“Where’s The Mom?” #TeacherMom


Sure, they may be building independence, problem-solving, time-management, confidence, physical health, risk-taking, and more. But the neighbors don’t see any of that. What they see & think is, “Where’s the mom?”

Never mind that when we were kids, such unsupervised play with a pack of neighbor kids was the norm.

Never mind that contrary to popular belief, the world is actually safer today than it was when we were kids.

Never mind that outdoor play actually addresses dramatically more threatening issues our kids face today, such as anxiety and diabetes.

When a someone recently told me that “Where’s the mom?” is the question asked when they see my kids play, it led me to revisit the way unstructured, unsupervised play has declined since when we were kids (sidebar: what about “Where’s the dad?” If we’re going to be judged, at least let it be equal opportunity judgement!). I have started to wonder whether this is less about protecting kids and more about protecting ourselves from judgement (offline & online) from other adults.

Ultimately, we need to find the courage to set aside those fears and focus on kids’ needs. We have been told, “You can’t be too careful when it comes to kids’ safety.” But the truth is that “an obsession with safety carries its own risks,” not least of which include a child’s diminished sense of autonomy. (see “Child Safety Up, Child Anxiety Up. Hmmm.“).

As a teacher, this seems to have direct parallels in the classroom as well. Both teachers and parents are pressured to make all the decisions in the name of safety or future success. Both are put under such an intense microscope, challenging the status quo is risky business. Both face an ever-present risk of severe judgement.

As a result, child autonomy is suffering, but we have the power to change that. We can:

And of course, it always helps when we find our tribe! There are many Facebook groups (one example here) and Twitter hashtags (#StudentAgency & #studentchoice) where you can find supportive teachers and parents who are similarly working toward childhood independence.

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Inquiry into Skills: Research

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

What measures do we take to help our students cultivate research skills? Teach them to google? Help them take outlined notes? These and others might be helpful, but it might be time to go a little deeper and help them further break down what research skills really entail.

According to the PYP, this break-down includes:

  • Formulating questionsIdentifying something one wants or needs to know and asking compelling & relevant questions that can be researched
  • ObservingUsing all the senses to notice relevant details
  • Planning: Developing a course of action; writing an outline; devising ways of finding out necessary information
  • Collecting data: Gathering information from a variety of first- and second-hand sources such as maps, surveys, direct observation, books, films, people, museums & ICT
  • Recording data: Describing & recording observations by drawing, note-taking, making charts, tallying, writing statements
  • Organizing data: Sorting & categorizing information; arranging into understandable forms such as narrative descriptions, tables, timelines, graphs & diagrams.
  • Interpreting data: Drawing conclusions from relationships and patterns that emerge from organized data.
  • Presenting research findings: Effectively communicating what has been learned; choosing appropriate media

This week’s provocation is intended to help students investigate the nature of research skills for themselves.

Resource #1: Fistful of Stars 360 via The Kid Should See This

Also see (also via The Kid Should See This):

Resource #2: Urban Nature hunting tips from Mr. O’Shea

Resource #3: What is dust made of? via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: OK Go Sandbox (lessons on the science behind their amazing videos!)

Resource #5: Biography picture books on scientists. Here are a few great ones!

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to conduct research?
  • What does it mean to be a researcher?
  • When are you a researcher?
  • What tools do researchers use?
  • What are the processes of research?
  • How does research change throughout a project?
  • What is a source? How can we use them
  • What is the role of perspective in research?
  • How can we develop/strengthen research skills?

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The Problem With Our Early Reading Obsession

When I write about how my daughter is succeeding as a reader even though (or because?) I did not force sight word flashcards or memorizing the alphabet on her as a preschooler, my thinking inevitably returns to readers we would term “at-risk” because of their sorely limited book access.

I wonder if my talk of autonomy and following the child’s lead and student choice & voice are another facet of our privilege, overlooking the needs of kids that need to “catch up” with their peers? Is my priority to cultivate the reader over the reading level potentially damaging for these children?

