Inside Lakota Learning
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The Lakota learning experience is one filled with inquiry, innovation and discovery. Every student's learning style, passions and interests are different, which is why the experience of one student will never be exactly that of another. It's why Lakota teachers and support staff are committed to student-centered learning and providing a personalized approach marked by differentiated teaching methods. 

Let the Lakota Learning Team explain what that means and how that goal plays out on a daily basis in our classrooms. Through this blog, they'll guide parents and community members through the strategy behind Lakota's student-centered curriculum and how different methods meet students' educational needs. And because learning doesn't stop at school, they'll provide tips and strategies for how to be partners in the learning process and create a positive learning environment at home. 

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There truly is nothing like the excitement and joy the first day of summer brings. Students, teachers, and parents, alike, relish in the fact that summer is here and a simpler life is on the horizon for the next few months. We all crave and look forward to a slower pace, a shorter to-do list, and more time on our hands to do the things that we enjoy. It allows us time to recharge and reconnect with the people we love.

But, just when you start to relax into your summer routine, you recall your child’s teacher sharing the importance of summer learning. “Oh, wait. So, what is that going to look like?”

For me, it is a major reality check every year when I realize that I have three children at home with and that it’s my responsibility to make sure they continue to learn. Through much trial and error, we have found some summer routines that not only keep my children engaged, but also make sure that they have plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.

Although I will share my experience of being home with my children in the summer, I realize that not all families are able to be with their children during the day. So, these ideas can absolutely be done on weekends/days off or can even be a resource that you share with caregivers. So, here are some of our favorites and a few new things we hope to try this year so that we have a summer filled with joy and learning.

1. Invite Children to Play

"Play is the highest form of research."

-Albert Einstein

Play is an important part of every child’s growth and development. All children (and even adults) have a fundamental right to play. Through play, children learn about their world. They learn to problem solve, communicate, and use their imagination. In a dream world, our children would play peacefully and independently all day long. In reality, children in the summer are trying to adapt to life that may be a little less structured than what they are used to. In our house, things quickly turn from “Yay, it’s summer!” to “I’m bored, where’s my iPad?” A while back, I discovered that one way I could encourage my children to play more is by setting up play invitations. I choose something that my children already own and set it up in an inviting way that will encourage them to play. This looks different for each of my children because of their interests and what they happen to already own. Here are a few images of what a play invitation might look like for each of my children.

Invitation to play space examples

I have found that setting up invitations like these hands-down gets my kids playing more. They enjoy the element of surprise of what I’m going to set up for them and they get to rediscover things that may have been shoved into the back of their closet and forgotten about. For the summer, my goal is to set up invitations like these after my kids are in bed for the night. Then, I can look forward to a slow morning sipping my coffee while all three of my kiddos are engaged in play. Sounds like a win-win to me!

2. Encourage Creativity

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
 - Maya Angelou 

Similar to play invitations, we also love art invitations. The purpose of an art invitation is simply to get children to explore in a creative way. An art invitation, for us, is almost always about the process and not the end product that is created. This type of process takes the pressure off children to make something look “right” and allows them to just enjoy the moment. It’s giving your child the opportunity to work with different art materials, experiment, and make choices as an artist. An art invitation doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few invitations that we have done; however, if you need more ideas I highly suggest that you follow @100daysofartbar on Instagram. It is literally 100 days of different art invitations that are super inspiring. 

Examples of creative play stations

3. Get Out and Explore! 

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” 
- Rachel Carson

Outdoor exploration photo

There is only so much time we can spend inside playing. The biggest perk of summer is being able to explore the great outdoors. So much learning happens when children explore the world around them. In years past, we have created summer bucket lists of places we hope to visit throughout the summer. This year, we are setting a goal to visit a new park each week. There are so many places literally right around the corner from us just waiting to be explored. I also hope to teach my children the importance of slowing down and observing the world around them. To encourage observation, we’ll take along notebooks/sketchbooks and different supplies like crayons and maybe even watercolor paint. That way, we can sketch or write down what we are noticing and wondering. Who knows? This may even lead to an interest that your child will want to research and learn more about. Here are some links to some wonderful parks that we hope to check out this summer: 


