Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Like to Brush My Hair

A few weeks ago, I was spending the day at school helping out.  I came out of the kitchen and saw my daughter intently writing something while Darcy provided guidance.  "Next comes another E..."

I peeked over her shoulder to see what she was working on, my heart swelling with pride at my child's emerging skills.  Imagine my horror when I saw this:

In case you're having trouble reading it, I'll tell you what it says.  It says:  "I'm a Barbie girl."  In pink on pink, no less.

I'd like to blame my babysitter, as wonderful as she is, for my daughter's obsession with this particular song, but really the blame lies with my four year old's skill navigating You Tube on my iPhone.  It doesn't hurt that she knows it pushes my buttons every time she sings it.  Anyway, Darcy must have noticed my horror, because she offered a plaintive condolence.  "At least she's writing words."


In our home, we make every effort to reject gender stereotypes.  (As an aside, I recently found this interesting article in Newsweek on the subject of raising gender-neutral children.)   On Sunday, our vacuum broke, and my mother and I fixed it - and then my husband cleaned the house with it.  Yet, my daughter is into swirly pinkness and sparkles, and my son is obsessed with sports and things with motors.  

I happened to have my parent-facilitator conversation with Anne scheduled that afternoon, and she teased me a bit about the incident, but then offered sound advice.  Let it go, she said.  You may hate Barbie and I don't blame you, but to Bess it's just a doll and just a song.

I tried that, but my feminist sensibilities soon got the better of me.  "What does it mean to be a Barbie girl?" I asked Bess one day.

"It means I like to brush my hair."

ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  Whose kid is this???

"Does it mean anything else?  What does a Barbie girl do?"
Photo by weelakeo
"She can do anything.  Maybe she can be a scientist who studies dinosaurs, a paleontologist.  Or she can play hockey or other sports, or maybe coach.  Or she can be a doctor, or a pilot, or a mailman.  Maybe I'll be all those things when I grow up."

I learned a valuable lesson from this.  It is so easy to look at a child's world through adult eyes.  Taking their perspective is a difficult task and can yield inconclusive results, as we never really can get inside their heads.  Yet we still need to ask the questions.  The meaning we as adults, as parents, assign to things in the world often bears no resemblance to the meaning given to these things by our children.  Our perceptions, experiences, ideas and biases are not theirs, and we need to own them.  When we assume that our children see things the same way we do, we are doing them and ourselves, not to mention our relationship with them, a great disservice.

That said, I still hate Barbie.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Introduction to Introduction to Holistic Education

Here is the first five minutes of the talk Ron Miller gave at our first annual conference, Introduction to Holistic Education: Conversations With Ron Miller on Saturday, March 20.  I am working on finding a way to get the whole talk up for you to watch (or re-watch if you were lucky enough to be there!) but for now I just have this.  Something to whet your appetite, I guess:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Favorites

When Less Is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in Schools - On his Psychology Today blog, Peter Gray points out some of the logical shortcomings of todays educational system: "If two hundred hours of instruction on subject X does no good, well, let's try four hundred hours." Huh?

Memo to Lawmakers: You Don't Know What You're Doing on School Reform - The Florida Thinks blog offers this letter to state legislators suggesting some common-sense observations on education.

On Toys That Bark, Jump and Flip - Parenting Report gives some ideas for open ended playthings that encourage imagination instead of passivity.

Building a Better Teacher - The New York Times Magazine asks, and offers some answers, to the question of what makes a good teacher.

The Playpod Project - Let the Children Play reports on a project in the UK where scrap materials are being collected and brought into schools for creative play and art making.

Does Chaos Reign in Your House Around the Evening Hours? - Zen Family Habits offers five suggestions for getting through The Witching Hour(s).

Let's Drop the Good Guys vs. Bad Guys Argument: We Need to Grow Up as a Species - Alternet argues that we need to create the social conditions that bring out the best in everyone.

For Many, 'Mean Girl' Behavior Starts Early - Boston.com looks at bullying in the primary grades, especially among girls.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What's for Lunch Wednesday - I've Got Nothing

Readers, I have been nursing two sick children for the past three days, including one who spent several hours in the hospital being rehydrated intravenously after twelve straight hours of - well, I'll leave it to your imagination. Needless to say, food is the last thing on our collective minds at my house, so I'm hoping you will help me out here. Please post your favorite healthy lunch idea or recipe in the comments to share! And wish me luck...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pockets of Hope

Phew! What a weekend we had here at Wellspring. I feel like I'm still recovering and processing all that went on. We had our first conference, Introduction to Holistic Education: Conversations with Ron Miller, with about fifty or so people in attendance. After Ron's amazing keynote address we broke up into smaller discussion groups, and then had a cocktail reception afterwards to give people a chance to mingle and socialize. I am working on getting the video of Ron's talk up on the Internet so you can still watch it even if you weren't able to attend - or re-watch it if you were.

In our small discussion group, the topic was brought up of how to get people to embrace progressive educational settings. The observation was made that when people come to Wellspring (and I'm sure other schools find this as well) they love it and feel what a special place it is, but once they leave their minds start to take over and they find a million reasons not to step outside their comfort zone and into our community. We talked about how people are often driven by fear, how they think that if they stay with what everyone else does, then at worst they won't be any worse off than most. It is scary to take a leap of faith and embrace something different from what other people are doing and have always done.

When Stephanie, our fearless director, welcomed everyone to our event, she told the story of the beginning of Wellspring. A bunch of families had been engaged in discussions for weeks about the viability of starting a school, and they had begun to research how much it would cost. The number they came up with seemed to be insurmountable, and there was a air of disappointment in the air as everyone sat silently for a moment. And then someone said, "So, what should we call it?" and the rest, as they say, was history.

So I've been spending a lot of time thinking about this story and how we are so often motivated by fear and avoiding what we don't want instead of by embracing what we do want. I think that a very large part of what makes the Wellspring community so special is that it is a group of people who have rejected the fear and decided to take proactive steps towards creating an educational experience for children that represents what we believe to be the best thing for them. That's not to say that we aren't afraid - everyone is. But the difference is, the founding families saw the obstacles (financial and otherwise) and decided to go for it anyway. They had faith that by moving towards their vision, that everything would come together and their vision would become reality. It is hard and tiring and messy, but it is worth it. The families who have decided to enroll their children in the school also have a vision of what we want for our children, and even though we don't have the hard data to support our choices, we know in our hearts that we are doing what is right for our children and that is enough.

Ron's partner Jackie was in our breakout group, and she called places like Wellspring "pockets of hope". I think that's a beautiful way to think about it. So many people complain about high-stakes testing, and corruption, and inefficiencies, and budget cuts, and all kinds of problems in the mainstream public education system, but at Wellspring we are not complaining. We are simply choosing a different way. We are rejecting that paradigm and building something new. I know that as we keep doing our thing, more and more people will begin to see the success of Wellspring and other places like it - places where children are encouraged to develop academically, yes, but also emotionally, socially, artistically, spiritually, and in every other way imaginable - and will come to join us in our little pockets of hope.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Web Favorites

Exploring the Forest: Wild Places in Childhood - This is an absolutely fantastic piece on the NAEYC website, in which the author Anna Golden describes a project she does with her students in a "forest" near their school, but interweaves the story of the self-exploration she did in the process.

What Ifs of Education - Ecology of Education asks, what if we eliminated public schools as we know them and replaced them with smaller, more personalized community schooling options a-la the one room schoolhouse. Wellspring, anyone?

Acts of Kindness Spread Surprisingly Easily: Just a Few People Can Make a Difference - A recent study shows that when people are treated kindly they tend to pay it forward.

Why Our Kids Don't Go to Kindergarten - This article on Salon.com explores what children need to do in order to learn, and the fact that they don't get it in most schools.

Teaching Elise to Hug: A Lesson in Educating Our Children - Zoe Weil, guest posting at Eco Child's Play, reminds us that it is more efficient and kind to meet our children where they are and try to shape their behavior into what we'd like to see instead of compelling their behavior, thereby crushing their curiosity and love of learning.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Littlest Wellspringers

As promised, here are some photos of our chicks. As I'm sure you can imagine, they have been getting more than their fill of attention and love since they hatched. They will be sorely missed when they go back to the farm!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What's for Lunch Wednesday - St. Patrick Smoothie

Here at Wellspring, we had some visitors who snuck in before anyone came in this morning and left gold coins in each student's cubby

And a mess on the floor for us to clean up!

Green smoothies seem to be all the rage these days, so here's one in honor of St. Patrick's Day and the wearing of the green (as in a green smoothie moustache) from the Celebrate Green blog:

Maria's Coconut Ginger Delight

1 young coconut
2 cups frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen mangoes
1 inch piece of ginger, unpeeled
6 oz. fresh spinach
2 dates
4 scoops stevia

Open coconut and drain milk into blender, scrape coconut meat out of the shell, place in blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and fill blender with water. Blend well. Enjoy and be energized!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Our Chicks Are Here!

The chicks of Wellspring finally hatched today! You can't really see them in the video, but it's just as fun to watch the kids watching them hatch. Tomorrow I'll try to post photos so you can get a load of the fluffy yellow cuteness.

View the video on YouTube

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review: Stella

I recently discovered the Stella books by Marie Louise Gay, and I am in love with them! The red-haired heroine explores her world in titles such as Stella, Princess of the Sky, Stella, Fairy of the Forest, and Stella, Queen of the Snow. Her energy and inquisitiveness just jumps off the page as Gay captures the true spirit of childhood. Sure, some adults might take issue with some of the inaccuracies these books contain (such as when Stella tells her little brother Sam that the sun is red because "it's wearing red pajamas") but her answers show the author's grasp of the magical and creative thinking of children.

Especially well-written in this regard is When Stella Was Very, Very Small, which Gay wrote in response to her readers' questions about Stella. Putting herself in the shoes of a small child, the author describes the experience with humor and delightful wonder: "And once when Stella was very, very small, it snowed so much the whole world disappeared..." - something our children here in the northeastern US can certainly relate to these days! But as Stella gets bigger, she can do all sorts of exciting things like feed the goldfish, carry the dog and read to her brother, Sam. These books are a wonderful addition to any child's collection.
Speaking of book collections - if you live in northwestern New Jersey and are looking to declutter your child's bookshelves, there is a great opportunity to do so. The Washington Township Public Library is collecting new and gently-used children's books to assist a local resident with a literacy fair she is organizing in Newark, NJ. Please either drop off your donations at the library, or if you bring them to Wellspring I will gladly deliver them for you.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Weekend Web Roundup

Family Traditions: The Glue That Holds Families Together - Celebrate Green offers reasons why family traditions are important, as well as some ways to build new ones

5 Tips for Creating Family Routines and Establishing Rhythms in Your Home - Simple Kids is always good for concrete ways to make your life more simple

Turning Youth Into Leaders - The Greater Good Blog outlines the Cycle of Transformational Living: Action/Service -> Learning -> Reflection -> Leadership

Ways to Incorporate Mud Play Into the Preschool Classroom - Thanks to Let the Children Play for some ideas on what to do with all our mud!

Whisper to Capture Your Child's Attention - Child Perspective points out that whispering is often more effective than yelling

Friday, March 12, 2010

My Grandpa

When I think back to my childhood, one of the memories that stands out the most for me is reading with my Grandpa.

From a generation where men were seen as breadwinners and largely absent from the caretaking role in the home, my Grandpa was an incredibly kind, patient, loving and affectionate man who relished time with his grandchildren after having spent most of his sons' childhoods working long hours in a steel mill. I remember his black-rimmed glasses and his big black leather lounge chair, cracked from years of "resting my eyes" and carefully taped back together; my grandparents would much rather spend their money on day trips and vacations spent with family than on new furniture. My Grandpa and I would sit in that chair and read and read, mostly Dr. Seuss. My Grandpa is gone now, but his volumes of To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, McElligott's Pool and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas are still on the bookshelf at my Gram's house next to other prize volumes including his Navy yearbook and two-volume leather (okay, imitation leather)-bound Brittanica dictionary.

Of course, I reached a point where I was off reading Charlotte's Web, Judy Blume and Little House on the Prarie on my own (most of which were given to me as gifts from my grandparents), and my Grandpa started using his chair time to read his own books. A regular at the local library, the librarians would call the house when something came in that they thought would interest him. He liked to read about American history and music especially, but he read a lot of fiction as well. He also liked to keep up on current events and walked two miles to the town deli each day to pick up a newspaper until he was eighty-four years old and unable to make the trip anymore. When I think of him now, I see him in that chair with a book.

I know that he would have loved being a great-grandfather as much as he loved being a grandfather, and I am sorry that my kids never got the chance to know this special man. But, I hope that I give my children the kinds of memories and the love of books and learning that he has given me.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

100 Languages

I've been a naughty blogger these past couple of days. I have been doing a bit of reflection and introspection after spending three days at the Educating the Creative Mind conference at Kean University and have neglected to write about it, or anything else for that matter. This is largely because there was so much to see and do and learn that I feel like it is going to take me months to absorb it all as I continue to go through it all in my mind and weave it into the things I see and read.

There were so many interesting, creative and wonderful people and ideas at the conference that I don't know how to begin to share it with you. From the researcher who has given children the task of creating a musical composition based on their favorite color, to the math teacher who uses music, sound and movement to connect with his students, to the demonstrations of working with children using visual arts and movement, to (of course!) Dr. Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences and the way his ideas are being used to construct progressive schools...it was the best three days I've spent in quite awhile. I wish I had taken some pictures to show, but I was so busy taking notes that I forgot to take out my camera, even once! Very unlike me.

There were a number of presentations on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, and I attended most (if not all) of them. I continue to be very impressed and moved by this way of being with children - as one of the presenters said, Reggio is not a technique but a way of life. I think that is how it differs from many other educational philosophies. There is no way to train people to do it right, because it requires a great deal of introspection from the teacher and a great deal of trust and communication (even affection) between teacher and student. A different "curriculum" emerges in each setting and classroom that is born out of the relationship between the two and influenced by the larger community.

Much of what this conference was about was ways of bringing different tools, or "languages" to use the Reggio terminology, to the classroom. So I started to think about the idea of The Hundred Languages of Children - in other words, the different ways that children can communicate and express themselves. I realize it's a metaphor, but I wondered, how many could I actually name?
  • verbal expression
  • movement
  • dance
  • instrumental music
  • song
  • facial expressions
  • watercolor
  • acrylic paint
  • tempera paint
  • crayon
  • pencil
  • felt-tipped marker
  • charcoal
  • pastels
  • paper
  • found objects
  • light
  • sound
  • collage
  • photography
  • clay
  • woodworking
  • sculpture
  • beading
  • needlework
  • fiber
  • water play
  • sand play
  • imaginary play
  • role play
  • storytelling
  • touch
  • smell
  • taste
  • cooking
  • natural objects
  • reading

So how many is that? Less than forty? I realize that, as a novice to this way of thinking my list is probably very rudimentary and lacks sophistication, so I hope that those with more experience will add to it!


Monday, March 8, 2010

Hatching a New Project at Wellspring

Too corny?
We have some new arrivals at Wellspring Community School!
Last week, twelve fertilized chicken eggs arrived along with their incubator and
food and water dishes to spend a couple of weeks with us.
They will be hatching soon and will stick around our classroom
for a little while before they have to go back to Quiver Farm.

Rooster Ronald and Hen Susan came to visit us and teach us about chickens.
We learned that roosters' are responsible for waking everyone in the morning
and taking care of the other chickens. The hens take care of their eggs
by keeping them warm (99.5 degrees F, to be exact), moist, and turning them
several times a day. Farmer Sarah explained to the children that,
since these eggs don't have their mom, we are responsible for
taking care of them until they hatch and then ensuring that they have food and water
once each one has used his egg tooth to get out of their eggs.

Susan and Ronald

Farmer Sarah shows us Ronald's comb and wattle

Farmer Sarah explains how hens like Susan use their beaks and feet
to turn their eggs

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Web Roundup

The Craze for Endless Praise - Mothering reminds us why there is such a thing as too much praise

Let's Talk About Art - Paint Cut Paste offers ideas for responding constructively to a child's artistic creations

Goodness of Fit: Why Nurturing Our Child's Nature Matters - A Nourishing Home explores the ways in which we can be sure to match our expectations to our children's innate self

Fostering Self Esteem in Young Children - Rhythm of the Home (an ezine that is definitely worth checking out!) offers some great suggestions written by Eileen Straiton of Little Acorn Learning

End the Morning Struggle, Part 2 - More great tips from Child Perspective

Don't They Just Play? Role Play Reading - Childhood 101 lists the literacy skills that children are working on when they "pretend" to read

Compassionate Connection: Nonviolent Communication With Children - Another great Mothering post offers the basics of NVC

Thursday, March 4, 2010

100 Days of School

(Sung to the tune of 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall)

100 days of school in all,
100 days of school,
We managed to count a large amount,
100 days of school in all!

How did we get to 100 days?
100 days of school?
We started the fun with number 1,
Counting the days of school in all!

1 day of school at first,
Then 2, then 3, then 4.
We got up to 10 but didn't stop then,
100 days of school in all!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What's for Lunch Wednesday - What's YOUR Food IQ?

A recent video on The Huffington Post shows celebrity chef Jamie Oliver testing first graders on how many fruits and vegetables they can identify. You may (or may not) be surprised to see how many of them do not recognize things like tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms or cauliflower.

You may think that tomatoes and potatoes are pretty easy, but how do you think your child (or you) would do with some of the more uncommon ones?

Jerusalem Artichoke Photo credit GirlInterruptedEating

Pluots Photo credit snickclunk

Celeriac Photo credit cosygreeneyes

Gooseberries Photo credit foxypar4

Daikon Photo credit rumpleteaser

Kohlrabi Photo credit SummerTomato

Papaya Photo credit cayobo

So, how did you do???

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teaching Literacy

Dr. Peter Gray of Boston College posted an article on his Psychology Today blog called Children Teach Themselves to Read. In it he describes his research studying a number of unschooled children as well as students in Sudbury schools to see how they learned to read without being explicitly taught to do so.
What he found is that children learn to read in diverse ways and at diverse ages. He explains that our society's obsession with having children read independently in first grade really has nothing to do with child development or a child's natural learning rhythms. It has more to do with the fact that, in traditional schools, the entire curriculum (not to mention classroom management strategies) are built on a child's ability to read. First they learn to read, then they read to learn.
When children are surrounded by reading, they naturally become motivated to learn. The understand that reading is a necessary part of life, and they want to be able to do things that require this skill. Some children will pick it up quickly, some slowly, some through painstakingly trying to decode phonics, some through a whole language approach where they seem to just absorb it. But they will all learn.

Reading is a social skill that is best learned by being part of a community of readers. Not only adults, but older children who read can often present younger children with the best motivation to learn.

Some children learn to read through an interest in communicating through the written word. As they write letters, stories, plays, and books, they learn to read as well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

February at Wellsrping

Our world was expanded to faraway places this month as we began the World Cultures Program. China was our first destination in anticipation of the Chinese New Year. We located China on our flat map, large continents, and the globe while introducing the concepts of 2d and 3d mapping. We compared land mass and population with simple visual tools that we will use for all the countries we visit in the program. It is difficult to grasp a population of 1.3 billion over a land mass just slightly larger than the USA but our water bottles with proportional representation lead one child to say, “Wow, that’s a lot of people!” This led us to discuss the population centers and rural/urban housing. We discussed similarities and differences in growing up in the USA and China. We read a traditional fairy tale, The Seven Chinese Brothers, and a more modern The Seven Chinese Sisters. The older children were introduced to a Venn diagram as a way of seeing the differences and similarities in the stories. Many children seized the opportunity to make a life size 8th Chinese brother or sister with a unique power. We read stories about New Year customs, made paper lanterns, and received traditional red envelopes from a Trent family friend. Many children read about the Great Wall and then proceeded to build it out of boxes. Lastly, Ross spent a morning with us introducing Qigong, the Chinese art and science of using breathing techniques, gentle movements, and meditation to strengthen and circulate life energy.

Our next destination was our northern neighbor, Canada, just in time for the Olympics. The children instantly connected with the excitement of the Olympics and athletic events. We related the Olympic rings to the continents and learned about the history of the games. Our population and land mass comparisons lend into a discussion on why the population centers border the US and the geography of Canada. Parvathi shared pictures and stories of growing up in Quebec. She taught the children to play jumpies, a game she played as young girl. Both Rohith and Abhijith shared their favorite things about visiting family in Canada. Parvathi shared a model totem pole and inspired several children to create parts of a totem pole from coffee cans. Lastly, Parvathi showed the Canadian citizenship cards for her and the boys while explaining dual citizenship. Thank you Parvathi for enriching this program with your personal experiences!

Next month we’re off to explore Bulgaria!


Photo courtesy of flickr LizMarie under a Creative Commons license