Thursday, October 23, 2014

What is the purpose of education?


I have been thinking a lot lately about this question.

To me, it gets to the heart of the discussion on what approach is most worthwhile in educating young people.

We are taught, or at least I was taught both as an education minor at college and a graduate student at Harvard, that education and schooling are synonymous. After all, the thinking goes, how could one possibly be educated without being schooled?

Lots of ways, actually. See unschooling, democratic schools, and community resource centers to name three.

But one of the reasons, I think, why education and schooling have become so closely linked is that we have come to view the period of childhood and adolescence as a training ground for getting into college, getting a good job, getting good money, to buy good things. It's really about consumption, about contributing to the GDP, rather than cultivating one's talents and living a personally fulfilling life, whatever that may be for each individual.

Our current American schooling system was created, based on the nineteenth century Prussian model, to train factory workers. The bells, the hierarchy, the conformity--all of it was designed with the specific intention of creating a compliant workforce to make products for consumption. Have things really changed all that much? As John Taylor Gatto writes in his fascinating book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling: "Schools are intended to produce, through the application of formulas, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled." (p. 23)

But don't we need educated citizens to make our democracy run, to allow people to have good jobs and a good life? Yes, we need educated citizens. But not necessarily schooled ones. In the introduction to Gatto's book, author David Albert cites U.S. Department of Labor statistics showing which occupations are most ubiquitous in America today. He writes: "The job that is held by the largest number of individuals, as well as the occupation that has shown the greatest growth in the past 30 years, is that of Wal-Mart clerk. Second is McDonald's burger flipper. Third is Burger King flipper. And close behind? Elementary school teacher." (p. xxi)

Is this really the crowning achievement of American schooling? Jobs and consumption? Are there not more fulfilling ways that people would choose to live if only they were given the opportunity, if only they were aided in producing more than consuming, in unveiling their true talents and finding a place for them in a global community? Given the vast and seemingly insurmountable challenges our planet now faces, we desperately need to embrace a new paradigm of learning.

Several years ago at a dinner party, a woman who was baffled about our decision to homeschool our children asked: "Don't you care about outcomes?" "Yes," I replied, "the outcomes I care about are that my children have the freedom to pursue their own learning, follow their interests, reveal their gifts, and live a fulfilling life that hopefully contributes to society's greater good." She responded that specific, measurable outcomes for her kids were most important to her. "It might as well be Ivy League or jail," she said, only half-flippantly.

The all-out, debt-laden quest for college and consumption may be damaging on many levels, but especially for children who are schooled to believe that there are no alternatives, who are schooled to believe that only going to a good college and getting a good job are the keys to a good life. As Radical Homemakers author, Shannon Hayes, writes in her essay, Without a diploma, does the Scarecrow have a brain?:
"I happen to believe that if we are to rebuild a sustainable society, then we need more people to step outside the parameters of conventional employment and instead begin small businesses that operate within a life-serving economy, where everyone is able to earn a living wage, where ecological resources are sustained, where community life is vibrant, and where relationships are easily nurtured." 

Our current schooling system is antiquated and obsolete. It doesn't need to be reformed. It needs to be transformed, transcended. We need to let go of the notion of schooling--something done to someone--and instead embrace learning--something one does for oneself. Only then will we have educated citizens who will have the agency and skills to live a good life and preserve a good planet.


"Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it." -Albert Einstein

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

knitting for the rest of us






I learned to knit when I was pregnant with my third baby. Something drew me to it: on the verge of my first homebirth, awakening to the full power of home and the full capacity within it to produce more than consume, I felt drawn to learn those heirloom skills that have sustained generations.

I got a quick lesson at a local yarn shop and knit my first ever scarf. It was ragged and uneven, with all of the mistakes and blemishes that go along with learning anything new. It was beautiful.

Truthfully, my knitting skills haven't gotten all that much more advanced in these subsequent four years. I still haven't mastered purling, despite how many times my seven-year-old tries to teach me. Patterns make me anxious: all that measuring and marking, increasing and decreasing. But still, I love to knit.

I love the way it forces me to take a breath, to be present where I am. I love to walk together to our yarn store, let the kids choose their favorite color, and watch as something warm and special emerges from the needles for each of them. I love to take an inventory of our stash of winter accessories and determine not just what I need to buy, but what I can make. I love the satisfaction of endeavoring to learn something new, to make all kinds of missteps, and to keep on learning and doing.

While they are still young enough to tolerate--and even appreciate--my imperfect knitting, I am hoping to make this little gnome hat for each child this fall. I chose this free pattern because the description said it is "pretty much as easy as knitting gets." (And the blogger is also a homeschooler and homebirther!) It was fairly simple and straightforward--and quickly rewarding.

So if you are also a novice knitter looking for some easy knitting ideas, add this pattern to the mix. And please leave a little note below if you have others to share!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The more time you're together...


…The more peaceful family life can be.

It may seem counterintuitive. Wouldn't being together with your children all the time make life more challenging? Wouldn't your children playing together so often create more chaos? Wouldn't there be more squabbles, more conflict, more raised voices?

Actually, no.

When we spend more time together as a family, when our children spend more time together with their siblings, there is more peace and more joy.

There are likely many reasons for this phenomenon, well-known to veteran homeschoolers, but here are two primary possibilities:

Less Stress = More Calm

We all know that we have far less patience and far more conflict when we are feeling stressed. Our children experience this stress in the same way, and sometimes more dramatically. I know that if I need to scurry my children out the door for an appointment or activity, interrupting their play, it can lead to more stress for me and my children. There is a higher likelihood of a tantrum. (From my children, too.) There is more fussing and whining. Often that initial stress can set the tone for the day, making it difficult to reconnect with the simple, calm rhythms of home. As Kim John Payne writes in his powerful book, Simplicity Parenting: "Rescue their childhood from stress, and they will inevitably, remarkably, day by day, rescue you right back." Less stress in the lives of children means less stress--and more calm--for everyone in the family.

When children are under daily stress--from coercive schooling environments, from tight schedules and back-to-back structured activities, from more pressure and less play--their stress can lead to "adaptive" behaviors that cause parents greater stress. Children who are under chronic daily stress may be more volatile, more defiant, more emotional as they try to manage and make sense of the big strains in their little lives. As Boston College psychology professor, Dr. Peter Gray, writes in his book, Free To Learn
"We are pushing the limits of children's adaptability. We have pushed children into an abnormal environment, where they are expected to spend ever greater portions of their day under adult direction, sitting at desks, listening to and reading about things that don't interest them, and answering questions that are not their own and are not, to them, real questions. We leave them ever less time and freedom to play, explore, and pursue their own interests." 
It becomes a vicious cycle: children are stressed from their daily high-pressure, low-play world and parents are stressed from the resulting behaviors that their children exhibit from all that stress. Add to this mix the increasing parental pressures from our fast-paced, consumption-focused, commercial culture and the result is a smoldering cauldron of constant family strain. To restore the calm we need to reduce the stress: remove our children from stressful learning environments, re-position family as the center of children's lives, and restore the calm in our days together.

Family Attachment vs. Peer Attachment

Another important reason why it may seem so much more challenging to be together as a family is that we have shifted away from a family-oriented, parent-oriented culture to a peer-oriented culture. As young children are enrolled at ever earlier ages into schooling environments that separate them from their family members, they form attachments, as is their natural instinct, with peers instead of parents. Drs. Neufeld and Mate write in their book, Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers:
"The chief and most damaging of the competing attachments that undermine parenting authority and parental love is the increasing bonding of our children with their peers…It is peer orientation that has muted our parenting instincts, eroded our natural authority, and caused us to parent not from the heart but from the head--from manuals, the advice of 'experts,' and the confused expectations of society."
The shift toward peer-orientation, toward moving children away from family learning and toward institutional learning at ever younger ages, also negatively impacts sibling relationships. I often hear parents say how well their children play together by the end of the summer and how quickly that play deteriorates come fall. It is no coincidence. As play and learning shift from siblings to peers, from home to institutions, stress rises and family attachment dwindles.

