Trust The Children

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Breathing Out, Breathing In... Revisited!

When was the last time you experienced a melt down with one of your children? The kind of meltdown that leads to some kind of "time out" or banishment into outer space? When this happens, and it happens to all of us at one point or another, there is often this feeling of helplessness. "What do you do when they are just out of control?" you ask. A red faced, teary eyed, jumping up and down, ranting and raving, inconsolable melt down can even be a bit frightening.

My son and daughter in law had just such an experience with Grant. Grant is 3 I think. David came home, and finds that Grant has been "transferred" to the garage to work out his tantrum. He is crying, screaming. I am not sure exactly what Launna said to David, but if it was me, I might have said "You deal with him!". David goes into the garage, and finds the red faced, teary eyed, ... all of it, pitching a fit for no observable reason. So what to do? Whether it was inspiration or exasperation, David said, "Grant, you want to kick a ball? " Grants eyes open, he looks up and nods his still sobbing approval of the idea. David says, "Ok, then go get a ball and meet me in the back yard." Grant runs to his bedroom, opens his closet, begins digging through the pile on the floor, tossing things behind him into the center of the room, like a dog digging a hole, and finally finds the ball. They meet in the back yard and begin kicking the ball. In just a few minutes Grant is centered. The red face has gone away, the sobbing has stopped, and he is laughing and running and settled down again.

As David was relating this to me, I said to him, "Well of course! I blogged about this over a year ago. You know, Silvia Ashton Warner, breath out and breath in." Obvious, of course, to a grandfather living in a remote part of the universe. David reminded me that just because I blogged about something once in my life, that doesn't mean even his #1 son remembers it. "Maybe you need to blog about it again?" he suggested.

So I am. Right now. The short version is this: Silva Ashton Warner was a teacher in New Zealand among the Maori people. She found that when she allowed for an hour or so of creative expression at the beginning of the school day, like singing, drawing, dancing, etc, that when she moved into more formal instruction, these students were more attentive. Even after lunch, she began again with a session of active creativity before teaching. Her label for this was "breath out, breath in." Let them breath out all their energy first, to prepare them to breath in the formal instruction. It makes sense. It works. (The full blog is here).

I believe there were several things that made this work for her. First, this was not a one time event, but part of the regular rhythm of her instructional pattern. Making this activity part of the daily flow, brings a kind of comfort and peace to the kids. Another thing she did, was listen to them as they were playing. She listened for their banter, their story telling, their expressions of life as described in her own words. She listened for the content and she also listened for the words they used. Then she leveraged her observations during her moments of instruction. She used the words already in their vocabulary to teach them to read, write and spell. She used the stories of their own life experience, where she could, to teach arithmetic, social studies and other topics. So not only did this activity time settle the kids down, but it provided, in a very natural way, the fuel with which she build in them a bonfire of learning.

Not too long ago, I was asked to teach a group of 12-13 year olds. There were four points I wanted to make with them. The class was after the dinner hour. I introduced my topic and then said, "But before we get into the first idea, I want to do an activity." Then I set up a relay race and said "go!" They did the race and came back panting. It was at that point, that I gave them the first topic of instruction. When I completed that, I sent them on another running race. They came back tired and breathing hard. I gave them a few minutes to recover and taught item number 2. Then I sent them on another short activity and upon returning taught them item number 3. Then another activity and then the last point. I imagine that to some, this process sounds silly and a waste of time. But I can tell you that at the end, I conducted a review with them, and they not only remembered what I taught, but were all anxious, even the most reluctant ones, to answer and share their take on each point.

Now it is true, that I am 6'4", weight over 300 lbs and have a direct nature about me. So I don't think they were disposed to argue much about the process. However, since then, I have seen other leaders of young men do this and have the same result. In addition, it is no surprise to me, that when Boy Scout Troop meetings begin and end with this kind of physical activity, that the troops organizations grow and thrive. ( I have noticed this idea is too simple for many scoutmasters also too simple for many home schooling parents, I am afraid).

While I am reading like crazy to prepare to go to graduate school this fall, I find myself even doing this same thing myself. Breaking up reading and studying activities with physical activity. (My version of a relay, however, is usually getting up to go to the bathroom.) It does the trick for me as well.

