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Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

In addition to our beach cruisers, my husband’s ride-to-work bike, two trikes (was three, but we sold one), and two balance bikes, we now have a sparkly purple bike and a slightly smaller pink bike with tassels and training wheels. I think we’ve got the bike “needs” covered for a while.

Last week, the sparkly purple bike was black and red and yellow (a thrift store purchase from almost a year ago). Earlier that week, Husband was riding around on the bike and exploded the tire…yes, exploded. It was loud from inside the house. So, over the weekend, after stopping by the bike shop to pick up a new tire, we stopped by the hardware store to let Oldest pick out the paint for this baby.
All the girls took turns practicing their tagging skills. There is a light layer of glitter spray paint coating everything in the backyard.

She tried it out for an afternoon, but we soon realized that it was still a little tall for her, so…

it wasn’t long before they left to buy a slightly smaller bike. We figured that with two more girls coming up behind her, w’ll be able to use something in this size range for quite a while.

It came with training wheels and after a few days of trying it out, she’s got the hang of it. I’d venture to guess it won’t be long until she’s ready for the training wheels to come off. The balance bikes have helped them get the balancing thing down.

The most pressing decision when it comes to riding the bikes now, is which toys to put in that pretty pink handlebar bag.

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At two years old, helmets are easier to wear, I guess.

With all of our girls, we struggled with keeping helmets on their heads when they were under two. This struggle was particularly frustrating when in the bike trailer. It really wasn’t happening since the girls could take them off themselves. I am still not certain about the laws regarding helmets in bike trailers where we are. Here is what I can find regarding helmets on bikes, by state and here is what wikipedia has on helmet laws by country.

Wearing a helmet was still an issue when they wanted to ride bikes in the alley, but there was something more unbearable about wearing a helmet while sitting in that trailer. And I hated forcing it on them, so we basically didn’t do bike rides. Not as a family, that is.

I’ve recently come to accept not putting ourselves in a situation as an appropriate way of handling these types of issues. There are plenty of fun and physically active things to do that don’t require helmets.

Recently, though, we got the bikes out and everyone was excited about putting on their own helmets and going out to the alley and to the boardwalk to ride their bikes. Especially this one. She’s all of a sudden very proud of that helmet.

I still struggle with freedom and choices and obeying other’s rules and laws when it comes to the littlest ones. But, as they get older, it just gets easier. When they can talk to me and when they understand to some extent what I am saying when I explain the safety issues…and sometimes get into the principles behind the laws we live under. Until then, I prefer to not do those things, or not do them often.

This parenting thing is like riding a bike in a sense. You keep finding your balance, readjusting and rediscovering it as you move down the road, which is good, because we’re going places and we’re rarely sitting still.

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This can be done in 3 minutes.

I can hear it happening from the other room and I probably have the strangest smile-grimace expression on my face.

I have a love-hate relationship with theses blocks. They are amazing. We have so much fun with them. But the clean up…

We do have a system for picking them up. After so much trial and error you realize how many you can safely carry without your stack disintegrating.

They don’t always end up in chaos. Most of the time they are actually used to build trees and thrones and houses and castles and forts. Their favorite things to build, however, are scooters. They put one foot on half of a large block and build a short tower of small blocks, use another large block for the handles and then scoot around on the wood floors.

There are so many ways to play with blocks in general and with interlocking blocks on this scale they get the benefits of learning and exercising the patterning, creative, spacial and social (its always a team effort) skills in a gross-motor context rather than a fine-motor context as with the smaller lego-size blocks.

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Just found this as I was folding laundry and watching TED talks (a very good afternoon multi-tasking activity). I know I am a little behind, as this is from two years ago…but I thought I’d share it anyway because it is still relevant.  In this TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson speaks about radically shifting our ideas of education and learning from standardization to personalization (from an industrial model to an agricultural model). He briefly mentions children choosing to be educated at home with their families (16:10). He finishes up with the touching (yes, I shed a tiny tear) idea, with imagery derived from a Yates poem, that every day our children who have nothing else to offer of their very own, spread their dreams under our feet and he leaves us with the admonition to tread softly. Okay, not doing it justice…watch the video.

