Month: February 2020

  • The pressure to achieve

    The Pressure on Students and Teachers

    The scratch paper was ready, the pencils were sharp, and the iPads were distributed. It was ‘GO’ time. As a math student, Jenny usually did pretty well on her assignments. So why was her heart pounding as she faced this assessment? And what about the sweaty palms? She thought she was a pretty good test taker…maybe not.

    Meanwhile, as Mrs. Brown checked her laptop to monitor her twenty-one students taking the test, her heart was beating pretty fast, too. She knew she’d taught the concepts, and the students’ homework indicated that they were grasping the material. Sure, it’s TESTING SEASON, but I’ve done my job well all year….the kids will do fine. This thought rambled around in her head – did she really believe what she told herself?

    Two individuals experiencing anxiety and upset – one a child, and one an adult. Is school really such a stressful place for so many people? Emerging research shows that to indeed be the case.

    In fact, anxiety and depression rates have never been so high among children. Teachers are also expressing serious concerns with burnout, stress and anxiety–why do we think there is a teacher shortage in most U.S. states?

    Why All the Stress?

    It is all about test scores. Now more than ever, students, teachers, and administrators are feeling pressure to constantly improve achievement. So why are test scores so important?

    Parents need high test scores so their children get scholarships.

    School principals and administrators need high test scores to show that students are achieving.  School districts need high test scores to attract students.

    Neighborhoods, towns, cities, and states need high test scores to keep real estate valuable and encourage buyers to become residents.

    School board members need high test scores to get reelected.

    …and so it goes.

    It may sound obvious that high test scores are desirable – after all, isn’t that the point of school?

    Yes, teachers are there to teach, and students are there to learn.  Simple, right? Not really.

    We are quick to forget that the “point of school” is for children to actually learn and grow. Learning and growth doesn’t happen when you are being weighed down by the pressure to perform on high stakes tests.

    Tests that, by the way, do nothing but serve the agenda of others. Most people want to tout their school or district as one that is “performing” or “meeting standards.” But shouldn’t we be measuring performance and success by more than test scores?

    A recent study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry showed that teacher’s assessments of student learning are as reliable as standardized test scores. And yet we keep pushing for more standardized testing and giving teachers less autonomy.

    Knowing that the weight of testing is crushing students.

    Knowing that the weight of testing is crushing teachers.

    We have moved students from an environment of school being a place for learning and growth, to an environment where the focus is performance on tests.

    The Misconception about “Good” Schools

    We don’t need to worry. We are in a good school district.

    False. Yes, there is huge focus, especially in the media, on testing in lower performing districts as those are the ones who are under a microscope. But high performing districts are doing just as big of a disservice to their students–even though test scores may show that they are doing “fine.”

    Did you know that a recent study published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine added students from high performing (often wealthier districts) as an “at-risk” population due to the excessive pressure to excel?

    These students are at-risk for chronic elevated mental and emotional stress. They are now considered “at-risk” in the same way students who have experienced poverty, food insecurity, discriminination, and family trauma. They aren’t “doing fine.”

    Students are tested a lot. There are weekly classroom assessments, quarterly district tests, and annual national tests. These national assessments are usually in reading, math and science, at a minimum. Teachers are expected to spend about a month preparing for national testing, which obviously takes away from teaching anything new or engaging in anything that isn’t perfectly mapped out in the curriculum. Tests are measuring content in silos. They are not measuring mastery.

    Teaching Can’t be THAT Hard…

    Teachers have a lot on their plates – plates which are constantly filled, but never emptied.

    In addition to the ever-growing list of content that needs to be covered there are a whole host of behavioral issues that are enormous obstacles to teaching and learning.

    Students come to school today with a variety of experiences, many of which get in the way of learning. Drugs, alcohol, divorce, ineffective parenting, incarceration and obsessive use of technology are pervasive influences on student achievement.

