“The coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality, new global data from UN Women suggests…
Even before the pandemic, it was estimated women were doing about three quarters of the 16 billion hours of unpaid work that are done each day around the world. In other words, before coronavirus, for every one hour of unpaid work done by men, three hours was done by women. Now that figure is higher.
“If it was more than three times as much as men before the pandemic, I assure you that number has at least doubled,” says Ms Bhatia, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia.” – Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-55016842
This is just one among numerous reports about the impact of the pandemic on women in particular.
No wonder the juggle feels even more stressful, even more imperative and even more is at stake. We are under more pressure than ever before.
We are being paid less than ever and doing even more of the work. Careers are in jeopardy. The role models we’d worked so hard to become to our daughters AND sons, gone in one fell swoop. Gender equality is just one pretty serious casualty of this pandemic.
On top of the usual juggle of work/life/kids, parents – and mothers in particular – are now juggling:
School disruption and chaos, with frequent bouts of learning at home or periods off school, in isolation.
Their own work and careers hanging in the balance, or working from home with the kids and no separation of the two.
The additional emotional toll of financial stress, the constant threat to ill health of family, friends and loved ones from the virus and the impact of social isolation and a world that looks very different from last year.
Reports like the one above – about the macro, bigger picture impact of the pandemic – are being felt at the micro, day to day level by families everywhere. And it is unsustainable.
Why Juggling Is Entirely The Wrong Approach…
Juggling implies keeping separate, distinct entities under control all at the same time…
You’ve still gotta make sure your kids are thriving at school, despite the chaos.
You’ve still gotta make sure you’re earning enough to pay your bills.
You’ve still gotta make sure your relationship is solid despite the additional stress.
You’ve still gotta make sure you’re keeping on top of the usual household and life admin duties.
In the pre-COVID way of doing things, we had boundaries enforced upon us to help keep these things separate, so we could move between them a little more easily…
The kids went to school, leaving you several hours in the day to focus on work/life/household/social stuff.
You went to work, to a place with space dedicated to you doing that job with no distractions or disturbances from the rest of your life (kids, partners, houses to clean).
You went to the shops or to the bar/pub/restaurant to get your social and fun fix.
These were clear and distinct physical boundaries to help you shift your focus from one part of your life to another, without them ever really having to mix. And now?
Now, we don’t need to put on our work clothes, step into that work ‘persona’ and head to the office. We don’t get to book the babysitter, dress up and head out, dropping the ‘mum’ vibe and swapping it for the ‘adult gagging to have some fun’ vibe.
These days we are working from home trying to stop the kids from bombing our zoom calls…
…The kids are either learning at home trying to get to grips with lessons online or not seeing their friends socially outside of the classroom and subjected to staggered start times, staggered lunch times, staggered play times and more…
…We are socialising at home through screens and on Zoom, we are eating at home, exercising at home, and shopping from home.
There’s no need to get dressed up or become someone else to fit in. There are fewer physical separations and boundaries. Everything is blending into one…
But what if that’s how it should have been all along?
What if the physical separation of different parts of our lives has been doing us a disservice? Encouraging us to separate parts of ourselves and not integrate? What if we’ve been living within these artificially created, imposed-from-outside boundaries without questioning whether they actually work best for us?
Let’s imagine a different way…
Imagine if you could show up to a work call knowing it’s ok if your kids wander into shot. And not just ok, but welcomed and encouraged.
Imagine if you could chill out about your kid’s education knowing that you’ve set things up in a way to trust they’re learning anywhere and everywhere not just when they’re at school/in an online classroom.
Imagine if you could feel connected to some of your closest friends who don’t even live in the same town as you but live halfway round the world, and yet it feels like you’re as close as you can be and that an in-person meeting, whenever it happens, will deepen and strengthen that bond but isn’t fundamental to the relationship thriving.
Imagine if you were surrounded by people – relatives, friends and colleagues – who celebrated downtime, relaxation and self care, NOT just achievement, full to do lists, productivity and getting all the things done. Who wanted deep connection and communication, not just the superficial, surface stuff.
Would that feel easier? Would the stress and impact of COVID feel more manageable and comfortable if that was all a reality?
(How) Is this possible?
At Beyond School, we talk about ending the juggle by making some key mindset shifts and then building your habits, actions and lives driven by, based upon, around and to support these shifts and new beliefs.
This may require you to do some of the deeper work. To change your mind, to change some deeply embedded beliefs…it doesn’t always happen overnight (though it can!).
These shifts include consciously choosing to believe and know…
That you are the priority. No guilt, no shame. Put yourself first. Always. You can’t give from an empty well, you must put your own life jacket and oxygen mask on first if you’re going to support others.
You can choose to be the model you want to be for your kids. Consciously. No repeating the patterns from generations past without questioning whether they still serve you and your family, or not. You can choose to model the beliefs YOU choose, not the ones handed down to you as ‘this is just the way things are’. BE the change you want to see in the world, MODEL this to your kids and those around you. They will do what you do, not what you say.
Integrate, don’t separate. Consciously create a life that allows you to – or even better, encourages and empowers you to – show up WHOLE, everywhere. No more hiding one part of your life from the other. No more juggling separate areas of your life. No more trying to keep things separate.
When you act from a place of deeply believing these three things, other things begin to shift for you. You will find tools and resources to:
Identify and hold boundaries you never could before (and didn’t even know were needed), even with the most challenging relationships in your life.
Identify, acknowledge and get YOUR needs met, at no-one else’s expense.
Identify, acknowledge and meet other peoples’ needs, but NOT at your expense.
These three things in themselves can lead to:
Better health and wellbeing; a body which serves you well rather than lets you down when you need it most.
Better relationships; nurturing, nourishing and mutually respectful and beneficial connections which enhance and lift you up rather than drag you down or keep you small.
Better sex; let’s delve into that one another time because it’s SO worth it!
Better parenting; being the kind of parent you always thought and hoped you’d be without having to compromise elsewhere.
Better finances; a healthy relationship with earning, having and spending money.
Better career options; unlimited opportunities and potential that you create yourself rather than relying on others to ‘give’ these to you.
And when you begin to surround yourself with other people doing the same, you will see another way…
You’ll start to see examples of people – of other women – who have done it/are doing it differently. They are nothing special, they have no special skills that you can’t gain, they are not doing anything that you couldn’t do, except…they have the particular mindset and a different set of beliefs that perhaps you don’t yet have. And they act from these beliefs and from this mindset, ignoring the doubts and fear and guilt and shame.
They consciously craft a life – a daily routine – that works for them and their family. There is no mad rush to get to school. There’s no skipping meals because there’s just no time. There’s no rushing from home to work to the shops, to the pub then back home again, with barely a beat in between.
This consciously chosen approach to life will…
Shake up the way you think about work and your career. You won’t be satisfied with working just to make money, but sure that’s a start.
Shake up the way you think about money and finances. You won’t be satisfied with making ‘just enough’. You want more and there is NO guilt or shame in claiming that.
Shake up the way you think about your kids, about parenting them, about educating them and about the way you are shaping their lives and what life you’re setting them up for.
Shake up the way you think about yourself, your own wellbeing and your own needs and wants.
If you want more of the same, this approach IS not for you. If you have a suspicion there’s a different way, this IS for you.
If your life isn’t panning out the way you thought it would or if you’re just marking time, treading water and you’re NOT living every single day intentionally and consciously and doing the things you want, when you want, this is for you.
It’s a philosophy of integrated education that transcends time and space providing a framework; within which individuals create learning pathways that meet their needs now, and for the future.
The primary shortcoming of our current system of institutional education is that it was designed for a particular moment in time and it does not address the continuous evolution of humanity, the world that we are living in now, or that is emerging ahead of us. Infrastructure built to serve the era of the Industrial Revolution has proven itself woefully inadequate in preparing people for the real world of work and life in the explosion of the Tech Revolution, not to mention whatever is coming next. This spring, when COVID-19 ground the wheels of the educational establishment to a halt, the failures and limitations of the school system were thrown into the spotlight and people who had never previously considered alternatives started asking, “Is there a better way?”
Before we can step forward it helps to look back.
Often when people convene to talk about “education” they are limited by the framework that has constrained the last few generations of students. But our modern systems of education are only the most recent development in an experiment with mass schooling. Over the long arc of human history, people were most often socialized and educated within family and community groups with a heavy emphasis on the practical skills they would need to succeed and build upon the success of their progenitors. Before the nineteenth century, education was highly individualized, specific, and organized locally. The system wasn’t equitable. It wasn’t suited to the explosion of technology and progress of the industrial revolution. And it was limited to the knowledge available within a community.
The big win of the adoption of mass schooling was the preparation of a homogenous workforce with the skills adequate to the technological leap of the industrial revolution. The education system fueled the industrial and economic explosion. Public schools, for the first time, created opportunity across the economic and ability spectrum and created a ladder for education and advancement that previously didn’t exist.
But while the world and technology continued to evolve forward, the education system became sloth in a race with cheetahs.
The system we are left with is preparing kids for a world that hasn’t existed in decades.
