Any parent who hears their baby speak for the first time knows how exhilarating that sound is. There is a definite distinction between babbling and a real bono fide word. What will it be first, mama or dada or some variation of the caregiver’s name? We wait anxiously for that moment and congratulate the child with accolades, excitement, and even hugs and kisses. It’s a milestone for sure.
Once they have mastered a basic vocabulary of a two or three year old, it’s usually smooth sailing from that point on, even with various pronunciations. It’s amazing to hear a child develop a large vocabulary from simply listening to others speak.
It doesn’t take long for a young child to learn the power of words. After sorting through and perhaps using them indiscriminately, they discover the wonderful ability to communicate just about every need or want.
As an example, my soon to be four year old grandson eagerly explained to me that he wanted to go to the bike store near his preschool. I asked if he had ever been there before or if mommy or daddy took him there. He replied, “No they didn’t.” I asked how he knew about it and he answered, “Because I see it every day on my way to school and I’d like to see the bikes inside.”
I could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t sure if I would honor his request. While strapping him into his car seat after picking him up at school, he provided me with the most convincing rationale for why I should stop there before we headed home.
“Grammy, trust me you’re going to love this bike store. It has really cool bikes that we could both look at and it won’t take too long. We can stop now because it is right here. We have time. Trust me, trust me you’re really going to love it!”
His speech sounded convincing enough and we did have enough time, so of course I stopped at the bike store and we both enjoyed our visit. He consulted the owner about a bike he liked and also asked if they did repairs. He asked if he could see how and where the owner fixes bikes. The owner was incredibly obliging and showed us his work station. He gave Troy a key chain and showed him all the various tools he uses.
Troy talked about the store on the ride back home, what he had learned, what he thought was interesting. He explained that he might want to go back there again even though he already has a bike, because eventually he would need a bigger one.
Thinking of his future, I can’t help but wonder if his command of the English language will take him very far in life. At the very least it will serve him well accomplishing his goals over the next few years. There will no doubt be more interesting places he’ll want to visit. As Troy would say, “Trust me!”
For those of you who teach in schools, homeschool or work with school-aged children, you may have heard of the story called Flat Stanley. Short version finds Stanley in an accident and smashed flat. This enables him to go places where he might not otherwise be able to go. Stanley then proceeds to visit family and friends around the country via the U.S. mail system. He may even find himself in another country. He spends time with his guests and is included in photos that depict his adventures. Stanley is mailed back to the classroom and children share all the different places he’s been and all of his adventures.
My grandson in Oklahoma sent me his Flat “Griffin” a few weeks ago. I took this challenge quite seriously and brought him everywhere I went, including the grocery store. He fit well in my purse and only suffered a few crinkles. Except for the day we went to the park with my youngest grandson Troy. That day Flat Griff had a real workout.
He climbed up bars and down slides. He flapped in the wind on the swings. He landed on the soft bark more than once without an injury. It was his last ride down the slide that ended his fun day at the playground. Poor Flat Griff broke his arm. We checked to see if he was okay and then tucked him and his arm in Grammy’s purse for safe keeping.
When we arrived back home we taped him up without a whimper. He was so brave.
We ended our time with Flat Griffin by taking a road trip to the mountains. He enjoyed seeing three different states and stopping at a favorite sports store of his uncles.
We mailed him back to Oklahoma and hope that he arrived safely.
There is something special about connecting with children in this way. Nothing beats in person visits but helping a class of children learn a little more about their fellow students’ friends and family along with interesting and fun facts about cities/states/countries is worth the adventure and time.
I’d like to mail a Flat Evonne to a few places around the world that I have not seen yet and hopefully learn about and enjoy my vicarious adventures. Now I just have to find a willing participant to greet me there.
When you have more decades behind you than ahead of you the mirror reflection tells a much deeper story than just wrinkles and lines.
Each line represents a story, a moment in time when life happened. Perhaps we can’t trace each one to a specific event but we certainly can recall occurrences that brought about an emotion or two and left it’s mark.
When we look in the mirror, what is our usual reaction, a smile, a frown, a quizzical expression?
Looking in a mirror as a child we see innocence, purity, vulnerability and a spark of hope for what is yet to come. If you’ve ever noticed children seeing their reflection in a mirror it usually includes a smile. They like what they see. Why not? It’s validating and inspires confidence. It also encourages experimentation, like sticking out tongues, crossing eyes and generally silly expressions that promote laughter and creativity.