Most homeschooling parents hear at one time or another: "Oh, I could never spend that much time with my children!" The stresses of modern childhood, the high-pressure demands of institutional learning, the orientation of children toward peers and away from parents make it difficult for many parents to find peace in their daily family life. Removing these stresses, eliminating these demands, and reconnecting children with parents and siblings can lead to calmer, more connected, more joyful days together with our children.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fall At Home


Waking up this morning to winter temperatures after a week of summer ones made me a bit sad. It was so nice to be outside last week, in t-shirts and sandals, enjoying the warm sunshine. Thoughts of cajoling my three-year-old to once again don her socks and fleece or convincing everyone not to walk barefoot on the front porch made me want to roll right over and linger under the covers.

And then I remembered.

It's tilting toward late-October and we need to tune Pandora to the holiday music station! We need to enjoy warm morning tea by candlelight! We need to linger in our socks and slippers, reading, playing, knitting, baking! 

With such a warm fall to date, I forgot how much I love the colder days of autumn, the new rhythms of home that we embrace as the sunlight fades and the cool winds emerge. Indoor days. Home days. Days filled with warmth and comfort, music and light. 

This is where we should be. Right now. In October in New England. 

Living and learning together at home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Learning and Living




Today at the river

"Living is learning and when kids are living fully and energetically and happily they are learning a lot, even if we don't always know what it is. " - John Holt
One of the greatest tragedies of our current system of compulsory schooling is that it places learning into silos--to occur in certain places, at certain times, by certain people--separate from the rest of life.

Real learning cannot possibly be separated from living. Especially for children. They learn all the time, everywhere. As unschooling parents, we help our children to explore and learn about their world by immersing them in it. We remove any silos, any potential barriers to authentic, self-directed learning, and help our children to freely discover their world.

Today that learning looked like wandering on the banks of the Charles River: climbing trees, watching rowers prepare for the upcoming Head of the Charles Regatta, enjoying the summer-like warmth of a bright October day with the hum of the city around us. Today that learning looked like a small group of homeschoolers engaged in math puzzles with a gifted instructor. Today that learning looked like spending time with visiting grandparents: doing small household projects, listening to stories, playing games and music. Today that learning looked like enjoying an afternoon with dear friends. Today that learning looked like my older ones playing a game of chess with Daddy while I snuggled the littles to sleep.

Today's learning looked a lot like living.

Maybe because it is.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

But you turned out ok

In yesterday's post about what we would do if the children asked to go to school, I shared how I feel that most schooling is inherently harmful to children. As Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray writes

"School is a place where children are compelled to be, and where their freedom is greatly restricted — far more restricted than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we have been compelling our children to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there is strong evidence (summarized in my book, Free To Learn) that this is causing serious psychological damage to many of them. Moreover, the more scientists have learned about how children naturally learn, the more we have come to realize that children learn most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school."

But you turned out ok, is a response I hear frequently. Heck, you even liked school.

It's true. I learned quickly how to play and succeed at the game of school. I was fortunate to be an early reader and to have a supportive family to give me the initial advantage, and then I--like many of you, I'm sure--learned what I needed to do, how I needed to behave, to gain the teacher's affections, to get the A, to be showered with accolades and praise. And really, who doesn't like praise? Who wouldn't want to go to a place that offers all that praise?

I got good grades, excelled in academics and athletics, got accepted to the colleges of my choice, and attained what we as a society have come to consider the badges of success: good jobs and good salaries.

But it was a hollow victory. As so often happens when we reach adulthood, and especially parenthood, we realize how much we don't know. I realized that I might have been successfully schooled, but I didn't feel well-educated. When I reflect on the approximately 15,000 hours I spent in K-12 public school, and the additional hundreds of hours spent in after-school athletics, the only thing I can think of is what a waste of time most of those hours were. What else could I have been doing, learning, in those hours? How much more authentic could those hours have been if I wasn't spending so much time playing the game, but actually learning, reading, doing?

For many children, the harm of compulsory schooling is obvious. Many are at a disadvantage right out of the gate and those disadvantages are amplified and embedded as their schooling continues. Others are bullied, labeled, tracked or medicated. But beyond these obvious harms are the more subtle ones. Most schooled children, myself included, become conditioned to value and seek extrinsic rewards and superficial achievements. We lose creativity and individuality as we conform to arbitrary curriculum demands, teacher expectations, and institutional mores. Once an avid reader, my love of reading for reading's sake was extinguished by about fourth grade, as reading became a means to an end, a means to an A. Fortunately I regained my love of reading in early adulthood. I was one of the lucky ones.

