On the child

"Our image of the child is rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent and, most of all, connected to adults and other children." [loris malaguzzi]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


"The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind - creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people - artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers - will now reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys."

From Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World

"Intelligence looks for what is known to solve problems. Creativity looks for what is unknown to discover possibilities."

[a daily inspiration from Simon Sinek's www.startwithwhy.com]

Sunday, September 11, 2011


"Aesthetics, on the contrary, has to do precisely with not being numb. Aesthetics has to do with feeling, sensing, perceiving, and imagining. It has to do with a heightened rather than a diminished receptivity, with the deployment of our senses - especially of sight and sound, but also of touch, taste, and smell - and of our abilities to conjure and suppose, to go beyond the given limitations of space and time. In aesthetic moments, our sense receptors get turned up, not off; they work harder, rather than shutting down.  In aesthetic moments we awaken to kaleidoscopic worlds of sensation and stimulation. The aesthetic pulls us in and dares us to be fully present even at the risk of feeling some pain. In return, it offers us chances to discover new aspects of the world into which we have been thrust. It gives us intense pleasures. It arouses our ever-dormant proclivity for fantasy; it sharpens our powers of discrimination; and it expands, sometimes, our capacity for empathy. Occasionally, in its intensity, it momentarily blinds us to everything else and can, therefore, seem (as Plato taught) dangerous."

- from The Brightening Glance: Imagination and Childhood by Ellen Handler Spitz

Friday, September 9, 2011

WILD CHILD: Why I Wouldn't Trade My Childhood for Anything

A couple of weeks ago, I read a recent thought-provoking and memory-inducing interview from blogger Frog Mom with author and nature-activist Richard Louv about his newest book The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Inspired by the resounding response to her blog entry, Frog Mom or Laure Latham, contacted the book’s publishers and obtained two free copies of Louv’s book. Then she posed the following question on her blog and Facebook page: “What is your favorite nature memory as a child?”

Here is what I commented on Frog Mom’s blog, which BTW you can check out at http://www.frogmom.com:

My happiest childhood memories involve nature in some way or another. I grew up in the Italian countryside in an old farmhouse surrounded by the bounty of the outdoors: hay fields, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, woods, streams, verdant lawn (that my mother managed to somehow carve out of the fields of hay), my favorite weeping willow, an enormous raspberry patch, chickens & ducks, an amazing German Sheppard named Teddy, wild rabbits and hares, and my neighbors who were farmers and the salt of the earth. Perhaps my fondest memory is of my sister and I being allowed to go jump around in the stacks of fresh hay one fall evening in our nightgowns. I will be forever grateful to my mother and father for making the move from an apartment in Rome to that natural paradise. It was so much a part of the early childhood educator I am today!
 Here is what I added on Frog Mom’s Facebook page:
Now that the question has been asked, the memories keep flooding in ... jumping on haystacks in my jammies; building a fort on the side of the barn and threatening to run away from home if my sister and I were not allowed to spend the night in it; making perfumes and potions from the flowers, berries and herbs harvest around us;playing hide & seek with the wild rabbits that suddenly multiplied from the few our neighbors asked for permission to release from their pens; tossing rotten persimmons at the side of the barn when I was supposed to be collecting them and composting them before the bees found them; and the mind-blowing taste of hazelnut cake made from nuts we helped to harvest and raspberry gelato that was almost worth all the scratches from the thorns! And 6 years ago, on my last visit to my childhood home, I sat in a pit of mud with my then 2-year-old nephew in our pjs, following his lead and loving tossing fresh mud balls at the side of that same barn! Every once in a blue moon, he asks me if I think the mud balls are still there!
Last night I received my much-anticipated copy of The Nature Principle and by the wee hours of this morning I was nearly a third of the way through the book, and had filled it with underlining and notes crammed into the margins. More thoughts of this book and how Louv’s writing connects to my own practice as an early childhood education professional and my life as a human being on this planet in a later post.

