Camp Creek Blog

Keeping the ho ho ho in holiday

Published by Lori Pickert on December 17, 2013 at 08:52 AM

Who was telling you way back in 2007 to chill out and lower the pressure of the holidays? I was JOMO before it was cool:

Holiday resolutions

and

My holiday wish for you

This year my 17-year-old and I are having a song advent. For the month of December, leading up to Christmas, every day we take turns giving each other a new song. Then, we dance. New tradition: Advent dance party.

This was a spur-of-the-moment thing and it has been so great. New music? Yes! Daily dance party? Yes! And at the end of the month, we’re going to burn our 24 songs onto DVDs and enjoy them all year long.

Every year the younger son and I do the LEGO advent calendar. (Older son bowed out some years ago when he got “too old.” The younger son and I will apparently never be too old.)

I don’t know if you’ve ever done the LEGO advent calendar, but it can be a little … how shall I say this … non-festive. LEGO thinks escaped convicts are normal holiday fare. Also, firemen. Some years you don’t get a Santa at all; other years, you get naked Santa:

Thanks, LEGO. That’s not at all disturbing. Is he wearing a thong? Not an improvement.

This year we decided to make each other our own custom LEGO advent calendar. The boy’s been getting a “knights’ Christmas party” that I put together but he went above and beyond and made me custom LEGO minifigs from some of my favorite Christmas movies.

Dudley from The Bishop’s Wife:

Is that Cary Grant or what?! Also from The Bishop’s Wife, Henry and the model of his cathedral:

Capturing David Niven’s moustache in LEGO. Plus the cathedral has stained-glass windows — this photo doesn’t do it justice.

From A Christmas Story, dream-sequence Ralphie:

And of course:

Flick? Flick who?

Finally, an important scene from another classic Christmas movie:

Before you judge me for considering Die Hard a Christmas movie, let alone watching it annually, remember — it doesn’t matter what your traditions are, just that you’re having a great time with the ones you love.

And if you break out into dance, even better.

Happy holidays from me to you!

xoxoxoxoxoxo

Still better than this:

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One weekend you run into a friend who asks you how your holiday season is going and you think about the kid with the never-ending cold, the house that’s a mess, the decorations you haven’t managed to put up yet and the gifts you haven’t even thought about much less purchased, and you say, “Oh, it’s good. How about yours?”

And they tell you about taking the kids into the city to see the lights and then go ice skating and it’s a lot of work but you only get one childhood, right?, besides it’s a weekend they’ll never forget and after they leave the coffee shop you go outside and tap your head slowly on a brick wall for a few minutes.

The following weekend you run into a different friend at the same coffee shop and you’re feeling chuffed about all you accomplished during the week and when they ask how your holiday season is going you say terrific, in fact, you may take the kids into the city to see the lights and then go ice skating and they smile in the way you imagine they would smile at someone going into surgery and pat your arm and say, “That’s nice, but we prefer a season that’s more *meaningful*, you know? Today we’re going to play in the snow, have hot chocolate, and then make handmade cards for the nursing home. But I guess a commercial holiday is fun, too!” And after they leave you go outside to your special wall.

There are a lot of measuring sticks for special occasions like holidays, birthdays, summer vacations — and education, too. The variety is wide enough that you can always find that special measuring stick that makes you look like you’re failing miserably.

This is one reason why people tend to clump up with others who are making similar choices — because then it’s *standardized testing*. You can concentrate on one measuring stick and put all your effort into being the most Waldorf-y you you can be.

FOMO is everywhere this time of year, making you feel like no matter what you choose, you’re blowing it somewhere else. So this is just me popping in to say the competitiveness of “you’re not doing enough”/”you’re doing too much”/“you’re doing the wrong thing” is for suckers. Forget the impossible-to-find sweet spot and instead of being hard on yourself and those around you, prioritize and relax. Pick the thing you really want to do and do that. Do less so you can enjoy more.

 

*Note: There is a fantasy element to this post that imagines you got to go to the coffee shop alone two weekends in a row.

*The title of this post refers to George and Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. If you don’t have time to watch it this year, I forgive you.

Giving meaning to those educational buzzwords

Published by Lori Pickert on December 3, 2013 at 09:19 AM

What skills will you need to succeed in the future?

I shared the above infographic (found here) on my Facebook page with a note saying “We need to compare the skills listed in this infographic with the education/experiences our children are receiving and adjust accordingly.”

I got an interesting comment:

Lots of buzz words in that poster....would be great to discuss actual ways to carry out these suggestions.

Leadership, critical thinking, collaboration — are these just buzzwords today?

How do solid skills become buzzwords?

When the path isn’t clear. Everyone agrees that critical thinking sounds essential, but they go home mystified as to how to really teach it. You see it mentioned in blog post after blog post but there’s no clear steps laid out showing how to incorporate it into what you’re already doing.

When it’s all talk and no walk. Everyone agrees collaboration is an essential skill, but it isn’t built into the curriculum. The new budget shows us investing in desks, not tables. The new schedule doesn’t allot any meeting time for children or adults.

When inspiring ideas aren’t followed up with ongoing support. Whether it’s a professional development day, conference session, workshop, book, TED talk, or blog post, everyone gets all excited about a great-sounding idea — but then, left to figure out how to put it into action on their own, with no ongoing support when things get difficult, that great idea never gets off the ground. Disappointment sets in until the next exciting new thing … that dies without support. And then the next. And so on.

They’re not buzzwords because they aren’t real or achievable  — they’re buzzwords because in some places, they’re just noise and no action. Not this place though.

So, back to what I said about this infographic:

We need to compare the skills listed in this infographic with the education/experiences our children are receiving and adjust accordingly.

Buzzwords or no, these are real skills your child needs.

If you look at how your child is learning (notice I said how your child is learning, not what your child is learning), do you think they’re acquiring these important habits and skills for thinking, learning, and doing?

If the answer is no, then you move on past the buzzword to:

What experiences does a person need to acquire these skills?

With PBH, these deeper thinking and learning habits are the curriculum:

Leadership

From the graphic: Take a cross-disciplinary approach to project teamwork. Participate in leading and following.

What does this actually mean? Kids need experience playing every role in contributing to a team effort. They need the chance to be the oldest and the youngest, the most experienced and the least experienced, the one who spearheads the effort and the one who makes a contribution. They need experience seeking out opinions from the group and they need experience speaking up and offering an opinion when they aren’t in charge. It’s not enough for them to always be the follower or always be the leader, always be the youngest or always be the oldest — you need to make sure they are getting a variety of collaborative experiences.

Concrete ways to achieve this goal: Don’t always mix with the same crowd where your child slips into the same position each time. Your child will find it easier to step into a new role with adults and peers who haven’t pigeonholed who they are and what they can do. Encourage your child to dig into interests whether you think they have natural talent or not — don’t feed the idea that they should only do things they excel at. Help your child start organize their own group activities and start their own communities. Make sure you haven’t pigeonholed your child — change their environment, invest in their motivation, and wait to see what they can do.

Critical Thinking

From the graphic: Engage in self-directed, project-based, and applied learning.

What does this actually mean? If other people are preparing your learning experiences, they’re cutting your intellectual meat for you. By the time kids are teens, they should know how to prepare their own curriculum: know what they want to learn, choose their own resources, research at the library and online, locate mentors and experts and peers with similar goals, communicate clearly with each of those people, create communities, and so on. If they can’t do this, they haven’t received an adequate education. How do they get these skills? By developing them from the very beginning.

Concrete ways to achieve this goal: Help your child become a self-directed learner. Help them work on projects that last weeks, months, and even years. Don’t constantly introduce new things. Help them dig deeply into a single idea. Practice slow learning.

Communication

From the graphic: Learn in an environment that requires participation in many modes of communication.

What does this actually mean? You can excel at classroom learning by figuring out what the teacher wants and giving it to them. You can do this without ever really understanding or caring about the material. Being adept at communication requires having something you want or need to say, understanding it yourself, figuring out how to articulate it to someone else, then delivering it in a way that makes sense for that specific situation. It requires knowing how to talk, how to write, how to persuade, how to ask, how to be polite, how to engage in social media, how to use images to convey ideas, and so on. It requires moving from a one-way-only form of learning and sharing to a flexible and freely transferable way of learning, thinking, doing, and connecting that is platform-independent.

Concrete ways to achieve this goal: Tap into your child’s self-motivation. Start by helping them care enough to want to communicate. Then help them find an audience. Help them share. Help them publish. Use tech for something other than entertainment — help them produce what they consume. Don’t think you have to teach them how to do everything, therefore limiting them to the modes of communication you’re comfortable with — invest in their interests and their ideas and help them connect with experts who can help them do what they want to do. Don’t turn everything they do into a teaching/grading momentgive them some area of their learning life where they don’t have to worry about spelling and grammar and can focus on their ideas. Give them the opportunity to care about improving their own abilities — which means getting out of their way.

Collaboration

From the graphic: Choose work that is collaborative and measure success by team results. 

What does this actually mean? Collaborative work is work done by a group of people who are combining their efforts to meet a large goal. Why measure your success by team results? Because if the team isn’t happy, then it wasn’t a collaborative effort. You need shared meaningful goals and a process for working out how to meet those goals together.

Why is collaboration important? Because you can’t do everything yourself. You need friends. You need colleagues. You need mentors. You need cohorts and followers, employees and colleagues. Collaboration teaches children how to translate what they want to do from their bedroom to the real world.

Concrete ways to achieve this goal: The best way to teach your child how to collaborate is to show them by being a good co-learner. You are their first audience, their first mentor, their first friend. When you help them own their own learning, you are collaborating with them on their education — creating a negotiated curriculum.

Next, make sure they have the opportunity to work with other kids and adults toward a shared goal. This can be as simple as inviting friends over to help with a project. You can create your own communities and groups focused on your child’s deepest interests. You can help them find places in your community where they can contribute to goals they care about.

Collaboration is how we get things done, and we want to help our children become people who can make their ideas happen.

Adaptability

From the graphic: Take advantage of flexible work schedules and learning platforms to work, raise a family, volunteer, and learn.

What does this actually mean? In my opinion, nothing. It’s an advertisement for the University of Phoenix, which prepared the infographic.

What should it mean? Adaptability is the ability to fit yourself to the situation. You don’t sit around complaining that the world isn’t giving you what you need and want — you figure out how you can change what you’re doing in order to meet your goals even when conditions are less than ideal.

Concrete ways to achieve this goal: Stop saying you don’t have enough time to do the things you want to do and learn to use the time you have. Show your child how to get up, dust themselves off, and start taking action on your goals. Can’t afford to get them the tools or materials you wish they could have? DIY it. Barter. Have a bake sale. Team up with some like-minded friends. Stop advocating and start doing. Can’t find the experiences, communities, or opportunities you wish they could have? Create them. Slowly realizing your daily life isn’t aligned with your deepest goals? Make a fresh start. Constantly taking one step forward and two steps back? Stop preshrinking your opportunities.

Believe in yourself so you can believe in your child. It isn’t about the conditions — it’s about what you do, every day: your choices, your actions. Get out of your own way. Know that you can keep going, keep working, keep improving, so you can help your child know this. It’s what you do that matters, so start doing the things that matter most.

Productivity and accountability

From the graphic: Provide a code of conduct in learning situations to build accountability and productivity.

What does this actually mean? Hmm, not much. A bit circular, am I right?

What should it mean? Productivity means getting things done. Accountability means someone is expecting you to get those things done and tracking your progress.

Concrete ways to achieve this goal: Help your child set their own big goals, break them down into achievable tasks, keep track of their plans/ideas/intentions, post reminders in their workspace, and remember what they want to do. Set aside time dedicated to doing their meaningful work — make it as important as the commitments you keep to others (dance class, tae kwon do, etc.). Create a family culture that honors meaningful work.

Regularly meet with them and talk about their big goals, their plans, what they need from you, and how they plan to proceed. Help them be accountable to themselves first and foremost. As they move into the world and contribute to different groups and collaborative projects, they will be held accountable by coaches, teachers, friends, and bosses. This is your opportunity to help them own their own goals and learn to make their own ideas happen just because it matters to them.

Innovation

From the graphic: Seek out learning environments that build technology and media fluency.

What does this actually mean? They blew this one entirely. Let’s move directly to…

What should it mean? Innovation doesn’t equate to technology. Innovation is doing things in new ways.

“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” — Theodore Levitt

Concrete ways to achieve these goals: Innovation is something that is probably overemphasized. Many businesses succeed not by innovating (doing something complete new) but by solving an existing problem in a useful way. Tim O’Reilly had this to say about innovation:

In the latest issue of Wired, Tim O’Reilly, the brilliant technology thinker and book publisher, offered his corrective on innovation, in this case with respect to entrepreneurs: “The myth of innovation is that it starts with entrepreneurs, but it really starts with people having fun. The Wright brothers weren't trying to build an airline, they were saying, ‘Holy !*&#, do you think we could fly?’ The first kids who made snowboards, they just glued skis together and said, ‘Let’s try this!’ With the web, none of us thought there was money in it. People said, ‘This document came from halfway around the world. How awesome is that!’”

So what if we all stopped trying to “innovate” — and started trying to have fun and really do something new? And what if we set ourselves a more basic (and more authentic) set of challenges as we look to the future:

What difference are we trying to make in our field? What do we care about? — Please can we all just stop innovating?

To help your child be creative and innovative, you have to give them adequate time. You have to help them see themselves as people with great ideas who can do interesting things.

As to building technology and media fluency, stop fighting about screen time and help your kids make something awesome. Dump your scarcity mindset and realize that your kids can love video games and books, TV and the outdoors.

Accessing, analyzing, and synthesizing information

From the graphic: Seek out a curriculum focused on real cross-functional issues to help you think about how issues interconnect.

What does this actually mean? Cringing at that awkward phrasing. I don’t know what they’re trying to say here, so let’s move on to…

What should it mean? Your child needs access to information, and they need the opportunity to analyze and synthesize that information themselves.

Concrete ways to achieve this goal: Stop cutting your child’s intellectual meat into bite-sized chunks. Give them direct access to resources, knowledge gatekeepers, experiences, artifacts, and so on. Don’t hand them library books — help them ask the librarian for help and let them sort through the books and choose the ones they want to bring home. Don’t find cool science experiments and neat crafts for them to do. Let them find their own cool stuff. Skip the faux-DIY/hacking/making groups that still have adults doing all the real work. Give your kid the tools, the control, the space, and the support to make her own ideas happen and slowly accumulate the knowledge and skills she needs to do that.

Don’t just answer your child’s question and cut off a potentially rich line of inquiry. We already know how smart you are. You have nothing to prove. Give them the opportunity to dig into an interest and generate their own questions then find their own answers.

Help them find multiple resources with different points of view and decide what they believe and why. Don’t stop with one or two books — let them range about and find different perspectives and opinions.

Embrace rigor. Get your kid out of the backseat and into the driver’s seat, and do it now. I’ve worked with three-year-olds who could do this. How is it we have teenagers who can’t?

Entrepreneurialism

From the graphic: Develop the ability to solve current and relevant issues.

What does this actually mean? I heavily edited their text to get down to the nut of how they were defining this and it’s pretty weak. If they’re saying that a successful business should solve a real problem, that is correct. However, it doesn’t really address how to nurture entrepreneurialism.

What should it mean? Work is changing. Every person needs to operate as an entrepreneur, even if they work for someone else. In today’s work world, everyone needs to run their career the way they would run a small business. That makes these skills essential.

Concrete ways to achieve this goal: Teach them to own. Help them develop authentic self-confidence. Give them the opportunity to start businesses now, as children and teens. Help them become financially literate. Show them how their interest connects to real jobs and real businesses.

I started my own company when I was 22, fresh out of college. I ran that business for over 20 years. I founded and ran a private school. I’ve worked as a consultant. I’m not just talking through my hat here. I know what it takes to start and run a business and I think it’s an essential skill that every child should learn — but not every child does. Most adults suffer from a lot of wrong ideas about business ownership, and they pass those along to their kids. The biggest wrong idea is “that’s the kind of thing other people do — people who aren’t like us, people who have more money and more contacts, people who have more experience and went to better schools” and so on and so on. Not true. Your child may grow up to have a traditional job (if they still exist), but they may instead be part of the freelance economy. Help them master all of the skills on this list and they’ll be ready for that.

Global citizenship

From the graphic: Learn in a diverse classroom to gain opportunities to build cross-cultural understanding.

What does this actually mean? Get out and mix with a diverse group of people. Don’t always stick with people exactly like yourself. Don’t let your learning experiences be too homogenized. Get experience now with meeting, talking with, and working with a wide variety of people.

Concrete ways to achieve this goal: Eschew labels. Mix it up. Diversity isn’t just about skin color or religion. It’s about connecting with people who have different ideas and vastly different experiences. More and more we are moving toward a global economy, a global community. The last PBH Master Class had participants from over a dozen different countries. I have good friends I speak to every day who live across the globe from me. The internet has made the world easier to navigate — you don’t have to get frisked at the airport to travel somewhere new every day. This is the new reality: your neighbors aren’t just the people who live on your street and your friends and coworkers can live anywhere.

Take a real look at this list. These aren’t just skills that can help you get a job. These are skills that can help you do the work you most want to do, whatever it is.

If the buzz sounds good, and the skill or experience seems valuable and worth having, you’ll probably have to do the hard work of figuring out how to make it happen for yourself and for your child. No one is going to hand you a prepackaged curriculum for authentic, self-directed learning — you have to build it yourself. Set big goals, break them down, find experiences, make connections, and build your own learning life from scratch. Sure, it’s harder than clicking the “Like” button. But it’s what we want our kids to be able to do — so we have to walk that path ourselves.

In the end, it’s only a buzz word if you click away. If you’re willing to do the work, you can have the reality behind the noise.

Permission to be yourself

Published by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Today I was reading William Zinsser’s newest book of essays and was struck by what he said about his students, mostly women, who take his memoir-writing class:

Most of them are paralyzed by the thought of writing a memoir. How can they possibly sort out the smothering clutter of the past? But mainly it’s fear of writing about themselves.

… I want them to think of themselves as people — women who lead interesting lives and who also write, trusting their own humanity to tell plain stories about their thoughts and emotions. Why do they think they need permssion to be themselves? “Who would care about my story?” they say. I would. I give them permission to write about the parts of their lives that they have always dismissed as unimportant.

What Zinsser does for his students is what we do for our children when we support them to pursue their own meaningful work.

If they begin early enough, they may never hesitate and think that they need permission to be themselves. But if they start a little later, or if they hear messages from peers and the other people around them: Shh, don’t embarrass yourself. Don’t embarrass me. You’re not good enough. You’re not old enough. You’re not smart enough. Maybe later. Shh.

These messages don’t even have to be spoken out loud; they come through as gestures and grimaces and parents changing the subject. Enough of that and they may believe no one cares about what interests them. They may doubt that anyone will be interested in what they have to say. They may doubt whether they can be writers and artists and builders and makers. Does the world need or want what they can offer?

By being your child’s first audience, you send the message: Someone cares about what you think. Someone cares about what you make and do.

By supporting their work, whatever it is, you show them that they can produce what they consume. They can contribute something of their own. Their perspective and their opinion matters. Their ideas matter.

Many of us are paralyzed at the thought of doing whatever it is we want to do. We think no one cares or wants to hear what we have to say. We think our contribution is so negligible, it’s not worth anyone taking notice — and if they did take notice… well, our heart beats faster just at the thought.

When we do our own meaningful work and when we make it possible for our children to do theirs, we’re helping them avoid falling into this trap. They don’t need anyone’s permission to be themselves. They don’t need to be picked. They don’t need to be praised or rewarded. Their ideas matter. Their opinions matter. Their interests matter. The sooner they learn that — the sooner they know it’s true — the sooner they can own their feelings, their interests and talents, and their life.

Make sure they know they have your permission to be themselves.

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2013 at 08:51 AM

I have good intentions about doing this round-up every Friday, but is it just me or does Friday seem to come around every other day?

The last one I did was a month ago, so I have a lot of links to share.

First, I posted on Facebook a follow-up mini-rant about my post What’s wrong with DIY/Maker Faire/hacking/tinkering for kids — and how we can make it better:

Re: yesterday’s blog post about what’s wrong with DIY/Maker Faire/hacking/tinkering activities/clubs for kids and how we can make them better…

The pushback is “It’s not that bad.” It’s not that bad to give kids limited choice. It’s not that bad to give extrinsic rewards like badges. It’s not that bad to have all the kids following directions to build the same thing. Come on — it’s not that bad.

But it is that bad. Because we’re talking about big, countrywide initiatives where people are making money to create a structured, prepackaged, preplanned activity for lots and lots of kids.

It’s one thing to make a less-optimal choice on a rainy Sunday afternoon because it’s easy, you’re feeling lazy, and after all, it’s only once in awhile.

But when you’re building a giant machine that is going to be affecting the lives — the learning, the thought processes, the habits — of tens of thousands of kids, then you should be doing everything you can do to get it right.

“It’s not that bad” is not something we want to settle for when it would be just as easy to give kids the best. Let’s give them the best.

When you decide to be the only person nitpicking a whole host of popular groups, you have to expect to be labeled the crab of the internet.

 

I knew I was probably in for a firestorm of “What’s your problem?!” It’s hard to criticize people who are actively working to make something fun and educational for kids. But if someone has to do it, it may as well be me.

I loved this comment that Julie, an art teacher and parent, left on that post:

When I first read your comments and your article, I thought that I couldn’t disagree more. I love DIY and pinterest and my bookshelves are FILLED with art project books. I’ve never heard of diy.org so I've checked it out the past few days… and I’ve signed up for maker stuff online… bought many a pre-packaged project for the kids (and myself)… and I’ve taught many projects throughout the years that weren’t ‘cookie cutter’ (hey! nobody wants to be called that!) but all had the same goal. So, I’ve been thinking and even losing sleep over this topic, I’ve turned it over in my head… over and over. …

I’m inspired by it because I grew up in an era when art lessons where assessed the same way math lessons are — where there is a ‘right’ answer and if you get the ‘wrong’ answer (you didn’t paste that on right!) you get a bad grade. … If we continue to measure creativity and use extrinsic rewards that we turn into carrots, training kids to think they’re important (grades… badges…) then all we’re doing is perpetuating the machine that some of us are fighting so hard to change.

… Sometimes these things are nice to lean on, but are they truly authentic? Am I a better artist than little Johnny because I have an art school degree and awards? I never thought so, but those awards suggest otherwise. Those extrinsic awards are just proof that I got some support, somebody thought I was ‘good enough’ and I ‘earned’ a representation of that… But where is my representation of me thinking I am good enough??? Nowhere, not even collecting dust on a shelf. I’d like to say that I just ‘knew’ I was, but I didn’t. That is not what I want for my kids. I want them to first value and respect their own opinions and thoughts before what the world tells them to think.

My daughter is in a soccer class and I just learned that they had a drawing contest during class — whoever draws the ‘best’ witch wins a soccer ball. Well, they did this in class and their teacher decided whose witch was the best. My 7 year old was saddened that she didn’t win … This made her feel like she was not a good drawer and if she can’t win the contest at it, then why even draw? I was really angry to learn that they did this and it’s not what I signed up for. It made me realize that this sort of thing happens all the time everywhere, and I might have been the only parent that even cared because everyone else seemed to be used to it. Her friend Maddy won the ball. I was Maddy when I was a kid. I would win those drawing contests, but looking back… that is wrong that adults put themselves in the position to decide what is best simply because they are adults. …

As a kid, I would've cared about [badges].... but I also really craved that kind of approval. It would have been nice to get that kind of esteem through other avenues.

I edited the above for length; see the whole comment here.

This topic goes back to my post about the intellectual benefits of the real old-fashioned summerwhen we create structured activities for kids, we need to really think about the trade-off between what they get and what they lose.

I’ve already heard from people who are using that post and the checklist as talking points with other parents as they start new groups. Remember: This isn’t about being anti-DIY, anti-making, anti-tinkering, or anti-hacking. It’s about setting better, higher goals for these groups and activities so ALL kids can have the learning experiences they deserve.

So here are a bunch of links about play and learning and working; let’s see if we can tie them back neatly to the theme of giving kids more control over their own learning.

“In addition to providing experience, play also helps children learn what they like and don’t like.

Nobel chemistry laureate Roger Tsien tells of reading about chemical reactions before he was eight years old and then trying out the reactions for himself. He was able to bring about beautiful color changes in his house and backyard. 

Because he didn’t have enough laboratory glassware, he had to make equipment from used milk jugs and empty Hawaiian Punch cans (see photo). Tsien later won the Nobel Prize for developing colored dyes and proteins that become brighter or change hue when they encounter chemical signals in living cells, including neurons. …

Tsien’s great contribution to science — the invention of tools that help us visualize what is happening in active biological systems — had its roots in his childhood interest in home chemistry experiments.

Not all childhood endeavors lead to such heights, of course, but regardless of your children’s eventual interests, discovering them may be one of the most important outcomes of play.” — Play, Stress, and the Learning Brain

It’s not enough to be introduced to new ideas or taught new skills; you have to have time to play with them. Play is the learning language of childhood, but it’s also how adults learn and make creative connections. If you’re moving in a linear fashion from A to Z with little time for exploration, making side connections, repeating, extending ideas, and so on, then you haven’t left enough time for play. If you’re operating on a schedule, you probably haven’t left enough time for play.

“Each person has an inherent urge to grow toward his or her potential, much in the way an acorn becomes a tree. But because we all aren’t acorns and won’t all be oaks, there is bound to be confusion about what exactly growing toward our potential means. …

Maybe we feel the cultural press to be an engineer before we find out what exactly that entails. Or our parents tell us more about what we should be like than what we are like. Or Facebook suggests that our … lives ought to look a lot better than they do. Scrambling after ideals, we become alienated from what is true about ourselves and the world.

Shoulds can masquerade as high standards or lofty goals, but they are not the same. Goals direct us from the inside, but shoulds are paralyzing judgments from the outside. Goals feel like authentic dreams while shoulds feel like oppressive obligations. Shoulds set up a false dichotomy between either meeting an ideal or being a failure, between perfection or settling. The tyranny of the should even pits us against our own best interests.”

“Part of realizing our potential is recognizing how our particular gifts and limitations fit with the world around us.” — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade

Scrambling after *other people’s* ideals, she means. In order to figure out how to use and make the most of your own potential, you have to have a sense of self and be able to set your own goals and not be distracted by the approval and rewards of your larger society. And preferably you start when you’re a child. So let’s help kids set their own goals.

Are we still hung up on extrinsic rewards as adults?

“Some things are hard to measure. So, ‘Am I a better dad than I was last year?’ Well, there’s no objective scale where I can look back and someone says, ‘Last year you were a 71 dad. This year, you’re a 74 dad.’ Or spouse or whatever it might be, it’s very, very hard to know.

The things that we can know are things we can count, and one thing that is really, really easy to count is money.

So, if I want to know if I’m better off this year than last year, one of the first things I can do is say, ‘Do I have more money?’ I think that alone makes it very, very motivating.

It works with things like the size of your TV, the square footage in your house, all of these things that we can… The number of cars you have. ‘Am I better than I was five years ago? Well, I have five cars. I had no cars. I guess I’m better.’

We’re just unable to correct for it because the other things that are important are hard to count and counting is great. It feels like math and math feels like science and we feel like we’re better off because there’s a confidence that I’m doing better, and it also works better with other people: ‘Am I better off than you? I don’t know, but if I have a bigger house than you, I beat you.’” — Harvard professor Michael Norton explains how to be happier

Maybe it’s just me, but this reminds me of Julie’s daughter and the soccer ball.

Michael Norton goes on in that interview to say:

[W]hat we’re trying to say in the book … is, “Knock it off. Knock off counting how much money you have and start thinking about what you’re doing with it. What you’re doing with your money and time is a lot more important than how much money and time you have,” and that has really changed my life.

“Knock it off, because it’s not good for your happiness and you’re probably focusing on the wrong dimensions for what will really make you happy.” It’s very hard to apply, but that’s something that I actually try to apply in my life, really, every day. — ibid.

Not to beat a dead horse, but if you can’t move beyond focusing on empty rewards and tap into your own beliefs about what’s worthy of your time and effort, you’re going to be stuck expending a lifetime of effort on meeting someone else’s benchmarks for success. Let’s help our kids define success for themselves. If life is one big marshmallow test, then that first marshmallow is the applause of society when you meet their goals for success — the second marshmallow is when you meet your own goal.

Why is it less desirable for adults to set the agenda rather than letting kids pursue their own ideas?

“[Y]oung children, motivated by curiosity and playfulness, teach themselves a tremendous amount about the world. And yet when they reach school age, we supplant that innate drive to learn with an imposed curriculum.

We’re teaching the child that his questions don’t matter, that what matters are the questions of the curriculum. That’s just not the way natural selection designed us to learn. It designed us to solve problems and figure things out that are part of our real lives.’” — How a Radical New Teaching Method could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses

Another quote from the same article:

“[A] new breed of educators … are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion…” — ibid.

Adults should be stepping out of the way as soon as kids get going.

“[M]entoring self-directed learners is like rolling a hoop down a hill. You want to let the hoop roll on its own, only touching it when necessary to keep it upright and rolling, and even then as lightly as possible.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Why? Because…

One student shares his view:

“I want to read Tribes by Seth Godin this week and next week focus on learning JavaScript. After that, I want to learn about marketing. I am working for a start-up right now that I wish I could be giving more time. However, I have to learn something that is irrelevant to the real world in class.

When did I lose my love for the classroom? When did I lose my interest in exploring beyond the requirements? When did I lose faith in my school?”

With self-directed learning, you step away from attaining a ‘grade’ for the sake of a GPA. Instead, you take a step toward acquiring practical skills.”

“Through projects, you can display what you are learning in a tangible form. There are no rules, no rubrics, and no limitations … Is there something wrong for wanting to dive deeper and to control my learning?” — I put more effort into this than any school essay

It’s not enough to learn skills in a vacuum. They have to be connected to something the learner wants to do. Note the writer has goals he wants to work on. Self-directed learning is more than just acquiring practical skills — it’s acquiring them for a purpose.

The learner’s ideas and goals should form the meaningful context for acquiring knowledge and skills.

I’m going to end with a fantastic post on tumblr by cartoonist Lynda Barry about how freaked out adults were when they were asked to free-draw. This is what happens to us with the current educational system — and I don’t just mean in schools, I mean in homeschooling and in kids’ groups and activities (even soccer) and everywhere else: we lose our ability to relax and explore/play/create without fear. We lose the joy of not knowing — of working without guidelines. We cling to extrinsic rewards, using them to measure our worth and set our compass. We let other people’s opinions about what we’re good at/not good at determine what we do with our lives — even when no one is looking.

“There is something beautiful about the lines made by people who stopped drawing a long time ago.

And there is something curious about how scared they are when I ask them to draw…

And what usually happens is a kind of involuntary laughing that sounds like the laughing of people who are about to enter a spookhouse ride…

And a terror too that becomes especially evident when I ask people to stand up and look at each other’s drawings…

All we did was draw a car but the room feels like it’s on fire. Why?

[W]hat if the way kids draw — that kind of line that we call ‘childish’ — what if that is what a line looks like when someone is having an experience by hand?

“When someone learns to draw — to render — it’s the first thing that goes — the aliveness — and it’s what some artists spend their whole lives trying to get back… — Let’s draw a car and then let’s draw Batman

Is there something right now that you wish you could do, but you don’t think you’re good enough?

Somewhere along the way, did you forget that you can learn whatever you want to learn and you don’t need anyone’s permission to start?

Let’s help our kids keep their aliveness — so they won’t have to work so hard to get it back.

It looks good on the surface. Adults love to see kids wearing protective goggles. They’re hacking! They’re tinkering! They’re making! It’s STEM-y or even better STEAM-y! These kids are going to figure out how to get us to a new Earth-like planet when the inevitable dystopian future arrives!

It’s not that we’re not moving in a good direction. Doing it yourself? Good. Making? Good. Hacking and tinkering? Good.

The problem is that everyone has sat down and taken out their picnic things and said, “Whew! Great, this works for me!” But we’re only partway toward the good stuff. We’re stopping too soon.

We’ve got a partial handle on it, but we could do so much more for the kids. Better options are right there within our reach. We just need to go a little further.

If you’re excited about a DIY/maker/hacker/tinker-like group or activity, please take a hard look and ask yourself these questions:

- Are the kids’ ideas driving the making/hacking/tinkering?

If your child’s ideas aren’t required, then keep looking.

If you are thinking, “Well, my child doesn’t have any ideas” or “What if my child doesn’t have any ideas?” or “My child only likes to do X and I hate X,” then you are treating this as an “apply externally” situation (“apply learning experience liberally to your child’s exterior; wait for projected results”) when you really need to be diving deep to find out what your child cares about and what your child wants to do.

- Are the adults doing all the teaching?

Is peer-to-peer teaching happening? (Are kids teaching other kids?) Do kids have the opportunity to turn around and mentor someone else? Do they get to grow in their role from beginner to expert?

Is all the learning happening unidirectionally, with kids absorbing what adults are teaching?

Are skills being learned from a variety of people of different ages and backgrounds, or do all of the “experts” look alike?

Are kids encouraged to create learning tools for other kids?

Do adults have all the power positions?

- Is there an adult-imposed schedule or adult-imposed deadline?

Authentic learning does not thrive inside an imposed structure. How can it? All kids do not learn at the same pace. Any time there is a structure that sets time limits, some kids will be bored and others will be left behind.

Authentic learning generates questions which require research that in turn requires talking to people, finding resources, and discussing relevance. None of those things can happen if we all have to have our remote-controlled planes finished by the Maker Faire six weeks from Monday.

Major red flag: adults doing kids’ work for them, doing work for kids who have missed sessions to “catch them up,” or finishing their work for them in order to meet a deadline.

- Are adults jumping in to solve kids’ problems or tell them what to do to avoid problems?

Authentic learning is problem-producing and problem-solving.

Do kids get the opportunity to make mistakes, discover problems on their own, brainstorm with peers, seek out help when they decide they need it, and solve their own problems?

A streamlined learning experience smooths off all the rough edges and the rough edges are generally where most of the learning happens.

- Do all of the projects look the same?

When you start nit-picking (please, come sit by me), you’ll hear a whole lot of “Well, you have to start somewhere.” But that is frankly a cop-out. You do have to start somewhere — so why start *there*?

If you see a table full of kids working with identical-looking projects in front of them, then you are looking at something that is not authentically self-directed or self-motivated. It is just a “cool,” “fun” project that an adult dreamed up for some kids to do, that an adult planned, that an adult organized, and that an adult carefully translated into directions the kids could follow. Look at all the work being accomplished *by the adult*. That is so much closer to what we expect to see in a classroom and too far away from real learner-centered education.

Sitting at a table following instructions is the equivalent of sitting on the bench. Kids need to be on the field, not on the bench.

- Are kids following directions to complete a project?

Again we hear “You have to start somewhere!”

Again, there are a million opportunities in life to follow directions and make something that looks like the sample. Prioritize kids’ ideas. Prioritize individuality. Save the group cookie-cutter projects for another day. If you never get to them, it will be *fine*. Their value is negligible if not zero.

- Are children offered limited choice?

If a child’s input into a project is deciding which stickers to apply to it, that is not a good thing.

- Are follow-directions projects jumping-off points or ending points?

Okay, you-have-to-start-somewhere people, this is your chance for redemption. What happened after that follow-directions project? Did the kids explode off into a dozen different directions with ideas of their own? No? :: buzzer sound ::

If kids cycle from one follow-directions project to the next, with everything on a time schedule (“We have to finish our rockets this week because next week we start remote-control planes!”), then what you’re looking at is not innovative, not learner-centered, and not offering deep understanding or long-term engagement. It’s the same old hash repackaged as something new. Don’t be distracted by the protective goggles.

- Is there a revision stage (or, preferably, many revision stages)?

The lack of a revising stage is a red flag for an adult-imposed schedule. If there isn’t time to do multiple iterations and revise your ideas, your ideas are not going to be deep, complex, or layered.

Everything should be open-ended. Work should be done until mastery is achieved *and only the learner should decide when mastery has been achieved*.

If a child is ushered through a “project” from beginning to end without the chance to share with others at various stages then return to their work to revise, add, subtract, extend, ask for help, take suggestions, and so on, then the learning potential was severely diminished.

I saw an infuriating video (can’t locate, sadly; it’s possible I destroyed it with my rage) where an adult leader chuckled over how one child only realized his (very individual) project couldn’t work at the very end, when it was (according to the adult-imposed schedule) shared with other children and someone pointed out his mistake. The child was not given the time to go back and improve on his idea. The project was over; everyone moved on. So what was the point?

Real learning requires testing and revision.

- Are kids getting peer feedback during the making progress?

See just above. Kids should be collaborating, supporting, learning how to offer and ask for help and how to say a polite “no, thank you.” They should be copying one another, getting excited by each other’s ideas, and extending one another’s ideas. They should be challenged by what another child does with their idea and want to go back and incorporate that child’s extensions into their own original plan.

If that is not happening, again, what is the point?

Real learning requires multiple iterations, feedback, collaboration, and sharing.

- Are the children working on REAL real-world problems or FAKE real-world problems?

There is a horrible trend among educators to give students “real-world” problems to solve — but the problems are fake.

In a more recent project, Richardson was surprised when her students became so invested in a project to reduce poverty in their area that many of them became genuinely upset when they found out that their plan would not be enacted. — read the article here

Please, no. No, no, no, no, no. Do you think these children who put forth tremendous effort and were emotionally and intellectually invested in their work only to find out they’d been *tricked* tackled their next project with the same level of enthusiasm? I’m going to guess no. Are we motivating children to become “lifelong learners” with this kind of bait-and-switch? What happens when they catch on? How do they feel about themselves, their teachers, and education in general?

This kind of “problem-based learning” shows a complete lack of respect for children’s ability to do real work. Please do not waste their time by asking them to work on “real” problems if their efforts are going into the recycling bin.

[P]rotoyping a recyclable lunch tray; setting up a water delivery system to guard against urban fires; building a public awareness campaign to combat hunger. These are just a few of examples of the types of tasks students are taking on… — A design challenge to students: Solve a real-world problem

One of the teachers from the above article is quoted as saying, “They get excited about it and they want to accomplish more than is realistic.

So, once again, you get kids excited about doing real work and then you yank the rug out from under their feet. You explain that their work is not actually going to solve that problem. You set limits; you put up fences. You tap into true motivation and then you waste it. You had an opportunity to engage a child with something meaningful and purposeful and you blew it.

Rather than asking children to think about problems they cannot actually affect in any real way, it’s a simple thing to let them work in their own community to solve real “real-world” problems. They can even identify the problems themselves before they set out to solve them.

If they choose their own problems, the work is self-leveling. And if there’s an adult who says “pish posh, who cares about this petty subject when they could be applying themselves to solving global warming?” … well, move back, because my head is going to explode.

The real world is RIGHT HERE — we live in it every day. It’s in your community, in your school, in your backyard. Children live in the real world. They can change *that* world. Don’t waste their time asking them to put real effort into imaginary solutions. Help them do real work that matters.

- Are extrinsic rewards are being offered?

Is your child being awarded a badge for the work she’s doing?

There’s some controversy about how damaging extrinsic rewards are, but it’s pretty generally agreed upon that you shouldn’t offer them for anything a child wants to do. Extrinsic rewards are okay if it’s dull, rote work that isn’t enjoyable. But if you offer an extrinsic reward for something a person likes to do, you sap their enjoyment. And you take their focus off their ideas and put it collecting badges.

[R]ewards cause people to lose interest in whatever they were rewarded for doing. This phenomenon, which has been demonstrated in scores of studies (Kohn, 1993), makes sense given that "motivation" is not a single characteristic that an individual possesses to a greater or lesser degree. Rather, intrinsic motivation (an interest in the task for its own sake) is qualitatively different from extrinsic motivation (in which completion of the task is seen chiefly as a prerequisite for obtaining something else) (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Therefore, the question educators need to ask is not how motivated their students are, but how their students are motivated. — Alfie Kohn

The data suggest that the more we want children to want to do something, the more counterproductive it will be to reward them for doing it.

Deci and Ryan (1985) describe the use of rewards as "control through seduction." Control, whether by threats or bribes, amounts to doing things to children rather than working with them. This ultimately frays relationships, both among students (leading to reduced interest in working with peers) and between students and adults (insofar as asking for help may reduce the probability of receiving a reward).

Moreover, students who are encouraged to think about grades, stickers, or other "goodies" become less inclined to explore ideas, think creatively, and take chances. At least ten studies have shown that people offered a reward generally choose the easiest possible task (Kohn, 1993). In the absence of rewards, by contrast, children are inclined to pick tasks that are just beyond their current level of ability. — ibid.

[G]ood values have to be grown from the inside out. Attempts to short-circuit this process by dangling rewards in front of children are at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive. Children are likely to become enthusiastic, lifelong learners as a result of being provided with an engaging curriculum; a safe, caring community in which to discover and create; and a significant degree of choice about what (and how and why) they are learning. Rewards — like punishments — are unnecessary when these things are present, and are ultimately destructive in any case. — ibid.

People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures. — Theresa Amabile, “How to Kill Creativity,” Harvard Business Review

It’s an approach built much more around intrinsic motivation, around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting, because they’re part of something important. — Dan Pink, TED Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html

“Extrinsic motivations crowd out intrinsic motivations.” That’s economist-speak for: if someone loves doing something and then you start paying them, money undermines that natural desire. — Is money a lousy way to motivate people?

What the research shows … is that the great wellspring of creativity is intrinsic motivation — that is, I do my best work for personal rewards (out of love or intellectual fulfillment) and not external motivation…” — Malcolm Gladwell

“[A]rtists who pursued their painting and sculpture more for pleasure of the activity itself than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior… It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them.” — Dan Pink

[B]eing offered a reward for doing the work results in less creative output than being offered nothing. — Geoff Colvin

We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else. — John Holt

Do rewards motivate people? Absolutely. They motivate people to get rewards.What really motivates us? 

What message do we send when we reward kids with badges for doing their own meaningful work? Doesn’t it belittle their effort and engagement? I think it does. Isn’t it patronizing for adults to pat kids on the head and say here’s a little prize for you? I think it is. It’s not the way I want to treat my children or their work, and I think they would be so insulted by it, it would be damaging to our relationship as well as their feelings about their work. I literally cannot imagine handing my son a badge for the challenging and meaningful work that he does.

Do you really want your child to focus on something as mundane as collecting badges when she could be focused instead on digging deeply into something she cares about?

I can already hear the “but my child LIKES badges,” so here’s my response: Your child deserves to do work that is intrinsically motivated, that matters deeply, and she deserves to learn how to care more for her own opinion than the validation of others. So let’s do more of that.

- Is your child the driver or the passenger?

True self-directed learning is not assigned. It is not done within a structure provided by someone else. It proceeds at its own natural, organic pace.

It is self-motivated. It grows out of a desire to learn something, create something, and/or solve a problem — but the motivation is personal.

The learner is absolutely necessary — he connects a collection of ideas, plans, questions, and actions to create something unique. If you can lift your child out and shove any kid in there, then it isn’t personal, which means you can do better.

- Is your child choosing the skills he needs or someone is teaching him random skills?

“You have to start somewhere.” Okay. Then start with a particular, individual child and find out what interests her and then help her make her ideas happen. Along the way, she will need to acquire knowledge and skills. Help her figure out how she’s going to do that. That is an authentic, meaningful process. That learning will last.

When you say, “You have to start somewhere,” you are really deciding that to acquire any skills at all is just as useful as to discover what interests you, set a goal, work toward something personally meaningful, and figure out how to do the things you want to do along the way. It isn’t just as useful. Random skills will be forgotten; personally meaningful work done for a real purpose set in a context of uniquely individual authentic interests and desires will never be forgotten.

 

You can throw it against the wall, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stick. If your child comes away from this group experience full of personally motivated plans, goals, and ideas that will no longer fit into a preplanned structure, then it worked — and now off-the-shelf will no longer suffice. And if he does NOT come away on fire to go further, do more, and make his own ideas happen, what’s the point? No matter how you slice it, unless your group supports individual kids’ ideas and plans, it is only a starting point. Eventually, you have to mentor your child as an individual and help your child build the learning experience he needs — the one that is custom-fit for him.

Start with the child, find out what’s personally relevant to that child, and every single ounce of effort you invest will return to you tenfold.

This is why learner-centered homeschooling is always, always going to drink formal schooling’s milkshake. Because it’s personal, relevant, tech-neutral, unscripted, deadline-free, fully customizable, and self-leveling.

And every parent can give this to their child, whether their child is homeschooled or not. Every parent can mentor their child to become a self-directed learner. Every parent can learn to be a self-directed learner themselves.

This can be accomplished in community-based groups. Children can do authentic project work with the support of adults who want to mentor rather than lead. It requires adults to put the individual before the structure rather than plugging kids into a preplanned framework.

Throw away the instructions. Throw away the agenda. Throw away the schedule. Apologize to the kids. Say, “I’m sorry. I got super pleased with myself and forgot this isn’t about me — it’s about you. I have my notebook. I’m listening. Please tell me what you want to learn. Please tell me what you want to do. I will help you help each other.”

We offer this kind of learning and imply that when kids are adults they’ll be "life-long learners" who can take over and do what they need and want to do. But all we’ve shown them is how to ride along in the backseat. They don't know how to CREATE opportunities. They don't know how to SELF-SELECT their projects. They don't know how to articulate their own goals and then break them down into manageable steps. They don't know how to shift their own habits and behavior to get what they want — because they've never had to do any of that. But they so easily could — if we let them.

Please look at the group you’re considering and ask yourself these questions. (I’ve made you a handy abbreviated checklist here.) Then, if the group doesn’t measure up, start your own group. You don’t need special materials; you don’t need to know the things the kids want to learn. You can find the materials; you can find the experts. You can acquire the skills. You can make it. You can hack it. You can DIY it. And by making it yourself the way you want it to be, you can show your kids how that is done.

You can do it. Don’t settle for something less just because it’s easier.

I don’t think every parent should have to form their own group or eschew the existing groups completely. What I really want is for these groups to pack up their picnic things and decide they’re only partway there after all and if they hike a little further, they’ll end up some place much better. It doesn’t really take a lot more effort — just a change of mindset and a change of heart. The work is really the same. If you’re involved in one of these groups, maybe you can speak out, start a dialogue, and instigate some change.

So, we need two things:

First, we parents — who buy our kids organic and handmade everything — need to be less complacent about accepting off-the-shelf, mass-produced learning experiences for our kids.

Second, we group leaders — who care deeply about the kids we work with but bend so readily to the constraints of time, parental expectations, and the exigencies of managing a group — need to take a hard look at our true objectives vs. our xeroxed agenda and see if we can reorganize ourselves around the true center: the individual child as learner.

Until kids are combining skills with their own ideas, we’re not there yet. Until kids are allowed to do their own organizing, researching, and decision-making, rather than waiting for adults to do it all, we’re not there yet. Until the adults step back and let the kids take over, we’re not there yet.

If adults are doing all the teaching — and if they’re offering the kids badges for acquiring skills — then we’re just glancing off the surface of what self-directed learning can accomplish.

If you’re out there trying, I’m a fan of you. I just want us all to think a little harder about why we’re doing this — then work a little harder to give kids the learning opportunities they deserve. Let’s help them rigorously pursue their own ideas.

 

Some good stuff here: Kathy Sierra on gamification of education, incentives, and rewards

The only invitation children need to play is time

Published by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2013 at 08:28 AM

I’m seeing posts and pins this week about organizing children’s play around their Halloween costumes. These include suggestions for creating “invitations” for children that match their costumes.

The word “invitation” is being thrown around a lot, as well as the Reggio term “provocation,” and I think it’s worth exploring more deeply.

What is dramatic play? It’s using your imagination and ideas and exploring them through pretending and world-building. It’s building play-acting scenarios about the things that excite you as well as the things you don’t understand. It starts with the child and what fascinates him, what he wonders, what scares or interests or excites him.

I’m sure the people who are doing these very specific and directed “invitations” would quickly say that children can take the play in whatever direction they like, but why build so much of the scenario for them to begin with? If you’re using Halloween costumes as the jumping-off point, isn’t it enough to dress up as doctors or pirates or circus performers (presumably something that interested the child enough to choose the costume) and then do the important child’s work of selecting your own props and building your own scenarios?

Sometimes I think we kill all spontaneity for children because we’re afraid — afraid they won’t have their own ideas, or maybe afraid that their play won’t be significant enough. But that’s a misunderstanding on our part, because children’s play is always significant.

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. — Fred Rogers

Piaget called play the work of children and the language of childhood. Both Piaget and Mr. Rogers knew the score: Play is how children learn. And the more you do, the less your child can do.

In order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. — Jean Piaget

When we plan our children’s play, when we step in and initiate their play for them, we are reducing their learning opportunities. Period.

 

The only invitation your children require is some space, some flexible, generic props (cardboard boxes, small plain table, squares of cloth, wooden blocks…), and most important of all, time.

At educational conferences in the nineties, kindergarten teachers continued to defend play, even as they had to allow more and more paperwork to clutter the tables and walls. Some teachers tried to recapture the certainties of the past by collecting antique block sets and doll-corner cribs, ancient dolls, and little wooden cars and trains, resisting anything that came in a catalogue. But we overlooked the real villain in our midst. It turned out to be not so much the “academics” we were adding but the time we subtracted from the children's fantasy play that would begin to make the difference.

 

Having not listened carefully enough to their play, we did not realize how much time was needed by children in order to create the scenery and develop the skills for their ever-changing dramas. We removed the element — time — that enabled play to be effective, then blamed the children when their play skills did not meet our expectations.

Although we feared the influence of television, we were cutting down on the one activity that counteracts the mindlessness of cartoons.

We blamed television for making children restless and distracted, then substituted an academic solution that compounded restlessness and fatigue.

 

The children may have been the only ones capable of making sense of the confusion, and they did so whenever the schedule was cleared so they could play. — Vivian Gussin Paley, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play

We’ve all had that friend who said she’d show us how to use her new yo-yo and then played with it herself for a half an hour while we just sat there wishing we could at least try it once. Don’t be that guy.

All of the ideas on Pinterest for building forts and playing cowboys and knights and astronauts and setting up mud pie kitchens were born in the minds of small children. You aren’t doing your child any favors when you take away the discovery and invention and offer a predigested plate of fun.

Let them do it all. Every single bit of it. Don’t worry — it’s already in there. It’s who they are. It’s what they were born to do. They’ve got this.

 

For more on this subject, check out: Curriculum of Curiosity

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Launching: PBH Tip Sheet

Published by Lori Pickert on October 25, 2013 at 02:41 PM

Once you resolve to make a change and set yourself on a new learning and doing path, you need to build a structure to help you touch base regularly with your goals and intentions. You have to commit (and recommit regularly) — and you have to follow through. This is a little bit of structure we’ve built for you. Check it out.

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on September 28, 2013 at 08:21 AM

This week’s Facebook links (and some bonus finds) are a continuation of last week’s focus on college, learning to learn vs. learning to earn, and that elusive thing called happiness — or maybe we’ll settle for contentment.

I’m going to start with a great quote from Charles D. Hayes:

Millions of Americans have been so jaded by traditional education…they fail to comprehend that learning and quality of life are interdependent.

Traditional education has duped us into believing, or at least behaving as if we believed, that learning to earn a living is hard and that learning to live well is easy. But the evidence…suggests the reverse: we are good at earning a living, but not good at living a living. — Charles D. Hayes

Child psychologists in the UK have now extended adolescence to age 25:

“The idea that suddenly at 18 you’re an adult just doesn’t quite ring true,” Laverne Antrobus, a child psychologist at London’s Tavistock Clinic, told the BBC. “My experience of young people is that they still need quite a considerable amount of support and help beyond that age.” — Medical Daily

This is interesting, as I’ve just recently finished reading Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now. The idea of pushing adolescence to the mid-twenties sounds like what Jay describes as giving kids excuses to put off making serious decisions about their lives, their relationships, and their work. Jay, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with twenty-somethings, has a lot to say on this subject:

[S]ome underemployment is not a means to an end. Sometimes it is just a way to pretend we’re not working.

The longer it takes to get our footing in work, the more likely we are to become, as one journalist put it, “different and damaged.” Research on underemployed twentysomethings tells us that those who are underemployed for as little as nine months tend to be more depressed and less motivated than their peers — than even their unemployed peers. … Twentysomething underemployment is associated with heavy drinking and depression in middle age even after becoming regulrly employed.

Twentysomethings who think they have until later to leave unemployment or underemployment miss out on moving ahead while they are still traveling light. No matter how smoothly this goes, late bloomers will likely never close the gap between themselves and those who got started earlier. … Midlife is when we may realize that our twentysomething choices cannot be undone.

It is almost a relief to imagine that these years aren’t real, that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count. But a career spent studying adult development tells me this is far from true. And years of listening closely to clients and students tells me that, deep down, twentysomethings want to be taken seriously, and they want their lives to be taken seriously. They want to know what they do matters — and it does.

Back it all the way up to preschool and what do we find? Kids who are already afraid to fail:

“‘I asked the children to draw pictures of houses but they wanted me to draw the houses for them." Why? "They didn't want to get them wrong.’

Or: ‘We were talking about what things float and one of the objects was a sieve. I asked if a sieve could float and a child said “no.” And then he looked at me and said, “it could.” Why. He didn’t want to make a mistake.”

Or: ‘The children were drawing and one child asked, “Is this going to be in the grade book?’”

These comments are sadly typical. I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last week and a grandmother told of taking her grandson to kindergarten. He was beside himself with excitement to start school. A few weeks later that excitement had waned. She asked him what he was learning in kindergarten. He told her that he was learning to take tests.” — Kids These Days

What are we teaching kids in school if in early childhood they’re already trying to figure out the right answer vs. learning how to think? Already, they’re worrying about how to be good students vs. how to be good learners:

There is a difference between being a good learner and a good student, and in high school, my peers and I learned how to be good students.”

“…I became increasingly aware of the role that my current grades would play in my near future. Doing all of my homework no longer felt realistic. My friends and I realized we didn’t have to do everything assigned to us in order to succeed in high school.”

I hope college is where I can become a good learner.” — My Insane Homework Load Taught Me How to Game the System

We already know what type of education helps kids succeed *and* be happy:

“Dweck discovered two groups of students according to what motivated them.

First group, I’ll call the praise-seekers: People who are motivated to learn mostly to get high grades, pats on the back, and praise — and then profit post-graduation.

Second group, I’ll call the meaning-makers and mastery-seekers: People who are motivated to learn mostly by a desire to make meaning, to advance their own knowledge and skill set, and to use knowledge and skills toward a greater goal beyond their own advancement. 

In a longitudinal follow-up, guess which group, ten years later, was more content with work and life?

Yep, group two.” — A Job as Creative Quest

So most kids are afraid to fail and taught to seek praise and good grades — and they’re left unable to think for themselves, take good risks, and be resilient in the face of failure while pursuing important work.

Meg Jay again — on how we get sucked into making choices to please other people (parents, teachers, … and Facebook “friends”):

“Each person has an inherent urge to grow toward his or her potential, much in the way an acorn becomes a tree. But because we all aren’t acorns and won’t all be oaks, there is bound to be confusion about what exactly growing toward our potential means. …

Maybe we feel the cultural press to be an engineer before we find out what exactly that entails. Or our parents tell us more about what we should be like than what we are like. Or Facebook suggests that our … lives ought to look a lot better than they do. Scrambling after ideals, we become alienated from what is true about ourselves and the world.

Shoulds can masquerade as high standards or lofty goals, but they are not the same. Goals direct us from the inside, but shoulds are paralyzing judgments from the outside. Goals feel like authentic dreams while shoulds feel like oppressive obligations. Shoulds set up a false dichotomy between either meeting an ideal or being a failure, between perfection or settling. The tyranny of the should even pits us against our own best interests.

“Part of realizing our potential is recognizing how our particular gifts and limitations fit with the world around us.” — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade

Alexis Ohanian, young co-founder of reddit, says doing real, meaningful work matters:

Most schoolwork felt awfully irrelevant when compared to work that was actually affecting real people and giving me leadership opportunities (albeit digital ones), nurturing the community management skills that would come in handy later.

Learning how to learn is going to be the defining skill of this internet-enabled century.” — Alexis Ohanian

“Learning how to learn” is an oft-heard, even trite phrase. But are our kids really learning how to learn? Those preschool and Kindergarten children who are learning to game the system — and the high school students gaming it several years later — did they learn how to learn?

When will they, if that crucial lesson was skipped?

Some people believe a solution can be found in the maker movement:

“Based on 16 years of hearing pitches about the next great thing in education, what jumps out is that demand from young people — not the education industry's desire to supply something — is driving the maker movement. …

When schools do teach science, too often they are ‘telling students about science’ — and drilling for memorization — instead of engaging them. …

One way to activate student learning, as professor Sugata Mitra has shown through his famous Hole-in-the-Wall experiments, is to give kids the right resources and some motivating content and then get out of the way.” — Teach Kids to Make Things

I have a few bones to pick with the maker movement as adults have organized it for kids — there will be an upcoming post about that. Nutshell: Kids still don’t have enough control — and therefore they aren’t getting the full learning benefit. Until they set their own goals, determine their own deadlines, and measure their own progress, the maker movement isn’t giving kids what they could get on their own, building their learning from scratch. It’s Little League vs. corner-lot ball — the kids are along for the ride, but the adults are still calling too many of the shots.

And is the education system ever going to just hand over resources and content and then get out of the way? Not if they remain focused on test results.

Put these articles and results together and it’s clear that we’re not just choosing a less-beneficial education for kids, we’re putting them on a path that is going to affect their ability to be independent, self-directed learners who can find and do meaningful work as adults:

Thriving workers are 46% more satisfied than their peers.

 

They are 125% less likely to burn out than their non-thriving peers.

 

What’s characteristic of thrivers?

 

They have passion mixed with mastery. They love what they do, but they actively pursue more knowledge and skills.

 

A sub-title on the a Harvard Business Review cover sums it up: How Passion & Purpose Drive Profits. It does not read, ‘How Profits Drive Passion & Purpose.’” — A Job as Creative Quest

I’ll end by referring back to a quote from last week’s round-up:

What makes people successful,’ [Prof. Wadhwa] said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.

 

…[Y]oung people are often steered away from courses they would like to take in school by well-meaning parents, friends or teachers who tell them they will never get a job doing that. Real life often tells a different story. — Finding Your Element

Kids need to be doing real work that matters now — so they’re prepared to make a life as well as a living.

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on September 20, 2013 at 12:37 PM

It’s been awhile but I’m going to get back into doing a Friday link round-up — these are mostly comprised of thinks [Freudian slip — keeping it] I’ve shared on Facebook (along with added commentary) plus bonus things I’ve run across in reading and research.

Lately I’ve shared several excerpts around a loose topic of where happiness fits in with education and work.

We start with Alan Watts:

[I]t’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on spending time doing things you don’t like and to teach your children to follow in the same track.

See, what we’re doing is, we’re bringing up children, educating them, to live the same sort of lives that we’re living in order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same things…

And so therefore it’s so important to consider this question — what do I desire?” — How to do what you love

Does it matter what we desire? Or should skills trump passion?

Is it irresponsible to tell our children to pursue their big (possibly unrealistic) dreams, even if chances for making a successful living seem slim?

…It still seems to be the smartest, most glorious way to do anything: You do it. People who want to be writers say, what should I do? And you say, write! [Laughs] And they’ll say, then what? And you say, well, finish things! And they say, well, then what? Well, write something else. That’s how you do it. If you do it over and over, sooner or later you’re going to be writing stuff that’s publishable. And if you keep doing it, you’ll probably get fairly good. You have, you know, a million lousy words inside you, and you’ve got to get them out. I think there’s something very real and very true in that. How do you do it? You do it. Look at other people. Learn everything you can from everywhere. The most important thing is to do it.” — Neil Gaiman

Should we recommend they go to college and get a degree so they can get a good job?

“[I]f we are to have a really objective and productive debate about education policy, it’s important to base it on reality not wishful thinking. And the reality is that when measured in terms of absolute growth (not percentage change) in job openings between 2010 and 2020, none of the top fastest growing occupations even require a bachelor’s degree, and six of them don't even require a high school degree.

The focus on everyone getting a college degree clearly is wrong. … Whether or not to go to college is largely a choice based on how lucky one feels that they can beat the odds of being able to find a job that requires a college degree.” — What Emerging Knowledge Economy?

Are we advising our kids to acquire crushing debt for jobs that won’t be available to pay back the loans?

“[I]t turns out my job is to tell you not to trust us when we claim that there’s something sacred and irreplaceable about what we academics do. What we do is run institutions whose only rationale — whose only excuse for existing — is to make people smarter.

Sometimes we try to make ourselves smarter. We call that research. Sometimes we try to make our peers smarter. We call that publishing. Sometimes we try to make our students smarter. We call that teaching. And that’s it. That’s all there is. These are important jobs for sure, and they are hard jobs at times, but they’re not magic. And neither are we.

Mostly, we’re doing the best we can. … But our way of doing the best we can is to keep doing what we’ve always done, modifying it a bit with stuff we make up as we go along. Just like most people inside most institutions. Some years that works out fine, but we haven’t had so many of those years recently.

For all our good will, college in the U.S. has gotten worse for nearly everyone who relies on us. For some students — millions of them — the institutions in which they enroll are more reliable producers of debt than education. This has happened on our watch.” — Your Massively Open Offline College Is Broken

Kind of a whole other topic, but isn’t it interesting that we have kids in public school for 13 years and when they graduate with good grades they still aren’t able to understand the terms of a loan document? Or, for that matter, make good choices about how much money to invest in high education based on the availability of the jobs that interest them.

Should we be questioning whether the point of education is just to get a high-paying job?

[T]here’s something deeply disturbing about regarding children mostly as future employees and reducing education to an attempt to increase the profitability of corporations — or, worse, the probability that “our” corporations will defeat “theirs.”  Some of the least inspiring approaches to schooling, and the least meaningful ways of assessing its success, follow logically from thinking of education not in terms of its intrinsic worth, or its contribution to a truly democratic society, but in the context of the “21st-century global economy.” — Alfie Kohn, Five Bad Education Assumptions the Media Keeps Recycling

In response to Kohn, Annie Murphy Paul wrote:

Schools, like all of society’s institutions, serve a multitude of purposes (at least, they do when they’re working well — but that’s another issue). They open up worlds of literature and history and science. They cultivate the habits of clear thinking and balanced judgment so important to the functioning of a democracy. And yes, they prepare students for their lives after graduation, much of which will be spent in the workplace. — Is the Point of Schooling to Make More Money?

Well, my quibble here would be whether schools really serve a multitude of purposes. Evidently they do “when they’re working well” — I guess I haven’t been lucky enough to attend one of those schools. I would even quibble about whether they prepare students for lives after graduation, but let’s not go there.

We seem to be in a transitional period between paying a huge amount of money for job-acquisition credentials (and thinking going into debt for a degree is the cost of doing business in America) and possibly a more freelance- and entrepreneurial-based future economy. Whose kids will be the last ones to pay big bucks for a four-year degree that no longer means anything?

This writer tries to argue that education still matters even if you put credentials aside:

“If this trend continues, the future of higher education — at least in the U.S. — is clear. It will be training in various disciplines that lead to a professional credential and a secure job. … The world somehow expects that by age eighteen, people will know enough about their talents and interests to walk confidently into the right silo and come out the other end to occupy a place in the professional class.

…In my view, higher education should be equipping students to answer these four questions:

What is worth knowing?
What is worth doing?
What makes for a good human life?
What are my responsibilities to other people?

College is not the only place in which answers to these questions can develop, but it is an important place. And siloed, specialized training in a discipline — any discipline — will answer none of them.” — What Higher Education Should Be For

Those are great questions. But does anyone really think paying a private university $200,000 for the privilege of exploring those four questions for four years is a good financial decision? Couldn’t you explore those deep questions a lot more cheaply outside a university?

So should you advise your children to put aside their interests and pursue whatever the media is predicting to be the best careers in the next decade?

“Professor Wadhwa concluded that there is no link between what you study in college and how successful or otherwise you are later in your life.

‘What makes people successful,’ he said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.’

…[Y]oung people are often steered away from courses they would like to take in school by well-meaning parents, friends or teachers who tell them they will never get a job doing that. Real life often tells a different story. …

The saddest thing to me,’ says Dr. Brooks, “is seeing someone take the job because it pays well and then spend all that money on toys to cheer themselves up for being so miserable in their jobs. The people who are doing what they love hardly feel they’re working at all, just living.’” — Sir Ken Robinson, “Finding Your Element”

So back to happiness vs. employability — how do we weigh that balance? What does it mean to live a good life, and how important is salary in that equation?

“A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.”

“[I]n schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”

There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to ‘keep things on track.’ I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.”

The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.” — The Case for Working with Your Hands

Can you only be happy and fulfilled with a high-paying job? Research says no:

“[E]mployees have one of three ‘work orientations,’ or mindsets about our work. We view our work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling.

People with a ‘job’ see work as a chore and their paycheck as the reward. …

[P]eople who view their work as a career work not only out of necessity, but also to advance and succeed. …

[For people with a calling,] their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose. Unsurprisingly, people with a calling orientation not only find their work more rewarding, but work harder and longer because of it. And as a result, these are the people whoa re generally more likely to get ahead.” — The Happiness Advantage

“Wrzesniewski’s most interesting finding is not just that people see their work in one of these three ways, but that it fundamentally doesn’t matter what type of work one has. She found that there are doctors who see their work only as a job, and janitors who see their work as a calling. In fact, in one study of 24 administrative assistants, each orientation was represented in nearly equal thirds, even though their objective situations (job descriptions, salary, and level of education) were nearly identical.” — The Happiness Advantage

So Sir Ken Robinson quoted Prof. Wadhwa as saying

‘What makes people successful,’ he said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.’

Are these skills you learned at school? If not, how can we help our kids acquire these skills which are essential for success in life — and probably happiness as well?

So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures.

A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success.

Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier.” — New York Times

[S]tudy after study shows that happiness *precedes* important outcomes and indicators of thriving.” — Sonja Lyubomirsky

And so we’ve completed the circle. Happiness does matter. Personal interests do matter. The only question is, how are you going to tap into the power of your child’s authentic interests — and your own?

We see countless examples of people who graduate from college more confused than when they began. They are often terribly disappointed to discover they don’t seem at all suited for a career in their major area of study. They’ve allowed themselves to be molded into a shape that doesn’t fit them because they haven’t learned to think for themselves.”

When we fail to take charge of our education, we fail to take charge of our lives. The result is that we give away our power by letting others decide our fate.

“We have grossly misunderstood the objective of education, allowing our institutions to focus on credentialing instead of the fundamental need for learning that can … enable people to live their lives to the fullest.”

As long as external motivation obliterates the desire to discover what we really care about … we learn how to do, but not how to be. We lose sight of how to find purpose and meaning in the context of our daily lives.” — Charles Hayes

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