Kirsten Olson writes in her book, Wounded By School, about "the hidden and long-lasting wounds that result from the structural violence inherent in the ways we organize and evaluate learning, wounds that range from "I found out that I have no gift of creativity," or "I learned that I'm no good at sports," to "They drained off my self-confidence," "I emerged feeling stupid," or "They put me in the losers' line and I've been there ever since." Equally sad and profoundly ironic is the wound that may be the most widespread of all: the eagerness to learn that we all bring into the world as infants is often diminished and even destroyed by our schooling."

So while it may seem that some of us made it through compulsory schooling unscathed, and even on top, I believe that few, if any of us, really do. We don't know how else we might have spent those 15,000 hours: to follow our curiosities, to reveal our interests, to pursue our passions, to read, and read, and read some more, to learn in freedom.

We can't get those 15,000 hours back. But we can most certainly give them to our children.

Friday, October 10, 2014

What if they want to go to school?


A friend and I recently had an interesting and thoughtful conversation about what I would do if my children asked to go to school. I responded that I can't really imagine that scenario occurring, given that they have never been to school, have loads of friends to satisfy their social needs, and have a city classroom filled with opportunities and teachers to meet any interest or desire. 

Even so, this friend wondered, what if they want to go to school sometime?

We wouldn't send them to school, I replied. 

As a homeschooler but not an unschooler, my friend thought my response was antithetical to the ideals of unschooling. "But as an unschooler, isn't your intent to allow your children to do what they want to?"

"Unschooling is not un-parenting," I replied. "I don't let my children eat junk food or watch television or do a whole host of other things that I think are unhealthy."

"But," my friend urged, "junk food is bad for their physical health." 

"I think school is harmful to their spirits, to their emotional health," I said.

"But," she continued, "what if, as teenagers, they are just curious, just want to try it out, to experiment and, most likely, they won't like it?" 

I said: "I think that most schooling is inherently harmful to children and, as a parent, I have the right--the responsibility--to protect my children from harm."

Still, her point is well-taken and as teenagers I am certain that my children will want, and be fully given, even greater freedom to learn, to explore, to experiment. I imagine them spending their days with friends at the Museum of Fine Arts, at a place like Parts and Crafts, at the Harvard Extension School or a community college attending classes that interest them. I imagine them fully embracing their freedom to learn and the abundant resources of their city to help them. 

When people are granted freedom they usually don't choose to give it up.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Autumn Toys







Fall is such a wonderful time of the year for outside play. With our schedule growing simpler, as I seek more blocks of free time for the children, we gain more time to play outside in these bright, still-warm early autumn days. 

Fallen sticks and branches, chestnuts and acorns, colorful leaves -- all become magical toys that the kids incorporate into their imaginative play schemes when given abundant and unhurried time and space to play outside. Even in the city, where grassy patches are more exception than rule, the children find so many natural "toys" to inspire their play together. 

When it comes to children's toys, I have found, simpler is better and natural is best. As author, David Elkind, writes in his book, The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally: "Children learn about themselves and their world through their play with toys. In the past half century, mass production has made inexpensive toys available in enormous quantities and seemingly unlimited variety…The majority of these toys are now made of plastic. These playthings generally lack the warmth of wood, the texture of natural fabrics such as cotton or wool, or the solidity of metal…All of these changes have impacted the personal and social skills, attitudes, and values children acquire from toy play."

In fall, it is so easy to avoid manufactured toys in favor of all the natural ones around us. Gathering items on a nature walk or a trip around the block to bring back to our home and yard becomes a typical part of our daily autumn rhythms. 

At this time of year, nature offers so many simple, free, meaningful toys that lead to deep, fulfilling, creative play for our children. All we parents need to do is prioritize the hours of unhurried, unstructured time outside, in nature, that play with these natural toys requires, and watch how the ordinary gifts of the season lead to extraordinary play.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

weekending at the orchard









It wouldn't be fall without a trip to the apple orchard, and all the apple goodness that will come from my kitchen in the days to follow. Apple crisp, apple sauce, apple (and squash) soup. Yum.

After a rainy Saturday, the skies cleared for one of the most beautiful days of the season: crisp enough to get us and our visiting friends in the apple-picking spirit but warm enough to be able to linger in the orchard, breathing deeply of that fresh autumn air while surrounded by the vibrant colors of fall.

Celebrating each new season with farm and food has become a bit of a family ritual for us. We honor fall with visits to the orchard, the final weeks of our CSA share, and a trip to the farm to select our Thanksgiving turkey. We honor winter with an annual trek to the tree farm to choose and cut our holiday tree and prepare for Solstice and Christmas celebrations. We welcome spring with a visit to the maple farm for the season's first syrup. And we celebrate summer in the strawberry fields.

In this way, with these small traditions that we began just a few years ago when our oldest was a toddler, we connect more deeply with nature, with our food, with the changing seasons and the passing of time, and, most importantly, with our children.

Creating or resurrecting family traditions doesn't need to be overly complicated or involved. It doesn't need to take a lot of time or thought or ingenuity. Sometimes simple is better. Getting outside, in the fresh air of a new season, connecting with food and farm, family and friends is a simple and meaningful way to acknowledge the gifts of the earth and each other.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Stay Calm and Let Them Play


"The concept of childhood, so vital to the traditional American way of life, is threatened with extinction in the society we have created. Today's child has become the unwilling, unintended victim of overwhelming stress--the stress borne of rapid, bewildering social change and constantly rising expectations." 

When David Elkind wrote the above statement in his popular book, The Hurried Child, it was 1980-- just the beginning of an American culture of childhood "enrichment" and "opportunity" that has become so pervasive that we now expect kindergarteners to read, preschoolers to sit quietly at desks, and childhood "achievement" to be the undisputed marker of future success in a global economy. It's no wonder that rates of childhood anxiety and depression are skyrocketing, and the pharmaceutical industry happily creates tablet antidotes.

But the real antidote is simply play. Stay calm and let them play.

Somehow we parents got on this treadmill, believing that we need to schedule the majority of our children's time with adult-led activities and classes. Our intentions were no doubt good. We all want the best for our children. But in scheduling their days, filling their time with activities, we strip our children of their instinct to play, to discover their own world, to imagine and create all on their own, without a grown-up telling them how or why or when.

As the authors of the excellent book, Einsten Never Used Flash Cards, state: "Parents who don't want to participate in all of the accelerated opportunities and activities for their children often feel anxiety in this new childrearing climate. As parenting itself has become more competitive, many moms and dads worry that their children could be left behind if they don't take advantage of every available opportunity."

And homeschoolers are often the most guilty of this! My head spins as I listen to the list of classes and activities and other adult-led programs that many homeschooling parents have arranged for their young children, some just barely out of diapers. Where is their time to play? I mean really play: on their own, without adults leading the charge, without the latest "research" telling them how best to play. As the Einstein authors assert:
"By making children dependent on others to schedule and entertain them, we deprive them of the pleasures of creating their own games and the sense of mastery and independence they will need to enjoy running their own lives. The concept of enjoyment, of silliness, of play, is relegated to the back of the bus. The concept of downtime--when we can just do nothing, reflect a little, and have a chance to become ourselves--seems to be a kind of heresy in the current cult of achievement."
It's easy to get caught-up in the culture of acceleration, easy to be wooed by another class or possibility. The challenge for all parents is to quiet the noise, to follow our instincts and recognize how far from normal we have pushed modern day childhood. Instead of being so focused on "outcomes," on results and scores and other manifestations of so-called achievement, we should focus on giving our children the time and space and freedom to play, to grow, to learn, to be.

It may be the biggest parenting challenge of our time: to fiercely protect and preserve a natural childhood and give our children the gift of play.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rainy Day Ramblings




"There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."
One of the ways I try to meet the disparate and ever-changing daily needs of four young children while retaining a peaceful home rhythm is to tailor a weekly schedule that has ultimate flexibility. 

With very few exceptions, the children's activities are not set in stone each week. We can decide on Wednesday whether or not to sign up for the weekly Friday homeschool class at the Museum of Fine Arts. We can decide whether or not to go to Parts and Crafts on any given day or afternoon given the flexibility of a monthly membership. We can decide when to go to the library or the museum, when to go to park days and playdates, when to sign up for a sewing workshop or a ukulele lesson. 

This flexibility means that on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, when my oldest sometimes takes a drop-in class across town, we decided instead to take a leisurely puddle-stomping walk around the neighborhood. I sensed that walking the distance to the class in the rain, or driving in the late-day traffic, could lead to unnecessary family strain for a class my daughter can easily attend another day this week if she wants to.

It is not always easy to meet everyone's needs, and I put up with my fair share of whines while one child is waiting for another or someone doesn't want to go someplace that another wants to. But I have discovered, and continue to realize, that flexibility is the key to smoother days, less crankiness, and more peace as we all live and learn together as a family.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Library As Barometer







As this fall unfolds and I focus deliberately on my efforts to slow the pace of our days, I am discovering helpful barometers. For one, I have realized that our weeks have too much going on if I need to squeeze a library visit into a sliver of a day. Even though it is only a couple of blocks away from us and we can easily pass it while going here or there, the library shouldn't be a drive-through (or walk-through) packed into a busy day. The library should be the day!

When we are able to make the library the centerpiece of a day, we can soak in all of its goodness. We can chat with the gifted librarians at length. We can wander the aisles slowly and thoroughly, stumbling upon new interests and revisiting old favorites. We can explore otherwise neglected areas, like the magazine section, and the board game section, and the other nooks and crannies of an historic building and its shiny new wing.

Then, when we have had our fill and our bags are bursting with books, we can spend the rest of the day playing under the weeping willow tree. The children spend hours in the warmth of early fall climbing and playing in its branches, building forts and fairy houses in its shade, making fall crowns and accessories from its fallen leaves. With nowhere else to go, no other classes to rush to or places to be, we sink into the delight of the day.

I have noticed, as we endeavor this fall to slow our schedule and limit our activities, more peace and more play in our lives. The children become fully absorbed in their play together, knowing they will not be interrupted, not pulled from one thing to the next. They know that they can spend long hours at the library and under the trees exploring, discovering, creating, building. They know that they can just be.

From that slowness and simplicity come deep, elaborate, intense childhood play: the kind of play that nourishes little spirits and leads to a peacefulness in them and in our days that simply cannot be when the pace is faster, when the library is a drive-through.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Our Little Library


The final piece of our new city house renovation was to install a Little Free Library in the front for all to enjoy. Take a book, return a book -- the whole idea of the Little Free Library inspires me, as it fosters neighborhood connection and a love of literacy. 

We designed our tiny patch of front landscaping with the library as the focal point, hoping that it would draw neighbors and passersby to stop and browse, borrow and give. And it has exceeded our expectations! Each day, sometimes several times a day, the children rush out to the library to see if there are any new books and to determine which books have been taken. We are able to meet new neighbors, chat about the books they are reading, and appreciate the small things we can do as individuals, as families, to facilitate community and connection.

While Little Free Libraries are sprinkled throughout the city, it wasn't until I read Mike Lanza's excellent book, Playborhood, last spring that I decided to incorporate one into our home. The book is brimming with helpful and simple ideas and inspiration for transforming one's home and neighborhood into a space that welcomes children, values neighborhood connection, and prioritizes play. 

It seems that in some ways our modern world and its high-tech gadgets make us more connected than ever before; and yet, along with that digital connection and the high-speed lives it fuels, come the disappearance of personal human connection, leisurely neighborhood chats, unstructured childhood play. By reimagining our homes and neighborhoods as vital spaces for community, connection, and natural learning, we can discover simple ways to bring people together to share and to learn.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What I Should Have Said

Self-directed learning
At the park today with my younger three while my oldest was in a class, a mom and I got to chatting and the topic of homeschooling came up. She asked, with sincerest curiosity, how I manage to homeschool all my children, particularly with a baby in the mix.

I get some version of this question enough that you would think I would have a well-polished response. My responses vary depending on the circumstance, on whether or not the questioner is merely curious for curiosity sake or is considering homeschooling herself, on how much energy I have at any given moment to explain our learning philosophy, on whether or not a child of mine is screaming or melting down. A whole host of circumstances lead to a whole host of varying responses.

