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? πŸ™‚

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.

β€” 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… πŸ™‚

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?


“Digital Day” and The Literacy of Cooperation

During play time, three girls were working together on an ipad in my classroom. One suddenly exclaimed, “Ms Echternacht! We get higher points when we work together!” They had devised a system of cooperation to maximize their point achievement levels.

Contrast that with this image of a school advertising their “Digital Day” in Kindergarten:


"Ms Echternacht, we discovered we get higher points when we work together!"
“Ms Echternacht, we discovered we get higher points when we work together!”

Play Partners

A few of you asked me to explain more about my practice of “Play Partners” in the classroom, so here goes:

Play Partners:

This started one November when I taught PreSchool and suddenly realized Jonny still didn’t know Josie’s name. He was just four years old and really only cared about wheels and cheetahs and “that gurl” didn’t have any of those qualities. Despite us all spending the last three months in the same room together and even with plenty of variations of “let’s go around in a circle and say your name” activities, I realized interactions between children, even in a small room, were largely happenstance and random.

This is actually very fun to think about…how many times have you been in even a small gathering and somehow not interacted with every person? Sometimes an existing friendship is what prevents you from reaching out, you are shy, or you are just tired that day and don’t want to make the effort, even so, I find the phenomenon fascinating.

Ok, back to the point! Which is I realized part of my job as teacher, leader, facilitator of the classroom environment, was to insure that each and every child had an experience with each and every other child. The experience could be having difficulty agreeing on something to do together or fighting over a block, but they were at the very least having that opportunity with one another that wasn’t happenstance or random, but a guaranteed interaction that each child would get to be “Play Partners” with each student in the class.

The benefits of this simple classroom culture recipe are tremendous. First off it creates a sense of security. They have something/one to “hang their hat on”. Secondly, and most importantly it insures that new friendships are sown, old “cliques” or engrained friendships have a chance to spread their wings a bit and insures the classroom culture is one of fairness, friendship, security, acceptance and teamwork. This classroom structure dramatically affects the dynamic and tone by the third day.


Ok, so how do you do it? Well here’s the trick! There are tons of different ways and it really depends on your class numbers. For a large sized group, lets say 30 kids, you could divide them into two groups of 15 and assign them numbers 1-15 and the other group letters A-O and then pair up 1A, 2B, 3C and then rotate. I’ve created a visual turning wheel to help me. The Good Lord knows there’s an algorithm somewhere that can automatically tell me the pairings, but I haven’t quite wrestled that one to the ground yet, especially since class numbers change every year!

For smaller groups, you can use the same letter-number parings or just use numbers. Odd numbers of children in the class? Argh! I just have one “triplet” to keep the ratio 1:1 as much as possible. It’s important that each child really does get to be with everyone in the class, so keeping a table or record somewhere is handy. In off years, I’ve just used names and written them down in the back of my plan book.

From here, you can go into “Play Teams” as the year progresses. Putting 1,6,11,14 together can be fun as the numbers help group children in more interesting and varied combinations. Other times I don’t use the numbers and just place all the shy kids together or all of the bossy students in one group. This makes for a really good time πŸ˜€ and lots of learning as all the bossy leaders watch in frustration as other groups are busier rehearsing their play than fighting over who gets to be the mother.

I use Play Partners during both unstructured and structured class times, it often depends on how much the class “needs” them. Some children ask for them first thing in the morning. When they go out to recess, they “stick w their Play Partner”. It’s not cast in stone and they can wander into their own zones, but they know they have a buddy they can depend on that day. Even if they just hold hands and know each other’s name, it’s a valuable step towards a harmonious and happy classroom.

Remembering one of my mentors: #Kinderblog Q2

So I sort of lamed out on my last attempt to answer the kinderblog question2Β Β This post is from three years ago. Not sure if I should share it or not. Maybe I will delete it later, I don’t know! But this is about one of my mentors and people who affected the way I think about teaching and education:

Repost from November 22, 2008

I just came from a viewing and tomorrow morning, the funeral. I am drinking beer in a cozy basement pub. They have the internets here and I am still without. But I ran over here to write about her so I wouldn’t forget the swirls of thoughts that bounced into my head for the short time I was there.

Oh, what a woman. She was my mentor and my friend. Her family had all of these pictures of her in the many crazy birthday hats we made while she taught in Pre School. She was my head for several years when I taught in the Pre School.

The hardest thing to give you here is a picture of what it’s like to be a teacher of young children. Although it’s a people job, it is a very isolated life. I mean, you are lucky to have another adult in the room teeming with three and four year old energy and even luckier to have one who “gets it” and can laugh when it’s time to throw in the towel and laugh. And there’s zero glory. Even elementary school teachers are sometimes “remembered” by whomever, but how many people can remember back to when you were three years old.!? Nobody! You may do amazing things worthy of Academy Awards, but no one sees you. MAybe- MAYbe your teaching partner sees if you are lucky, or you get to see them, but those moments are quick and soon forgotten because all the while Johnny is picking his nose. So much so that’s it’s not even a big deal anymore, you actually don’t even notice.

We would have been called “nursery school teachers” back in the day, but Pre School has taken over or the new term “JK”. Anyway, forget all that, I am trying to paint the picture.

In true Pre School fashion, I would now literally paint. Maybe with sponges or big brushes, little brushes, toothbrushes, my hands. She knew all of this stuff intimately and was a serious pro in dealing with kids, curriculum and parents. She knew her child development and never strayed or tried to replace “Jack Be Nimble” with something more flashy or popular at the time.

She wore beautiful, elegant clothes and yet never minded getting down on the floor to teach a lesson or tie a shoe. I still sing her sweet, simple, silly songs to the kids and they still eat them up. One of my favorite pictures the family displayed showed the three-year-old class photo from 1981. The kids were all standing in front of twenty-two witch paintings with a poster behind them saying, “Wanda, the Wonderful, Wacky, Weird, Witty, Wicked Witch” and she sat next to them, her face just glowing with a playful, joyous energy. It was “w” week.

Her face always glowed- in every picture she was always just lit from within somewhere. And her life was by no means easy. She lost a sibling at a very young age- he fell through the ice as she watched. She fought cancer and won. Years later, she lost a grown son. Two weeks after that, the cancer came back. She was on chemotherapy for the last four years, but you’d never know it. She glowed throughout.

But I want to remember the young children part more. Because that’s an essential part of who this woman was and what she meant to me. She really just loved children. And this is the part I guess I never really thought of before in the grand scheme of things.

Here she was, this beautiful, glowing, elegant woman surrounded by all of these children. And that was her job. How amazing. Look at what her life represented. Simplicity, joy, laughter- it’s really beautiful to see a life in such a clear focus like that.

You always run the risk, at parties and such, when the big guns are out and everyone asks what you do for a living and you say, “Kindergarten teacher or Pre School teacher” that you get a pat on the head, and a “cute” or “how nice” or the dreaded “you must have a lot of patience” response. It’s none of those. Really, you are just a sucker for a good time and you can do a lot with pipe cleaners. : )

It’s a job just so sweetly simple. I really never thought about it before.

She makes me think of the best in this life- the sweetness and the fun and the joy that’s all around us.

That’s all. I hope I didn’t share too much, but I just want to remember somewhere I can look back to no matter where I am and think of everything.

I’m getting shy now and I’m going to get another beer.

November 22, 2008