My suggestion is, to use this principle with your children at home in your teaching environment. Teachers in the public setting are always trying new ideas to make their teaching more effective. Why not you? Let us know how it works. In the meantime, I am putting this topic on my calendar to revisit in a year or so. I hope Grant finds himself kicking his ball more often in combination with his learning activities.

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Does It Pay To Preserve Curiosity?

Is it really worth it to do all we can to preserve, and develop innate curiosity in our children?

As the years go by, like I shared recently in "Harvest People", you reap the harvest of years of right choices. This blog is about that. With Cyndy well indoctrinated from her degree in Elementary Education, at first, she was not very interested in home schooling. But I had one opening. She said of her teaching experience, in one unguarded moment, "The light in their eyes is going out. It is happening right before my eyes and I can't figure it out. But it's happening to nearly all of them." It was their loss of natural curiosity. That is why the light went out. The kids were learning now to negotiate the "listen and tell back" challenge. The more they played that game, the more the light went out. Learning was becoming all about pleasing the teacher, pleasing friends, pleasing others, instead of actually learning. That was Cyndy's public school experience. Frankly, this same kind of thing can happen anywhere. It can happen at home too. Preserving curiosity doesn't come natural to anyone, I don't think.

However, once Cyndy got the hang of it... well you can't turn her off now. So, preserved curiosity, the willingness to risk and fail and risk again, has become part of the mystique of our children. For a couple of reasons, 1) Cyndy and I, actually, model following our own curiosity in much of what we do. The kids learned what they saw in their parents and 2) they came to us with curiosity, and we avoided stamping it out and killing it. The example we set of our own interest in exploring, gave them permission to do likewise, and that along with their natural propensity to be curious, nutured a seed, that has grown intp a fruitful plant, from which we still are harvesting.

One example. Our number 2 daughter lost a baby over a year ago. Died in the womb. It was a sad time for the entire family. Tam worked through it, and we all worked through it. The good news is that Tam got pregnant again, and we now have a little Zoe in the family. Allison, our number 1 child, helped Tam process the loss and the grief that kept coming back from time to time. During that process, Allison wrote her a song.

Sweet baby blue how your mommy loved you
Closed your sweet eyes as we kissed you goodbye
Sweet baby blue that the heavens still knew
Sweet baby blue, in a moment and you
were gone, a short song

Sweet baby blue with the skies opened wide
Angels have welcomed you back to their side
Sweet baby blue, the world will miss you
Sweet baby blue
I’m your mom, I’m your mom

Tender days, to have you near
Still the Promise is ringing clear
I will watch over you,
Sweet baby blue

Sweet baby blue how your mommy loves you
I’ll find your sweet eyes and our heartstrings will bind us
Sweet baby blue that the heavens still knew
Sweet baby blue, just one moment with you
Carry on, carry on, carry on, carry on…

Then she put it to some music she wrote and she mixed the music and her voice using a simple MacBook and the GarageBand software. Click here to listen.

The point in all of this is that Allison is still pursuing the development of her talents, and risking their view to the rest of the world. She has finished one Master's Degree, was a Fullbright Scholar, and is now finishing her second masters at the University of Chicago. Who taught her how to write music? She taught herself for the most part. Who taught her how to perform it in such a sensitive, unique way? She tried and failed and tried and failed again, and taught herself. And who taught her how to mix this stuff on a Mac? She taught herself. And why can she do this? Because we succeeded in NOT killing her natural curiosity. Instead we nurtured it, by helping her grow her interests while we worried less about the "basics" trusting that they would come to her in time, which they have.(it is amazing to me, how many parents I talk to who say, 'But what about the 3 R's?' as if we didn't care if our kids got the basics at all. Of course they get them. But they get them perhaps at a different time than some think they NEED to get them.) In our family, for whatever reason, Allison is not the exception. All of the kids, risk and try and read and research and try some more.

Does it pay to preserve curiosity? A thousand million bazillion times over it does! And if you don't believe me, perhaps you will enjoy this TED talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson Schools Kill Creativity. Keep in mind, this isn't a statement about public schooling alone. Home schooling runs the same risks.

If this is the only benefit we derived from the blessing we have enjoyed of home schooling our children, this is sufficient. I can't stress too much how badly I hope you will take a long walk and ponder for hours what it means in your life, and the lives of those you love, to preserve the God given natural curiosity in yourself and in them. Then I would pray that you would have the courage to take steps, even hard ones to give this gift to your children. As Sir Kenneth Robinson said, we may not see the future, but our children will. Past ideas about preparing them to succeed in their future are not servicing. Our view is that homes can do more, homes need to do more, to preserve in their children curiosity for life around them.

If you agree, how about sharing some ideas on how to do just that, preserve curiosity in our children?

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Us Boys

Originally uploaded by allisonweiss

With all the challenges of home schooling, are there really days when it seems like it is worth it, days when your long term dream seems to have made a short term appearance?

Please pardon a personal moment. Every now and then, a guy has to crow. We took this picture almost a year ago, Jon was home from Germany, Sam was about ready to go to Brazil. So we were shopping at Wal-Mart and saw this bench. What else is a bench for? So this is the crew, the bunch, the team the male result of all of our years of home schooling. Bright eyes, great smiles, love each other like only best friends could. It will be 3 years before we might have a shot at a picture like this again. I can't tell you in words, how much I love these guys, our family, my wife. I really don't deserve anything else in life.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

More Challenges For Public Education

Not everyone can home school. That is reality. Public schools, charter schools, private schools are the predominant options in that case. However, as it relates to the Pre-school component of any education outside of the home, a report from the largest study of American child care says that keeping a preschooler in a day care center for a year or more increased the likelihood that the child would become disruptive in class later and that the effect persisted through the sixth grade. The researchers reported that the effect was slight, and within the normal range. Parental guidance and genetics had stronger influence on how children behaved. Perhaps unexpectedly the finding held up regardless of gender or family income, and regardless of the quality of the day care center. According to the authors, with more than 2 million American preschoolers attending day care, the increased disruptiveness very likely contributes to the load on teachers who must manage large classrooms. On the other hand, time spent in high-quality day care centers was correlated positively with higher vocabulary scores through elementary school. For more information on this longitudinal and complicated dataset (and other related studies) see

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Harvest People

If businesses pay consultants to give them encouragement, guidance and remind them to keep on keeping on, when they are doing things right, where to educators go, especially home schoolers, for the same kind of a shot in the arm?

Cyndy and I have been married 33 years. June 13th actually was our 33rd anniversary. It is 32 years since we had our first child and 28 years since we decided to home school. Looking back, it is clear that the early years of our family, were like spring years, where fields were being plowed and seeds being planted. One good decision we made during that time, was not to think that we had all the answers or that our friends who were in the same age bracket had them either.

The people in our lives who had the answers were the ones in the harvest phase of their lives, the harvest people. They didn't guess about which seeds flourished and which did not. While many of our peers, who also had young children, were full of "I think" or "It's my opinion that..." or "When I was growing up...", the harvest people in our lives, spoke with an uncommon and mostly humble authority. In essence they said, "We did this, and this is what we harvested. We didn't to this and this is what we harvested." There were times when the harvest people would look you right in the eye and with a more special earnestness say "Whatever you do, don't do this..." or "Be sure that you do this...". The eyes and earnestness of their expression was riveting. I am thankful that more often than not, Cyndy and I measured the theories of the "spring and summer" people we knew by the "results" experienced and shared by the "harvest people" in our lives. Their ideas and experience helped us make our personal decisions about which seeds to plant back in the "spring and summer" days, how often to water or weed and when to leave the garden alone or when to start over.

Now we find ourselves in a most peculiar situation. Cyndy and I are "harvest people" ourselves, but because of the size of our family (11 kids) we are still cultivating our garden just like "spring and summer" people. Most acquaintances our age have long since left the fields around their own homes, to watch the far flung fields being cultivated by their children. To be sure, we are watching our older children work their own fields, make their own planting choices, weeding choices and nurturing choices. We observe the seeds they are planting with interest and sometimes concern. Because of a lifetime of sowing seeds of our own, we know for ourselves that some seeds will bear wonderful, pleasing and satisfying fruit. We also know that some seeds will most likely turn into unpleasant fruit and it concerns us.

