On Allowing Children to NEED the Learning

This quote resonated hard with me today:


If we step back from the pressures and expectations and chaos for a moment, I think we can all agree: reading truly is a gift. Indeed, all of learning is a gift.

But do our fears for readiness and standards swallow up this truth? Particularly where our youngest learners are concerned?

I have been loving Kelsey Corter’s pieces lately on Two Writing Teachers where she emphasizes children learning to read and write because the children themselves realize they need it. In “Finding Purpose: The Key to Making High Frequency Words Stick,” she writes:

“Kaylee learned two words very quickly in the first weeks of kindergarten — two words which she wrote again and again: love and Kaylee.

…Kaylee learned these words before learning all of the names of the letters they are comprised of. She learned these words because they were important to her. She needed them. She needed to know these words to spread her message.”

~Kelsey Corter

Isn’t that just beautiful? What if, instead of being daunted by the lists and the letters and knowledge, we spend time finding out what our children need right now? What if we trust that they will, in fact, come to realize for themselves that they need those letters as a next step in making meaning for themselves? This is another example of choosing trust over fear.

In another post, Kelsey elaborates on all the many ways children will find they need writing through play. To inform, to convince, to observe, to create, to connect, to remember.

When we invite children to read or write, we offer them a magnificent gift to do all of these things, and when we make these invitations in the most natural of settings as play, it becomes even more accessible.

Treasure reading and writing as a gift. Especially when you are worried about your children showing zero interest in those flash cards or letter sounds. If you hold to it as the gift it really is, your children will build a stronger, more beautiful foundation of reading and writing as their own readiness unfolds.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

My Professional Portfolio

My precise timeline for returning to the classroom has been unknown for some time. I am pleased to share that a clearer plan has lately emerged: I intend to resume teaching in the fall of 2020. Not only will this coincide nicely for school schedules for all my kids, but it will allow me to spend additional time building momentum for local Safe Routes to School efforts.

This plan has me realizing that this time next year, I will be submitting resumes and interviewing for jobs. After 5 years, I’m feeling a little nervous, but as I’ve learned time and again, the best remedy for that is reflecting and blogging.

What “aha” moments have I had during 5 years of researching, PLN-building, and writing what is now 456 posts? What would I most want a future administrator to understand about what I have learned? How has all of this built on my previous 4 years of teaching fifth grade, and what will this mean for my future classroom approach?

I’m digging through old posts today to try and find answers to these questions.

March 2016: The Story of a Teacher Without a Classroom: 10 Lessons Learned

This was the first time I wrote plainly about my personal learning since I had left the classroom. Until then, I’d often felt like an impostor for writing about teaching, worried I would be “found out” for not being in the classroom. This was when I first began to understand the way my edu-blogging was helping me grow as a professional, and that that mattered more than any other outcome. Interestingly, it turns out that this mindset shift has also been pivotal for my approach to student learning. Personal meaning & growth > appearances.

May 2016: In My Future Classroom

Key takeaway in this post: the need for students to clearly own and understand what they have mastered, and for them to be given opportunities to convey that to their caregivers. (See also “Inquiry Into Owning My Own Learning“).

September 2017: My Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments

I realized that though my classroom career has been on pause, by no means has my professional learning has been stagnant! Particularly helpful in that journey was the epiphany that I could structure my writing schedule so I could really “write what I know.”

April 2018: I Am Driven

Powerful connection happens when we learn to truly put ourselves in the learning arena alongside our students. How can we possibly expect our students to truly be vulnerable and take risks to grow in their learning if they feel like their teachers are sitting on the sidelines? Brene Brown’s emphasis on Theodore Roosevelt’s quote has settled deep into my teacher soul here:

Image result for brene brown theodore roosevelt quote

June 2018: I Can Never Go Back

My inspiring former student referenced here has profoundly impacted my resolve to truly make building meaning a priority. “After witnessing the way learning can truly transform & empower & matter, I can never go back.” This particular student will be graduating high school this year, and I had the privilege to watch him perform at the State Poetry Out Loud Competition, and to win a scholarship competition with his piece, Cross Stitch. Once our students find their voice, we have no idea what will come next.

February 2019: 5 Things I Want My Students To Know About Me As a Teacher

The idea of building self-regulation skills has been eye-opening to me in the way I approach student ownership and classroom management. I am learning to understand how a child’s choices often reflect more than might meet the eye.

I look forward seeing additional learning unfolds during this last year!

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

Why & How to Nurture Independent Kids Wherever You Live #TeacherMom

I recently had the chance to visit some very dear friends from high school in different parts of a neighboring state. Of the friends with kids, one lives in a suburban style area, and the other lives in an area that is so rural they only have one neighbor (their parents across the street). And I live in a fairly urban area. The differences made me realize that though the ways we might nurture kids’ independence can vary based on where we live, it is always possible.

Here are our examples. Thank you very much to my friends for sharing their experiences!

Rural: Alea, children aged 8, 6, & 3

“We try to involve the kids in whatever it is we’re doing (at an appropriate level). Dennis just brought our youngest home from letting her feed the bottle calf. He’s an abandoned twin. She then brought me the bottle to help her wash it out. Kids looove taking care of babies. Other examples include:

  • The kids also help pick which plants we’re going to plant and help tend & harvest the garden.
  • When it’s nice weather they play outside [on their own] for at least an hour in the mornings before it gets hot.
  • I keep the sippy cups/kid cups in a drawer and not in the cupboard so they can reach it themselves and get a drink from the fridge door.
  • Most days I let them pick their outfits
  • They have some “mandatory” chores but then there’s a “chore of the day” that they get to pick. In general rather than give demands we like to give options.
  • We have also been discussing how letting children have responsibilities fosters independence. Kids want to help with things and how many times do I not let them because “they won’t do it right”? I’ve been trying to let them do the things they can do… They may not wash the windows streak-free but surely I can let them have a rag and a squeegee and have at it …These are hard things for me, but I’m working on them!”

Suburban: Stephanie, children aged 4 & 2

“We live in a quiet, older neighborhood with a fenced backyard. Some ways that we like to encourage independence outside are:

  • Sending our 2 year old into the backyard alone to grab a toy and bring it to the front.
  • Letting our 4 year old play on her own for awhile in the backyard while we’re in the front.
  • Establishing boundaries for bike riding so our 4 year old can ride comfortably without wondering or being told she’s gone too far. 

“Other ways we encourage independence inside our home include:

  • Letting them pour their own milk, water, syrup, etc. The more they try the better they get and I love the giant smile they give me when they pour perfectly. Accidental spills are lessons, not cause for punishment.
  • Letting them serve themselves at meals. They scoop from the serving dishes on the table onto their plates, which lets them choose which foods from the table they want, and how much.
  • Letting them help with the cooking and baking. Our 4 year old is a pro at rolling out sugar cookie dough, using a cut out, and putting it on the tray and the 2 year old loves to stir and pour in ingredients.
  • Letting them do the chores such as vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes, sweeping, and raking. Our kids actually ask to help clean! Joining in on the household chores makes them feel like they are part of the team and are contributing to helping our family. I never redo any of their tasks so they always have a full sense of accomplishment.”

Urban: Mary, children aged 8, 4, & 2

We live in a townhouse development of about 60 homes, which is surrounded by a mixed development (single family homes, duplexes, apartments, etc) & close to our city center. We enjoy our proximity to schools, the library, the rec center, and our downtown, all of which we usually access by bike. We also enjoy our townhome common area in which we can send our kids to find playmates close by (and without worrying about driveways as the garages all face a back street). Some ways we work to foster independence based on where we live include:

  • Encouraging unsupervised play as much as possible. Occasionally one of the kids will run inside to report something important, but our area is dense enough that I’m never far away! (see post, “Where’s the Mom?” from last year)
  • Having our oldest to walk or bike to school 1 mile away (usually with a group of friends but occasionally she’ll be on her own)
  • Allowing our oldest to walk to a nearby bakery to pick up family groceries or to select a treat for herself. I love how this has helped her consider how much things cost & how to set a budget for herself.
  • Encouraging our kids to plan their own free time (and working to preserve as much of that free time as possible!) See “Inventorying a Culture of Agency at Home.”
  • Biking & riding transit throughout the city together to help my kids learn to feel comfortable enough plan adventures alone or with friends when they are just a bit older.

Wherever we live, opportunities for children to enjoy independent childhoods are in abundance. We can learn so much from one another as we support each others’ efforts to help our children feel confident, responsible, and capable.

What are ways you work to foster independence for children based on where you live?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Feeling Like We Can’t Nurture It All… #TeacherMom

On a given day, a parent might come across lists of ways they should be nurturing their children’s…

…creativity

…resilience

…confidence

…problem solving

…empathy

…assertiveness

…fine & gross motor skills

…communication skills

The list goes on. And meanwhile, we have days where just getting dinner on the table feels like someone should be giving us a medal.

While it is true that all of these require individual, concerted effort from time to time, the truth is that trying to tend to all this nurturing on an individual basis each day would be like drinking from a fire hose! When we try, we’ll quickly find ourselves under a crushing weight of what I’m going to call “nurture-overload.”

Instead, here are ways we might avoid that overload and feeling of hustle:

  • Follow the child’s lead. Allow their questions or daily tasks to drive the discussions and inform how you help them connect to various skills and traits.
  • Read together regularly. If it is a regular part of your time together, you can depend on a healthy exposure to many different concepts.
  • Trust your child’s independence. As we allow kids to have responsibilities as they grow (and not allow media hysteria to color what we view as age-appropriate), many of these skills will strengthen naturally. See if you can count how many skills and qualities might be cultivated in this Sesame Street example below (from one of my favorite websites, LetGrow.org)

We want our children to grow up to have all the skills and traits they’ll need to be caring, capable adults. If we step away from worry about getting it right and step toward more trust, we may find that these things come more naturally than we might anticipate!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Tolerance of Messy in Favor of Learning #TeacherMom

I like tidiness. I find myself struggling to think straight when my environment gets too chaotic.

And yet for the last several months, our family room inevitably returns to some version of this:

Not too bad, but when it happens every day, several times a day, and across every room and even his bed — it starts to wear down this parent’s sanity.

Lately, however, I have started to try and shift my perspective. I realize that the repetitive scattering of books can look like a mess…or it can look like rich early literacy development.

After all, my 2 year-old is not just yanking them out just to make a mess. He is just devouring them, sometimes flipping through the pictures, other times approximating the story out loud for himself.

When we’re in the classroom, the reality is that we can’t always handle the volume of messy learning — especially when there are 30+ students! That’s why it’s important to spend time talking about our shared responsibilities for our shared learning space, and making room for students to express how they feel about their environment.

We are currently working on learning to put the books back on the shelves, as well. But through this process, both with my very small student at home, and with our classroom students, it’s important to always hold aloft what matters most: the learning. It reminds me of a quote I’ve often heard:

One might similarly state, never let a problem to be solved become more important than learning to be gained.

What are ways a shift in your perspective has helped you navigate the complexities of teaching?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Diverse System, Maximum Resilience”

I recently watched the video below via The Kid Should See This. Though it’s entitled, “A Forest Garden With 500 Edible Plants Could Lead to a Sustainable Future,” gardening was the last thing on my mind. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking of, you guessed it, students and learning.


First thoughts: How does conventional gardening relate to conventional education?

  • Neat rows for maximum efficiency
  • Keeping species (or age groups) separated from one another
  • Focusing more on maximizing performance from each plant rather than considering how different plants might work together for growth

Next: How are principles of gardening sustainability applicable to learning?

  • Teaching/permitting students to take the lead in their learning.
  • Setting up the environment so that students can flourish in their strengths and in ownership (from access to supplies to apps to loose parts objects). See example in our stop-motion movie making efforts.
  • Ensuring that instruction in skills is balanced with nurturing of meaning and connection. Read this story of two poetry units for ideas.

And finally, how do we mitigate the fear of messier gardening learning and less control?

  • The first answer comes from a quote from the gardener in the video, Martin Crawford: “It can seem a bit overwhelming to have so many different species, but you shouldn’t stop that from beginning a project because you don’t have to know everything to begin with. Just start, plant some trees, and go from there.”
  • Engage students’ voices through class meetings, suggestion boxes, and having plan their own time, and self-assessment. See “10 Ways for Every Student to be on their own Learning Path.”
  • Work with parents proactively so that they understand that messy does not equate to out of control or lack of learning.

I love the image of teachers as gardeners, and all the more so when it’s less about control/production and more about trust in inherent potential. Nourishing along the way, we can all find richer meaning, resilience, and sustainability.

To subscribe or manage your preferences, click here. See more on the weekly topic schedule here.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto