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The Family; The Brain Boost!

November 16, 2010 2 comments

So far we have looked at The Family from several aspects; the Smallest School, the Beginning of the Beginning, a Serious Decision, the Uterine Environment and the Moment of Birth, and Postpartum Dads. In thinking about all of this I looked at my own story and how I came to understand the serious nature of birth and childhood. It is an important decision to bring another human life in the world. But the most important parental duty of all is to ensure that the new life in your family has a chance for reaching its full potential.

It doesn’t take a PhD to raise a child in a responsible, loving, family environment. It takes careful thought, selfless action, and parental bonding. Unfortunately for the newborn child, many parents have little understanding of the most crucial and yet often neglected aspect of a newborn life, Brain Development. It is not necessary to understand all of the intricate scientific brain stuff. It is only necessary to have an understanding of the family experiences parents can present which will boost brain growth. Then a common sense, practical approach to early childhood rearing provides the proficiencies that develop Brain Growth in a way that allows your infant to leap forward into their promise.

Let me explore with you some of the research and insights regarding newborn Brain Development, from the blog Early Childhood Brain Insights. These clearly illuminate the parental care and commitment each child must be given in order to reach their promise and full potential:

Did You Know This Mom & Dad?

• Most people do not yet know that 90% of children’s brains are developed in the first 5 years, and 85% in the first 3 years. The brain adapts and grows primarily based on the experiences a child has in     these years before they enter school!

• A developing brain will adapt to whatever happens repeatedly in the environment. For a brain to develop optimally, a child needs to have fun, interesting, loving experiences throughout the day.

• Environments that are chaotic, disorderly or have high levels of stress have a direct influence on how optimally a child’s emotional and thinking areas of the brain develops.

• The easiest time for the brain to learn a second language is during the pre-school years. Research indicates there may be additional benefits when learning multiple languages. Children can develop   better overall verbal skills, a better vocabulary, and sequencing abilities.

• The brain is ready to learn basic math skills in the pre-school years. It doesn’t occur from saying the numbers in order. It learns through doing comparisons of size and shape, and few and many. Connections will be made in the brain when this is done with real objects.

• Research demonstrates that nature helps the brain relax and restore itself after experiencing stress or negative emotions.

• The quality and quantity of exposure to nature directly affects the physical health of the brain.

• Even though the brain is making trillions of connections as an infant and toddler, it takes years throughout childhood and adolescence to organize it into a mature adult brain.

• The quality of the relationship an infant has with his or her parents has a direct impact on the physical development of the brain. This impacts the nature and extent of a child’s perceptions and capabilities.

• Loving interaction with people and exploration of objects is as necessary to a child’s brain development as food.

• By the time a baby is 6 months old the brain may have developed 1,000 trillion brain connections through experiences in their environment.

• A child has already developed a perception of self and their environment by 12 -18 months based on the relationship they have with their parents.

• Brain connections for language are developed through direct interaction with parents NOT through television and videos.

• Aggression, impulsiveness, and lack of empathy can result when a brain experiences repeated neglect, chaos, or violence.

• The brain does not like chaos. It feels more comfortable when it knows what to expect.

• The absence of consistent and quality experiences leads to a loss in brain potential.

• Physical play stimulates the emotion regulating areas in the brain.

• Once the brain is developed it takes much more repetition, time, and consistency to change what has already been hard wired.

• The brain is always changing and making new connections. However, it is more difficult to modify after it has been originally wired in the newborn.

None of the above is out of reach for any parent. Early Brain Development is NOT complicated and it makes an impact that affects every one of us, especially our children. It only takes time, love, and creative thought. Each child deserves a Brain Boost in their first years, without it they are destined for a life of mediocrity and boredom.

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The Family; The Smallest School

September 7, 2010 1 comment

“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.” Michael Levine

I have talked about many things regarding children. I have discussed infant brain development, parents, teachers, curriculum, education, teacher unions, public schools, obesity, and nature, to name a few topics. All of this discourse has brought me back to “The Family; America’s Smallest School”. Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley wrote a report for the Educational Testing Service in 2007 on this topic. It is an interesting and informative read. They assert, as I have in my book, “Peek-a-Boo, I See You!”, that the family is the determining factor in a child’s success in school and beyond. Family means Two (2) Parents + Children.

At last, we are looking at and demanding change in the way we educate our nation’s children. Alarms have sounded and we now admit that our children do not read at grade level, cannot balance a checkbook, write a paragraph, or speak the English language articulately. The richest, most powerful country in the world is producing an illiterate generation compared to its European counterparts. We are depriving our American children of the freedom that comes only through education and literacy. Without these tools they will always be someone else’s slave, never free to create, invent, or fulfill their destiny and promise. It is the Family that ensures a child’s destiny and success, not anyone else, or any entity.

Let’s look at a few statistics:

•    Forty-four percent of births to women under age 30 are out-of-wedlock.
•    Sixty-eight percent of U.S. children live with two parents, a decline from 77% in 1980. Only 35% of Black children live with two parents. In selected international comparisons, the United States ranks the highest in the percentage of single parent households, and Japan ranks the lowest.
•    Nationally, 19% of children live in poverty. The percentages increase to nearly a third or more of Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Hispanic children.
•    Nationally, 11% of all households are “food insecure”. The rate for female-headed households is triple the rate for married-couple families, and the rate for Black households is triple the rate for White households.
•    Nationally, one-third of children live in families in which no parent has full-time, year-round employment. This is the case for half of Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native children.
•    There are substantial differences in children’s measured abilities as they start kindergarten. For example, average mathematics scores for Black and Hispanic children are 21% and 19% lower than the mathematics scores of White children.
•    By age 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words than the average child in a working-class family, and about 35 million more words than children in welfare families.
•    About half of the nation’s 2-year-olds are in some kind of regular, nonparental day care, split among center-based care; home-based, nonrelative care; and home-based relative care. Black children are the most likely to be in day care.
•    Overall, 24 % of U.S. children were in center-based care that was rated as high quality, 66 % were in medium-quality center-based care, and 9 % were in low-quality center-based care. Of those in home-based care, 7 % were in high quality settings, 57 % were in medium-quality settings, and 36 % were in low-quality care. More than half of Black, Hispanic, and poor 2-year olds were in low-quality home-based care.
•    As of 2003, 76% of U.S. children had access to a home computer, and 42% used the Internet. Black and Hispanic children lag behind.
•    Eighty-six percent of U.S. eighth-graders reported having a desk or table where they could study, just above the international average but well below the averages of many countries.
•    Thirty-five percent of eighth-graders watch four or more hours of television on an average weekday. 24% of White eighth-graders spend at least four hours in front of
a television on a given day, while 59% of their Black peers do so.
•    One in five students misses three or more days of school a month. Asian-American students have the fewest absences. The United States ranked 25th of 45 countries in students’ school attendance.
•    Since 1996, parents have become increasingly involved in their child’s school. However, parent participation decreases as students progress through school, and parents of students earning “A” averages are more likely to be involved in school functions than the parents of students earning C’s and D’s.

A new report card by UNICEF on the state of childhood in the world’s economically advanced Nations paints a bleak picture for the future of education in the United States. In the report, UNICEF compared the United States with 20 other rich countries on their performance in six dimensions of child well-being. The United States ranks in the bottom third of these 21 countries for five of these six dimensions. It ranked 12th in educational well-being, 17th in material well-being, 20th in family and peer relationships, 20th in behaviors and risks, and 21st in health and safety.

We can make all the changes we want in our educational structure by implementing and funding Charter Schools, The Seed Schools, Teacher Operated Schools, Parent Operated Schools, Magnet Schools, Waldorf Schools, and Alternative Schools. These progressive and innovative ideas may work for a few, for a time. However, unless the Family, two parents, changes the nurturing of their children, the unattended masses will remain the slaves of those who were nurtured and loved from birth.

The freedom and success we wish for our children is birthed in the Family. Literacy development begins long before children enter formal education. It is critical to their success in school and in life!

Family is A Mother and A Father + Children

I will explore many of these issues in my next series of posts.

Children in Crisis; 4 Year Olds Competing on Tests

What are we doing to our children? Where is our common sense? Who are these parents? What are they thinking? Why are they stealing childhood from these beautiful 4 year old innocents?

Blowing Bubbles in the Wind

Parents used to comfort their children in their arms. They used to put “bambaids” on their “boo-boos” when they fell down. Children used to play in backyard kiddy pools or run through front yard sprinklers screaming with joy. Their laughter used to fill the streets of family neighborhoods. Ice cream trucks were the gathering place in the evening with shouts of flavors and a little pushing here and there. Sandlot games and neighborhood competition were places of healthy physical ventilation for childhood frustration. Children used to ride bikes to school; roller skate to the houses of their friends, fly kites on windy days, skip rope, play hide and seek or kick the can. They were not fat, or obese.

Italian families ate a lot of pasta, no one got fat. Slavic and Irish families ate a lot of potatoes, no one got fat. Dinner was a family affair and everyone showed up, or else! The father was the head of the household and the mother ruled the roost. The children were protected, loved, sheltered, and treasured. They knew their boundaries and when they stepped out of bounds they were hardily pushed back in. I traveled once with a friend whose out of control 2 year old child became a distraction at every meal. Finally, I leaned over to my friend one evening, looked directly at the child, and told the mother, “In our household the parents controlled the children; the children did not control the parents.” I lost a friend and the child grew up to become an obnoxious adult who needed obsessive attention. Undisciplined children become undisciplined adults.

Now we have an educational system that has something called “gifted kindergarten” testing for entrance. Parents in New York are sold this ridiculous bill of goods and spend thousands of dollars on books and prep classes for their 4 year old sons and daughters so they can be admitted into these kindergarten programs. Many do not make “the cut” leaving parents devastated and children feeling inadequate.

Can you imagine, $90 workbooks, $145 an hour tutoring, and weekend “boot camps” for 4 year olds? One tutoring company, who services this industry in New York, says that parents of the 120 children her staff tutored spent an average of $1,000 on test prep for their 4 YEAR OLD CHILDREN! THAT’S $120,000!

Have parents lost their minds?

The Public School Nightmare – John T. Gatto

July 22, 2010 1 comment

John Taylor Gatto is the author of Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. He was the 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year.

I just read his article, The Public School Nightmare: Why fix a system designed to destroy individual thought? Please click on the link and read what this man has to say.

If you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or thinking about having a child you MUST read this article. Even though I am unfamiliar with this man, he is stating the case for what I believed when I became a parent. I taught in the public school system after graduation from my university. I know what I experienced and I know how I felt about my students. I experienced the most amazing resistance from my principal and colleagues to innovation and creativity within the classroom. The rejection was discouraging. They did achieve their goals; I quit the system.

When I became pregnant I determined that our children would have a childhood filled with what Bertrand Russell describes below:

“Bertrand Russell once observed that American schooling was among the most radical experiments in human history, that America was deliberately denying its children the tools of critical thinking. When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That’s if you want to teach them to think.”

Thinkers! I write about how we achieved this in my book , Peek-A-Boo, I See You.

Children in Crisis; Drill & Kill

July 12, 2010 5 comments

When my children were very young I remember them asking a lot of questions. “Why?” After a while that word nearly drove me mad. Then one day I sat down and thought about “Why”.

Why can't I catch the water?

Guess what? They were curious about the things that surrounded them; the things they could not understand but saw or felt every day. Why does the wind blow? Why is the sky blue? Why don’t the stars fall down? Why do caterpillars become butterflies? Why is the snow white? Why is the rain wet? All children ask “Why”; it’s when they stop asking that they are in trouble. I still ask questions, having been allowed to do this most of my life. My sons still ask questions.

It seemed natural that children would be asking “Why” nearly every waking moment. Research indicates that pre-school children ask as many as 100 questions a day. It asserts that by the time they reach middle school they stop asking questions and this coincides with the time their motivation and interest plummet. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman state in their Newsweek article, The Creativity Crisis, “They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions.”

We send our children off to school when they are 6 so they can get answers to their questions. Why are they coming back to us with the light of excitement gone from their eyes? I’ll tell you why (no pun intended), it’s called “Drill and Kill”.

What is “Drill and Kill” learning?

The “Drill” is learning designed for rote memorization and National test results based upon answering the multiple choice questions correctly. The Drill part is the insanely boring educational practices we have adopted in our American curriculum. Teachers are required to teach a standard curriculum from a textbook and chalkboard. The students are required to memorize the answers to questions that may be asked on the tests administered by the teachers or National Boards. If they pass the tests they are advanced to the next grade level and the school gets high marks for teaching to the test.

The “Kill” part is insidious. It quietly creeps into the psyche of the children and wraps itself around their boredom and they become disinterested. They quit asking questions because they realize their questions don’t matter; what matters is the right answer to the question on the test. They die inside accepting the process because they don’t know any better and there is no reward in asking questions.

What is Problem-Based learning?

This is a curriculum driven by real world inquiry. It’s about the “Why” they began asking when they were old enough to talk. It is about having children solve problems in their classroom courses that require them to develop solutions to dilemmas they confront in the real world. It is about improving life through creative thinking, not through memorization. For example, when our sons asked why the heart beats they went with our home school teacher to the local slaughter company and asked for a cow’s heart, which they gave them in a neat package. They brought it back and dissected it in order to discover the answers to their questions. This led them to an array of more questions and more discoveries; arteries, veins, pumps, blood, chambers, etc., and pretty soon we had an anatomy class going strong. This then led them into healthy hearts, nutrition, gardening, food preparation, herbs, and then into vitamins and minerals. I discuss this in Peek-A-Boo, I See You!

The problem was how does a heart beat? They solved the question by their investigation and creative thinking process. Creativity does not just exist in an art class. It is rampant throughout the educational process, but rarely used. Fact finding and research are vital stages in the creative process. Think about this. How do creative thinkers solve problems in any skill? They first have to ask the question; then they research what exists; they accumulate the facts; finally, after research and fact-finding, they create alternative solutions to problems they are trying to solve.

There is a public middle school in Akron, Ohio called the National Inventors Hall of Fame School. Like all states, Ohio has curriculum standards. Their fifth grade teachers came up with a project for the class. Read below an excerpt from the Newsweek article:

The key is in how kids work through the vast catalog of information. Consider the National Inventors Hall of Fame School, a new public middle school in Akron, Ohio. Mindful of Ohio’s curriculum requirements, the school’s teachers came up with a project for the fifth graders:

PROBLEM: Figure out how to reduce the noise in the library. Its windows faced a public space and, even when closed, let through too much noise. The students had four weeks to design proposals. (emphasis mine)

Working in small teams, the fifth graders first engaged in what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger describes as fact-finding. How does sound travel through materials? What materials reduce noise the most? Then, problem-finding—anticipating all potential pitfalls so their designs are more likely to work. Next, idea-finding: generate as many ideas as possible. Drapes, plants, or large kites hung from the ceiling would all baffle sound. Or, instead of reducing the sound, maybe mask it by playing the sound of a gentle waterfall? A proposal for double-paned glass evolved into an idea to fill the space between panes with water. Next, solution-finding: which ideas were the most effective, cheapest, and aesthetically pleasing? Fiberglass absorbed sound the best but wouldn’t be safe. Would an aquarium with fish be easier than water-filled panes?

Then teams developed a plan of action. They built scale models and chose fabric samples. They realized they’d need to persuade a janitor to care for the plants and fish during vacation. Teams persuaded others to support them—sometimes so well, teams decided to combine projects. Finally, they presented designs to teachers, parents, and Jim West, inventor of the electric microphone.

Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they’d unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing. “You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ” Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state’s achievement test, Principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty.

Creativity in children is about divergent thinking, generating many unique ideas, and convergent thinking, combining those ideas into the best result for the solution to the problem. Creativity is the production of original ideas that are useful. Children have the most amazing ability to craft the most creative ideas to any problem they encounter. They are fresh, innocent, and have no preconceptions. They are naturally enthusiastic and filled with excitement and energy.

Free our teachers from curriculum based standards that offer little room for creativity and turn them loose into standards that allow them to promote creativity in their students. I’ll bet teachers would become more enthusiastic and creative about their courses. Their students would become excited again about learning, working in groups, and competing.

Americans love competition!

Children in Crisis; Taking on the Challenges of Parenting

It seems these days that all things begin simple and go to complex as the discussion moves up the chain of command. For example, what is complicated about parenting? It takes common sense, serious thought, dedicated action, and daily commitment. Instead of focusing on the simplicity of what should come naturally to parents in raising children, we build elaborate explanations for poor parenting. Instead of tackling the parenting issue in a straightforward manner as Bill Cosby does, we build an array of complex solutions that require funding, governmental intervention that support places to dump our children, and academic treatise that define a multitude of esoteric explanations devoted to “parenting problems”.

Having said this, I was ruffling about in the stacks of papers on my desk looking for my latest thoughts on parenting when I came across an article I read and printed on March 7, 2010. It was printed in “The Daily Monitor; Truth Everyday; Uganda News…” It came from the Sunday Life section of the paper. I have no recollection of the article and I was intrigued as to what it was that made me print this article by Dennis D. Muhumuza. He credited Fagil Mandy, an educational consultant in Uganda, who developed a series of trainings. Mandy says, “The rising cases of child sacrifice, street children, starvation of children and violence in homes has resulted in a parenting crisis.” The article is amazing in its simplicity of solutions. Follow below the thinking of Fagil Mandy as he is interviewed by Dennis Muhumuza on Uganda’s “parenting crisis”.

Why have you started the Good Parenting training?

Because there is a parenting crisis and we cannot afford to have our future generations going without proper tuning and direction. Parents or potential parents, young people and university students, policy implementers or leaders both in government and private sector or even those interested in learning more about good parenting need to know about addressing the challenges of parenting today; we are going to look at the world of work and education; how to train a child to be a worker, thinker, leader. The world is changing so fast that the demands on a child or the growing up generations are so intense and diversified and the parent must be brought along to understand the diversity in the world today.

You talked of a parenting crisis. What really is the problem?

I’ve run workshops for parents and young people and have made some discoveries: I’ve found out, particularly children from middle class parents have no capacities to deliver, to work, to produce or generate ideas. And, today, because most parents are working, the child is largely neglected so there is an increasing mystery or this huge gap between the parents and the children. Also, I’ve met a lot of parents who think parenting is simply producing a child; most of them think that a child of four or five years doesn’t need any particular guidance and counseling, or driving in a certain direction, so there’s a heavy dose of ignorance. Even more, our education system is not equipping our children with the right attitude, mindset and physical skills to succeed in this tough world.

What are the major concerns of young people in regard to the way they are brought up?

The last time I carried out a leadership training programme, I asked the children what they would have wished their parents to teach them. Many of them regretted that their parents had not talked to them enough about issues of love, relationships, sexuality and even politics and leadership. Also, most of them complained their fathers hardly featured in their lives and that they feel not protected or guided by their parents.

Did you also register any complaints by parents about their children?

Of course! Most parents cried out about the cartoons on TV; their children are becoming cartoons themselves; TV has become a preoccupation for young people. And most TV stations show pornographic material – it is killing their children.

But how can children keep themselves occupied meaningfully in a situation where parents are at work and cannot keep a close eye on them?

But you see, I don’t agree that every parent must work away from home. One of my sons works but his wife is a stay-at-home mother. But most mothers don’t want to first stay home and raise their children because of greed, it’s all primitive accumulations; we think that the wife must produce so much money and the husband so much money but I think someone intelligent enough must sacrifice; why can’t wife and husband organize their activities in such a way that, say, the husband works out and the wife stays at home or looks after a small family business that involves the children too? Parents must involve children in the family business.

In this age of emancipation, women cannot surely be expected to stay at home to look after children.

Why not? I think, again, it is greed; a lot of women are running around in this so called economic independence because they want to run wild programmes. I disagree with that sort of thing because every child needs a stay-at-home mother because there is no way you are going to compensate for the emotional dislocation of a child who has not had proper parentage.

What is the true measure of a parent?

First, one must be knowledgeable enough – one is not going to be a parent worth their soul when they are ignorant; a parent must know a bit of everything because they are the encyclopedia for their child. Secondly, parents must know how to do several things because a child must follow their example; you must be a good reader, be able to clean your own compound, fix a bulb and have a multi-skilled capacity for your child to emulate. Also, you must be healthy; no child likes to grow up with a dying parent; remember, a parent must help the child lead a healthy life and how can you do that if you are not healthy yourself? Then of course, a parent must be able to generate enough income to look after the family and be available to provide the time required for the child. If you are unavailable, don’t produce the child.

Simple, straight forward, uncomplicated – Mr. Fagil Mandy is on to something in Uganda!

Are animals better parents than humans?

Children in Crisis; Preschools in the Forests

May 24, 2010 1 comment

Our Children’s School began in a garage, grew into 2 garages, then an art room, then an outside garden plot, then a small kitchen for cooking, and then into the woods surrounding our home. Our sons decided daily, weekly, monthly  what it was that interested them and this determined their curriculum. They dissected worms, a cow’s heart they got “FREE” from the local slaughter house, and frogs. They looked at the stars and studied the universe and its constellations. This brought them to Greek mythology and the Gods. Soon they delved into space travel and astronauts and then went on to Space Camp in Alabama. Dinosaurs were big and so they studied the Jurassic period and took a field trip to Utah’s Dinosaur Valley. They built a tree house on a hill with a tree in the middle of the floor that they insisted could not be cut down – after all, “that is why we call it a tree house Mooooom!”

All of their preschool education incorporated the outdoors and the natural world. I can’t imagine how it is possible to educate preschool children without the outdoors for that is what intrigues them most. They love insects, small animals, rainy days with puddles to jump into, snowmen and snowball fights, butterflies, and the woods. The natural world and the woods are a home to them. They are free to run, explore, conquer, and grow.

It is with great satisfaction that I read an article this morning about a “forest kindergarten” in Vashon Island, WA. The Cedarsong Nature School is a forest preschool and among several that have opened in recent years in the U.S. This is a movement that originated in Europe (and my garages 30 years ago, chuckling). The purpose is to get kids out from in front of televisions and into the natural world. The kids love it! They are outdoors all day, studying how life interacts with them in the woods. These children are different when they enter elementary school. They are healthier, livelier, curious, more mature, compassionate, and intellectually alive. They have an inner joy that is hard to explain, which I believe comes from their knowledge of the natural world and their comfort within it. They are fearless.

Erin Kenny opened the Cedarsong Nature School, after she read “The Last Child in the Woods”, which I discussed in my previous post. In the book, Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature-deficit disorder” to explain a lack of connection between the country’s children and nature. He argues that the decrease in nature dwelling leads to a rise in childhood obesity, attention disorders, and depression. The evidence of this surrounds us. Go to the local mall on any afternoon after school and look at the children, who are usually obese, tattooed, “pants on the ground”, alienated, and looking for something to do inside an enclosed mall when the entire world is waiting for them to explore. They are an interesting comment on their parents and their rote education.

“We gain life by looking at life.”

Dr. Mardie Townsend, a researcher and associate professor  School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia

In the woods on a Balancing Bar

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