‘But I’m not artistic’: how teachers shape kids’ creative development

Many adults believe they are not artistic and feel nervous about visual art. They vividly recall the moment when a teacher or family member discouraged their efforts to creatively express their ideas through drawing or art-making. Such early childhood experiences can affect developing confidence and learning potential throughout a child’s education and into adulthood.

If preschool educators lack the visual art knowledge and confidence to provide valuable art experiences, children’s potential to creatively express their ideas using visual symbols may be restricted.

Creative thinking and the ability to make meaning in many ways is the key to success in the 21st century. And in a world that values creative thinking it is concerning that children’s creative growth may be stifled even before they go to school.

The right to creativity

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 31) states that children of all ages have the right to access and fully participate in cultural and artistic life.

We know that the early childhood years lay the foundation for all future creative learning and development. That’s why it should worry us that some children may not have access to high-quality visual art education.

American educational scholar Elliot Eisner refers to this as the null curriculum – the learning that children miss out on when educators lack the subject knowledge, skills and self-confidence to deliver enriching visual art experiences.

The personal and professional beliefs of educators directly impact what and how they teach children. If an educator’s fear of art stifles a child’s individual learning style at a young age, this may prevent them from reaching their full potential later on.

How much play goes on in pre-school?

But aren’t the walls of early childhood centres plastered with children’s paintings and drawings? No doubt most people assume that preschools, more than any other education setting, provide creative environments and experiences that best support children’s artistic learning and potential. But this is not always the case.

Many early childhood educators lack the self-belief, skills and knowledge needed to provide quality visual arts experiences. They struggle to provide the types of experiences that support young children to access the many benefits of making visual art.

Visual art experiences enhance young children’s learning and development in many ways. These include intrinsic motivation, enjoyment, positive attitudes, cognitive problem solving, self-discipline, the development of tools for communication and meaning-making and fostering creativity and imagination, to name just a few.

In fact learner-centred environments like those you expect to find in early childhood services can increase children’s creativity scores.

Creative teachers

The problem is that these benefits only exist when effective, quality provisions are made by teachers.

The research that I am doing at the University of Wollongong is tackling this problem. I am finding that many early childhood educators doubt their own visual art knowledge and ability to deliver visual art experiences to children.

While educators value art as a central part of the early childhood curriculum, their beliefs about the purposes of art are confused. Some see art activities as a way to keep children busy. Others use art as a form of therapy or fine-motor development instead of as a tool for communication, problem-solving, and meaning making.

At the same time, the experiences offered to children in the name of art often consist of adult-directed crafts and activity sheets – instead of creative and open-ended use of quality art materials. A lack of content knowledge, art skills and confidence causes educators to justify the use of gimmicky commercial materials like glitter, pipe-cleaners and fluorescent feathers. They believe these materials are more fun for children.

Some educators believe they should actively teach children by modelling and demonstrating visual art skills. But others maintain an outdated hands-off approach and refuse to demonstrate art skills for fear of corrupting children’s natural artistic development. What is most concerning is that few early childhood educators recall the arts-based components of their pre-service training.

The place of the arts in the Australian school curriculum continues to be threatened and hotly debated. At the same time, references to the visual arts in the Australian Early Years Learning Framework are unclear and provide little guidance for educators. In this context governments, universities, and skills-based courses need to re-consider the training of all educators, give them confidence to overcome the insecurities they express about their ability to teach art and to embed the arts in their teaching.

British educator Ken Robinson blames formal schooling for killing off children’s creative potential. Actually, this process starts much earlier – when early childhood educators are not well trained in the artistic knowledge and mindset to nurture children’s imagination, meaning-making, and creative expression using visual art materials and methods.

If educators and communities do not nurture children’s artistic creativity in the vital early childhood years, their lifelong potential for engaged creative learning is stifled.


“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. “

“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. “

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Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.

But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

It’s true that some people grow up never encountering art of any kind, and are perfectly happy and live good and valuable lives, and in whose homes there are no books, and they don’t care much for pictures, and they can’t see the point of music. Well, that’s fine. I know people like that. They are good neighbours and useful citizens.

But other people, at some stage in their childhood or their youth, or maybe even their old age, come across something of a kind they’ve never dreamed of before. It is as alien to them as the dark side of the moon. But one day they hear a voice on the radio reading a poem, or they pass by a house with an open window where someone is playing the piano, or they see a poster of a particular painting on someone’s wall, and it strikes them a blow so hard and yet so gentle that they feel dizzy. Nothing prepared them for this. They suddenly realise that they’re filled with a hunger, though they had no idea of that just a minute ago; a hunger for something so sweet and so delicious that it almost breaks their heart. They almost cry, they feel sad and happy and alone and welcomed by this utterly new and strange experience, and they’re desperate to listen closer to the radio, they linger outside the window, they can’t take their eyes off the poster. They wanted this, they needed this as a starving person needs food, and they never knew. They had no idea.

That is what it’s like for a child who does need music or pictures or poetry to come across it by chance. If it weren’t for that chance, they might never have met it, and might have passed their whole lives in a state of cultural starvation without knowing it.

The effects of cultural starvation are not dramatic and swift. They’re not so easily visible.

And, as I say, some people, good people, kind friends and helpful citizens, just never experience it; they’re perfectly fulfilled without it. If all the books and all the music and all the paintings in the world were to disappear overnight, they wouldn’t feel any the worse; they wouldn’t even notice.

But that hunger exists in many children, and often it is never satisfied because it has never been awakened. Many children in every part of the world are starved for something that feeds and nourishes their soul in a way that nothing else ever could or ever would.

We say, correctly, that every child has a right to food and shelter, to education, to medical treatment, and so on. We must understand that every child has a right to the experience of culture. We must fully understand that without stories and poems and pictures and music, children will starve.

Written by Philip Pullman for the tenth anniversary of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2012.

“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. “

Why dance is just as important as math

Dance — and physical activity — should have the same status in schools as math, science and language. Psst: it may even help raise test scores, says Sir Ken Robinson.

For several years, I’ve been a patron of the London School of Contemporary Dance. In 2016, I was invited to give the annual lecture in honor of founding principal Robert Cohan, and I decided to talk about the role of dance in schools.

Before the lecture, I tweeted the title “Why Dance Is as Important as Math in Education.” I had a lot of positive responses and a number of incredulous ones. One tweet said, “Isn’t that going to be one of the shortest lectures ever?” Another said flatly, “Ken, dance is not as important as math.” One person tweeted, “So what? Telephones are more important than bananas. Ants are not as important as toilet ducks. Paper clips are more important than elbows.” (At least that was a creative response.) Some responses were more pertinent: “Is that so? Important for what and to whom? By the way I’m a math teacher.”

I’m not arguing against mathematics — it’s an indispensable part of the great creative adventure of the human mind. It’s also intimately involved with the dynamics of dance. Instead, this is an argument for equity in educating the whole child. I’m talking about the equal importance of dance with the other arts, languages, mathematics, sciences and the humanities in the general education of every child.

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Dance can help restore joy and stability in troubled lives and ease the tensions in schools that are disrupted by violence and bullying.

What is dance? It is the physical expression through movement and rhythm of relationships, feelings and ideas. Nobody invented dance. It is deep in the heart of every culture throughout history; dance is part of the pulse of humanity. It embraces multiple genres, styles and traditions and is constantly evolving. Its roles range from recreational to sacred and cover every form of social purpose.

Some people have long understood that dance is an essential part of life and education. In Dance Education around the World: Perspectives on Dance, Young People and Change, researchers Charlotte Svendler Nielsen and Stephanie Burridge bring together recent studies of the value of dance in all kinds of settings: from Finland to South Africa, from Ghana to Taiwan, from New Zealand to America. The low status of dance in schools is derived in part from the high status of conventional academic work, which associates intelligence mainly with verbal and mathematical reasoning. The studies collected by Nielsen and Burridge explore how a deeper understanding of dance challenges standard conceptions of intelligence and achievement and show the transformative power of movement for people of all ages and backgrounds. Dance can help restore joy and stability in troubled lives and ease the tensions in schools disrupted by violence and bullying.

A number of professional dance companies offer programs for schools.One of them is Dancing Classrooms, a nonprofit based in New York City, which brings ballroom dancing into elementary and middle schools in some of the most challenging districts in the country. Using dance, the organization aims to improve social relationships especially among genders and to enrich the culture of the schools by cultivating collaboration, respect and compassion. Founded in 1994 by the dancer Pierre Dulaine, the program now offers each school twenty sessions over ten weeks, culminating in a showcase.

Toni Walker, former principal of Lehigh Elementary School in Florida, shares this story from working with Dancing Classrooms. “When this young lady first came to Lehigh, the file on her was probably two inches thick,” Walker recalls. “She felt she needed to prove herself and make sure everyone knew she was strong and would fight.” The girl didn’t want to join the ballroom dancing program … but participation wasn’t optional. Soon, she found she had a natural ability. “In the next lesson, she had a little bit of a different attitude and we didn’t have to fight with her to dance,” Walker remembers. “She just got in line.”

By the third and fourth lessons, Walker says, the student was transformed: “She carries herself differently; she speaks differently; she is kind; she is respectful; she has not had one [disciplinary notice], not one. Her mother can’t believe what she sees. It’s amazing. Amazing. The program is far greater than people understand.”

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In one evaluation, 95 percent of teachers said that, as a result of dancing together, students’ abilities to cooperate and collaborate improved.

Dance education has important benefits for students’ social relationships, particularly among genders and age groups. Many forms of dance, including ballroom, are inherently social. They involve moving together in synchrony and empathy, with direct physical contact. In an evaluation of Dancing Classrooms in New York City, 95 percent of teachers said that as a result of dancing together, there was a demonstrable improvement in students’ abilities to cooperate and collaborate. In a survey in Los Angeles, 66 percent of school principals said that after being in the program, their students showed an increased acceptance of others, and 81 percent of students said they treated others with more respect. Dance has economic benefits, too. As well as being a field of employment, dance promotes many of the personal qualities that employers recognize as essential in a collaborative, adaptable workforce.

One principal was especially impressed by the improvements in reading and math scores among her fifth-grade students.“There are no ifs, ands, or buts about the program’s impact in the academic lives of our children,” says Lois Habtes of the Emanuel Benjamin Oliver Elementary School in the Virgin Islands. “When I first got here, they were failing scores. Last year — our second year in the program — they got up to 83 percent. This year, our fifth grade scored 85 percent on the reading test, the highest in the school.”

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Dance and theater are mostly seen as second-class citizens in schools.

It’s not just dance, of course. The success of Dancing Classrooms is an example of the well-documented relationship between physical activity and educational achievement. The trend in most US school districts is to cut phys ed and similar programs in favor of increasing time for math, science and English. These measures have simply not improved achievement as so many policy makers assumed they would.

A panel of researchers in kinesiology and pediatrics conducted a massive review of more than 850 studies about the effects of physical activity on school-age children. Most of the studies measured the effects of 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity three to five days a week on many factors — physical factors such as obesity, cardiovascular fitness, blood pressure and bone density, as well as depression, anxiety, self-concept and academic performance. Based on strong evidence in a number of these categories, the panel firmly recommended that students should participate in one hour (or more) of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. Looking specifically at academic performance, the panel found strong evidence to support the conclusion that “physical activity has a positive influence on memory, concentration and classroom behavior.”

Most children in public schools in the US receive some education in music and visual arts, patchy though it often is. But dance and theater are mostly seen as second-class citizens, and opportunities in the arts, in general, are lowest for students in areas of high poverty. “There are still millions of students who do not have access to any arts instruction. Many of them are in our poorer communities where the programs are arguably needed the most,” says Bob Morrison, the founder and director of Quadrant Research.

Would it be okay to have millions of students without access to math or language arts? he asks. “Of course not, and it should not be tolerated in the arts. There is a persistent myth that arts education is for the gifted and talented, but we know that the arts benefit everyone regardless of their vocational pathways,” he says. “We don’t teach math solely to create mathematicians, and we don’t teach writing solely to create the next generation of novelists. The same holds true for the arts. We teach them to create well-rounded citizens who can apply the skills, knowledge and experience from being involved in the arts to their careers and lives.”


Children to learn how to cope with death through music project

Grief and death are often seen as taboo subjects that children should be protected from – but an innovative musical project aims to turn that on its head.

Pupils from Victoria Primary School in Edinburgh teamed up with patients at nearby St Columba’s Hospice to confront those difficult conversations, and offer comfort and hope through music.

Children and patients took part in workshops to write songs about how people can cope with death, dying, and illness.

Teachers were also given bereavement training to better equip them to support children when they lose someone close to them, while charity Fischy Music helped the children and patients with song-writing.

