Friday, September 28, 2018

"Most People Want To Help You"

Naturally, I help children when they need my help, but most of the time when they ask it isn't my help they need, but rather help in general, help that could be just as easily provided by other children.

When a kid asks me, for instance, to push them on the swing, I call out, "Audrey wants someone to push her on the swing!" and wait. Sometimes I have to announce it a second time, but invariably, before I've said it a third time, someone has come to the conclusion that they will be the ones to help Audrey.

If a child asks me to, say, lift a heavy car tire on top of a tree stump, I might respond, factually, "There are a lot of strong kids around who could probably help you." And on most days it only takes one or two requests to find someone willing and able to help.

Asking for help is an important life skill. When my wife was a young businesswoman she often worried that asking for help would cause her superiors, mostly men, to think her incompetent, so she would try to do everything on her own, a stressful and lonely way to go through life. One day, however, in a pinch, she broke down and asked her boss for help. It was an epiphany for her. Not only did he lean in, providing the help she needed, but as she later said, "He thought I was brilliant because I'd come to ask him for help." To this day, one of her mantras is, "Most people want to help you, but you have to ask them."

She's right. I've had to train myself to not instantly come to the aid of a child who asks because my natural inclination is to just leap to it, but I've come to see that too often what that means is that I wind up doing it for the children when one of the main goals of any education is for children to learn to do things for themselves, and that includes asking peers, rather than adults, for help. Again, I have to use my judgement, sometimes they need adult help, but most of the time, the kids can do it for themselves, including helping one another.

Yesterday, a couple of girls wanted to stack our large wooden boxes to create "bunk beds." They're heavy things, awkward for small bodies to hoist. Most children need help to lift them. They managed stacking the first box on their own, but then realized that was their limit without help. I was sitting right there, but being children experienced in how our school works, they began calling out, "We need help! Everybody, we need help!"

And sure enough help arrived to assist them in wrangling a third box on top. When they began working on a fourth box, however, I expected they would turn to me. Honestly, I was nervous about the idea of stacking them four high. I knew that their plan was to climb to the top to "sleep" and an unsecured tower like that could easily fall with children clambering all over it. I was prepared to issue my adult cautions, but when they took it on without even turning toward me, I figured my job was to step a little closer, to be prepared for a rescue if necessary, but to allow them their project. It wasn't easy. Indeed, I had thought it likely impossible, but four of them working together got it up there. (I then unobtrusively nudged the boxes into alignment to satisfy my concerns as they curled their bodies into those empty bunks.)

"Look what we did, Teacher Tom! We made bunk beds!"

I answered, "You asked for help and your friends helped you."

She replied, "They did," then she corrected herself, "We did!"

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Boys Will Be Boys"

I was a young man in high school and college during the early 1980's. We did our share of underage drinking, sometimes to excess, combined with sex. And while I'm not proud of everything that happened, I recall nothing like the depravity being described by both the accusers and supporters of US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who may, despite being credibly accused of sexually assaulting several women during this era, wind up being approved by the Republican members of the US Senate as early as tomorrow morning.

I won't rehash the details here, it's far too nauseating, but in case you've been living under a rock these past couple weeks, at least three women have accused Kavanaugh of having been at the center of a culture of rape and sexual abuse, arguing that this should disqualify him from a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. He denies it, even going on national television to assert that, to the contrary, he was a kind of choirboy during this time, that the women are mistaken or even lying for political purposes. Still, it's not a matter of "he said/she said," but rather of "he said/she said and she said and she said . . ." 

I believe the women. It's simply not credible to me that anyone would knowingly turn their lives upside down, even endangering their lives along with those of their families (all three have received numerous death threats and have had to go into hiding), unless they are speaking the truth. But at the same time, I understand that there are those who do not believe them, who find it credible that women would destroy their own lives to "score political points." This is why these women must be allowed to testify and why we must demand an FBI investigation of the allegations. We are talking about a lifetime appointment to a body that will make important decisions for the rest of us for the next generation: the American people need to be allowed to know the full truth about this guy.

It's sickening to hear these wealthy, white Senators, all old men, claiming that these women are lying, stupid, confused, or were somehow asking for it. I'm appalled by the claim that this was just "rough horseplay," that "boys will be boys," smears on decent people of both genders. I can't tell you how sad it makes me to hear women, especially, assert that this is how "all boys" act: I pity them for the lives they must have lead to come to this conclusion. And it sounds like if they attended certain elite high schools and Yale University during the early 80's they may be forgiven for coming to this conclusion, but I can't help but feel that people who make excuses like this for outright criminal behavior should not be raising children.

Yesterday, as I watched boys and girls playing together at school, I saw boys truly being boys and girls being girls. I saw human beings of all genders behaving respectfully with one another, treating one another as worthy human beings, disagreeing at times, engaged in conflict at times, but still managing to not degrade or dehumanize one another in the process. I'm not naive, I've been married to a business woman for over three decades, a woman who as persevered, right through the 80's and up to this day, in a world of men, living a life in which she is regularly forced to choose her battles, often just biting her lip and putting up with crap in the interest of living her life. I have an adult daughter who knows that jerks like those from Kavanaugh's social circle are still out their committing their deviancy under the guise of "boys will be boys." Every woman I know is outraged. I know that the real world can be an ugly place for women and I stand in awe of them for managing to thrive despite it. I know that I could not do it.

When I see the children I teach putting the lie to the "boys will be boys" argument, I know that something better is possible and I know also that it starts not with preschoolers, but with holding grown-ups accountable. The "Me Too" movement has been both eye-opening and chastening for all of us, I think. The more I hear these old, white men telling women to shut up, the more convinced I am that this must just be the beginning.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you! 

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

That's The Secret To Success

Back in the 80's I held the position of communications manager at the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce where I kept my hair short (even sporting a flat top for a time) and wore suits with large shoulders and lots of extra fabric. About a year or so into the job, my assistant manager found a better position and as she moved up, I began interviewing to fill the vacancy. My superiors left it up to me to make the decision, so the resumes landed in my inbox where I took a sort of OCD-like pleasure in sorting and categorizing them the way I had my baseball cards as a boy, using this process to bring the number of candidates down to a reasonable number, then scheduled interviews. Within a couple weeks, having spoken to a dozen or so prospects, I had my top five. Up to this point it had been a fairly easy process, but now I had five top quality candidates, each well-qualified on paper and general deportment.

So how did I make my final decision? The way every employer makes the final decision: I tried to imagine what it would be like to spend my days, day-after-day, with each one of them. Would I be able to handle this personality quirk or habit or would it get on my nerves? Did she seem upbeat or dour? Had we laughed together during the interview? Did we connect in any way on a personal level? In other words, putting transcripts and resumes and achievements aside, my final decision came down to how well I thought we would get along.

No one had told me about this as a young man. No matter how locked down and data-driven the world becomes, no matter how much they attempt to treat humans like resources, if you're going to move up in the world, be it in business, a profession, government, or education, if you don't work well with others, your only hope is to develop savant-like skills because otherwise people are just not going to want you around.

A longitudinal study conducted by researchers at Penn State and Duke Universities and published in the American Journal of Public Health (pdf), confirms what many of us have known for a long time. Social-emotional skills, the kind we practice in play-based preschools, are at least as important, and probably more important, than those precious "academic" skills that reformers and politicians continue to force upon our youngest citizens. The researchers followed a group of 800 children over the course of two decades to determine if there is a link between a child's social skills in kindergarten and how they were doing in early adulthood. 

Our analysis included 4 education and employment outcomes representing attainment through age 25 years. Kindergarten prosocial skills were significantly and uniquely predictive of all 4 outcomes: whether participants graduated from high school on time, completed a college degree, obtained stable employment in young adulthood, and were employed full time in young adulthood.

Of course, education is about more than just vocational success, but that is the leading argument used by those who are turning our public schools into test score coal mines: getting our children ready for those jobs of tomorrow. This study confirms what early childhood educators already know. It doesn't matter how traditionally brilliant a child may be, if he lacks the ability to resolve conflicts, share, and cooperate, he's going to suffer both in school and the workplace.

Two of the 3 outcomes representing public assistance in young adulthood were significantly linked to early social competence. Early prosocial skills were negatively related to the likelihood of living in or being on a waiting list for public housing.

Corporate reformers love to dress themselves in the garb of social do-gooders, even going so far as to call themselves "civil rights" leaders, claiming that their narrow focus on academics will lift those poor children out of poverty (approximately half of all public school children live in poverty), yet it appears that focusing on social skills will do more to keep these children "off the public dole."

Results for justice system outcomes demonstrated consistent patterns across different ages and variables. Early prosocial skills were significantly inversely predictive of any involvement with police before adulthood and ever being in a detention facility . . . juveniles' self-report of whether they had been arrested and or had appeared in court followed the same pattern. In young adulthood, early social competence was significantly and uniquely linked to being arrested and appearing in court. Finally, early social competence significantly predicted the number of arrests for a severe offense by age 25 years, as determined through public records.

Reformers and politicians of all stripes regularly pivot to "education" when asked about crime rates. It appears that a focus on social competence would do more to reduce criminal activity than any amount of drill-and-kill education.

And when it comes to health:

Although early social competence was not associated with alcohol and drug dependence diagnoses in early adulthood, our model showed that it correlated with substance abuse behavior. We found statistically significant associations in separate models of the number of days of binge drinking in the past month and the number of days marijuana was used . . . Finally, early prosocial skills significantly predicted number of years on medication for emotional or behavioral issues through high school.

The conclusion:

The growing body of literature that demonstrates the importance of noncognitive skills in development should motivate policymakers and program developers to target efforts to improve these skills to young children. Much evidence has shown how effective intervention in preschool and the early elementary years can improve childhood noncognitive skills in a lasting way. Enhancing these skills can have an impact in multiple areas and therefore has the potential for positively affecting individuals as well as community public health substantially.

I've been looking for years, and despite the corporate reformers' pretense of being hard-headed businessmen, I've never found a single longitudinal study that points to any sort of long term benefits of our current drive to hammer children with academics. Even Bill Gates, the billionaire leader of the corporate reformers, admits that we won't know if he's right for decades. In other words, they are using a generation of children as guinea pigs in their cruel experiments. Meanwhile, this study is just one of many that have shown that social-emotional skills in early childhood are the greatest predictor of future success.

As I read through some of the mainstream media reports (like this one from CNN) I found "experts" touting things like special social skills board games and books to help children exercise their social skills "muscles." What a load of crap. The way to learn social skills is to practice in a safe and loving environment. No video game or pre-packaged program can replace what we do in play-based preschools and kindergartens, places where children have the freedom to play with one another in self-directed and therefore meaningful ways, where they actually practice cooperating, sharing, resolving conflicts, and being sociable in the real world.

Perhaps the greatest accolade our school has ever received was from a local public school kindergarten teacher who regularly sees the children from our school in her classroom. She told me, "I can always tell which kids came from Woodland Park: they know how they should be treated and how to treat others." That's the secret to success.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Tower To The Ceiling

Yesterday, some three-year-olds spent the morning trying to build towers "to the ceiling," stacking blocks higher than their heads, then dragging boxes over to stand on so they could make their towers even taller. They worked solo and as teams, stacking ever more carefully, ever more precisely, as their constructions grew simultaneously upward and wobbly. They moved their bodies cautiously, knowing that even the slightest lurch or inattentive moment could bring the whole thing down. None of them talked about this inevitability, however, but rather stuck to reciting their goal: to reach the ceiling.

It's not exactly optimism, because there is no other possible conclusion than that the towers will topple, and they all know it. None of them expected to reach the ceiling, yet on they built, concentrating, holding their breaths, cautioning one another in softened voices. Hoping, perhaps, that this time they would do it, but not expecting it.

Building a tower to the sky is right up there with digging a hole to China when it comes to childhood aspirations. I recall attempting both. I likewise recall not being disappointed when I failed, because even as a preschooler I knew it to be a hyperbolic way of setting an impossible challenge, one that was about going as far as you can before the whole thing comes tumbling down. Just a few months ago, this would have been impossible in our busy classroom as there would invariably be a classmate unable to resist hurling his body into it, hurrying the inevitable. Back then there were lots of tears of disappointment as we built, but yesterday there were none. The children have learned to honor one another's projects just has they've learned the joy of challenging the fates.

When the buildings fell with a startling crash, every child smiled, some even laughed. None of them hung their heads. None showed disappointment. Few pushed their towers over on purpose, as they instead let gravity have its unavoidable victory, a basic lesson in physics they have all come to understand through their play. Most then took a moment to kick through the fallen blocks, taking a moment to release the tension that had been building as their towers grew, before starting again, declaring once more, "I'm going to build a tower to the ceiling."

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Side-By-Side Education

A majority of the children I teach are with me for multiple years, many of them three, and some even longer if they are a younger sibling following the steps of an older. Few experiences give me greater joy than to say to a child, "I knew you when you were in your mama's belly," and every year there are at least a half dozen to whom I can say that.

This is the foundational principle of cooperative schools: families belong at the center of a child's education. We own the school collectively, we run the school collectively, and we work together in the classroom not as "volunteers," but as essential personnel. If human existence were a 12 hour clock, we were hunter-gatherers for 11 hours and 59 minutes, evolving to live together as a collection of families, working together, creating a community in which not just our children, but all of us, can thrive.

I was a cooperative parent, which is true of most, if not all, of the teachers in our "system" of some 40 schools that affiliate through North Seattle College. I am still friends with people I met when our own daughter was a preschooler, still connected even as our children are now young adults, spread out around the world. Nearly every time I'm out and about in north Seattle on my evenings and weekends, I run into former cooperative parents, people whose children are now in grade school, middle school, high school and college, they call out, "Hi, Teacher Tom," and we catch up the way old friends do. This is what stands at the center of our school: families.

Teachers in more traditional settings often ask me how I do it, concerned that all these "untrained" parents would tend to "get in the way" or "do things wrong," but I can honestly turn that around: I don't understand how they do it without the day-to-day help of the parents. I mean, what they lack in pedagogical skills, they more than make up for by being the world's leading expert on their own children. I don't have to guess about things going on at home. I don't have to wait to ask questions. The parents of the children I teach are my colleagues, right there with me through the highs and lows, side-by-side, helping me noodle things out, just as I help them. And, of course, nothing can replace the love that parents bring into the room with them, not just for their own child, but, as time passes, all the children of the community.

If you are interested in learning more about how cooperatives work, click here. If you want to find out about the North Seattle College cooperative preschools, click here. And for more information about our own Woodland Park Cooperative School (preschool and kindergarten), click here.

As cliched as it has become, it does take a village to raise a child and that is exactly how the cooperative model does it.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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Friday, September 21, 2018

As Long As They Live In A World In Which They Experience Them

Parents are forever trying to get their kids to say things to me.

"Say 'Good morning' to Teacher Tom."

"Say 'Thank you' to Teacher Tom."

"Tell Teacher Tom your name."

I get it, of course, parents want their children to be courteous, or at least responsive, and when they aren't they coax them. Naturally, most of the kids don't yet know or have simply forgotten that a response is called for. When we say "Good morning" to someone, the convention is to respond in kind. It's part of the ebb and flow of social intercourse, one of those niceties that lubricate social interaction. There is a rhythm to the choruses and duets we sing with our fellow humans that many young children, being inexperienced in dealing with people outside their family, still have not learned.

"How are you?"

"I'm fine, thank you. And you?"

Our day-to-day life is full of these simple, friendly interactions. For most adults, we engage in them without thinking, a kind of call-and-response routine.

"Thank you!"

"You're welcome!"

I've thought a lot about this, and I can only come up with three categories of things about which adults are truly more knowledgable than young children, safety, schedules, and courtesy, and this is all part and parcel with the later. Learning to engage in these ritualized indications of goodwill is essential: we find adults who don't do it to be off-putting at best, but more likely we consider them rude or even suspicious. Learning about these simple day-to-day courtesies is one of the first things we must do when visiting another country, especially one where we are just learning the language. Indeed, these give-and-take courtesies are so important that they are typically covered on the first day of language class or the first chapter of the language book.

So, I get why parents prompt their children this way, it's important stuff, even if most of us haven't really even thought much about it. When our children don't play their part in this sort of dialog it hits our ears as strange, out of rhythm, or even off-key, and we react almost instinctively, directing our children to do their part.

"Say 'Good morning' to Teacher Tom."

"Say 'Thank you' to Teacher Tom."

"Tell Teacher Tom your name."

The problem with phrasing things as commands, however, is that humans are notoriously resistant to being told what to do. I can't tell you how often I've seen a child who may well have been inclined to respond to me suddenly clam up when ordered to do so. No one likes to be told what to do at any stage in life, it's part of our evolutionary heritage, and it's why, when we want another person to do something, commanding them is possibly the worst way to go about it.

No, I'd rather see parents strive for informational statements. For instance, a simple statement of fact like, "Teacher Tom said 'Good morning' to you," creates a space in which a child can do her own thinking, rather than simply obey or disobey. She may still not say "Good morning," but the odds go way up that she will, upon reflection.

