Stepping Back

An interesting situation came up recently while I was visiting a school. We were outside in the play area with about 30 kids ages 2-5. I was quietly watching the children when I noticed two of them fighting over a jump rope. They were raising their voices, but their words were logical, and they were working out who deserved to have the rope. As one of the teachers and I watched them, my instinct to jump in and help them solve the problem kicked in, but I refrained. At that point, the teacher voiced exactly what I had been thinking: “We try to give them time to work these things out by themselves.”

When a situation like this arises at the YMCA where I work, I normally jump in much sooner, attempting to solve the problem and resume peace in the classroom as quickly as possible. However, while I was in this other environment, watching these children argue, I had clear intentions to leave them alone. I believed, rather knew, that they could work it out by themselves. However, I still had the urge to jump in and help, and unfortunately, this urge usually gets the better of me. While I understand that sometimes adult intervention is necessary when a situation escalates, we often jump in long before it has come to that point, without even knowing if it would ever reach that point. Adults are so quick to take over for children, to assume they cannot do something and jump in to help them before they even have a chance to try. Instead of offering help, we impose it on them. This is something we would never do to another adult, at least not without protest from the adult we trying to help.

Children learn from trying things. From touching, manipulating, experimenting with, and voicing things. A lot of the time, we let them do this without question, allow them to explore without interrupting. But as soon as they seem to struggle with something, we rush to their side to help. But we aren’t helping, we are interrupting their experiment. We are undermining their ability to do things, and showing them that we lack trust in their capabilities. Our intentions are good, of course, we see ourselves as helping a being less capable than ourselves, but these things are more complicated than that. Unfortunately, many things are more complicated than we want them to be. So next time you start to rush to the side of a struggling, yet persistent child, or try to stop a verbal argument without giving them time to resolve it themselves, think twice. Remember that we all had to learn these skills at some point, and if we stop the experiment, if we get in the middle of the argument, we are not allowing them to learn, we are not allowing them to explore, and we are not allowing them to develop.

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All children are…the same?

Many of us have a natural tendency to assume that everyone learns in the same way that we do. I learned about this tendency through my experience with my father, who made the mistake of assuming that I learn in the same way that my brother, and he himself, learn. After several years of struggling, he realized that I learned in a completely different way than both him and my brother, and that my interests were also different, and allowed me to pursue my interests in that way that was right for me. Although this knowledge has been in the back of my mind since that first experience with my father, my personal recognition of  this tendency came much later. My father’s mistakes behind me, I decided I was going to open up a school of my own where movement and physical energy is fostered and nurtured. In my mind, this would be the ideal school, as I think that every child has an innate nature to want to move. However, about a year ago, I was talking to my father about his conversation with one of my friends, who is getting a degree in elementary education. He told me that she had made a very astute observation about me, she said “Bria wants to open a school for people who are like her.” Although I believe this was meant to be a compliment, both from her and from my father when he was retelling it to me, I took it very differently. Something struck me like a weight, and I felt guilty and ignorant about my approach to education. I had inadvertently done exactly as my father had to me, and as many educators have to other children, I had assumed that every child learned in the way I did, and I had planned to design my school based on that assumption.

Since hearing my friend say that about me, I am constantly reminding myself of the differences in learners, in their abilities, skills, ways of learning, and interests. My ideas about my school have become more open-ended, more ready to stretch and mold based on the knowledge that I acquire about education through my studies, and my work in the field. And every time I find myself slipping back to that assumption, assuming that a child does or should learn in a certain way, in my way, I hear my friend’s words in my head, and I remind myself that I want to create a school that is effective for many learners, not just ones like me.

Trusting Your Education

Every college graduate has to face that terrifying task of applying for jobs. During the search and apply process, many of us start to wonder if we are qualified for the jobs that we want. We have an ounce, or perhaps a mountain, of doubt in our own abilities, and we start to wonder if we have actually learned enough to go out and pursue the job we have been preparing for during our studies. For a student entering the current job economy, this is a frightening thought. For a Fairhaven student who designed their own major, our qualifications are even more of a question mark, and during those last few months of our college career we find ourselves asking questions such as the following: “Did we leave something out?” “How can we explain our concentration to perspective employers?” “What if we are not qualified for any job in our field?”

I recently experienced a shocking discover about my own education. When I began searching for jobs a few months ago I encountered several available positions for a lead teacher at an alternative preschool or kindergarten. Among the list of expected duties for these positions was “plan and implement a developmentally appropriate curriculum.” This is standard, for a preschool, or any school really. But I suddenly realized that in my 100 credit concentration, in my three years at WWU, something was missing; I had not learned how to make a lesson plan.

I panicked. I mentally went through all the classes I had been in. I wondered how I had missed this, how my writing advisor, two committee members, and concentration chair had missed this. My goals included being a teacher, designing a school, and running a school, all of which include the necessary skill of lesson planning. What was I thinking?

I did what I always do when there is a gap in my education, I decided to teach myself as soon as I had time. I would research and practice creating lesson plans after graduation, when I would have plenty of free time before starting a teaching job in the fall. I wasn’t too worried, just a little upset with myself for missing this important piece.

Confident in my ability to teach myself how to make a lesson plan, I begin my application for various schools. After all, if I did get a teaching job I would have the whole summer to practice creating lessons. After completing my resume and a cover letter, I was ready to send in my first application to a co-operative kindergarten in Seattle. I double checked the list of application materials and my heart dropped to my stomach, the application required a week’s worth of developmentally appropriate lesson plans. Well, I guess this application is on hold.