This week, the children performed the final songs at a special event at the hospice.

Patient Pamela Curran said the project “meant the world” to her, adding: “The children go through all the emotions as well as the cancer patients, so it was just so lovely to bond.”

The team behind the project hope it will encourage the wider community to have more open conversations around death.

Victoria Primary headteacher Laura Thomson said: “It is vital that we talk to children about death.

“Most children will be affected by the death of someone in their family or family friends and they need to know what this means practically and how to deal with this emotionally too.

“We look forward to performing our songs and developing resources for all schools to share.”

Donna Hastings, family support worker at St Columba’s Hospice, added: “If children are living with any kind of change or if somebody has a terminal illness or if a child has been bereaved, we wanted school to be best placed to support them.

“That means being able to have conversations with them. It also allows the children to talk to each other and to understand how somebody might be feeling.”


This PhD Student is Building a Mental Health App For Black Youth

Persisting stigmas around mental health can make it difficult for Black youth to receive the help they need. They’re often forced to navigate misconceptions within their communities and anti-Blackness within the medical industry. One North Carolina based grad student is using tech to erase some of those barriers.

Henry Willis, a PhD student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Clinical Psychology Graduate Program, is developing a mental health app for Black youth.

Finding ways to provide Black youth mental health resources is an absolute necessity.  Everyday factors of being Black — like exposure to racism — can drastically impact people’s mental health.

This is something Willis himself noticed in his own research.

“I’ve published papers that have looked at how things such as online racial discrimination can lead to increased PTSD symptoms, or how positive racial identity beliefs can lead to better mental health over time, for African American youth” Willis told AfroTech.

Willis’ research inspired him to find an innovative way to help Black youth cope with stress and discrimination through technology. Willis described the app as not only providing a gateway for promoting better mental health, but also offering users ways to deal with things unique to the Black experience.

When most people think of apps, ones for Black mental health don’t immediately come to mind. But for Willis, it made perfect sense, as he noticed the popularity of mobile-health apps increasing over the past few years.

“For instance, if you have any sort of smart watch, you’re probably counting your steps or setting daily fitness goals which targets physical health,”Willis explained. “So I figured, why not have the same thing for mental health?”

Willis decided to focus on Black youth specifically, because it’s often a time period full of changes. Young people are often going into new environments –like college or the workforce — or even moving away from home and their support systems. Those experiences, combined with the struggle of learning how to be an adult, can take a toll on mental health.  

“We often see a lot of these symptoms emerge around this time (between 18 and 25), such as depression and anxiety,” Willis shared. “Yet, unfortunately, we also know that Black young adults are 90% LESS likely to receive or have access to effective mental health treatments when compared to their white counterparts, for a variety of reasons.”

The app will provide a variety of services, including education about basic mental health systems (like explaining the basics of depression or anxiety) and information on how symptoms manifest. In addition, users can create a profile and “mental health plan”, so they can engage in things that promote mental health awareness.

It will also connect users to Black and other providers of color in the area. For Black youth, this is huge, because it can be really awkward to try talking about mental health to a white provider who you feel may not relate to.

Willis’ idea for a mental health app focusing on Black youth is definitely needed. It’s also an example of how to start conversations by reaching people where they’re at, like on their phones.

The app is currently still in development, with an anticipated summer 2019 launch. First, it’ll be available on any device that can access the internet. Willis plans to release it to platforms like the Apple App Store after that.



Empathy? In Denmark they’re learning it in school

Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world. This is according to the UN’s World Happiness Report, an important survey that since 2012 classifies the happiness of 155 countries in the world, and that for seven years has placed Denmark among the top three happiest countries on a global level. The fact that teaching empathy has been mandatory since 1993 in schools in Denmark is a factor that contributes to the happiness of the country.

Empathy helps build relationships, prevent bullying and succeed at work. It promotes the growth of leaders, entrepreneurs and managers. “Empathic teenagers” tend to be more successful because they are more oriented towards the goals compared to their more narcissistic peers.

In Danish schools an hour a week is dedicated to the “Klassens tid”, an empathy lesson for students aged 6 to 16 years. It is a fundamental part of the Danish curriculum. The hour of empathy is as important as the time spent, for example, on English or mathematics. During the Klassens tid students discuss their problems, either related to school or not, and the whole class, together with the teacher, tries to find a solution based on real listening and understanding. If there are no problems to discuss, children are simply spent the time together relaxing and enjoying hygge, a word (and also a verb and an adjective), which cannot be translated literally, since it is a phenomenon closely related to Danish culture. Hygge could be defined as “intentionally created intimacy”. In a country where it gets dark very early in the year, it rains, it’s gray, hygge means bringing light, warmth and friendship, creating a shared, welcoming and intimate atmosphere. It is a fundamental concept for the Danish sense of well-being. And it’s also becoming a global phenomenon: Amazon sells more than 900 books on hygge, and Instagram has more than 3 million posts with the hashtag #hygge.

American writer and psychologist Jessica Alexander, author of the book “The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids”, with Danish psychotherapist Iben Sandahl, and which is translated into 21 languages, has conducted field research to understand how the Danes teach empathy.

One of the ways is through teamwork, thanks to which 60% of the tasks at school are carried out. The focus is not to excel over others, but to have a responsibility in helping those who are not equally gifted. For these reasons Denmark is also considered one of the best places to work in Europe.

Competition is exclusively with oneself, not with others. Danish schools offer neither prizes nor trophies to their students who excel in school subjects or in sports, so as not to create competition. Instead they practice the culture of motivation to improve, measured exclusively in relation to themselves.
“The Danes give a lot of space to children’s free play, which teaches empathy and negotiation skills. Playing in the country has been considered an educational tool since 1871,” explains Jessica Alexander.

Then there is collaborative learning, which consists in bringing together children with different strengths and weaknesses in different subjects to make them help each other in class, working together on various projects. The latter method teaches children from an early age that one cannot succeed alone and that helping others leads to better results.

“A child who is naturally talented in mathematics, without learning to collaborate with their peers, will not go much further. They will need help in other subjects. It is a great lesson to teach children from an early age, since no one can go through life alone,” says Jessica Alexander. She then continues: “Many studies show that when you explain something to someone – like a math problem for example – you not only learn the subject much better than you would do by memorizing it yourself, but you also build our empathy skills which are further strengthened by having to be careful about the way the other person receives the information, and having to put oneself in their shoes to understand how learning works”.

Going to a lesson of empathy gives great satisfaction and joy to Danish children, and prepares them to become happy adults.



4 Ways to Use Creative Writing for Self-care

Creativity is an aspect of self-care that often goes unexplored. You may have been recommended to keep a mood diary, or write down your problems as a form of therapy, but there is a way to use creative writing as a self-care tool that goes beyond the idea of journalling…

Having a crafty hobby is a fun way to pass the time, but research suggests that creativity can have a tangible impact on our mental wellbeing. In 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing reported that the “act of creation, and our appreciation of it, provides an individual experience that can have positive effects on our physical and mental health, and wellbeing”.

Supporting this, a study has found that 79% of people in deprived communities in London ate more healthily after participating in group art projects, while 77% engaged in more physical activity. Overall, 82% enjoyed greater wellbeing, proving that an enriched creative life can contribute to a more positive mindset.

woman writing in note pad

To learn more, I spoke to Suzy Reading, chartered psychologist and author of The Self-Care Revolution: smart habits & simple practices to allow you to flourish, who explained why creative writing is such an effective self-care tool.

She tells me that people tend to have a deeper knowledge about themselves when they are encouraged to give a voice to their experience, and that this undervalued self-care tool is “a way to be heard, even if you’re just listening to yourself. It’s a way of processing your thoughts”.

If you needed more incentives to give creative writing a go, then perhaps note that not only is it effective, but it is simple, accessible – and free. Here are some tips to get started:

1. Let go of expectations

Many people give up at the first hurdle, because they think that they aren’t naturally creative. But the most important thing to remember is that no one else ever needs to read what you’ve written. This is just for you, so it doesn’t matter if you’re the new Shakespeare, or if you can’t tell a semicolon from a exclamation mark.

You may want to give the process a sense of occasion by choosing a particularly nice pen and a special notebook to write in, but this doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. If the thought of writing in a beautiful journal fills you with dread, Suzy advises the complete opposite. “Grab a scrap of paper with no intention to keep it, and just jot down your thoughts.”

2. Create a happy memory bank

One way to use creative writing to foster positive emotions is to write about happy memories. The act of reminiscing about sights, smells, and textures, will inform your writing, and when you read the words back you may experience those feelings all over again.

For those who can’t think of anything in particular, Suzy suggests using prompts, such as specific types of emotions. “Write about a pleasurable emotion like awe, curiosity, wonder, love or connection, and let that guide you.”

Another prompt would be to think of one good thing that has happened recently, and write about it in detail.

3. Learn to savour

Writing about your happy memories doesn’t need to involve creating long lists of all your achievements or defining moments. In fact, it’s just as effective to write about all the little things that make life great.

Suzy says: “People who have consummated the ability to savour are often happier than those who aren’t aware of the skill. It’s something that we do already, but I think once you name it you can do it more often, and with greater effect.”

Whether it’s your first cup of coffee in the morning, or a sequence of calming yoga poses before bed, the act of savouring can have a really potent impact on wellbeing. Try writing about a positive moment in your day, and thoroughly describe every aspect of what made it so enjoyable.

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4. Timing is key

People often associate creative writing with the idea of expressing negative emotions, but it can actually be easier to master when you’re feeling mentally well. When you feel life is great, that’s the perfect time to write and record positive emotions. Then, when challenges arise in the future, you can refer back to your writing and rest assured that the bad times won’t last forever.

“In those times, it’s about reflecting on previous writing, and using that sense of context and perspective,” says Suzy.

Creative writing isn’t about downloading the negative thoughts and rereading them. You want to hold on to the positive experiences, the affirming life experiences, and reread those when you feel tested by life.



Have you emailed Harmless for self harm support but not received a response? There may be a good reason…

We have become aware of people contacting us but thinking they’re not getting a response. There may be a good reason! Please read on. . .

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Finally, on the very rare occasion your email has been overlooked, please contact us by emailing info@harmless.org.uk directly. Your email is important to us, and we are here to support you. We know that people who reach out to us are often in distress, and we are here for you as best we can. Remember, life can get better with the right help.

For and on behalf of The Harmless Team

Create a ‘Noticing Wall’

Photo: Michelle Woo

A while ago, my mother-in-law bought some math and reading workbooks for my six-year-old daughter. When I asked my daughter if she wanted to check them out, she just looked at the big, intimidating stack and said, “No thanks.” That was fine—she’s in kindergarten and I wasn’t about to push it. Later, though, I was flipping through the books, and thought some of the activities could be pretty fun and good practice. So I decided to try a little experiment: I’d tear out a page, tape it to the side of our kitchen island (which we walk past multiple times a day) and see if she notices it. That evening, she did. Without any prompting, she quietly got a pen, sat on the floor and completed the worksheet. And that was that! I didn’t say “Good job!” or anything at all—instead, when she was off at school the next day, I simply took down the completed page and put up a new one. And then she finished that one, too. So I put up another and another and another.

I started thinking that I could display other things I’d like her to see. This could be a “noticing wall”—a zero-pressure space for us to write notes to each other, ask questions, jot down fun things we learned, and make plans. Now, using scrap paper and washi tape, I add new thoughts and prompts all the time: “What would you like to learn how to cook?” “Let’s write some poems.” “What would you like to play in our fort?” She can respond to whatever she’d like, in her own time, if she wants to. We’ve also taped love notes on the wall, as well as apology letters.

If we’re talking about learning, the noticing wall has become a way for me to engage my daughter in purposeful reading. Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of Raising Kids Who Read, told me that parents can help kids read by taking advantage of situations where reading has some utility. The wall certainly does. My daughter wrote that she’d like to make “lemnatd” (lemonade) sometime, so we will plan to do that this summer. Sometimes, I’ll add in “educational” bits—her teacher says she’s been writing her letter Ps backwards, so I recently taped up some practice pages. She dug into them as eagerly as everything else. (I’m not sure if I would have gotten such an enthusiastic response if I had hovered over her and said, “Trace these letters now.”)

Most powerfully, though, the noticing wall has become another way for my daughter and me to connect. I get excited to look at the wall every day, and I think she does, too. I hope we’ll always find ways to write back and forth to each other about anything and everything, without judgment.

If you’re creating a noticing wall, a good first rule would be: Don’t talk about the noticing wall, or at least don’t talk about it too much. You don’t even need to give the wall a name. Let it just sit there and be a quiet place for thoughts, hopes and curiosities.

And sometimes, poems about farts. My daughter wrote one on the wall the other day, and I’m keeping it forever.