The Millennials and Gen Z are living examples of the struggle in early adulthood when it becomes clear that the social compact of the educational system you were raised in simply can’t deliver once you hit the real world.
Today, we find ourselves in a world where public education and most versions of mass schooling are, with the best of intentions, failing the students they have a mandate to serve. What schools teach and how they teach it has failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing real world needs of humanity.
Rather than trying to “fix” education, we’re at a point in history where reimagining it from the ground up is both possible and the most promising solution.
The fundamental question we must first ask is: What is the purpose of education?
The answer to this question must stand the test of time and space, because learning is happening everywhere, and it is happening always.
The purpose of education is certainly NOT to download a particular content block of academic knowledge to a student. Everything we need to know is now at our fingertips and on demand through the magic of the internet. “Hey Siri…”
This means that any “curriculum” we develop is outmoded almost the instant that it’s implemented. The most technologically forward facing curriculum delivered to a middle school student today will be laughably antiquated by the time they graduate from high school.
So, what then should we be teaching? What is the purpose of education in a post industrial world?
At Beyond School, we believe that there are Six Pillars of an Integrated Education that stand the test of time and that should be the focus of any education:
The Six Pillars of an Integrated Education are:
How to learn
In order to determine whether these are accurate let’s ask three questions:
Where these pillars true to an education 1000 years ago?
Do these pillars hold up now?
Will the unforeseeable advances of the future still rest comfortably on these pillars?
Everything we learn fits within one of these six pillars, and within those pillars exist another six “learning tracks” that add breadth and depth to the pillars themselves and the life built upon them. (We’ll get to that in a minute!)
This is where modern education is falling short.
The focus is so heavily on developing the right curriculum or body of content to deliver to students, en masse, that we are neglecting whole person development that will allow learners to adapt and grow forward even after the particular body of knowledge has become obsolete.
The path forward isn’t to ensure that every child can quote the same passage from Shakespeare, manipulate geometric formulas, or even code in the most recent language.
The path forward is in equipping people, young and old, with the mental, emotional, and social skills required to acquire and manipulate any body of knowledge they need to build forward, as individuals and as part of the collective.
Acknowledging that what an individual needs to learn is going to be affected by WHEN they are learning, WHERE they are learning, and their particular stage of life; but everything we need to learn at any given stage fits into one or more of the pillars of an education.
Within these pillars exist six other segments, or learning tracks, if you will, that cover the breadth of human experience over a lifetime.
The Learning Tracks are:
Building Blocks of Knowledge
Business & Career
Money & Finance
Health & Wellness
Within each of these learning tracks also exist all six pillars of education.
The pillar of Critical Thinking, for example, will involve learning the building blocks of HOW to think critically, and the use of critical thinking as it applies to how a person leads (a family, business, community, or simply their own lives). it will directly apply to business and career development and will be a factor in managing money and finance according to the individuals goals. Critical thinking will also be central to making choices about self management and one’s role in community and managing physical and mental wellness.
Conversely, within the Learning Track of Money & Finance, for example, a person needs to learn to think critically, based on their philosophical understanding of the world and economies, and they must learn the practical skills of economic management. Thus allowing them to develop the kind of life and impact they wish to have upon humanity which flows from their own self management of their finances as they continue to learn and grow forward to adapt to the changes across the arc of their lifetime.
We believe that these intertwined pillars and learning tracks are at the core of a successful and ongoing education.
They have very little to do with WHAT is taught within the framework, and everything to do with HOW and WHY we choose to teach, or learn, a particular body of knowledge at a particular time.
The current system has a disproportionate emphasis on practical skills (the WHAT we are learning). This is, perhaps, the least important aspect of an education.
WHAT a person learns varies wildly based on where they are in history.
Use of a slide rule was an essential mathematical skill in the 1950’s, most students had never even heard of one, fifty years later.
WHAT a person learns varies wildly based on where they are in the world.
French is essential where I live in Canada. Less so where I live in Guatemala.
WHAT a person learns is highly variable depending on when in their lifespan they are learning.
A three year old is developing different Building Blocks of Knowledge than a thirty year old is.
This is why one-size fits all education never has.
A focus on well defined curriculum blocks will always fail, because it cannot ever prepare a person for the future that awaits them.
A focus on the Pillars of Education allows us to stack whatever particular body of content that is useful, timely, and applicable to our particular place in time, space, and life stage and continue to build a foundation that will both serve us now and allow us to grow into the future.
What Does Getting Beyond School Look Like?