In today's instance, I think the mom was really just curious about how I teach my older children while also managing the needs of my younger children. Truthfully, my response was pretty shallow. Here's what I should have said:

I don't teach my children. They learn naturally as all children do. My husband and I help to facilitate their learning by giving them abundant time and space to play, to explore, to dabble, to read and be read to, to create, to question, to dream. We watch as their natural curiosity--their innate instincts to discover their world--guide them to uncover interests, develop skills, reveal passions and talents. We use the vast resources of our community to connect these interests and talents with the people, places, and things around us that can lead to further inquiry and mastery. Children are natural learners. They are astonishingly capable of figuring out what they want to know, what they need to know, and then working intensely to acquire that knowledge. They teach themselves. We grown-ups guide them. We accompany them to the library when they're little as they ask the librarian for books about computer programming so they can teach themselves how to code. We take them to a museum exhibit on bugs. We find a mentor to help them learn an instrument. We research tools and classes, books and media, events and opportunities that may be interesting and enjoyable. We let our children choose. We trust them. Then we step back and watch them learn, all on their own, guided by their powerful self-educative instincts. 

I don't teach my children. They learn. They learn through the daily rhythms of our home and family and community. They learn when cooking in the kitchen, when crafting in the dining room, when reading in the living room, when playing in the bathtub, when snuggling in bed. They learn when we are at the playground, on a bike ride, at the post office and the market, at the flower shop and the library, with their friends and their neighbors and their relatives, at the bookstore and the museum, at the nature center and the apple orchard and the backyard. They learn everywhere, all the time.

I don't teach my children.
They teach me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Slow Autumn Days






My mantra lately, when I first wake up and as I move through the morning's rhythms, is "slow and simple." In many ways this needs to be my daily mantra, my daily reminder, as the pace of the modern world is anything but slow and simple.

But when we move through our days mindfully and unhurriedly, we are able to appreciate so much more of what is around us. We are able to stop during a morning bike ride at a coveted patch of city grass sprinkled with vibrant shades of freshly fallen leaves. We are able to linger, to play, to connect more deeply with each other and the natural world. We are able to sink into a new season, fully attentive to its wonders.

When we make an effort to move slowly, deliberately, through these fledgling autumn days, we grant our children and ourselves the gift of being fully present in the moment. Our children already know how to live this way. In fact, it is the only way they know how to live. They already move slowly through their days, stopping and stalling to glance at a bug on the sidewalk or a web in a tree. And, all too often, we parents are the ones hurrying them along, frustrated by their slower pace as we rush from one place to the next. We can learn a lot from our little ones about being fully present in the moment, about appreciating this day, this place, this season. We can learn from them how to slow down and simplify.

So as this new season dawns and Mother Nature shares so many of her marvels, let us take the time to stop, to notice, to be awed and thankful. Let us move through these autumn days slowly and simply. Let our children show us how.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Celebrating Autumn







River (by Bill Staines)

I've been to the city and back again, 
I've been moved by some things that I've learned;
Met a lot of good people and I've called them friends,
Felt the change when the seasons turned.
I've heard all the songs that the children sing,
And listened to love's melodies;
I've felt my own music within me rise
Like the wind in the autumn trees.

One of my favorite celebrations of the year is the annual Revels RiverSing, a free concert held each year along the banks of the Charles River to celebrate the autumn equinox. We packed a picnic dinner to enjoy with friends before the concert and then sang and danced until the last slivers of daylight disappeared. 

This concert, the new season it honors, the community it brings together are simple markers of the passing of time in the city. Enjoying the celebration with friends has become an annual ritual--a family tradition--to welcome a new season and remind us of the importance of community as we step into the darker days ahead. 

Celebrating the equinox as a family can be sweet and simple. Preparing a harvest dinner. Visiting the apple orchard. Crafting and decorating. Leaf jumping and collecting. Reading seasonal stories. Enjoying special songs and poems. There are countless ways to embrace a new season, to revisit or create new family rituals that help us to slow down, look around, and notice the sights, smells, and tastes of fall.

As we move into colder, darker days, we bring with us the warmth of family, the light of friendship, and the new rhythms of home that a fresh season brings.