This breaks my heart.

This article showed up in my feed today, and it has so much to chew on, I had to share it. The idea that screens are the solution to our social failure to value and support ALL of our children is depressing, with the added insult of it being a highly profitable venture for people who can afford to send their children to a quality program like ours. The article answers the age old question about kindergarten readiness too, and that is why I shared it …. those are the essential, developmentally appropriate experiences every single American child deserves, one way or another, before they enter a classroom where academic expectations exist.

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How do you do what you do??! …. Roseanne DiSandro

Roseanne joined us last year through an unexpected but very fortuitous referral. She has been a wonderful, gentle, kind and steady addition to our team – always present and professional, supportive and flexible, with a sense of humor that never fails to brighten my day. She is truly worth her weight in gold. 

What or who inspired/encouraged you to work with young children?

I wanted to start a new chapter in my life, and decided it should be about what I love, so I chose to go back to school so I could work with children on a professional basis. I love to inspire and encourage children in their self development and aspire to keep learning and investigating.

If money was no object, what would your dream life look like?

I would have time for my family and friends, time to pursue further education, and time to make a difference in my community.   My family would be able to pursue their dreams and the fulfillment of their individual and unique potential.

What is the best part of the day?

I do best in the mornings. My favorite part of the day is morning play and the spontaneous conversations with the children, one on one or in a small group.  I enjoy reading with children, and love having them tell me their stories.


The part of the day that tugs my heart is when a child’s day is too long, they are ready to be done and still have more time ahead. I always look for the quiet corner where I can invite them to join me in quiet, reflective and gentle connection. I also dread trying to convince kids to quit playing to come to the “potty party” before rest!

Why The Room To Grow?

Since day one I always believed in play and the freedom to ask questions, the freedom to explore and be messy while doing that crucial work. As a child, these were limited opportunities for me, so when I was expecting my daughter, I read how to work with your child to give them respect, freedom and the opportunity to be messy and authentic in discovering their world. RTG’s  philosophy of learning and becoming a part of the community and a responsible citizen resonates for me.

What gets you up and out on those cold, dark mornings?
I believe in having a purpose in life and I believe in what I am doing.

What are some of your favorite books, kid and adult?

Kid — Raggedy Anne (my first book), Nancy Drew, Little Women and Cherry Ames.

Adult — Louise Penney, Cara Black, historical books and many more … really, I read all kinds of things!

One thing you’d like to have on a deserted island?

Only one?! I would want someone I loved, water, paper and a pen.

What are some of your hobbies?

Reading, gardening, entertaining, home design and playing with my granddaughter!

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Reading a good book all afternoon and enjoying some red wine and cheese along with it.


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“Enterprise Talk” – why we love it and you will too.

One of the things we all struggle with at one time or another is being able to communicate with the children in our lives in positive, productive and respectful language once things get frustrating, heated or hurried. Most of us have also been exposed to methods of engaging with kids that are focused on getting a quick result rather than on building a vocabulary of navigation, self-awareness, dignity and respect.

Several years ago, we came across the work of Tom Drummond, a professor emeritus who has generously shared his teaching portfolio with the rest of us, now that he is retired. There is more there than I will ever be able to fully appreciate, but his work on effective, respectful, joyful communication, titled Enterprise Talk, has been, to quote one of our teachers, revolutionary!

He first offers, rather provocatively, three prohibitions:

no directions (nobody likes being told what to do all the time, including children. Furthermore, they learn little about self-management or constructive decision making when not given the space to practice either.)

no questions (not really NO questions, just no questions for the sake of getting kids to perform and no questions that are really directions repackaged into questions. “What are you supposed to be doing right now?” isn’t so much a question as it is a message of manipulation and disapproval.)

no praise (again, no empty-calorie praise…things like “cool” or “awesome” or “good job” usually have little depth or sincerity – better to try one of the suggestions to follow!)

 And replaces them with six guides

Description (Giving information about what is happening or what needs to happen casts the child as a participant rather than a subject. “I’m almost done making dinner, and we’ll be eating soon. In a few minutes we will need to set up the table for dinner.”)

Narration (“You have been really busy making a big block city on the table for your panda bears to explore. I’m going to get the napkins and silverware while you are finishing up their adventure.”)

Subjective talk (Modeling with the bonus of appropriate observational vocabulary for future use “I’m going to start picking up the blocks that fell down here on the floor because we have to put away these toys before we can set up for dinner.”)