In an article in the September 1st online edition of the New York Times titled “On Outdoor Experience and Environmental Values,” writer Andrew Revkin reminds us that “a starting point for building a thriving, but humanized, planet is familiarity with wild things.” Revkin also writes about Richard Louv's new book and how he continues to drive home his POV: we all need, but children in particular, sustained and meaningful experience in the non-built world (that thing called “nature”) as a path toward forging a passion to conserve it.

What could you do in your little patch of earth, backyard, community garden or vacant lot to foster a child's (and an adult's) encounters with nature?

For inspiration and food for thought, check out the burgeoning efforts of early childhood educator Dianne who just inaugurated Stomping in the Mud Play Group in the side yard of her Victoria, BC home. You can follow her blog at: http://www.stompinginthemud.blogspot.com/

“Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming.”
[E.O. Wilson, The Naturalist, 1994]
“For ourselves, and for our planet, we must be both strong and strongly connected — with each other, with the earth. As children, we need time to wander, to be outside, to nibble on icicles, watch ants, to build with dirt and sticks in the hollow of the earth, to lie back and contemplate clouds….”
[Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble in The Geography of Childhood]
“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets. And any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.”
[Luther Burbank, American horticulturalist and botanist, 1849 – 1926]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Today my in box brought a new blog entry from a new favorite called Wonder Love: Nurturing a Sense of Wonder which you should be able to follow or sign-up for at http://wonderlove.typepad.com. The blog landing page carries this thought-provoking and inspirational quote, which coincidentally names two of my heroes: DH Lawrence and Rachel Carson. 

Read on:

"D.H. Lawrence once said that 'Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing that makes it water and nobody knows what it is.' It is magic, the kind that can only be found in nature, life, and human possibilities once we are open to them. The kind of education I have in mind takes young people out of the classroom to encounter the mystery of the third thing. In that encounter they discover what Rachel Carson once called the 'sense of wonder.' And that is the start of a real education. "

- David Orr [ Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics and Chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College]

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I grew up Catholic, raised by an American equal-opportunity Protestant mother and an Italian father in a village in the countryside between Milan and Lake Como in a country where my mother had no choice but to sign away her children’s spiritual upbringing to the omnipotent and omnipresent state church or face not only the eternal wrath of a pre-Vatican II god but the public shame of being the only foreign alien and Protestant in a very close-knit but often-times judgmental community.

At age 16, much to my father’s disappointment but also thanks to his understanding and acceptance of me as a thinking individual, I liberated myself from the shackles of what I understood Catholicism to be (a religion that as it was taught to me, made me believe until my early teen years, that it was a mortal sin to see a nun without her veil) and forged ahead finding my own spiritual path. I have always had an interest (perhaps pre-ordained) in world religions – a true fascination with the stories, traditions and histories they encompass. One of my very first thrift store finds was as a young teen when I scored a hardcover vintag-y set of books about the major religions of the world. Later in college I took several courses on the history of religion, and now much to my surprise read books on incorporating mediation, mindfulness and other Buddhist techniques into my teaching and life. Oh and one last confession, when I once stood next to the Dalai Lama in the lobby of the National Press Building in Washington DC (where I worked at the time for one of the leading Italian newspapers) I felt like I was standing next to a true “rock star” (albeit one is a saffron and terracotta robe who sported multiple Swatch watches on his wrist.)

These days I worship much more regularly at another altar, that of the Gods of Thrift and Re-Use. Just in this past year, these deities have gifted me with remarkable finds on my own city block (actually, most of these treasures were outside my very apartment building!): a box of 50+ gently used golf balls; two medium sized wooden electric cable spools; 2 decorative bird houses for a friend’s school garden; a perfectly pristine wood-framed bulletin board; several family- and kid-centric board games; one amazing willow reed trunk; much of my summer reading list in practically untouched quality paperbacks; mason jars galore; perfect wooden storage boxes; just to name a few of the many gifts!

I don’t often plug much that is commercial and/or corporate, but for those of you out there in the land of early childhood education who are visual thinkers and collectors of photographic inspirations for your classroom practice, then I encourage you to check out Pinterest. This fairly new site bills itself as a “virtual pinboard.” The site goes on to explain that “Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.”

