5 Crucial Lessons My Kids Have Taught Me On Play #TeacherMom

One of my favorite parts of family vacations is that we are ALL together ALL the time (incidentally, by the end of the week, that also becomes one of my least favorite parts, but we don’t need to focus on that…)

It is delightful to watch my kids play together and to learn more about the ways they are learning through play.

Here are a few lessons they have taught me about play that I can apply to the classroom when I return.

1. Sometimes, they really do need ALL those toys. In my tendency to get overwhelmed by clutter, I’m often tempted to go into edict-issuing mode. Only one bin of toys may be played with at a time! If a new toy is desired, the first bin must be cleaned up first! But over time, I’ve come to realize that when I make it solely about my preferences, I can stand in the way of valuable tinkering, connecting, and, well, learning. See photos below.

The dreaded pile of ALL the toys ready to be sorted. Again.
The kinds of interconnection that’s often the result of having all those toys out.

2. Sometimes, they DON’T. When we recently babysat another 3 year old, I thought about getting out the bin of play food/utensils, but I got distracted. By the time she left, I discovered that the preschoolers exercised resourcefulness by using the loose parts box that was out. I loved how this gave them the opportunity to think creatively and use their imaginations.

3. The richness of play lies in its foundation of connection and relationships. In The Importance of Being Little, Erika Christakis writes, “Indeed, playing games and laughing together are far more educational than drilling kids on their ABCs on the way to daycare.” The most meaningful moments with my kids are when my daughter and I try to “out-pun” one another, or when my son and I chant and act out “Peel, bananas, peel, peel bananas,” or when my baby and I play peek-a-boo. I believe this is all because these moments are all about each of those kids — finding ways to surprise and delight and engage them — rather than about me and my agenda.

4. Interaction through play is where we can “gain confidence” in our children’s learning. I recently came across an advertisement for a kindergarten preparatory program that included this parent endorsement: “I am so confident in my child now and know that he is 100% ready for kindergarten.” Far from providing buy-in, I found this to be a heartbreaking statement.

Of course, I, too, was once enveloped by the kindergarten readiness frenzy, so I understand the way it can blind us from the very learning taking place before our eyes. I also understand the worries of being a working parent and not being present for that learning as often as we’d like. However, I’ve found that if we treasure any opportunities we get to play with our children, we will grow in our confidence in their capacity to learn and grow.

5. Time for play is an investment we’ll regret. It isn’t always fun to be chastised that I’ve put the wrong car in a “garage,” or that I’m using the wrong kind of voice, or, heaven forbid, that I’ve assumed the wrong pretend name. But ultimately, these prove to be our best moments filled with learning, love, and invitations to remember what matters most.

What lessons has play taught you? How can we apply it to the classroom?

featured image: Mackenzie Brunson

On Jumping In Too Fast #TeacherMom

My 3 year-old asked to play a round of “Go Fish.” Apart from his tendency to ask if I have any sharks every time — whether he has any sharks himself or not — he has gotten the general idea of the game by this point.

As we started to acquire matching sets, I deliberately modeled 1 to 1 correspondence as I counted out my sets (ie, “Onnnnnnnnne” [while laying out the first card], “Twwwwwwwooo” [while laying out the second], etc).

And with probably excessive satisfaction, I watched as he reciprocated 1-1 counting with his own sets.

While starting to count one of his subsequent sets, I noticed that he missed the correspondence of naming “One” while simultaneously laying out the first card. And of course, as 1 to 1 correspondence requires us to understand that we can only count one number per object, I was ready to jump in to supply correction.

But, in that brief moment, sensing he was still working things out, I decided to bite my tongue and hold back. And I observed his quiet thinking: “Oh…wait, no…Onnnne” [while firmly laying out that first card again].

He’s already recognizing 1-1 correspondence for himself, thank you very much!

And I realized that I almost missed the whole thing with premature intervention — and more importantly, that he almost missed the opportunity to let his thinking catch up with his hands.

Sometimes, we just need time. I am reminded of this by the many teachers in my PLN who are choosing to slow down as they start the school year, allowing their students to settle into all the new routines, absorb all the new concepts, and build all the new relationships.

It seems to me that when we are too hasty with our learners, we’re often making it less about their learning and more about our fears (falling behind, failing to preempt problems, etc).

Most importantly, making a shift from hurried problem-solving toward reflective observing/questioning, we leave much room for inquiry, curiosity, and quiet thinking.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Keep ‘Em Busy or Facilitate the Best Busy-ness #TeacherMom

When we are stressed out by our kids’ busy-ness, how do we respond?

My youngest has recently reached an apex of busy-ness I never thought possible from such a small person. The term “relentless” is probably his most readily identified descriptor.

And for the sake of maintaining my sanity, I have definitely been in the camp of trying to keep my own children busy long enough to let me hear my own thoughts from time to time.

With our students, it can become a strong temptation to do something similar — particularly when we are trying to work with small groups.

