The Ultimate Test for Child-Directed Learning

This is not a drill. This is the ultimate test for honoring child-directed learning.

And it turns out I failed the first round.

How many times have I written about working from a place of love instead of fear? Yet I’m afraid that fear has been at the helm far too often over the last week. But I’m going to be kind to myself as I decide to try again each day through this crisis. Meanwhile, here are some of the lessons we’ve learned so far:

#1: Schedules & Routines are valuable, but remember to co-construct them with your children!

Here was my first attempt:

At first, I felt pleased because I had my daughter write and post it for our family. But it was still entirely conceived by me, with no input from my children. And it, um…didn’t go well.

The timetables didn’t work for all 3 kids at the same time, with some finishing fast, others experiencing boredom, and others feeling anxiety to do something that was arbitrarily placed later in the day. I struggled to get any of my own remote teaching done as I was constantly interrupted by “I’m done; what can I do next?”

As I fell asleep last night, I realized that in my fear of making sure my kids got all their physical, emotional, and intellectual needs taken care of, I was neglecting the key ingredient: autonomy. And with it, the peace and confidence that’s fostered by purpose & ownership.

I resolved to do better the next morning, and I fell asleep thinking about all the years and ways I have tried to help my children visualize and own their schedules & routines…

…and I decided to sit down with each of them to talk about what they hoped the day would bring.

#2: Take time to truly listen, early and often.

As a result of our discussions this morning, I learned from my 9 year-old that writing time slots with her schedule created tremendous unnecessary pressure for her. She preferred to write a sequence that could be flexible. I also learned that she preferred to finish all her difficult tasks (like cleaning her guinea pigs’ cage and homework) first thing in the morning.

And from my 5 year-old, I learned that he wanted me to draw pictures next to each item on his list, talking through each one so it made sense to him.

Setting the tone for listening first thing in our day has fostered more meaningful discussion, self-awareness, and self-regulation throughout the day. Words like, “When I do __, it helps me feel __.” And we all need this kind of mindfulness now more than ever.

#3: For the schoolwork coming home right now, try to make it as independently accessible for your children as possible.

For my 9 year-old, this looks like creating a Google Keep note with checkboxes, sharing it with her, and then adding any additional tasks I hear from her teacher to this one document as we go. That way, tasks don’t slip between the cracks, and I don’t overwhelm my daughter by telling her again and again, “Oh, and don’t forget this other assignment!”

For my 5 year-old, this looks like having a designated folder on the counter where he can access all the materials he needs each day. He doesn’t have to wait around for me in order to get started each day, which helps us both tremendously!

I still have work to do to improve this situation for all three of my children and myself, but our home feels more peaceful than it has in days. Now that I’m working toward child-directed learning again, the ship is righting once more, and we can look toward tomorrow with greater confidence and hope.

My very best wishes to families and teachers everywhere at this time! Remember to hold onto what you value and cherish most, and to be kind to yourselves through this stressful time!

Taking Down The Baby-Proofing: Some Thoughts On Self-Reg

Like many households with toddlers and babies, we have outlet covers placed in every reachable outlet throughout the house. For the first two years of my daughter’s life, they stayed put and did their job, keeping her safe from electrocution. 

But alas, at some point, her curiosity and fine motor skills moved beyond the simple plastic and left us with outlet covers being pulled out left and right. 

At first, we tried telling her no. 

Then we tried redirecting her every time.

When neither worked, we attempted to show her how to put them BACK in the socket in hopes that once pulled out, she would put it back in. However, instead of putting the cover back in the socket, she started sticking anything else that might fit. I’m sure a lot of parents are familiar with the objects- Pencils, forks, fingers, straws, anything long and skinny. 

Finally, I was at a loss, what was I going to do to keep my daughter from getting electrocuted? This was becoming too dangerous. 

One night it dawned on me. She was two and a half at this point and I thought to myself, it’s time to stop trying to block her from the danger and start teaching her how to properly use them as a tool, making the danger lessen drastically. 

We had a quick conversation about outlets and power, at a two-year-old level of course, and what we use outlets for. I pulled out her tablet and charger and showed her how to properly plug in one side of the cord to the outlet and the other into the tablet. She practiced over and over taking it in and out of the outlet and watching the screen turn on when it would start charging. We also talked about what can and cannot be placed in outlets. Tablet chargers- good! Forks- No way. She was overjoyed with this new skill she had just obtained. 

At some point, we had to take away the baby-proofing and hand-holding to let our kids just experience the world for what it is. This can be true for crossing the road or walking to the neighbor’s house. Maybe taking off training wheels or taking off floaties in the pool as Mary talked about in a past post. 

How do we help students learn self-regulation in our schools that can be full of figurative outlet covers? What would happen if we let elementary students choose their own tables in a lunchroom instead of assigning each grade and class a specific spot? At first- chaos. But over time, think of the self-regulation this could promote in students with the proper scaffolding. Just like how I had to sit down and show my daughter step by step how to plug in her tablet and effectively use an outlet, the same would be done with the students. 

The benefit became apparent for me almost right away after removing every last outlet cover from our home. When the vacuum cord wouldn’t quite reach the far corner of the living room, my daughter came running to unplug it from the current outlet and move it to a closer one. Less work for me! When her tablet dies, she is responsible for plugging it back in. She is excited at any chance she has to use the outlets, and I don’t have to worry about forks and straws in them anymore! 

How do we find the balance of a well run, efficient school while also putting responsibility into the hands of students to behave and act in a respectful, responsible manner? And how do we get to the point where the two can become one? A well-run school that promotes student decision making and taking off the “outlet covers”? Tell me your thoughts.

Featured Image: pexels.com

How Might We Remove the “Floaties” & Give Students “Goggles” Instead? #TeacherMom

A great Costco deal led to goggles for everyone in the family this summer. However, I didn’t bother with them for my 2 year-old since we were dealing with his floaties, which generally kept his face about water anyway. For those unfamiliar, they look something like these:

One day, he snatched his pair of goggles and insisted on wearing them, too. I realized that if he was going to get any use out of them, we would definitely need to give goggles a shot without with floaties:

Image result for speedo kids comfort fit goggles

I couldn’t believe what happened next.

Within about 30 minutes of swimming in the 2-foot end of the pool, he went from a formerly clingy, somewhat nervous state to confident explorer.

Where I had once struggled to convince him to try blowing bubbles, or to let go of me even to stand up on a bench, he was now diving under the water. He couldn’t get enough of enthusiastic underwater waving, suspending himself with his feet off the floor, and testing his breath-holding ability.

As with hiking (and pretty much everything else!), I have been pondering teaching connections to this shift. In what ways might we similarly replace the floaties with goggles? How might we give our students tools for deep experimentation, and remove structures that might actually be impeding that opportunity?

Perhaps we might:

I think the real reason for my toddler’s transformation was that the goggles literally gave him a new lens with which to see water. No longer was it a threatening, mysterious body, but something with which he could actually interact and discover his own capacity. Meanwhile, without the floaties, I could no longer push him beyond his comfort level and had to stay near his side. Yet with the goggles, he was pushing himself in his own way.

What shifts have you seen give students a new lens for the structures and concepts around them? How else might we allow students to dive in when given some “goggles instead of floaties?”

featured image: Thomas Hawk

5 Things That Might Be Worse Than Summer Slide

Here’s a funny thing about this post: I actually had spent the weekend questioning the idea of “summer slide” (the alleged phenomenon in which students lose 2+ months of learning from the previous school year), only to open my computer on Monday to find this post on Edutopia: “New Research Casts Doubt on the ‘Summer Slide.'”

Here are 5 things that might be worse than that supposed summer slide:

1. Missing out on hose water, muddy hands, and grass stains.

2. Poisoned reading attitudes because of all those mandatory summer reading assignments.

3. Neglecting mixed-age & unstructured play opportunities: building blocks of childhood development that can be difficult to attend to during school months.

