Thursday, April 02, 2020

A Place to Escape Into the Comfort of Humdrum



It's important to escape sometimes. That's one of the reasons why every classroom needs a place where children can hide, preferably a darker quieter place, a place where the pirates can't get you. In our classroom it was a crawlspace under our loft. Sometimes children would squeeze in there together, giggly, sweaty, but most of the time it was a place for a single child to be in their own world.

Janet Zwieg

There should be places like this outdoors as well, off the radar hideouts suitable for an individual child to get away.

A couple blocks from my apartment there's a small city park, not much bigger than a suburban backyard. It's mainly intended as a place for downtown workers to eat a sandwich in the middle of their day, although there is a small concrete slide built into the landscaping. There are two patches of lawn, one actual grass, while the other is a bright green pool of artificial turf. The glass towers rise around it like those in the Emerald City for which our actual city, Seattle, is nicknamed.


The park has no name. Or rather, it takes on a new name every day based upon the machinations of a pair of transit-like signs set on tall poles. Each day the signs change, giving the park two new names based upon fictional places. The tall, blue sign bears a place name from literature, film, television, comics, or games intended for adults, while the shorter, yellow sign wears the name of a fictional place created for children.


Only a few weeks ago, this small park was a well-used place, especially as spring was just showing its fresh-aired face, but yesterday as I sat on a bench, musing upon the places promised by those signs, I was all alone. It took me a second to remember why. For a moment I'd forgotten: I'd escaped.


It's important to escape sometimes, especially now when, at least for the time being, there is no escape. This park will be full again with people evading the marauding pirates of their computer screens, their colleagues, their desks, chairs, and walls. But now it's a place to escape into the comfort  of humdrum for brief moments, a place where gathering together is once more as commonplace as can be.

******

And now, another in my series of short videos for parents who find themselves suddenly homeschooling their preschoolers. I'm making these videos for parents. If you're a teacher, please feel free to share it with the parents of the children you teach. If you want to watch all of my tips videos, look at the bottom of previous posts here on the blog, or visit the Teacher Tom TV YouTube channel:


I hate to do this, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've just had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 6 months. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the donation button below. 


Or even better, sign up for Partnering With Parents a 7-part e-course designed to help you make allies of the parents of the children you teach. Thank you!



I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share
-->

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

What Happened When We Tried to Ban Superheroes





There were always kids in our 4-5's class who spent their days together playing "superheroes." They might have called it something different (good guys, bad guys, Star Wars, Ninjas, Minecraft), but it was essentially the same game: they formed a team, negotiated their roles, discussed in detail just how powerful they were, then raced about talking tough, making fierce faces, and striking assertive poses.

And just as predictably, there were some children who came to fear the superheroes. It's not something the kids usually talked to me about, but rather their parents, who then attempted to coach their kids through it with varying degrees of success. A couple years ago, an adult brought up the topic during a parent meeting, and we discovered that there were a handful of children feeling uncomfortable at school because of the superhero play.

The following day, when the children assembled for circle time, I knew I wanted to steer the conversation that way. We started off talking about our classroom rules, the agreements the children have made with one another. It was a long, comprehensive list by that point in the school year, but that didn't mean we stopped adding to it. Children began taking turns suggesting new rules, which we accepted or rejected. I was prepared to broach the subject of superheroes myself, but was hoping that it would emerge from the kids. I knew that one girl, H, via her mother, had been attempting to summon up the courage to suggest an outright ban on their play, and this was the day.

I said, "H has something to say," and she replied, "No superheroes."

There was a moment of dead silence as her words sank in. Then the superheroes, their expressions full of shock and outrage, raised a chorus of, "Nooooo," which was followed by a more scattered chorus of, "Yesssss." It was obvious that we were not going to reach consensus on this rule, but that wasn't the point: the point was to have the discussion. Once we'd settled down we took turns making our cases. We started with those who were feeling afraid. Several classmates joined H. As they spoke up I watched the superheroes who were listening the way one does when the topic is of utmost importance. As they listened to their classmates, their expressions turned from outrage to what I can only describe as stunned.


When it was the superheroes' turn to talk, one of them said, emotion rising in his throat, "But we're good guys." Another said, "We protect people." They were simply astonished that they had been so misunderstood. They definitely did not want anyone to be afraid of them.

