Mom Creates A ‘Noticing Wall’ To Communicate And Connect With Her Kids

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Amber Leventry

When Michelle Woo’s 6-year-old daughter didn’t show any interest in the math and reading workbooks given to her by Grandma, Woo tore out a page of activities that looked fun and taped it onto the side of the kitchen island. She wasn’t going to force the issue, but she wanted to make it seem less intimidating. Woo knew her daughter would see the worksheet, but would she engage?

She sure did. Without any pomp or circumstance her daughter quietly filled out the worksheet. The next day Woo replaced it with another without mentioning it. This happened over and over until Woo realized this could be a good way to communicate and connect with her daughter in a fun and no-pressure way. Woo, mother and parenting editor at Lifehacker, created a “noticing wall” for her daughter and you will want to as well. Because this idea is sheer genius.

Instead of worksheets, Woo started to leave love notes, questions, suggested word games, and even letters of apology. They wrote poems, practiced writing the letter P, and came up with fun things to cook together.

Let me tell you, I am absolutely a sucker for this kind of stuff. My kids (8 and 6) have done similar activities at school. All three of them went to the same preschool, and while in their 4/5 year old classroom, they wrote what the teachers called Daily Reflections. The teachers would create a prompt each day on a piece of paper and the kids would draw their response and add words if they wanted to practice their writing skills. The kids were challenged to think of their favorite activity to do with a friend, or something that starts with a particular letter of the alphabet. Sometimes the teachers would inquire about the book they were reading in class or ask the kids what kind of animal they want to be. At the end of the year, we were given a bound collection of these reflections; they are some of my most prized possessions.

Courtesy of Amber Leventry

The reflections are mostly stories through pictures, and the progression in how their creative minds think and then transfer onto paper in the course of a year is like watching a sunrise or flower bloom in slow motion. The sum of all of these prompts adds up to a beautiful product and reads like a diary or the memory book I had intended to keep for each of my kids. They were also conversation starters at the end of the day. Instead of just asking how their day at school went, I would ask about their daily reflection; it was a specific talking point that usually led into other discussions.

My kids continued weekly reflections when they went to kindergarten. As part of their Fearless Reader and Writer work, my kids would write a letter home each Friday. And then an adult in the house would write them back. The subject was their choice and the letter usually described a highlight from the week with a photo they drew to go with it. The goal was to get kids comfortable and confident with literacy in a non-teaching kind of way.

Storytelling and communication come through in pictures and broken letters and misspelled words. Connection happens too. Because as I tried to decipher what my kids wrote, I was finding gentle ways to essentially ask what the hell does this say? The pictures helped, but my kids’ willingness to either interpret or laugh it off because they didn’t know either was worth more than the actual words. It’s a great way to see their writing progress and their confidence grow. It was pretty special to see the grin on their faces, too, when I wrote affirming and silly letters back to them on Mondays.

These are the same reasons I wanted to try a “noticing wall.” The key, according to Woo, is to have all of the interactions happen quietly and at the child’s pace and desire. “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,” Woo wrote on Lifehacker.

There was no way all three of my kids could have shared one piece of scrap paper, or even a billboard sized poster board.

Woo told Scary Mommy that if you have more than one child, “You can give each child their own prompts, writing their name at the top. Or you can create some family prompts: What should we plant in our garden? What songs should we add to our road trip playlist?”

I grabbed three sheets of paper from the printer and taped them on the wall under each of their school pictures. I wrote their name at the top and asked them to tell me three things:

List 3 animals you would want to be.

Tell me 3 of your favorite book characters. Would you want to meet them?

Tell me 3 things you want to do this summer.

And then I waited. My kids walked by the wall with my notes on it several times, but it went unnoticed until my oldest was sitting on the toilet and saw what I had left for her and her siblings. There is nothing quiet about her. She is like the Kristen Wiig character from Saturday Night Live who can’t keep a secret and who can’t help herself when it comes to surprising someone with good news. My 8-year-old daughter started shouting from the bathroom and continued with her excitement and curiosity as she stumbled out while hiking up her pants.

“What’s that? What are we supposed to do? Ooooo! I want to do this now. Will you have a new one each day? Can we? Will you move the papers around the house? What do we call this? Are my questions harder because I am older? Do I have to use a certain color to write back?”

So much for not talking about the noticing wall.

Courtesy of Amber Leventry

In the middle of her avalanche of questions, her 6-year-old twin siblings came over and looked at the wall too. They needed some help reading their prompt and were a little bummed by the thought of writing back. I reminded them that pictures were great and they could practice writing words they knew or felt brave trying. I stayed pretty neutral about all of it. I said I would happily keep adding new comments or questions, I would probably keep them on the same wall each day, and that I hadn’t thought too much more about it. We could see where it goes. I also told them they didn’t need to do anything. Sibling rivalry is quite the force, though, and once they were all ready for school, they grabbed markers and pens and got to work.

I am going to keep doing this for a few weeks and see what happens. I have a feeling their interest will slow down a bit, but I suspect they will keep coming back to it—my daughters more than my son. I really don’t have any expectations, but I am looking forward to getting inside their heads a bit more without them feeling on the spot. I want to get to know them better in a non-nagging kind of way. I plan on keeping some of the papers too; they will go well in that memory book I can’t keep up with.

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