The courage to make a fresh start

Published by Lori Pickert on January 1, 2009 at 04:06 PM

When I was running my Reggio-inspired school, our classroom for children age 3 through 5 was enormous, with its own huge art studio, a stage with musical instruments and costumes, two dramatic play areas, science area with microscope and other tools, reading lofts, huge block area, etc.

The art studio was stocked with several sets of shelves filled with bowls, trays, and jars of art supplies, several easels, a giant loom, a light table large enough for four or five children, and entire clay area.

Visiting teachers would blanch, then tell us (again and again) that their children could never handle such an excessive amount of available materials, tools, areas, choices.

So we would explain that when the children came in on the first day of the school year, the classroom would be nearly empty. There would be only basic materials in the art studio and the ordinary blocks in the block area and a good selection of books in the library. Then, as the children mastered each area and each material, we would slowly add in more. After several weeks, the children could move about the entire classroom with access to all their materials without being overwhelmed and over-stimulated, knowing exactly how everything was used and put away, and the teachers could concentrate on working with individual children or small groups while the students confidently used their space.

One particular pair of teachers who shared a classroom visited in the middle of the year. They told us about their students and their struggles, they observed what was happening in our school, and they listened carefully to how we began each year. Then they returned home.

Two weeks later, I had an e-mail from them. When they got back home, they went into their classroom and took everything out — every book, every block, every art material — and made the classroom a completely blank slate. Their children returned on Monday morning very surprised, as were their parents — and the school administrators for that matter. Then, they slowly introduced each area of the classroom as we had described, as though it were the first day of school. And two weeks later, their classroom was transformed. The children were taking responsibility for the materials as never before, so the teachers could give them more. Things were put where they could be taken out by the children, and the children put them carefully away again. The teachers felt like they had an entirely different group of students, and they went forward confidently to try to build the curriculum they now felt their students could handle.

When you are in charge of your own program (as all homeschoolers are), you can make changes on the fly — you can decide at any time during the year that you aren’t satisfied with how things are going, or maybe you just want to try an exciting new idea, and you don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission or fill out any paperwork. You just get up the next morning and put your idea into action.

I was astonished by those public school teachers — in a great way — that they were strong enough and determined enough to begin again from scratch, midway through the school year. It took a lot of bravery for them to stop and start again.

I love the new year, a time of looking back and looking forward, a time to focus on plans and goals and dreams. But it’s important to remember that we can have a fresh start any time we need it — no matter what time of year, no matter how invested we think we are in what we’ve done so far. We can sweep the table clean and begin again if we want to. And it doesn’t have to be a big change — it can be just one small, new thing.



See also: Curriculum of Curiosity: “Rather than put every material out on the first day of school, we added things throughout the year. Rather than announcing any new addition as a special treat and drawing attention to it (which creates the additional problem of 15 children wanting to use it at once), we simply added things and let them be discovered. Then the children told each other and showed each other.”


Comment by Sarah on January 1, 2009 at 05:43 PM

That is so great! They are going to give me some inspiration as I rework our spaces this week. Thanks and happy new year!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 1, 2009 at 06:07 PM

thank you, sarah! :^) happy new year!

Comment by Barbara on January 1, 2009 at 06:47 PM

Just wanted to wish you a happy new year and say i am grateful for this great space you have created! I look forward to being active in the forum when my internet is back up and running. (In the mean time I will be checking in from my mobile phone :-))

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 1, 2009 at 07:33 PM

thank you, barbara! :^) good luck getting your internet back on the rails. ;^) and happy new year!

Comment by Mary on January 1, 2009 at 11:13 PM

What a wonderful reminder. I have been reading about the Reggio Emilia approach for more than a year and really like what I've read. I'm hopeful that our next home will give me the space to do some of what I'm inspired to do.

Your blog is one of my favorites. I look forward to your posts with as much eagerness as I do Soulemama's!

Comment by Cristina on January 2, 2009 at 12:17 AM

You must have had an amazing set up to inspire those teachers like that! And how inspiring they are to change things around in the middle of the year. If they can do it, how much easier for a homeschooler to switch when things aren't working. I've noticed that the less open a new homeschooler is to letting go of a curriculum that doesn't work, the more likely they will scrap the idea of homeschooling.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 2, 2009 at 12:34 AM

thank you, mary! that’s high praise indeed. ;^)

and good luck with your reggio-inspired adventures!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 2, 2009 at 12:38 AM

cristina, those teachers did inspire me so much, with their determination and their willingness to stop and try something new in the middle of the year. and yes, as homeschoolers we have that flexibility -- there is no reason to delay making changes and trying something new. it’s one of the great benefits of homeschooling!

what you say about the people who end up quitting homeschooling makes total sense .. success in homeschooling definitely requires the ability to admit when things aren’t going well -- and the willingness to try again! :^)

Comment by JoVE on January 2, 2009 at 01:57 AM

Hmmmm. My overstuffed, inaccessible, and practically unuseable study might benefit from this approach. The big problem -- where to take it away TO. But maybe the stuff not being used lately could at least be packed away in the basement to make room for what is being used.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 2, 2009 at 02:13 AM

JoVE, that works for me. then, three years later, when i look at the stuff i packed away, i usually wonder why i kept it at all. :^)

Comment by Quinne on January 2, 2009 at 04:02 AM

Hi Lori :) What a wonderful, encouraging post! I want to wish you a very happy New Year, too, and thank you for sharing your heart here. You are a blessing! Love & hugs, Q

Comment by Sam on January 2, 2009 at 11:20 AM

Wow. Throughout my whole school life, I don't think I ever came across an art studio like that. And my challenge here is to find the space to let my artists loose.

Thanks for reminding me that I can restart at any time. I always try to overthink everything, and it prevents me from actually doing things, but of course, any change can be undone, or changed differently. Nothing is fixed.

I have done this with books - we have enough to stock a library! But they were never being looked at, so I packed most of them in boxes, and only have a few out, on a couple of shelves. The boys aren't so overwhelmed, and spend time looking at them now, and every month I swap books around.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 2, 2009 at 03:36 PM

thank you, quinne! :^)

sam, oh, i am familiar with over-thinking. the older i get, the more i realize that it’s better to actually do something, even if you make mistakes, than hold off forever wanting it to be perfect. and you are so right — nothing is set in concrete, you can always make changes. so why not start?

that is a great idea re: rotating books; i do that with art materials in the studio. certain things are always available, but other things i rotate through, so there is always something fresh and interesting to provoke their interest.

Comment by apruil on January 3, 2009 at 05:56 AM

What a lovely photo, I am a sucker for sunrays but am never able to catch them with the camera.
I hopped over here from my blog and you are making me miss home schooling. At times I wish I hadn't put my kids in school. It was just one of those decisions that we made since we would be in a foreign county for a couple of years. I know I can always do it again, and I plan too, if it feel right.
I like your posts on making a space. I immediately thought of ways I could encourage my daughter to want to learn more, even though I am not her "teacher". So simple and yet effective.
Love the blog. I will have to come again. I am already inspired.

Comment by Alice on January 3, 2009 at 01:08 PM

>it’s better to actually do something, even if you make mistakes, than hold off >forever wanting it to be perfect

I read something similar to this from a quilter "don't get it perfect , get it done". My quilting has really taken off ever since. I remind myself that I am making colourful blankets not show pieces, and the uneveness of handmade is what makes them unique.

As for a fresh start; while I was hunting through the girls room for lost numbers from the tombola game (italian bingo that you traditionally play at Christmas) I took inspiration from Lori and rearranged the girls toys. There is so much activity going on just because I moved the blocks and animals to a more prominent position and packed the kitchen stuff away. As usual my attempts at 'organising' have resulted in a 'messier' house than before but I have come to distinguish works-in-progress from mess that is gathering dust.

Thanks for the inspiration,


PS. Could you sign me up for the forum? I would love to partecipate.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 3, 2009 at 04:34 PM

alice, “don’t get it perfect, get it done” is great advice because, of course, perfection is impossible anyway! and searching for that near-perfection holds us up from doing what we’re meant to do.

re: rearranging the girls’ toys .. lol, i know just what you mean about making a worse mess while attempting to get organized. :^P i am in the midst of that right now, all over my house! but wonderful that it energized the girls. :^)

email me at lori (at) campcreekpress [dot] com and i will get you a forum key. ;^)

Comment by jeannine on January 4, 2009 at 03:15 AM

Lori, Happy New Year! As always I am so glad for your posts! I was just racking my brain about how to teach my girls care and respect for their art supplies. So far, repeating myself a million times hasn't worked. :o) I am eager and optimistic to try this. A million thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 4, 2009 at 04:58 AM

thank you, jeannine! :^) let me know how it goes!

Comment by Ali on January 7, 2009 at 08:13 AM

How exciting! Even though I don't manage to comment every time I love feeling that I am thinking alongside other people about issues that are important to us.

Comment by Megan on January 8, 2009 at 02:34 AM

Happy New Year - and thanks for all the inspiration!

Comment by Umm Safiya on June 19, 2013 at 03:29 AM

I really liked this post (just like all your other posts) :-)

We have a messy craft room, and I think it's because I just showed them everything they could use, so they became overwhelmed.

Today I will remove everything from the room and just leave paper and crayons, and add stuff along the way. I really hope it works for us.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 19, 2013 at 07:53 AM

let me know how it goes! :)

Comment by Puur_Priscilla on October 30, 2013 at 04:02 AM

I am wondering how I can incorporate this at home. We don't have a classroom/artroom/seperate room. The kids share a bedroom with to much toys in there and we all live/work/learn downstairs, where there is an open kitchen with utensils, toys, art-materials, books, my work stuff (I sell homemade soap and skincare), stuff that needs to be send out, tools for the ungoing remodelling of our home, everything. I would love a real clean slate, but wouldn't know how to do that while living here.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 31, 2013 at 09:39 AM


the best way to proceed is to do a big tidy and simply box up all of your materials. clean everything and maybe take the opportunity to reorganize. then slowly begin adding materials back in, one at a time. as you add each material (perhaps new/fresh versions, perhaps in attractive new baskets), take time to explore that material together. talk about everything you can do with that material, talk about how to clean up afterward and keep things nice (e.g., sharpening pencils, washing out paint brushes). talk about what you should NOT do with the material (e.g., letting clay dry out).

once you have fully explored a material, it is available on the shelves. again, it works best if the shelves are not crowded and if materials are displayed in an attractive way in a place where they are always kept (e.g., the pencils have a place; they don’t migrate around). then that material is available for free choice.

as you add additional materials, the options for free choice widen. but for each material, the child knows how to get it out, how to use it, how to clean it up, and how to put it away afterward. it is very helpful if children have their own cleaning materials for their space: a squirt bottle with vinegar water or some other nontoxic cleaner, a clean cloth, a trash can, a whisk and dust pan, etc.

you can involve the children in your big tidy — asking their opinions about what to keep, etc. — if you wish. if you are cleaning off the bulletin boards for a fresh start, you can ask them what they would like to do with the material you are removing: put it into a notebook? staple the pages together to make a book? put them into a folder? etc.

when you are finished, you will hopefully have a clean space, possibly with fewer materials but much less crowding, where things are visible and beautiful, creating a workspace that beckons. any work they produce should be hung carefully, honoring the work, and when it is taken down, they should have control about where it goes (see choices above).

does this help? let me know how it goes!

Comment by Puur_Priscilla on October 31, 2013 at 12:24 PM

Thank you Lori, that helps a lot! This will be a plan for January, with some extra help. This will be a big project for me;-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 1, 2013 at 09:27 AM

good luck! keep me updated. :)

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