But this question, and all initiatives out there that insist every child must read by a certain level by age fill-in-the-blank (usually implemented in areas with higher number of at-risk kids), leads to a rather slippery slope with regards to development & choice. We must be wary of practices that suggest that honoring developmental readiness is only reserved for children of a certain class.

This wariness should become sharper when we are faced with programs that overshadow books themselves. When programs > books, we run into equity issues every time because only the kids that quickly finish up their program assignment get time to simply read books of their choosing (Matthew Effect, anyone?)

So, how do we…

…work to eliminate the reading ability gap our low-income students face while still honoring developmental readiness and choice?

…seek out accountability that all students are receiving high quality reading instruction while also avoiding silver bullet programs that promise guarantees?

…ensure that in our zeal to help them find words, we do not allow our anxious agendas to swallow up their voices & choices?

Even as we work to identify diverse literary needs and developmental readiness, we can find a more joyful, inviting reading community for all as we focus more on nurturing readers & cultures than on pushing reading levels.

“For too long we have focused on the development of reading for skills, not for the love of reading.  Yet, we need both types of experiences in order to fully develop as readers.” ~Pernille Ripp

(so many practical ideas from Pernille on establishing that culture in her post).

For our early readers, we seem to have been especially caught up in the skills side of reading. We need to stop packing in skills so tightly that they crowd out reading itself.

As Donalyn Miller recently summed up,

Each and every one of our early readers deserve librarians just as much as they deserve high-quality reading specialists. They deserve books in their hands just as much as they deserve guided reading groups. And they deserve teachers who share their authentic love of reading just as much as they deserve teachers who effectively build decoding skills.

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by fear of kids falling behind. But when we start from a place of love of the reading instead of fear, we ultimately lay a literary foundation that is much more lasting and meaningful for all our readers.

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Ever-Evolving Book Environment #TeacherMom

Our books have seen a lot of different kinds of arrangements. And most of what I’ve shared here has been of the pretty kind:

Bedside reading:

Display for our books from the library:

Spring cleaning sorting by author, size, and collection:

Variety is key, and it’s not always super pretty. It’s all about access. Which means it should be ever-evolving, based on our observations of our kids’ shifting needs. And access wins over pretty every time.

This might look like…

…pulling out books from our tightly-packed shelf onto the display area with the library books to remind our kids of gems they’ve forgotten.

…giving them their own shelf to organize favorite books (and to keep them safe from book-shredding little brothers for now).

…letting them go to town arranging their own personal “library.”

What are ways you help encourage book access with your kids at home? How does that shift over time?

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Inquiry into Skills: Social

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

As I come toward the end of sharing provocation resources for each of the PYP essential elements (just 3 to go!), I was surprised to realize that finding ones for social skills was tricky. But then I realized that was because I was looking at it as a whole instead of breaking down more specific skills. The PYP social skills include:

  • Accepting responsibility: taking on a completing tasks in an appropriate manner; being willing to assume a share of their responsibility
  • Respecting otherslistening sensitively to others; making decisions based on fairness & equality; recognizing others’ beliefs, viewpoints, religions, & ideas may differ from one’s own; stating one’s opinion without hurting others
  • Cooperatingworking cooperatively in a group; being courteous to others; sharing materials; taking turns
  • Resolving conflictlistening carefully to others; compromising; reacting reasonably to the situation; accepting responsibility appropriately; being fair
  • Group decision-makinglistening to others; discussing ideas; asking questions; working towards and obtaining consensus
  • Adopting a variety of roles: understanding what behavior is acceptable in a given situation & acting accordingly; being a leader in some circumstances, a follower in others

In breaking them down, it became clear that I’ve been sharing resources for all these skills all along. There is so much overlap among all the PYP essential elements, but I think this is particularly the case when it comes to social skills. Each of the other PYP essential elements may help students investigate & build up their own social skills in addition to the specific attitude, skill, or attribute.

So this week’s provocation is designed to think about the big picture of social skills as a whole, but know that if you are looking to hone in on the more specific skills listed above, you may find what you need in the complete list of provocations into the PYP essential elements, or even the complete list of all inquiry-based provocations on this site.

