Sometimes, “There’s A Lot of Witches…”


In my search for classroom strategies that can support young children living with substance use disorder (a.k.a. alcoholism/addiction), one of my “forever heroes,”  Vivian Gussin Paley, has risen like a sparkle of fairy dust above the dark clouds of this national public health crisis. Research is bearing out the power of her story- and play-based methods (check out this article from Ageliki Nicolopoulou and her colleagues for some compelling data). And, unlike many alternative curricula that focus on social and emotional learning and resilience, Paley’s model does not require expensive materials and pre-packaged training modules. Instead, pencils, markers, paper, a stage marked by masking tape, and a classroom rich with children’s literature and play opportunities are all that is required.

For years, I have used Vivian Paley’s storytelling/storyacting/storyplay pedagogy in my own classrooms, with magical results. Not only did the children’s stories help to build strong literacy skills; they also became the tapestry of our classroom community, where ideas were explored, conflicts resolved, and compassion developed.

The video above highlights this magic, in the words of some of the children who participated in a pilot project in the Boston Public Schools. Have a (deep) listen. If you are interested in learning more about this amazing project, check out their weebly, Boston Listens, for more videos and resources.

And keep coming back here as well, as I explore different aspects of this child-centered pedagogy! It offers treasures for all children, and, perhaps, a unicorn’s ride to resilience and executive functions for those who are the most vulnerable.



2princess Alice on phone
Frost on play

What’s the solution? Here’s what the doctors prescribe…

But when we say “play,” what exactly do we mean?

OK, so maybe kids enjoy it. And doctors and neuroscientists and psychologists and educators say it’s important. But does anyone else? Why, yes, as a matter of fact! Watch what the United Nations has to say about play…

Play . . . because our future depends on imaginings . . .

Gopnik quote

How will YOU promote play today?

Puff the Magic Dragon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Importance of “What If?” Thinking

It seemed, at first, like an odd coincidence. An article titled “The Dragon’s Message Still Delivers a Punch” popped up in my Facebook newsfeed this morning. Just last night I had been searching for versions of Puff the Magic Dragon, to use as background music for a presentation on pretend play I’m working on.

To me, the song has always represented the loss of imagination that, sadly, often comes when children start to school. This seems so much more pertinent now than it did when I first heard the song in the 60s. But the writer of this article frames the song more broadly: as an anthem not so much about children, or our country’s lost innocence, but rather, about our lost vision.

Without a vision, there is usually no reason to do the hard work to make change a reality. Without imagination, there is no vision. Can imagination develop without play? I don’t think so…

And there’s the problem. It is pretend play that gives children rich experience with “what if” thinking. Isn’t “what if” thinking what all of our great leaders, and scientists, and artists, and teachers have been so good at?

What if we lived in a world without racial discrimination? What if we could eliminate cancer? What if our children didn’t have to grow up in poverty? What if we understood how to develop resilience in ALL children?

What if…we let children play?

Celebrate Dr. King’s dream by imagining your own “what ifs.” And then, come up with one small action you can take to start the transformation of your “what if” into a reality. Please share your visions in the comments below! Thank you!