Dr. Rebecca Isbell’s Blog

For years, I have wanted to learn how to play the Native American Flute. I thought about it, checked on places to purchase, but never had time to follow through.

A couple of weeks ago, our local paper ran a story about an individual named James. He lives in my community, about 5 miles from my home in Jonesborough. His story was intriguing to me. He had been taught how to make and play the flute by his grandfather and father, both of Cherokee descent.

I saw this as my chance to learn how to play the Native American Flute. Every year I try to do something I have never done before, and I decided this year I would play my own authentic flute.

My husband Ben and I drove the short distance to his home and shop. James had begun making flutes again after his retirement. When confronted with a personal health crisis, he chose to return to the craft. He once again began creating beautiful wooden flutes reminiscent of his father and grandfather.

I found James to be creative and interesting. He was kind enough to show us how each flute was made and tuned. What a wonderful process! In sharing his talent and knowledge, he was keeping alive the tradition of his family.

As we talked, we learned we had a personal connection. Over 40 years ago, Ben had fitted James with his first pair of glasses, at around 6-years-old. We learned further that James also was one of my students from when I taught music at his elementary school. This was my first teaching job after graduating from college. This revelation had brought us full circle.

This amazing story and connection was the highlight of our holiday season. We reestablished a relationship with James, saw his creative process, and purchased a beautiful Native American Flute (tuned in G). I can hear the music in my mind, and now it’s up to me to replicate it. This season, learn something new, reestablish friendships, and value the creative work of an artist!

Happy Holidays,

For the past few months, I have had a growing concern for families with young children in their home for long periods of time. I have watched as parents and caregivers have been spending more and more time sitting in front of screens and directing their child’s actions. Having been a working mother of two for most of my professional life, I feel for the difficulties that parents and caregivers are encountering and the stress they are feeling to do the right thing. All this is complicated by the pandemic and the changes this virus has caused to our home life and families.

How could I help, as an early childhood educator? After much brainstorming, I have decided to provide a free gift to families of young children. I have just completed the series of Home Spaces for Learning that families can provide for their young children in their home. The focus is on providing a place where their child or children can play and learn independently. These home spaces will allow the caregiver to do other essential tasks while their children are engaged in joyful learning.

To give you a taste of the new series that will include Four (4) Home Spaces for Young Children’s Learning, I have attached the introduction of the areas and a way to register to receive the Home Spaces series free – over a four-week period. My hope is that this will help your family as things are getting busier for the holidays.

Why are these learning spaces important?

Young children will be able to shape their play, actively engage in activities that interest them, make choices, and problem-solve. They will be learning in the way young children learn best… through meaningful play.

You can access the content starting Monday, Dec. 7, by signing up at drisbell.com/families. You will be receiving the introduction of the series and the first “gift” when you register. I will also be sending these resources to everyone who is already on my list as well.

I will also be available to speak with parents, and caregivers free via Facebook Live.

We will discuss, answer questions, and support your family during this difficult time. You can visit drisbell.com/families for the dates and times for the Facebook Live sessions.

Families, teachers, and caregivers: If we work together, we can create a great learning environment during these critical early years!

Together we are stronger,

Note to Early Childhood Teachers:

Share these free resources to your families and encourage them to let their children work independently!


Looking for the Home Spaces for Young Children Introduction? Download it here.


It is time for us to throw away the darkness around us and think about all the wonderful things we can be thankful for:

  • Our family who provides the foundation on which we build our lives.
  • Our friends who comfort and celebrate with us and give us support to move on.
  • The amazing students I have enjoyed over the years. I have learned so much from them.
  • The little children who smiled, listened to my stories, and gave me a real hug. They are the reason I continue in my work.
  • The beautiful place I live in the Blue Ridge mountains, with trees and streams. It raises me up and calms me down.
  • A country where I can support who I want and not be afraid of the consequences.
  • The safe environment where I can express my ideas orally, in writing, and online.

Times are difficult and problems must be solved…

But the important things are still here for us and we are blessed!

Happy Thanksgiving!

We all had hoped that this pandemic would be over quickly. But, to our dismay, it is still with us. We now recognize it may be in the distant future before we can return to “live,” or on-site conferences and training.

We know that professional development for Early Childhood Teachers is essential and should be continual and of high quality. These planned sessions should provide support for teachers during this difficult time, help them reflect on their practices, and encourage new inspiring possibilities.

To address the need for specialized and “up-to-date” experiences, my team and I have developed and experimented with various virtual platforms. After eight months of experimentation we can now announce that we are ready to provide you with a collection of high-quality virtual training offerings!

These keynotes and sessions can be provided using Zoom or offered to you through prerecorded sessions of your choice for a longer period of viewing. You will be able to experience the training in a timeframe that works best for you. We can help!

It has always been a great joy for me to meet early childhood educators, hear their stories, and share hugs as we have done at conferences and trainings in the past. Now we have a new way of connecting, working together, and sparking the creative thinking of young children!

Click here to see what exciting opportunities are available for you today! Let us know how we can collaborate.

Stay safe and positive,

A group project is just what you need.

Our little community members in Jonesborough, Tennessee, were feeling isolated although we were only living a few doors apart. The problem we shared was how we could connect again without being too close to each other while maintaining our social distance.

Several years ago, my husband created a metal sculpture of a man in a rocking chair reading a book. Since this creation was built, we have added mannequins of children to sit around him, and each Fall, we would celebrate the Storytelling Weekend.

This year we expanded our small project to include our neighbors. We built wooden frames for the head, arms, and body so they could create people to add to our circle. Next, we gave each of our neighbors the frame to serve as a base to create an interesting mannequin to be displayed in our reading circle.

This was an open-ended activity, with many choices, different costumes, and distinctive facial expressions. Each neighbor created an amazing addition to our circle. Each figure also complied to CDC mask rules.

Each creative work was unique, colorful, and full of intriguing characteristics. They were made in their home and chosen elements of their choice were included.

After the mannequins were completed, they were added to the growing group. The project was individually completed but combined into a fabulous group collection.

Here are some pictures of our Community Reading Circle!


Let each child create a painting, sculpture, or design. Then combine them in unique ways to turn their individual effort into a group effort!

Stay safe and positive,

I thought you might be interested in the interview I recently did for a publication in India.

As we said in our past communication, “the world is shrinking.” But, what I find amazing is how many similar interests and concerns we share.

Collecting ideas and possibilities,

While we are confined in our homes, the world is shrinking around us. This past week I had the amazing opportunity to provide the keynote for the International Summit on Early Years, or ISEY 2020, originated in India. I learned so much about the shrinking world as we developed a plan for making new connections – a dream that became possible.

When I first received the invitation to be a part of this summit, I looked on my globe to locate India. I had never been to India but had read about this beautiful country. I wondered how far India was from my home in Tennessee in the United States. A search on a mobile device told me it was 7,750 miles from my home to Delhi, India. What did I have to share with leaders, teachers, and parents in this distant land? How could we make the impossible possible? What topics would connect to early childhood educators in India?

I began collaborating with the Summit Chair, Meghna Yadav and her colleagues, Jananee Gangadhar and Akshay Chpora.  I found that we share a concern. We all wanted to create a wonderful world that supported the development of young children. Early Educators in India were interested in developing creative thinkers, problem solvers, and communicators. Our common commitment helped us overcome some of the challenges that are a part of this new adventure. The first issue was the time difference – a nine-and-a-half-hour difference. How can we do a live keynote for a conference that is originating nine hours from me? What platform would work for India and my team in the US? So many questions and issues to be addressed. However, we developed a plan of action and solved the problems as they appeared.

Just Do it!

On Sept 4, I presented LIVE the Keynote on Meeting the Challenge of the 21st Century at 7:30 AM in Tennessee and 5:00 PM time in India.  We used an online platform called StreamYard and connected our mobile phones by WhatsApp. Over 2,500 people watched in India, UK, US, and Finland. Although we were thousands of miles apart, we connected virtually, answered questions, and celebrated Uniting for Young Children theme as we strive together to nurture their creative thinking.

When we feel so isolated today, it is wonderful to realize that people throughout the world share similar interest in developing the creative potential of ALL children. We are connected, we are working together, and we can make a difference in the lives of Young Children.

Dedicated to expanding the thinking of All Young Children!

Gardening has long been one of my interests, but I have seldom had the sufficient time to obtain great results. I have always tried to grow flowers and not vegetables.

This summer, along with many more people, I have had the time to focus on planting, watering, fertilizing, and enjoying the beauty of my very own flowers. Today I have fresh flowers on my table, in the kitchen, and next to my computer. They bring me joy!

As I watched my flowers bloom, I was reminded how we, as early childhood educators, nurture the growth of young children. Fröbel called the first preschool programs he designed in Germany as Kindergarten or Children’s Garden. It is a name that is appropriate for many early childhood programs in 2020.

We plant the seeds of learning in young minds that will develop for many years. We water their creative ideas as they think and express their thoughts. We fertilize their possibilities as we provide unique materials, variety of choices, and encourage curiosity.

As early childhood educators, you have the amazing opportunity to provide the support, environment, and foundation that will have wonderful results – young children who grow and bloom!

During these difficult times let us not forget how important you are in helping young children bloom!


I am forever encouraging you to try something new, and now that I have some time, I am venturing out into a different territory. Although I have enjoyed music and the arts for years, I have never painted.

So, this week I had my first lesson on painting with acrylics. I knew that the right teacher would make all the difference in my beginning experiences, so I chose carefully. Beverly, my teacher, is a talented local artist who is known for her innovative and unique mosaics as well as colorful paintings. In my contacts with her, I knew she would help me gain the basic skills but allow me to do it my own way.

In this new endeavor, I would need lots of support as I collected new techniques, tried new materials, and made choices.  It was a little scary when I first looked at the blank canvas. What could it be? Could I do it? Were my expectations too high?

As we began painting Three Trees in a Forest, I was cautious, shaky, and intimidated.  Beverly’s positive words encouraged me: “That’s the way,” “Looking good!”, “Nice!” and “It doesn’t have to be perfect!” Interwoven in her conversations were instructions for how to hold the brush, thin the thick paint, and make my own color.

It was exciting and exhilarating!

As I grow as a painter, I will share with you my feelings and hesitations.

So, today I am challenging you to venture into something new…and feel the excitement of your creative juices being set free!

Growing creatively,

Yesterday I listened to the eulogies dedicated to John Lewis from Atlanta, Georgia. Many powerful speakers shared Lewis’s principals that ruled his life: Kindness and Truth.

One gem, shared by Former President Obama, was the story he told of John Lewis when he was a little boy.  He was quiet and studious. His observant mother recognized that he was special and told him, “If you put it in your head, no one can take it away from you.” What a wonderful message his mother gave to her son. He did put so much in his head. He read, studied, and led.

In our difficult times this amazing leader and person of character will be missed.

It makes us reflect deeply about the positive messages we send to our children.