My Mom and the Maker Movement

The Maker Movement brings together technology fans and traditional artisans in a shared do-it-yourself, crafting culture that celebrates innovation. Schools across the country are investing in Maker Spaces, where students can invent or build with a diverse range of recycled products, traditional tools, and technology.

It’s new. It’s hip. It’s the best thing going on in education.

And my mom did it in her kindergarten class more than thirty years ago. She called it the Invention Center.

In the 1970s and 80s, there were always paper grocery bags in our kitchen at some stage of being filled with empty paper towel rolls, plastic tops, cans, bubble wrap, milk cartons, and more. We’d help her deliver them to her Invention Center and check out all the kindergarten “inventions” being built there. Occasionally, she’d send a letter home to her class asking for Invention Center donations, and the coffers would fill to overflowing, because 20 families across the DC metro area spent their kindergarten year collecting for it too.

The best though was watching those little kids walk down the carpool line barely able to carry structures bigger than they were to moms whose mouths were open in surprise. “Wow! That’s amazing!”

And the kindergarten “makers” beamed with pride as mom tried to fit it in the back of the car and they explained all the intricacies of what they’d created, how many times it had fallen apart, how they fixed it, and where they wanted to put it in their house.

I don’t know if my mom has heard of the Maker Movement, but I like to think of her as one of its pioneers.


Majek Speling

In the first days of summer, as my son transitioned from kindergarten to first grade, he lost his first tooth. In fact, he yanked it out of his mouth after we claimed it still needed a few more days of wiggle time. No fuss.

“Only a little blood, mom.”

And in the time-honored tradition of our family, he wanted to keep his tooth.

So his first summer homework was to write the tooth fairy a letter, which captured this brief moment in time when losing teeth and learning to read and write are things to celebrate.

Der toothsfary

Plese don’t take

Mi tooths.

Thak you

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

When you get that first email from the teacher saying your child is being naughty, you feel like the wind got knocked out of you… even if you knew that with this kid, the email was inevitable. By the fifth email, you are already elbows deep in working with him to curb his rowdiness, pushing in line, hitting, silliness or wiggles.

To make the communication short and sweet, while enabling his teacher and I to work together to battle my son’s tendency to hit-back-and-ask-questions-later, we developed a mere thumbs-up or thumbs-down for the day.

While frustrated that my son is hitting his friends, I enjoy his honesty.

“Did you have a good day?” I ask as he climbs in the car.

I do not need to wait for the emails, which happily come less frequently now. My son has never given himself a thumbs-up. It is always slightly to the side or wiggling.

“It was perfect until…” or “I almost made it, but then…”

On the especially bad days – the hitting or pushing in line days – he dives into the story as the car door opens. No thumbs required.

Two days ago, the thumbs were almost straight up. “Except right in the last minute, my teacher said no touching the easel, and I touched the easel.”

“That wasn’t very smart. Why would you do that?”

“I was so tired, I had to do something to entertain myself.”

And yesterday…

“Not so good. I was too…”

Lad and the Fat Cat

I realized about a month ago that my two older boys were already starting to read at this point in their kindergarten year. My youngest is not there yet.

“Yes, he’s near the bottom of the class,” said the kindergarten teacher when I brought it up, “but nothing to worry about. They all learn to read.”

I immediately pulled out a set of books specifically created to help kids learn to sound out words. I told my little guy that he is working on breaking a secret code.

Yesterday, I brought “Lad and the Fat Cat” to an appointment with us to work on the short “a” sound. Ignoring “Lad,” he told me a story about Frosty, the baby red dragon who could not breathe fire. As he drew pictures for his story, I saw him hide “Lad” among other books in the waiting room.

“I was hoping we would leave it here by accident,” he grinned when I pulled the book out of the pile. “It is so boring!”

I again explained the secret code he was trying to break and how the book was like a key.

“But mom!” he shook his head. “You know picture books? The ones where one person writes the story and…what’s the other guy called who does the pictures?”

“The illustrator?” 

“Well, how do they make their books so perfect?”

He looked at the reading primer in disgust. “And then look at this! Look at all the white on the page! Why would you read this when you have a picture book with a writer and illustrator making it so perfect?”

He already loves to read. The secret code will come. 

Trouble in Kindergarten

Sometimes a kid suffers his fate as the third child. For the first five years of his life, he has to be quick, strong and willing to fight back to survive the force of his big brothers. And it is never his fault, because what mother is going to say that it is okay to beat up on the little guy?

Then the rug is pulled out from under him… kindergarten.

Suddenly, everyone is the same size. Suddenly, he can’t hit back. And when he does, which he does, he doesn’t get away with it.

Early this week, I received an email from the kindergarten teacher asking for some advice on how to stop my son from rapid retaliation. Apparently, even when another child bumps into him by accident, he clocks the kid without assessing the situation.

My kindergartener and I had a long talk.

“There is no hitting, pushing or yelling at other kids.”

“I don’t push.”

We agreed that he would not go to Extended Day (his favorite thing because it means extra playground time) until he gets this under control. And his teacher agreed to send me a daily email letting me know how he did that day, so I can track his behavior and respond accordingly.

Day 1, he got in the car after school and immediately asked, “Did you get the email yet?” He did not hit, push or yell all day. He was very proud.

Day 2, he got in the car after school and said that while he was good, one of the girls punched him in the stomach, and he used his words. The teacher’s email confirmed his story.

Day 3, when I dropped him off at school in the morning, I reminded him that he was still working on the “no hitting” policy. He nodded, grinned, and celebrated, “I know! It’s my last day!”

“No honey, you can’t hit anyone any day, forever.”


Poor guy. Lessons learned in kindergarten are the hardest.

Give the Kids a Job

I know two sweet, loving, awesome kindergarteners who fight constantly.

“It’s my turn!”

“She’s copying me!”

“He hit me!”

“She’s bugging me!

“He won’t let me have a turn!”

Except when they don’t. Then they play together with great enthusiasm.

Last night, for some unknown reason, they claimed the task of doing the dishes. They slid a counter stool over to the sink and both climbed on…together.

They shared the scrubber. They picked out their plates and bowls and pots and pans without dispute. They spoke only when they needed to, serious in their work. The pressure of their effort kept pushing the stool back from the counter, and the two of them, practically entangled, sleeves rolled up, water splashing all over their shirts, never noticed me pushing them back in every time I passed behind them. He never noticed that her elbow jabbed him in the ribs. She never cried that he got her wet.

There were a lot of dishes. Taco night. And when they were done, the pots were perfectly clean. A little extra soap to rinse off, but clean.

I know two sweet, loving, awesome kindergarteners who fight constantly, except when they don’t. Give them a job, and they are team that cannot be beat.

The Thrill of Kindergarten Basketball

Kindergarten basketball games are not high-scoring. Six baskets per team in an hour of play is typical. No dunks. No passes behind the back. No rockets from half-court.

But kindergarten basketball games give me great joy. The enthusiasm and effort cannot be beat, the tackling each other like puppy dogs on the bench, the unabashed grins at cheering parents when they score, the complete lack of awareness about who’s really winning.

Dribbling not required.

“We won,” my son says after every game even when they were demolished on the boards… or the opposing team had one kid who actually gets it.

After the last game, when my son let his opponent beat him down the court twice for a basket, I told him he should think of it as a race. If he beats the other player, he wins.

His response?

“My brain kept telling my legs to go faster. Go faster, they said over and over. But my legs wouldn’t listen. I tried, Mom. But they just weren’t listening.”