Non-verbal recognition (A smile, a wink, a high-five, giving one of the toy pandas a kiss good night as you place it on the storage bin. Sharing a moment of gratitude, companionship and collaborative success.)

Intrinsically phrased recognition (Noticing, out loud, the naturally occurring feelings that come with perseverance and constructive behavior.)

  • Enjoyment “Racing to sort all those blocks was fun wasn’t it?”
  • Competence “You didn’t drop a single one.”
  • Cleverness “You had a great idea.”
  • Growth and Change “You’re sure getting strong!”

That is five of the six. The last one is the Descriptive Cue Sequence and you’ll have to click through to find it – I hope you enjoy exploring his work as much as we have.

Enterprise Talk: a handrail



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New CA legislation on vaccines.

This is important information we just received official notice from the State of CA about vaccination requirements for children entering preschool. For the first time, it looks like we will be requiring vaccines for everyone that doesn’t have a valid medical exemption.

Under a new law enacted by SB 277, beginning January 1, 2016 personal beliefs exemptions will no longer be an option for the vaccines that are currently required for entry into child care or school in California. Personal beliefs exemptions already on file will remain valid until the child reaches the next immunization checkpoint at transitional kindergarten/kindergarten or 7th grade.

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Putting difficulty in a new light.


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Pre-Literacy Skills Every Child Should Have (not a single flashcard in sight!)

There is wonderful research that looks at what kind of “early literacy” learning is important AND developmentally appropriate. We get asked about this frequently and it’s certainly understandable….there is a great deal of pressure on kids and their parents to “be prepared” for the academic expectations in Kindergarten.

That preparedness needs to come in ways that are contextual, relatable and, most importantly, joyful. We are constantly aware of opportunities to notice the many and varied uses of words, offer vocabulary where it is still lacking and demonstrate our own enjoyment of language and written word. There is wonderful research being done on what practices will give a developmentally appropriate experience without simply trying to push down elementary curriculum. Here they are as they are practiced at our school. I have also attached a link to the publication in its entirety.

PRINT MOTIVATION  We have books available to kids in obvious and not so obvious places. There are baskets of books outside by a bench under an umbrella. There are books near the bathroom. There is a teacher whose role it is to take story dictation every day. Writing children’s words and ideas both honors their creativity and demonstrates language permanence and the power of the written word.

PRINT AWARENESS  There is rarely a time when you can’t find a teacher reading with one or two kids, or one or two kids reading with and to each other. Things are labeled, kids have portfolios with their name and photo on it, they use “save cards” with their name and photo to reserve a game or material they are in the middle of using if they are called away, they have their own labels so they can self-help when they want to put their name on a painting, they go to the library weekly to refresh the school’s book selection or to search for books on a specific subject of interest. There is a writing table with proper equipment and materials as well as reference cards with common words and phrases to copy.

LETTER KNOWLEDGE & VOCABULARY  RTG teachers use a great deal of narrative language in their day to day. Rather that giving a lot of directions they notice, out loud, what is happening – what needs to happen next – what a problem or conflict looks like to them – etc. Not only does this parallel style of speaking invite children into a collaborative rather than adversarial relationship, it provides a vocabulary to express ideas, problems and feelings. It imparts confidence and competence. When there is a rich conversation there is an organic expansion of vocabulary. Later, noticing new words in context in the greater environment reinforces that growth.

PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS  Children are naturally interested in practicing what they’ve discovered. Using rhymes and songs to play with words is a fun way to experiment with sounds of all kinds. We frequently sing name songs and other silly variation songs that allow for the exploration of different word combinations and modifications.

NARRATIVE SKILLS  When RTG kids dictate their stories to a teacher, they can look forward to it being read to the whole group later in the morning. Sometimes they decide to cast their friends to ‘act out’ parts of the story as its being read, or paint an illustration or scene to enhance it. Other times the story becomes a song or is added to the next day. As they become more proficient and sophisticated with storytelling, kids will collaborate with a friend or two to create an elaborate and detailed narrative together. There is often a chapter book that is part of the reading experience. Chapter books lend themselves to many different forms of consideration. Recalling what happened in the story the day before, suggesting what may happen next or what might happen if a detail of the story was changed. Discussing characters thoughts and motivations can be a wonderful opportunity for older kids to talk about things that they are becoming more aware of within themselves.

Here, with much gratitude, is a link to the Colorado LEC.!about3/cgn5

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They are leaving for Kindergarten very soon now.

It’s nearly the end of the year for us again. This is when we get the last, nervous round of the question, “So, do you really think she’s ready for Kindergarten?”

I’m always torn about that question because on one hand I want to sing about what an amazing, competent, curious, wise and creative child they have become. On the other hand,  I know the reality is that they are not. They are not ready to sit still and listen, worry more about finishing a worksheet than finishing  an elaborate Magnatile structure or a fantastic painting. They aren’t ready to only play outside for thirty minutes a day on play equipment made of powder coated steel that has only smoothly rounded corners and edges. And they aren’t ready for standardized tests.

They are ready to test their social skills so they will be good citizens and collaborators later on. They are ready to test their motor skills so they will have strong bodies and a love of physical activity later on. They are ready to test their ability to overcome frustration and disappointment so they will have the fortitude to meet the challenges of what their lives include later on. They are ready to be who they are now so they will be their best selves later on.

Our staff discusses these concerns and issues regularly, and the best nugget of advice we can send folks on with is to always be your child’s vigilant and compassionate advocate. We as parents and teachers are responsible for so much, but our primary concern should be protecting and guiding our little ones. They must make their own way in their own time, safe in the right to grow into their true selves and for their voices to matter.

I read a recent KQED blog about Forest Kindergartens in Switzerland yesterday and it really got me thinking about what we’re doing here. It is the norm for formal academics not to begin until children are nearly seven, so they can be allowed to play outdoors with only gentle organization and supervision as they explore their environment, their cohort and ultimately themselves in relation to all of these things. The results are lovely, but we don’t live in Switzerland, that’s OK … we can still reflect on other practices, take the inspiration and let it help us advocate for our children and their right to be just that, children. It’s OK to play, and they’ll be the better for it.  Here is that blog if you’d like to learn more:

I’m excited and confident and a little bit scared for our kids who are about to leave us. But I imagine that’s about what they are feeling too. I know each of them is a good and fierce soul that WILL be seen and heard wherever they go, and in that I put my hope for the future.394981_4769844439715_18214530_n

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“How do you do what you do?” …. Marianne Barlow

Marianne is one of the greatest people, not to mention teachers, that I have ever met. She is an accomplished singer/songwriter; an animal lover; defender of all things righteous and one of the most authentic advocates for young children I’ve ever worked with.  She is fair, funny and never met an avocado she didn’t like.


What or who inspired/encouraged you to work with young children?

My mom is a preschool teacher so I grew up in that environment. She taught me how to talk to children and instilled in me a love of teaching. She encouraged me to get an elementary credential (because it pays better) so I did, but I found my way back to preschooler because I like to let kids play rather than make them do work they’re not interested in.

If money was no object, what would your dream life look like?

I would hit the road with my ukelele and guitar to play gigs all over the country. Eventually the Indigo Girls would discover me and I’d get to go on tour with them as their opening act.

What is your greatest gift?

Never growing up; always loving to play.

What is the best part of the day?

Snuggles, smiles, laughter, reading.  Discovery, kindness, singing, playing.  Jumping, running, pretending, sharing, solving problems ……. and figuring it out.


Getting frustrated when kids get stuck in a pattern of not-so-great choices.  Why can’t my patience to bottomless?!

Why The Room To Grow?

I’ll tell you the truth:  I can always tell if I’m in a right new place if it feels familiar even if I’ve never been there before. It was like that when I went to Girl Scout Camp (where I worked for six Summers) the first time. It was like that when I went to my first Women’s Music Camp. It’s like coming home.  Stepping into RTG was like that, so I knew I would take the job and it’s proven to be a wise choice. I’ve learned so much from working with Kris and Marie, the kids and teachers and from delving into Reggio and democratic process. I love RTG.

Do you have your own kids?

My children are my pit bull “Daisy” and the CD I did of my original songs. (available on iTunes and CDBaby!!)

What gets you up and out on those cold, dark mornings?

Coffee and smoothies.

What are some of your favorite books, kid and adult?

Kid — The Old Woman and the Wave by Shelley Jackson is my current favorite, but it’s so hard to choose. I love P.D. Eastman, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel, Robert Shropshire and so many others.

Adult — I just finished We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I can’t tell you what it’s about because that would be a spoiler, but it’s a family drama and it’s really good. I love the Harry Potter books. (umm, can you tell I’m a preschool teacher when that qualifies as and ‘adult’ book?!)

One thing you’d like to have on a deserted island?

My ukelele.


What are some of your hobbies?

Singing, songwriting, guitar and ukelele. I also want to learn to play the cajon drum, trap set, banjo, mandolin, jazz piano, etc. etc. I am in a unkelele trio and direct The Organic Women’s Chorus in Berkeley.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Chocolate ice cream.

Do you root for any sports teams?

Here’s the thing. (Kris, do not edit this answer or add any comments from the peanut gallery. Thank you.) I grew up in LA watching the Dodgers with my dad. He also grew up in LA and got his first radio when he was 10 or 11 when the Dodgers moved out from Brooklyn. He still listens to Vin Scully call the games on that radio, so I can’t HELP IT that I still have Dodger blue in my veins even though I don’t follow the team hardly at all anymore. Can you learn to like me anyway?! I have tried to become a Giants or even an A’s fan but it hasn’t worked. Think of it as an illness if you must. I also root for UCLA because I went to the lab school for K-6th grade and I root for the Sparks because my moms have season tickets (thank you Magic for saving the team, really all my teams). Mostly, I don’t watch sports so this long winded answer is really just a way to come out to the world as an LA girl. So, there you have it.

Unsolicited ed. note: I’m a die-hard Giant’s fan. The Dodger thing is pretty hard to take, but Marianne is so wonderful that I must forgive that one flaw and by doing so, practice what is at the heart of our program; community building through the understanding and acceptance of the rights and needs of the individuals that make up the whole.

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“How do you do what you do?” ….. Woody Harper

Woody Harper started substitute teaching one Summer a few years ago. His authentic and joyful approach to darned near everything coupled with an intuition for human nature made him delightfully magnetic and remarkably effective with young children. Over the years he’s shared his musical gifts, theatrical sensibilities and complete lack of shame with a bunch of kids who will never forget him.  (As an editorial note – I’d like to say that while he claims the Harlem Globetrotters as his team, anyone who knows him knows he bleeds the black & orange.)


What or who was your inspiration for working with young children?

“I have always had a knack for connecting with kids. For years I was just working joe-jobs that were not at all fulfilling. I found my way to teaching and it has made the most impact on my personal and global growth. I feel proud of doing something meaningful and worthwhile.”







If money was no object – what would your dream life look like?

“A never ending life of adventure. Traveling forever.”

What is your unique gift?

“Of the many that I have??! My rackish sense of style I suppose.”

What is the best part of the day? The worst??IMG_0881

“That one moment when one finds themselves completely present with their thoughts. And then…..When everyone is suddenly coming at you at once – and you instantly lose that perfect focus.”

What was a “magic” moment for you as a teacher?

“Spontaneously collaborating to write a complete song with a group of kids. “The Bacon Song” may be my finest hour.”

Why RTG?

“Connections! Seriously – if you want to be the best, work with the best.”

What gets you up and out on those cold dark mornings?

“The bright and shiny faces I see on the 14 Mission every morning.”

What are your favorite books: kid’s and adult.

“The Beginning of Armadillos by Rudyard Kipling

Women by Charles Bukowski”

What is one thing you’d really want to have with you on a deserted island?

“A boat.”

Any hobbies?

“Being a free-lance, free-range rock star.”

Your favorite guilty pleasure?

“I don’t feel guilty about any of them.”

Sports teams you root for?

“The Harlem Globetrotters – they never disappoint.”

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“How do you do what you do?” …. A series of teacher interviews.

I’ve been thinking we should add a “staff bio” page to our website for a while now. You know, a photo and a blurb about each of the RTG teachers…somehow encapsulating a complex individual in a few brief, unavoidably cliche, sentences. Its just that I know how much more they are than that and we were endlessly trying to contrive a format that would be unique, charming and somehow evoke the essence of each individual. Yeah, right.

We ended up asking all of the parents of both schools to tell US what THEY wanted to know. Wow, what a response! I received over 30 emails with quirky, curious and very sincere questions that our families wanted me to put to our teachers.

So here it is, the series of posts getting to know each of us, one at a time, via an interview comprised of what the folks in our school communities want to know. I hope its as much fun to read as it is to ask!

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