Somewhere along life’s journey that smile may become hard to muster in some cases. It’s obviously still available to see and on occasion we might surprise ourselves with a big grin, but we use it sparingly.
For those who read my blogs regularly, you know that I often include a list of some sort. Here is another one.
Reasons to resurrect your smile in 2022.
We’ve all heard that it takes less facial muscle to frown than to smile so we might want to smile more often just for the pure exercise value.
We’ve been seeing masks for about two years now and we all need to see folks smiling again.
Smiling at others signals that you see them and you care about them.
Smiling at yourself in the mirror sends positive, self-affirming signals to your brain.
Smiles cost you nothing, but yield great benefits.
Even your dog appreciates your smile, according to new studies on the subject.
With the last few years of not seeing faces, it’s about time to break out those smiles again. Never thought much about New Year’s resolutions before, mainly because they are so hard to keep. But this smiling thing might just be doable. Give it a try, I know I am.
As parents we often find ourselves focused on the “raising” of our children rather than the relishing of every moment. We take the responsibility seriously, reading whatever we can find, asking friends and family with more experience than us or just learning what works through trial and error.
It occurs to me that I might have benefited from a do-over, but I’m not afforded that possibility. That is unfortunate because age can provide a greater perspective on what is really important. I’ll have to settle for the belief that my children survived their time with me and are well-adjusted adults knowing how to contribute to their community.
They often tell me that they are thankful for me and their father but we made plenty of mistakes.
Even though there are no parenting do-overs, I have the incredible privilege of being a Grammy. It’s a much better family position in my opinion. You don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. You don’t feel the need to be in constant control of every situation. You don’t even need to raise your voice.
Having also been a teacher and school and district administrator I’ve learned what doesn’t work by way of punishment, discipline and so called motivation. I’ve written extensively about these in my book and other blog entries here on my website. Threats, praise/rewards for compliance and withholding based on behavior are unproductive and harmful tactics often used in schools and at home.
Obviously being a parent comes with a few caveats.
There is no manual.
There is no one size fits all.
There is a short window of time.
What’s important is to relinquish the urge to mold your children into your perfect image. None of us is perfect.
How do we undo any negative residual effects based on how our parents may have “raised” us? How do we focus on the positives while supporting the growth and well-being of our little charges? It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. It’s hard work and exhausting until we realize that it’s not really that hard after all.
The terms “child-rearing, raising our kids, training them, or teaching them” may be misnomers. I’ve discovered that parenting is more about us than our children. Are we willing to learn what we need to learn in spite of what we think we know?
Humility and forgiveness along with a heavy dose of love are essential ingredients for a successful experience with our children.
I’m able to contribute to the growth of my three year old grandson, since we spend at least three days a week together. I love his mind, heart and energy. I’m the benefactor of the gifts he brings and freely shares with me. In a sense, being with this little guy is kind of a do-over.
I’ve compiled a short list of reminders for those of you who are parenting for the first time.
PLAY with your toddler, child, or young person.
Put your hand held devices away and BE IN THE MOMENT.
Resist the urge to punish. LOOK for underlying causes instead and address those.
LISTEN to them and follow their lead.
The FIRST FIVE YEARS are critical but so are the remaining ones.
I often suggest homeschooling for those who can do it. But homeschooling that just replicates school is not what I suggest. There are plenty of good resources for parents willing to give it a shot. Connect with those resources in your area and consider the benefits for both you and your child.
In the meantime, embrace your role as parent. It’s how you learn who YOU really are, so you can become even better!
My husband Norm used to say that with each passing day he could better see the end of the conveyor belt.
At first, I wasn’t clear on his analogy until it occurred to me that I had walked, jumped and even hopped off many a conveyor belt or escalator over the years. It’s the end of the ride so to speak and with it always brought a bit of apprehension knowing that timing is everything.
A family story that his sister told was a vivid reminder that one needs to pay attention on the conveyor belt or it could end up very messy. After a wonderful trip together, she, her husband, her sister and brother-in-law were all headed back to their car at the airport long term parking lot. To get there, they had quite a trek that included a very long conveyor belt or people mover. While all of them were only in their early sixties, they decided that the belt would get them to their car faster than walking.
As they approached the end of the belt, her sister turned back for a split second to ask a question. At the same time, one husband had successfully stepped off the belt and started walking. Her sister was next. She lost balance when she turned back around and missed the step off point only to land face down as she rolled the rest of the way off the belt.
What followed was a comic routine that bystanders enjoyed and probably remembered for a very long time. The sister on the floor was followed by her sister on top of her and the last husband on top of the two of them sandwiched in between several pieces of luggage.
If it was just this family it would have been plenty, but others followed with at least two more added to the heap. The first husband turned around when he heard all the commotion to see his sister and brother-in-law, his wife and two others sprawled out on the floor, luggage all around and uproarious laughter. He wanted to know “what in the world happened” as he examined the pile of humanity just a few inches from the end of the conveyor belt.
One woman who landed on the very top of the pile refused to find the humor in this situation. She yelled a few profanities and after hoisting herself to a standing position, stormed off mumbling all the way.
A conveyor belt can be tricky for sure. You know it’s coming and you try to be prepared but anything can change the dynamics of the drop off point. The belt can stop, slow down, or speed up. Others might block the clear path you’ve set and you have to recalculate your moves. It can also depend upon how much baggage you have.
Choosing how to exit is important. We can fly off or land in a heap. We can step off smoothly or keep backing up to avoid the inevitable. One thing is certain, there is an end just like there is a beginning.
It’s this conveyor belt of life that has me thinking more and more about where it might end. That’s what my dear late husband meant.
None of us knows the exact end point from where we currently are but we can enjoy the ride along the way, right?
This is a milestone year for me and for all those who graduated high school in 1971. It seems like ages ago that we were singing our favorite songs with James Taylor, Carole King, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Or dancing to the best Motown music by the Temptations, Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye.
We enjoyed being with our friends and made every effort to extend that time beyond our classes together. We were living in our protective high school bubble, filled with the usual school stuff like cramming for tests, talking on the phone for hours and planning for the weekends.
But on the outside, something was trying to burst that bubble.
We lived through the Vietnam War even though many of us didn’t understand why we were there. The world around us had experienced massive changes. Protests and unrest were the norm in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Assassinations and tragedies seemed common place. African American and Women’s rights came to the forefront. Young people struggled to comprehend what was happening. Fear, mistrust and confusion entered our bubble and it was difficult to adjust.
At some point in time, it was as though a generation decided to turn on the lights in a very dark room.
Inside that room, visible for all to see, especially the young people, was not only dust and cobwebs, but rotted floorboards and peeling wall paint. There was also a stench that was indescribable. What do we do with all this? How do we clean this place and make it something beautiful? That question still permeates the thoughts of many young and older people today. They are still grappling with some lingering remnants in that now, semi-dark room.
It’s not easy to change the flow or to nudge it in a different direction. Some in my generation don’t particularly care to change much of anything and others are still energized to see it through to a better end. Some just prefer a comfortable familiar, where they have discovered another kind of protective bubble.
Bubbles eventually burst no matter how hard we try to keep them in tact. It’s okay. Being outside the bubble has the potential to give us a new perspective. It can help us learn more about ourselves and others.
Whether an activist or a pacifist or a status quo-ist, we all can learn from each other. Kids do it instinctively. We did too when we were children.
If left without hovering or biased adult interference, except for matters of safety, little ones learn how to navigate their challenges through trial, error and negotiation. They eventually learn to build bridges and on ramps. They learn that differences in thought are not to be feared or silenced. Initially, it may be easier for some than others, but eventually they discover their own value and what they can bring to the table.
In those moments, learning out of their bubbles, they are making something beautiful. They are building relationships.
As I remember 50 years ago and think about what I value today in regards to those high school years, it’s the relationships I made and still maintain. Each of those friendships may look differently today. Sometimes we blossom in different directions on the issues of life, like religion, politics, and family. But in the big scheme of things, we can agree on some basic principles if we so choose.
Kindness, compassion, understanding and humility, built on the premise that we are all created equal has now, as it did when we were children, the power to make something beautiful in our lives.
Borrowing the title from an old Dusty Springfield song, which clearly ages me I know, seems to convey my thoughts on this matter in which I write today.
Maybe it’s the ability to observe without an agenda. Maybe it’s the lack of preconceived notions. Maybe it’s watching without judging. Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with age.
Perhaps it’s about raw, authentic, built in curiosity and brilliance manifested in the most extraordinary ways.
I know I say it often but it bears repeating. Learning is not the result of what the teacher does, but how the learner innately interacts with the world around them.
I was in my twenties, thirties and forties while being a mom to four very bright, energetic and curious children who are now grown. This year I reached the noted distinction of having four in their forties. How in the world did that happen so quickly? I watched them learn and grow even though I had somewhat narrow notions of how that was supposed to happen.
Over the years, my experience as a teacher, administrator, and grandparent, gradually shifted my perspective on teaching and learning.
I first was a grandma at forty five and I am still enjoying new little ones being added. Three years ago, Troy arrived and most recently 8 year old Griffin, through the marriage of my second oldest son and his sweet wife, Griff’s mom. My “grand” total so far, is eleven and counting.
When the first ones arrived, I lived across the country and was working full-time which only gave me holidays and spring/summer weeks to visit and spend time with them. Every moment was precious and wonderful memories were made with loads of stories to tell in the years to come.
It was a different kind of grandparenting and took a lot of faith to assure me that regardless of the miles or time lapse in between visits, we still built close relationships. Many grandparents find themselves in this kind of situation. It’s the quality time that counts, even though deep inside we all want more of that.
In those 15 years, I observed the sweet curiosity and innovative energy in each one of those dear grandchildren. It was a delight to watch them, spend time with them, take them on vacations and see them grow.
I remember thinking how brilliant these grands were and still are. I was moved by how they navigated their world as we took them to beaches, oceans, rivers and streams, museums, historic destinations, big cities and little ones, parks and walking trails. We took them to plays, dance performances, theater, and art galleries. We traveled together by plane, car, train, boat, bus, trolley, and horse drawn carriage.
They asked a few questions along the way and were terrific travelers. Our many special photo albums document our adventures.
At sixty-five, Troy arrived twenty years after my first grandchild, Maria. Being retired, I now had more time, closer proximity, and much less energy than I had at forty-five.
I am thrilled that I can be available to watch Troy three days a week. When I used to see the grands at three month intervals, I now see week to week changes and growth. It is so wonderful. I see him discover and learn without any preconceived agenda on my part.
Since I taught in a classroom for many years, and supervised others in this endeavor, I thought there was a “right way” to teach. I thought learning happened because of direct teaching. Perhaps for some it does to a certain extent.
The kind of learning that lasts beyond a test, has much less to do with teaching than it does the curiosity, interest and sense of meaning for the learner. When children are enabled and empowered to choose, investigate, experiment and play with the tools in their environment, deep and lasting learning happens.
Wish it could be that way for all children. Wish teachers and parents understood the power in that kind of learning. It is truly incredible to observe.
I guess I have always been drawn to children. I love their innocence and pure hearts. Wishing it could always be that way in our world. Wishing that hatred of others, disregard for life, and greed were not part of our human existence. None of us starts out that way. It is learned behavior or lack of healthy support in the growing years. My personal faith tells me that it doesn’t have to be that way. I try to live my life by that belief.
A certain quote in the bible seems appropriate here.
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Without much religious commentary or dissection, let’s just assume that the heart of a child is humble and innocent. It is trusting but curious. It is looking for meaning and purpose in life, in it’s own rudimentary way.
How incredibly powerful to watch, participate in and to support the growth of a little one in this life.
I can’t think of a greater privilege or responsibility.
No Learning Loss for Troy as we build train stations, bridges, and tunnels with dominoes and blocks. If only life was this uncomplicated.
Turn to any news media sources and you’ll hear the often repeated myth that children are experiencing learning loss due to the pandemic-induced shutdowns happening in most schools across our country. The truth is, you can’t rely on the media to provide any credible information regarding the evidence that science presents on any given day, no matter what your political persuasion.
Because of our reaction to the unknown as well as our overt political polarization in these intense times, we deemed it appropriate to close everything down and stay inside to slow the spread of this unknown, killer Covid-19 virus. This included schools. A year ago in March the shift to “school” at home began for the majority of young people across our nation.
It took a while to catch on as the inequities of remote learning manifested in predictable ways. Now, one year later, there are still many schools that are not fully open except for a range of private schools, including Catholic. Depending upon the local teachers unions, some schools may never fully reopen or return to normal any time soon. Some are using a hybrid model and will complete the school year in that manner.
Without an end in sight, a moving target is hard to manage. Dr. Fauci in a recent interview responded to a current study suggesting that there is no marked difference between three and six feet distancing measures for students in schools. Dr. Fauci agreed with the research. However, the six foot requirement has been one of the main hurdles to reopening schools.
Many schools believe that remote schooling is not the same as in person learning. Teachers and their districts hope for the best even amid plans to require state testing this year. Testing seems a cruel and unusual punishment after a school year like this one but it’s proponents consider it an important accountability measure, one whose purpose is to address performance gaps among various demographics. That’s what it’s typically designed to do.
Even in the best of circumstances, schools have experienced performance gaps for many, many years. Remote schooling promises to shed a blinding light on the existing gaps even more so.
The “learning loss” mantra is not the same as performance gaps. Learning loss presumably effects everyone. Gaps are distances measured between groups. But it’s believed that the already existing gaps will be even greater due to this past year and a half outside of the school setting.
What exactly does learning loss mean?
Self-proclaimed experts say, learning loss is attributed to lack of in person teaching and learning for over one year now. It’s hard to imagine how teachers would be held accountable to ensure that every major grade level standard is covered let alone tested and graded during a time like this. It’s hard enough to covered the glut of standards in the a “normal” year of schooling.
Many have adjusted to working at home, but teachers had to basically shift gears midstream, likely without the adequate time, resources and training to pull off such a unique feat. Savvy teachers who use and understand the tools of technology may have had a small advantage, but the learning curve was still steep. Even more so if they have children of their own to care for while zooming with their class of 20-40 students everyday.
Parents too had a similar challenge of working remotely and keeping up with their child’s school work. Juggling computer time and access for themselves proved quite challenging.
I remember my former school district brainstorming this scenario many years ago. How we would ensure that students could still access learning if a catastrophic occurrence happened and schools were closed down. I was fortunate to work with forward thinking colleagues who tried to stay several steps ahead of the “what if” scenarios. I believe they are doing better than most during this current situation.
Learning loss has not been an issue of course with those who homeschool, unschool, or attend private schools that remained open.
Parents desperate to deal with what they perceive as an unacceptable situation took a critical look at learning alternatives. Some banded together to create learning pods as chronicled in a recent New Yorker article, Why Learning Pods Might Outlast the Pandemic, by Lizzie Widdecombe, March 14, 2021.
From Kerry’s article, she states that, “Polling from both Gallup and Education Week last year estimated that the homeschooling rate has at least doubled during the pandemic response, suggesting that up to five million students could now be learning this way.”
She also cites that various edtech startups have emerged to meet the demands of parents for affordable, enriching and high quality digital education.
The article goes on to say that “school districts across the country have felt the exodus with public school enrollment down in most states since the fall as parents choose other options.” In addition, “support for school choice policies has grown since last spring’s school closures, with parents and taxpayers having a more favorable view of allowing the funding to follow students directly in the form of education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships and vouchers.”
Kerry explains that more than two dozen states currently have legislation proposing or expanding educational choice.
As a former public school assistant superintendent, I know this is problematic for those districts on many levels. School district funding is a slippery slope, as they rarely have a huge stockpile of emergency funds available to handle regular mandates let alone pandemics that wreak havoc on already strained budgets.
It is no wonder that the Covid relief bill includes $128 billion for K-12 schooling. When school enrollment is down, overall school funding takes a major hit and since the bulk of K-12 spending is dedicated to salaries, one can imagine the impact. Thus the uproar from the teacher unions.
The Covid relief bill covers a wide variety of perceived needs. Every aspect of life and work is impacted by the shutdowns. For public schooling to stay afloat during this time, federal and state aid is considered essential to survival.
Reason opinion article written by Peter Suderman, February 18, 2021 below.
The article concludes, “How much of this alleged coronavirus relief plan is actually related to the coronavirus? According to CRFB, just 1 percent of the relief plan’s spending would go toward vaccines, and just 5 percent would go toward pandemic-related public health needs. Meanwhile, 15 percent of the spending—about $300 billion—would be spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis. For proponents of these long-standing policy priorities, this relief package is a huge step in the right direction.
For those concerned with the impacts of learning loss among students this past year and a half, this relief bill does little to address that as the spending is rolled out over a period of years. As noted in the Reason article, “Previous coronavirus relief and congressional spending bills have already included more than $100 billion in funding for schools. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, “most of those funds remain to be spent.”
When you depend upon the pubic schooling system to educate your child there are a number of strings attached. If you don’t mind the strings and you love your local school then stay the course.
If you find that this pandemic has broadened your viewpoint and perspective on learning, I encourage you to seek out alternatives. There is a vast supply of resources and networks available to parents as they consider the options.
I’m going out on a limb that will no doubt anger some, perplex a few and perhaps cause some gossip in my previous schooling circles. That’s okay. I don’t mind. I know what I’ve observed. I can’t not see it, say it and advocate for a different and dare I say, a better way to reach the goal of learning for all children.
My blogs over the last several years were designed to spark curiosity, challenge our thinking about conventional schooling and the status quo and push the envelope of hope. For those who read regularly, you are appreciated. For those who happen to read here and there, I hope you read this one.
I’ve had the distinct privilege and joy to spend three days a week with my grandson, Troy. I’ve been watching him in some capacity since he was three months old and I’ve observed his growth and innate ability to learn. His parents entrust him to me and I take that trust very seriously.
I do my best to follow their lead and insert, when appropriate, my years of experience with children in order to provide a warm and happy environment in which he can play and discover his world. For this, I am grateful.
I have learned so much from him, a two and half year old now. It’s the kind of learning that supersedes my teacher and administrator preparations courses as well as all the years of receiving and providing educational professional development in the various school districts where I’ve worked.
I will stipulate as one of his grandparents, I see him as a wonderful child, full of brilliance and possibility. I’m totally head over heels in love with him. That fact stated, I believe every child starts with the same brilliance and possibility regardless of circumstances, if we choose to see them in that manner.
Yes, physical, mental, emotional health and a nurturing environment all play a part in the healthy development of babies, toddlers, children and adolescents. Not all young people have this stability and for them my heart breaks. It’s even more important to recognize those little ones and give more of ourselves to them in whatever ways we can. Being a good friend, a neighbor, a teacher, a counselor, an advocate, or just a kind person in their lives can make such a difference.
As I observe Troy, I am amazed. We are always talking with each other and he is now at the asking why stage. He is very curious about the inner workings of my apartment. For example, he is potty training right now and is quite intrigued with where everything goes once it leaves the potty. He bends down to look at the underside of the toilet and the nobs connected to it. He asked, “Where does it go Grammy?” He wasn’t satisfied with my simple answer of, “down the water pipe.” I can’t blame him for asking more.
This conversation led to us watching a short video on plumbing in a house and the sewer outside as well as a waste water treatment plant. He watched it intently and then we drew a big picture of my apartment and where we thought the plumbing might be located. We also found my hot water tank and drew that. I have a dry erase white board that he loves. We saved that picture and he explained it all to his daddy when he picked him up later that day.
That same day he asked about the heating system, the vents and the controls. He walked around pointing to the ceiling vents in every room. Thankfully we found another short YouTube video that explained HVAC systems. He put his ear to my walls to listen for the noise that the system made whenever the heat came on in my apartment. I thought this was genius and adorable. We talked about how my vents are in the ceiling and at his house they are on the floor.
If this wasn’t enough for one day, he also asked about the lights and electricity. Another short video provided him with great satisfaction as he studied the live clip of a battery, conduits and a light bulb. We drew a picture of that as well and then he pointed out all the light sources in my apartment. We watched another video on magnetic poles that really fascinated him. He was a sponge and I had to keep up with him.
These learning experiences were not rehearsed. I did not have to rely on a lesson plan. I didn’t determine what he should know and be able to do and I certainly didn’t think about the standards that we set for students in schools. I realize he is not “school” aged yet, but that doesn’t really matter.
Learning happens all the time, any time, any place. He generated the learning. He chose his interest and I was there to facilitate the best I could. It was enough to satisfy his curiosity and perhaps provide him with future questions about these or other topics. All I know is that he was pleased.
Rest assured, there is ample play during the day. In fact, that is most of the day apart from a nap. I am mesmerized watching him navigate his little world, his toys, my things, his interactions, his “pretend” activities like grocery shopping. I offer choices that include some prep on my part like painting, coloring and baking but most of his time is self-directed.
I couldn’t help but wonder what real self-directed learning could look like for all children at all ages. What if every child could continue to learn in this manner, unhindered from the kind of structure they encounter in schools. No bells, schedules, grades, testing, or constant evaluation.
The very nature and structure of schooling is not designed to foster anything self-directed. Yet in schools, we ask children to self-reflect, self-pace and self-evaluate. And then we try to teach them persistence, grit and agency. All “school” terms that describe how to undo what we’ve knowingly done to them since Kindergarten. How can they oblige when they are not given the freedom to direct their own curiosity and learning.
They are told what they have to know based on grade level standards and they are graded, evaluated and labeled according to those criteria. They are not vested in their learning. They are programmable projects with adult expectations looming over them. Who of us would thrive in that kind of environment?
