Category Archives: Elm House Blog

Pronoun check

by Mage

As the children at Elm House are getting older, many of the three year olds are thinking and learning about gender. At Elm House, this most often comes up in the form of talking about color preference in a stereotypical way (“I want blue because I’m a boy”), or the children asking each other about gender identity (“Are you a girl?”).

Another way the children’s learning about gender can be seen is through the mistakes they make with pronouns. It’s very common for three year-olds to mispronoun everyone around them, as both part of their language development and both social and cultural learning about gender. Pronoun usage is a topic that is important to me, because I am a trans person who is frequently mispronouned. So lately, it has felt like the right time to start talking with the children about pronouns, checking each other’s pronouns, and correcting each other when we know someone has been mispronouned.

Here’s how one recent conversation about pronouns looked.

During a.m. snack, SD, HE, both STs, and EB were sitting at the table eating and chatting with me (Mage).

HE: I have a banana! I like banana.

ST: [To Mage] What did he say?

Mage: HE said “I like banana.” ST, I heard you describe HE with the pronoun “he,” and I think HE might prefer a different pronoun. Did you mean to say a different pronoun?

ST: Yeah.

Mage: We can ask HE about pronouns. Some pronouns that people use are she, he or they. My pronoun is “they.” ST, which pronoun do you use?

ST: I use he.

Mage: You said, “he.” So we will use “he” as your pronoun. We can ask HE and all of the other children, too. HE, which pronoun do you like?

HE: I like black.

Mage: You like the color black? I do too. I’m asking about pronouns, like he, she or they. Which one of those do you want us to use for you?

HE: I like he!

Mage: OK, you said you like, “he,” so that’s what we’ll use for you. So, ST, we asked HE and he said he wants you to use “he” pronouns. I’m glad we asked. Let’s ask the rest of the children. [To other ST] Which pronoun should we use for you?

ST: He!

Mage: OK. “He.” How about you, EB, which pronoun do you like?

EB: Um, I like she.

Mage: You like she. How about you, SD?

SD: I like Toto!

Mage: You like Toto. We’re asking about pronouns, like he, she and they. Is there one you want us to use for you?

SD: Me want you use she.

HE: I like she, too!!

Mage: Oh, HE, you like she now. Earlier you said he, and now you said she. We will use she for you now.


Simple as that. I expect we’ll have many more conversations similar to this one. I was surprised at how well the children comprehended what we were talking about, and mostly responded with confidence. I won’t be surprised if they switch pronouns occasionally, and I will always respect whatever pronoun they tell me to use, even if they change their mind five minutes later (or if don’t change their mind at all). I think the earlier that we start talking about pronouns with the children, and the more consistent we are about having these conversations, the more it will be normal for them to ask new people for pronouns, and perhaps in the long term they will be less likely to make assumptions about gender identity and pronouns.


Taking Turns and Trading

By Lainy

Conflict is an inevitable part of every child’s day. We have played with introducing and taking away different materials in the back yard to see the different ways that children approach their play. Back in the fall, we decided to remove all trucks because the children were so emotionally attached that violence ensued nearly daily. Conflict lessened but after awhile, we noticed that children were fighting over sticks as well. Maybe it wasn’t the trucks after all but just that they’re 2 and 3? Humans seem to be wired for conflict so teachers and parents must become versed in conflict resolution. We have decided to reintroduce the trucks and it has been interesting to see how much more developed the children’s conflict resolution skills have become since September. Continue reading

The Worms Return

By Megan


“It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures.”  -Charles Darwin on worms, 1881

The children’s fascination with worms persists through the changing of the seasons and over time. One of the first memories I have of Elm House, almost one year ago, was the over turning of the stumps and the exploration of the creatures who lived there. The children have new questions about the worms, “why don’t they like sun?” “Why are they in a hole?” “Why they in the garden?” Their questions have become more complicated and personally I delight in helping them investigate and understand more.

Luca’s mom, Laurel is our resident worm expert though. A few weeks back we invited her to give her worm presentation to the toddlers and once again we have our very own worm bin to feed and observe over the summer! Thanks again Laurel!

Here are some photos of our reintroduction to worm bin worms.




by Mage

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.” -Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Transformation is a big idea which the children at Elm house have been exploring for the past few months, and it’s something I’ve been reflecting on often while designing curriculum.  

Most of you probably heard about the caterpillars we had in the Elm room, and the weeks we watched them build chrysalis around themselves, and then how one day we saw them transform into butterflies. A few of you participated the day that we released them into the backyard, but for those who haven’t, here are a couple photos from that event.

Megan and I sometimes talk about the transformation of the caterpillars, and wonder what the children understood about that process. It’s difficult to know for sure what they learned from those creatures specifically, but we do know that the children are actively thinking about transformation is many other areas of the school.

For example, there is a puddle that sometimes forms in the driveway of our school. Every time we go outside, if the puddle is there, the children jump in it. If it’s not there, they remark on that, too. “Where did the puddle go?!” They ask each other and us. I have recently been reflecting the question back at them, and here are some responses I’ve gotten:

Hannah: “It went away.”
Sam: “It went to the sky.”
Luca: “It went to sleep.”
Shelan: “A dinosaur ate it!”

The mystery of the puddle seems to suggest that the children might think the puddle exists somewhere else, in the same form. Which is understandable, since they obviously haven’t learned about evaporation.

It does make me wonder what other transformative learning experiences I could share with the children, to approach the idea in ways they might connect with.

Right now, the most direct way I can think of is with art. Over the past few weeks, the children have been painting big white rocks. They’ve transformed the white surface to a colorful surface. And this week we put some of the rocks in the front yard, under the Elm tree. So the children transformed the yard with their art, though I never told them that I thought they were transforming the yard.

It occurs to me now that I’ve never used the word “transform” with the children, and I wonder how their perception and understanding of the world would change if they simply learned the word “transform.” Would they begin to see how art is transformation? Or the puddle drying up? Or the caterpillars becoming butterflies? Or a friend moving? Or a pet dying? I wonder if giving the children the tool of a new word would open their minds to new concepts of change.


Nature Walks

By Megan

Now that the Elm House children are all a bit older and have more endurance, we will be taking small groups on walks around the neighborhood. Our intentions here are to notice the natural worlds wonders, gather natural materials to enhance our curriculum, to chart the growth of new gardens and to connect with the people in our neighborhood. In the past stroller rides have been our primary way to explore, and we will still ride for longer adventures, but we see real value in the exercise that they will get in even walking a few blocks and the change in perspective.

We took our first walk today! Hope you enjoy these photos.

Do you have a favorite house in the neighborhood that has a great yard? Or do you know of a secret garden? Let us know the location in the comments section.