One recent weekend morning I watched one of my BBFs and ECE compadres make her first foray into the amazing visual imagery world that is Pinterest. As I watched her face light up with pure bliss and heard her make sounds I imagine only her husband is usually privy too, it became clear that she was experience what will hence forth be know as a “Pin-gasm.” Feel free to check out some of my boards at http://pinterest.com/mia_cavalca/ I would be thrilled to engage in dialogue with any of my readers about some of the ideas I have gathered for the classroom, atelier and outdoor spaces.

Happy “pinning” and happy worshiping at the altars of thrift and re-use!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

SCHOOL-READY, SET, GO! A Checklist for Kindergarten Readiness

This morning I was handed the most remarkable note from a 6-year-old. It reads as follows: “You have a sensitive humor. P.S. I am from Peru’.” This is what the note looked like to the untrained eye (mine):U r HF UHF A SSV HMR. P.S. I FAMB PA.The author is a new first grader and the daughter of a fellow early childhood educator. I spent an hour a week this summer working with this unique and brilliant child on her emerging handwriting, reading skills, sound spelling and storytelling. I had so much fun!

Receiving such a personal and creatively written note got me thinking about what I have talked to parents in my preschool classroom over the years about what I value and try to foster in children before they head off to primary school.

I recently unearthed a school readiness checklist I filed away some 10 years ago, when one of the authors of this resource - who was both a parent in my preschool classroom and a public school kindergarten teacher -shared it with me during her son’s parent-teacher conference.

Though I do not know the names of all the authors of this helpful and realistic tool, I would like to acknowledge Jana Walsh and the kindergarten teachers at Commodore Sloat School in San Francisco, CA for sharing their wisdom and their practice. Their handout is re-typed here verbatim.


We (the kindergarten teachers) recommend that your child know the following items on this list. In particular, your child should really know the items that are marked with an asterisk (*). Do not worry, your child will reach most of these goals naturally as you play, read, talk and do chores together. If your child does not possess the skills marked by the asterisk, please talk to us and we can recommend things to do to assist your child.


 Respect adult authority

 Follow rules*

 Learning to use good manners*

 Learning to control temper*

 Learning to be patient*

 Understanding that other have rights and feelings*

 Learning to take responsibility for own belongings

 Respects others’ property*

 Knows it is important to tell the truth*

 Learning to work independently and do some tasks for self


 Learning to sit quietly and pay attention*

 Leaves home and parents for a few hours without being upset

 Becoming confident enough to explore and try new things

 Plays quietly alone for a while

 Plays with other children


 Handles toileting needs without help*

 Washes hands and face*

 Dresses and undresses self*

 Helps care for own belongings*

 Learning to pick up after self*

 Turns faucets on and off*

 Knows how to use a tissue*

 Asks for help when needed*

 Knows key safety rules (e.g. looking both ways before crossing street)


 Recognizes primary colors*

 Understands position concepts (e.g. up, down, in, out)*

 Is curious and eager to learn

 Names familiar objects and their uses (e.g. chair, spoon, soap)

 Identifies some common animals (e.g. dogs, cows)

 Identifies some wild animals (e.g. monkeys, elephants)

 Names familiar places and explains their uses (e.g. store, playground)

 Knows and identifies familiar people by name

 Understands basic size words (e.g. big, little, long, short)

 Understands words for when things happen (e.g. now, later, never, always)

 Understands words for how things move (e.g. fast, slow, stop, go)

 Understands words for how things feel (e.g. hard, soft, hot, cold)


 Knows own full name*

 Knows own age*

 Names basic parts of body (e.g. head, hands, toes)*

 Knows own gender

 Knows parents’ and siblings’ full names


 Knows what an alphabet letter is*

 Recognizes own first name in print*

 Learning to print own first name

 Enjoys listening to stories and poems

 Looks at picture books

 Tells what is happening in pictures

 Scribbles and draws


 Speaks clearly enough for non-family members to understand*

 Follows simple (two- or three-step) directions*

 Communicates needs, feelings, and thoughts verbally

 Relates simple accounts of personal experiences

 Asks questions to gain information

 Answers easy questions

 Listens to a story being told or read


 Counts aloud to ten*

 Counts a few objects

How do you define school-readiness in your early childhood practice?