The discussion that followed was long and rambling, and atypically, I worked to steer things back to the topic of the day. We knew we couldn't agree to H's suggested rule, but we talked about things we could do like being more aware of one another's feelings, being more direct with one another about how we were feeling, and figuring out better ways to share the space and resources. As we discussed, we learned that most of the children were neutral about the super heroes, sometimes joining them, but not every day. They had concrete suggestions, but perhaps their most important contribution was to let their friends know that they weren't afraid, which I think helped some of the more fearful children see that there was an alternative to either-or. I didn't check the clock, but it was a long, productive discussion in which the kids learned something about one another.

This wouldn't be the last time we needed to talk about this, but it was a good starting point and the parents of the anti-superheroes reported that their children came away feeling much better, empowered even. As for the superheroes they seemed quite sincere in their desire to not frighten their classmates going forward, even if they sometimes forgot as they immersed themselves in their dramatic play. And we adults now had a convenient reference point for supporting the children as they worked this through.

A few days after our big discussion, one of the superheroes was running full speed near the swings. A boy standing nearby flinched as he passed, which caught our caped crusader's eye. He slowed briefly and said, "I'm sorry I scared you," and his friend replied, "That's okay. I was only scared for a second." Like I said, we were going to be working on this for the rest of the school year, but man that was awesome.

******

I hate to do this, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've just had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 6 months. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the donation button below. 


Or even better, sign up for Partnering With Parents a 7-part e-course designed to help you make allies of the parents of the children you teach. Thank you!


I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share
-->

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

You Can't Hurry Mother Nature



Jean Piaget was perhaps not the first, but certainly the most famous of early childhood researchers who demonstrated that children's capacity to understand certain concepts is developmental. In his famous conservation of liquid experiment, for instance, he found that most four and five year olds were not able to understand that water poured into a taller, skinnier glass contains the same amount of water as a shorter, wider glass, whereas most six and seven year olds were able to grasp the concept. This isn't to say that he did not find some younger children who got it and some older kids who didn't, but those were the classic exceptions that proved the rule.

The cognitive development of humans is a progression from one thing to the next, some of us go through them relatively quickly, while others take more time, but the order is predictable, a pattern established by Mother Nature. Most children start to walk between nine and 12 months, but some are on their feet earlier and others later. It is why most two-year-olds can't read, while most eight-year-olds can. The four developmental stages identified by Piaget have been refined and modified over the years, but the basic concept is as bedrock as it gets in science.

This "fact" of science has given rise to the notion that it is always either too early or too late to teach a child something. Until the right developmental moment, it is impossible for the child to understand. After that moment, it is a piece of cake. Those of us in the evidence-based world of play-based early childhood education, embrace this by asserting that it is not our job to teach as much as it is to create an environment in which learning can take place and children, through their natural curiosity, will perform the experiments they need to perform at the moment they need to perform them. In other words, it is our job to provide the glasses of various sizes and the liquid, but it's the children's job to discover the nature of water and containers for themselves.

When it comes to cognitive development, every adult intervention to "teach" something is an attempt to somehow one-up Mother Nature. It's where the dilettante reformers come in with their ideas for "accelerating" learning in the name of reform. Most of these interventions seek not to teach children to understand as much as to memorize certain "rules" that, when applied correctly, bring the children praise in the form of grades, scores, and "Good jobs!" This behaviorist approach is underpinned by the notion that if we can break things down into little parts, then re-construct them within the child, we can override the child's programming, yet time and again we find that learning the "rules" about something, such as knowing that this letter sounds like this and that one like that, doesn't equate to understanding. Understanding will only come when the learner is ready. What we mostly achieve through this "accelerator" approach is children who can perform as if they understand without real understanding. But mostly we just frustrate children, teaching them that learning is hard and they aren't very good at it.

Cognitive development is notoriously spiky in young children. Some seem to spend long stretches of time in idle, only to suddenly spurt forward in this area or that. Others bounce from one thing to the next. And, yes, there are those who tend to be slow and steady learners. But there are always moments of acceleration and deceleration. There are even times when the child seems to be in reverse, but the overall progression continues as long as they have the opportunity to engage their curiosity through the asking and answering of their own questions.

So how do children come to understand? How do they go from not being able to comprehend to comprehension? Piaget found that in every case where acceleration takes place, it results from a conflict arising in the child's own mind. It is the children's own effort to resolve a conflict that takes them to another level.

This is why Piaget cautioned: "Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover by himself will remain with him visibly for the rest of his life."

******

And now, another in my series of short videos for parents who find themselves suddenly homeschooling their preschoolers. I'm making these videos for parents. If you're a teacher, please feel free to share it with the parents of the children you teach. If you want to watch all of my tips videos, look at the bottom of previous posts here on the blog, or visit the Teacher Tom TV YouTube channel:


I hate to do this, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've just had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 6 months. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the donation button below. 


Or even better, sign up for Partnering With Parents a 7-part e-course designed to help you make allies of the parents of the children you teach. Thank you!


I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share
-->

Monday, March 30, 2020

Teachers Are the Leading Experts on Education



We live in uncertain times. No one, even pandemic experts, knows what's going to happen. Yet, all day, every day, we're being offered advice, warnings, admonitions, and opinions, some of which are spot on, but most of which are, at best, partially based on incomplete knowledge, while a huge percentage of it is pure BS, including much of what's coming from the mouths of our elected leaders.

How do we know who to listen to? We check credentials, we research their backgrounds, we assess their motivations, and we check with other experts for comparison. Just the other day, I shared an opinion piece on Facebook from a well respected media outlet that offered a narrative on our current Covid-19 crisis that seemed to offer a way forward while minimizing the economic impact. Immediately after sharing it, I decided to do some quick research into the doctor who wrote it. The first four search engine search results used the word "quack" to describe him. At best he's a controversial figure, so I removed the post. I should have done the research before sharing it in the first place.

What hooked me was that what he wrote sounded perfectly reasonable to my non-expert ears. It played into some of my hopes and fears, shining with the veneer of some of the things I'd already been thinking, but done so with some statistics, which convinced me it must be well vetted. Of course, this sort of thing happens all the time, the internet breeds half-truths, rumors, and outright lies, and never more so than in a time of crisis.

We're all focused on the pandemic right now, but it's only a matter of time (indeed, it's already started) before self-appointed reformers begin to use this pandemic to flood us with proposals about how we can transform education. Peter Greene, writing over on Forbes, recently posted a short and excellent guide for sorting through the deluge to come entitled, "We're About To Hear Many Suggestions About How To Reshape Education. Here's How To Sort Them Out." As he writes, "Some of the ideas that emerge will be useful and worthwhile, some will be opportunistic profiteering, and some will be baloney."

Education in America needs to be transformed, no one disagrees, but just as we lean on medical professionals to help us through a medical crisis, we must lean on classroom teachers when it comes to education:

Teachers know the system better than anyone; they are, in fact, the leading experts on public education in this country. Most teachers have spent their entire career thinking about talking about how to make the system better to serve students.

This isn't to say that good ideas can't come from anywhere, but rather to point out that teachers are the experts and all the rest are dilettantes, even if they are billionaires, even if they run technology companies, and even if they call themselves "thought leaders." This is exactly the sort of crisis in which snake oil salesmen thrive. You're liable to hear that this or that technology has been "proven," that "standardization" will make things more efficient or that "individualization" will make things more profitable, and, naturally, that now is a time to "disrupt the marketplace." This will come from people who are basing their knowledge of how education works upon their own individual experience in school several decades ago. They will present data that doesn't stand up outside their computer models. They will have deep, reassuring voices, full of concern for the children who are hopelessly falling behind and absolutely need this latest innovation. For a limited time only, we're offering two for the price of one. And they will be sure to proclaim teachers as our greatest national resource while simultaneously suggesting that we are sweet little puddin' heads who can't be expected to know what's best for our students.

If there is one thing that can finally be put to bed right now, it's that last one. This crisis has shown us teachers at their flexible, innovative, and thoughtful best. We are engaged in a massive, nationwide research project, one that was forced upon us by world events. Some of it will work, while most of it will turn out to be baloney, and as the leading experts, we would be wise to look to teachers to help us tell the difference.

*****

I hate to do this, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've just had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 6 months. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the donation button below. 


Or even better, sign up for Partnering With Parents a 7-part e-course designed to help you make allies of the parents of the children you teach. Thank you!



I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share
-->

Friday, March 27, 2020

They'll Need Something to Do When the Novelty of That New Toy Wears Off





I was born in 1962, a year some people place at the tail end of the Baby Boom, while others insist I'm of the Gen X vanguard. But as we seek to pin a label on me, having lived my entire life on the cusp between idealistic hippie and ironic slacker, I've found that the real generational dividing line comes down to toys. If you claim to have played exclusively with rocks and sticks, you're a Baby Boomer; if you had a full toy box, you're Generation X.



I had a bedroom full of toys. I also played outdoors almost every day with the Azar, Weibel, Saine, Beale, and Cozart kids, roaming in packs around the neighborhood (or at least our suburban cul-de-sac), all ages mixed together, making up games with the stuff we found along the way. But I also owned SST Racers, Clacker Balls, Creepy Crawlers, piles of stuffed animals, Matchbox cars, board games, action figures (which we called "army men"), and an arsenal of toy weapons, including one very nifty number based on the TV program The Man From U.N.C.L.E., that transformed in seconds from an innocent-looking movie camera into a rat-a-tat-tat machine gun.

So what happened to create this divide between generations? The Thunder Burp Machine Gun happened, that's what.


In 1955, a TV commercial for the The Thunder Burp Machine Gun debuted on the first episode of The Mickey Mouse Club. It was the first time a toy had been advertised on television outside of the Christmas season.

According to Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University, this was an historic moment for toys. Almost overnight, children’s play became focused, as never before, on things. “It’s interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys,” says Chudacoff. “Whereas when I think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object.”



By the time I was out of diapers, big budget marketing of toys was in full swing. I doubt there are many of us born in the second half of the 20th century who can't fondly sing a full collection of toy commercial jingles. In other words, we were there at the birth of the commercialization of childhood and grew up as both its target and its product. Of course, being on the cusp, these toys were an addition to, not a replacement for, the rocks and sticks but as the decades have passed, mass produced, mass marketed toys have come to co-opt children’s play. 

Today, it’s hard for most of us to imagine childhood without toys.

For most of human existence, toys simply weren’t a thing. Children played with objects, of course, and they may have even made their own toys -- dolls, balls, games, and whatnot -- but for the most part, children thrived without them. Today, many children are virtually drowning in toys. Their rooms, closets, and classrooms are stuffed with the descendants of The Thunder Burp Machine Gun. As a young parent, I tried to stem the flow of toys into our house, to little effect, as every adult who visited us showed up with toys for our child, not to mention birthdays and holidays, all of which are toy giving bonanzas.

Our children haven’t changed, however. We’ve all seen the truth behind the joke that young children spend more time playing with the boxes the toys came in than with the toys themselves. Of course, sometimes that’s because the toys themselves are so poorly made that they break before the boxes: planned obsolescence that we mistakenly blame on the carelessness of children. Even well-made toys have their demise built into them. And we’ve all witnessed how quickly the novelty of new toys wears off. Today’s favorite will be found under the bed collecting dust in a matter of days. Most toys come with a “script” built into them, a “right way” to play with them that psychologically limits children. Adults reinforce these limits by forbidding children from, say, throwing their trucks or dismembering their dolls, but even without our nagging, the script is usually enough to cause children to lose interest.

Children never grow bored with rocks and sticks, or for that matter with cardboard boxes, bed sheets, paper clips, clothes pins, gardening tools, hand tools, wine corks, bubble wrap, cotton balls, pinecones, leaves, planks of wood, spare tires, logs, running water, or pretty much anything else that is not a toy.



In 1971, architect Simon Nicholson wrote an article for a magazine called Landscape Architecture entitled “How Not to Treat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts Play.” Perhaps it wasn’t the first time that the phrase “loose parts play” was used, but it was this manifesto that in many ways kicked things off. In the nearly 50 years since its publication the idea has grown, first slowly, and then suddenly in recent years as more and more early childhood educators have made Nicholson’s theory, instead of toys, a centerpiece of their play-based programs.

That the theory emerged from architecture is fascinating to think about. It echoes, in a way, the work of Reggio Emilia founder Loris Malaguzzi who was at about the same time postulating that children had three teachers: adults, other children, and the environment, the environment being the primary purview of architecture. Nicholson’s theory, as he phrased it in that original article:

In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.

