Children’s stories made by children: Claude Monet travels 80 million years back in time, and paints a well behaved T-Rex.



Teaching kids geography and history with Napoleon, Wellington and Metternich

More late afternoon fun with a costumed history and geography lesson – this time with Napoleon Buonaparte, the Duke of Wellington and diplomat Klemens von Metternich. The kids can say where each key 19th century person is from, their job, why they were important and what happened to them (including the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon’s prison at Elba and Saint Helena’s, and the restructuring of Europe through Metternich’s diplomacy.)

Lots of geography – from Europe to the south Atlantic Ocean – covered here, while  real-life history can compete any story the boys can invent (and they can invent some great stories 🙂 ).

Why wait for Carnival? Getting into character – and into engaged learning

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 An English lesson about London, England and Great Britain – in costume and in character – makes kids so eager to participate that learning is effortless! 

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Note: the child in the video above, presenting London, knew very little English, and also very little about Tudor history and the current royal family until ten minutes before he did the presentation.  I am so proud of him! 

Carnival is not around the corner, but Halloween is only about five weeks away.  Why wait, though?  Since I have about 150 costumes (for both adults and children) in my collection, I like to use them whenever I can. As a foreign language teacher (who uses a strong communicative approach through drama and music), adding some festivity to any lesson is guaranteed to get children to learn their lesson, provided you let them know that the costumes are part of a lesson, rather than a free-for-all.

Last week we had a lesson about England and Great Britain, with a focus on London and some of England’s most famous monarchs.  We also included Scotland and the boys in the class were amused by the Scottish kilt, until I reminded them of the many kinds of traditional clothes. from around the world that include some kind of “skirt” worn by men.

Here are some photos of the teacher (Yours Truly) dressed as Queen Elizabeth the First, accompanied by a Queen’s Guard (yes, I know, the Palace Guards with the tall bearskin hats did not exist in Tudor times but from the Battle of Waterloo onwards – but the boy in that costume was able to explain to the class that he is in the service of the second Queen Elizabeth, the current monarch of Great Britain.)

Another child dressed as the formidable King Henry the Eighth.  He was loved pretending to be “my father”  :).

Included in this post is a video of a presentation of London, whose installation is made up of an amazing 3D map of the city (the children loved inserting the 3D representations of London’s historic and modern buildings into the spongy map base, and then adding the labels.)  There are also dolls representing King Henry the Eighth, Queen Elizabeth the First, her buddy William Shakespeare, Ada Lovelace, Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes. There is also a plastic doll of England’s current Queen Elizabeth the Second, solar-powered to wave her hand to the crowds :).  Of course, there are lots of colorful photos of the many famous London landmarks, and a pop-up book as well.  Between the 3D map, the photos, the pop-up book, the realia and the dolls, there are enough materials to give each student a useful role in presenting London.

The children are aware that these historic characters did not all live at the same time, and were able to put them onto a five-century-long timeline.

I am so proud of these kids.  Most of them have not been in Germany longer than two years.  Fluent in German already (and helping me to get fluent in German as well), they are now learning English, and having a lot of fun in the process! Not to mention they can help tourists find their way around London using an Underground map (from my realia collection), tell you plenty of things about Tudor history, and describe Britain’s current royal family.

This lesson promoted the following vocabulary and acquired skills:

  1.  the family
  2. clothes (of the past and the present)
  3. the present and the past tense
  4. correct placement of people and events in history
  5. political geography and culture
  6. public performance
  7. team-work and confidence building through fun!




The Power of Play

“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori

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Kids love to play.  Playing helps them to be happy, to explore, to create original thoughts and to express themselves without guidance.  Most importantly, playing helps children make sense of the world around them. 

The first independent learning that  a child will ever experience, is through play. Playing is a such a powerful thing!

Obviously, I have been watching children play all my life.  As an educator, I have been observing children play for as long as I can remember being a teacher (nearly 17 years to date 🙂 ).

