Shadow Play

October is the perfect time of year (where we live) to play with shadows. We spend time on the playground, on our asphalt driveway, and wherever else we go looking for and exploring shadows.
One of my earliest “learning” memories of my kids was my son chasing light on the floor of our living room. The light floods in through the windows differently in winter than summer, and we get these “patches of light”. He was fascinated, at around 11 months, with how the light was on the floor but wasn’t really there and with how he could manipulate those patches by holding his hand over them.

We now play in a similar way, holding objects up to our walls to see how the light changes. It offers great opportunities to talk about opaque, transparent, translucent, angles of refraction, and more.

We love watching our shadows change on swing sets. The length of certain body parts, what’s visible from different directions.

It’s fun to compare the shadow to the original. Why might the shadow seem wavy if the board seems to be straight? Why is the shadow at an angle? 

One of my daughters is obsessed with flashlights, so we set up various objects in front of the light to see what they create.

Our driveway is perfect for shadow observation. We use chalk to draw each others’ outlines (and then fill in the details) and to mark the shadows of the trees at various points during the day. We play a version of “freeze tag” where if someone steps on your shadow, you’re frozen and the “home base” is anywhere your shadow is hidden by tree shade.

Shadows offer accessible introductions to how light moves, the change in the sun’s angle because of earth’s rotation (and revolution), and great opportunities for line drawing. And kids love them too. 

Your turn: how do you play with shadows? 

Natural Innovators

If you had walked by our house a couple of weeks ago, you would have seen this.

My periodic-table-obsessed 6yo was experimenting with different ways the table could be drawn and expanded. He drew 4 different variations on our driveway.

We had just watched PBS’s documentary about how Mendeleev developed the precursor to our modern table, and suddenly, in his mind, the table was no longer a fixed set of rules but instead a fluid construct that could be improved upon. So he set out to do just that.

His goal, at least for the day, was not to develop a new system but instead to play with the current system and bend it to see how it responded.

This is not an isolated incident.

We play a board game, and after a couple of rounds, he wants to change the rules, see how tweaks will affect game play and outcome.

When playing with Think Fun’s (aff. link) River Crossing this summer, he was much happier creating his own challenges than simply solving those provided on the cards by the game.

It’s like his brain is hard-wired to ask, “What else?”

This used to drive me crazy (and still does sometimes).

I’ve learned not to take it personally, that his rejection of my options A-D in pursuit of Q is the way his brain works, not a direct assault to my parenting. If I offer choices, logically, there must be more choices out there to be discovered.

We as his parents have also learned how to clearly communicate what is negotiable and what is not, which has been very helpful.

This innovation, this ability to think outside the box, is a huge asset that will serve him well later in life — if we can figure out how to navigate these early years in a way that celebrates and  channels his creative impulses.

That is the big challenge for us as parents and educators – how can we celebrate this unique ability to think in unorthodox ways, not squash their enthusiasm, but also help them learn when it would be helpful for them to choose to follow directions and be part of the group.

I’ve recently been taking a gentle approach. We haven’t been participating in a lot of rigid activities but have been doing things like origami where the payoff for following directions is clear and immediate. Sometimes, there’s so no room for negotiation, but when there is, I’ve been trying to give space and freedom to create, to try new things, and then gently suggest checking the instructions if frustration starts to set in.

And who knows – maybe someday the periodic table will be updated, and I’ll be able to say I have the first drafts. 🙂

I share these things, not as an expert in any sense, but as a parent who has benefited from reading about others’ experiences and in the hope that some of you will be saying, “Me too!”

This blog has been part of Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page’s Blog Hop. “Hop” on over to their page to read various perspectives on creativity and productivity, as it affects the gifted population.


Please Stop Telling My Kid He’s Smart

Dear World, 

let’s talk. I’ve been spending hours upon hours on character training, talking about kindness, respect, reading books that model healthy social relationships, and you seem insistent on highlighting my kid’s intelligence.

