The Allure of a Clipboard

[Image description: A clipboard with a piece of paper on it that says, “Red cat, yellow cat, green cat, blue cat, purple cat, red bear, orange bear, yellow bear, green bear, blue bear” with checkboxes to the left and right of each of the items on the list. Many of the checkboxes are checked off. Some of the named cats and bears are also lying on the ground in the picture; they’re about 1” tall little plastic figures that I sometimes put in sensory bins or can be used as math manipulatives in classes or whatever. There is also a pen with a cat face on it, lying on top of the clipboard. End description.]
Child’s favorite activity: searching for something hidden somewhere in the room

My goal for child: that they would not feel completely threatened by the concept of writing/drawing/touching a pencil, but begin to see ways in which it could be meaningful

My plan: hide a lot of things around the room, make a checklist for those things, let kid search for the things and check off the ones that they have found

Bonus part of plan: bring a silly pen from my pen collection


We’ve been doing this for about 4 weeks strong now. I vary the checklist each time, I’m trying to find the right balance between “too much visual clutter on page” and “right amount of colors etc to make the lines more readable and not an overwhelming block of ‘boring’ text” for this specific child.

I did not make the child use the clipboard or even hand it to them at all. It was just set up, exactly like this, in the room, on the floor. The first time they asked me, “Wait, which ones do I have left to find?” I went “Huh, I’m not sure…you could check off the ones you have and see which ones are left?” super casually and then “made myself busy” so they couldn’t ask me to do it.

Throughout that session and the next few sessions they still asked me several times to do it for them, or asked me which ones they had found and which ones they hadn’t. Sometimes I did it for them. Sometimes I didn’t at all. Sometimes I picked up the ones they had found and began silently arranging them into rainbow order, making it easier for the child to take over the task of checking off the found ones. It depended on the moment.

Today they asked me for a clue to find the green bear and I told them, “I forgot where I put the green bear, honestly.” (We’re up to 16 tiny lil animals now every round, cut me some slack!)

They told me, as though it were patently obvious, “Well then you should just write down on a list where you put each of the animals so that you can give me clues for them when I need them.”

This child would not have suggested WRITING anything as a helpful strategy for anything a few weeks ago…They might have said, “Well you should just remember!” or “How can you not remember??”

I nodded as though this were an absolute revelation. “Writing down a list of where I put them all…that’s a good idea…I’ll have to try that next week.”

Now to figure out how to up the ante!