Nicholson was not talking exclusively about early childhood, but about educational environments in general. He included playgrounds and classrooms in his discussion, but also places for all ages, like museums and libraries. His big idea was that we are most inventive and creative when allowed to construct, manipulate, and otherwise play with our environments. He argued that when we leave the design of spaces to professionals (and I might add, the design of playthings to toymakers), we are, in effect, excluding children from the most important, and fun, part of the process. We are, in his words, “stealing” it from the children.



Even if we haven’t consciously adopted the theory of loose parts play, every early childhood professional, even those working in otherwise highly structured environments, knows this to be true. None of us would, for instance, build a block structure for the children, then expect them to learn anything by merely looking at it and listening to us lecture. We know that the children must take those blocks in hand, must both construct and deconstruct, must experiment, test, and manipulate. We also know that their play, and therefore their learning is expanded as we add more and varied materials to their environment.

The theory of loose parts applies the principles of the “block area” to the entire environment, encouraging us to let go of our ideas of how a learning environment is supposed to be and to instead fill it with variables, things that can be moved, manipulated, and transported. This, as Nicholson points out, is where creativity and inventiveness live. It lets the play be about the activity rather than things. It’s important to remember that his theory continues to be a radical one, even as it is in many ways simply a return to traditional values. This is about more than tree cookies and toilet paper tubes and clothes pins. It’s about more than old tires, shipping pallets, and planks of wood. At its core, the theory of loose parts is a theory about democracy, about self-governance, and about the rights and responsibilities of both individuals and groups to come together to shape their world according to their own vision.

The world is always ours to shape and when we are not shaping it, it is shaping us. Nicholson’s insight was that our environment is too often a kind of dictator, one that is restricting rather than expanding our possibilities. As we work with our “third teacher” it’s important that we keep this in mind and always ask ourselves, “Is this stealing the fun from the children?”

And when it comes to toys, I think the answer is a qualified “Yes.” Of course, children have fun with toys for a time and within limits, but in many ways, the mountains of toys that have come to define childhood are shaping their development in ways that limit their ability and motivation to shape their own world, as they await the next toy to come into their life and entertain them.



I think I very much would have wanted the Thunder Burp Machine Gun had I known about it, probably at least as much as I wanted that Wheel-Ofor Christmas, but probably not as much as the "real wristwatch" I saved up my money to buy. And as fondly as I remember my many toys, I'm very clear that it was that time spent outside or in the garage, monkeying around with the kids and the random things I found there, that was the real formative part of my childhood.

The genii, of course, is already out of the bottle on toy marketing, and every kid is going to own a Barbie or a Star Wars brand light saber or a merchandising item from a Disney movie. Even if you're the most disciplined parent on earth, an aunt or grandpa will slip one to your kid when your back is turned. And indeed, your child may even miss something socially important when it comes to future cultural literacy if you're too hard core about it. But that doesn't mean you can't also have boxes and sheets and popsicle sticks and rubber bands and paper clips at their disposal. After all, they’ll need something to do when the novelty of that new toy wears off.

******
And now, another in my series of short videos for parents who find themselves suddenly homeschooling their preschoolers. I'm making these videos for parents. If you're a teacher, please feel free to share it with the parents of the children you teach. If you want to watch all of my tips videos, look at the bottom of previous posts here on the blog, or visit the Teacher Tom TV YouTube channel:


I hate to do this, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've just had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 6 months. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the donation button below. 


Or even better, sign up for Partnering With Parents a 7-part e-course designed to help you make allies of the parents of the children you teach. Thank you!



I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share
-->

Thursday, March 26, 2020

We Can Help Children Heal Through the Stories We Tell



I went for a long walk yesterday, past Seattle Center to the Olympic Sculpture Park, then along the waterfront as far as Pioneer Square where I hairpined back along 1st Avenue to Pike Place Market, before turning up Pike Street, to Westlake Center, then back home to South Lake Union. On a normally sunny spring afternoon, all of those places would have been thronged with people, but for obvious reasons they weren't.

There were people out, the solo pedestrians all spaced six feet apart, but there were family "pods" walking in groups, still maintaining a distance from others. The only people who didn't seem to be following the protocol were some of the mentally ill street people. Every conversation I overheard was about some aspect of the pandemic. People were sharing information, opinions, a speculation. They were ranting about politicians, sharing their fears, or expressing their fearlessness. There were people in masks and gloves. Indeed, for the first time since 9/11 at least, everyone seemed to share a one-track mind. No one was distracted. We were all focused on this moment and this crisis.

And then it hit me: this is what it looks like when it's all-hands on deck. Unlike 9/11 when we the people were rendered fairly helpless, left to our worries and prayers, this crisis is something about which each of us must do something, and from my perspective isolating here in downtown Seattle, it seems that everyone is taking action. 

It wasn't that long ago in human history that a virus like Covid-19 would pass through populations unchecked. We had no way of seeing it coming and very little ability to do anything about it even if we did. The first news reports I heard about this coronavirus were in mid-January. I recall it well because I was staying in a bed and breakfast in Keri Keri New Zealand and my host liked to listen to radio news as he fried my eggs. We had a brief discussion about it. He wondered if I should cancel my trip back home, but I dismissed it, boasting about my robust preschool teacher immune system. Besides, this wasn't the first time I'd heard about deadly diseases in other parts of the world. I wasn't worried.



By mid-February, it seemed like everyone had heard of it. Experts and early-adopters were warning us that the US "isn't ready," that we needed to start taking action right away, but most of us were still not prepared to take action. Or maybe more to the point, we were prepared to take action, but weren't quite clear what that action should be. Would it be enough to simply be more cautious: washing our hands more often, coughing into our sleeves, staying away from people who looked unwell. The warning voices were growing louder, there were more of them, and their advice seemed to be coalescing around this idea of "social distancing," of staying home form work, of closing the schools. For many of us, that still seemed extreme, but it was getting hard to ignore.

And then we reached a tipping point, at least here in our state. We went into the lockdown we are living under today. It seems to have taken us a long time to get it, but looking back I'm honestly rather impressed by what we've done in a relatively short time. In about two months, we more or less formed a global consensus about how we as a species were going to fight back and as I walked about yesterday I saw, at least in my corner of the world, how remarkable humans can be.

A virus in China mutated in a way that allowed it to not just infect humans, but be transmitted from human-to-human, easily, mutating continually as viruses do, killing some of the host bodies in the process. Our species, Homo sapiens, identified this novel threat, one against which we have no natural immunity. Or rather, our usual defensive method of contracting an illness, then allowing our immune systems to figure out how to fight it, was inadequate. We did the math, as a species, and didn't like where this was going, so we, collectively, through rapid communication, both mass and person-to-person, through argument and negotiation, have come to an agreement about how we are, again as a species, going to mutate to combat this. At least that's how I'd be looking at it if I were a space alien sent to study the lifeforms of Earth. I can hear Marlin Perkins enthusing about the remarkable and rapid adaptation of the Homo sapiens to the threat posed by this coronavirus in this ongoing "dance of survival."


As I walked the quiet, well-spaced sidewalks of downtown Seattle, I, like everyone else, was thinking about this virus, but I was also thinking about us. One of our biggest adaptive advantages from an evolutionary perspective is our incredible ability to communicate and cooperate. It's not always pretty. There are many useless or even destructive mutations along the way. And, of course, we still might fail if we can't reach some sort of consensus on things like climate change, but we are uniquely adaptable because of this ability to cooperate in large numbers and over vast distances.

There are weeks and months ahead of us. There are still many debates to be had, minds to be changed, and behaviors to be modified. And yes, there are still people who will get sick and die, but as that alien Marlin Perkins would likely point out, neither species, Homo sapiens nor the coronavirus, will wipe out the other, but rather we will end up finding some sort of balance as the novelty of the virus wears off and our immune systems add combating this virus to our repertoire.

We are saving lives by working together like this to slow the spread of this virus. As I mentioned in a previous post, we will emerge from this as heroes, bruised and bloodied perhaps, but that's usually how heroes emerge from battle. We are defending our species by working together.

I'm sharing this perspective this morning because it gives me some comfort. Indeed, it even fills me with awe and wonder, inspiring me to think what Homo sapiens can do because of our incredible ability to cooperate. People have been asking me for advice on how to talk to our children about this, how we can help them "heal" when this is all over. More importantly, I think, is that we think about healing ourselves, because for most preschoolers, this time at home with the family is a win. It is we adults who need to find a way to overcome our fears, anger, and sadness so that it doesn't damage our selves or our children. It all comes down to the stories we tell. In the aftermath of 9/11 we healed ourselves in part by sharing stories of the heroes. In this crisis, we are all the heroes. When I tell the story of now, I will talk about how we have all come together by staying six feet apart, about how we fought and agreed our way into cooperation, and how we will come out in the end, like our own immune systems, stronger than before. We will all come out of this with scars, but it will be narratives like this that will help us all heal as we re-build the way heroes do.

******

And now, another in my series of short videos for parents who find themselves suddenly homeschooling their preschoolers. I'm making these videos for parents. If you're a teacher, please feel free to share it with the parents of the children you teach. If you want to watch all of my tips videos, look at the bottom of previous posts here on the blog, or visit the Teacher Tom TV YouTube channel:


I hate to do this, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've just had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 6 months. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the donation button below. 


Or even better, sign up for Partnering With Parents a 7-part e-course designed to help you make allies of the parents of the children you teach. Thank you!


I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share
-->

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Sometimes Mommy has to Leave and You Don't Want Her to Leave





Sometimes mommy has to leave and you don't want her to leave. 

When I started teaching, I was a distractor. In fact, I considered myself a master distractor. I had every confidence that I could calm any kid down in less than five minutes through a combination of goofing, enthusiasm, and "Look what those kids are doing over there!" Today, I'm more inclined to simply sit with a crying child, to listen to any words they might be trying to say, to show warmth and empathy, to assure them that mommy always comes back, and to allow them the full arc of their strong emotion. Most kids still stop crying in less than five minutes, but that's no longer the goal now that my priority is their feelings rather than my discomfort with their feelings.


So when mommy left last Friday, when he reached out to mommy as she walked away, when he screamed and cried and pulled himself from my arms, when he dropped to the floor to kick his feet in outrage, I sat there with him, blocking out the whole world but him.

I could hear he was saying words as he screamed, but they weren't at first discernible, so I said, "You're mad that mommy left," and "You're sad that mommy left." No one can truly tell another how they feel, but I was pretty sure I was close to the mark in this case. He was still saying the words through his tears, repeating them. Finally, I thought I made out, "I want mommy to come back."


I wanted him to know that he had been heard, that I understood and empathized, and I wanted it to be something that was true, so I said, "I want your mommy to come back too."

He shout-cried at me, "I want mommy to come back!"

I nodded. I worked on keeping my voice gentle. I said, "I want your mommy to come back too."

And he said back, "I want mommy to come back!"

We went back and forth like this several times. He seemed to really want me to know that he wanted his mommy to come back.

Other children tried to sooth him: one girl brought him a costume, another tried to hand him a construction paper fire truck. He didn't accept their overtures, although he was by now present enough to shake his head "no" at them rather than simply scream as he was doing at me.


By now he was very clearly saying, "I want mommy to come back!" And I was replying, "I want your mommy to come back too," to which he always shout-cried back, "I want mommy to come back!"

I continued to attempt to put a name to his feelings, using words like "mad," "sad," and "angry," as well as to state the truth that "mommy always comes back." But whenever I said, "I want your mommy to come back too," he shouted at me, "I want mommy to come back!" 

Then, finally, I really heard him. He said, "I want mommy to come back!" stressing the pronoun for his tin-eared teacher.


This time I answered, "You want mommy to come back."

He nodded as if to say, "Finally," and in one motion picked himself from the floor, stepped up to the art table, still crying, and got to work gluing construction paper shapes to a red fire truck pre-cut, his hands not fully under his own control. As he wadded and creased the paper, it looked almost as if he were wrestling with it, his fingers clenching and curling from the emotion that was still coursing through his whole body.

After a couple minutes, he became silent as he concentrated on manipulating the small pieces of paper, the last of his strong emotion going into this construction project.



I said one more time, "You want mommy to come back." This time he ignored me.

******

And now, another in my series of short videos for parents who find themselves suddenly homeschooling their preschoolers. I'm making these videos for parents. If you're a teacher, please feel free to share it with the parents of the children you teach. If you want to watch all of my tips videos, look at the bottom of previous posts here on the blog, or visit the Teacher Tom TV YouTube channel:




I hate to do this, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've just had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 6 months. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the donation button below. Or even better, sign up for Partnering With Parents a 7-part e-course designed to help you make allies of the parents of the children you teach. Thank you!


I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share
-->
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Technorati Profile