Thursday, December 31, 2009

Holistic Education, An Introduction - Part 4

In order to allow for family time during this vacation week, instead of our usual variety of postings we will share an introduction to the ideas behind Holistic Education from Holistic Education, Inc.

How can we help children learn what they need to learn?

One of the tools that holistic education uses to help children learn what they need to learn is 'meaningfulness'. People of all ages find it difficult to learn things which are not meaningful to them, and conversely, they find that it requires much less effort to learn things that are meaningful. This means that a holistic school will respect and work with the meaning structures that a child comes with rather than begin from a perspective of what "should" be meaningful to a child. Events and dynamics (fear, conflict, friendships, etc.) are part of every child's life and they are interested in these things. These can be the starting point for learning any of the academic skills that every child needs to master.

Another tool that holistic education uses to help children learn is flexible pacing. Not all children learn at the same speed, and no child learns at the same speed all the time. Learning is an inherently creative act, and it requires a system that can move with the individual meaning making of each child. When lessons are too slow, a child gets bored, and when it is too fast, the child gets lost and then loses interest in the subject. If children are seen and treated as individuals, there is no need to have groups move at some arbitrarily determined learning pace.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Holistic Education, An Introduction - Part 3

In order to allow for family time during this vacation week, instead of our usual variety of postings we will share an introduction to the ideas behind Holistic Education from Holistic Education, Inc.

What do children need to learn?

Children need to develop academic capacities as these are required to live in the modern world. But much more than this is needed, and adults looking at what was required in order to meet the many challenges of their lives and the successes they have had can attest to this. The essential learning that we all need should begin in childhood.

Children need to begin to learn about themselves. The value of "knowing thyself" is so undisputed as to be a cliché, but conveying to children that they are worth knowing about seems fundamental to healthy self-respect and self-esteem.

Children also need to learn about relationships. Relationships are the greatest source of human happiness and misery, yet most children only have the relationships they see in their immediate surroundings (e.g., family, friends, etc.) and on the media (which are usually caricatures and unreal) to learn from. Sociology and child development psychology repeatedly affirms that learning about relationships is acquired and not inherent, and yet the institutions created for children's learning have little to no time nor resources given to helping children learn how to have healthy, productive relationships.

Learning about relationships is sometimes seen as part of social development, which includes pro-social behavior and social "literacy" (i.e., learning to see social influence). As our societies become increasingly pluralist, complex, and fraught, social development becomes more difficult as well as more necessary.

Over the last decade research has demonstrated that emotional development, or what has become known as "emotional literacy," is of fundamental importance. Learning emotional literacy has been shown to be crucial for intellectual development, social development, aesthetic development, and health.

Studies have shown that resilience is not an inherent quality, but one that is learned. Resilience is fundamental to overcoming difficulties, facing challenges, and long-term success in any field.

Children must learn resilience.

Finally, children must learn that seeing beauty, having awe, experiencing transcendence, and appreciating those timeless "truths" which have inspired and sustained individuals and cultures are a natural part of life. The mundane and material (while important) have assumed too great a place in modern life, leaving a hunger for meaning that is often difficult to satisfy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holistic Education, An Introduction - Part 2

In order to allow for family time during this vacation week, instead of our usual variety of postings we will share an introduction to the ideas behind Holistic Education from Holistic Education, Inc.

Why Holistic Education?

Parents, in increasing numbers, are seeking alternatives to mainstream education. Few could criticize the commitment to academic excellence that most schools and teachers have and work hard to actualize. But more and more parents realize that just learning academics is not enough, and they see young people in their communities suffering from a lack of needed learning, and society suffering as well.

Parents worry about the negative social influence they see affecting their children. Parents see themselves having less impact on their children's behavior, relationships, and attitudes than the media and marketing which directly targets children. As a result children's senses of themselves and self-images are under pressure. This pressure is expressed in:

  • Increased competitiveness in many aspects of a child's social life, such as sports, out-of-school activities, and of course, school.
  • Obsessive concern for their "look," from their body shape to their clothes.
  • Violence in many forms, from the physical to the psychological and emotional.
    Parents are also worried about negative learning attitudes they see developing in their children.

Parents saw their children as infants eager to learn, and this eagerness dissipated as these same children's schooling increased. Learning becomes a necessary chore, driven by rewards and punishments, and too often devoid of direct meaning in their children's lives.

Many parents also look at our current society in which social problems seem to be getting worse; in which those considered successful are too often greedy, corrupt, and brutal; in which families and communities seem increasingly dysfunctional; and they ask, "Why aren't we as humans learning what we need to know in order to live good and meaningful lives?"

It doesn't appear that we will learn such things from learning more mathematics, literature, or history. Parents see the need for their children to learn these other things as well as academics, and they look for schools that give time, attention, energy, and resources, to such learning. Parents generally do not come to holistic education from philosophical musings, but from a perceived need for their children that they feel is not currently met.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holistic Education, An Introduction - Part 1

In order to allow for family time during this vacation week, instead of our usual variety of postings we will share an introduction to the ideas behind Holistic Education from Holistic Education, Inc.

What is the purpose of Holistic Education?

The purpose of holistic education is to prepare students to meet the challenges of living as well as academics. Holistic education believes it is important for young people to learn:
  • About themselves.
  • About healthy relationships and pro-social behavior.
  • Social development.
  • Emotional development.
  • Resilience.
  • To see beauty, have awe, experience transcendence, and appreciate some sense of "truths."
Consider your life's greatest challenges. What did you need to know to overcome the obstacles you faced? Consider your greatest successes. What did you need to know in order to achieve those successes? Then ask yourself, how many of those things that I needed to know did I learn in school?

For thousands of years before schools there were social groups which taught people about the great adventure of being human; its trials and tribulations, its challenges, and its enormous possibilities for human goodness and even greatness. These groups were extended families, communities or tribes or clans, and religions. For the most part, these groups have disappeared or become compartmentalized in people's lives.

Now, it is predominantly popular culture (the media, music) and schools from which young people can learn about what it means to be human. But culture has it own agenda (not the welfare of children), and schools were not designed to replace extended families, communities, and religions. They were designed to prepare people for the world of work; to give them the skill sets that would help them up the ladder of material success.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Pizza Day at Wellspring

Yesterday the students of Wellspring Community School enjoyed a day of making their own pizzas. This fun activity was initiated by one of our students, who came up with the idea, wrote invitations to the students, and organized the day. She even hand-delivered a hand-written thank you note to Dominick's Pizza in Gladstone, who graciously provided us with dough, cheese, sauce and the use of their ovens to bake the children's creations.

For those who have allergies, here is the GFCFEF pizza crust recipe we used, from Gluten-Free 101: Easy, Basic Dishes Without Wheat by Carol Fenster, Ph.D.
1 tablespoon dry yeast
2/3 cup warm milk (110 degrees F - cow, rice soy)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup garfava flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
2 teaspoons xantham gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon gelatin powder
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm milk for five minutes. In food processor, blend all crust ingredients, including yeast mixture, until ball forms. Dough will be soft. Put mixture into greased 12 inch nonstick pizza pan. Liberally sprinkle rice flour onto dough; the press dough into pan with hands, continuing to dust dough with flour to prevent sticking. Make edges thicker to contain topings. Bake pizza crust for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Add sauce and toppings to crust. Bake another 20 to 25 minutes until top is nicely browned.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teaching Young Minds

The New York Times (December 20, 2009) reports:

For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that
children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains
simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a
host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and
self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called
cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able
to grasp fundamental concepts.
(Photo courtesy of Flick user shoshanah, shared under a Creative Commons license.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Heart Centered Learning

Stephanie and I were chatting thru open car windows yesterday at pick up and the conversation touched upon technology and how engrossed we, as a culture, have become by it. Who hasn’t seen 2 teenagers walking together, but both on separate cell phones either talking or texting someone else? They are together but not together at all. Our culture is becoming more and more isolated and separate, going inward but to the place of aloneness and obsession. There is a whole new realm of anxiety disorders directly related to never being ‘unplugged’especially in teens. The world of technology and all it’s wonders, is taking us further and further from the place of the Heart.

It brought to the surface for me all the reasons why Wellspring is such a special place. Just as we couldn’t imagine handheld computers and micro technology when we were children, we don’t know what this next generation will be faced with as they grow up. At Wellspring we are offering our children tools, lifelong tools, that can help them to navigate thru the uncertain future. We are teaching them that they have choices, to go inward and listen to their bodies, to their hearts, to make empowered choices from their individual truth. We encourage them to ask questions of themselves, ‘how does this make me feel? Is this the way I want to feel right now? If not, what other choice can I make to shift my experience?’ This is a path to the authentic self that lives in each of us but is not often given permission to be expressed and trusted. We are encouraging our children to go inward and choose a different path if something doesn’t feel good rather than just accepting it as ‘normal’. We are providing our children the foundation to consciously make thier own empowered choices as they grow into this world and all it’s uncertainties. I believe that Wellspring is providing the next generation with an amazing treasure, the Technology of the Heart.

~ Denise

(Photo courtesy of the Flick user stevefaeembra, shared under a Creative Commons license.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Web Roundup

Here's what we've been reading this week
  • We may be born with an urge to help (New York Times, 11/30/09) - Biologists are finding evidence that people are born with an innate desire to be helpful to others

  • Sick Schools 2009 - Study finds that "55 million of our children attend public and private schools where poor air quality, hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions make students (and their teachers) sick and handicap their ability to learn.

A couple of interesting reads on Edutopia this week:

(Photo courtesy of the Maratime Union of Australia, shared under a Creative Commons license.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

November Updates

The children savored the changing weather that November gave us. Warm sunny days, frosty mornings, and rain have created quite a playland in the paddock. We observed many seasonal differences in the meadow as the homes emerged on the hill above us, and we examined how plants release their seeds in late Fall. The children discovered how vehicles enter the space and were delighted to validate their prediction that one, a grass cutter, had actually gone down the path before we arrived. Many children tested their balance after rolling down a new-found hill. Thank you for being aware of the changing weather and dressing your child in an appropriate manner for paddock play.

Two Visiting Artists joined us in November. Mark gave us a fencing lesson and shared the history of this Olympic sport. He taught the older children how to hold a weapon and score points in a bout. We learned several footwork drills that incorporate advancing, retreating, and lunging. Audrey joined us to teach finger knitting. Many of the children enjoyed knitting strings with colorful yarn. The children truly connect with and enjoy learning from people just a few years older than themselves.

Songs, movement, and felt stories enrich our circle time. We continue to add complexity to the movements we use when singing. We’re switching directions, practicing cross crawl, and walking with feet right over left across a tape line. Each of the children is challenged to listen to the directions and move their bodies during these games which can be a developmental challenge.

During circle we have also begun a series of direct discussions on relationships and caring for one another. You may have seen our paper dolls that were the center of our discussion on how conflict is normal in relationships. We’ve also made a list of things that friends do together. “I” messages have also been introduced as a way to communicate our feelings without making the other person feeling bad. Please help reinforce this positive communication statement with your child by role modeling this language pattern. For example, “You make me upset!” would be restated as “I am upset!”

The patterns in the nooks continued to evolve this month. Many children are branching out in their relationships to form different play partnerships. Children continue to extend their attention spans, spending more time with each choice. We have had a number of doctors in the room attending to sick or dying patients. You may have seen the new classroom rule. It reads, “NO DYING!” Personally, I like that rule in school.

Thanks to the families for bringing healthy snacks throughout the month and supporting the child initiated Sandwich Making Day. This is an example of a child suggesting an idea and having the interest to carry the project through. Children have lots of ideas at Wellspring and many projects are initiated. After a day or so of inactivity I follow-up with the child to find the interest is gone and the project comes to an end.

I am thankful that Leslie has joined us as a yoga instructor on Thursday mornings. The children are enthusiastically learning new poses and practicing old ones. I too am thankful for your support of your children, the school, and your understanding that sometimes our learning gets messy, cold, and wet!

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user jdroth, shared under a Creative Commons license.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Getting Your Kids to Eat Well

Lynn at Smiling Green Mom offers the following advice for getting your children to eat healthy:
1. Refuse with reason
2. Only buy the good stuff
3. Fresh is best
4. Involvement
5. Presentation

Read on...
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user mralan, shared under a Creative Commons license.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Can I Help?

Last Friday I, and some friends, went to see a documentary called How to Cook Your Life. In this film, Zen Master and former head cook at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California Edward Espe Brown describes how one can achieve enlightenment in the most mundane of kitchen tasks such as washing rice or baking bread.

Brown talks about how our current culture, at least here in the United States, is all about forcing The Other into submission. When growing food, for example, we do not look at the land and the weather and the plants and try to find a peaceful, sustainable way to coax food out of the Earth. Instead, we decide that we are going to grow a particular food on a particular plot of land, whether that land is well-suited to that food or not, and then proceed to dump chemicals and pump water in to make it happen.

Instead, says Brown, what we should be doing is asking, "How can I help you be what you could be if I helped you?" Of course, as with all profound thoughts, this applies not only to broccoli but also to life, and especially to parenting and teaching children. Our job is not to make our children be a particular way, but to really try to identify their individual essence and then help them be most fully themselves. It is not all about us, and our desire to make reality match what we want it to be, but instead we need to accept reality for what it is.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Teaching Children Respect

An article posted at The Natural Child Project by Pam Leo, author of Connection Parenting:

Children are mirrors; they reflect back to us everything we say and do. We now know that 95% of everything children learn, they learn from what is modeled for them. Only 5% of all they learn is from direct instruction. Human beings are like tape recorders. Every word we hear, everything we experience, is permanently recorded in our subconscious. Whenever adults speak, we are being role models for the children in our presence. What we speak is what we teach. Children record every word we ever say to them or in front of them. The language children grow up hearing is the language they will speak.
Read the rest...
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user simmaltree, shared under a Creative Commons license.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Web Roundup

Here's some of what we're reading around the web. Follow us on Twitter to see what else is catching our eye!

  • Open Ended Play Lets Kids' Imaginations Set Sail! - When we provide surroundings that stimulate rather than bombard, invite rather than perscribe, we make space for the little big-people that our youth are yet becoming.
  • Helping Our Children With Stress - The American Psychological Association study Stress in America, released November 3, found that a third of the 1,206 children in the survey (ranging in age from 8 to 17) reported feeling more stress than they had a year ago.

  • Simple as That: Creating an Art Wall - For those parents who (like me) are always trying to figure out what to do with their children's artistic creations.

  • What a Kid Wants - Who needs toys when there's the great outdoors, playgrounds, museums, festivals, boxes, or work to be done with caregivers?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user fd, shared under a Creative Commons license.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What is Holistic Education, Anyway?

Last week at our Community Meeting, we were discussing the recent teacher in-service session held at the school. The staff and directors had read and talked about a couple of articles by Ron Miller that addressed the question of what Holistic Education is. In fact, it seems that Holistic Education is largely a theoretical construct right now, and people are trying to figure out how to actually execute it in the classroom.

Holistic Educators are attempting to strike a balance between individual freedom on the one hand and structure on the other. An example of an educational philosophy driven by individual freedom would be a free school, where students are free to do what they want when they want (within reason, of course) and come to staff when they want help doing something. Waldorf or Montessori philosophies would be examples of alternative educational philosophies that are largely driven by structure, where there is a well-defined curriculum that is followed in the classroom. Holistic Education seeks to place itself somewhere in the middle.

So, at Wellspring, it is expected that students will learn academic (life?) skills like math and reading, and the facilitators are not waiting around for the children to come to them with an interest in these activities. However, neither do the facilitators have a prepared curriculum that tells them that all students born between November 1, 2002 and October 31, 2003 should achieve a certain level of reading proficiency by June 16, 2010. Instead, they create a classroom that is rich in literacy and mathematical activities, and they carefully observe each student in order to determine where the student is and what is required to move the student to the next level. This requires a great deal of one-on-one work, and a carefully cultivated relationship among the facilitator, the student, and the parents.

In thinking about this, it has struck me how complicated this task really is for the facilitators. I had never thought of it in these terms before, but this is the philosophy I follow at home with my children. Within this parenting philosophy, I am constantly re-adjusting my strategy and expectations for my son and daughter. One of my children is very comfortable with the idea of personal freedom but could use a little work on structure, and the other is very comfortable with structure but needs some encouragement to assert his personal freedom. Personally, I tend to favor the personal freedom end of the spectrum while my husband favors structure. When I try to imagine how our facilitators manage to incorporate all these variables into the classroom, I am even more impressed with the amazing job they do!

The fact that Holistic Education is difficult to define is really where the beauty lies. Rarely in life will we encounter a situation with clear expectations and unambiguous roles. Everything in life is relative and is shaded by our experiences and personalities. Likewise, Holistic Education does not really lend itself to Curriculum, because it is based on the idea that the student and the facilitator create educational experiences together, organically. It is not entirely spontaneous, because the facilitators do have an idea of where they are going and they try to steer the student in that direction, but they take the individual student into consideration while charting the path.

I am reminded of the developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who uses the term scaffolding to describe this type of interaction between student and facilitator. The facilitator recognizes the distance between where a student is now and the next stage of development (called the Zone of Proximal Development), and offers just enough support so that the student is able to reach the next stage with a feeling of autonomy and accomplishment. This is something that, according to Vygotsky, spontaneously happens in the intimacy of the parent-child relationship. Obviously, it is much more difficult in the context of a classroom, but this is the goal of Holistic Education.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user ANNE, shared under a Creative Commons license.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Sandwich Making Day

The children had a great time at this communal feast. Each child brought in an item from a poster that was made by the idea’s originator, Olivia. They each then created a sandwich based on their food preferences. Some of the sandwiches were very interesting, but every child finished their lunch and went back for seconds or thirds.

Here are some of the sandwich creations made by the children:
Shen -jam, bacon, banana, spinach, egg salad and tomato
Noni -cheese, pickle, egg salad, and pomegranate
Olivia -tortilla with tomato, salad, banana and cheese
Charlie -tortilla with olives, chick peas, bacon, pomegranate and spinach
Nicholas- cheese, pomegranate and mayonnaise
Leah- pickles, tomato, pomegranate, olives, chick peas and cheese
Isis- Tortilla with cheese, pomegranates, spinach, pickles, pumpkin butter, olives, and tomato

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Frightening, Indeed

is the new post on's Education blog:

Arne Duncan doesn't want principals to be like teachers, like role models, or like leaders, but demands they become CEOs. With recent fears of schools being turned into businesses that focus more on numbers (money, test scores) so much more than teaching (curricula, quality teachers), this is the cherry on top. This isn't just a
suggestion for a change in mentality, Arne Duncan wants so much more: "We have
to treat them as [CEOs], and we have to train them as such."

Read the whole post here.
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jochen Siegle/TechShowNetwork, shared under a Creative Commons license.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

John Taylor Gatto on Education

I first learned of John Taylor Gatto in mid-September after reading an article of his that was posted on Facebook by a local home-schooling friend. On 11/17/09, I had the opportunity to hear Gatto speak at Rutgers with the pleasurable company of the same home-schooling friend and a fellow Wellspring parent.

Gatto related the history of the public school system as it began in the 1950s. According to him, the system was mainly the brainchild of a handful of corporate visionaries (Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, etc) who no longer wanted the age-old education system that shaped the country's youth in practical, socially responsible and imaginative ways. This only hindered their dreams of a new American industrialist culture. Instead, they decided to mold the masses of the coming generations into uniform thinkers to ultimately become prime consumers of a corporate economy.

Education should be everyone's right, and when dealing with the masses, there is never an easy way to adapt to individuality. Humanity evolved and evolves. Right or wrong, good or bad, our lives change, within and without our control. But I believe there are sufficient resources to have the ideal setup and form of free education, where children are visibly encouraged to be independent thinkers, to be risk-takers, to take on more socially responsible ventures, to dive in to their own unique hobbies, where emphasis is on skills over memorization, and their capacity to comprehend is not underestimated, so that their learning environment becomes once again multi-dimensional, dynamic and dialectic.

The public school system is not perfect, agreed. Gatto successfully brought, in his 30 years as a NYC public school high school teacher, more good than harm (as perceived by him) to his students. But even for those who never had a teacher like Gatto, the system has helped. Despite the imperfections, many creative and successful minds have been produced, perhaps by those with the resolve to “slip through the cracks” of the public school system and knowingly not let their inner voices be squelched. At times it felt like some of what Gatto said was "easier said than done" because the reality is that for many, or perhaps the majority, there simply isn't the option to choose alternative schooling because individual and family circumstances just don't allow it. But maybe at age 75, one can say whatever one wants (and for as long as he wants – neither he nor the audience moved for four hours!), after a long career of pushing the limits of what is possible, seeing the fruitful results of thousands of students flourishing under his care, and knowing that all it takes is the will of parents to band together and negotiate, or have just 10% of students politely decline to take a test, to do away with mind-numbing exams once and for all.

But so much that has been started in the name of “progress” would have to change for that day to come. In the meantime, I am thankful that we live in a country where we have the freedom to question and change things in ways we feel are right for us, and those who are fortunate to do so. I am thankful for people like Gatto and countless others, near and far, past & present, who have tried or are trying to bring back some of the beneficial and valuable things of "the good old days" or of "thinking outside the box" or of valuing the unique qualities that each and every individual has to offer.

What first attracted me to Gatto's article, and which was later repeated and elaborated upon in his talk at Rutgers, was not only how he perfectly described part of my own experience in public high school. It was that he gave voice to what I was thinking all along, that education and being a learner had nothing to do with grades, diplomas, degrees and certificates. It was a relief to know finally, after all these years, that I wasn't wrong, and hey, I just might be an educated person after all!


Friday, December 4, 2009

From the New York Times:
Every year since 1952, the Book Review has asked a panel of judges to select 10 books from among the several thousand children’s books published that year. The judges this time around were Adam Gopnik, who writes regularly for The New Yorker and is the author of two novels for children, The King in the Window and the forthcoming Steps Across the Water; Jillian Tamaki, a teacher at the School of Visual Arts and the recipient of a Society of Illustrators gold medal; and Lisa Von Drasek, the children’s librarian of the Bank Street College of Education.

View a slide show of the entire list here. As for my personal selection, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee, is one of our new favorite children's books - definitely check it out!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Radical Acts of Education

Yes! Magazine is an outstanding resource for anyone looking for stories of hopeful and positive action in the world. They have a list of thirteen organizations and strategies that foster life-long learning and personal growth while teaching age-old and brand-new skills. You can read about all of them here, but this one is my favorite:

Parents Learn to Listen

The Morningside Center for Social Responsibility believes families hold the key to creating a more peaceful world. Parents teach kids the emotional skills that influence their decisions for the rest of their lives.

That’s why Morningside offers workshops in more than 60 New York City schools to equip parents to understand their children’s emotions. One workshop exercise shows how put-downs can take a toll on a child’s self-esteem. A paper heart is ripped to symbolize a put-down either from a bully or a parent. By the end of a bad day, the heart is in tatters. The workshop is part of a program called Peace in the Family, which teaches parents to use open communication to handle their children’s emotions.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Homemade Apple Juice

Looking for a use for all those leftover apples from your autumn apple-picking excursion? Try making homemade apple juice!

Juicing fruit:

  • Is economical, as organic juices are expensive.

  • Is practical. The juice is easy to store, and the leftover pulp can be dried
    into fruit leather or added to the compost.

  • Encourages the family to consume more fruit.

  • Involves children in a rewarding project. They can see the end reward of
    caring for your fruit trees all year.

  • Is a good use for early summer apples which may not store well, like
    Transparents and Gravensteins

  • Creates a very tasty beverage.
View the entire post here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Is Shouting the New Spanking?

In the October 21, 2009 New York Times, Hilary Stout writes:

Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.

What do you think? Is shouting the new spanking? Read the entire article here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Public Purpose of Our Schools

This is a guest post by Jim Strickland. Jim lives in Everett, Washington with his wife and three children. He is a community-based educator in nearby Marysville where he works to promote non-coercive learning and the development of true learning communities. Jim invites response from readers who are interested in joining the conversation on integrating learning with the rest of our lives. He can be reached at

When we think about how well our schools are performing, it is helpful to remember that our schools serve both public and private purposes. The private purposes of our schools are as varied as the students and families who use them. Each member of a school community walks in the door with their own unique hopes, dreams, goals, cultural heritage, and personal history. We honor these private purposes by providing a rich variety of programs and opportunities for students to access according to their own particular agendas.

But schools also serve public purposes, and we don’t always see eye to eye on what those purposes should be. Some say we should focus on strengthening our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy. Others say we need to be leveling the economic playing field between advantaged and disadvantaged segments of our population. Still others emphasize teaching the skills necessary for students to obtain decent, living-wage jobs. Either way, much of the conversation about the public purpose of our schools centers around economic goals. And, of course, schooling does have a direct impact on our economy and on an individual’s readiness to effectively participate in it.

However, isn’t there a more fundamental public purpose of our schools – one that incorporates, but transcends, economic issues? One that has a more formative and lasting impact on the quality of our lives as individuals and as communities? One that is more closely aligned with the core values that we as a nation profess?

During the course of my 20 years in public education, I have come to believe that the primary and non-negotiable public purpose of our schools is simply this: to teach democracy. What could be more relevant to everything we as a country hold near and dear to our hearts?

Democracy is a rich, multi-layered, inspiring ideal that is much more than a political system. Democracy is a way of living and working together based on the values of freedom, justice, equality, and respect. These values can be applied to any situation in which one person has to live or work with another – our world, our country, our community, our organizations and institutions, and even our families and personal relationships.

And how do we teach democracy? Well, that’s what we have to figure out. For starters, we teach democracy not just by memorizing definitions or reading the Constitution or explaining how a bill becomes a law, but by actually experiencing democratic values and processes in the real context of our lives together. Our schools play a vital role in making this happen.

We teach the arts of democracy by teaching students how to think deeply and critically, how to engage in thoughtful and respectful dialogue, and how to value diversity and the unique gifts we each bring to our common table.

We teach the arts of democracy by teaching students how to listen actively, how to communicate persuasively, and how to know when to compromise and when to stand firm.

We teach the arts of democracy when we teach students how to plan together, how to decide together, and how to solve problems together.

Finally, we teach the arts of democracy by teaching students how to balance their own personal goals with the need to connect, identify with, and relate to the rest of humanity.

Unfortunately, these goals are not as easily measured as are math, reading, and writing skills. Does that make them any less important? Of course not. It just presents us with the challenge of developing mechanisms and indicators that will help us to know whether or not we are doing our job. These measures will not be as black and white as a standardized test, but they will generate essential public dialogue and keep us moving in the right direction. And I hope you can agree with me that democracy is the right direction.

Will you take responsibility for making sure this conversation is going on in your community? In your school? Will you make sure these questions are being actively and inclusively discussed?

  1. How do we teach democracy?

  2. How do we know when we are being successful?
There are no shortcuts or easy substitutes for this ongoing dialogue. The work will be messy and contentious at times, but the future of our democracy depends on it. I’ll meet you at the table.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Race to the Top's 10 False Assumptions

New York Times guest blogger Marion Brady has this to say about why national standards for education cannot succeed

False Assumption 4: Teaching is just a matter of distributing information. Indeed, the process is so simple that recent college graduates, fresh from "covering" that information, should be encouraged to join "Teach For America" for a couple of years before moving on to more intellectually demanding professions. Experienced teachers may argue that, as Socrates demonstrated, nothing is more intellectually demanding than figuring out what’s going on in another person’s head, then getting that person herself or himself to examine and change it, but they’re just blowing smoke.
Read Brady's other nine false assumptions here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Meaning in Education

A recent post at the Camp Creek blog reads, in part,
We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality.
Read the entire post here, and have a happy Thanksgiving (for our American readers, everyone else just have a happy day)!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Squash

I love squash time. It's great to be able to buy produce that doesn't go bad in a few days or weeks, but can be stored easily until you're ready for it. And it's yummy and nutritious and makes a nice autumn decoration in your kitchen, too!

Here is a recipe for one of my most favorite squash recipes, which can be a main dish or a side (maybe for Thanksgiving?). It also travels very well and is good for potluck meals. I got the recipe from Taste for Life magazine, and they credit Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker as the original source. Enjoy!

Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash

3 acorn squash, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts or whole unblanched almonds, toasted (I use raw walnuts)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I sometimes substitute thyme)
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange acorn squash cut side down in a baking pan. Add 1/2 inch of water to the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake until the squash are tender, about 45 to 55 minutes. Leave the oven on. Let squash cool.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stirring until golden, about 8 minutes. Add quinoa, stirring until roasted, about 3 minutes. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and let cool slightly.

Scoop out and dice the pulp of 2 squash halves. Turn the other 4 halves cut side up (I usually cut a sliver off the uncut side of each half before cooking so the squash are stable for the filling stage) and season with salt and pepper. Combine quinoa mixture and diced squash. Stir in nuts, parsley, and 2 tablespoons of cheese. Spoon mixture into the 4 squash cavities, distributing evenly. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

From a Parent Helper's-Eye View

On Tuesday, I spent the morning at Wellspring being the Parent Helper. It was a joy and a pleasure to see as a co-founder of the school and as a parent the way our values are being put into action. The whole morning was spent experiencing this group of facilitators and children interacting and learning, not only "academic" skills but also real life skills.

I sat in on Circle Time with the nursery and kindergarten kids (ages 3-6) and saw how beautifully and (seemingly) effortlessly the facilitators led the children in learning through play. Anne and Darcy showed the kids how to make letters by moving their bodies to look like the letters - learning through multi-sensory methods. Then they asked the children what letters they'd like to do. After a few suggestions one child said he'd like to do "P" but this time he wanted not to do it by himself but with the whole group. He organized the group, kids and facilitators and me, to stand side by side to create the P. Okay it was backwards but still, I was impressed by his creativity and how well all the kids participated in putting the letter together.

When some kids appeared to be tiring of the activity, one of the facilitators asked for a show of hands of who would like to do more letters and who would not. She had one child hold up her fingers to show who wanted to continue and then another child held up her hands to show who didn't. I not only liked the democratic process demonstrated but also the math skills that the kids were learning unawares as they counted aloud and then demonstrated with the fingers. The no's won the day and they moved on to the next activity.

The rest of the morning was delightful as well as I got to be supervisor in the Art and Writing nook. There the children were working on a project where they drawing on paper cut-out figures three people with whom they (a) got along with all the time; (b) didn't get along with all the time; and/or (c) got along with some of the time and didn't get along with some of the time. I loved seeing the creativity of the kids from the ones who drew elaborate faces and clothing to the ones who just took their blue markers and drew as little as possible. The project wasn't complete in this day and I can't wait to hear what the facilitators do with this. I just think that bringing these little people's awareness that it's alright if we don't get along with everyone and noticing that most people we do get along with some of the time and don't get along with some of the time is a valuable teaching for them.

So I left the space feeling very uplifted that not only what children are learning is so important - life skills as well as pre-math and reading skills - but also how they are learning them - through play and in a multi-sensory, experiential way. I can't wait for my next Parent Helper morning!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Movie Review - Who Does She Think She Is?

On November 8, I had the opportunity (with some fabulous women) to see a documentary about five women who are mothers and artists, called Who Does She Think She Is?

The film synopsis sets out that "In a half-changed world, women feel they need to choose: mothering or working? Your children's well being or your own?" The story focuses on five "fierce women who refuse to choose."

This got me thinking (not only about doing a documentary on the school). All of us associated with Wellspring are all women (and men) who refuse to choose. We all practice conscientious parenting from the heart. Some of us have careers or causes or spiritual lives or creative projects --or a school-- in addition to families. Some of us have and do all of the above.
The women of this documentary are artists who have children, and all are navigating the confusing waters of society messages, personal well being and sustaining positive relationships. They struggled with giving themselves "permission" to be artists in addition to being mothers. They worked so hard on working it out, trying to find ways to be creative and nurturing and whole inside of the demands of family. It didn't always work out. In some cases, things got pretty messy for a while.
I went away from this documentary thinking that Wellspring Community School is not only about education. It is, of course, in many ways-- we are deliberately setting up a space where children are celebrated and encouraged for who they are, for their strengths and their growth and their whole selves. And though it seems quite natural (to us), it is also serious business.
And yet, the whole story of Wellspring includes the people who create it, work in it, believe in it and come to it day after day. We have all stepped up to make something that serves a greater community. We are in a time of higher and higher regulation, and more and more standards, which means more and more opinions, judgment, assessment. Just by existing, this school pushes against that grain. And it takes a lot to hold that space for the children and ourselves. Just like it takes a lot for the five women of the documentary (and all the others) to have families and carve time out for their art.
These intersections of parenthood, creativity, and well being are interesting ones. Sometimes I think it's my own personal growth work to co-found a school, and sometimes I think it's for my children, and a lot of times it is (or feels) much, much bigger than that.
Here's the really interesting part. Each of the women in the documentary said in their own way that overall, they believed their children benefitted from seeing their mothers pursue creative work. That in spite of the messiness that often arose for the women for "not choosing" between motherhood or work/art, their children had these "fierce women" who wanted and had and claimed for themselves both.
This is not a new struggle for women, or for that matter, for men. Were any of us encouraged to follow our interests (much less our bliss) in school? Most of us developed our self-image at least in part having to do with our scholastic aptitudes. Wellspring holds a space where children can not only develop skills necessary for life, but also, and equally importantly, learn about themselves. By doing the work of the school, our jobs, creative work and families, we ourselves are role modeling the tricky and uneven game of pursuing more than one aim. And the space we are creating is not one of probability, but possibility. Now that really inspires me!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Accountability in Holistic Education

This is a guest post by Ron Miller, who is recognized internationally as one of the major thinkers and activists in the emerging field of holistic education. He has written or edited nine books and authored numerous articles, chapters and book reviews. He has spoken at conferences in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, England, and Turkey.You can learn more about Mr. Miller's work by visiting his website.

Schooling in the modern world is driven by an obsession with testing, grading, and accountability. There are at least three deeply rooted cultural reasons for this:

1. Education is culturally defined as the transmission of facts. Approved knowledge is packaged into standardized units and then delivered to students. In contrast to a Socratic or apprenticeship model of teaching, this is a mechanical process that can be measured and controlled.

2. All institutions in modern society are designed and managed by experts, by professionals, who justify their exalted status because of their training in “scientific” methods. This, again, involves standardization, measurement and control.

3. Those responsible for spending taxpayers’ money need to defend their use of it. They are accountable to the public in the same way a company’s management is accountable to investors: They must have certain production standards and achieve measurable results.

Notice that none of these considerations have anything to do with the quality of learning, with the lived experience of young people encountering and making sense of the world. “Education” is not a fully human relationship between adult mentors and aspiring youths, but a rigidly structured institution organized to serve social and political ends.

Holistic education, however, begins with authentic relationship. It defines learning as an existential encounter, not a standardized process. Every learner, every child, is a unique and intrinsically valuable person with a distinctive combination of feelings, hopes, strengths, difficulties and weaknesses. Every teacher, too, is a whole person with beliefs, passions, wisdom and limitations. As they come together to wonder about the world, to sort through the astounding complexity, richness, beauty and violence of human existence in the universe, teacher and learner pursue many paths that can be experienced but not measured.

A holistic educator is accountable, above all else, to the latent potential of each young person he or she encounters. It is our job to call out or bring forth (the Latin root meaning of “educate”) that which lives within our students. To a greater or lesser extent, this will involve common knowledge that shows up on academic tests, but it is so much more than that, so much more that cannot be graded or measured. We cannot meaningfully quantify a child’s enthusiasm for learning, her sense of wonder or awe. We cannot measure a student’s expression of compassion or social responsibility. We cannot attach a grade to a young person’s feeling of kinship with the living world (“biophilia”), or his sense of place (“bioregionalism”). In holistic education, these deeper human potentials are what ultimately matter.

A society that was truly interested in nourishing the human being would allow its educators to practice authentic encounter without the hindrance of obsessive measurement. As John Holt once pointed out, sometimes we just know what is right, and don’t need quantitative evidence to support our practices. Imagine a community that trusted in the wisdom and skill of its educators, and in the inherent capacities of every young person, which would recognize the results of authentic learning in the liveliness, curiosity, public spiritedness, and creativity of its youths. Alternative schools such as Wellspring demonstrate that we can do this. We do know what makes for good ways to educate a human being because the results when we do so are obvious.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Decentralizing Educational Authority

The blog manager is on vacation, so in lieu of our usual variety of postings we are going to take this week to highlight the work of Ron Miller, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of education in general and holistic education in particular. We will conclude the week with an original guest post from Mr. Miller.

Ron Miller writes in the Summer 2009 issue of Vermont Commons about the importance of alternative education and of building learning communities based on shared vision and interests.

What does the word “education” mean to us? Does it refer to the state’s power to shape the minds and attitudes of citizens to provide human capital for economic and political purposes? Or is education, instead, an intimate human encounter between caring elders and young people with their own aspirations and potentials?

If we believe that genuine education has more to do with the latter, then the hierarchical and authoritarian structure of our present system of schooling is absurdly inappropriate. All important educational decisions are made by distant, impersonal forces completely out of human scale, turning teachers into technicians, parents into consumers, and young people into products. The standardization of teaching and learning through prescribed curricula and textbooks, and the obsessive pursuit of accountability through relentless testing, reflect the concentrated power of political leaders, corporate CEOs, influential foundations and the mass media. No Child Left Behind (sic) is the educational policy of a technocratic empire.
Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Education for a Culture of Peace

The blog manager is on vacation, so in lieu of our usual variety of postings we are going to take this week to highlight the work of Ron Miller, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of education in general and holistic education in particular. We will conclude the week with an original guest post by Mr. Miller. The following is an excerpt from an article appearing on his website.
Violence, then, is comprised of layer upon layer of pain, ignorance, self-assurance, and callousness. To overcome violence in the world will require many corresponding layers of understanding and effort. More caring, nourishing ways of education and childrearing are essential elements, but they are not sufficient. Political activism is also essential, but also not enough. Spiritual practice of some sort is crucial— but as I have written before in criticism of “new age” or “new paradigm” holistic thought (Miller, 2000), spirituality detached from cultural analysis and political engagement is not going to effect substantial change. A holistic approach to peace, and to peace education more specifically, must be fluid and multidimensional. Its aim is not “peace” as an abstraction, but a culture of peace, which means a “web of meanings” that honors compassion, collaboration, negotiation, and service and dishonors conquest and violence. If most present cultures make violence, hatred, and oppression seem manly, exciting, and effective, a culture of peace would treat them as stupid and self-defeating. (I want to add “as in reality they are,” but then this
places me outside culture entirely,as some sort of omniscient authority. We must
promote peace itself with humility, or we defeat our own purposes.)

Read this article in its entirety here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Education and Parenting

The blog manager is on vacation, so in lieu of our usual variety of postings we are going to take this week to highlight the work of Ron Miller, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of education in general and holistic education in particular. We will conclude the week with an original guest post by Mr. Miller. This article originally appeared on his website.

The search for authenticity, personal growth and spiritual experience that began with the “human potential movement” of the 1960s and ‘70s gave rise to a new educational paradigm that was at first called “humanistic” or “transpersonal,” but which is now widely known as “holistic” education. Writers such as George Leonard (Education and Ecstasy, published in 1968), Joseph Chilton Pearce (Magical Child, 1980, and several later books), Thomas Armstrong (The Radiant Child, 1985), and James Peterson (The Secret Life of Kids, 1987), among others, made the case that we could begin to develop the vast untapped potentials of human consciousness in the early years of life. Education, rather than forcibly instilling a specific body of knowledge, should begin with a deep respect for each child’s experience and creative powers.

Holistic education incorporates new understandings about the brain and the processes of learning, such as our growing awareness of multiple intelligences. This way of teaching also recognizes that learning needs to connect the individual in meaningful and caring ways to the complex world we live in; holistic educators are concerned with ecological understanding, social responsibility and democratic ideals.

Progressive educators in public schools have tried to implement many of these approaches over the years. Still, public schools are burdened by political, economic and cultural expectations that reflect more traditional and authoritarian definitions of education. And they are burdened by conflicts over budgets, textbooks and values as well. Holistic education is rarely practiced thoroughly in public schools. This is why a number of alternatives, such as Montessori and Waldorf schools, democratic schools, and homeschooling are growing in popularity.

Given the politics of this time in our history, these alternatives fall into the category of “private” (i.e. nonpublic) education. But the holistic education movement is not ultimately seeking privatization; we are not interested in dismantling democratic institutions. One of the most difficult but exciting challenges of this movement is to imagine an entirely new system by which a democratic society nourishes the potentials of its young people and invites them into participation in the larger world.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Education Alternatives - Not Just Alternative Education by Ron Miller

The blog manager is on vacation, so in lieu of our usual variety of postings we are going to take this week to highlight the work of Ron Miller, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of education in general and holistic education in particular. We will conclude the week with an original guest post from Mr. Miller. You can read more about him and his work at his website.

During 2007, Miller wrote a monthly column introducing the principles of holistic education to readers of the online publication Global Intelligencer (which has since been discontinued). These essays reflect Miller’s most recent thinking and he is currently working many of these ideas into a new book. The following is one of these essays.

In today’s increasingly complex world, families have access to a wider range of educational options than ever before. It is now possible, and it’s becoming more widely recognized as desirable, to choose a school—or nonschool—learning environment that best serves the specific needs and accommodates the unique personal qualities of every young person.

Despite the forceful push for standardization in public educational policy, which has reached a peak in the so-called No Child Left Behind legislation, students now have diverse opportunities to experience a truly individualized or personalized education. Growing numbers of parents and educators are starting to recognize that the one-size-fits-all system, devised for the industrializing economy of the nineteenth century, is obsolete, and that the current obsession with standards, testing, and authoritarian control is a desperate last gasp of a system in decline.

Before the 1960s, families had few options. Other than the local public school, one’s choices might include a parochial (religious) school and perhaps an elite private school. As part of the general cultural awakening that took place during that decade, ideas about education expanded greatly. By the early 1970s, there was an explosion of “free schools,” Montessori and Waldorf programs, public “schools of choice,” and programs that became known under the generic name of “alternative” schools. Eventually some states endorsed the hybrid model of “charter schools,” using public funding to support a variety of educational experiments. At the same time, thousands of families became inspired by books such as Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (1970) and John Holt’s Teach Your Own (1983), to launch the homeschooling movement.

Struggling against the politics of standardization, these movements have matured and grown. When we now speak of educational alternatives—plural—rather than “alternative education,” we are embracing a wide range of possibilities, rather than endorsing an entrenched system and allowing a few dissidents to do their own thing on the margins.

There are at least twenty distinct models of non-standardized education, reflecting different views of child development and various understandings about what constitutes essential knowledge. One way to think about this diversity is to identify several basic philosophical orientations and compare them with each other. For example, some educational alternatives are frankly libertarian and individualistic. They argue that children learn most effectively—and become willingly collaborative members of the community—when they have full responsibility for their own learning from an early age.

A. S. Neill’s 1960 book Summerhill, describing the radical child-centered school he founded in England, is the best known statement of this approach. Today there is a growing international network of “democratic schools” (see and an expanding group of schools modeled after the pioneering Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts ( The most child-centered approach among homeschoolers, called “unschooling,” also seeks to do away with the arbitrary educational authority of adults.

Another category of alternatives might be called “social democratic” or “progressive.” These programs are more structured than the libertarian ones; for example, they do make specific intellectual demands on students, and may identify social values (such as peace, justice, sustainability) that they believe are crucial. Still, they tend to educate through dialogue and collaborative activity rather than authoritative transmission of a fixed curriculum.

A third major group of alternatives are those based on specific understandings of human development. The two best known of these approaches are the Montessori and Waldorf schools, both founded by visionaries in the early twentieth century (Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner). They believed that the child’s personality develops according to the unfolding of identifiable spiritual stages, and so they sought to provide educational experiences that specifically address the child’s needs at each stage. These alternative models are “child-centered” in the universal sense, rather than driven by society’s expectations for how future workers and citizens should be educated. (See and

There are other types of schools, and other styles of home- and community-based learning, that are more difficult to classify. Some of them combine elements of several categories. There are programs in public education, including charter and magnet schools, special programs for youths “at risk” of dropping out, and others, that are noticeably different from the standard school model, yet don’t quite fit into these philosophical groups.

Parents and young people who want to learn more about the variety of alternatives available can start by visiting the website of the Alternative Education Resource Organization (

Friday, November 13, 2009

Transaction Versus Community Thinking in Education

I recently read a blog post that talked about the difference between transaction and community in economics. In a transaction, I have something of value (money) and you have something of value (a shirt), and we trade our things of value with each other. Very businesslike and impersonal. You know what you are going to get, and so do I - these things have a predictable, clear worth. In a community, on the other hand,

participants...expect that the community is a source of strength, or value, for them. But to derive value from most communities, participants have to give in a way that is not transactional. You contribute to people within a community without knowing exactly how that value is going to come back to you. The currency is trust - or to use a more wonky term, social capital.

So I started thinking that this concept applies not only to financial transactions, but to all sorts of transactions, including education. Teacher has something of value (grades, diplomas, degrees). Student has something Teacher wants (a particular answer on a test). Teacher and Student come together in the usual school setting and set about engaging in a series of transactions - Teacher tells Student what Student should know, Teacher gives Student a test, Student gives Teacher answers, and Teacher gives Student a grade. All very businesslike and impersonal.

On the other hand, in a school community (such as Wellspring COMMUNITY School), the setup is completely different. It is not about predictable and clear goals and objectives, about SWBATs (Students Will Be Able To...). Instead of working towards "mastery" (and I use the term loosely) of a predetermined set of curricular objectives, we come together in a spirit of trust not really knowing what the outcome will be but having faith that we are going to receive something of value in exchange for our contribution of social capital. And in exchange for that trust, we receive not only information, but friendship and strength.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Helping Children Deal With Stress

This is a guest post by Mellisa Dormoy, CHt, founder ShambalaKids Guided Imagery CDs

With today's busy schedules, between rushing off to school and work, after-school lessons, dinner time and homework, all children and parents experience a certain level of daily stress.

A simple activity to implement with your child for stress relief is the balloon breath relaxation. You can help alleviate stress in yourself as well by practicing this technique. First, begin by asking your children to breathe in very slowly and deeply through the nose, counting up to three. Ask them to imagine they are breathing in a beautiful white light that spreads out through their body and makes them feel very relaxed. Ask them to imagine that their tummy is like a balloon and to fill up the balloon with lots of that relaxing white light. This is called diaphragmic breathing and it very relaxing for the body and mind. Start out by counting up to three and then work up to 5 or 6 slow counts. Exhaling is also slow and easy. Ask your child to close his eyes when inhaling and exhaling. This closes out outside distractions and helps your child focus their attention within. You should also practice with your child which will alleviate stress for you and also strengthen your bond with your child simply by virtue of spending special time together and feeling good.

Bedtime is an ideal time to introduce this techniques and to practice as well. However, this deep balloon breath relaxation will also help your child anytime he or she feels any stress... before a test at school, after a fight with a friend, when the atmosphere gets a little overwhelming, really in any circumstance. It's also useful for parents as well. It can help us parent better, because we are then less stressed ourselves. So practice daily with your child. This also provides the opportunity for you to eventually introduce mindful meditation to your child if you should choose to do so. It all begins with the breath. This relaxation does not have to last a long time, and your child will reap tremendous benefits from even 2-4 minutes of this type of relaxation.

Another important foundational stone for healthy, stress-free living is regular discussion of any issues that came up during the day for your child. Ask your child what the best moment of the day was, and then once you spend time enjoying those images with your child, ask what the most difficult moment of the day was. This is your opportunity to really BE with your child. This is also your opportunity to alleviate his or her anxieties. Use guided imagery and tell your child that together you will blow the worries far away. Take out am invisible magic bubble blower and blow blow blow away those worries! Exercise your own imagination and have fun with it. Children have very vivid imaginations and adore these types of exercises. What you may think difficult, comes very natural to them. It also feels like a fun game, and you'll be surprised how much guided imagery really helps you as well.

Spending these precious moments with your child and teaching them simple techniques to deal with stress has huge payoffs, both for you and your child, now and in the future. It is a large part of mindful parenting which is the practice of living in the moment with your child. You're giving your child tools to deal with daily pressures and you're spending quality time and creating memories with your child. It's an old cliche but also very true...our children do grow up so fast. Therefore, it's vital that we acknowledge them always and take time to enjoy them and their growth. In addition to helping your child relieve everyday stresses, make it a practice to really pay attention to your child and his thoughts and feelings. It is the greatest gift you can give them, and unconditional love relieves stress like nothing else!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Play With Your Food!

On Fridays, our oldest students get to spend some time in the kitchen making their own lunches. Here are some of their creations:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

October at Wellspring

Throughout October we observed and explored the changes autumn brought to our environment. Two meadow adventures yielded many leaves, rocks, and seeds to view under our magnifying glasses. Several of the children discovered what was inside seeds by cracking them open at the work bench. Acorn seeds are growing in our window in an experiment designed after a child noticed they were sprouting. While at the pumpkin patch, a child decided that they wanted to find out what the inside of a pumpkin and gourd looked like. Last week we gathered a variety of gourds and discussed exterior similarities and differences. We then generated a series of wondering questions about what was inside. Many children enjoyed cutting the gourds open, with a “big knife”, to discover the contents. The children’s observations of touch, smell, and sight are posted in the classroom. Please take a minute after drop-off to view their work.

We took listening walks on the way to the post office and in the meadow. Children listened to a variety of vehicles going over the open grate bridge and wondered why they didn’t fall through as the bridge has holes. We listened to big and small rocks plunge into deep and shallow water. We also attempted to find the birds singing to us in the bushes.

In the paddock, the children have built many obstacles with spools, stumps, and boards. The wet weather has created challenging surfaces for negotiating these obstacles. Our Halloween celebration offered a chance to weigh pumpkins, vote on the Jack-O-Lantern’s features, predict a pumpkin’s circumference, and guess the contents of touch bags. Games of freeze tag have helped many of our younger friends stay warm on chilly mornings. Thanks to all for dressing your child to enjoy this paddock time in all types of weather.

During circle time we take turns listening to and talking with others. Most days we sing songs and share stories. Community meetings are held to talk about how we care for each other and our space. Younger voices are being heard more frequently in these gatherings. The Kid Who Cares documents how we want, or don’t want, to be treated. We often refer to the “rules” created by children for friendly reminders. Our Peace Mat is being used more actively to solve problems which I view as a sign that the children are more comfortable with each other.

The Mat and Tray Nook offers a wide variety of individual and small group activities that reinforce pre-reading and math skills. Many days this is a popular nook during choice time. Puzzles, games, and sound/letter sorts continue to be popular.

The activity in the Art and Writing Nook has increased significantly with the support of our parent helpers this month. The children are offered a variety of materials for projects. When you join me for a conversation, take some time to view the art work displayed in the room.

The Primary children continue to explore sound-letter patterns. Several are interested in learning to read, so their afternoons are spent blending sounds and gaining confidence with sight words. They were inspired to make haunted house dioramas after listening to a Cam Jensen book. Math skills are explored with calendar work, characteristics of a set, and the weekly estimation jar.

In closing I extend a special thanks to Parvathi for coordinating our field trips, the dads that spent their morning with us, and to the parent helpers that continue to enrich our daily program. I am grateful for your support.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Our Birthday Song

Charlie, Charlie, now we bring,
birthday greetings that we sing.
May your day be gay and bright,
filled with laughter, love and light!

Friday, November 6, 2009

You Don't Always Get the Education You Pay For

Last week I had the chance to go see The Cartel, a documentary by New Jersey media man Bob Bowdon (a movie, in a theater, by myself - worth the price of admission and popcorn!). The film is about corruption and failure in the New Jersey educational system, primarily in inner-city and underperforming districts. For anyone who cares about children, education, and democracy, this film is a must-see.
Bowdon shows convincingly that, despite the fact that New Jersey spends more money per student than any other state in the nation except New York, our schools are performing miserably. With only 39% of eighth graders proficient on reading tests, and 40% successful on math measures, it is pretty clear that we are not getting much bang for our bucks.

More money in schools sounds like a great idea. Better funding means better facilities, smaller classes, motivated teachers, and greater resources - so goes the argument. According to Bowdon, during the recent state budget crisis spending was cut nearly across the board, but was increased for education. The White House posted on their blog on October 19 that tens of billions of dollars will be invested in education as part of the ARRA (American Recovery and Renivestment Act) as part of
the overall goals for education in the stimulate the economy in the short term and to invest in education advancements to ensure the long-term economic health and success of our nation.
It all seems to make sense. Right? Yet many charter and private schools (with Wellspring among them) have great success with a fraction of the $15,691 spent per student, on average, in New Jersey in 2007. $15,691 is a lot of money - that's over $6,000 more than the national average and over $10,000 more than Utah, the lowest spending state.

Which begs the question: what is the problem, and how can it be fixed? Greater oversight and better efficiency seem to be a good start, but in my opinion these measures are just that - a start. Throwing more money at a defective system is not going to fix the system. Where schools are innovative and encourage active learning and respectful relationships they succeed, as shown by some of the examples of extraordinary schools in Bowdon's film. Where schools follow the status quo of Teachers Teach, Students Learn, it sets the stage for apathy, disinterest, absenteeism, and even violence.

No amount of money is going to fix a system where young people are forced to sit and spit back to an authority figure boring, unimportant and irrelevant facts and figures - or at least are forced to do so until they are old enough to drop out of school altogether. Much like the therapeutic relationship, where patients need a trusting and respectful relationship with a therapist to be able to progress in their personal work, students cannot thrive unless they are treated with respect and consideration of their needs and interests. The lessons they learn about self-esteem, initiative, and creativity are not separate from (some might argue they are, in fact, more important than) the lessons learned about history, math and reading.

This is not to say that teachers are not wonderful, giving and committed to their students - almost all of them are, at least the ones I've met. This is simply to say that there are limits to what they can accomplish no matter how amazing they are, because they must conform to the expectations of administrators and politicians who believe that "education" is separate from "life". It is odd that in a country that prides itself on an ideal of rugged individualism, we have set up our public schools to be hotbeds of homogeneity, and this needs to change. Instead of the usual easy fix - namely, an infusion of cash - it is time to consider that perhaps the answer is more fundamental and difficult than we previously thought.
For another perspective on the connection between money and quality education, check out In Education Reform We See the Real Change that Was Promised from