Resource #1: Family Rescues Whale Tangled In Net via The Dodo

Resource #2: Brene Brown on Empathy by The RSA (yes, this is a specific skill, but watch closely for multiple social skills here)

Resource #3: Kids Meet a Person with Cerebral Palsy via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: ADA at iPark Museum of Art via The Kid Should See This

Resource #5: “We Found A Hat” by Jon Klassen

Provocation Questions:

  • How do social skills impact our relationships?
  • What are social skills?
  • How do we improve our social skills?
  • What is the impact of social skills on our lives? On our communities?
  • What is our responsibility to cultivate our social skills?
  • Are there different perspectives on what good social skills are? If so, what are they, and why do they exist?
  • How do social skills connect to collaboration?
  • How do social skills impact our ability to accomplish goals?

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She Just Asked Google To Remind Her to “Read All the Books On the Bottom Shelf” #TeacherMom

A few days ago, I overheard my 8 year-old adding her day plans to our shared daily to-do list (more on that here). Using the speech-to-text feature, amid other typical tasks, I suddenly heard her say, “Read all the books on the bottom shelf.”

Teacher mom that I am, of course I was delighted. 

But then I turned to reflect once more on our journey of her literacy:

The pressures I felt to ensure she memorized the ABC’s before kindergarten.

The way I felt like a failure as a teacher when she would not cooperate with my beautifully laid-out magnetic letter play.

The constant tension I felt between whether I should let her choose her own books or drill her on-level basal reader or sight-word flashcards to push her to the next reading level.

The nagging worry that I was denying her opportunities by turning down programs with the label, “proven to be successful in improving the reading skills of every student who participates.”

The way I wondered if I was wrong to yield to her book-making efforts over any worksheets that came home.

Yet amid all the angst, here we are to nearly the start of 3rd grade, and not only is she a fantastic reader and writer, but she’s adding items to her to-do list like “read all the books on the bottom shelf.”

It makes me wonder. Had I pushed all those academics and level advancement on her from my place of stress and worry, would she be making such choices for her summer? My suspicion is that had I pushed my agenda on my strong-willed child, she would want little to do with books today–especially on her “time off.”

It seems that those of us raising kids today are given every reason to believe that to trust our kids’ autonomy over their learning is tantamount to negligence. We are constantly bombarded with ads that offer promises of confidence in our children’s future success. We are so stressed by questions on whether we’re doing enough for our kids, that there is little room left for noticing the learning that quietly and naturally unfolds each day.

This is where I’ll share and re-share this quote from Brene Brown (see it also on Preschool, Kinder-Prep, & 3 Things Kids Need Most):

There is an abundance of learning and growing happening within our kids each day. Recognizing, embracing, and celebrating that from a place of love will always outperform operating from a place of not-enough stress and fear. Not because it will guarantee some future Harvard acceptance or a job on Wall Street, but because it will cultivate a lifetime of joyful learning.

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Inquiry into Skills: Communication

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

Communication is obviously a biggie. It shows up in the 4 C’s of 21st century learning. It comes up in the lists of skills employers most desire. It comes up in wellness articles and self-help books and relationship therapy.

Maybe it’s time we deliberately help students develop communication skills. As we do so, I hope we’ll also teach them more about what it means to be a communicator (see separate provocation on just that!). These resources are intended as a start; please feel free to add others in the comments that might help provoke student thinking and discussion.

Resource #1: How Miscommunication happens (& how to avoid it) by TED Ed

Resource #2: Tools of the Mind (intro video at top of page)

Resource #3: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to communicate?
  • What are different forms of communication?
  • What are communication skills like?
  • How does communication impact our lives? Our communities?
  • What is our responsibility to communicate effectively?
  • What is the connection between learning and communication?
  • What is the connection between self-regulation and communication?
  • What are the different perspectives of individuals in conversations?
  • [if you also shared the provocation on being a communicator] What is the difference between communication skills and being a communicator?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto