My Guinea Pig

I sometimes miss having my own class of kids to experiment with. Like most teachers, I am reflective and often wonder, “What if…” As a literacy coach, my list of wonders is exponential as I work with grade K-5 in all areas related to literacy. As a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher, I also have an ongoing list related to social and emotional learning and how that relates to the culture of a school. I can often invite classroom teachers to engage in one of my wonders, but it’s not the same as studying something day in and day out on my own.

Luckily, I now have three little guinea pigs at home that I can experiment on! Last year, when our kindergarten team decided to take on conventions after wondering if it really was possible for kindergarten students to write in mostly lowercase letters, I decided to do some investigating of my own. At school, we began to question how we were introducing kids to letter writing. We use Fundations as our word study “program”. Fundations recommends kids first learning to write their uppercase letters, followed by lowercase. At our school, that meant that kids were just finishing up learning to write the alphabet somewhere around January…a time when they were already deep into the world of writing workshop and writing up a storm. We had conversation about how to do things differently the following year. But I was anxious to find out what would happen if we introduced lowercase letters sooner. Would it make a difference?

So as my oldest daughter was beginning to take up an interest in writing, I began to introduce her to lowercase letters. She’s one of those kids that eats up learning, so when I suggested we play school during my younger daughter’s nap time last summer, she was all in. Part of our routine was practicing writing letters on a white board. I emphasized the lowercase letters, as she had already been experimenting with uppercase letters on her own. Today, one year later, Wren writes in mostly lowercase letters.

Throughout this school year, my friend Dawn and I have been wondering how to bring the joy back to school (hence this entire blog). Most recently, we’ve been thinking a lot more about writing. When I began to hear about Ralph Fletcher’s new book, Joy Write, in the social media world, I ordered Dawn a copy (as my TBR pile was already falling over). She read the book in three hours and was so excited because the book spoke to so many of the wonders we had…How to help kids live like writers, to be excited, to love writing.

I’ve since begun reading Joy Write myself. I find myself nodding a lot and inspired to help kids really see themselves as writers. Dawn has done some great work with one particular class at our school, Megan’s second grade, to inspire some of the Greenbelt Writing that Ralph describes in his book (you can read about that from Dawn and Megan here and here). I’m excited to find a class to do some of this work with next year. But once again, I asked myself, “Why wait?”

This summer, as Wren prepares to enter kindergarten in the fall, I’ve been more cognizant of modeling my own reading and writing life for her. I think she views me as a reader, but I’m not so sure about the writing. I often write on the computer and she probably has no clue what I’m working on. So I bought a couple of sketchbooks and made an effort to just write and draw in front of her. I have been inviting her to join me and she will often mimic the work that I am doing.

So now that we have a time and space for writing, I wanted to experiment with living like a writer. After watching some tv show last week, Wren wondered aloud, “What if there was a big dog named Tiny and a small dog named Biggie?”

I responded with, “Hmmm. That sounds like a great story. Maybe we can write it together someday.” She was excited by the idea and has often reminded me that this is work we need to do…usually in the middle of the grocery store or as I’m tucking her into bed. Still on the to-do list.

We recently had a patio built in our backyard, which lead to a lot of dirt and new grass seed. The seeds invited many new birds to our yard. I suggested to Wren that we should find time to sketch the different birds and that maybe we could turn the sketches into a book. Another idea added to our to-do list.

Yesterday, a quick glance into the yard surprised us with a new visitor…a really big turtle! We have had deer, rabbits, and chipmunks in the yard before, but never a turtle. As the entire family crowded around the window to watch this new creature, we wondered what it was doing in our yard. “More importantly, where did it come from?” Wren exclaimed.

“Maybe we can add the turtle to our bird book,” I suggested.

This was just the invitation Wren needed. She ran to the playroom where she gathered a stack of plain white paper and a bucket of colored pencils. She initially said that she would draw the pictures and maybe I could help her with the words later. But within a few minutes, she was creating a cover and working on a title: I Love Animals. She filled the pages with sketches of different animals and later we worked together to label each page.

The very next day as we made the trek from the parking lot to the pool for swim lessons, my middle daughter called out, “Hey! Look at that!” After some probing, we spotted the duck she was pointing at in the wide landscape of possibilities. A closer look and we noticed that the duck was not alone. There was one baby duck, trailing very close behind.  “That’s odd,” I wondered aloud. “I’ve never seen a duck with just one baby duck.”

“Yeah, they usually have a bunch, ” Wren added. “I wonder where the rest are?”

“That sounds like another story!” I exclaimed.

As we continued to walk we wrote the story in the air. We dreamed up all the places those baby ducks might be.

We are learning to live like writers and finding joy in the process.


Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life. I started the Slice of Life challenge in March of 2017. I was inspired by the community of writers that I found. So I have continued to “Slice” every Tuesday. You can find out more and read other Slices here.

7 thoughts on “My Guinea Pig

  1. “This was just the invitation Wren needed.” Kids need more invitations and less directions! This whole story is really how you modeled and invited her to live like a writer. This is a model for how we can work with all kids. The simplicity of it – a journal, seeing, writing, drawing, celebrating, repeat.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a delightful post! I’ve been thinking a lot about joy (or the lack thereof) in school and in my classroom, so this post really resonates. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the way you’ve created a writerly world in your own home.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love every bit of this! As a Kindergarten teacher, I have learned that sometimes simple things like modeling behavior, asking the right questions, and inviting children in can make all the difference in the world. It’s just the “nudge” they need. I do wonder and worry about how rarely parents read and write in front of their children, though. Teachers really need to make sure this is covered.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s