I know there is a better, more humane way to foster learning in young people. I know that brilliance is in every child if we chose to believe it. I commend those parents who are taking charge of their child’s wonder years outside of the school setting. Those who are homeschooling in a way that is not a replica of what they would experience at school are prime examples. Those who trust the self-directed path are another example. It’s a matter of choice.
I love reading about the discoveries and interests of children and their parents, unhindered from the schooling paradigm. There are so many reasons why parents are reclaiming the learning on behalf of their children. They deserve our respect and admiration.
Those who claim to speak for all public educators find great disdain for these “different” methods of learning, citing all sorts of assumed and sinister reasons why parents choose something other than public education. It’s sad and unfortunate but not surprising. The system must sustain itself, it’s perceived relevance and purpose. There will always be many who believe that.
After thirty plus years working in schools, I’ve come to realize that they can’t possibly provide this kind of learning environment. It’s an economies of scale model and can’t be rehabilitated. It’s designed to do exactly what it does; provide jobs and day care, segregate children in labeled batches, and provide a daily structure and environment that produces frightfully compliant, dependent and programmed young people.
It also perpetuates racial and ability inequities and injustices in spite of it’s claim to the contrary. Sadly, many parents think this is okay or they are not fully aware.
I published my book, Learning UNLEASHED, in 2016 hoping that some of my ideas could take root in forward thinking school systems brave enough to tackle the topics and seek a change. I read how some schools are attempting to shift but never quite make it all the way. I held out hope for small changes but every time I read or hear that “students are falling behind” during this pandemic, I cringe.
I emphatically want to restate as I have many times, I do not fault the teachers or other sincere individuals who work in our schools. They were trained and are expected to do it the way it’s been done. The change many of us seek can only happen outside of the typical school setting. Alternatives are available if we are willing to look for them and brave enough to trust the process.
More insights on learning during a pandemic will follow in my next few blog posts so stay tuned.
After a long career in the educational arena as a teacher, administrator, professional developer, director and assistant superintendent, spanning over thirty years in three different states, I decided to return to my first passion…ART.
I retired in 2015 and in 2016, I published my first book, Learning Unleashed – Reimagining and Repurposing Our Schools. (Rowman& Littlefield) That was the first item on my bucket list. While it is not a best seller, it was extremely gratifying to write and share with those who value learning without all the state and federal strings attached. I still find a few folks who are like minded and enjoyed reading my book.
I hold out hope that parents and teachers will realize the sheer joy of facilitating learning rather than force feeding a set curriculum to the masses that still think public education is the only answer. This pandemic has opened more than a few eyes to the endless possibilities of how one accesses learning.
Item number two on the list is painting.
While clearing a collection of clutter accumulated when you’ve clocked over 65 years, I discovered a few art supplies that hadn’t been used for a very long time. I dusted them off, sat down at my dining room table and began to sketch and paint Shab Row on East Street from a photo I took when I arrived in my new town. It was rudimentary and a bit off kilter, but gave me enough momentum to try a few more.
I drew and painted our City Hall building, a window view from a trip I took to Spain, and a favorite family spot at the lake and beach. Six or seven paintings later, I decided to try something new.
In 2017, I drew and painted my own Christmas cards from photos, catalogues and Pinterest pages. I sent these to family and friends. Yes, it was a bit time consuming but so much fun and a personal gift for those I love. After a second year, (2018) of generous feedback and at the urging of my children and grand children I decided to share and sell them locally in 2019.
I sold over two hundred and fifty cards then the pandemic hit in 2020 and no one was interested in stocking their shelves when they were shut down. Although a few local businesses opened to a limited number of customers, my hopes of selling locally dwindled to my art supply store and hair salon. It didn’t matter because I just enjoy painting them, so I did a whole new batch for my immediate family this year. I preferred not to go the online route for sales because of the expense and bother.
Here are a few examples, mistakes and all!
It’s amazing how much sketching and painting puts me in a happy place. It’s envisioning, creating and using materials to make that happen. It’s trial and error, lots of error. It’s seeing something that you never saw before. It’s exhilarating, satisfying and wonderful to give as a gift to yourself and others.
We are all born with something to give, something to share and something to make us and others happy. I think I found mine. How about you?
2021 is waiting for you to discover what lies within you. Look for it, it’s there!
I’ll be looking for item number three on my bucket list.