Creativity is Limitless

by Kelsie Castro

“Children need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, their eyes and their ears, the resources of forms, materials, sounds and colors.” – Loris Malaguzzi

It started one morning as I watched a group of small hands moving back and forth across a paint soaked paper, something sparking in my mind. Even though I had what felt like a million other things to do that morning I couldn’t help but stop to observe the beautiful dance before me. My eyes moved all around the table I had set up with jars of different colored paints, watching to see what the children would do, waiting for their ideas to unfold. I watched as Bexley pulled bits of paint and splashed them onto the paper, creating golden circles with the swish of her hands. I listened as Alleyne and Grace, dug their hands deep in to the jars, giggling every time it would splatter onto the paper or their clothes. I sat just behind each one of them watching the intention they all had in their use of each color, and the joy they clearly felt in being able to engage in this sensory experience.

And then there was Coretta. Her hands seemed to move in a different rhythm from the other children, bouncing from jar to jar gathering up globs of paint as they went. I watched her for a while as she dipped her hands into each jar, her fingertips literally dripping with paint. Then all of sudden I heard a splat. Coretta’s hands smashed against the paper creating a large grey pool with streaks of colors bursting off the sides. My eyes were drawn to her wondering what she would do next, expecting the enthusiastic energy she gathered the paint with to funnel into her actual painting. But, she surprised me. As soon as her hands touched the paper I saw her body relax, her eyes focus, and her fingers begin to move with obvious intention. I observed for a while as she carefully moved her fingers across different colors, mixing two at a time and then sliding her hands over to try the same technique on two more.


In just a few minutes a rainbow of new colors was spread across the paper. Coretta’s hands, still soaked in paint, gently massaged a soft purple that formed in the very spot where the mess of gray used to be. With all the other children now off to try something new, I sat next to her and scooted in close, listening as she told me about the colors she created and all the amazing things she now saw in the paint before her. In this moment I saw a spark, small but still powerful, one that had inspired Coretta and myself to see more than just the mess.

As I thought about this moment for the next few days I began to reflect on it in the context of some of the discussions we often have here at Little Owl. Whenever we introduce materials we always give children the opportunity to explore things in a sensory way, which usually means they are going to get a little “messy”. This is a process we and I’m sure other teachers value, and an important part of introducing materials to children. I think many us can appreciate the creative awakening that happens when children get to slide their hands through paint or roll their bodies against a big block of clay. We know what that means for children and we know how deeply they connect with materials when given the opportunity to experience them in that way.

What I wondered more about however, was how people might view Coretta’s version of this.

While the other children who explored the paint still got messy, they did it with a purpose, with a clear intention from beginning to end. They carefully chose the paint they wanted to use, were very aware of how to keep from mixing the colors, and when they were finished with their plan cleaned up and moved on to something new. The exploration on their end was perfectly aligned with how I think many teachers hope experiences like that would play out and that idealized version of what it means to have messy exploration/play.

Coretta on the other hand took a very different approach. She didn’t come to the table with a plan and choose her colors the way other children did she used them all. She mixed colors in all the jars and splashed paint all over herself and the table. She came to the space with an energy that could have easily been seen as “too much” for this indoor space, but for this particular artist it was the door to her creativity.

So what happens when children challenge our ideas about what “messy” play should look like? Do we put limits on these explorations or follow the children’s lead?

While these answers will always be dependent on both school’s, teachers, and even parent’s individual philosophies and comfort zones, I think there is a lot that we can discover just by looking at the experience Coretta had. Sometimes as adults, I believe we get so caught up in our own perceptions of what happens when children get “too messy” that we tend to forget the value that it holds for young children. We instantly see a mess as a problem to be fixed rather than a sign that learning has taken place. We infuse our own feelings, ideas and intentions into experiences where children simply need freedom to explore without adults looking over their shoulders and telling them the way things should go. We guide things that should be self-guided and don’t trust children to make mistakes and grow from those experiences.

Pablo Picasso once said that “the chief enemy of creativity is ‘good’ sense.” 

When I first noticed Coretta mixing all the paint, I will admit I had a moment where a voice in my head wanted me to stop her, to use my “good sense” and preserve the paint for the other children, to make sure that my intention was seen by the coming groups. My adult mind assumed what would happen if Corretta continued, and how the other children would feel about the paint being mixed. What I realized in that moment however, was that I was the only one at the table who was worried, the only one who thought about stopping this expression of creativity from taking place. The other children, even with their specific visions and precise painting styles, didn’t care that Coretta was mixing the paint or about how fast she was moving. They didn’t worry about it at all they simply let her be, honoring her process and giving her the space to express herself in her own unique way.

Looking back now I realize that listening to my “good sense” and giving into those adult urges would’ve have halted a process that was far more enriching that I ever predicted through my assumptions. I might have preserved the paint for other children but the cost would have been Coretta’s ability to fully experience her own creativity.

But how do we support children’s creativity even in times when that process might challenge our thoughts about what works?


The answer to that, I believe, is just to take a step back.

Many times things that challenge our intentions as adults, lead to some of the most meaningful explorations for children. In those moments children gain new perspectives, generate new ideas and learn about themselves and where their ideas fit into the world. When the freedom to explore, get messy, and make mistakes, they feel more inclined to go all in and to share their ideas with those around them. Its through those explorations and those opportunities to be self-guided that children feel like their thoughts and ideas belong and where they are motivated and inspired to keep exploring, to try new things, and to be unafraid to step outside the box.

But all this can only happen if we give children the time and space to explore these things, to embrace their own creative process (whatever that might be) and do so free of judgement and input from outside voices. It can only happen if we trust them.

Coretta may not have had a plan or intention coming in but she still had ideas. She saw the possibilities of the paint and literally (and figuratively) laid it all out on the table. Like many children her age, she needed the freedom to use too much, and do too much to find that thread of inspiration that would guide her vision. For Coretta and most children, this is an essential part of their creative process, a space for them to visualize all possibilities so they can imagine what to do next. It’s where their natural instincts guide them to find something meaningful in the messes they make and empower them to share these unique discoveries and creations with the world.


So the next time you are working with children like Coretta, and have that voice in the back of your mind telling you to step in take a moment just to ask yourself why…..

Why do I want to set a limit right now and how will my limit(s) impact this child?

Why are they challenging my intentions for this space/project and how can I adjust to meet their needs?

Why is this moment or process important for the child and how can I show them I value that?






Power Play

by Sara Zacuto

“Play is not a luxury but rather a crucial dynamic of healthy physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all age levels.”

-David Elkind

I have definitely fallen out of the habit of writing after our long hiatus this Summer (our site was closed due to construction). I feel rusty. And busy. And stretched in a different way than before. My son is now here with me, adjusting to being at school for the very first time. And my daughter has officially started first grade. I have never spun this many plates at once, and they are all still in the air…for now! I have taken the first couple weeks to help my son settle into the new routine, and support him as he is building more confidence in saying goodbye. My mind (and heart) have been a bit distracted to be honest. Which is why I was elated to find an old piece of writing I did when I was teaching in our older classroom that I had forgotten about. I’ve decided to share it here because I feel it’s as relevant as the day I wrote it a few years ago.

Enjoy, and as always, feel free to comment below. I love your feedback!



When I arrived at work a couple weeks ago, I came out to the yard to find a structure built by a group of children that resembled a floor plan. The big blocks were laid out low and wide, creating an enclosed space that could easily fit 15 kids. As I approached they asked me to save what they had built because they needed to leave briefly. I agreed to keep it safe and sat there until they returned a few minutes later. When they came back they climbed in, quickly resumed playing, started assigning roles to each other, all while negotiating and sharing their ideas with great enthusiasm. I stayed near observing and listening when I noticed themes emerging that might call for limits, so I moved a little closer. They had paper swords and tubes and began swinging them and “fighting.” I felt unsure about it, but it continued to play out purposefully and respectfully, and it remained relevant to the game they had created. They mostly stayed in character, only breaking to work out small points like where they were standing, or to negate each other and shout things like “NO! I don’t say that!” All while swinging their swords at each other and occasionally bumping them together.