Today, I sat down to brainstorm ideas. I began with a list of possible lessons, ideas to explore, and mediums (such as drawing, singing, physical exploration, or storytelling) through which to explore the lessons. As my thoughts unfolded I glanced at the page and noticed that a pattern was occurring, I had created a series of lesson plans based on a nature theme. Included in my series of lessons was art (visual, dance, and music), science and nature, exploration/outside time, sensory activities, and language (reading, writing, and storytelling). The lessons were not divided by subject, but rather woven together to create an integrated curriculum in which the seasons are explored through dance, the forest is explored through drawing and painting, and other ideas are explored through storytelling, song, and poems. This is when I realized that my lesson plans were the unfolding of the last two years of my college education. Through observation of schools, conversations with school owners and teachers, exploration of different arts, and one very important dance education class, I had picked up all the tools that I needed to design a comprehensive set of lessons. My ideas came together seamlessly and without stress. It turns out that I had, in an unconventional way, gathered the tools I needed to create a lesson.

This discovery not only reaffirms my faith in my own education, but it shows me something deeper. It strengthens my belief in alternative education and the kind of teaching and learning that I am striving to bring to the current education world. It shows me that through an experiential self-designed education we can gain the tools we need to be successful, perhaps without even realizing it.

To all of my fellow Fairhaven Spring graduates I would like to say, trust in your education and in yourself. Instead of sitting and worrying, “can I do this?” just do it. The results will speak for themselves.

Culture and Diversity in Education

How do we mix culture, ethnicity, and diversity into education? How do we allow kids to explore each others’ differences with an open mind and an open heart? These are challenging questions that take a lifetime to explore.

The first step towards cultural understanding is to understand your own background. As I have explored my own thoughts and experiences, I have realized that I lack a connection to my own roots. I am a person without strong cultural ties to my ancestors. I am a mix of so many different ethnicities, and yet I know very little about any of them. Many people, like me, lack cultural ties. I wonder, if we don’t feel a connection to our own cultural identity, how are we able to understand the cultural identity of others? I would like to share a poem I wrote about a year ago about my own culture and identity. Writing this poem taught me more than I could have imagined, and I would like to invite you to write your own poem, and would love for you to share it.

I am a mix of English, Polish, Moldavian, Ukrainian, German, and Scotch-Irish.

I am Eastern European.

I am a mutt.

I am Jewish by heritage, by personality, and by culture.

I am from my English grandmother.

I am from my Jewish grandparents, and I know what my ancestors have suffered due to discrimination.

I am from people who lived through the Holocaust, people who were discriminated against in the worst way, because of their culture, their beliefs, and their appearance.

I am Caucasian, I am from a group that is blamed for discrimination, racism, a group that throughout history has been a great cause of racism. I am from a group that cannot deny being racist, and I am often stereotyped as so.

I am from a group that often has no culture of their own, a group that assimilated easily, but with that lost their traditions and cultural ties.

I am from a happy neighborhood where the kids grew up happily playing with each other, and all went their separate ways for a college education.

I am from a world of Martial Artists, where our fellow students are our family, and everyone takes care of one another.

I am from a family that values education, and parents that hope their children will grow up loving to learn.

I am from an alternative school, where children explore their interests, where creativity blossoms, and where freedom can be identified.

I am from a sarcastic, quiet, comforting older brother.

I am from a intelligent, stubborn, sarcastic, giving father who wants nothing more than for me to be happy, and a loving, strong, successful mother who sees the best in people and perhaps cares too much.

I am from this mix of my parents who have raised me to be who I am, and I am much like them.

Oh, What a World We’ll Create! Children and Play.

Remember the days of making up your own games, playing hot lava monster on the local playground, and creating elaborate fantasy worlds with your fellow elvish explorers? A child’s amazing ability to create detailed and expressive worlds and characters, without any outside help, is one of the most fascinating wonders of childhood. What happens when we take away children’s ability to play freely and creatively, and replace it with adult-directed, structured play? What are the children losing? I believe that they are losing education. What do you think?

“[A]s a society, we have come to the conclusion that to protect children from danger and to educate them, we must deprive them of the very activity that makes them happiest and place them for ever more hours in settings where they are more or less continually directed and evaluated by adults, setting almost designed to produce anxiety and depression.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/10/all-work-and-no-play-why-your-kids-are-more-anxious-depressed/246422/

For more information about children and play, check out John Holt’s book: How Children Learn.

We Must Be the Change We Wish to See in the World

Because even our universities are failing, to some extent, to provide the kind of education that drives us to want to learn more, to follow our passions, and to make a change.

“Unlike many graduate fellowships, the Rhodes seeks leaders who will “fight the world’s fight.” They must be more than mere bookworms. We are looking for students who wonder, students who are reading widely, students of passion who are driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the broader world through enlightened and effective leadership. The undergraduate education they are receiving seems less and less suited to that purpose.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/21/AR2011012104554_pf.html

 

I strongly believe that College is what you make it. That if you utilize the resources available to you, use classes and clubs as a way to find topics that you can further explore on your own, question supposed “right answers”, always seek more information, and always follow what interests you, you will learn so much more than if just you go to class everyday and take everything a teacher tells you as pure truth. I’m not saying that teachers are lying, or that classes do not have useful information, but what you learn in class should be a stepping stone for your own exploratory studies. There is so much information out there, so many people to learn from, so many people to teach, and so much to discover. Don’t wait for a teacher to discover it for you.

This relates to what I am talking about: http://uncollege.org/