Teaching is Like Making Chocolate Chip Cookies

“Change lanes when conveeeeeeeeenient,” Mr. McDonald would say. I’m not sure the best way to teach driver’s education. I’m pretty sure one of the main ingredients is staying calm behind the wheel. Mr. Bruce McDonald taught me driver’s education when I took it the summer before I turned sixteen, and his calming presence in the car (and use of vowel stretching) helped me feel safe. He also had a brake on his side of the car. I knew he was on my side and would help me if I had a problem.

School is out now for summer. It is time for those of us in the business of education to reflect on the past year, rest, play, and start thinking of the upcoming year. My reflection centers most on gratitude. I was fortunate this year to have taught smart and hardworking undergraduate and graduate students at a university in a border town between the United States and Mexico. Many of my students cross a border every day to gain access to higher education. Just like Mr. McDonald did for me, it was my responsibility to support my students when needed. It was a pleasure! A guest on my iTunes show recently talked about teaching methods on our podcast. She said that teaching is like making chocolate chip cookies and that there are many ways to do it. Dr. Jean Feldman was making a good point that there are unlimited strategies for effective teaching. As I get ready to change lanes and move into a new school year, I will take happy classroom memories with me. The best part of making chocolate chip cookies is savoring every morsel.

Dads and Play

Dads benefit when they play with their children. Researchers studied fathers and found there were no differences in testosterone levels, but there was a decrease in cortisol and prolactin in fathers after just a half hour of playing with their children. This study suggests fathers experience hormonal responses when playing with their children (Gettler et al., 2011). Playing with children can decrease stress, be lots of fun, and create wonderful memories. 

Play is good for Dads!

My playspiration is my Dad! When he plays with children in our family, my Dad is totally engaged and present in the moment. His granddaughter reminded me that the last time Nonno was at our house they played hide-n-seek for “lots of hours.” True! It was probably about two hours without a break. 

My Dad believes play is important. Places to play are important too. When I was little my Dad built me a playhouse in our backyard. After putting in a full day’s work, he would come home and work on the playhouse until everyone went to sleep.

The Playhouse Nonno Built 

The Playhouse Nonno Built 

Thank you for being my Dad! Also, thank you for making PLAY an important part of our life together. I love you, Dad! 

Happy Father's Day to all Dads this Sunday. 


Source: Gettler, L. T., McDade, T. W., Agustin, S. S., & Kuzawa, C. W. (2011). Short-term changes in fathers' hormones during father–child play: Impacts of paternal attitudes and experience. Hormones & Behavior, 60, 599-606.

Dapper Days

Playing dress up is an activity many children enjoy. Early childhood programs often include a socio-dramatic play area or center in America. On a recent trip to Disney World I saw people of all ages engaging in the fun of dress up on "Dapper Day." Twice a year guests arrive at the Disney gates dressed to the nines. How fun to see that some "grown-ups" have not outgrown this playful part of childhood. 

Man's Best Friend Receives Accommodation

Maybe it has always been here and I just now noticed it. Across from the gates in Concourse B at the El Paso, Texas airport exists a quiet and relaxing lounge for service animals. 

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Years ago I had an internship with Dr. Debra Hamilton. We traveled throughout the county providing home visits to young children with disabilities and their families.  Dr. Hamilton had a black lab named Hagar who was her service dog. 

One family we worked with that summer had a toddler who was losing her vision just like Dr. Hamilton. When we would pull up to her driveway, "Sonya" and her siblings would be lined up at the window waiting for Hagar to arrive.  Dr. Hamilton promised the children they could play with Hagar if they allowed "Sonya" and us time to work during the visit. 

Hagar was always laser focused during the session. Once we were done working, Hagar turned into a playful puppy with his tail wagging enthusiastically when his service vest came off. 

Thank you El Paso airport! What a thoughtful way to serve those who provide so much service to others. 

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“Hold On, Mr. President!”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, has recommended that we prepare young people for living in a world of powerful images, words, and sounds. Parents and professionals working with children have a responsibility to help them interpret and create personal meaning. What do we need to know about media that can help our children?

This was a question I asked renowned reporter, ABC news anchor, author of the book "Hold On, Mr. President," and White House correspondent, Mr. Sam Donaldson.

Mr. Sam Donaldson at our state's annual press women conference.

Mr. Sam Donaldson at our state's annual press women conference.

Check out the podcast to hear Mr. Donaldson share his ideas on several topics like: early childhood education, communication, media literacy, asking questions of public officials, and much more. http://www.marisamacy.com/podcast/

Source: Donaldson, S. (1987). Hold On, Mr. President! New York: Random House Inc.

What Not to Ask

There is an art to asking parents questions. What not to ask parents may be just as important as what to ask.

“Can you be here at 1:30pm on Monday for our appointment to talk about your child?”

 “What worries you about your child?”

These are some of the many questions parents get asked.

Recently, I had a chance to chat with Dr. Frances Page Glascoe on my iTunes show about her work with parents and professionals. One of the things she shared was how to use time efficiently when interviewing parents about their children during pediatric encounters. Dr. Glascoe talked about how to use different tools to gather information prior to the parent/professional visit. This could help avoid the oh, by the way and door knob concerns at the end of an interview when the time is up.

Health communication literature has a well-known study called the “3-Min. Interview.” Researchers studied encounters between healthcare providers and patients. They found that if the professional interrupted the patient within the first 3 minutes of the encounter, the patient was less likely to give information that would lead to an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Glascoe cautioned the use of the word, “worry.” For example, is there anything that worries you about your child? This could be a loaded word that parents may have difficulty addressing. Words and methods for communicating with parents may have a significant impact on service quality.

Check out the podcast to hear Dr. Glascoe talk about facilitating effective communication with parents and much more. http://www.marisamacy.com/podcast/

Dr. Frances Page Glascoe

Dr. Frances Page Glascoe

Lights, Camera, Action!

Since World War II, ethical standards for conducting research with human participants has been evolving. Researchers affiliated with a university MUST get approval from their institutions’ Internal Review Board BEFORE beginning a study with human participants. Outside of academia there may be different processes and standards for conducting research with human participants. If this topic is of interest to you, consider reading a book by Rebecca Skloot about the evolution of research on a human subject by the name: Henrietta Lacks.

The human cells are referred to as HeLa for the first two letters of the participant’s first and last names. Skloot tells the story of how cells taken from Lacks in 1951, without her permission, have been used widespread by scientists all over the world for several decades to learn more about a range of conditions including polio and cancer. This fascinating story is going to be told on HBO this month. Oprah Winfrey plays the daughter of Henrietta Lacks who shares the impact the research on HeLa cells has had on her life and of other members of the Lacks family. Do you hear that sound? That’s me setting my DVR. I can’t wait to see this movie!

Skloot, R. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Bird Feeder: Spring Craft

Are you looking for a spring activity to do with the little ones in your life? Look no further than your kitchen pantry and bathroom. To make a feeder you can set out on nearby trees for your feathered friends, gather the following things: peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and toilet paper rolls. Start by smearing the peanut butter onto the cardboard. Next, coat the peanut butter rolls with seeds. You’re done! Simple!

Bird feeder

Bird feeder

Have fun doing this craft with kids, and get ready to see the birds nibble their way through spring. Attracting birds to a child’s environment creates endless opportunities to learn and be entertained by nature.

Parental Concerns

Many parents do not know where to turn when they are concerned about their child’s development. In one community I lived in, the lead agency placed ongoing advertisements in the local newspaper that they were conducting a free screening fair the third Friday of every month at the local library. Parents with concerns about their child could visit the library that day and meet a specialist who would conduct a developmental screening during a play-based assessment, as well as have the parent complete a questionnaire about their child’s growth and development. The screening is at no cost to the family or parent(s). Each community has their own way of doing what the law calls, “Child Find.” Community awareness and developmental-behavioral screening assessments are required in order to address parental concerns.

If you are a parent, here are some questions to consider:

Is there anything about my child that concerns me?

What do I hope to find out from the screening assessment?

How would I describe my child to a professional who is unfamiliar with my child or family?

How does my child communicate?

How does my child play?

How does my child participate in routines?

How does my child perform self-help tasks like washing hands, feeding, toileting, etc.?

How does my child use her small and large muscles? 

How does my child interact with familiar and unfamiliar adults?

How does my child interact with familiar and unfamiliar peers?

What are my child’s strengths?

What are some of my child’s characteristics that make me smile or laugh?

What are the best ways to communicate follow up information with me? Email, phone, text, face-to-face meetings, etc.? Do I need an interpreter?


If you would like more information about screening, contact Dr. Macy and/or check out this book:

Bricker, D., Macy, M., Squires, J., & Marks, K. (2013). Developmental screening in your community: An integrated approach for connecting children with services. Paul H Brookes Publishing, Baltimore, MD.

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“Do you love children? Do they know it? Children will not learn from adults who don’t love them,” said Major General John Henry Stanford who was hired in 1995 to serve as the Superintendent of the Seattle School District. His leadership skills were unorthodox but widely admired by teachers, principals, students, and parents. When he was hired he promised, “Give me a mission and I will get it done.”

Major General John Henry Stanford

Major General John Henry Stanford

Many influential leaders have been teachers. At least four American presidents were teachers. Poets, writers, artists, musicians, politicians, inventors, and scientists have been leaders in the classroom. Here is a short list of some famous teachers:

Al Gore, Alexander Graham Bell, Andy Griffith, Art Garfunkel, Bill O’Reilly, Billy Crystal, Clara Barton, D. H. Lawrence, Dan Brown, Frank McCourt, Gabriel Byrne, Gene Simmons, George Orwell, Hugh Jackman, J. K. Rowling, Jon Hamm, Kal Penn, Kate Capshaw, Laura Bush, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura Mercier, Leonard Maltin, Louisa Mae Alcott, Madeline Albright, Maya Angelou, Mr. T, President Barack Obama, President Jimmy Carter, President John Adams, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert Frost, Roberta Flack, Sheryl Crow, Stephen King, Steve Wozniak, Sting, Sylvester Stallone, Thomas Paine, and Tony Danza.

Major General Stanford was buried in 1998 in the Arlington National Cemetery after fighting leukemia. A book he wrote called, “Victory in Our Schools: We CAN Give Our Children Excellent Public Education” lays out much of his vision where he stated, “I produce destinies for children!” I would love to have a conversation with Stanford to learn his thoughts and ideas about public education today. I wonder what he would say...


I can make a proper French onion soup, or onion soup gratinée. Thank you, CIA! The main ingredients are simple—onions and chicken broth. Oh and sherry! The soup’s flavor comes from time. In order to develop the correct flavor, the onions need to cook slowly so they can become caramelized and acquire a deep rich color like espresso. Care needs to be taken so the onions don’t burn.

Gratinée means browned. The brown coloring comes from the onions being scraped on the pot with a wooden spoon for about an hour. Chicken (NOT beef) broth is poured over the onions once they have reached perfection.

Many cooks take a shortcut when making onion soup by using brown beef stock (for the color) instead of chicken stock. Shortcuts can save time. Shortcuts can sometimes make life easier. Shortcuts do not lead to optimal outcomes. 

A professor of mine at the University of Oregon once wrote an article about the tyranny of time. He showed how missed opportunities for students in special education can have a significant outcome on child well being and school success. The earlier we can address a child's needs can make a big difference for the child and his/her family.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has a component called Child Find where it is the lead agency's responsibility to locate children eligible for services in a timely manner. No shortcuts, please. Early identification of a delay or disability is of paramount importance in the lives of little ones. Time matters in childhood. 

Macy making  onion soup gratinée at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA)

Macy making onion soup gratinée at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA)

Does Agency Status Matter?

The lead agency is Education for school age special education. However, the lead agency varies when it comes to special education for infants and toddlers (Part C of IDEA). Some states may have education, whereas other states may have social and/or health services. For example, the lead agency for infant and toddler services is Education in Oregon. If a child and family moved to New Mexico the lead agency is Health.

The eligibility criteria and federal funding awarded to each state for IDEA-Part C services varies from state to state in America. What does this mean for a family with a child who is eligible for early childhood intervention due to a risk, delay, or disability? It could mean that if they move to a different state they may experience differences in child/family services.

A recent study examined lead agency status in the United States and outlying territories. Specifically, Dr. Torres wanted to know if there is a functional relationship between a lead agency’s status for early intervention and the amount of per capita funding awarded to the state for services after controlling for population size. She found no statistically significant difference in lead agency status and funding. She did find that outlying territories experienced 14 times more funding when compared to the 50 states.  

Dr. Torres also wanted to know more about the criteria used for early intervention (Part C) eligibility determination. She used a formula by Dunst and Hamby (2004) to classify the restrictiveness of eligibility criteria as: (1) broad or liberal (includes environmental and/or biological risk), (2) moderate, (3) narrow (does NOT include environmental and/or biological risk). She found no statistically significant difference in lead agency status and criteria for defining the eligible population.

This study is one of the first of its kind to examine lead agency status as the independent variable. Research is an important endeavor that requires continued funding. A quote by the writer Zora Neale Hurston states, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” Let us remain curious! Money to do research helps too!

Writer Zora Neale Hurston

Writer Zora Neale Hurston

Source: “Variability in State Lead Agency Eligibility Criteria and IDEA-Part C Per-Capita Budget Commitments: An Exploratory Analysis,” by Christina Torres (2017)



My dear friend, Dr. Steve Fairchild, is a retired professor from the early childhood education program at James Madison University. He taught an early childhood science class and shared some really cool experiments with me. One of them was with crayons. There are exciting ways to re-purpose crayons and integrate the arts with science.  

One way to transform a batch of misfit crayons is to melt them into new things. I wanted to make chunky crayons for toddlers, and students with fine motor delays who have limited use of a 3-finger grasp or tripod. I took my friend’s recipe and melted crayons. I experimented with different methods. The first time I put crayons in the oven. The finished product was meh. 


The second time I tried placing crayons in an ice cube tray to melt in the hot summer sun. Again, meh! 

Then finally I contacted my friend Steve who told me about melting the crayons in a clean tin can (old soup can will do just the trick) over a pan filled with water. Voila! A beautiful hot can full of liquid wax! Pour the liquid mixture into a mold. I used old recycled plastic fruit cups. The crayons pop out easily after they are dried. 

Homemade Crayons

Homemade Crayons

These homemade chunky crayons are a good alternative for children who are not ready to use their fingers to create a tripod grasp. The best part is the children can help you make them.

Carplay Diem

It is that time of year when people pile into cars and hit the open road to visit friends and family. 

Being stuck in a car for hours does not have to be boring, or an unpleasant experience. Seize the day to play and have fun on your road trip. Joe Desimone was a farmer who understood Carplay Diem and the need to enjoy the journey. Instead of bringing his fruits and vegetables to an outdoor market to sell in boring cardboard boxes, he essentially created a parade float showcasing the prized beauties from his farm. 

Pike Place Market proprietor, Joe DeSimone.

Pike Place Market proprietor, Joe DeSimone.

The voyage can be enjoyable for adults and kids with a little planning. Creating a way for the family to interact with one another in the car can be a challenge when individuals have their faces planted in their electronic devices. Here are some ideas for having an interactive road trip with your children:

Make a busy box for each child. Take a shoe box and have the child decorate their own entertainment box. Include objects they can manipulate with their hands easily and from their car seat. Consider objects where the child uses her/his imagination. Include novel things that has the potential to engage the child for an extended time period. 

Check out audio books the whole family can enjoy for free from the public library. A favorite author of ours is Kate DiCamillo. She writes interesting stories that can entertain both children and adults.

Make and take snacks the family can eat at rest areas or on the road. Have kids help pick out what to include in their snack bag. A carabiner can be attached to the back of the seat with his/her bag of goodies and/or other objects needed for the car trip.

Play games in the car. Word Association games are where someone in the car begins with a word. Others in the car say words associated with the original word.

A game of “I Spy with My Little Eye Something _____…” is where each person has a turn coming up with an object that others have to look for outside of the car.

The license plate game is a fun way for kids to learn about geography and states.

The 20 Questions game is where others in the car ask questions that can be answered with yes or no of the person who has thought of a person, place, or thing.

Here is a picture of my glamorous Mama going somewhere in her muscle car. We could make up a story about where she is going all dressed up. While in the car, pick another car on the road. Be sure everyone in the car has gotten a good look at it. Then make up stories about the people and/or the car.

My Mom circa 1969

My Mom circa 1969

Finally, the Going on a Picnic game gets players thinking and talking about what they would bring on a hypothetical picnic. Feel free to create a variation on one of these games, or the car can make up their own game(s).

This time when you travel by car with your family, make a positive memory each person can take with them into the future. The memories of interacting with one another cannot be replicated from playing Angry Birds for 16 hours. Play and have fun on your road trip by interacting with each other. Carplay Diem!  


Asking a Favor

How we ask for something many times determines the outcome. I had the good fortune as a child to attend a canoe camp on Orcas Island in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. We paddled our hearts out on trips to Friday Harbor, Orcas, and Jones islands. Back at camp headquarters we had a well-stocked camp store. My parents gave me a little spending money for the store, but the budget evaporated early in my stay. I spent it on candy. What’s a girl to do stuck on an island with no money? I put my stamps and stationery to work—I wrote my parents a letter (this was in the late 70s before cell phones). 


Around the same time a researcher from Harvard, Dr. Ellen Langer, published a paper with her colleagues based on experiments they conducted on how to ask a favor. In their experiment, the researchers set up a copy machine at a university and experimented with different types of favor asking (Langer, Blank, & Chanowitz, 1978). They found  there was greater compliance with small favors compared to big favors. There was also more compliance when a reason was given, rather than no reason or explanation for asking the favor.

I wasn’t reading research from Harvard during camp, but somehow I intuitively knew how to ask my parents for a favor. The letter from camp started by me telling them how much I missed them, and then all the things I was doing at camp. I asked for a modest amount of money so that I could buy materials to make a lanyard key chain. The small favor, paired with a reason for why I needed it, resulted in compliance. Ca-ching! My awesome parental units sent me way more money than I expected.

When we work on a team, we may need to ask team members for a favor. Effective communication can make team work more productive. The next time you need to ask a favor, try applying the Langer principles. You may just get your flashy lanyard in the end. 

Childhood Crisis

This past week there was a 6.2 earthquake in the Italian town of Amatrice near Rome. Over 200 people were killed and many injured. Several families and children have lost their homes. South of Amatrice, my Mom lived through the 1962 earthquake in Campania, Italia.   

Mom was working in the tobacco fields on the family farm at 12:44pm on August 21st when the 5.4 magnitude earthquake destroyed the family home. Their house collapsed and all that was left was rubble. The family lived in tents with no indoor plumbing for two years while they slowly rebuilt their lives and house. 

L.toR.    Lorenzo Vacca, Gelarda Vacca Giangregorio, Sofia Vacca Morella, Amalia Cutugno Vacca, Elisabetta Vacca Galliano, Vincenzo Vacca, and Antonio “Tony” Vacca

L.toR. Lorenzo Vacca, Gelarda Vacca Giangregorio, Sofia Vacca Morella, Amalia Cutugno Vacca, Elisabetta Vacca Galliano, Vincenzo Vacca, and Antonio “Tony” Vacca

Everyday children experience crises like these that are completely out of anyone’s control. Natural disasters cause great damage. The American School Counselor Association recommends the following ways to help children during a crisis: (a) try to maintain routines to offer predictability, (b) limit exposure to news, (c) provide honest information that is developmentally appropriate, and (d) listen and be responsive to children’s concerns and fears. We can help children and families in crisis. “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all,” ~Emily Dickinson. Sending my love and prayers for children and families experiencing crises.