It felt risky, and slightly uncomfortable to stay close to this play. No matter how many times I’ve been around it, play like this often feels as if it’s about to erupt into chaos and tears (this time it didn’t), or someone will inevitably get hurt (no one did), then it dawned on me…“Do I trust these children?” I was able to answer myself quickly with “Yes. I think I do.” However I wanted to push myself a little further and ask “Do these children FEEL trusted?” This time I think the answer was “Sometimes.”

I noticed the children visually checking in with me while whacking their swords together, as if to say “Is this okay?” I imagine they sensed I was paying close attention to what they were doing, and I wondered how my presence informed their play.

Did they feel hindered?

Or self conscious?

Perhaps restricted?

I might never get the answers to questions like these, but if I dwell in inquiry and thoughtful observation I might gain a better understanding of the children and the story they are telling. That is, after all, my job. I know I could’ve immediately shut down their play the moment the first contact happened, I imagine that is what happens in most schools. I think children are very attuned to adults’ discomfort with their words and actions. I think they sense the power they have when they see us squirm whenever their play gets a little rough, or when they use words like (or even wield) “weapons.” I decided to think about what these children are exploring in their play, and what needs they are trying to meet.


There is a reason this kind of play is so alluring for children. The common thread is always a power struggle.

Who is stronger?

Who has more power?

Who takes over?

Who defeats their opponent?

Of course, a lot of these themes emerge from TV, or from stories they’ve heard, stories that are compelling, dynamic and engaging…full of characters who have superhuman abilities and seemingly limitless potential. Who wouldn’t want to feel that way? I find that often when children are playing these kind of games, they don’t declare a “winner” and a “loser.” They consistently try and one up each other, or outwit each other and move on. Sometimes feelings get hurt, and that’s when teachers get close to facilitate a conversation or clarify the rules of the game before it resumes or changes. But what is the reason for playing this way? Especially when it seems fraught with struggle, discomfort and conflict?

Professor of psychology at Boston College, Peter Gray sums it up perfectly when he says:

“In play…children bring the realities of their world into a fictional context, where it is safe to confront them, to experience them, and to practice ways of dealing with them. Some people fear that violent play creates violent adults, but in reality the opposite is true. How else can they prepare themselves emotionally, intellectually, and physically for reality? Play is nature’s way of teaching children how to solve problems, control their impulses, modulate their emotions, see from other’s perspectives, negotiate differences, and get along with others as equals. There is no substitute for play as a means to learn these skills.”


This is why it is so crucial for us to allow children the space and time to play this way. In reality, it is close to impossible to stop them anyway. I remember a story about a mother who was concerned and frustrated by her child’s persistence about playing rough and “shooting” games. Every time she tried to redirect his energy or set limits, he would stop temporarily, but the behavior would crop up again eventually. She decided to take away any toys that he was using to “shoot” with, telling him “Enough! I don’t want you to shoot anymore.” It was later that week at the breakfast table when she noticed him using a banana to “shoot” his little sister that she realized how futile her effort had been. She decided to look at things through the lens of his needs and trust his process of working things out. She continued talking with him about making sure the person he is “shooting” is in agreement about the game. She later admitted how beneficial this decision was to her relationship with him. The less they struggled and the more they talked, the closer they got.

Our role in their play is to step back, be observant and trust their stories. We can provide guidance about safety or conflict, but we must allow them to feel their power…and fly!

Book Review: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

by Sara Zacuto

“Empathy has no script. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message of “you’re not alone.”

~Brené Brown


Summertime is the time of diving into books you’ve been meaning to get to all year, or for cracking into newly discovered gems. This is one of those gems. I heard about it from one of my favorite child advocates, Robin Einzig (of Visible Child.) I’m not a big believer in offering books that preach or pander to young children, which is why I adore this sweet and simple story so much. It portrays such a relatable and familiar conundrum to children without pushing a hidden agenda or “teaching them a lesson.” It features a gender neutral protagonist, Taylor, who encounters a problem and is quickly greeted by many well-intentioned visitors, trying in different ways to help. One by one they come and offer their solutions, but nobody really considers Taylor. Until, this lovely and gentle Rabbit appears, slowly and softly…and just listens. Taylor is able to feel at ease and begins to move through all the emotions necessary to let go and move on. It is the most beautiful depiction of the kind of empathy I strive to give in those tricky circumstances when my children are overwhelmed with emotion, or even pushing me away.


I asked for this book for my birthday (my family is used to me asking for children’s literature by now, ha!) and my sister graciously gifted it to me. I immediately opened it and read it out loud to my kids, who sat and soaked it in with rapt attention. It has quickly become a favorite that they have been asking to read everyday. My 6 year old even “read” it to my 2 and a half year old before bed tonight.


The illustrations are gorgeous, and the flow of the story is seamless and effortless. I appreciate the opportunities it gives for children to interrupt with questions, or remark on what they notice in the drawings. It’s wonderful to see Taylor moving through different feelings and to see the expressions change. My son even exclaimed “that’s a MAD face” and mimicked it himself, which gave me the perfect opportunity to speak to him about the times when he has felt mad, or even when he’s seen me feel mad. That’s what books like this one do. They make space for those reflective conversations to happen organically, and provide a chance to revisit scary or sad moments within the safety of a story…or the safety of distance from the actual event.

It is stories like this that help simplify my overthinking mind and help me remember that there is precious little for me to do when someone else is upset. That being fully present is often more than enough to let someone know they are heard and supported as they figure things out. I need stories like this to share with my children because they help all of us figure out better ways to be together, and care for each other.

I know this will be one of those books we will read a thousand times, and always delight in. It’s definitely what I call a “keeper.”



To check out Robin Einzig’s work, look here.

And to order a copy of The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld, look here.


It’s Not Goodbye After All

“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

~Joseph Campbell

I haven’t really begun to process all the emotions that have been coming up for me as I think about the end of this school year, specifically because my daughter (who just turned 6) is moving on to a new school, on to first grade. She started coming here when she was just 2 and a half. She has spent more than half of her life within the walls of this school. She has been barefoot the majority of the time, hanging in the branches of our beloved olive tree, and making meaningful connections with so many children and teachers. She has lived here…really lived. She has dug her hands into the work of childhood- come home painted, sandy, exhausted, full of new wonderings. Her confidence has flourished, and her voice has strengthened. Her stories have been heard and shared and cherished.

Whenever I really contemplate the reality of her departure, I well up…and a bubble of grief mounts in my heart. How have these years flown by so fast, and how did her once petite stature give way to the long and lean girl who stands in front of me now? How can this be the end already?


A couple weeks ago, my girl and I went to see her friend perform in a local children’s production of The Little Mermaid. I knew a few children who were in the play because they had been in my class when I was a teacher, and I loved seeing them up on that stage. But I was dumbfounded after the play was over when a woman came to me and said “Sara, hi! Nice to see you again! Did you recognize Emme up there?”

During the play I remember thinking how wonderful the lead actress was…she was about 10 or 11, and sang and acted with charm and grace. She was wearing a long red wig of course, à la Ariel, so naturally her appearance was drastically different when she removed it to uncover her blonde locks. She was an alumni of our school and I couldn’t believe how much she had grown…of course I recognized her! My mind was flooded with memories of the 4-year- old version of her. She was funny, bright, clever and developed a particular fondness for a hat that looked like a stuffed buffalo head. I remember, with clarity, a very specific picture of her wearing it- looking like she was about to charge whoever was taking the photo of her.

As I congratulated her, and gushed about how talented I thought she was, she smiled and seemed grateful. It became quite clear that her memories of me were fuzzy at best, and when I said “I was your teacher a long time ago” the light of recognition didn’t seem to glow behind her eyes. I didn’t take this personally, of course, and I definitely recall the overwhelming atmosphere that occurs post play, when many faces are swimming all around you to pat you on the back and congratulate you. I was a drama kid, after all. She thanked me and ran off with a friend, and that was that.

I didn’t feel defeated after our little exchange, I felt curious. I felt like a seed was planted in my mind and as I began to really reflect on it, questions started growing.

What is our impact as teachers of young children?

How does our relationship with each child guide them through their inevitable transition out into the “real” world?

What really matters most? The experiences children have here, or the memories they have of those experiences?

After they leave this place, what do they carry with them?


As I continue to reflect on these questions I think about what I know about children. Children, of course, are mindful by nature. They are present and aware and engaged. When they are in it, THEY ARE IN IT. They experience the world with all their senses attuned. They are intuitive, empathic and industrious. I look at the children at play in our yard and I see so much going on that it’s difficult to keep track of the multitude of collective experiences they are having. On any given day (actually more like, at any given moment) you can see children involved in worthwhile things like building together, playing family, cooking in our mud kitchen, helping our garden teacher, Shannon, harvest something new, laying in the shade of our trees, chasing each other wildly, sitting on the hill listening to stories, carving riverscapes in the sand, filling buckets, collecting treasures, testing out their newly folded paper airplanes, or putting on a show.

Maybe to some this looks like frivolity, or “wasting time” but to the children who are invested in these experiences, they are deeply meaningful.


My intent is not to idealize, or paint a totally utopian picture of childhood, of course. There are shared experiences that are meaningful for entirely different reasons that occur on a daily basis here too. Conflict and sadness are woven into the fabric of everyday. Especially in this last week of school…there is a palpable restless and anxious energy that hangs in the air as teachers and kids prepare for saying goodbye. Everyone is tired, and the children who are moving on to kindergarten are acutely aware of the looming transition.

I was discussing some of these things with a colleague recently, and she shared some of her feelings about the very real emotional impact that the work we do has…how heavy it can feel sometimes. She also shared how encouraged she felt when another colleague of ours shared some pictures that beautifully captured the connections that the children have made with each other here this year…and those connections are what the children internalize and carry out the door when they leave. In the bustle of working together, it is easy to forget the significance of ordinary moments that the children have on a day to day basis, and how these bonds and relationships inform the people that they are continually blossoming into. And just like they don’t remember the experience of being born, or their first birthday, that doesn’t mean those events didn’t hold value and worth. Remembering them is secondary to living them.


It is these personal narratives that the children unfold (I almost imagine them as petals blooming out of a flower) that become such an integral part of WHO they are. And that cannot be diminished or undone. So even if we are forgotten, we will always be a part of each other’s story.

No goodbyes necessary.

Finding Comfort In Conflict

By Kelsie Castro

“Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.”

-Brene Brown

In a reflection between some of my colleagues and I, an interesting thought entered my mind about the conflicts that we had seen a lot of recently. Thinking specifically of an occurrence between two “best friends” in the early morning that was very emotional for both parties, this idea of conflicts between friends stuck with me. As I continued to reflect on my way home I began to wonder, what does conflict really mean for children?

Taking a step back for a moment and letting this question simmer, I thought a little more about our image of conflict. When thinking about conflict especially among children I think the most common thing for people to focus on is the responses those engaged in it have toward one another. We imagine the yelling, fighting, hitting, name calling, etc. that comes out in full force for many children (and sometimes even adults) when they are challenging someone else. Reflecting on this I started to think about what people might see if they looked past all of those loud, scary noises and movements, and instead stopped to consider the emotions behind it all.

Artist: Cordelia, age 7 1/2 (Little Owl alumni)

Within each conflict there is a feeling there, something that is telling that person to scream, to hit and to lash out. Something in them that says “You NEED this!” These feelings and the need for them to exist is exactly why conflict is so integral to our being in the first place. In order for us to grow and develop into the people that we want to be, to realize our true selves, and to learn to advocate for the things we believe, we must experience conflict. And by this I don’t mean the little arguments we have with people or disagreements that are easily resolved, I mean real, raw, emotionally taxing types of conflict.

But what happens when people, especially children, don’t feel comfortable enough to express these big emotions, to feel their anger, disappointment, etc. to its fullest extent?

In our parent conferences a few weeks ago, one of my coworkers told a pair of parents who were concerned about their child’s strong reactions to feeling angry, frustrated, etc. that this is actually something we as teachers hope to see, a side of the children that we want to know. I recall her telling them that when a child yells at her or does something to challenge her for the first time the thought that comes to her mind is actually “Yes! They are finally comfortable here!”

Sienna (age 3) drew anger.
Sienna drew sadness.

Thinking about what my colleague shared I realize that this is a whole other side of conflict that so many people, especially parents, don’t tend to see. When we imagine those moments of frustration where children are kicking and screaming or those times when they are in tears on the floor, we are so wrapped up in our own frustration with what’s going on and with the idea of being challenged in that way, that we don’t see them reaching out and telling us with their bodies and their cries, “I need to feel this and I know I’m safe here.”

This is important to consider because it gives us an opportunity to view conflict, especially with those we are closest to, in a whole new light. When we engage in conflict what it actually says is that we are comfortable enough with each other to disagree, to let go of our inhibitions, to have honest reactions and to, in many ways, show them our “worst selves.” It is us being unafraid to speak our minds and realizing that it is okay in this space and with these people to be vulnerable.

Think for a moment about the the people you tend to challenge most or the people who challenge you. Chances are the people who come to mind when you think about challenge and conflict are people you are closest to. They are your partner, child, coworker, friend, family member; a person with whom you know a mutual love and respect will exist even in times when you are extremely frustrated with one another.

I think we all know it’s much easier to be joyful when the energy around you is joyful too. In fact, I’m sure many of us have had moments in our own lives when we’ve tried to mask our feelings or bury them inside to avoid being seen as the “negative” or “difficult” person in a situation. We might have conceded when we really didn’t want to concede, given up on an idea to make way for someone else’s, or even pretended to be happy in times when we actually felt really broken inside.

When you are in conflict with someone you know, and who you know cares about you, you are freed from that worry that you won’t be accepted or won’t be loved and don’t have to hold those feelings back. You can be vulnerable, be yourself, and bring all those challenging emotions to the surface, eventually making space for resolutions and repairs in that relationship to occur.

These feelings, the fear of being “that person,” is something that is not unique to adults even though I think we tend to believe it is. Even in children that feeling is there, picking at them in those moments when someones pushes them over, takes one of their toys, or makes them uncomfortable in some way. There is surely a desire to do something, to give into that voice in their brain that tells them this is not okay and wants them to yell and to fight back, but the worry of how others will react is often too strong. This is why conflict is actually a really beautiful thing. It’s not just a yelling match or a power struggle, it’s a chance for children to feel empowered and for them to advocate for themselves especially to those they are close to.

It’s in those moments when we see children find that courage and open up to someone in a sometimes painfully messy way, that we begin to see not only the importance of conflict but also why children feel the need to engage in it. For children, those times when they are expressing how frustrated, angry, or upset they are (in whatever form that takes) are really them sharing with those around them how comfortable they are. It doesn’t mean they dislike the person they are challenging or that they don’t want to spend time with them but rather that they want them to understand who they are, what they are feeling, and why they are feeling that way.

Atlas (age 4) “Anger is black but there’s rainbows all around.”

In reality conflict is a connective force, helping children and people break down walls often times without them even realizing it. It opens up parts of us that we usually don’t want seen and allows the people around us to connect with who we are on a much deeper level. It is what brings balance to our relationships, and creates a space for vulnerability to live. A space where children and even adults to be their whole selves and when the right conditions are set, where a person can trust that they will be accepted even when things are hard.

Considering this I ask you, in the context of your own lives to ponder these questions… Can a relationship truly be healthy if it doesn’t include some level of challenge or conflict? Can love and mutual respect for one another occur in an environment where conflict is not allowed or supported? Is it possibly to realize the depth of our connection to others if we have never been challenged by them and had to work together to a resolution?

“This Is Me!”

By Chelsea Hepner

“The value of identity, of course, is that it so often comes with purpose.”

~Richard Grant

Throughout the year, the Green Side (4 and 5 year olds) have been focusing on different projects centered around the idea of self-identity. The teachers have been thinking about different ways for the children to explore and express who they are. One way that this took shape was creating self-portraits. The children were given a mirror for this project and encouraged to take a few minutes to study their face. As they did this, I asked questions such as:

“What do you notice about yourself?”

“What kind of shapes make up your face? Your eyes, your mouth, your nose?”

“What colors do you see?”

The children really took the time to slow down and study their unique features and thought about how they wanted to represent them.


One thing that came up while doing self-portraits was the lack of skin colored oil pastels. Some children were okay with using green and pink to draw their faces, but others were looking for a color that matched their skin. We quickly realized there was only one shade of brown and one shade of peach. This sparked a conversation about the variety of skin tones. Vanessa explained, “We all need different colors because our skin in different colors.” James also shared, “We growed different with different skin.” I suggested that we could mix paint and make new colors. Many children were very excited about this idea and were quick to come be a part of this work.

In small groups, the children studied their skin and different paint colors to figure out which colors they needed to mix. They thoroughly enjoyed mixing the paint and testing the new color against their skin, adding more, and different colors as needed. The children seemed proud and excited when they felt that they had created a color that matched themselves. It is a special and unique color that truly belongs to the them and many children have even decided to name their blend! The children also had an opportunity to add their new paint color to a canvas, a place where they can see their color along with their peers.


Naming our colors…

“Light Brown”- James H.

“Chocolatey”- Beatrice

“Elliotte Color”-Elliote

“Rice Crispie”- Max

Butterfly”_ Vanessa


As a teacher, I feel that it is important to give young children opportunities to reflect about who they are and what makes them feel special, confident and unique.  Self-portraits require the artists to reflect and ask themselves, “How do I see myself?” “How am I going to represent myself on paper?” These projects have also brought up wonderful conversations about diversity. What do we have in common? How are we different from each other?

I’m excited to continue this work and see where it will take us, as we continue to think of new ways to share about, and express who we are.



Chelsea has continued working with children in creating self-portraits that will become a biography book for the Green Side families. The stunning collection can be viewed in the slideshow below, or on the Green Side at Little Owl. Please feel free to come take a look at the meaningful and detailed portraits the children have worked so hard to paint. Can you see their individual sense of self shining through in their work? The “spark” of each child embedded in their thoughtful expressions?

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It’s About the Story

By Kelsie Castro

“How many times have you noticed that it’s the little quiet moments in the midst of life that seem to give the rest extra-special meaning?”

~Fred Rogers

As Calder and I were standing together in the backyard, we heard a voice yelling from the sand box. We looked over to see Carolina M. peeking around the climbing wall, gesturing us over to the place where she was standing.

“Hey! Come look at this cool thing I made.”

Calder and I walked over to the sandbox where Carolina excitedly pointed to a spot on the ground. I asked, “Is this the cool thing you wanted to show us?”


“Yeah, it’s about a muddy puddle” Carolina replied, giggling at the thought that must have entered her mind when she said the name out loud.

Calder and I looked closer at Carolina’s work, noticing the designs she had created with her shovel in the sand. Calder, admiring the sand art, reached down to feel the texture. As Calder’s hand stroked the side of Carolina’s creation she looked at him and said, “It needs some white sand now.”

Together the two of them gathered and sprinkled sand on the design, taking a step back when they were finished to admire the changes they added together. With a thoughtful look Carolina looked at the creation and then at me and said,

 “Now it’s about a story.”

 Hearing Carolina’s words I immediately began to think about the story that this new creation was telling. In my mind the story was one of collaboration. It was about the way she had inspired him, the work the two of them had put into it, and the way that Carolina’s vision grew when she invited someone else in. In my eyes, as the admirer of their art, this story was about connection and communication. It was, like much of the art and experiences that happen here, about the story.

Reflecting on this more however, I realized that the reason this was the story I saw, the reason I could look a little deeper and recognize that process, was because I was there. I had the opportunity to see this work in action and to see the collaboration that had taken place first hand. I was able to understand why these marks in the sand were more than just that. But what if I wasn’t there to see Carolina’s excitement or to witness the way Calder looked at her designs? Would this creation be as meaningful to me?

As I wondered more about this, I thought about our parents, and how many of them don’t get a chance to see their child’s work in motion and how much they want to feel their children in the process. Thinking about those families I wondered how we could make that more of a reality. What could we do to help them see that these marks in the sand were actually something special and meaningful. I wondered how we could help families see that the work that children do is always about a story.