Isn't it odd, but predictable, that many of the seeds we choose to plant, almost without thinking or considering, are the seeds handed to us by our own parents as we grew up. Sometimes the seeds bearing bitter fruit in our own lives, find themselves in our gardens and we can't figure out why or what to do about it? Likewise, how odd but predictable it is, that those around us, who are "spring and summer" people, look often to themselves and unearned wisdom, instead of the harvest people in their lives whose results and wisdom bought at a price could encourage a more pleasing harvest? Natural I guess. But sometimes unnecessary.

However, make no mistake about it. It is just as Cyndy said as we finished our walk this morning,"Honey, we are harvesting now, the seeds we have planted over a lifetime." Choices we made under the guidance of the harvest people in our lives, seeds we planted and cultivated over a lifetime of choices, eventually bear fruit. Others can talk, but the harvest people can look at the seeds and know the fruit even before the planting happens. The fruit IS the evidence of the seed. For good and for bad, the fruit is the evidence of the seeds chosen. And with this comes a warning: seeds are very small things, in comparison to the fruit they become. We were told that back then, but now I get it. A lifetime of small choices, small seeds, and the next thing you know, there are these large plants, even trees and sometimes weeds in your garden and you wonder where it all came from and what to do now? Hopefully, what you do is enjoy. And you will, by choosing over a lifetime, the right, small seeds throughout the planting and nurturing season.

We have always been thankful for the harvest people in our lives. When we were younger and only had a few plants to care for, and now even more that we are older harvest people ourselves, with many more plants to nurture, I thank God for sending to us harvest people. Reaching out and listening to them was another good, small choice we are going to continue to make.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I Can't Resist

We all worry, more or less and from time to time, about what others think about our efforts as home schoolers. For the most part I think we put our blinders on, and move forward in faith. Very few of us have enough children or have been doing this for long enough, to know for certain that our efforts at home will result in our children being productive, intelligent contributors to the world as they know it. Why is being the 'perfect' home schooling family such an illusive goal?"

It's late. I'm tired. But David sent me a link to read and given how little he has a chance to read internet stuff these days, I knew it must be good. Seth Godin again is where he found the quote. Click here to find the entire article. Here you go:

"The object isn’t to be perfect. The goal isn’t to hold back until you’ve created something beyond reproach. I believe the opposite is true. Our birthright is to fail and to fail often, but to fail in search of something bigger than we can imagine. To do anything else is to waste it all." I know of nothing more true for a home schooling parent, especially a home schooling mom, than this quote.

The quote also goes along with Jim Ferrell's "Students learn more watching other people learn, than from watching other people teach." There is a lot to gain from pondering this one.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Great Read!

My son David sent me link for a wonderful article entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid?. In general, the article makes the point, that with every advance in technology, whether we know it or not, as human beings, we run the risk of losing something. To get the point I suggest you read it and decide for yourself.

I mention it because in a walk this morning with Cyndy and a few friends, the topic of "technology addiction" (or something like that) came up. I have noticed that boys who are glued to the tube, especially video games, have a very low attention span and seem to require major stimulation in order to maintain interest in almost anything other than video games. That isn't good, especially for your children.

IN the past, the person who found the unique piece of information, had an edge in any academic pursuit. Today, information itself is becoming less and less of an advantage, because everyone has access to it. In addition, there always seems to be someone who says things better, writes things better, or draws things better. So what is left? What is there then that gives each of us something to differentiate ourselves with? What is there that will give our children visibility and a strategic advantage?

David said, "it's YOU Dad. Your own way of looking at the world. Your own way of seeing that same things that others see. Your own way of saying what others are thinking. Being YOU is your competitive advantage. Being true to your inner self and expressing things after your own fashion. That is your advantage."

If he is right, and I feel he is, how can we as parents help our children find their own voice? How can we encourage them to remain true to that which is unique about them? Do we as parents, have eyes to see that which is unique about each of our children? If we see that uniqueness, how do we go about encouraging it and nurturing it? And further, what elements or activities in their lives encourage or discourage their unique personalities, perspectives and approaches?

These are good questions to consider and even discuss with others in your home schooling support group. Each day ticks by and as parents and home schoolers, it is another day to decide and encourage, what WE want to emphasize instead of leaving that influence up to someone else. We have that wonderful freedom, that came with the responsibility we assumed when we decided to home school, to be purposeful and thoughtful about shaping and forming our children intellectually as well as spiritually. With a little thought and a lot of inspiration, it is a most rewarding work!