Monthly Archives: January 2011

Re-Thinking Childhood: Parenting and Educating Children in a Time of Global Transformation

In agricultural societies, winter is the time to think-through and plan for the future.  Decisions regarding which crops to continue, which fields to allow to remain fallow, and new seeds to experiment with are at the forefront of farmer’s minds.  Today, as I watch the snowfall just  outside my window, I also am thinking of seeds for the future.  I am pleased to invite you to join me and others who contemplate our best future, to the March 4 -6, 2011 conference Re-Thinking Childhood: Parenting and Educating Children in a Time of Global Transformation hosted by Great Lakes Teacher Training, Milwaukee, WI.

Joan Almon, Executive Director of The Alliance for Childhood and I will keynote the conference.  We will work with a host of workshop presenters who will offer topics for educators, parents, community leaders and all forward thinking people.   This is from the brochure:

“Our world has been changing rapidly. We see transformation on a global scale in the fields of technology and science, in our natural environment and farms, in the economy and politics. It’s hard to even imagine the future our children will be entering into as adults. How can we best prepare them for the unknown? What experiences do they need to grow into adults who know themselves and have a sense of purpose? Can we imagine forms of education and childcare that support the development of meaningful relationships as a foundation for new and better ways of life”

Please follow this link, to visit and consider joining us for this important conference. Together we envision the future!    www.waldorftraining.com/marchconf120610.htm

On a final note, here is a thought from one of my up-coming presentations:

Those of us who are committed to the future ask ourselves a critically important question: “What is the best thing I can do, for the children?” But I would propose that we consider another equally critical question: “Who is the best person I can be, for the children?” How can I become my very best self? Who we are is the subtext our children read while we live each day with them, as we go about our “doing.”

It is our consciousness, knowing who we are, that shapes our children and the future as well. Raising and educating our children to know themselves prepares them best for whatever the future may hold. For it is in knowing ourselves, that we hold the compass which guides our actions. When we know who we are, we will know what to do.

“Green Space” and Winter Games

Virginia has had a very cold winter so far:  many, many days the temperature is below freezing, and plenty of days in the 20′s.  This has not phased The Rose Garden children, as we play in the woods!  As Helle Heckman says:  “There is no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad clothing!”   Equipped with woolie long johns, plenty of layers, snow suits even with no snow, and snug hats and mittens, the children have flourished in the cold.  “But why,” you ask, “send them out in such weather?”  It is hard to convey the importance of Nature, in the development of young children.

I wrote an article that was recently published in the Winter edition of Rhythm of The Home (click on Connections) a beautiful on-line magazine that you will want to visit.  These are beginning thoughts on outdoor play:   ” Outdoor play offers the child the opportunity to step into the long slow rhythms of the earth. The child readily comes to know their own bodied-ness when in intimate connection to the body of the earth. Running, swinging, jumping, creeping, sliding, kneeling, splashing, digging…all of this develops familiarity with and fullness “in the body.” The child develops strength, balance, agility, grace, flexibility, competence and confidence. This kind of “body-knowing” lays a foundation for all of these qualities to permeate the child’s whole being. Years later, the young person steps into the world with these capacities intact and readily available for the challenges and joys of adult life”

Here is a little more from an article of mine to be published in the Rhythm of the Home spring issue:

“Much research has been done, observing children’s play in both natural spaces, and in “built spaces” Studies show that children engage in more creative play in green areas than in built spaces. One study observed children playing in both “vegetative rooms”, (little forts and such that he children had built themselves) and in playgrounds dominated by play structures. They observed that children playing on the formal play structures grouped themselves in hierarchical subsets, dependent upon physical abilities. Whereas the children playing in the natural vegetative rooms used more fantasy play and their social standing was based more on language skills, creativity and inventiveness”.

Language skills, creativity and inventiveness abound when children are given plenty of creative play time;  time to run and frolic held in the arms of our Mother, the Earth!

Winter Fun!

Winter has arrived on The Rose Garden playground and the children are ready to play!  But what you see here is not all fun and games: according to a CNN article yesterday, the learning that takes place in childhood through the magic of creative play serves them not only on the playground, but in their Harvard classrooms.  The following article by Erika and Nicholas Kristakis, of Harvard, highlights how the ability to control impulses, which is learned in  play, serves the young adult in their future endeavors.  The operant words in the article are “constructive, teacher (adult) moderated play”.  Children certainly learn from their interactions with each other, but they need an adult close by to help them know how to move through the rough spots.  Here is an excerpt from the article; you’ll see your child’s play in a new light!

“One of the best predictors of school success is the ability to control impulses. Children who can control their impulse to be the center of the universe, and — relatedly — who can assume the perspective of another person, are better equipped to learn.

Psychologists calls this the “theory of mind”: the ability to recognize that our own ideas, beliefs, and desires are distinct from those of the people around us. When a four-year-old destroys someone’s carefully constructed block castle or a 20-year-old belligerently monopolizes the class discussion on a routine basis, we might conclude that they are unaware of the feelings of the people around them.

The beauty of a play-based curriculum is that very young children can routinely observe and learn from others’ emotions and experiences. Skills-based curricula, on the other hand, are sometimes derisively known as “drill and kill” programs because most teachers understand that young children can’t learn meaningfully in the social isolation required for such an approach.

How do these approaches look different in a classroom? Preschoolers in both kinds of programs might learn about hibernating squirrels, for example, but in the skills-based program, the child could be asked to fill out a worksheet, counting (or guessing) the number of nuts in a basket and coloring the squirrel’s fur.

In a play-based curriculum, by contrast, a child might hear stories about squirrels and be asked why a squirrel accumulates nuts or has fur. The child might then collaborate with peers in the construction of a squirrel habitat, learning not only about number sense, measurement, and other principles needed for engineering, but also about how to listen to, and express, ideas.

The child filling out the worksheet is engaged in a more one-dimensional task, but the child in the play-based program interacts meaningfully with peers, materials, and ideas.

Programs centered around constructive, teacher-moderated play are very effective. For instance, one randomized, controlled trial had 4- and 5-year-olds engage in make-believe play with adults and found substantial and durable gains in the ability of children to show self-control and to delay gratification. Countless other studies support the association between dramatic play and self-regulation.

Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment. By allowing children to imagine walking in another person’s shoes, imaginative play also seeds the development of empathy, a key ingredient for intellectual and social-emotional success.

The real “readiness” skills that make for an academically successful kindergartener or college student have as much to do with emotional intelligence as they do with academic preparation. Kindergartners need to know not just sight words and lower case letters, but how to search for meaning. The same is true of 18-year-olds.

As admissions officers at selective colleges like to say, an entire freshman class could be filled with students with perfect grades and test scores. But academic achievement in college requires readiness skills that transcend mere book learning. It requires the ability to engage actively with people and ideas. In short, it requires a deep connection with the world.

For a five year-old, this connection begins and ends with the creating, questioning, imitating, dreaming, and sharing that characterize play. When we deny young children play, we are denying them the right to understand the world. By the time they get to college, we will have denied them the opportunity to fix the world too.”