"When people do nice things for me, I say 'Thank you'."

"Teacher Tom told you his name."

But, of course, the best way to learn these things is the way we learn all language: through role modeling and practice. Language is more than a tool for communication. It's a song we sing together, a way of connecting beyond the meagerness of words alone. Virtually all neurotypical children will learn it simply by living in and around it, the way they learn our preschool songs after a few weeks of repetition. The prompts might help speed things along a little, but in the end, our children will learn these basic courtesies as long as they live in a world in which they experience them.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

"Hey! This Is My Game!"

"Hey! This is my game!"

"We're playing too."

There was a pause. You could tell he was wrestling with his options. Then he replied, "Well, I guess it's our game . . ."

It happened in an instant. It could have gone a different way, escalating into yelling, even hitting, but this is how it normally goes for most of the kids, most days. We remember the times we had to intervene, stepping in as adults to help settle things, and it is the memory of those rarer incidents that so often causes us to step in too soon, but in my experience children will most often choose a peaceful solution when allowed to talk it through on their own.

Earlier in the day, one girl was rolling out all the play dough. As she did, other children gathered around, saying, "I need some play dough" and "She has all the play dough." I was sitting right there, but said nothing, letting the words of sink in, giving the girl time to reflect on what they were saying. There was a time when I might have made suggestions, evoking the word "share," interrupting an important thought process to replace it with a kind of imbalanced power struggle between adult and child: one of reaction instead of contemplation.

Instead, I said nothing, leaving her to consider the situation without the threat of compulsion. It took several minutes for her to think it though, more time than well-intentioned adults typically allow. She wore a look of concentration, as if focused on the work of rolling out all that dough, but I knew she was thinking of her classmate's words, juggling her options. She could have shouted, "Mine!" and she might have had someone made a grab or had I inserted myself, but instead, after what felt like a long time, she began breaking off fists full of the stuff to pass around the table.

I've come to the conclusion that this is what humans are designed for and that every instance of turf-protecting selfishness is evidence not of flawed human nature, but of a flawed society, one that values stuff or power or money or winning over relationships. When I don't step between the children, I more often than not find myself in awe of their natural inclination to seek agreement, to understand that this is not my game, but rather our game.

"Well, I guess it's our game," he said thoughtfully, then shifted gears, beaming with his own brilliance, "Let's build a castle!"

"Yeah! I can be the princess Mama, you can be the princess daughter, and you can be the princess Dada!"

"We have to make it big enough for all of us!"

They worked together for several minutes, excitedly, doing what humans are meant to do, weaving their world from invitation and agreement. Then, as so often happens, another child inadvertently toppled one of their castle's towers. There was an outcry. "You knocked over our tower! Hey!"

This is when I could have intervened again, but games like this are not so fragile, and soon there were four of them living in that castle.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018


The two-year-old attached himself to one of the few intact toys that exist on our junkyard playground: an ancient (more than 20 years old) plastic shopping cart. He methodically filled it with things he found on the ground, nothing special, just whatever came to hand.

Elsewhere on the playground other two-year-olds were engaged in their own solo activities, just getting a feel for the place, this being their first day of school. The children that appeared to be playing together were, in fact, interacting through one of the adults. This will change as the year progresses. 

Apparently satisfied with the contents of his shopping cart, the boy began pushing it up the hill upon which our playground is built, managing it over our uneven, wood chip bestrewn ground. It was a slow process, not because it was hard for him to do, but rather because he wasn't in any particularly hurry. He was imitating behavior he had seen, perhaps, but without the goal-oriented urgency of delivering anything from point A to point B. This was about moving that cart, not going anywhere or being anything, but rather a process of becoming a human who can move a cart.

Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli wrote, "The entire evolution of science would suggest that the best grammar for thinking about the world is that of change, not of permanence. Not of being but of becoming." I reflected on this as I watched those two-year-olds on their first day of school, their first day together on this playground, already becoming, always becoming.

When the boy got near the top of the hill, he was approached by another child, attracted as he had been by the shopping cart. In her interest, she inadvertently blocked his way, stopping his progress. She took hold of the opposite side of the cart from him, peering into its basket as if taking inventory. They stood this way for a time, he impeded, she impeding, neither of them seeming to notice the other as they studied the situation in which they found themselves. One might have expected the boy to object or the girl to insist, but it seems that neither of them have become those humans yet. It wasn't until the boy released the cart in order to drop a handful of wood chips into it, that the girl seemed to notice him, not so much as a fellow human, but as an action that drew her attention. She smiled as she watched him, then made a sound. When he looked up he found her smiling at him and he smiled back.

All of these young people, of course, are experienced in connecting with other people. Indeed, they have not fully identified themselves as something separate from their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, their households of other people. They know they are part of their families; now they are becoming part of the wider world.

The two children stood smiling at one another across the shopping cart. Then they began to move, together, the girl pushing the cart down the hill, the boy pulling it, walking backwards, the two of them still smiling at one another.

This is what I expect to see from two-year-olds. Some of the change they will experience together will follow a more or less predictable pattern. They will find one another, discovering as they play that they are part of something bigger. They will struggle to figure it out, becoming more competent, more self-aware, more individuated, more connected, until it's the people, not the toys that first capture their attention when they step onto the junkyard playground. But most of the becoming we will see over the next few weeks, then months, then years, is entirely unpredictable: I might be able to anticipate the general picture, but the particulars of what they will become, both as individuals and together, can't be known until it has been created.

The boy and the girl made their way, unhurriedly, smiling, down the hill until they came to a flatter piece of ground. This time when the boy stooped to pick up a handful of wood chips, their eye contact broken, the girl looked away and they went back to their separate journeys of becoming.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

I Don't Make Lesson Plans

I don't make lesson plans, at least not in the traditional sense. I've certainly reflected upon what the kids were doing and talking about yesterday, then made my best guess about where they might want to take it today. Based on these reflections, I might make sure certain materials are available, but even after all these years I still get it wrong more often than not and spend much of my day running back and forth to the storage closet, which is my real lesson planning. That's because there is no way to predict play.

Play makes its own "plan," one that emerges as motivated learners come together to create, invent, and explore. In fact, it's that unpredictability, at least in part, that makes a play-based curriculum such a powerful and motivating way for children to learn. Predictability is one of the hallmarks of rote and no one is motivated by that. No one is motivated by being told what to learn and by when, which are the hallmarks of a typical lesson plan. No, humans are at their intellectual best when they have the time and space to both individually and collectively pursue their own interests within the context of a community, and it's impossible to know beforehand what discoveries they will make, no matter how much planning the adults have done.

Indeed, even after the fact, even as I take a moment at the end of the day to ponder what we have done together, I've come to recognize that I still have no idea what the kids have learned on any given day. I can tell you what I thought they might learn going in, I can describe their behavior and make a record of their words, I can speculate about what they might now know or not know, I can even directly ask them, "What did you learn?" but at the end of the day, the only ones who can ever know what they have learned are the kids themselves, and more often than not it's so fresh and exciting and still "in process" that they simply aren't capable of putting it into words in a way that we can understand.

This is why, in the same way I don't see value in making a lesson plan, I also don't see the point of tests: they don't reveal what a child has learned, but rather what they are able to regurgitate in the form demanded by that particular test. And besides, most of what is learned from any given experience is extracurricular and falls beyond the scope of any test.

Sadly, lesson plans and tests form the backbone of what most teachers do. They are expected to make their plans, complete with learning "goals." They then execute their plan, which may or may not engage the children. If children begin to pursue their own interests, to follow their own light, they must be coaxed or scolded or otherwise guided back to the plan because later, as everyone knows, the children will be tested on a narrow, narrow range of trivia, rather than on the big picture of what they are actually learning. What incredible hubris to think that lesson plans or tests or complicated "frameworks" can allow us to know the unknowable.

The truth is that no one can ever know what another person has learned and no amount of planning or testing or evaluating will change that. In fact, most of us don't even know what we've really learned until much, much later in life, when we look back, perhaps from our therapist's sofa, and realize, "A-ha!"

No, I don't pretend to know what the children I teach are learning on any given day, nor is it any of my business. That I know the children are learning is enough for me, and I know they're learning because they are playing as members of a community where we strive to provide time and space enough for them to ask and answer their own questions. We don't need lesson plans or tests because the children I teach cross our doorstep each morning with their own personally meaningful plans and they engage the world by conducting their own personally meaningful tests. I will never know what they are learning, but I can see them striving, persevering, and experimenting; I can see them figuring out the other people and working with them toward common goals; I can see they are motivated every day because there is nothing rote or compulsory about it. That has to be enough for all of us.

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