Young Children as Collaborators with Parents and Teachers

I have been reviewing manuscripts written for or with my now-adult daughter from when she was a young child. One is called “Tell Don’t Yell.” In total transparency, twenty years ago, I often expressed myself through yelling when I was frustrated.

People who know me now are amazed that I was ever less than peaceful. Back then, I was less than peaceful, both inside and out. I had to learn how to find the peace I now teach others.

My motivation for change was my beloved 8-year-old daughter’s response to my behavior. “Mom,” she said one day, “Tell don’t yell. When you yell, I feel like you don’t love me anymore.”

Tears spring forth from that memory, which sparked a journey into becoming a more loving parent, a more compassionate teacher and a better person.

“Tell Don’t Yell” was a one of the manuscripts we wrote together. Our collaboration built a bridge between us that my yelling was knocking down. Effective communication between adults and children is something we all desire. Yet, old patterns and habits can be a roadblock.

I can still vividly recall when I attempted to hurry her morning cat-play, so that she’d get to the school bus stop on time. I was sprouting an abundance of words that began to grow louder as my efforts became less effective.

At the exact moment before my amygdala took over and my intellect lost control, my daughter took the cat off her shoulders.


She stood and looked up at me, her earnest little face illuminated. She spoke aloud her young child wisdom, as if reading a page in our collaboration:

My mother yells too much.

She yells in the kitchen.

She yells in the hall.

I’d be on my way to school right now

If her words weren’t blocking the door.

With that I laughed, hugged my brilliant co-writer and reached for a pen to capture her exact words.

Her words stayed with me until, with consistent motivation and innovation, I learned to tell, not yell.

We all thrive on loving connections. If there is a disconnect between ourselves and our children, we are very capable of initiating a reconnection. While we often feel uncomfortable, ashamed or embarrassed at momentarily “losing it,” we need to forgive ourselves for not being the perfect parents or teachers we’d like to be and move forward. One thing I know to be true: we will always be given another opportunity for more generative communication with our children.

Guidelines for Collaboration:

  • Writing a story or book together is one form of adult/child collaboration.
  • Making up songs together are another way to collaborate. (See June 4, 2013 blog on Spontaneous Song)
  • Improvisation or puppet shows can be extremely fun activities for both adults and children. Here is one activity you can add to your collection of tools.

 Let’s Trade Places (You Can Be Me, I Can Be You)

  • Have the child play the part of the parent or teacher; the adult plays the part of the child.
  • Use a current topic/issue: such as “getting ready for school” for parents; “clean-up time” for teachers.
  • Set the scene: you can have the children determine where it takes place, what has just happened or is about to happen.
  • Allow the children as much responsibility as possible for setting the storyline. With very shy children, they may need prompting. Sometimes, having an extroverted child in a “director’s” role will move the improvisation along. You can also ask for audience suggestions as to “What Happens Next?”
  • In expressing yourselves from each other’s point of view, you come to a better understanding. I’ve had a very accurate mirror of my behavior reflected by children who pretend to be Elyse. Humor is so important when initiating change, reducing conflict or finding creative solutions.

In our collaborative story, Arianna was my teacher. I had daily homework: practicing telling, not yelling. Loving her as I do, I was a very willing and successful student.


In the years following our collaboration, I’ve dusted that retro chalk dust off my hands and learned to be an effective communicator, especially when frustrated.

Peace in our homes and classrooms begins with us.



Next Blog: Playing with puppets and children. You’ll receive detailed activities I used in teaching an adult class, Puppetry and Its 500 Hats, at a local university.




“But I don’t knooooow the marriage dance,” the 3 year old lamented, interrupting the ”wedding” in the dramatic play area. “Now I can’t get married!”

The wedding party stood frozen. What would happen next?  I continued to observe as the “groom” stepped forward saying, “It’s easy. I’ll teach you.” He gently took her hand.

She began to follow his lead and soon they were co-creating their dance. The others smiled and went back to work, laying down a paper aisle for the reunited couple.



Children often naturally mentor each other. We, their teachers and parents, can support and encourage them by noticing.

I witnessed a more-hesitant child focusing on a very skilled classmate. The girl was designing a process for making a stuffy. When the shyer child was asked if he’d like to make one, he shook his head vigorously.

“But I don’t know how,” he qualified. I waited to see if he’d ask or if someone would volunteer to help him. He glanced at the others who were all attending to their own work, but seemed unable to ask for help.

I paused, and then asked the girl, “When you’re finished, would you please teach your friend what you’ve discovered? He’d like to make a stuffy, too.”

She agreed, and with great patience and generosity, mentored him. He was then able to join her in celebration, joyfully parading their stuffies around the room, singing with glee.


As I was writing this blog, two alumni appeared at the cafe. I asked the siblings if they had ever taught each other. They each nodded. The older brother then demonstrated by placing a green clown nose over his own.  He just happened to be carrying it in his pocket after finishing a week of clowning camp!  I love synchronicity!

From that same deep pocket, he withdrew a pack of cards. He then mentored his sister through clowning tricks he had just mastered.




    • “Catch them doing good” is what I first heard it called, while I was teaching language through the arts in a public elementary school.
    • Call gentle attention to a behavior we value through oral appreciation of what we have observed.

“I noticed that when your friend felt sad because she didn’t know the dance you taught her. Now she, too, knows how.”

    • Partnering children of different practical or social skill levels encourages scaffolding and greater participation. It contributes to an inclusive environment.
    • When a child asks for help, encourage a child who has mastered that skill to be a teacher. “You were able to figure that out. Can you now teach your friend what you’ve learned?”

As teachers and parents we have ongoing daily opportunities to create a more-peaceful and integrated classroom, family and community.


“Would you help me with my words?” the 3-year-old asked. “I’ll tell them to you and you write them.” He brought me a piece of paper and a yellow crayon; he then sat down beside me and began dictating. When we finished, he asked me to read his story. Afterwards, he smiled broadly and nodded his head in approval.

Creating stories with young children can originate from many sources of inspiration.

  • The children may initiate the idea and dictate to us.
  • We can sit beside them while they draw and ask them to tell us about it. Some children’s highly representational work lends itself to a narrative. However, lines and scribbles on paper also come alive in the imagination of a child.
  • Observing their dramatic play, we can write what we see and read it back to the children. They will then edit and revise our written version, affirming or correcting our interpretation of their play.
  • Different mediums can offer opportunities for story making to ignite. Blank drawing paper can be a source of inspiration.

A 4-year-old asked for the drawing paper each time she came to Expressive Arts. She had made a series of drawings about her younger brother, whom she adores (with a healthy dose of appropriate sibling rivalry).


Noticing the frown on the small figure, bottom left, I asked her how he felt.

“Sad, very sad. That’s my brother. He’s in a hospital,” she continued. “He’s sad because Grandma is leaving and he’s not home from the hospital yet.”

Knowing this story began as an actual event and was expanded through imagination, art and dramatic play, I asked if I could write her story. She agreed and began dictating to me. The story was very elaborate and meandered quite a distance from the original, real life story that sparked the one we were now writing. I continued to write exactly what she dictated, focusing on the feelings she expressed.

She chose a folder from the art cart and slipped both her puzzle and my transcript inside. She then chose oil pastels and began working on the cover.


She told her story aloud as she drew her brother in his hospital bed. “I have to take care of him,”   she told me quite seriously, “So I have a bunk bed over his. “

“You love him very much and want to take care of him,” I interpreted.

“Yes, but he’s still very sad,” she said pointing to the upside down smile she had drawn on her brother in the bottom bunk of the hospital bed. “But, I’m not sad because I didn’t get hurt,” she said pointing to her smile.

She paused, remembering the real life origin of her story. “But, I cried when he really got hurt.”

“That’s called empathy” I said, knowing how fascinated with a new word a 4-year-old can often be. “You felt his hurt because you love him.”

“I do,” she somberly nodded. “But, he will still have to stay in the hospital for two years.”

Encourage story-making with young children by providing each child with a dedicated folder they can use to keep all words and pictures that relate to their stories. The children can draw on the front of their folders to make a unique cover for their stories.


  • Set up a table with Colorations® construction paper, folders, Colorations® oil pastels and Colorations® markers and crayons.
  • Let the children know that, after they finish drawing, you are interested in hearing what the meaning of each picture is.
  • As the children complete their work, have them dictate their stories to you.
  • Some children may need more structure; you may want to suggest a theme. Some ideas could be: “Our Families,” “Animals I Love,” “The Funniest Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” or whatever is emerging in your classroom that interests the children.
  • Once you have all the children’s stories compiled, read them aloud to the whole group.
  • Be ready to have them chant, “Again!”

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Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack (Item # COPACK)

Colorations® Extra Large Crayons – Set of 200 (Item # CRXLG)

Colorations® Regular Crayons – Set of 8 (Item # CRS8)

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels – Set of 28 (Item # COP)

Colorations® Marker & Crayon Combo Pack- 400 Pieces (Item # MARCRAY)

Colorations® Construction Paper Smart Pack – 600 Sheets (Item # SMARTSTK)

The Ultimate Art Paper – 100 Sheets (Item # 9UP)

Pocket & Brad Folder (Item # BTS023)

The Art of Separation: Connecting parents and young children

Separation blues may pop up from time to time as parents and children say goodbye to each other at school, especially after a prolonged break for vacation or illness. With some very young preschoolers, saying goodbye may be an ongoing challenge. As busy parents leave, finding a way to ease the transition creates uplifted spirits for both parent and child.

One three-year-old started a trend among his peers: wearable art. Elias’ mom had come into the Expressive Arts room with him before leaving. He wanted her to stay. She would prepare to leave, and, just as she would get ready to go, he would find something fascinating about his art to show her.

I moved closer to help her make her exit, but Elias had a plan of his own. He began attaching his art to his mom’s sweater with colored tape.

“I know you’d like me to stay and play, but I’m going to be late for work if I stay any longer,” said Elias’ mom.

At that point, he took his art and connected it to her arm.” It’s an airplane?” she guessed. He nodded. “So your mom won’t be late for work?” I asked. He again nodded.

“Let’s watch at the window so we can wave good bye as she leaves,” I suggested. Mom had an even better plan. When we looked outside, there she was flying her arm in circles up and down and twirling around. Her son and his friends were laughing appreciatively at her flying. Elias continued smiling as he turned from the window towards the art-making table.

The next day when a friend was having a hard time separating, he made a helicopter and gave it to the parent. “So you won’t be late to work,” Elias said as he smiled. He flew the helicopter demonstrating how it would take her to work on time.

The next week, when Elias’ dad dropped him off at Expressive Arts, Elias made him another airplane out of paper. He used a long piece of colored tape to attach the tiny plane to his dad’s chest. Having learned how to self-soothe during separation, he said goodbye at the window and eased happily into his day.

Elyse airdad

Guidelines for Teachers

  • Set up a “Goodbye Table” with paper, markers,  hole punch, string, ribbons,  colored tape.
  • Suggest that the family sit  together at the table. Here the child, assisted by his parent, can create artwork to accompany the parent into their day.
  • All art does not have to be wearable. It is definitely a stylistic preference of both child and parent.
  • Here’s another example: An  airplane of corrugated paper taped to a drawing that the parent can carry home or to work. While the original drawing had tears of sadness, the child was smiling when the airplane was taped on.

Elyse airplane drawing

With the facilitation of parents and teachers, emotions can move through quickly, easefully and artfully.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:
1/2″ Colored Masking Tape – set of 10 (CLRMSET)
9×12″ White Sulfite Paper – 500 sheets (9SU)
Colorations® Super Washable Chubby Markers – set of 256 (256CHB)
One Hole Punch (OHP)
Colorations® Acrylic Yarn – set of 12 (YARN)
400 Feet of Satin Ribbon – 16 spools (SATIN)

Clock-Drawing – Another Tool for Easing Separation from Parents

As teachers and parents, we are motivated to educate children in self-soothing. We know that tools to create peace, particularly inner peace, can be utilized throughout their lives.

September is the month when our youngest children are launched into their new classrooms and schools. We cannot have too many tools to help bridge the gap of separation from parents in our toolboxes.
While parents speak the words, “I’ll be back later,” and preschool teachers often read “Mommy Always Comes Back,” our words often fall short.
Last month, I described how dictation and deep listening can be tools for easing the anxiety of separation. This month I’m writing of another tool: Clock-Drawing.
Time can seem endless for a young child waiting to be picked up from school. While most of a child’s day is spent in play and interaction, thoughts of home surface quite frequently at school year’s start. Images of home and family surface during transitions, lying down for a nap, waking up again, and when a child is hurt. Along with the images often come strong emotions.
“I want my mommy (daddy, grandma, stuffy)!” is the lament often heard by teachers. Hugs and soothing words are offered and usually gratefully accepted. In addition to the comfort they receive from their teachers, children can also learn to comfort themselves.
Clock-drawing is one of the tools that assists a child in discovering inner peace. I discovered the concept during a time of one preschooler’s inconsolable sadness.

Guidelines for Classroom Teachers

After determining when the child will be picked up, introduce the child to the classroom clock and child-sized bites of time with simple questions and information:
  • Who is picking you up today?
  • When the big hand is on this number and the little hand is on that one, your mommy, daddy, grandma, babysitter, etc. will pick you up.
  • Would you like to make a clock of your own? Anytime you miss your family, you can match your clock to the classroom clock. When the hands on your clock and the one in our classroom match, it will be your pick-up time.
Clock-Drawing Activity
Help the child answer the following questions:
  • What shape is the clock?
  • Can you draw a circle?
  • Can you trace one? (I’ve found the colored masking tape to be just the right size. The circumference provides ample room to write numbers inside the shape.)
  • Do you know what numbers these are? (Point to the hour and minute of pick-up time.)
  • Can you draw the number inside the circle?
  • May I help you draw it?
  • What part of the number can you draw for yourself?
Now for the fun part, drawing the hands of the clock. Some humor can be introduced here as to comparing the clock’s hands and those of the child.
Let’s draw the most important part together, the big hand and the little hand. After helping the child draw the hands of the clock say, “This is when you will be picked up.” Then hold the drawing up to the classroom clock for comparison before giving it back to the child.

These questions provide more than information. They help to engage the intellect which can provide a less volatile state, one in which the child can feel his emotions without them overpowering him/her.

Some children like to put their clocks in their cubbies; others fold them and put them in their pockets. Like family photos, it is one more tool to help young children manage their emotions.
Clock-drawing provides a child-sized way to deal with the timelessness of his/her day away at school. I’d love to hear about other tools you have found useful.
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