Norah Colvin’s recent post had me thinking more about this notion. She writes:

“What about a busy toddler? Toddlers are some of the busiest people I know. And they are generally quite joyous in their busyness, demonstrating the true meaning of being in the present moment. For me, being busy is a joy when the activities are of my choice and for my purposes. I have no need to find things to keep me busy. There is more I wish to do than I will ever have time to complete. I resent tasks that keep me busy and away from what I’d rather be doing.”

No matter how much our kids grow, we can help them uncover the busy-ness that will spark that joy within. But not when it’s overly contrived and designed around our agenda — it seems that for whatever reason, even the most engaging endeavors become less so when kids sense there’s an end-game for distraction for grown-ups’ benefit.

For our classrooms full of vastly different, busy students, this means to providing authentic choice. It means teaching them to regulate their own time and interests. It means facilitating the very best kinds of busy.

And for my house that seems to be bursting at the seams with a busy 1 year-old, it means finding ways to just let go and enjoy this crazy ride together.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

When In Doubt, Go With The Child #TeacherMom

I wrote a post last week that seemed to really resonate with a lot of fellow parents in particular about standing up for our kids’ best interests. It seems to me that maybe we are timid to do so, because we worry about stepping on toes or being seen as the person rocking the boat unnecessarily.

It’s understandable to feel concerned. But it’s more important that we act out of our children’s needs than out of fear. Because while we do make some errors in pursuing the former, pursuing the latter is always skewed.

This is a lesson I learned when I attempted do do preschool with my iron-willed daughter. I had always had the notion that it would be no problem for me to teach her preschool since, after all, I am a teacher!

She had other ideas.

No matter how engaging, when I’d pull out the magnetic letters for some letter-play, she’d start deliberately naming the wrong ones (without looking).

No matter how beautifully, Montessori-ly laid out, when I’d share a science investigation with her, she would want nothing to do with it.

Like some kind of academic bloodhound, she had developed an acute sense of me in teacher-mode. And she wanted no part in that, thank-you-very-much.

Eventually, I came to realize what she had surely known all along — that me in teacher-mode = me in stressed, let’s-not-fall-behind-the-other-4-year-olds mode.

So I learned to let go. I followed her lead. I continued to provide invitations and environments that were as conducive to learning as possible, but ultimately, I let her decide when she was ready.

She taught me that when in doubt, we go with the child.

And you know what? Here we are 3 years later, in 2nd grade, and she. is. thriving. Both academically and as a person. She understands that carrots and sticks are not what make good writers, readers, mathematicians, scientists, and people. It’s what’s within, and whether we’re willing to take risks, try again, fail, and grow.

In fact, we actually had another conversation about yet another home reading program (this time, the reward was pizza restaurant certificates). I told her about it, and she simply asked, “Can we say no?”

I want to end today’s post with a message from Seth Godin. As he says, “If it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less, and if it’s art, they try to figure out how to do more.” To my daughter, all of her learning is still an art; I am willing to do what it takes to preserve her beautiful “do more” mindset. Isn’t that the ideal learner, anyway?

 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Why I’m Saying No to a Home Reading Program #TeacherMom

An invitation to opt-in to a home reading program arrived from my daughter’s school this week. Not only does it send home a book on my child’s reading level every day, but it states that it “has proven to be successful in improving the reading skills of every student who participates.”

So why would any teacher/mom say no to such a program?

While there are some other concerns I’ve been mulling over, the most important reason comes down to this:

Because my daughter wants to choose her own books at home.

I sat down with her, explained the program, and asked her what she thought about it. And that was her response. She told me she had some other reasons that were hard for her to explain, but this was the one she gave, and you know what? I don’t need her to explain more.

Because she already loves reading.

Because one of her go-to ways to spend an hour is to plop down with a stack of books, or to make up her own stories.

Because we continue to discuss her love of Get Fuzzy (our most recent Get Fuzzy-inspired discussion hilariously centered around King Henry VIII).

Because library day is a kind of weekly Christmas for her as she adds our new books to our designated public library book shelves.

Because when I ask her if she’d rather go to the weekly library junior reader’s club, or spend that time playing with her friends, she chooses the reader’s club.

Because when I suggest a book that I think she’d enjoy and that might push her abilities a bit more, she’s willing to give it a try.

And when it comes down to it, what good would it do for her anyway to accelerate her progress in the guided reading levels charts if it diminishes her love of reading?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure this is a fine program that has worked very well with many families at her school, and will continue to do so. I’m so grateful for the many educators that work to provide these kinds of resources to reach all our kids, and I recognize that we are privileged to enjoy the opportunities I’ve listed above.

But at the same time, I’m going to trust my daughter’s instincts on what would be best for her personal reading journey.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Following the Learning (comic book style) #TeacherMom

One of my favorite comic strips is Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy. Clueless dog Satchel, delusional cat Bucky, and somewhat-socially-awkward bachelor Rob make up more of a hilariously dysfunctional roommate scenario rather than a pet/owner relationship.

With more advanced humor and vocabulary than I’d expect my 7 year-old to be able to catch, I was hesitant when she asked to borrow a copy for her bedside shelf. But holding true to the belief that we should never stand in the way between our kids and a good book, I agreed.

Despite my skepticism, I wasn’t too surprised when she fell in love with the book — after all, the pictures alone provide plenty of humor she can relate to. But what did surprise me was in-text learning she was reaping.

Where I thought she’d gloss over enigmas like idioms, proverbs, and cultural references, she instead started asking me to fill in the blank. I found myself explaining:

  • the history behind “Houston, we have a problem” (because of the day Bucky applied Nair all over his body in order to compete with a furrier cat and Satchel said, “Houston, we have a Persian.”)
  • the meaning of the phrase “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” (because of the day Satchel had a hungry dog friend over that wanted Rob’s nachos, and Bucky observed, “Give a dog a nacho and he just eats for a day, but if you teach that dog where to buy nachos, you’re stuck with it for the rest of its natural life.”
  • the iconic reference to the old comic strip, Garfield: “I hate Mondays” (since Bucky was having a tough day with stale food, sat-in tuna, and a non-tasty bug in his water).

Overall, this is was a good reminder to me that when we follow our kids’ interests, the learning follows, even in unexpected circumstances. We’re so tempted to instead start with the long checklists of content so we don’t “miss” anything. But there is rich abundance of learning to be had when our children take the lead in their learning, if only we’re willing to trust them to uncover it.

And as a bonus, big sister now spends bedtime giggling away with her little brother as she shares comics with him, too.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 Thoughts on Raising iGen Kids with Opportunity over Fear #TeacherMom

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

The attention-grabbing headline pulled me in, but nothing seemed terribly unexpected as I scrolled through the article. I nodded through passages like, “hanging out alone in her room with her phone…” “dramatic shifts in behavior…” “proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent…”

Until I got to one phrase that made me stop short.

“I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones.”

It was the identification of my own child, born in 2010, as a member of this iGen group.

In a brief episode of primal fear (after all, this article says the iGen are in mental health crisis), my mind flicked through every contact my child has ever made with a smartphone, like some kind of frenzied mental Rolodex.

But as I slowed, regrouped, took a few deep breaths, I remembered something: exposure is not the issue here. It’s connection.

I’ve written many times about the importance of cultivating digital citizenship (see 3 Reasons 1st Grade Isn’t Too Early to Teach DigCit, 3 Reasons HS’s too Late to Teach DigCit, Digital Citizenship: A Richer #Edtech Perspective) and the conclusion is always the same: we must view digital citizenship with a lens of opportunity instead of with a lens of fear.

This, of course, requires purpose, balance, and prudence on adults’ part. And with the very real and weighty issues presented in The Atlantic in mind, I would like to share 5 ways we can cultivate a sense of opportunity over fear as we teach our iGen kids digital citizenship.

#1: Recognize that their childhoods won’t mirror ours — and that’s ok.

As some neighborhood kids recently got together to play in our backyard, I noticed them huddled around a smartphone:

If I were to share such a photo without any background, people might jump to the same conclusions they did when the photo below was shared of kids in a museum (ie, “Kids these days!!” or “Look at them glued to those devices!!”)

But the context they’d be missing would be that this is what it looks like when digital citizenship becomes woven into the fabric of daily life. Right before I snapped the photo, these kids were darting around the yard creating a stop-motion movie of their make-believe play (and the context of the above tweet is that these kids were using an interactive museum tour app).

Of course, this can also be what zombie-land phone addiction looks like, but that’s why it’s so important to seek out and be aware of context.

#2: Model appropriate balanced use.

There are those who feel the need to altogether keep devices out of their young children’s physical sight-lines — and while this may be a temporary solution, it removes the opportunity for open dialogue with our children about how we use our devices. They need to hear not only what we do with our phones, but what strategies we employ to keep obsession at bay, especially in the face of social media.

#3: Make the good you do with your device louder than the bad they hear about.

Speaking of modeling, educators Edna Sackson and George Couros have inspired my thinking time and again about this concept:

Cyberbullying, white ribbon week, internet safety — these are all good and important concepts to cover with our children. But if they are exclusive, then we are missing a huge opportunity.

#4: Emphasize creation over consumption.

Videos like the one below help convey the incredible ways we can view, express, and share the world around us.

And resources like this might help them comprehend the sheer creative potential they hold in their hands (and to appreciate how far we’ve come in a short period of time):

Of course, consumption has its place and we should have honest conversations about our sources and habits there, too. But an important part of citizenship in general is that in a community, people need to both give and take.

#5: Emphasize the personally meaningful ways you are using tech to enhance relationships.

This “Dear Sophie” video inspired me so much back in 2011 that I decided to do the same with my own kids. This is a beautiful example of how we can leverage the technology to connect with our loved ones in historically unprecedented ways.

Our iGen kids are part of an exponentially shifting period of history — and of course, this is just the beginning. Our best bet for helping them navigate safely is to embark on the journey together.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto