Camp Creek Blog

We are enrolling the new PBH Master Class now!

Published by Lori Pickert on March 13, 2017 at 08:31 AM

We are enrolling a new session of the PBH Master Class starting today.

Currently we are not planning another class until spring of 2018 so we hope you can join us now!

Class will run from April 3 through May 12 (six weeks) and costs $175.

You can read a detailed class description and student testimonials here.

We’ve already done early-bird enrollment so space is limited!

If the timing isn’t right for you, you can join the early-bird announcement list for the next class.

Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions!

Open thread: Are you brave enough to be curious?

Published by Lori Pickert on September 16, 2016 at 08:18 AM

I liked this thing I read this week:

My daughter pointed at the haircut she wanted, and [the hairdresser] asked “So what do you like best about this picture?” This seemed like a really good question. — poet Jenny Browne

Everyone is sure they want to raise lifelong learners, but so often adults don’t respond to children’s interests and plans with curiosity.
The point of PBH isn’t to move quickly through a set of tasks — Goal! Plan! Product! NEXT!
We want to stay curious — about what our children like, what they want to learn and make and do, and why.
It isn’t just about having a better project. It’s about having a better understanding of our child — their interests, their abilities, what they want to accomplish, and why.
If your child has an interest that you don’t like, you should be intensely curious. What is so interesting about this? What draws her in so strongly? What is she doing with it? Is it as meaningless as I think it is? Could it lead somewhere good? What do other people think? What have other kids done with it? Are there possibilities I haven’t considered?
If your child has an interest you DO like, you should be intensely curious. What is she going to do with this? What will she find when she looks for resources? What will attract her? What questions will she ask? What does she want to play and create and share?
Doing a Pinterest search or asking online for resource and activity suggestions is the opposite of curiosity. It shuts the door on what your child would have done that was completely different and unique. It takes her by the hand and leads her firmly from wandering in the meadow to walking on the sidewalk. To be curious is to keep all the possibilities open to see what happens without your guiding hand.
The hairdresser up above could have just given Browne’s daughter the haircut in the picture — or her best approximation of it — but she probed further, knowing that the more she understood about the child’s feelings and goals, the better she could help her achieve what she wanted.
This is how we should approach children’s desires and plans — with curiosity and a desire to learn more, so we can support not just today’s plan but the lifelong learner we hope our child will be.

• • •

Anything you want to discuss? Ask? Share? Do it here! It’s your thread.

Open thread: Giving up on being perfect

Published by Lori Pickert on September 9, 2016 at 08:41 AM

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. — Anna Quindlen

• • •

We start out the new school or “school” year (for homeschoolers, when the playgrounds are suddenly gloriously empty during the day! and all the new groups and classes start…) with new supplies and new plans — it’s a fresh start.

How long does it take for us to feel that first wave of disappointment when things don’t go the way we’d hoped?

When we struggle with perfectionism, we have the opportunity to learn something we can share with our children. We have the opportunity to struggle in front of them and show them how real learning and doing works.

When we pay attention to our fears and frustrations, we can learn about theirs. When we give up on being perfect, it allows them to give up on being perfect.

Perfection doesn’t exist — it isn’t real. You are imperfect, flawed, with talents and deficits, successes and struggles — you are real. The only things getting done in this world are getting done by real people, like you.

Do you find it hard to let go of your ideal imagining and get on with the flawed but real work? Do you find it hard to help your kids do it?

How do we work on developing a learner’s mindset vs. getting bogged down in our perfect fantasy?

Perfectionists aren’t people who do something perfectly. Perfectionists are people who fantasize about doing something perfectly. — John Perry

• • •

Anything you want to discuss? Ask? Share? Do it here! It’s your thread.

Open thread: Room for learning

Published by Lori Pickert on September 3, 2016 at 07:05 AM

Being the person that always knows and always has an answer, doesn’t leave a lot of room for learning. — Andrew Zuckerman

• • •

Open threads will normally be started on Friday mornings but yesterday I was having a big day out with my son helping him run errands for his latest project — starting a business. Self-directed learning isn’t something you graduate out of — it just keeps leveling up!

The Zuckerman quote could refer to mentoring — if we are know-it-alls, it doesn’t leave room for our kids to do much learning. If we respond to every question with an answer, they never have the opportunity to research. We need to leave room for them to become experts — we need to leave room for them to teach US.

It could also refer to our own learning. If we stay in in our comfort zone, where we always know the answers (because that makes us feel smart and safe), how much learning do we do?

To really keep learning, we have to keep moving into the areas where we have more questions than answers.

What motivates you to learn something new?

[W]e have to discuss more fully the role that children assume in the construction of self and knowledge, and the help they get in these matters from adults. It is obvious that between learning and teaching, we honor the first. It is not that we ostracize teaching, but that we declare, “Stand aside for awhile and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before. — Loris Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children

• • •

Anything you want to discuss? Ask? Share? Do it here! It’s your thread.


Open Thread: Words create worlds

Published by Lori Pickert on August 26, 2016 at 12:49 PM

Words create worlds. Accordingly, positive words will create (mostly) positive worlds — whereas negative words will create (mostly) negative worlds. So use your words wisely, especially your questions — as they tend to create the worlds within other people’s minds. — David Cooperrider

• • •

If you received my newsletter last weekend, you know why it’s been quiet around these parts for several months (and why I had to cease publishing the Tip Sheet). If you’re already on the PBH mailing list, but didn’t see the newsletter in your inbox, check your spam folder (or, if you have gmail, your social and promotions tabs); if you want to get the one I sent last weekend, sign up fast and I’ll get it to you before the new one goes out on Sunday.

Easing back into things, I’m reinstituting an open thread most weekends! Have anything you want to discuss? Ask? Share? Do it here! It’s your thread.


Love what David Cooperrider says above about words creating worlds — and the importance of being careful with your questions. When we talk with children about their interests and plans, we can accidentally kill their enthusiasm with the wrong question. We can create possibilities — or we can accidentally squelch them. I’ll put some of my ideas for engagement-killing questions in the comments!

So what’s on YOUR mind this weekend?

PBH Master Class Enrolling Now!

Published by Lori Pickert on August 15, 2016 at 08:48 AM

We are enrolling a new session of the PBH Master Class starting today.

We won’t be having another class until spring 2017!

Class will run from September 5 through October 15 (six weeks) and costs $175.

You can read a detailed class description and student testimonials here.

We’ve already done early-bird enrollment so space is limited!

If the timing isn’t right for you, you can join the early-bird announcement list for the next class.

Thank you, and please feel free to e-mail me with any questions! Hope you can join us! :"D)

Here’s an article I ran across this week:

Are we obsessed with children’s interests?

Reading that title I preemptively started rocking back and forth and whimpering in anticipation.

The article is actually a very good description of how many educators whiff the opportunity to help children dig into their interests (“whiff” as in swing the bat but fail to connect with the ball).

A better title would be “Why do we keep giving kids OUR ideas and lame activities instead of helping them make their own ideas happen?” — because the problem isn’t with children’s interests, the problem is in how we respond to them. Let’s toss out the bathwater, but please, please, let’s keep the baby. Children’s interests are key to generating the important ideas this writer values.

The problem isn’t supporting children’s interests, the problem is how we respond to them.

If we respond with attention and support in an environment where kids are in charge of doing what they want the way they want, interests are a gateway to deep and lasting learning.

If we respond to every question or spark of interest with a flurry of our own ideas, we take away children’s autonomy — we make their ideas unnecessary. When autonomy goes, motivation and engagement follow.

The writer of this article bemoans the fact that teachers aren’t engaging with children’s thinking — a definite problem. But why turn on children’s interests? Or our interest in their interests? That’s moving a further step backward — now we want them to do challenging work in an area that WE have chosen. We’re not just saying, “Your interests are crap — here, do this instead” … we’re saying “School/learning isn’t about doing things that interest YOU.”

The last thing we want is to have children think of learning as something that has nothing to do with them.

You won’t see children’s best work if you maintain 100% control over what they do and how they do it. You won’t help them become self-directed learners and doers. And you risk children coming to believe learning is “stuff other people give you to do and then they judge it and tell you whether you did it right or not.”

The writer describes an unfortunately typical response adults have to a perceived interest — we do not want to do this:

“A recent example was an educator who noticed a small group of children playing ‘restaurants’ in the sand play area — on one occasion — and interpreted this to be children’s interest at play. The very next day she had set up a dramatic play area in the shape of a restaurant and was ready with activities for menu making, cooking and a party for the mums that Friday. However, when the children arrived, they completely ignored the restaurant and went off on another ‘interest’ based play activity for the day.”

All that work of creating a restaurant in the dramatic play area should, of course, be done by the children themselves — and it should happen organically, not because an adult suggests it. For it to happen organically, the environment must be ready, the interest must be genuine, and the adults hanging around must be attentive and appreciative without getting in the way.

As we say so often in the master class, the process itself teaches you how to support children’s interests. If the interest fades away quickly, if you overstep and they tune out, if it is abruptly dropped because of a lack of space or materials — all of these outcomes help you figure out how to do better the next time. To become better, you must practice.

But this doesn’t mean children’s interests aren’t key to the enterprise; it just means you need to do a better job of supporting children to make their own ideas happen.

I’m concerned about why “interest” is in quotes up there (and elsewhere in the article). Are interests not real? Not worthy of our attention? Are children’s interests so fleeting they aren’t worth bothering about? Is the writer saying the teacher in the example is confusing anything the children focus on for five minutes with long-term interests? (I’m hoping it’s the latter.)

Agree 100% with what the writer says here:

We should seek those experiences that children return to time after time — and listen deeply to what children are telling us about the attraction of these experiences and how they might help us better understand our work with these children — rather than popping in and out of our meer cat holes looking for the puzzle, book, game or activity that we can give to children as our input in to this serious endeavour of searching for new meanings.
Yes, yes, yes. But I would add: If you’re new to supporting your children to be self-directed learners, makers, and doers, you may very well want to practice on any old short-term interest that pops up. The way you respond to a short-term interest says a lot to your child about how you will respond to something that is deeply important to them. It gives you the opportunity to say, look, I’m here to help you do things that you want to do — NOT to take over. And it gives you a chance to practice offering attention and support while letting your child stay in charge.
Those short-term interests can also give birth to further interests and pretty soon you have a project that started one place and ended up quite another. Several short-term interests that are linked can become a long, in-depth exploration. If we focus too much on finding an “ideal” project, we may end up discarding a lot of useful experiences that help our children AND ourselves become better acquainted with what doing meaningful work is really like. 
I winced reading through the comments on this piece. Professional educators struggle to get on the same page about what interests are and how they should be supported. Some have no respect for children’s very real interests in television shows, video games, comics, and so on — they are considered unworthy of deep attention. (If we discard children’s real and immediate interests, how likely is it they will ultimately focus on more academic subjects?)
This kind of picking and choosing doesn’t usually bode well for helping children make their ideas happen. When you start saying “this is okay, but that is not,” you swiftly diminish your opportunities for success — and you leave your children a narrow path toward deeper work. We should be opening up possibilities, not shutting them down.
Remember: ANY interest is more likely to be investigated longer and more deeply if it is supported — if it’s given space, time, materials, and attention. And children are more likely to do very long projects after they have experienced doing shorter-term projects — and you are not likely to be able to predict which is which before the work has even started.
I’m pretty sure that the author of this piece simply doesn’t want us to be obsessed with children’s interests to the exclusion of engaging with them intellectually about those interests. But clarity here is essential. Too many adults are struggling with this process. Stop paying attention to children’s interests and you’ve lost before you’ve even gotten started.
The truth is, as a society, in school and out, we are not at all obsessed with children’s interests. We demean them. We reject them. We overlook them. We pointedly ignore them. We claim they exist when we’re desperate to avoid a long-term obsession we’d rather forget. We try to usurp them. We push our own agenda and try to stay in our comfort zone — leading to a lot of lookalike projects in classrooms where teachers frequently replicate the projects they’ve seen at conferences or in books … leading to parents who are frustrated because they keep trying to build a campfire with damp wood.
If you’re doing the hard work of paying attention to your child’s actual interests and supporting them without taking over, you deserve celebration and support. It isn’t an either/or choice — interests OR ideas. It is an if-then choice — if interests are supported, then ideas flourish. We need to keep children in a space where their ideas are NEEDED. This means immersion in something that is meaningful to them, where they have space and materials and support, and where we aren’t getting between them and what they want to do, inserting our ideas instead of listening for theirs.
We need to support children’s authentic interests as an entry point to doing meaningful work, because the less we care about what children care about, the less likely it is they’ll be inspired to have ideas and need to make them happen.
This is the where the work begins, not where it ends.
Supporting children to do challenging work means resisting taking over at every stage of the process. Their interest. Their ideas. Their plan. Their choice of materials. Their budget to control. Their judgment about whether they met their goals. And so on.
We need to be absolutely clear when supporting each other down this path that we can’t have the good stuff at the end without doing the hard work at the beginning. We can’t simply shift children’s engagement, motivation, and commitment away from what they need and want to accomplish — school has been trying and failing to do that for a hundred years. Let’s stay obsessed with children’s interests and simply add being obsessed with their questions, their ideas, their thought processes, their suggestions, their plans, and every other part of what it means to be a thinking, learning, making, sharing, doing, whole person.

Open thread: The psychology of parental control

Published by Lori Pickert on December 7, 2015 at 08:56 AM

Classic PBH advice — Are you choosing the books, materials, and activities? Are you researching the field trip and making the fun plans? Let the kids do it! They’ll be more engaged, they’ll acquire more life skills, and they’ll retain ownership over their work. The more we do, the less they can do.

Yet parents have said to me, “I like being the one who plans things. That’s my role. It’s fun for me.”

Of course it’s fun for you — but as Capt. Picard points out, how engaged are kids if you’re the one doing the fun part? How much ownership do they feel when you’re the one doing the important stuff?

I’ve been reading a great book called The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires, and one basic idea it shares is that parents don’t just control kids through threats and punishment, they also control them through positive-seeming actions like rewards and managing their activities.

Some quotes for you:

“[P]arental control does not simply mean yelling or using physical punishment. … Some parents’ most controlling behavior comes from their desire to provide the very best for their children and to be certain that their children are not missing out on a single opportunity.”

“Parents and other caretakers can control through physical punishment, but they can also control through rewards and even praise.”

“If the goal of a parent is to assist in the development of a self-reliant, competent individual, then there are many ways in which control, although well meant, backfires.”

“If parental control is one end of the spectrum, what is its opposite? One answer is parents’ support of autonomy in their children. Autonomy support is an active process, which involves taking a child’s frame of reference, supporting independent problem solving, and involving the child in creating rules and structures. Using this approach, parents also provide choices for children and encourage their children to initiate their own activities. The goal of autonomy-supportive parenting is to facilitate a sense of self-initiation in children and to support their active attempts to solve their own problems.”

It is easy to see how PBH aligns with autonomy-supportive parenting.

If we’re the ones who choose materials, arrange activities, control the budget, make decisions, and take the role of providing exciting experiences both at home and on the go, we are maintaining control. That puts our child into a passive role. We have every good intention, but we rob our children of agency.

No matter how *awesome* the experience — and the life — we make for our child, they are passive and they don’t feel ownership, agency, or control. They don’t get the critical experiences they need to make their own awesome life — defined however they see fit.

— — —

We are constantly trying to explain to parents new to PBH that they shouldn’t ask for resource suggestions but should instead help their child find their own resources.

The parents are confused — shouldn’t they want to find the *best* books, the *best* resources, the *best* activities?

But that’s a short cut, isn’t it? Asking for help locating the *best* resources means you don’t have to go out and laboriously find them yourself. It means you don’t have to spend time checking out and bringing home and flipping through those books that looked good but were actually useless. It means you don’t have to sift through a lot of possibilities online.

Of course, we don’t want you to do that boring slog yourself — we want your child to do it!

Slowly locating the best resources seems like a waste of time. But it is how children learn. And it is never a waste of time for children to do their own meaningful work, at their own pace, in their own way.

When it comes to learning, we don’t want to take a short-cut.

If they don’t have the opportunity to compare and contrast different books and other resources and decide which are the best — which have exactly the information they need, which present it in the most easily understood way, which are more entertaining and fun to read — they don’t develop the ability to do that. They don’t practice critical thinking; they don’t learn to set their own goals and make good assessments. They become passive recipients of other people’s suggestions.

They may even look at the “best” book and think (silently), Oh well, this isn’t what I wanted, so I guess what I wanted doesn’t exist, since this is the *best* book.

They learn that the way to find what you need is to ask other people or find a blog post listing the “10 best” xyz. They are trained away from active, hands-on research. They don’t develop the skills to wade through all the options and determine which best meet their needs and desires.

When we become a filter for our child, we take away their need to learn how to filter. When we depend on someone else to filter for us, we’re choosing from a subset created by a random person who doesn’t know us or our child. Our child is now two or more degrees away from doing their own research and making their own discoveries.

PBH is slow learning, and we should be in no hurry to find great resources. All of the work that goes into researching, discussing, comparing, rejecting, branching out, talking to experts, and so on — *that’s why we’re here*.

“The ways we control can be subtle and can be laden with good intentions.

Think of a small boy holding a bunch of tulips. To keep the flowers together, he grasps them tightly. By the time he arrives at his grandmother’s, the stems are crushed. But he meant well. That same sort of thing can happen to parents who hold on too tightly to their children.”

…and to their children’s learning experiences.

“When children go through the motions, complying with adult directives and contingencies, even the positive outcomes they accrue — good grades, trophies, and so on — do not facilitate a positive feeling.

Only when the person feels a sense of ownership of his or her actions can positive experiences translate into healthy self-esteem and well-being.

The goal of parenting for positive self-esteem is not necessarily to ensure that things go right. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the child has one more trophy on the shelf.

What parents must do is to create conditions under which children can take pleasure in their own choices and accomplishments because they are theirs.” — The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires

• • •

I haven’t done an open thread in a long while, but I’m hoping to make it a regular Monday thing.

For those who haven’t participated before, you can ask any question or share/discuss whatever you wish in the comments — it doesn’t have to be related to the above discussion. The thread will stay live so don’t hesitate to jump in after it’s already been up awhile!

Small Wins Wednesday: Clay class

Published by Lori Pickert on April 30, 2015 at 08:42 AM

Teaching clay class with little brother as his assistant

Teaching with his little brother as his assistant.

• • •

This week’s small win is from Sarah:

My six-year-old son Luca had the idea in early March to teach a pottery class at our home. The motivation behind doing the class was to make money, and the motivation for making money is (naturally) to buy more LEGOs. Luca has a strong interest in money and an entrepreneurial spirit.

He took a lot of steps to get to make this happen. He created and hung up flyers around town, worked on perfecting the process of making the teapots he was going to teach his friends how to make, met with the local art teacher on his own about how to structure an art class, and created (with my help) an invitation on Facebook.

Going out to hang the sign

He'd been putting a lot of energy into this project and we'd been writing down progress and things we needed to remember in our project journal. He was halfway though making a large sign to hang off the front porch the day of the class when we left on a long trip.

I didn’t hear a single word from him about the clay class or pottery for three weeks. I was wondering if he would pick it back up again, especially since there were about 40 (!!!) people coming to my house on the scheduled day to participate. I wondered if by leaving for three weeks we’d broken the momentum for the project.

Exactly one hour after walking through the door of our home he came to me and said, “Mom, can we get out the journal and see where I’m at with the pottery class project?” We read through our notes. He went and pulled out the sign on his own and picked up EXACTLY in the place he left off three weeks before.

The clay class went great. We set up the classroom space just the way Luca envisioned it. As the class started Luca took his seat, then got super shy and didn’t want to say a word. So, my husband stepped in with his kindergarten teacher magic to get the class rolling. Kreg taught for about the first 15 minutes of the class. At some point Luca started to jump in on his own with instructions and by the 30-minute mark Kreg stepped back almost completely and Luca had gotten comfortable enough to do the talking for the remainder of the 60-minute class.

Kreg and I are both working hard on backing waaaay off of Luca and his work. Having a project that culminated in a public event like a class was an interesting mix of figuring out when to step back and when to step forward. I think we did well.

The 15 kids in the class made some terrific pieces and it looked like everyone had a great time (I did!). Luca made enough money to buy the LEGO set he’d been saving for and he even gave his little brother (who was his assistant) a cut of the profits. ;-) I also think Luca might have inspired his dad to start teaching again, which is way cool.

If we'd never found Lori’s book it probably never would have happened!


Luca editing a photo he took of his pottery for use in the Facebook invite for his class.

All ready and waiting for friends!

Finished work. Class participants’ ages ranged from 4 to 37.

I’m here to disrupt your school

Published by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 08:47 AM

Dear Principal Jones, teachers, school board members, and parents,

My name is Carrie Smith. I'm here to disrupt your school.

People have been telling me for years that I shouldn’t be homeschooling — I should be improving the lives of all kids, not just my own! This year, it finally sank in.

We’ve been homeschooling for 10 years and hoo boy, I think we’ve tried it all! Montessori, classical, unschooling — you name it, we tried it. That’s what you do when you love your kids, I guess — you just keep fiddling with the recipe till you find what works. And now you’ll all benefit!

Our oldest, Margaret, was six when we pulled her out of school, and she still struggles with needing a bit of structure. Even after all these years of homeschooling she has a hard time taking advantage of the freedom she has to do it her own way. Her self-motivation still isn’t back 100%. But that’s okay — fewer changes for you to make! Ha ha!

Unfortunately, Margaret is a real crank bear if she has to get up before 9. But it turns out there’s abundant research showing that teenagers need more sleep and would benefit from a later start time. Circadian rhythms or something. I’m not sure how you’ll work it out with working parents and your bus schedule and so forth, but I’ll leave you to figure that out.

Carl is our oldest boy; he’s 12. Now, self-motivation is not a problem there. He’s never seen the inside of a classroom and he won’t stand for anyone telling him what to do or how to do it! Self-directed learner all the way. He really thrives in maker situations. You’ve probably read about maker spaces online — they’re all the rage. So much good stuff there, you’re sure to love it. You’ll have to mark out some really big blocks of time because the only way kids can think up their own ideas and then make them happen is if you clear the decks and throw your schedule out the window. I’ll let you work out what you want to drop from your current schedule to accommodate that.

Now Carl is like a lot of 12-year-olds — I don’t think the seat of his pants sees a chair all day. But no worries — talk about abundant research! Kids need to be up and moving around, not sitting down all day. And now they will be!

My younger daughter Luna is 9. She was born in France while we were living there for a year for my husband’s job and even though she was only 3 months old when we left, she must have picked up something from the air. The girl doesn’t walk when she can dance; she doesn’t talk when she can sing. She paints all day long.

Of course an artistic soul like our Luna would be miserable in school with all of the cutbacks in art education over the last several years — but not anymore! Ha ha! We’ll be reinstituting those art and music classes tout suite.

Our youngest, Joe, is 5. He’s a special case, but all our kids are, am I right? Strangely, what’s worked best for Joe is Waldorf, which didn’t work at all with the other kids. Waldorf is a little bit picky about … well … everything! You’ll see! I’ve prepared some handouts to send home about diet, special toys, no TV, and so forth. We’ll be switching to a Waldorf curriculum in all of the Kindergarten classes immediately.

Finally, in closing, I would like to sincerely apologize for taking so long to wake up and see that I should be taking my educational improvements to the school and putting them in action there. I honestly didn’t realize I had that power.

I mean, that’s why we homeschooled in the first place — because we didn’t think school could (or should have to, honestly!) accommodate the various needs of our four kids … not to mention the fact that we were figuring it all out as we went along! It certainly was a learning process.

Who knew that I could have stayed and improved things not just for Margaret, Carl, Luna, and Joe but for ALL kids. My husband and I had quite a laugh about it, I can tell you. I mean, we haven’t been able to afford a family vacation in ten years! We would give each other a rueful look every year writing out our property tax bill, looking at all that education money we couldn’t use — and now we can!



P.S. See you on Monday!