Sunday, November 27, 2016

Our Humanity Depends on It

This summer we traveled to the West to revive in the midst of nature. We felt the rhythm of the Pacific tide, were humbled as we stood in a cathedral of Redwoods and procured strength from the ancient land-forms rising from the Earth. The beauty and stillness of the natural spaces seeped into our depleted bodies and provided  nourishment and serenity. As our human days spin, it is comforting to know that there are spaces in the world that exist without expectation or demands.

As we traveled, we read the stories and histories of the collaboration between the many naturalists, environmentalists and the philanthropists who protected these spaces for future generations knowing that the  survival of humanity depended on their work. 

Will our children be compelled to fight for these spaces? 

What do these spaces mean to our children? Have they spent idle hours laying in the grass looking up at the sky, climbed a tree when feeling lonely, jumped into a leaf pile after raking it and played without interruption with peers? Have their bodies felt exhausted from scaling the banks of a stream, carrying rocks to build a damn and walking back up a hill after sleighing down it?  Do they understand that a walk on a path can clear their mind, slow their beating heart and reassure their anxieties?

Children understanding science or mastering facts will not ensure stewardship of natural spaces. The next generation must have a deep love, connection, respect and reverence for nature. They must PLAY in these wild spaces.

Richard Louv, co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and author of Last Child in the WoodsThe Nature Principle, and, most recently, Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community, writes the following:
"If nature experiences continue to fade from the current generation of young people, and the next, and the ones to follow, where will future stewards of the earth come from?Past research has shown that adults who identify themselves as environmentalists or conservationists almost always had some transcendent experiences in the natural world. What happens if that personal experience virtually disappears?There will always be conservationists and environmentalists, but if we don’t turn this trend around, they’ll increasingly carry nature in their briefcases, not in their hearts. And that’s a very different relationship."

Adults and families building structures on the beach in the Northwest.

Quotes from Richard Louv regarding the importance of outdoor play for children

“Nature-deficit disorder” is not a medical diagnosis, but a useful term—a metaphor—to describe what many of us believe are the human costs of alienation from nature: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, a rising rate of myopia, child and adult obesity, Vitamin D deficiency, and other maladies.

One reason for this is the risk-taking inherent in outdoor play, which plays an important role in child development. Without independent play, the critical cognitive skill called executive function is at risk. Executive function is a complex process, but at its core is the ability to exert self-control, to control and direct emotion and behavior. Children develop executive function in large part through make-believe play. The function is aptly named: When you make up your own world, you’re the executive. A child’s executive function, as it turns out, is a better predictor of success in school than IQ.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Supporting Children

Sometimes we are motivated to create something or even pursue an intention. We visualize the process and develop an expectation.  As we encounter obstacles, we begin to loose confidence or even  motivation. Our frustration seems insurmountable and we are plagued with thoughts of giving up.

I am sure we can all relate to these feelings and for some of us we might need to raise both hands. It is hard to move past this in our own adult lives but it is heartbreaking to watch this happen with our children. What can we do to support our children when they have important work but become discouraged in the process?

How can we walk the thin line between enabling and saving our children from struggle and offering support and scaffolding?

As a teacher and a parent, I feel walking this thin line is one of the most important and yet most challenging  things we are called to do with our children.

This list below was written with much fervor in the hopes of providing the class direction and structure for caring for our young chicks.It was deemed a necessity for the survival of the chicks but writing this long detailed list, and stretching each word proved to be challenging. Creative flow wavered back and forth between writer's block and fear of making a mistake.

1. Make a chain (to mark the days until their birth).
2. List of names. Make 12 names (for each chick).
3. Make a calendar.
4. Make a list of rules (denoting etiquette and safety for interacting with the chicks).
5. Check the incubator.
6. How will we know when the eggs hatch?
7. Will the first person the chicks see think it is their mom?

Learning and practicing a skill takes a long time. Remember the turtle...slow and steady wins the race. Children cannot always see their own progress. They are aware of the progress of others and mistake closing that gap as their goal. We need to help them witness their own progress and set realistic goals based on where they want to go.

Mistakes are the sparks for learning not the summary of what has been learned. Failure can mark the beginning of learning not the end of learning.

Provide a safe opportunity for children to release their feelings. As they release, listen to the emotions they are taping into and less to the words that they are using.

Try to give the ownership of the problem to the child and still co-construct strategies as they solve the current problems and simultaneously develop a framework for solving future problems.

Despite my years of teaching and parenting, I still feel like a novice  as I practice what I have gleaned. How do you support children as they work through their challenges and difficult moments?