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 I 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.