4. Cultivate an Interest 

“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” 
- William B. Yeats   
Whether at home or at school, the most powerful learning occurs when children have the opportunity to choose what they want to learn. Summer is a great time for students to engage in some self-selected learning. One way to help cultivate this kind of learning is by creating an interest basket. If I notice one of my children has a particular interest in something, I’ll throw some things together in a basket like books, photographs, and other objects that relate to that interest. If my child continues to be engaged and passionate about that topic, I might even allow them to deepen their learning through a project. For example, an interest in plants might begin with a basket of real seeds to observe, a diagram that shows the parts of a plant, paper to sketch or draw a plant, and some nonfiction books. This could eventually lead to a project of creating a home garden. Often times, these projects could engage the whole family and will most likely include practice with many academic skills, such as, reading, writing, math, etc. It is also extremely beneficial for our children to see us learn something new, so consider a project that would allow you to learn alongside your child. 

5. Build a Writing Habit 

“You can make anything by writing.” 
- C.S. Lewis 

Writing space photo

Writing is an important skill that all students need to learn but it is also one that requires lots and lots of practice. Encouraging your child to write, anything and everything, over the summer will reap many benefits. Writing is so closely connected to reading that often a child’s reading will improve with consistent writing practice. It also helps develop fine motor skills, gives children a voice, and often provides an outlet when dealing with strong emotions. To encourage writing with my kiddos, I have a writing area set up in our home stocked with blank paper, list paper, blank cards, and stapled booklets. They are able to make different choices depending at what they want to write. They learn that writing can serve different purposes. When my children aren’t sure what to write, I encourage notes of kindness to friends and family members, making a to-do list, or simply writing down a personal experience that they have had. Here are some favorite writing activities that I have explored with students and my own children:

6. Family Read Aloud

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” 
- Emilie Buckwald 

I couldn’t write a post about summer learning that didn’t include reading! We want children reading all of the time. I, personally, don’t like quantifying it with a number like 20 minutes per day. What I want is for my children to view themselves as readers - for reading to be something they do because they want to, because they love learning about new things, traveling to far away places, or connecting with a character. This can be easier said than done, but one of the best ways to begin is to get children to fall in love with books! And, I have found that all children (ages 0 - 100) love to hear a book being read aloud. The past couple of summers, I have chosen a chapter book to read aloud to my kids. We read a chapter or two a day and have a quick discussion afterward about what we notice, what we wonder, and what we predict will happen next. The best thing is the way that we connect as a family through that story. It is a part of the day that we all look forward to. Your local libraries (see links below) also have excellent programs that encourage children to read over the summer. The goal with reading is always about making it engaging for your child. Motivation is key!

These are just a few ways that can give your child a summer filled with fun and learning. The possibilities are endless.  Always remember, parents, that you have as much an impact on your child’s learning as teachers. You know them best and can help guide their interests and passions in a way that we can’t replicate at school. Learning happens when children feel safe, inspired, and encouraged. So, be creative and have fun with it. I hope you have a wonderful and playful summer!

Blog author Elizabeth Farris photoElizabeth Farris currently serves as the creative specialist at Wyandot Early Childhood School. Next school year, she will be teaching kindergarten at Hopewell ECS. She looks forward to a summer of learning alongside her husband, Aaron, and her three kids, Audrey, Will, and Nora. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @wykidscreate or through email at

Posted by  On May 15, 2018 at 9:09 AM 258 Comments

Son wesley on monkey barsLast summer, I was reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, and I found myself completely taken aback when I read this quote:

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” - Carol Dweck

Not too long after that, I was at the park with my family and for the first time, my son Wesley finally got all the way across the bars. I immediately jumped up with excitement and shouted, “Good job! You’re awesome!” After the words came out of my mouth, I stopped to think about how I’d reacted. I thought through the messages that my praise sent. Did I give him a temporary boost and a smile? Yes. But, what if he didn't get across next time? What would he assume? What about the next challenge he comes across? Will he not take a risk because he will be afraid that he might fail and not be awesome?

Psychologist Carol Dweck says that praising brains and talent has the opposite effect of giving children confidence. Instead, it makes them doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or goes wrong. Being purposeful with process feedback on the other hand helps send the message that our intelligence and abilities are changeable, with effort and the right strategies. Do our words say, “You are a developing person” or do they say, “You have fixed-abilities and I’m judging them”?

Some students enter college and have serious anxiety when they get their first B or C. Or they don’t know how to cope when they’ve made a big mistake or a bad decision. Have we given them too much person-oriented praise and focused on their “intelligence” or “abilities” too much? Kids who have received praise for their process are more likely to ask questions, ask for help, focus on strategies for improvement, and not see failure as paralyzing.

I decided I wanted to work on my own language and try to make my feedback more specific. I wanted to give Wesley productive feedback and somehow emphasize the process, the ingredients for success, so that he could learn HOW he was able to accomplish something he wanted to accomplish. So, I asked Wesley, “How did you do that? How did you finally get across?” This made him think through and internalize his process. He paused for a second, then said, “I’ve been practicing every time we come to the park. I’ve also been watching other kids and they were swinging their legs more, so I tried that.” To remind him that working hard at something helps us improve, I added, “I’ve also noticed you worked so hard and you didn’t give up.” 

Person praise is non-productive and it creates “fixed thinking.” It says our talents and abilities are unchangeable. Have you seen your children give up? In that moment, they may have fixed thinking: “Why try if think I can’t change the result?”  When we say, “You are so smart,” children think, “If there are smart kids, then there are dumb kids, and I better not do anything that would show I was born dumb.” Whenever we mark one end of the conversation (smart, talented, athletic), kids can fill in the opposite if they are not successful. On the other hand, productive praise focuses on cause and effect: When you did this, this happened.

Turn Children’s Thinking Towards Process with Productive Praise


(emphasizes a person’s intelligence andabilities and sends the message that these traits are permanent)


(emphasizes persistence, focus, strategies and sends the message that we can always grow and develop)

“Ryan you are so smart. You got an A!”

“I notice when you study really hard, it pays off.”

“Great job! You are such a good boy.”

“Did you notice that when you clean up your toys, your sister doesn’t step or trip on them? Thank you.”

“You are a great reader.”

“When you read your book really smoothly, you understood what you read.”

“You got a 100%. You were born a writer. You are a natural!”

“I noticed when you added dialogue to your piece, I understood how your character felt.”

“Sam- You are a talented soccer player!”

“How did you make that pass? It looked like you thought about about where your partner was headed.”

 “Growth Mindset,” is the idea that says there is no telling where hard work and passion can take us in life. When children have a growth mindset, they will love challenges and enjoy effort.


How can we work on Growth Mindset principles at home?

  1. For your children, model and name your own fixed and growth mindset thinking. “I am having fixed thinking. I’m terrible at this and I want to give up! I’m having trouble hanging this artwork, but I know with help, hard work, and the right strategies, I can do it. I just haven’t figured it out YET.”

  2. Don’t sweep your mistakes under the rug!  Show your children mistakes aren't something they need to be ashamed of. When you accidentally spill your drink, say, “HEY, I LEARNED SOMETHING NEW! I won’t be putting my drink near the edge of the counter again.” Talk about what can be learned from mistakes.

  3. Celebrate challenges when things are hard. “Building this bird house is a challenge, but that means our brains are growing. We are learning something new!”

  4. Notice the messages your words send. Are you saying that some people are born a certain way and that won’t change?  “Mom is just not a math person.” Or “Aunt Sarah is a genius.”

  5. Learn something new or take on a new challenge!  When we have fixed thinking, we can find ourselves trying to prove to others we are smart/perfect, rather than seeking a new challenge at the risk of failing or not being “right.” This limits our growth!

  6. Talk about how the brain grows! Scientists are sharing that people have more capacity for life-long learning and brain development than ever thought before. Read books and watch videos about it as a family!

  7. Give productive, process-oriented praise. Give children the ingredients so that they can produce success again.

Let’s help each other create homes that believe in change, where adults and children are focused on process and effort and see mistakes as opportunities for learning.