Yet I never fully appreciated the POWER in their playing – until I started teaching English (with Spanish and French as occasional lessons), in a Montessori school, seven years ago.  It was in such an environment that I finally “got it” about why play is so important and so powerful.  For the first time, I started to see children playing with new eyes.  This was not just play I was observing.  This was work.  

Have you ever taken care of a child (or spent time with your own child or students), and said something to that child, while he or she was playing – only to find your words falling on deaf ears? Have you ever had to physically interrupt your child from playing – a tap on the shoulder, for example, because, lost in the deep focus of the play activity, that was the only way the child could “hear” you?


If your answer is yes, then that is not surprising at all, because what you observed was far more than just play.  A child working on an art project – whether devised by the teacher, parent or by the child, is using the hands to create something first devised by the mind, or to realise something tangible without having a goal initially, but to “see what will happen”  with the materials once the work is done.  According to philosopher and pedagogue Maria Montessori, the child “does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 25.)  And if a child’s play can be considered by its own, intrinsic value, as a means to identify and solve problems, experiment with data and formulate questions (responding to the world around him or her as experienced with all five senses)  and indulge in his or her curiosity about the outcomes of his or her play, it is work in a child’s eyes.

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This is true even if the child is not highly conscious of the fact that he or she has actually done anything that is work in the conventional sense of the word: it can be guided or it can be 100 percent agenda-free.  There is fantasy play with dolls and toy animals that are given a voice, where life is breathed into them through the voice and hands of the child.  I am talking about a child mesmerised by the feeling of various materials (modelling clay, sand, mud, different types of paper) between the fingers.  I am thinking about the quirky things that children do when they are given funny toys and told to simply create stories with those toys, and how they enjoy making a doll character “smell the breath” of a “dead [toy] dinosaur”, or tickle the feet of a “sleeping” plush toy gorilla to “see” (or decide 😉 ) what that great big, fearsome animal will do to the “tickler” when he wakes up.

Then there is also fantasy play that does include an agenda – an academic one  that includes real people from our time or from the past.  I use lots famous people in my English workshops-  and the learning of culture they represent or contribute to the world.  Encouraging make-believe not only  “involves multiple perspectives and the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions that reflect a critical feature of the child’s cognitive and social development” for the normal development of a child (Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., Beautiful Minds, 2012), but gives a teacher a chance to engage children in learning about the great minds of scientists and artists and the work those masters did which, like children, was “play ‘at work'”:

Below, a second grade boy impersonates Leonardo Da Vinci.  His contemporaries complained that he took ages to complete a task or never completed it at all, in addition to abandoning it to take up something else.

Below,  Degas, played by a third grade girl, is grumpy because his “work is interrupted” by the curious class members.  They are happy to learn about impressionism and art history, through make-believe:

Kaufman also talks about “the important concept of ‘theory of mind,’ [as]  an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable, is closely related to  imaginative play.” (Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Leslie, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1990; Singer & Singer, 2005).

Play is what children do best. We have all done it, and our children do it too. It is a very special kind of work that gives pleasure and therefore motivation.

Back in the 5th century B.C.,  Confucius said:  “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”.  If this is true, then play is every child (and adult’s) opportunity to do something that is both pleasurable and useful.  Play gives children the chance to practice what they are working on, the chance to practice what they are learning.  “Play is the work of the child”, said Maria Montessori at the start of the 20th century.  By extension, she continues to say that “a child’s work is the man [or woman] who he [or she] will become.”

The Power of Play:  What are the benefits that the child (and his or her family) get to enjoy? What are the powers?

  1. Problem-solving:  Play helps a child to develop all these wonderful and necessary life skills.  How about the child that understands how frustrating but necessary it is to do something over and over again in order to produce a result, despite countless failures?  Below, a “scientist” is given a gift of two robots for his birthday.   When the robot does not follow his commands properly because it is not yet “programmed properly”, the “scientist” must keep trying to fix the problem, the way he sees his parents do, in the adult world.  And when the robots are finally programmed, the scientist discovers the irony of the statement “Be careful what you wish for …” :

2.  Practicing empathy and tolerance: how many times have we seen children pretending to be a mother comforting a child? Or pretending to work in a zoo, “washing and feeding” the animals?

Or practicing what they are taught regarding loyalty and kindness to those who love them?As wisely stated by Scott Barry Kaufmann (Beautiful Minds, 2012): “When children use toys to  introduce possible scenarios or friends, the representation of multiple perspectives occurs naturally.”

In the “sequel” to the above video, evil does not ultimately triumph; the young student chooses, in his subsequent English workshop, to have a natural catastrophe kill Darth Vader – using the same meteor that fell on Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs! See below: 

3.  Play allows for what psychologist Sandra Russ (2004) calls divergent thinking (the ability to come up with many  different ideas, story themes, and symbols) and reinforcement of previous learning  – including the learning of academic subjects, historical notions and cultural practices from around the world.  Given a bunch of toys, and breathing life into them, a child can both internalise and integrate elements of a teacher’s lesson (the culture content which I always include in my English lessons) into his play.   I tell a second grader who loves Star Wars about the tradition of English knighthood, both medieval and modern and this is what he comes up with:

The above video also shows another component and benefit of the power of play – laughter and creativity – which lead us to #5, below:

5.   CREATIVITY! I call it “a child’s magic realism“. I love the oxymoron of the words “magic realism”.  And I love its definition by Merriam Webster. “a literary genre or style [associated especially with Latin America] that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.”  Watch the video below for an example of  a child’s magic realism – putting Frida Khalo, Mozart, Beethoven, a T-Rex and a Firefly together into a Mexican jungle and creating a story.   Pure creative genius that comes from the power of play: 

There is also Magical Realism that involves other Famous People : Take Gandhi, who lost his sandal, for example – a cute little improvisation entirely thought up by a first grader, on the spot!

Or the toy lobster (“Mr. Lobster”) who has committed some “crime” and is now in “court”. What will be the final verdict?

Sometimes play is too much fun for me not to get involved. I love toys as much as children do! I want to play as well. In English, of course!
Our class restaurant is irresistible:

Watch the five year old waiter in this video improve his service skills as he progresses through the role play, and how well he (and the others) learn English expressions for use in the restaurant – and the kids’ spontaneous improvisation throughout this little video. I love their creative “in the moment” contributions, mixed in with my suggestions.

Long live the power of a child’s play … and the power of the imagination!

A Child’s Language Learning Through Performance

A Teacher’s Message to Parents On Their Child’s Learning Through Performance:

       As a parent, what better way to KNOW you are getting results with your child’s learning?

Most children are not too camera-shy. Some are, and I make sure from the start, that they know they don’t have to be in the “spotlight” – or in the range of the camera. Sometimes I omit using a camera all together. In every lesson, however, one thing I always use, that I never forget, is performance. In every part of every lesson there is some performance.  It can last two seconds, or it can last two minutes. Even two hours. By the middle or end of the lessons, we are piecing together the “parts” and making a longer performance. If possible, it is filmed, but not always. The key is that the children show what they learned through some performance. A performance can be a “reporting out” of a city, a four-minute comedy, a story using puppets of Famous People, dinosaurs, their favorite toys, or themselves. A performance can be a dance or a song. Or showing their families how they operate a restaurant, a Jungle Hospital, or a Fortune Telling business.

      Children inherently enjoy make-believe. By extension, children quickly get used to performing and they all love it!

fortune-telling-the-future-3rd-grade first-grade-fortune-teller

Above: Czech second graders expressing the future tense in English: “At the Fortune Teller’s“– Only 100 crowns (4 euros) per question! There are all kinds of roles for such a big Fortune Telling business to run successfully! Pre-set questions and answers are provided for children to practice their literacy and inspire them to think of their own questions and answers, which they write and add to the list. 


Above: commands, in the affirmative (“Do it! Take the money!”) and negative (“Don’t do it! Don’t take the money”) and Opposite Words: “It’s good / It’s bad”, “It’s all right / It’s wrong” and “You’ll be happy / He’ll be sad”, etc.) in our mini-play “Good versus Evil”. Here to the right, the Devil is winning, but it’s not the end yet. There is a morally sound (and happy) ending to this little play and the kids really learn a lot of words – as well as making the right moral choices, and coming up with reasons why – on their own :). 


Above left: I love when parents attend a workshop and remain throughout the workshop, to see for themselves what kind of fun their child is having. It also adds to the dynamic!  Plus the parents can improve their English by being there, and continue the fun at home.  This is a dress rehearsal but really like a first performance. The scripted lines which the kids use for literacy practice, as well as for the play, were taken away later 😉

Above right: Performance of “Red, Yellow, Green!” (an ESL play for children by Shelly Vernon), which involves a first-time bus driver – who doesn’t know what the colors mean on the traffic lights! The passengers explain it to him.


Above: First graders draw a picture carefully, thinking about what they are drawing, and why. Then they tell me and each other all about it. Everyone also learns how to ask questions in English about each others’ work. I encourage the children to ask questions to do with nature and science,  world history, art, Famous People, geography … or improvised story-telling questions with words like where, when, how, what happened, etc… A video recording is sent home, and parents can ask the child further questions. They will reinforce the child’s sense of ownership, and make him or her an expert.

As a parent, I would want to know as much as I can about what is going on in my son or daughter’s class time. I would be curious to see and hear what they see and hear, what they play with, and see how they react to their experience in “real time”.

I would love to see my child in the actual process of learning.  I would be curious to know:

  • What they are doing, and how.


Above: Comic skit – identifying and locating human organs.  The surgeon is new and it’s his first surgery! He got so nervous that he forgot where the organs are on the human body.  The others in the picture “take time off their job” and come to help him :).  Many parents and the classroom teacher are also there to observe the operation.

  • How  kids are able to remember and say so much about the city of Prague and the customs and history of the Czech Republic … in English! They can talk about their native country as well:


Above:  A wonderful third grader, taking part in a presentation on Prague and the Czech Republic, and who loves my Famous People dolls, asked me if I had one of the Czech President, Miloš Zeman.   When I said no, but to find a doll that looks like him, she delved into my huge collection, and chose the presenter of “the Muppet Show” to represent him.  I must say, she made quite a good choice!  🙂

img_4714  Talented Czech-Dutch and Czech-Syrian and straight-up Czech third graders pose for  photos after giving a wonderful English-language presentation on Prague and the Czech Republic. They are the perfect “home ambassadors”!


A first grader, half Czech, half Japanese, shows Japan on the map, introduces herself and shares some of her international origins in English.


A first grader of Indian and Czech descent does the same.

Any parent knows full well how it feels to not be sure what is going on in the classroom of his or her child, and to wonder if the teacher’s word is enough.

Yes, there is parent-teacher communication by phone, email or in person. There are parent-teacher open house afternoons, and there are conferences and consultations. Some parents bring their children to such meetings.

But as a parent, you already know that the teacher’s word – while presumably sincere – will never FULLY reveal to a parent how a child is doing – not in every detail – unless the parent is IN the classroom while the teacher and the child are doing their job.

And even when your own child tells you things, you don’t always understand the full context behind the “wild” and “fantastical” things that he or she shares with you at the dinner table one evening. Wouldn’t you be curious to see what your son or daughter means when he or she tells you that “Queen Elizabeth made R2D2 a knight?”

As as a parent, you know that being present in the classroom on a regular basis is not possible for many reasons.

 All the more reason to see your child on stage or on video, reporting or performing! HAVE THE PROOF in front of you.  

The proof that your child can:

  • Listen and focus –


Children in character, listening to others performing, and waiting their turn to speak

  • Impersonate others


Second grader role-playing as Frida Khalo doing a self-portrait.

  • Learn, then SHOW others some scientific concepts, through a true story in American history …


Above: Benjamin Franklin’s very dangerous experiment with a key, a kite and a storm, proving to George Washington that lightning is made of electricity.  Dramatized by first grade boys.

  • … or explain a possible true story in Earth’s history.


A second-grader explains, through words and dramatization, how the dinosaurs went extinct.

  • Get a basic understanding of the public transport routes of a foreign city


Above: Third grader explains the basics of getting around London’s Underground.

  • Do role play with a sense of humor.

operation-human-organs-3rd-grade  operating-monkey

Kids enjoy make-believe even more when you give them some real data and facts to work with.  They love make-believe when they feel what they are doing is authentic:  knowing about hygiene and disinfection, germs, a cold operating theater, etc. … More anatomy practice … the kids must name the organs, say where they are using prepositions (“The stomach is under the lungs, the heart is behind the left lung”.  (Well, it is, using the paper models. )  In particular, children love performing transplant surgery :). 

 Performance: what better way to KNOW in advance that your child’s time – or yours – is NOT being wasted?


  •  he or she is having FUN while learning something useful?

first-graders-and-world-map-puzzle  Playing Geography Professors


A first grader describes tastes: this one is pomegranate syrup from her home country – which she describes as “sweet, sour and a little bitter”.  Sooner or later, everyone in the class wanted to take a turn, take a risk, try something, and say what it was like, in a kind of “taste survey”. (I kept them away from extremely spicy tastes, however, sticking to mild sweet chili sauces, pomegranate syrup as pictured above, mustard, dark chocolate, soy sauce, sesame seed oil and a few other non-extreme flavors of food.)


Welcome to the Tasting Festival! Here, first graders can taste a variety of flavors ranging from sweet, sour, salty, bitter, even spicy.  The tasting is optional; no one is forced, and with free choice come many volunteers :).  The children taste from a variety of sauces using tiny amounts on disposable wooden sticks.  We added a telephone to call for an ambulance because their teacher (me) tasted wasabi (I told them it was too spicy for them and if absolutely necessary, to ask their parents if they can taste wasabi at home in their own time.)  They loved watching me pretend that my mouth, ears and nose were on fire, and willingly got into role-play to call the ambulance!


A Czech third-grader plays doctor at a “holistic clinic” where only natural medicine is allowed and where “patients” are given advice on living a healthy lifestyle, as well as targeting specific health problems with holistic solutions. We discuss the problems (as experienced by the students themselves or vicariously through their families and friends) and we research the solutions together as a class. Extension:  the children get into character (doctor, nurse and patients) and we make a dramatic premise: a group of people stranded in the jungle after a plane crash.  Until help arrives, they must make the most of the natural resources there, including for matters of health.

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First graders playing at paleontologists, museum curators, professors, inspecting and cleaning “mammoth bones” (from a 3D puzzle) or describing other artifacts (I use real fossils such as trilobites, ammonites, petrified wood, animals trapped in amber, and more geologically recent items like lava rocks and giant pine cones from the Sequoia Park area of central California).

The 3D mammoth puzzle comes apart easily, so she had to be very careful with her brushing ;).   It never hurts for us all to practice being careful with things! There is no hurry, just a job done properly :).

Children must look on the other side of the fossils which are documented with their age (in millions of years), and answer my questions (I play student and they play the experts.)

  • he or she is becoming more confident – with English reading, writing and REPORTING OUT  “from” any place in the world? Like LONDON …



Third grade girls posing proudly after completing a detailed presentation of London.

Second grade boys show off a 3D map of London, a London pop-up book and a Queen’s Guard visiting the Tower of London.  The custodian of the Tower is on the right, the Beefeater teddy bear with the flowers in his hat.


What is old and what is new? A child shows and explains that “the doll is new”, the person is “very old” (from the past, not living), and that the book is “very old too. Published in 1813!” “What is the name of the book?” “Shakespeare’s Theatre”.


  • he or she can do a presentation on the famous English Henry the Eighth, or on USA presidents, USA history and geography … and practice ordinal numbers as well as learn the country’s history and culture.

danny-third-grade-with-george-washington-and-the-declaration-of-independence-usa-history  Left: third grader explains the beginnings of US political  history as an independent nation.

Above right and below right: first graders learning ordinal numbers (“the first president, the sixteenth president, the forty-forth president”/ “Henry’s first wife, second wife … last wife”, etc. ) and a bit about US history, before introducing the President dolls and reporting out. first-graders-misa-louisa-and-tania-and-the-usa-famous-people-misa-michael-louisa-and-tania-with-obama-washington-lincoln


Above left:  second graders complete a 3D puzzle map of the USA.  The final touch = the great Rocky Mountains! First the girls will fit the mountains in the indicated area.  Then we remove them for a moment, to see how many states they include, and which states those are. Later in the lesson, they will report back to me (and everyone else) what they learned and practiced to say.

  • you are making a worthy investment in your child’s multidisciplinary and global education? And in their and social development?


First graders match text to the planets, practicing literacy, then answer questions out loud.  Finally, they present the planets and their characteristics on their own, sometimes using puppets as the “presenters”. Note: the text strip “I am not a real planet” was moved to the paper strip with the word “Pluto”, but only after the photo was taken.

  • your child is making efforts to learn, without knowing it, because his job is to make his favorite toys “come to life”?


Above: Third grade boys blend real life 16th century samurai Myamoto Musashi with Star Wars characters, and create a story. I help them with the words but the plot is their creation. Here, Myamoto Musashi, a famous 16th century samurai, goes to the Future and meets both Yoda and Darth Vader. He must choose between the Light and the Dark sides of the Force. We use ideas from reading selected pages of this Star Wars book, or from any book!

Below, a second grader recreates the story of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” with modelling clay, and then tells the story in English, showing the pictures one by one to match them to the words she speaks. I also emphasize connectives – words like “and”, “but” and transitional words like “first”, “then”, “finally”, etc.


  • and reading (in English and in the home language too) becomes a PLEASURE, if it is part of a script or a “zombie restaurant” menu –

img_4553  Left: a first grade Zombie chef can read out the menu, and help the customers to read it as well, if they need help.  Kids learn how to read very quickly, on average.  Especially if reading (and calling things out loud) produce hilarious results: like getting a roasted monkey for dinner and it comes to life!

  • Perhaps your child loves getting to know the funny Famous People dolls in every English class …


Second grade girls create a little performance using Carmen, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Mozart, the latter playing his music while the the famous opera character and famous authors dance to his music.


We’ve been having so much fun! da-vinci-and-his-mona-lisa-nikola-first-gradevan-gogh-doll-painting-picture-margaret-first-grade margaret-first-grade-and-einstein-by-his-name-on-board-famous-people-lesson

Above: Children and adults alike love the Famous People dolls, which include painters Frida Khalo, Monet and Van Gogh, leaders Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth I, presidents George Washington and Barack Obama, samurai warrior Myamoto Musashi, composers Beethoven and Mozart, writers Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, shakers and movers like African-American W.E. Dubois, and scientists Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.

Indeed …

There is no better way for your child to learn English or anything else – than through performance.   There is no better way for YOU, the parent, to know, to empirically see and hear the RESULTS of your child’s learning, like performance.


Above:  a successful end to a great performance for parents and loved ones –

Because, when a child acts out the words through play, and prepares for a performance, he or she will never forget those words! Or the concepts behind them. Ever.


Above:  First graders as Camerawoman, Mozart, Professor of Letters, “Mini-Mozart”, and Film Director for the class production of The Alphabet Song.