We know he’s smart.

He knows he’s smart. He’s been told since he was 1. In fact, he’s overconfident in his own abilities.

Every time someone plays the “smart” card, that reinforces that he needs to show off his intelligence for people, which is not what we want him to do. At 4, it was cute. At 6, it’s sometimes cute. Soon it’ll be obnoxious.

You know what you could say instead? Maybe something that can be learned, practiced, that helps others.


Respect or concern for others.





Solid work ethic.



These are the things we value and want him to value as well. 

Thanks. I really do appreciate your taking the time and wanting to say something nice to my son.  He’s more than his brain, and I’d love your help getting that message across. 

It’s Not that Simple! – Big Emotions and Major Life Events

My 6yo was at the dentist, and naturally, he got asked about the tooth fairy.

“The tooth fairy doesn’t come to our house.” – his matter-of-fact reply.

The dental hygienist cast me an inquiring glance – what kind of horrible parents are we, anyways?

It’s not our fault, though. Really. When he was 4, my son rejected the tooth fairy. Even if it was only pretend. Even if it meant he would miss out on special surprises. It didn’t matter to him. He wanted to throw those bothersome old teeth away and had no use for the tooth fairy.

Recent New Yorker Cartoon about the Tooth Fairy
The same was/is true of Santa.

Every December, we lecture our children on how it’s not okay to tell other kids that Santa’s not real, and then we hold our breaths and hope there are no sobbing children in their wakes.

He’s never accepted Santa, never been interested in him in the slightest. The concept of a stranger sneaking in to our home, even with good motives, is disquieting, at the very least.


Where is this coming from? Anxiety? A deeper understanding of the world and of cause & effect?

In Sunday School and reading Bible stories at home, our little guy, even at 3 or 4, was bothered by the death and violence in these commonplace stories. I’m talking David & Goliath, Noah & the Ark, Samson. His empathy can be off the charts (thanks, overexcitabilities!), so these stories really bothered him.

I used to think that it was related to overthinking, but recently it’s becoming clearer that his unwillingness to approach these subjects is actually much more closely related to Emotional Overexcitabilities (OEs). He feels things so deeply that things which would, for others, be joyful, end up being excruciatingly overstimulating. The tooth fairy isn’t fun. She’s terrifying in the anticipation of when/what/how much.

Birthdays are tough, too. There’s all the build-up, the expectations ahead of time that will be impossible to meet. The self-awareness of it being your birthday and therefore not someone else’s, the stress that comes with being the center of attention.

Our kids are built this way. They’re not broken. They’re intensely feeling, hyper aware, amazing people who get crazy amounts of joy out of little things.

If we know that someone has a small appetite, we don’t try to shove a huge piece of cake in front of them. Instead, we honor their preferences and provide the size of slice they most likely will enjoy.

last year’s marble birthday cake – we keep things simple around here
The same should be true of our kids. Instead of forcing them to be “normal” and to conform to society’s expectations, we release them from huge burdens of anxiety when we give them the freedom to tell us what portion size they can handle and then work to accommodate those needs.

When they’re ready, they’ll ask for more. In fact, my 6yo was just pretending this week to be the “tooth fairy” for his little sisters. Someday soon, we may actually get a visit.


This post has been part of Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page’s Blog hop.  Click on over to check out some helpful perspectives from all over the world.


Chain Reactions in Slo-Mo

This summer, one of our favorite go-to indoor activities has been building chain reactions, domino runs, Rube Goldberg machines – basically anything with cause & effect.

In addition to random household items, a set of double twelve dominoes we picked up at a thrift store, and a catapult,
we have been loving the Hape Dynamo Kid’s Wooden Domino Set. It was a birthday gift (last fall), and it’s out all. the. time.

It makes wonderful, stable towers that fall in dramatic ways.