4. Underdeveloped balance and motor skills that interfere even with the child’s ability to sit upright once school resumes.

5. Missed opportunities to learn a new skill & develop self-regulation: riding a bike, learning to swim, even entrepreneurship.

Of course reading and math are important, and we all want to see our children grow. But growing, thriving, healthy children involves so much more than this narrow scope. Let’s not let our fear of “falling behind” get in the way of magical summers in which our kids are free to explore world around them, catching fireflies, selling lemonade, working on family projects, and starting clubs with friends. Let’s honor the many ways a child can grow throughout the summer.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Fragility of Our Children’s Self-Determination #TeacherMom

Self-determination. We have such good intentions. We all want it for our kids, and I’m sure most of us (including myself until a recent check) think we’ve got it pretty well covered. But then life gets in the way.

We get in a hurry, we run out of supplies, we feel pressure that we then pass on to our kids.

I had two experiences recently to remind me just how fragile the development of our children’s self-determination can be. I’m sharing not because I know better now, but because I know that writing about it helps cement the lessons for me.

Lesson #1: The first happened when my 8 year-old was getting ready for school. Combining her school’s earlier start time with the fact that she’s one of those kids that needs a lot of sleep to function, I had felt justified in lending a hand as she gets ready. Specifically, as she would sleepily make her way down her bunk bed, I would grab her an outfit so she could quickly change and then move on to the next task.

But when she woke up unusually early one morning, I turned everything over to her — only to find that she no longer felt confident about her own outfit-choosing skills. She wanted me to tell her if I thought the clothing went together, and I wanted her to be able to choose without needing anyone else to validate her decision.

I was astonished to realize how my good intentions had gone awry. How I had sent an unintended message that I was not confident in her abilities. How quickly she came to depend on me for a simple decision. How my desire to help solve one problem had created another.

Lesson #2: The second happened with my 4 year-old. The details are less important, but he had started to regularly say something very sweet, and we were quick to tell him how nice that was (you know, positive reinforcement and all that). One day, when he said it again, and I did not offer praise, he looked at me, surprised and unhappy. Again, I was astonished to realize that my own good intentions were actually getting in the way of something good. What was once something for which my son had intrinsic interest was now diminished by the extrinsic strings I’d attached.

Our kids possess natural self-determination. They have interests, talents, and capacities originally driven entirely from within. But it turns out this self-determination is terribly fragile. As enthusiastic and helpful parents and teachers, we jump in with our encouragement and praise and assistance, which props up something that perhaps didn’t need propping up in the first place. Instead, it causes that self-determination muscle to quickly atrophy as we train them to look to the grown-ups, the “experts,” for guidance, instead of looking within to the original source of those capacities.

I feel like I learn more each day about how I need to “get out of the way” of my children’s learning and growth. Hopefully those lessons will stick a little better for next time!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 Picture Books for Trusting Child’s Development #TeacherMom

Alternatively, I might have entitled this, “5 books that remind us of the importance of self-regulation, fostering independence in childhood, and approaching parenthood as a gardener more than a carpenter.”

Whether it’s allowing our children to pick up bread at the grocery store or limiting the endless amounts of structured time in favor of “BeTime,” we can take measures to trust our children to take the lead in their own development. What do you think of the 5 books I’ve hightlighted below? Which ones would you add to the list?

“They stopped thinking she was perfect and started worrying about what might be wrong with her. By the time she was seven years old, there wasn’t a single minute when Princess Cora wasn’t being trained.”

Princess Cora & the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz & Brian Floca

“”We’re bats,” said Mother Bat. “We can see in darkness. Come with us.” Stellaluna was afraid, but she let go of the tree and dropped into the deep blue sky.”

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

“The bird said, “Ask yourself where it is you want to go, and then follow the signs you already know.”

The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds

“Then you arrive home again, and you look at your window from the outside.”

Windows by Julia Denos

“Getting to get the baguette is Nanette’s biggest responsibility yet.”

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Love & Logic Limits: Is It Always a Choice? #TeacherMom

The lack of a school-bell telling me where to be at all times is probably my Achilles heel of stay-at-home parenthood. So a couple mornings ago — having gotten sidetracked by my newest flea-bitten idea for making our small space function more efficiently — by the time I got showered and ready for the day, my preschooler had stealthily pilfered the refrigerator and my one year old had had a fabulous time with a contraband stick of gum.

What’s more, having had a late bedtime the night before, my three year-old was also clearly ready for an early nap — evidenced by the fact when I asked him if he was ready to choose his clothes to go buy groceries, he dissolved into melt-down mode because he wanted a snack first. To top it off, the entire episode devolved to him irrationally stomping on his baby brother’s hands.

Now, if I were to focus on a strictly Love and Logic approach here, I might have told my 3 year year-old something like this: “Son, what sad choices to refuse to wear your clothes and to hurt your brother! I’m going to do something about this. We’ll talk later.”

Limitation #1: When we mistakenly assume that this is just about a poor choice. Such a response may help to temporarily and even effectively diffuse the situation, but it ultimately tends to puts the blame squarely on his shoulders when, in fact, there were factors so far beyond his control at work here (late bedtime, off-schedule morning, etc) that he was now operating in fight/flight mode.

Enter the discussion on “stress behavior.”

I’m fascinated by the concept of misbehavior vs stress behavior in Stuart Shanker’s Self-Reg. He writes:

“The concept of misbehavior is fundamentally tied to those of volitionchoice, and awareness. It assumes that the child willingly chose to act the way he did. He could have acted differently, was even aware that he should have acted differently. But stress behavior is physiologically based. When this happens, the child is not deliberately choosing his actions or aware in a rational way of what he’s doing…because his nervous system, triggered by a sense of threat, shifts to fight or flight. There are some simple ways to gauge when we’re dealing with misbehavior. Ask the child why he did such and such, and if he answers with any explanation — no matter what his rationale — there’s a pretty good chance he knew what he was doing. Or ask him to tell you with a straight face that he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. Stress behavior also reveals itself quickly. If you see confusion, fear, anger, or deep distress in that face, if your child averts his eyes or finds it hard to even just look at you, those are often signs of hyperarousal and of stress behavior.”

Older students aren’t going to have the same self-regulatory issues as the little ones, but we should still be on the look-out for when they arise, and cultivate their ability to self-regulate in the meantime.

Limitation #2: When we mistakenly assume that this is just about defiance. This is closely linked with the first. For our discussion on this limitation, we’ll take a look at this “nobody loses” approach on the Love & Logic blog below:

First, a disclaimer. Maybe Jessie was causing serious trouble and disturbing Brittany by moving her chair to work with her. If that’s the case, then I think this is an absolutely fitting Love & Logic response. However, if Jessie was simply trying to solve her problem of needing help by seeking it from a peer (as per the Love & Logic rule that we can do anything to solve our problems as long as it does not cause a problem for you or anyone else), it begs the question of whether the Love & Logic response here was necessary to begin with.

If our goal is control, then we will reap defiance in abundance.

I appreciate another passage from Self-Reg here:

“As parents [and teachers] it’s natural to assume that when our child’s behavior or our reactions feel “out of control,” then control is what’s missing. But to focus on control is also to shut down opportunity: end of discussion, end of a potentially constructive interaction, end of a teachable moment of lasting value. Self-Reg instantly opens the moment to opportunity. That begins with the simple act of asking, “Why now?””

And if the teacher in this hypothetical focuses more on control than on Jessie’s need for help, then an opportunity is missed indeed.

Naturally, angry, rude, and disrespectful outbursts are never acceptable, and require correction. But I wonder if we might find ourselves doing less correcting if we instead adopt what’s found in Brene Brown’s “Engaged Feedback Checklist” (esp #1, 2, and 7 for our context here):

Failure to recognize these limitations — to treat all poor behavior as deliberate and disrespectful decisions — can ultimately damage relationships with those who most need our help.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto