Thursday, December 31, 2009
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
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
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
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.
- To see beauty, have awe, experience transcendence, and appreciate some sense of "truths."
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
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
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.
Monday, December 21, 2009
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.
(Photo courtesy of the Flick user stevefaeembra, shared under a Creative Commons license.)
Friday, December 18, 2009
- 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:
- Decision making becomes the newest life science - Educators are teaching a six-step process to help students make "thoughtful, high-quality decisions"
- When teaching the right answers is the wrong direction - Sometimes students (and adults!) learn as much from their "wrong" answers as from providing the "right" ones
(Photo courtesy of the Maratime Union of Australia, shared under a Creative Commons license.)
Thursday, December 17, 2009
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!
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
1. Refuse with reason
2. Only buy the good stuff
3. Fresh is best
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
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...
Friday, December 11, 2009
- 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
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.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
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.
Monday, December 7, 2009
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
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.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
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
Juicing fruit:View the entire post here.
- 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.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
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.