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston

Lessons for Parents

Video of A Study on Praise and Mindsets

Read Alouds, Videos, and More

Danielle Creamer headshotDanielle Creamer is a Teaching and Learning Consultant for the Curriculum & Instruction Department at Lakota Local Schools. Follow her on Twitter @danicreamer23 or email her at

Posted by  On Apr 11, 2018 at 5:12 PM 181 Comments

Parenting can be rough. I mean, there are days I would rather give up ice cream than deal with hearing “MOM!” from the opposite end of the house again. If you know me, you know ice cream is my life! By the way, I have tried changing my name; it doesn’t work. The kids just yell out random names, and it gets more annoying than just hearing “MOM” from the opposite end of the house again.

As parents, we are constantly told we have to plug in. What does that even look like for a modern parent? Staying plugged in to what our kids are doing is no easy task: Attend their school events, volunteer for everything, keep up with their school work and grades, monitor their social media accounts, know who they are hanging out with in real life, help them practice. I’m sure the list goes on.  So we have to ask, how are we truly engaging with our kids? How do we combat the exciting world of social media, FaceTime, Snapchat, virtual worlds, and the physiological euphoria that comes with interacting with technology?

Questions like this are difficult to tackle, and if you are anything like me, you end up spending nights throwing together something that resembles a meal, helping your kids check off the homework to do list as quickly as possible, and running from event to event as a glorified - let’s face it there’s no glory - chauffer for young people who act like they would rather be sitting on their iPad or phone than have an actual conversation with their….gasp….parents!

What about when we need to unplug? How do we unplug with our kids in meaningful and engaging ways that aim to foster positive relationships?  Now, before you get all over me about how crazy busy you already are, trust me, I KNOW! The last thing many of us want to do at night is figure out how we are supposed to be “engaging.” The least our kids can do is answer a simple question about their day without making us work for it! #AmIright

Here’s one way you can unplug: You actually plug right back in! Plug in to their interests, even those that may be digital. Yes, I said it, and I will repeat, “…even those that may be digital.” My son loves teaching his old school momma how to play video games a few nights a week. He indulges in my classic Mario for a bit while I swap out with some Zelda and Splatoon for him. True story by the way, the vocabulary acquisition in Zelda is just amazing along with plot development, characterization….but that’s the teacher in me leaking out! My oldest daughter is currently a huge fan of SIMS where she can design neighborhoods and houses.  Her interest in engineering, interior design, and architecture are leading her toward this path in all she does. She loves sitting me down and showing me her creations from neighborhood layout to house design all the way down to the window treatments. We have very different tastes in this area, but it’s fun to see where those conversations lead us and what ends up in my house later. My youngest will sit with me and snuggle to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood while pointing out all her favorite parts, singing the songs, and giving me life advice, “Out of the mouth of babes,” they say.  Her advice is actually quite good; we could all take some time to learn lessons from the wisdom of a 5-year-old. 

But, what about the two hours of screen time as recommended by pediatricians? Yeah….THAT! It’s a tough balance to achieve especially when kids spend some of their time at school using screens, come home to homework that may or may not require a screen, and then they want to relax with some screen time too. Even as an adult, that would adequately describe my day. I’ll be honest, some days we don’t have time for anything with a screen beyond what is needed for school. There just isn’t enough time in the day with all the craziness.  Other days, it’s those devices that bring me a sweet sense of serenity. 

My biggest advice for anything in life is to aim for the middle. The middle is a good place to be since extremes can be, well…extreme! Don’t hesitate to let your kids suck you in to a little screen time, especially if they are sharing some of their excitement and passion. Also, don’t hesitate to remember to push their butts outside on occasion to ride a bike, play with sidewalk chalk, read in the grass, or throw a ball around with you following right behind. You can have both. You can plug in and unplug.

Plug-In to Some Extra Reading:

New screen time rules for kids, by doctors

Screen Time and Children

9 secrets to managing your child’s screen time

25 Ways to Ask Your Kids ‘So How Was School Today?’ Without Asking Them ‘So How Was School Today?’

How to Get Your Kids to Play Outdoors 

Tiffany Rexhausen is an instructional coach at Lakota Local Schools and the mother of three beautiful children. Follow her on Twitter @TRexhausen or email her at

Posted by  On Apr 02, 2018 at 2:23 PM 171 Comments