“Its about passion. Often people are good at things they don’t really care for. Its about passion and what excites our spirit and our energy. And if you’re doing the thing that you love to do, that you’re good at, time takes a different course entirely… If you’re doing something you love an hour feels like five minutes. If you are doing something that doesn’t resonate with your spirit, five minutes feels like an hour. And the reason so many people are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their spirit. It doesn’t feed their energy or their passion. So I think we have to change metaphors. We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, is like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

Watch the video:

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The story is told that John Dewey, while visiting a classroom one day, asked the students what they might find if they dug a hole in the earth. Nobody answered. He asked a second time and again was met with silence. Finally, the teacher suggested that Professor Dewey had asked the wrong question. ‘What is the sate of the center of the earth?’ she asked her class, and all the students chorused, ‘Igneous fusion.'”

from The Schools Our Children Deserve, by Alfie Kohn (an endnote notes that “The Dewey story appears in Paul et al., 1989, p. 41.”)

I remember well the paralyzing fear I felt when asked a question like this as a kid. I would have been right there with the rest of the class sitting silently puzzled. Dirt, worms, plant roots, rocks, maybe some water, these would all go through my head, but I would be scared out of my mind that this was not what he was looking for and that I wasn’t thinking hard enough about the context of the question and my place in the world as a(n) _th grader. I remember thinking it was unfair to be asked a question that had several right answers, because in school there was only one that the evaluators were ever looking for. “Igneous fusion,” I would have chanted along with my classmates, thinking how stupid it was to have thought of those other things.

Every question felt like a quiz or a test. The only acceptable answer was the right answer. There was nothing to learn from a wrong answer except that I was as stupid as I believed myself to be.

I remember feeling silly paying attention to what I ate the day of a test. I remember thinking that if I just ate what I normally ate that I would have my normal energy. I remember being the most bored and tired and weepy during testing weeks.

I remember feeling a tremendous amount of guilt if I had to guess. First, I would feel guilty that I had to guess…that I didn’t already know the answer or at the very least have a good idea of what the answer might be. Secondly, I felt like guessing was dishonest. I felt that if I guessed right, that it would be a lie because I didn’t actually know the answer. But the teacher evaluating the test would assume that I knew the answer. There were times when I left questions blank in order to not feel like I was making a bad situation worse.

Tests made me feel like a senseless fool. Tests made me feel lethargic and unhealthy. Tests made me feel ashamed and they made me a liar. Even when I got enough answers “right” for it to be deemed ‘A’ work, I knew in my heart that I could have done better and that I didn’t really know all that much about the subject on which we’d just been tested. I was relieved that it was over and that after a few minutes I could forget and put it all behind me.

I only ever remember being proud about one test. It was a test on which I got 100% an A+. Only one other person got a perfect score on that test. But I knew that even though he was the smartest kid in the class, I knew more about the subject than he did. It was a test on fire safety and as the daughter of a firefighter, I knew that I knew this subject better than my teacher. Lord help me if I had even answered one of those questions incorrectly though, I would have been devastated.

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For Christmas, our 5yo received an ant farm. Its one of those classic kelly green rectangular framed pieces with the flat farm scene smashed in between the plastic windows. It took us a little while, but we finally ordered those ants. Its pretty awesome to wake up hearing our daughter exclaim from her room that she’s going to get up and see what her ants have been doing. She counts them in her collection of pets. “5 caterpillars, 23 ladybugs, and a lot of ants.”

The day they arrived, I had just pulled the car up to our driveway when the mailman zoomed to a halt right in front of us. He jumped out and ran up to my driver-side window and motioned for me to stay put. Out of breath, he explained that he had a package for us. It was much earlier than our mail is normally delivered so I thought it must be one of those special a.m. deliveries. It wasn’t. With wide eyes he gave the reason for not waiting to deliver it until later, “it says ‘live creatures’ on it.”

We spent the afternoon reading and re-reading the directions, letting the ants calm down in the fridge, filling the farm with white sand and a bit of water and adding a couple crumbs of bread. After a while we were ready to put the ants in their new home. Since then, they have been steadily digging their tunnels.

That night, while we had guests over, someone pulled off one of the little caps on the side tunnels. A single ant escaped and you would have thought a venomous alien tarantula was loose. “Watch out! Everyone back! Get away from the table! Aaaaahhh!!” Okay, I admit, it was mostly me freaking out. And, I’m pretty sure it is my fault that the kids were at all concerned. But, you should have seen all the warnings on the packages that: “THESE ANTS WILL BITE!!” (for yet another explanation for why we have a “respect” for biting ants see this post from our other blog).

As if I wasn’t already at my max ant-absorption point, the other night we watched a documentary about ants. It was one of those documentaries where you knew that most of it was staged and that the story was mostly, if not entirely, fiction. What I liked about this documentary is that it presented ants in a different light than every other way I’ve ever heard anyone talk about ants before in my entire life.

In the past it was, “go to the ant you sluggard, consider its ways and be wise” or something super positive about their cooperation (always in opposition to our human ability to do the same) “compared with ants we are hellacious at cooperating” (see this post for that full quote).

In addition to being fascinating, I’ve also found watching ants to be a little depressing. To be honest, especially now that I am a mom, I feel like I am moving around about as much as they are. Maybe I am not lifting 100 times my own body weight, but I’m pretty sure my physical exhaustion at the end of many days rivals those tiny creatures. So, its not that I am feeling inadequate or a sluggardly.  I think that what depresses me is the level of self-sacrifice, the martyrdom and the individual meaninglessness. The message of no individual ant matters…not their desires, not their needs, not their lives in comparison to the future of the colony and the queen is drilled home every time I watch ants (and this happens to be what the documentary focused on as well). It also confuses me when people hold ants up as creatures to be emulated. When I look past the cooperation that’s going on, I think their lives look like rather miserable lives for a human being to strive toward.

The documentary magnified ants and used enough human terms to make me feel like I was in their world. When the workers slowly killed off rival queens by starving and then dismembering them one by one, I cringed and looked away. When they fed them to their own larvae I gagged. Thank goodness all our girls had fallen asleep by this point.

As we put the kids in their beds I kept imagining myself as a giant-headed nurse-ant caring for the eggs, larvae and pupae. When I crunched my baby carrots and hummus, somehow still immersed in an imaginary ant world, I felt like a psychopath. It took me a while to get to sleep and of course I had weird insect ridden dreams.

This morning I overheard this conversation from the playroom,

5yo: “You can’t be a princess! You have to be a worker.”

3yo: “I’m not going to be a worker ant.”

5yo: “Then we can’t play ants!”

And that is fine with me.

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“Compared with fish we are bad at swimming, compared with birds we are stiff at flying, compared with cheetahs we are ludicrous at running, compared with ants we are hellacious at cooperating. Yet we are the most successful species of our time. We have overrun and overturned the territories of all these other animals because taken as a whole, by learning from the generation before us, we can do a fair job at all of their skills at once. As the evolutionist Ernst Mayr has written, we have ‘specialized in despecialization.’

…We fill more ecological niches than any other animal.

This is what allows us to carry on the epic learning game we call science. Science formalizes our special kind of collective memory, or species memory, in which each generation builds on what has been learned by those that came before, following in each other’s footsteps, standing on each other’s shoulders. Each generation values what it can learn from the one before, and prizes the discoveries it will pass on to the next, so that we see farther and farther, climbing an infinite mountain.”

Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch; A Story of Evolution in Our Time

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