6 miles around, it felt, all snuck into the Kindergarten to help, exhilarated by this simple danger. This is what it looked like all finished:

Kric Krac Ric Rak Treasure Box


Somehow I can’t yet post the picture of the whole assembled Treasure Box. I feel like its supposed to be kept private so the magic can work its magic.

I wonder why I talk to these famous authors through these gifts. I try to climb inside their writing, though I rarely read their books. I get grouchy. I get emotional. I can’t think of much else. I have glue and dye on my hands for days. But then the gift is given and there is this relief and elation, this wonderful feeling of accomplishment that something is created new and especially for them.

I think about his nose and for some reason french toast. I remember that time our eyes and smiles met. “We were together, I forget the rest.” Well, I guess that freaks some people out! Oh well! I’m happy to have had the fun.

Create dangerously folks, there’s only one life to live!




Well, I’ve been making presents. Two within two weeks of school, (more on this later) which is a lot considering carrying the full workload in addition. Anyway, this isn’t about that vs a place where I can keep both the record and the memory.

The first one was in 2009 for Paul Muldoon the poet. I had the Kindergarten illustrate some of his haikus. They turned out great. I am not sure if I have a photo of any of them, I will have to look and dig up.

I was living in the hovel at the time. I remember having a really great Christmas that year. Snow and being in my own space for the first time really ever in some ways. I sat and talked to Mary on myspace a lot that year. Changed my myspace Christmas song like everyday. And followed Santa on twitter. It was fun. I had a porch and long grass in the backyard because the landlord was an awful slumlord.  It was a disaster of a place in so many ways, but I liked it. I was still playing w the camera a lot then. I took photos of one of his books. It’s a poem about a triangle. Here’s the photo:

The next was for Jonathan Safran Foer. This time I scaled it for Kindergarten, First and Second grades because Paul Muldoon had liked the illustrations so much and I felt the kids should have something to give these great authors. Aren’t little kids always supposed to make things for people? Anyway, we did. This time a giant map of the five boroughs of New York City. It was huge. And since it was a girl’s school, somehow the American Girl Doll Museum ended up being as prominently displayed as the Empire State Building.



I had just broken up with an insurance guy who lived in New York City. More like, he had just broken up with me. I’m still not sure why to this day except he lost his job and poof! he just disappeared. I never put the two together until way later. I’m not even sure they go together, but there, its a memory now.

The next one was for Jhumpa Lahiri. I knew it was to be a piece of jewelry. She was our first woman author and I just felt jewelry. A necklace of names.  It turned out really beautifully. She was wearing a black dress and the water colored bits of paper just popped when she put it on. Her whole being just changed. A little gasp came from the audience when she put it on, it was all such a stunning picture. I will never forget that. There are no photos.

I was dating the drummer and I needed to wear something I could make things in. I remember he looked twice at my choice of a dowdy long green sweater and whatever else. I told him, “I have to wear this because I am making something today.” He never knew about the necklace.

The last author gift was for Naomi Shihab Nye. We gave it just a week ago. You know, its quite a thing to make something and give it away. I mean, of course you want to give it, that is your entire intention behind the making of it. I bet parents know what I am saying. You know, you put your heart and soul into something. To make it out of air and release it. It’s quite a thing. Anyway, for her I knew weaving right away. This time I made it from Kindergarten all the way through 5th grade. Wounds and weaving, binding, healing, ribbons, imperfections, the poems of children, I don’t know all that’s in there. Here it is:



She loved it. I must say, she really did. She even emailed me a note. I could barely mumble back a reply!

It’s where I am now so it’s the hardest to know. Buoyed by so many successes but still reaching. Alone and yet incredibly connected. It’s a strange place to be! Excited but still shy. I know. People say., “Shy? You Heidi?” Yes! Shy me! 😀 Maybe it will be better to update it later and see what memory I have then.

I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to create things for people. Especially writers. Presents and presence. I’m glad each one needs the other.

Much Love to All,