On Taking Their Learning Autonomy Seriously #TeacherMom

I watched him eagerly build. Forget that parking garage we’d given him; his backdrop for his car pretend play needed to be a magnificent double castle. It was clear that for him, his make-believe was thoroughly real and satisfying and rich.

And I wondered how often I have not recognized such pretend play for what it really is: self-constructed learning experiences.

Now, as I watch my kids play and explore and learn, I am filled with questions.

Do we recognize their fantastical play of equal or greater value than “real world” play?

Children use fantasy not to get out of, but to get into, the real world. ~John Holt

Do we see a child at play or a person constructing meaning for themselves?

Do we believe that play has its place, but that that place is still below drilling shapes, colors, and counting if the child has reached a certain age?

“Children naturally resist being taught because it undermines their independence and their confidence in their own abilities to figure things out and to ask for help, themselves, when they need it.” ~Peter Gray

Do we allow panic of “readiness lists” (for any grade or age) to override our child’s autonomy over what they’ve indicated they are ready for? 

And most personally relevant: will I avoid the same mistake I made with my oldest (from which her own stubbornness saved us both), assuming that unless I assert my agenda and timetables and learning, my preschooler will fail?

Even as I work to provide a learning environment, I will try to remember an equally, if not more, important role: to trust them enough that I take their own learning autonomy seriously.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Preschool, Kinder-Prep & 3 Things Kids Need Most #TeacherMom

It’s January and I have a 3 year-old that will be 4 by September. Translation (according to modern society): I should be in a panic because preschool application deadlines are upon us. And of course, after preschool comes kindergarten, and we’re told that academic success in kindergarten corresponds with future earnings.

No pressure.

Yet, when it comes to all that kinder-prep frenzy, I learned the hard way that that pressure does very little to produce a desirable effect, and I have no wish to repeat the experience.

For the sake of my friends and acquaintances in the same stressful boat who feel their sanity hangs by a thread, I want to share a few thoughts once more on this kinder-prep phenomenon.

First, recognize that as a loving, involved parent, you are enough. The scarcity mindset comes from a place of fear — fear that there’s something out there that we don’t have enough of, and it is the deal-breaker between success and failure (for us and our children). But as Brene Brown wrote,

I thought of this same principle when I saw this lovely post from Kristina Kuzmic:

Of course, this NOT intended to be mean preschool isn’t valuable and even necessary for many families. Programs like Head Start play a particularly valuable role, providing support for children that may not have as many advantages.

What this does mean is that we should never underestimate the impact of a loving and involved parent. As I’ve shared before from one of our local university preschools,

“You parents are already doing a great deal to insure success in kindergarten for your youngster. You read to your children, you go on family outings, you model a love for learning, but most of all you are very involved in the lives of your children. This will make kindergarten a wonderful time for your child, and start him/her on the road to a good education.”

Second, recognize that excessive focus on the future robs us of today’s opportunities.

It’s wonderful to want to ensure our kids can face whatever their futures hold. But sometimes we should pause and ask ourselves: are we focusing so much on the future that we forget to focus on their current developmental needs?

In other words, is it about the developmental needs of a 3-4 year-old, or is it about fear for what they might not be ready for when they turn 5?

This fearful approach might include excessive academic drilling, worksheets, or other highly-marketed programs that guarantee hitting every “kindergarten readiness” checklist item. For the most part, rich social interactions are what preschoolers developmentally need most at this age — playing outside with other kids, helping out with siblings, etc. Incidentally, such interactions are the very things that will best prepare them for future success in school anyway.

Third, recognize the importance of letting your child take the lead. 

If your preschooler is indicating interest in learning to read, by all means, pursue that. But if she is resolute in her passion for dinosaurs, please don’t abandon that because you are stressed about kinder-prep checklists. Follow their curiosity, because that precious zeal for learning will serve them far longer than the ability to identify all 52 upper & lower-case letters on the first day of kindergarten (also, keep in mind that there are about a thousand ways to create rich learning experiences that revolve around dinosaurs).

Following our kids’ lead also involves a greater emphasis on self-regulation. Helping our kids develop skills in stress-management and expressing their feelings will also empower them to take ownership over their lives and learning.

One more disclaimer before closing. Speech delays and learning disabilities are absolutely real and parents should be on the look-out for signs and resources to provide their children the support they need. I just wonder if sometimes we start from a place of assuming there is something wrong if our kids are not yet interested in counting and shapes when they are 3.

As we look toward the beginning of formal education, let us do so in a manner that will cultivate curiosity, joy, and ownership.

Relevant posts related to this topic that might be of interest:

Recommended Books & Resources:

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What Happens When We “Let Kids In On the Secret” of Development #TeacherMom

It started with a conversation over birding. Having been raised to share love of bird-watching with her dad, my daughter was casually checking out a few species when she mentioned she wished she had her binoculars with her. That’s when I told her, “Did you know that some people can identify birds with other senses besides sight? If you were blind, what would you use to learn about birds instead?” This led to watching the video entitled, “Blind Birdwatcher Sees With Sound,” followed by all the other videos I recently included in an inquiry into the senses.

All this led to a fascinating conversation about the senses, absolutely packed with “aha moments” for my daughter. The baby video in the above-mentioned post particularly made us think together — we ended up talking about how important sensory experiences are for kids. That’s when she made the connection to why we call our bin filled with dry grain a “sensory box,” as well as other items in our home that she suddenly realized were deliberate choices based on her parents’ understanding of child development.

All at once, and to her delight, she was “in on the secret” on her own development as well as that of her brothers. She started to not only recognize but make suggestions to her environment when it comes to providing sensory experiences (particularly keen to share her pearls of wisdom on bettering her little brothers’ experiences). And quite apart from the learning element from it all, it has simply been a wonderful relationship-builder as well.

What does “letting kids in on the secret” look like at school? 

This phrase is regularly shared by inquiry educator Kath Murdoch. She writes,

“inquiry teachers have a transparent style. It’s not just about putting learning intentions up on the wall – they constantly ensure their kids know why they are doing what they are doing.”

In another post, she adds,

“We know that for many students, school is like a jigsaw puzzle…only no one has given them the picture on the lid of the box. We know now of course that when we hold on tightly to those secret intentions, when we fail to tell kids why they are learning what they are learning…when we take purpose away from the equation – we reduce motivation, engagement and understanding.”

Letting kids in on the secret might mean…

…letting a committee of kids design the next seating chart (after discussing the how and why behind it)

…regularly discussing learning standards/objectives and what they mean and how we get there (and how kids might help in the planning to get there!)

…having meaningful conversations about metacognition, and what specific strategies we seek to better understand our own thinking patterns and self-regulation

…teaching kids to recognize their own time-use and purposes, and then gradually providing them with opportunities to exercise agency in how they spend their time (such as in this Daily 5 example).

…frequently talking about the why behind everything we do!

What about you? What are some ways you have “let students in on the secret?” What has been the impact when you see students with a greater understanding of the big picture of school?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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 never 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

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