    Student’s early childhood experiences greatly influence their behavior in school. When you have kids who haven’t learned to regulate their emotions, who are terrified of failure, who refuse to take healthy risks, who have developed learned helplessness… combine this with often developmentally inappropriate expectations, overcrowded classrooms, unsupportive administrators, district personnel or parents, new initiatives that change every year, pressure of your performance being tied to high stakes testing….and it’s no wonder teachers are leaving the profession in droves.

    Today students come into the classroom still eating breakfast and exhausted because they were up at youth hockey practice until 8PM, or up until 2AM doing homework, or on social media or playing video games.

    The school day might begin with a class meeting to ensure that everyone is emotionally ready to learn–because we have to also teach social and emotional awareness since students are not coming to school in a good headspace. There goes 30 minutes to check in with every one of your 25-30 students.

    Or it takes 15 minutes for everyone to actually settle into learning and pry themselves away from their phones while they process the SnapChat picture their ex-boyfriend just sent.

    On top of all this each classroom will have multiple students who are struggling with learning disabilities that need a more individualized approach. Yet, as much as we differentiate there is no way to provide TRUE individualized learning to those students–let alone every student.

    There are plenty of logistical things about school that interfere with teaching and learning, too. Because a school can only afford one band teacher, band students have lessons in the middle of reading. Math tutoring occurs during the science block. Students receiving speech and language therapy are taken out of class for twenty minutes during writing time. There is a very strict set of topics and lessons that have to happen and by a certain date…so what happens when a student misses school? Or is having a hard time grasping the content? Sorry, we have to move along.

    These are real-life examples of disjointed, disrupted learning.

    Exhausted yet?

    Going Back to Basics

    Students and teachers alike are feeling unprecedented stress.

    We need to shift our mindset and focus on letting teachers engage students in meaningful work that builds on individual passions. We need to stop implementing programs that are band aid solutions.

    We have to go back to the basics.

    We know how children learn. We know what kinds of reform would be a game changer. We know elementary kids need more play. We know homework does nothing for kids. We know that we should have school times that align with the biological clocks and AAP recommendations. We know that there are ways to relieve some of the pressure to achieve on both teachers and students.

    We just have to decide what’s more important. Grades, test scores, and college admissions or developing an innate love of learning and helping students follow their own path to success.

    If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:

    Type of Play for Development

    Guarding our Children’s Mental Health

    The Ever Growing Importance of Outdoor Play

    The Power of Play

    What I’ve Learned about Early Childhood Education

    5 Must Read Books to Raise a Child Who Loves to Learn

    Read More

  • 5 Must Read Books To Raise a Child Who Loves to Learn

    Are you interested in how you can help promote curiosity, independence, and self-motivation in your child? Do you want your child to actually love to learn?

    We know that so many children these days are losing this innate love of learning. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Read these five books to help you understand how to encourage a true love of learning for children of any age.

    #1 The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being

    This book is great for anyone who is not familiar with the Montessori teaching approach and for people who have or work with younger children.

    It has tons of practical advice and ideas that are all based on the Montessori idea that teachers and parents are meant to be guides that follow the child’s lead. This book talks about trusting the child and fostering a sense of wonder and curiosity. The Montessori method seeks to develop a life long learn who is self-motivated and inquisitive.

    #2 Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

    In this book Peter Gray writes about the decline in free play and emphasis on structured education and activities directly contributes to the rise in stress-related mental disorders and depression in young people.

    I recently published a more in depth book review here if you want to read that instead of the full text. I would, however, still encourage reading the book because it is incredible and will change your views on how children really learn.

    #3 Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children

    In this book the author, who is a pediatric occupational therapist, discusses how children benefits from having unstructured play outside. She explains how children are experiencing a record amount of cognitive difficulties, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), emotion regulation and sensory processing issues, and aggressiveness–all of which are impacting their ability and motivation to learn.

    #4 Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education

    Written by a global education thought leader this book will help you to understand how traditional schooling is going against what we know about how children learn and the best way to build on their natural curiosity.

    He touches on ideas such as:

    • Learn to be; learn to do; learn to know.
    • Tests don’t work. Get over it. Move on.
    • What a person learns in a classroom is how to be a person in a classroom.
    • Animals are better than books about animals.
    • Internships, apprenticeships, and interesting jobs beat term papers, textbooks, and tests.
    • The only sustainable answer to the global education challenge is a diversity of approaches.

    #5 The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined

    If you are really interested in the future of education then this is the book for you. This book was life changing for me as an educator (along with Laura Sandefer’s book Courage to Grow). Our public education system is struggling in more ways than one, and this book discusses how we can capitalize on students innate drive to learn (that are discussed more deeply in some books listed above) and deliver a world class education to anyone, anywhere all while following the child.

    If you’re looking for more information about how play to connected to learning check out my e-book:Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.

    If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:Type of Play for Development

    Guarding our Children’s Mental Health

    The Ever Growing Importance of Outdoor Play

    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play

    7 Essential Playroom Spaces (and why you need them)

    The Power of Play

    What I’ve Learned about Early Childhood Education

    100 Things to do Outside with Your Kids

    30 Ideas to Get Your Kids to Play Outside

    Read More

  • Free to Learn by Peter Gray: A Book Review

    Free to Learn by Peter Gray: A Book Review

    As a public school educator and a parent, I am constantly reading topics about education, inquiry, and play. I love public schools, but there is no secret that time for play has been replaced with standardized test preparation in schools. At home, structured activities in the form of sports, dance, music, and more often take priority over free play. These activities are also important, but freedom to learn through unstructured play is something I am passionate about, both in school and at home.

    In my doctoral studies, I came upon the book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray, a research professor and scholar from Boston College. Although some of Gray’s ideas when it comes to education may seem extreme, there is a lot parents and teachers can learn from this book.

    Gray writes that the decline in free play and emphasis on structured education and activities directly contributes to the rise in stress-related mental disorders and depression in young people. It comes down to this. When our children are able to make their own decisions regarding the when, where, why, and how of learning, they are more likely to learn and be motivated to learn.

    Gray’s research draws on an anthropological study of hunter-gatherer children, a historical study of the impact of agricultural mores, feudalism, and monotheistic religion in the eventual rise of formalized, compulsory education. The historical context is an important review of the history of compulsory education, although not a comprehensive study. Gray’s focus goes beyond education itself and looks at learning.

    Students Responsible for Their Own Learning

    Sudbury Valley first operates on the principle that “adults do not control children’s education; children educate themselves”. In effect, learning is a uniquely personal experience. The student is part of the community. Students are not only responsible for decisions regarding their own learning but the decisions regarding the existence and responsibility of the school community as a whole.

    The Seven Sins of Compulsory Education

    In Free to Learn, Gray addresses the seven sins of our system of forced education. Whether you are homeschooling or your children are attending traditional school, these are important concepts to look at. Through extensive case studies of a private, radical constructivist school, Gray uses research to support the claim that formalized education guilty of the seven sins causes many students not to enjoy school. Gray addresses the need for students to be at the forefront of decisions when it comes to not only what they learn, but where, when, how, and even whom they learn from.

    In the book, Gray focuses on the sins in our current system of compulsory education.

    • Denial of liberty without just cause and due process
    • Interference with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction
    • Undermining of intrinsic motivation to learn (turning learning into work)
    • Judging students in ways that foster shame, hubris, cynicism, and cheating
    • Interference with the development and cooperation and promotion of bullying
    • Inhibition of critical thinking
    • Reduction in diversity of skills and knowledge

    In addressing these “sins”, Gray studies Sudbury Valley School, a privately funded school founded in 1968 on the principles of self-directed, student-held responsibility of learning. Students and staff have a vested democratic say in the community through a “School Meeting” model.

    The Denial of Liberty Without Just Cause and Due Process

    Each of Gray’s “seven sins” have student ownership of learning as the focus. First is the denial of liberty without just cause and due process. The way to reinstate liberty is by allowing play. Gray said, “Play is always accompanied by the feeling of this is what I want to do right now”. Yes, play has rules, but the rules should be agreed upon by the group. This also allows for a democratic community.

    Interference with the Development of Personal Responsibility and Self-Direction

    Next, Gray focuses on the second “sin of our system of forced education”. This is interference with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction. Gray explains that the forced nature of schooling stifles curiosity that children are born with. Compulsory schooling turns learning into work, something to be avoided. When teachers take control of children’s learning and tell that work must come before play, then learning no longer becomes an act of joy but becomes work. Comparing student learning and work with other children not only becomes work but a source of anxiety which inhibits learning.

    Undermining of intrinsic motivation to learn (turning learning into work)

    The third sin of compulsory education, undermining of intrinsic motivation, starts when students enter formal schooling. No matter how engaging and fun teachers attempt to make class activities, learning tasks are traditionally referred to as “work”. Gray mentions that teachers often say, “you must do your work before you can play”. Using anthropological studies of hunter-gatherers and evidence of modern pre-school-aged children, Gray is able to assert that children are naturally playful and curious, and school, is ultimately what kills their desire to learn.

    Judging students in ways that foster shame, hubris, cynicism, and cheating

    The fourth sin is focused on the sins of grading by judging students in ways that foster shame. One of the most shameful parts of education, according to Gray, is the way we teach children that their worth is determined based on others’ judgments through class rank or grades. Overall, when the value is placed on grading rather than learning, cheating becomes a preferable option for students faced with inferior grades or those competing in the cutthroat system of education.

    Interference with the development of cooperation and promotion of bullying

    Through segregation by age, caging students, and the atmosphere of competition, schools become places that interfere with the development of cooperation and promotion of bullying, the fifth sin. Children that develop at a slower rate physically, academically, or emotionally are placed with peers that may not relate with In addition, when students are allowed to age-mix, which is often seen in free play (think neighborhood children playing outside), the presence of younger children helps older youth develop their nurturing skills. The decline in age-mixed play has aligned with the rise of narcissism among youth. This lack of self-concern, according to Gray’s research, comes from the age-grading.

    Inhibition of Critical Thinking

    Curriculum, standards, and grading relate to the sixth sin of forced education, inhibition of critical thinking. Too often, grading rewards “correct” answers, and what is deemed correct in schools is the information and questions given to students from the teacher rather than students generating the questions.

    The Sudbury Valley School, which serves as Gray’s model for schooling, does not assign grades. Students still report success beyond high school. Seventy-five percent pursued higher education and 82 percent of students reported that their education benefited them by helping them think more critically and take responsibility for their own learning. Gray, using qualitative research methods, studied graduates via surveys, which became additional research studies after Gray’s initial findings.

    Reduction in diversity of skills and knowledge

    Finally, the last sin is reduction in diversity of skills and knowledge through a system that focuses on all children rather than individuals. Standardized curriculum reduces opportunities for students to follow different pathways. In Sudbury Valley, students decide and propose what they will study and learn. Because the diversity of personalities and in knowledge is valued, students at the Sudbury Valley School are ultimately very successful in pursuits beyond secondary education.

    What does this mean for parents and teachers?

    What can parents and teachers learn from Gray’s book? As a teacher, I still have faith in public education. I am not ready to uproot the entire system and disregard all standards and systems of aged socialization. However, there are a few things you can do as a classroom teacher or a parent to negate the seven sins.

    Foster Inquiry

    Kids are intrinsically curious, but too often schools tell them what questions to ask. By implementing Genius Hour or Passion Projects at school or home, your children will be able to explore and learn things that are authentic and meaningful to their own learning goals.

    Give Choice

    Instill elements of democratic learning by giving your children choice in the way they demonstrate their learning through the mode or output when it’s applicable. I’m such a huge fan of Genius Hour in helping students reach their future goals. One of my students once told me that they didn’t enjoy school because they weren’t learning things that were going to help them in the future. That may only be partially true, but letting students explore their passions with specific learning targets and goals is so meaningful.

    Allow Free Play

    There’s nothing that frustrates me more than when I see recess being taken away from young children. Even older children need time to experience “free play, but when our youngest learners are exchanging recess for testing, we’re doing them no favors. Taking a little time away from structured school helps mental health for kids and teachers. Not only does free play help with social-emotional learning, it also increases imagination.

    Embrace Boredom

    It’s more than OK for kids to be bored. Over-scheduling and even unintentional scholastic competition can lead to shame and cheating. Let your children learn for the sake of fun and curiosity and play without it being planned.

    The 21st century child is changing the world. Gray embraces play and student-direct learning, but even if your school or homeschool isn’t curriculum-free or 100% student-led, looking at Gray’s “seven sins” can certainly help you think about what today’s education could be for your child when we bring back curiosity and play.

    Jen Schneider is a middle school public school teacher and PhD student in Omaha, Nebraska. She writes about education at Creative Tech Teacher

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play check out my e-book:

    Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.

    If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:

    Type of Play for Development

    Guarding our Children’s Mental Health

    The Ever Growing Importance of Outdoor Play

    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play

    7 Essential Playroom Spaces (and why you need them)

    The Power of Play

    What I’ve Learned about Early Childhood Education

    100 Things to do Outside with Your Kids

    30 Ideas to Get Your Kids to Play Outside

    Read More

  • Advice for Mothers Everywhere

    The problem with parenting experts

    So I started writing this blog because I feel like I have a ton of advice to give. I love giving advice. Seriously. Maybe it’s because I love to teach people. Maybe it’s because I find happiness in helping others, especially mamas. Maybe it’s because I just like to hear myself talk? I don’t know. But I do know I happily dish out advice to anyone who will listen. Here’s the thing though. I’m no expert on parenting. I mean I have three kids. I’ve read a ❤️ ton about all things parenting and education related. But I don’t think one can be an expert on parenting nor would I ever claim to be an expert on parenting. I think you can be an expert on trying to be the best possible parent. You can be an expert learner of new information. But you cannot be an expert on parenting because it’s ALWAYS changing. So yes, you may become an expert on having a two year old, but then guess what? Your two year old turns three (which is a beast of an age–but please reference my recent post about reframing our perception) and now you’re royally screwed because you aren’t an expert on having a three year old….or you have one kid, and you’re killing it. Then kid two comes along and it’s all over.

    We ALL struggle

    Over the past few weeks I have been trolling moms groups. Reading posts (sometimes responding) and just trying to get a better feel for what other moms, especially newer moms, are struggling with. And honestly, what I’m seeing makes me pretty sad. I see so many mamas posting about feeling anxious, ashamed, overwhelmed, or not confident about their abilities as a parent. It isn’t always an overt expression of these feelings. It often comes out subtly–in the way they phrase a question or how they caveat their post with “please excuse the messy couch in the background.” It makes my heart hurt.

    Top 5 pieces of advice for new mamas

    Vocalize your accomplishments

    One of the best things I did as a new mom was tell myself something I did well every single day for the first few months. Sometimes I was literally like “I made time to brush my teeth today!! Whoop!” and sometimes it was a little more deep. I had to talk myself up because after the first few weeks of maternity leave, there wasn’t that constant support of people cheering you on or lending a helping hand. **And I FULLY recognize that many people don’t even have that. If that rings true to you, and you’re still keeping on with a smile on your face then you are a better mom than I am….I don’t know what I would do without the help that I have–so you all are the real rockstars**

    Take a freaking shower and a nap

    Seriously. Let someone hold the baby for a few minutes or bring the little baby bouncer and stick it on the floor in the bathroom while you shower (we love the BABYBJORN bouncer for it’s slim footprint and portability). Let the sink sit full of dirty dishes while you take a nap. I know it’s hard. You feel like you have to do all the things, but you don’t. And the people that care about you won’t give two ❤️ about the way your house looks.

     Accept that you’re going to hate your significant other for a while

    I’m talking loathe. Like you’ll be nursing at night, while staring at your sleeping partner, and be secretly plotting how to suffocate them with your pillow. It’s NORMAL. It’s hormones. I mean unless you actually hate your significant other, that’s a whole different story. Express your feelings to other mamas and I can guarantee they will chime in with all the ways they have plotted the death of their loved one. It passes. Mostly. I advise you pick up a book called How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids— it’s a game changer.

    Don’t feel guilty about being constantly annoyed at your pet

    This is one you may not have heard but it happens (and I know other moms who have experienced this). You just have such little capacity to be touched or needed from anyone other than your little one. Your dog being underfoot in the kitchen when you’re trying to make a simple meal for yourself (maybe your only meal of the day), or needing to go out right when you have just sat down after standing and rocking the baby for an hour, or barking and waking you up JUST as you’re falling asleep for a nap (and you know you only have 45 minutes or less before baby wakes up). All these things can drive you up the wall. Again, normal. Give yourself some grace and ask for help in caring for anything and everything that isn’t your new baby.

     Recognize signs of PPA and PPD

    This is a big one. I see so many mamas posting stuff in moms groups that screams that they are dealing with postpartum anxiety or depression. It’s so common and there are so many ways it can present itself. For example, with my first I started using an app to track all his feedings, and diapers, and sleep. I remember sitting up at night nursing him while simultaneously trying to type information into this app. It was ridiculous. I should have been enjoying my baby and observing him for cues and instead I was hyper focused on getting it all down to a science. It wasn’t until a friend mentioned that she had to stop using the tracker because it was giving her anxiety that I realized, holy ❤️ this is causing way more anxiety than it should be. My advice is to RELAX and observe your baby–follow their cues. You will KNOW when your baby is hungry, you don’t need an app to tell you that. Here’s the thing. If you find it hard to relax about anything, then you need to talk to your doctor. Some of it is just first time mom nervousness, but when someone points out that you’re driving yourself crazy doing something and you can’t stop even though you know it’s not healthy, that’s a sign you need to speak with your doctor. I struggled with PPA and PPD without recognizing it, even though I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder a long time ago, so please just be aware of your mental health and check in with someone. Keep in mind not all doctors are on board, and some may try to tell you it just baby blues from your hormones (which definitely could be the case), or that you’re just anxious because you’re a mom and that comes with the territory (I actually had a doctor say this….) so make sure you get a second opinion, reach out to other moms, or flat out ask for a referral to a mental health professional if you need to. ALWAYS feel free to reach out to me here or on social media if you need to vent, rant, ask for help, cry, whatever…. I’m here and available to support you.

    Read More

  • 30 Ideas to Get Your Kids to Play Outside

    We know kids should play outside, right? Right….If you need a refresher you can read this article about the ever growing importance of outdoor play.

    If you don’t believe me or just LOVE learning about the benefits of outdoor play then here are some additional articles you can dive into.

    5 Big Benefits of Outdoor Play

    Elia at ConservaMom highlights the 5 of the biggest benefits of outdoor play. She discusses how being outside impacts social, emotional and physical health of our kids.

     

    5 Reasons to Play Outside Even When it’s Cold

    Yes, you heard that right. Even when it’s COLD outside. Kids should be…outside.

    Thank you to Lisa from Biscuits and Grading (fellow mom blogger and teacher!) for having my back on this whole “getting your kids outside even if it isn’t perfect weather” mantra.

     

    Outdoor Play Tips To Get (And Keep) The Kids Outside!

    Thank you Rachel from A Mother Far From Home for this one.

     

    One of my absolute favorite concepts is the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge which was created to counteract the fact that we are loosing approximately 1200 HOURS of childhood to SCREENS.

    This challenge encourages us to match screen time with outdoor time.

    Okay…..But sometimes they would rather sit inside and watch T.V.

    Or it’s raining.

    Or too hot.

    Or you don’t have a backyard so you struggle to find outdoor activities that you could easily enjoy.

    Or you love being outside with your kids, but you can’t, for the life of you, think of anything new to try.

    Here is a list of 30 articles that provide some great ideas to make it easier for you to get your kids outside (even when it’s raining, too hot, too cold…..)

    1. 100 Simple Things to do Outside with Your Kids
    2. 25 Ideas to Get Your Family Active Outside
    3. Nature Activities for Teens
    4. 30 Simple Spring Outdoor Activities for Kids
    5. The Ultimate Gear Guide
    6. How to Hike with Kids and Actually Enjoy It
    7. Nature Walk Must Haves 
    8. 5 Ways Kids Can Experience Science This Summer
    9. 10 Ways to Bring City Kids Closer to Nature
    10. 20 Super Cool Ideas for Backyard Fun for Kids
    11. 5 Adventurous Play Ideas to Conquer Childhood Fear
    12. Getting Started Foraging With Kids
    13. 10 Tips for Exploring Nature with Toddlers and Preschoolers
    14. Environmental Projects for Kids Who Believe in Better
    15. 7 Ways to Encourage Imaginative Play Outdoors
    16. Outdoor Treasure Hunt for Toddlers
    17. Outdoor Color Match Activity 
    18. DIY Stepping Stones
    19. 10 Ways to Tempt Your Kids to Go Outside and Play
    20. Scavenger Hunt Printable
    21. 101 Outdoor Family Bonding Activities 
    22. Craft: Decorating a Walking Stick
    23. DIY Bird Feeder Craft & Bird Watching Tips for Outdoor Fun
    24. A Backyard Camping Trip – The Best Way To Introduce Kids to the Camping Experience!
    25. Gardening with Kids
    26. 5 Things to Bring for a Day in the Park
    27. How to Create a ‘Yes Space’ Outdoors (When You Don’t Have a Yard)
    28. 25+ Water Play Activities For Kids
    29. 9 Must Have Screen-Free Outdoor Toys to Keep Kids Engaged and Learning
    30. How to Get Kids Outside During the School Year

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom check out my e-book:

     Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.

    If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:
    Type of Play for Development
    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play
    7 Essential Playroom Spaces (and why you need them)
    The Power of Play
    What I’ve Learned about Early Childhood Education

    Read More

  • What is Montessori — Understanding This Early Childhood Education Philosophy

    Choosing how you will educate your child is probably one of the most important and most stressful choices you make as a parent.

    In this article I argued that early childhood education was more important than college. Education during these early years will help shape social, emotional and physical health, as well as develop intrinsic motivation for life long learning–not just learning to get a grade.

    We know that education matters. But sometimes we don’t know what options are out there. It’s important to dig into some of these early learning philosophies to really understand the choices you have for your child.

    Rachel Kincaid, editor of the of The Montessori Post explains this amazing early childhood education philosophy.

    “We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being” — Dr. Maria Montessori

    A Quick Overview of Montessori 

    Dr. Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy is multi-faceted and most notably includes the idea that children are eager and capable of learning new concepts, of doing for themselves, and of articulating their needs.

    At the core of the philosophy is to look at ‘education’ as actually ‘scientific pedagogy.’

    That is to say, we as educators and caretakers should approach teaching (pedagogy) from a scientific approach.

    The general rule of thumb is–observe, experiment, observe again.

    What makes the Montessori philosophy different from other early childhood learning philosophies?

    Fortunately (or unfortunately) there are many early childhood learning philosophies. Oftentimes many of these are more of a fad vs a tried and true learning philosophy.

    Because the Montessori method is rooted in science, it capitalizes on what we know about child development such as the awareness of the sensitive period for language, and encourages teachers of young children to expose them to not only rich and accurate language, but also multiple languages when possible. (For example, my kids are already being exposed to Mandarin and Spanish at their current Montessori preschool).

    Other philosophies don’t always ‘strike while the iron is hot’ or teach students concepts when they are most interested and apt to learning them.

    Advantages of the Montessori Philosophy

    One of the biggest advantages of the Montessori Method is independence. While it may be a buzzword, independence is a core result of the Montessori method that comes about through the careful observation of the child.

    Don’t children want to do for themselves and by themselves?

    With the right tools, right guidance and the right amount of liberty, a child can become truly independent in many areas of their lives much earlier than they might in traditional schooling or family life.

    The Montessori Classroom

    Montessori classrooms are very carefully and intentionally prepared with activities that not only allow children to do what they naturally want to do, but also that aide them in developing important skills along the way.

    For example, a 3-year-old will have many choices throughout her day to pour water, cut with scissors, prepare food, socialize, work independently, learn letter sounds, begin counting, move her body and so much more.

    A well-trained teacher (called a Guide) will suggest new activities or encourage more practice to solidify her skills as she observes her move about the classroom.

    Myths about Montessori

    As a former Montessori educator, school director, and now adult educator, I’ve heard many assumptions and misconceptions of the Montessori method.

    Aside from some asking ‘if it’s a type of pasta’ or a type of religion, I’d argue that one of the most widely held misconceptions is that Montessori is either very strict or very loose.

    While the name is not trademarked, and each school, classroom and teacher has their own ‘flavor’ or interpretation of Dr. Montessori’s theories, an ‘authentic’ Montessori school, will be an intentional mix of freedom within boundaries.

    A  general misconception about child development is that children at the Early Childhood level (about ages 3 to 6) should not be exposed to academic principles.

    Because many Montessori students after this level are reading and have a very strong understanding of our number system, some people may think that all the children have done is rote, forced academic preparation in their Montessori schools. But this is far from the truth.

    If you visit a well-run Montessori school, you would see that children often choose ‘academic’ activities because they love doing them. Their freedom of choice is respected and they learn the concepts so well as a result of a well-trained Guide and a well-prepared classroom.

    “Doing Montessori” at Home

    Some parents new to the Montessori concept may believe that ‘doing Montessori’ is having the right activities or materials at home, such as only wooden toys, or even no toys at all.

    I’d argue that to ‘do’ Montessori, one simply has to look at their child through a new lens. Understand that a child is eager and capable of learning new concepts, of doing for himself, and of articulating his needs.  Once a parent understands some of Dr. Montessori’s basic theories, she will interact with her child in new ways that frankly, have little to do with what their playroom may contain.

    Montessori at ANY Age

    I always warn parents that once you see the Montessori method, it’s very hard to forget it doesn’t exist!

    It is a wonderful option for teaching and learning, and Dr. Montessori’s principles can be applied from birth to old age.

    I happen to have my 3-year-old in a Montessori program, I homeschool my gradeschooler with ‘a Montessori lens’ and I conduct my full time job with a Montessori perspective as well.

    I’d warn against spending too much time criticizing one’s ‘level of Montessori’ by reading too much into a certain toy or material to buy, or by comparing your child’s play area to that of Pinterest.

    Anybody can adopt Dr. Montessori’s genius way of approaching life, at any level, and at any age.

    Rachel Kincaid earned her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish K-12 Education from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and her Early Childhood Montessori certificate from The Center for Guided Montessori Studies.  She is the co-founder of a bilingual Montessori preschool in North Carolina and currently serves as President of the non-profit Southeast Montessori Collective.  She also serves as editor of The Montessori Post and is the curator of digital material at The Montessori Library.

    For playroom tips check out my e-book Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.

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    What is Waldorf — A Spotlight on Waldorf Education

    Reggio Emilia — A Child Centered Approach to Learning

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