It’s forgiving in setup & spacing, and includes some neat trick pieces, including a ball run, direction reverser, bell, and a little staircase. 

I love what it teaches the kids involving planning, fine motor control, patience, handling disappointment, spatial skills, and more, and they love building things to fall down, especially when we can film them in slow motion and watch again & again.

Cleaning Fun

A few months ago, I posted about how we’ve been focusing on the life skill of cleaning recently. It’s been a summer of slowing down, back to the basics, working together. And it’s been paying off.

Yesterday, 3.5yo E declared, “I’m good at cleaning!” And you know what? She is. She has been given appropriate jobs with support and practice, and she does a good job.

Even kings get to clean

It’s been rewarding, seeing the meltdowns diminish and the “I can’t”s turning into the “I can”s. I’m not saying we have it all put together, and I still have a couple clutter piles that I haven’t dealt with yet, but my kids are helping, and we’re all reaping the rewards. 

5 Steps to Learning a New Skill

Learning something new isn’t easy. As adults, we sometimes forget how hard it was to practice and develop the coordination necessary to swim, ride a bike, or tie our shoes, but at one point, we all went through 5 basic steps of learning a new skill.

I post this because we sometimes think that we (or our kids) should be able to jump from step 1 to step 5, from modeling to independent mastery, but we forget the steps in between that are so vitally important.

So here we go. These steps are largely necessary, though some people may occasionally be able to skip some of them. And they may also take longer or shorter amounts of time to move through.

  1. Modeling. An expert shows a beginner how something is done. A parent reads a book to a child. An older sibling shows a younger sibling how he ties his shoes, narrating the process. A potty training video breaks down the steps with visual cues “potty potty wipe wipe flush flush wash wash”, anyone? Grandma mops the floor while the grandkids watch from a safe distance.
  2. Participation. The expert still has control over the situation, but the learner is allowed to give limited input. This could involve the learner chanting along to the tie your shoes rhyme, a little stirring or pouring while baking cookies, throwing the socks into the washing machine. Rather than one plateau, this is a gradual stage where the learner takes on more and more responsibility until we get to
  3. Self-direction. The expert/teacher is still right next to the learner, but now the learner is in control of the situation. It’s the driver’s ed student finally sitting in the driver’s seat, though the instructor still has a brake pedal and is able to grab the wheel. It’s a 4yo deciding which toys to put away first, but his babysitter right there next to him, helping with the process and finding the missing pieces. The 6yo holding his own shoelaces and going through the rhyme, with helping hands right there to steer the process or catch some slack as needed.
  4. Partial independence. The learner is now in charge of the situation, but the expert/teacher still checks to make sure it was done properly. The mom still checks her 5yo’s teeth to see if he missed a spot. The dad runs a brush through his daughter’s hair just to check that she got everything. The teacher walks around the room, glancing at papers to make sure her students are carrying the ones in their subtraction lesson. The 8yo bakes a cake with her mom in the next room. By this point, students feel confident in knowing what they need to do, but they still need oversight, just in case. 
  5. Full autonomy. The skill has been learned, and the individual can be trusted to accomplish the task without outside help of reminders. You send your 10 year old into her room, and when she comes out everything is clean & put away. It’s time for bed, and you don’t double check that your child has remembered all the necessary steps because you’ve practiced so much that it becomes habit. The kids do their own laundry, no questions asked. You trust their math calculation at the farmer’s market and don’t double check it. This is the holy grail, what we’re working toward.

But so often, we forget that the intermediate steps are vital. And messy. Some may take a long time, and you may have to go back & repeat earlier steps. 

Learning is a process. And as much as we want our kids to have learned, we want, even more, for them to know how to learn. To be comfortable with asking for help and being learners, in those messy intermediate steps. We don’t want to shame them for not moving along fast enough, because that will diminish their desire to try again and learn something new.

So if I could encourage you with anything today, it would be to remember the process and be a willing partner to your kids along the way.