Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Web Roundup

Want Passionate Kids? Leave 'Em Alone - reviews research showing that the best predictor of whether children develop a passion is letting them choose it for themselves

Crafting Rich Experiences for our Children on a Frugal Budget - Simple Mom offers tips on making simple, everyday experiences fun for our families

E is for... - Early Education and Emergent Curriculum at Childhood 101

Five Ways to Raise Kind Children - Another absolutely fantastic post from Half Full

Photo courtesy of flickr user JOPHIELsmiles under a Creative Commons license

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sometimes I Wish You Were Wrong!

Yesterday I was driving my daughter home from school, and we were listening to one of her favorite CDs. You know how it kind of becomes one long song when you're listened to a CD a thousand times and you know which song is going to come next before the last one is over? That's how it is with this particular one, and so I was already singing the next tune in the quiet space between songs.

"Mom," said Bess, "Sometimes I wish you were wrong." She was referring to the fact that, unbeknownst to me, she was trying to guess which song was coming next and I was interfering with her ability to do so.

"What do you mean?"

"When you are right then I don't have a chance to be right."

Once again, humbled by a four year old!

I know, intellectually, that by stepping in and "helping" her with tasks that are challenging to her I am taking away an opportunity for her to learn and grow. Nevertheless, it is much easier said than done, and sometimes I wonder (in that self-indulgent way that mothers sometimes do) if she feels that I don't care if I don't try to help. I guess I need not wonder about that any more, because in words simple yet eloquent she has let me know in no uncertain terms (in that straightforward way that preschoolers sometimes do) that she would prefer to struggle and succeed on her own, thank you very much. Whether it is doing a puzzle or buttoning a sweater or guessing the next song on the playlist, it's not really helping if she doesn't need my help.


Photo courtesy of flickr user merdi under a Creative Commons license

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Getting Your Child to Eat Healthy

Christen at Simple Kids offers these five tips for getting your child to eat healthy:

1. Start Early
2. Make It a Game
3. Be a Role Model
4. Use Consistency and Gentle Perseverance
5. Offer Non-Food Rewards

Read the entire post here.

Photo courtesy of flickr user lindaaslund under a Creative Commons license

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Sense of Agency

This past weekend, the NJEEPRE Roundtable was held at the Kean University Child Care & Development Center in Union, New Jersey. It was such an inviting, relaxing and beautiful space, a really fantastic place to have a roundtable. We read and discussed the chapter on The Emergent Curriculum from the book We Are All Explorers: Learning and Teaching with Reggio Principles in Urban Settings.

It was a rich and interesting chapter, definitely worth reading. One of the main ideas was that the goal of Reggio-inspired educators is to give children a sense of agency - and, ideally, parents and educators should posses a sense of agency as well. Sense of agency was defined as:

Experiencing oneself as an active, self-directed agent who can, individually and in collaboration with others, formulate personally meaningful learning goals, figure out strategies to achieve them, engage the world to pursue them, construct understandings, and communicate the newly developed understandings to others. A sense of agency combines a sense of efficacy and personhood. It means: I stand in relation to others with my own motives and ideas and I have the competence to pursue them.

Unfortunately in our world, and particularly in many educational settings, no one is permitted to develop a sense of agency. Legislators decide on learning goals which may or may not be meaningful to anyone, administrators are put in a position where their accreditation and funding is dependent on meeting these learning goals, teachers are under pressure to ensure that these goals are met in their classrooms through a prescribed curriculum, students are the recipients of the information that people have determined to be important for them to have, and parents have little if any role in any of this.

By contrast, in a child-led learning environment, children have some control over their learning. They often decide what to study and how to study it in partnership with their teachers, who are supported by administrators who believe in this approach to education. Parents who seek out such learning environments for their children, also support the value of empowering children in the classroom (and in life) and are often given the opportunity to participate and shape the "curriculum". Teachers/administrators, parents, and students form a triangle of learning where each influences the others and all work together to achieve the best possible outcome. The relationship is part of the education.

In our world where information changes before the ink is dry in a new textbook, we need to focus more on teaching children how to learn than telling them what to learn. In a time where communication and collaboration are becoming more and more vital, we need to give our children the tools they need to form meaningful communities and relationships. Child-led learning achieves these goals, and more.


Photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt under a Creative Commons License

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Web Roundup

Play to Learn - A Fantastic Op-Ed by Susan Engel in the New York Times which supports what we do at Wellspring

Is Imaginitive Play a Waste of Time? - Great post at Childhood 101 listing all the benefits of imaginitive play

End the Morning Struggle Overnight - Who can't use some tips on getting out the door on time? Child Perspective offers some good ones.

What We Get When We Give - Half Full details the many benefits (to us!) of being kind
Iridescence - 5 Orange Potatoes offers a cool idea for an easy and inexpensive do-at-home experiment using ice, salt and food coloring

Embrace Your Family's Unique Learning Styles - Zen Family Habits offers some ideas to help family members understand their differences

Photo courtesy of flickr user laffy4k under a Creative Commons license

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More Great Minds Support Holistic Education

Not only the Dalai Lama, but other educators, thinkers and visionaries are beginning to recognize the need for a more holistic approach to education.

Susan Engel, director of the teaching program and lecturer at Williams College, says in a New York Times op-ed piece
What [children] shouldn’t do is spend tedious hours learning isolated mathematical formulas or memorizing sheets of science facts that are unlikely to matter much in the long run. Scientists know that children learn best by putting experiences together in new ways. They construct knowledge; they don’t swallow it.

Along the way, teachers should spend time each day having sustained conversations with small groups of children. Such conversations give children a chance to support their views with evidence, change their minds and use questions as a way to learn more.
And at, Zoe Weil, President of the Institute for Humane Education, writes
Currently, the primary goals of schooling are to graduate students who are verbally, mathematically and technologically literate and who are employable. We do not educate students to be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers for a better world. Our idea is to transform the very purpose of schooling so that schools provide all students, in age appropriate ways, with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries for a better world through whatever careers they pursue...This generation of solutionaries will become engineers and politicians, healthcare practitioners and entrepreneurs, educators and police officers, architects and builders, farmers and lawyers, but they will bring to these fields new ideas and approaches that create better, wiser, and more restorative and just systems within them.

Times, they are a-changin'. And it's high time that education changed to meet the challenges of the times.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What's For Lunch Wednesday - Food Ed

Over at the blog Sugar Snap, Rob Smart offers ten things children should understand about food:

Food touches nearly every aspect of live, so it is essential that we understand it in the fullest context possible to ensure we, as consumers, make well-informed, everyday decisions. Unfortunately, for many of us our days of being educated and/or changing our ways are mostly behind us.

That is why we must focus on our children by finding creative ways to reintroduce food in its broadest sense into their everyday activities, starting with school, in order to close the knowledge gap between farm and plate.

Read his ten suggestions here.

Photo courtesy of flickr user Bruce Tuten under a Creative Commons license

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Are Qualified Teachers a Luxury We Can Afford to Do Without?

It is a story I've heard a number of times from a number of people lately, so I suspect that it is true. Teachers who have left the profession to stay home or explore other professional interests are now having trouble re-entering the classroom. This is not because they lack qualifications, or because of a gap in their work history. No, it is because they are OVER-qualified for the job.

What does that mean, exactly, to be overqualified to care for our children and shape the future of our world? Well, in this case it means that school districts hesitate to hire people with years of experience or advanced degrees because they have to pay those people more. Instead, many school systems are choosing to hire new teachers fresh out of college because they are less expensive.
From what I can gather, school districts have rules whereby a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no classroom experience receives a certain base salary which is increased based on years of service and additional education. This seems to be a great system because it gives teachers incentives to further their knowledge and stay in the profession. However, something has gone awry when the system is used to preferentially hire less expensive teachers even when they are less qualified for the job.

I am not arguing that all experienced teachers are good and that all new teachers are bad - far from it, most teachers are good (or at least have the best intentions) and sometimes new blood is just what is needed to breathe new life into a faltering system. However, making decisions based solely or largely on the dollars and cents cost to the district rather than the interests of the children seems outrageously short-sighted and a horrible failure to fulfill our responsibility to our kids.

These stories remind me of the movie The Cartel (reviewed here in October), in which the argument is made that more money does not necessarily equal better schools. In New Jersey in particular, where we throw more money into education than almost any other state, our schools continue to perform poorly. The filmmaker argues that this is due in part to administrative inefficiencies that drain money from the system, and in part due to the power of teachers' unions to influence policymakers and thereby control spending.

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that this problem may be even more pronounced in poorer districts where the more experienced teachers are even more desperately needed. I don't know what the solution is, but I think we can all agree that there is a problem with this picture. Perhaps some of the money being funneled into education by the government can be used to subsidize teacher salaries so that districts pay a certain amount for all teachers and the rest is picked up by the state, thereby giving districts an incentive to hire the best teachers available regardless of the price tag. I'd be interested to hear what others have to say.
Photo courtesy of flickr user dave_mcmt under a Creative Commons license

Monday, February 15, 2010

Distribute 1 Million Children's Books in a Biodiesel Bookmobile

I really like the company Better World Books. They are an amazing example of social entrepreneurship - they sell used and new books, they donate a portion of all their proceeds to worldwide literacy organizations, and they are always looking for ways to be more socially and environmentally responsible.

The are currently seeking a grant, in conjunction with the National Center for Family Literacy, of $250,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Project to hold literacy events in at least 200 communities, get families reading and learning together, help struggling schools raise money, promote family literacy and get 1 Million Children's Books in the hands of kids nationwide.

This is in no way an endorsement of Pepsi, but hey, if we can get some of their money working for children's literacy, I say let's do it!

Vote for Better World Books here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weekend Web Roundup

Sorry to be late with this again. I've spent the past few days switching from RSS to Google Reader and am just now getting through all the news from the week!

Don't They Just Play? Ingenuity - Christine at Childhood 101 observes how play isn't always what it seems.

Un-toys - A really beautiful post (with photos) from are so happy about making playthings out of found items.

Learning Cycle. For Kids Only? - Ecology of Learning explores Kolb's Cycle of Experiential Learning

How to Raise a Hero - Science for Raising Happy Kids defines a hero as someone who is willing to stand up for her values and beliefs no matter what

Media Literacy: An Operational Definition - Mothering reposted this short article from 2004 describing what it means to view media with a critical and discerning eye

Staying Sane During Snow Days - Lisa Belkin gives some good (and some not so much) suggestions - but fails to share the recipe for chocolate-peanut butter play doh

More Than Words: Simple Ways to Show Your Kids You Love Them - Simple Kids offers some ideas for showing your love not just on Valentine's Day, but every day

Photo courtesy of flick user Photos by Lina under a Creative Commons License

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dalai Lama Supports Holistic Education!

Well, maybe he didn't use those words, but that's pretty much what he said.

Last autumn the Mind & Life Institute, a group of contemplatives, neuroscientists, educators, activists and policy makers who are devoted to promoting "the creation of a contemplative, compassionate, and rigorous experimental and experiential science of the mind which could guide and inform medicine, neuroscience, psychology, education and human development" held a conference in Washington DC. Called "Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century", this gathering included a number of great minds including the Dalai Lama, who led the first panel discussion on educating children to be "compassionate, competent, ethical, and engaged citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world".

He said that he believes that rigorous academic preparation is critical, but our educational system is too focused on this aspect of teaching children. Once we have knowledge, he said, the question becomes one of using that knowledge - will we use it in a way that is constructive, neutral, or destructive? Obviously we would come down on the side of "constructive", but there is certainly a difference of opinion as to what exactly that means.

And that is what Holistic Education is about. We look to give children knowledge and a rich and diverse academic background, but we also recognize that to focus on that aspect of their beings at the exclusion of all else is to do them, and the entire world, a disservice. We also ask children (and the adults who live and work with them) to consider the bigger picture, to look at and understand themselves and their place in the community, the environment, and the "global neighborhood". We want them to think carefully about the responsibility that comes with being human, and how they can use their knowledge in constructive ways - constructive to their own sense of well-being and happiness as well as constructive to the world at large.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Snacks

My kids eat a lot of fruit. I'm talking a lot. Like, monkey quantities. I guess there are worse things, but I'm not a huge fan of the amount of sugar that goes along with the vitamins and I would like to see them eat a little more protein than they do.

That's why this recipe from The Nourishing Gourmet caught my eye. We tried it out, and she's not kidding when she says it's good enough to eat with a spoon!
Maple Cinnamon Pumpkin Seed Butter

3/4 cup of Pumpkin Seeds (dehydrated or toasted)

1/4 cup of coconut oil (or grass fed butter)

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (I prefer grade B) or honey

1/4 teaspoon unrefined sea salt

1 1/2 -2 teaspoons cinnamon

Put all of the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth and well mixed. Serve right away or place in the refrigerator (it will need to reach room temperature to soften before serving).
Photo courtesy of flick user WordRidden under a Creative Commons license

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Who's in my Barn?

As an administrator and parent at Wellspring, there is no shortage of days that I stay after school for meetings, check-ins, or to finish up some of the daily business. Most of the time it's quick, and my children happily play with their friends outside in the paddock, or in the field a bit beyond. Lately, though, they've been exploring beyond those boundaries. Some of this is fine and safe, but when the neighbor came by to let us know that some of the girls had been exploring in his barn, we had to find new solutions.

After school that Friday, some of the adults sat down with the oldest population of the school (1st, 2nd, 3rd graders) for a community meeting. We do this often, but generally during the school day and with the teachers. This time, we explained what the neighbor told us: "It's a big old wooden building-- certainly fun for exploring, but there are rakes hung up on nails on the wall, and all kinds of other dangers in there." He was afraid someone would get hurt.

Those who weren't in the barn that day chimed in immediately. "But it isn't our property, so we can't use it without permission," one boy said with conviction. My daughter said that it was okay because no one was home. I have to say this was somewhat alarming. I held my tongue. Another adult questioned her.

"Would it be okay if someone were to play in your garage when you weren't home?"
My daughter said yes, because she wouldn't know the difference.
"Would it be okay with you if someone was playing in your garage, or in your house, when you weren't home, and then you came home and found them there?"
She paused. "Not really," she said, seeing a new picture.
The adult followed through. "So then it wouldn't really be okay with you if people played with your things while you weren't there."
My daughter shook her head. "We won't go there again," she said quietly. "Though it really was interesting."

From there, we asked the everyone what they wanted in terms of places to be during afterschool play. The boys wanted space to run. The girls wanted private spaces away from others. The adults wanted to know that the children were safe and within view. After some deliberation, we all agreed that if no adult was outside, the children would have to stay in the fenced area abutting the school building. If an adult was outside, they could play in front of and on the side of the school, but not in the back. Everyone had some of what they wanted, even if it wasn't everything. And that felt good to everyone.

We've referenced these decisions a few times, but for the most part, things are going well with after school play.


Photo by flickr user foxypar4 under a Creative Commons license

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Online Course for Humane Parents!

Raising a Humane Child is a month-long distance learning course for parents who wish to bring the principles and practices of humane education to their child-rearing and family life. Humane education focuses on providing people with the tools, knowledge and inspiration to create a just, compassionate, sustainable world for all.

Developed for parents with children of any age, Raising a Humane Child will expand parents’ strategies to help them bring humane education concepts and values to their children and manifest their vision for a better world, starting with their family. Participants will learn to help their children become more compassionate citizens and to make choices that demonstrate respect for the environment, other species and all people.

Course Dates: March 1-26, 2010

Course Advisor: Mary Pat Champeau is director of M.Ed and Certificate programs at IHE and has been a teacher for thirty years, beginning as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, 1979-1981. Her experience includes teaching in community-based refugee and immigrant programs in NYC, as well as teaching creative writing at NYU, working as a teacher trainer in Southeast Asian refugee camps, and coordinating language and culture programs for the World Trade Institute. She has an M.A. from NYU. Mary Pat is also the mother of two teenage children and an adopted pre-school age daughter from China.

About Our Distance Learning Courses: The Institute for Humane Education’s month-long distance learning courses immerse participants in a process of connecting with their
deepest values and helping them discover the inspiration, knowledge, tools and community they need to help create a more humane world. Each course includes:
• a course book
• a booklet of exercises
• links to relevant resources
• access to the Online Commons for engaging with fellow students and the course advisor(s)
• guidance and feedback from the course advisor(s)
• participation in one or more course salons (conference calls)
• a certificate of completion and/or Continuing Education Credits, if desired

Between the course assignments and the Online Commons, participants should be prepared to devote an average of 90 minutes a day to their course.

About the Institute for Humane Education: The Institute for Humane Education (IHE) is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) educational organization dedicated to fostering peace, sustainability and compassion through humane education. Headquartered in Surry, Maine, IHE has been training humane educators and promoting humane education since 1996. Co-founded by IHE President Zoe Weil, IHE:
• Created the first humane education certificate program in the United States.
• Created the first Master of Education in Humane Education in the U.S.
• Has trained thousands of humane educators reaching tens of thousands of students.
• Has reached hundreds of thousands of people and communities worldwide through our distance
learning programs and courses, our workshops, and our presentations, publications and resources.

IHE believes that human rights, environmental preservation and animal protection are interconnected and integral dimensions of a healthy, just society, so we must seek solutions to global problems that truly work for all people, animals and the earth. IHE’s humane education and humane educator training programs instill in others the belief that a humane, just and sustainable world is possible. Our programs and resources fuel the desire and capacity to live with compassion, integrity and wisdom. Participants in IHE’s programs put the knowledge and tools they gain with us into action in meaningful, far-reaching ways.

Find out more about IHE and our programs and resources:
Institute for Humane Education • P.O. Box 260, Surry, ME 04684
(207) 667-1025 Phone • (877) 544-1025 Fax •

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Web Roundup

Crazy for Calculating! Making Math Fun - This article originally published in the May/June 2002 issue of Mothering tells of a homeschooling family's efforts to raise math-loving kids.

New Plan for Teacher Education Focuses on Social Justice, Diversity - The University of British Columbia is considering implementing a new program that will teach educators to incorporate issues of social justice into every area of the curriculum.

Healthy Outlets for Big Feelings - Simple Kids looks for ways to help young children work through their intense emotions in a constructive and respectful way.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's for Lunch Wednesday - Winter Soup

With two sick kids at home over the past two weeks, we have been eating a lot of soup. It is healthy, simple to make, and easy on queasy tummies. We just got this recipe from Living Without magazine and we love it.

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped or shredded

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped or shredded

3 carrots, peeled and chopped or shredded

1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion

4 cups water or stock

1-2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons coconut milk

1 cup milk of choice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

pumpkin seeds, sour cream (optional garnishes)

Combine vegetables and apples in a large stockpot. Add water or stock and let mixture boil for about 15 minutes or until tender. Stir in spices, maple syrup, coconut milk and milk of choice. Carefully transfer hot soup in batches to a food processor and puree until smooth or puree with a hand-held blender. Serve hot.
Image by Katie@!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Books for Creativity

The box play that replaced the blocks play in the building nook reminded me of one of our very favorite books, Not a Box by Antoinette Portis. In this book, a bunny is seen standing on a box, sitting in a box, and even wearing a box. When asked what he's doing with that box, he insists, "It's not a box" - it's a mountain, a racecar, and a robot! The repetitive text makes it a fun book for young children who can "read" it themselves, and the simple line drawings lend themselves to encouraging children can draw their own Not-A-Boxes. Another book by Antoinette Portis, Not a Stick, follows a similar story in which a pig turns a stick into a horse, a paintbrush (which he uses to paint The Starry Night by vanGogh), and a bandleader's baton, among other things.

A book we just discovered goes along with this theme - The Squiggle by Carole Lexa Schaefer. A young Asian girl who sees a string on the sidewalk while out on a walk with her teacher and classmates imagines that it could be a dragon, a great wall, fireworks, or the rise of a full moon. She shares her idea with the others, who join in the fun of making the string into all sorts of exciting things. The illustrations in this book are also simple, but colorful and have the feel of watercolor or even calligraphy.


Monday, February 1, 2010

January at Wellspring

Penguins on Parade was a popular song to march and sing to this month as we learned about these winter animals. We began the work with a quick four question survey on penguin facts. Each child individually marked their answers to the true/false questions and an older child counted and recorded totals. During circle time we read aloud a non-fiction book listening for the answers. Our work reinforced the idea of educated guesses, individual voice, and counting with tally marks. It also taught all of us something new about these birds. Did you know they whistle?

The children acted out a number of stories this month, which is an important pre-reading and early reading skill. The Mitten provided some amusement in the cold days at the beginning of the month. Stone Soup was unique in that two versions of the story were explored on consecutive days. Several children discussed the similarities and differences between the stories. The stone hunt on the journey to the library gave many the purpose needed to make the .5 mile walk. All enjoyed making stone soup during the retelling and most enjoyed eating it. Jenna, the Peapack/Gladstone children’s librarian, presented an engaging program for us. The children enjoyed story time and acting out Book, Book, Book with puppets. Many children asked that we return to the library for another visit.

“I’ve got mail!” can be heard daily throughout the space as the children rush to check their mailboxes. Our young letter writers have been extremely busy sending pictures and notes to their classmates via their recently chosen mailboxes. Many parents have also been recipients of “mail” in their adult mailboxes. Next month we will expand this work by exploring the postal system and visiting the Far Hills Post Office.

The paddock space has fluxed from a winter wonderland to mud puddles fit for a pig to wallow in. Thanks for being aware of the changing weather and dressing your child for the conditions of the day. Many children look forward to skating on the rink created with the new sandbox tarp. As the ice melted and became covered in sand mid-month, one child figured out how to create a fresh layer for the morning play by adding more water that would freeze over night. Mother Nature cooperated with this experiment and skating continues.

The Primary children expressed interest in going to the Gladstone Market; hence our work with coins began. They are working to understand the value of different coins, make change, and purchase/sell items to each other. The children even created a puppet show that involved the audience purchasing things from the puppets.

The Primary children visited with our elderly neighbors at Bryan Manor in a community outreach project. They spent the afternoon getting to know the residents by asking questions and answering some too. As we prepared for the visit the children wrote and drew in their journals about an older person that is important to them. During our discussion about interacting with elders one child advised his classmates to “talk really loud so they can hear you.” This advice was used by all for a successful visit.

The last week of January we removed the blocks and babies from the space as part of our cleaning regimen and provided 8-9 cardboard boxes for creative play. By the end of the first day, these boxes were transformed into scenery and the building nook into a theater with seating for 24 and tickets for 2 plays. The boxes continue to morph into a variety of structures to the delight of all ages. It reminds me again of the power of simple objects to unleash the creativity of a child.