kidsI visit a lot of programs in my current role and spend time watching teachers and children interact in typical child care settings – I look at what is available for children to play with, listen for how teachers speak with children, watch children’s interactions, and examine how educators document children’s learning in the program.

One of the things I review is the written schedule, and the terms that programs use to name their time together are always striking to me.  Often there is Arrival, followed by Group Time, and even Outside – but what strikes me, outside of entries like “Toileting/Washing hands” or “Eating”, is that these schedules fail to capture what children are actually *doing*.   “Centers” is a typical entry: children pick from a number of prepared/stocked areas containing art materials, blocks, dress-up clothes, science materials, or more.  On the schedule it may even list each of these ‘areas’.  It is interesting to me that the focus is on the *stuff* — thing-focused, if you will.  The same is true for most of the lesson plans – what book will be read, what art material offered, and what song sung.

What would happen if we flipped our lesson plans?  We revolutionized our schedules?  We focused on the people and their processes and not the things that surround us?  You may say this is just semantics, but the truth is, the words we use to describe things influence our actions, thoughts, and what we then offer children.

Imagine, on your planning form it had topics like:

  • Relationship-building
  • Building Self-Awareness
  •  Inquiry
  • Well-being/Belonging
  • Playful Exploration & problem-solving
  • Democratic Practices

This isn’t pie in the sky.  The last three entries are actually taken from the New Brunswick Curriculum Framework for Early Learning and Child Care, a poster of which was shared with me when I was there presenting in 2011 with Ijumaa Jordan.  I’ve been intrigued and nourished by this idea of doing differently.  I long for “lesson plans” which are actually “Invitations” created by the educator – invitations to explore, create, debate, know oneself better, perspective-take, and more – and then, documented alongside those invitations, are the notes from what actually happened when children engaged with these materials and ideas.

What would we offer children that is different from how we have framed our thinking currently?  When we see the word “Blocks” on a form, we are immediately focused on the Thing and what other Things we might add to that area – we might even envision children using the Things, but what would “Building Self-Awareness” look like played out in the Block area?  What about “Democratic Practices”?  How might it change our practice, our interactions with children, and their experiences if we started our planning from a different place?


KellyKelly Matthews, owner of A Place For You Early Childhood Consulting in Oshkosh, WI joyfully explores learning with people of all ages. A popular ECE speaker, Kelly gets to travel and meet with early educators across the country, creating professional development sessions that make room for teachers’ voices, thoughts, and full selves. Kelly is also proud to be one of the Harvest Resources Associates. More about Kelly can be found at

Photo of children, courtesy of anissat of