There is a third path emerging, between industrial mass schooling, and the Lone Ranger approach of exclusive homeschooling, fueled by technology, that allows students to forge highly individual educational paths within communities, both in the real and virtual worlds. Beyond School.
Rather than school being a training ground for the “real world,” education happens through immersion in the real world.
Instead of contrived lessons focused successfully clearing imaginary hurdles in standardized testing, meaningful project based learning leads naturally towards outcomes based measurements that have tangible value in the world right now.
Students of all ages are simultaneously gathering the knowledge they need for the future while having a meaningful impact on their present world.
Imagine a class of students, spread across the globe, who have self selected into a group focused on solving a real world problem, like plastics in the ocean, or energy efficiency, or the language barrier. Irrespective of age.
For the first time in the history of the world, this isn’t a pipe dream. It’s not only possible, it’s Tuesday afternoon in a world beyond school, for people of all ages. This conference is exhibit A.
For young learners:
This might mean a greater emphasis on self-direction in both educational choices and self development in general. Getting outside of the age segregated, gatekeeper models of learning and embracing the world as a classroom with learning happening everywhere and always.
For adult learners:
This might mean a self-forged path to career change, or a refocus in the post COVID work world. When future facing companies like Google and Apple publicly announce that they no longer require a college degree for new hires, the handwriting is on the wall of an antiquated system.
This might mean stepping into the drivers seat of their children’s educations and co-creating individual paths that support the passions and purposes unique to each child. We’re working with a broad spectrum of families creating hybrid and totally unique world class educations for their children.
For the educational establishment:
This might mean shifting the paradigm and practice away from the “tried and true” models of education and an openness to reimagining what a modern real world educational structure might look like. The sooner the better.
At Beyond School, we’re building the school of the future.
We’re partnering world class subject matter experts with self directed learners to forge paths as individual and inspiring as the humans crafting them.
We’re creating a framework where educators can innovate and iterate, free from the shackles of an outmoded system.
We’re creating a collaborative educational environment where learning is happening everywhere and learning is happening always. In the real world. For now, and the future.
You know the one, they’re fine until you mention that it’s time to sit down and do some math. You ask for a short journal entry about the day’s visit to a guitar factor, which they were so enthusiastic for and talked non-stop about all the way home. You get two sentences: “We went to a guitar factory. It was fun.” Getting them to read for the required thirty minutes a day is like pulling teeth.
You do your best to make it fun. But your best efforts are met with eyes rolled, huffs of breath and maybe even tantrums to accompany the stone wall of refusal.
In education circles these kids are called “reluctant learners.” But I’m here to tell you that there’s no such thing as a reluctant learner.
Kids are born learning and they can’t help it. They are learning every moment they are awake. They aren’t reluctant to learn, but there are a few reasons that they exhibit behavior that makes parents and teachers think that they might be.
Behavior is a symptom of something going on beneath the surface.
The key to turning the tide is in figuring out what’s going on underneath. They might be:
Lacking in Self Confidence
If your child has spent time in a learning environment where they were not particularly successful, it’s possible that they have acquired a limiting belief about their ability, which is causing them not to try. One bad teacher can do serious damage to a child’s self image and willingness to try.
It’s entirely possible that, without an adult sense of perspective on the subject, your child doesn’t see the point of learning a particular thing. Think about playing the piano: hours and hours of tiresome scales are necessary to train fingers and ears, but they’re not fun. If you want to play badly enough, you’ll endure them. If you don’t… well, how many of us quit piano for lack of perspective and boredom? Most of us.
Lacking in Good Habits
Education is half the content and knowledge that we acquire and half the habits that allow us to acquire it. Charlotte Mason said that the habits of attention, self-discipline, and observation were as important (more important?) to cultivate in a student than mastery of a particular subject.
Struggling With a Learning Difference
Don’t jump to the conclusion that your child “doesn’t want to learn” when it is entirely possible that there is some very good reason that learning in a particular way is hard for them. Dyslexia, dysgraphia, sensory, auditory, visual processing and spectrum disorders all affect a child’s learning curve.
Not Getting Enough Exercise
In order to sit and focus on a task like reading or math, most kids need to have an outlet for their physical energy. Are they getting enough exercise? Many kids live primarily indoor lives and are more sedentary than their parents’ generation. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting them moving.
Focused on Other Things
Perhaps your child is consumed by a particular passion at the moment: Dungeons and Dragons, Minecraft, Fortnight, the Harry Potter books, or something else that makes them reluctant to do anything else. While developing the habit of moderation is important, don’t lose sight of the fact that you could use that passion to your advantage.
We live in an era of parenting that subscribes to the gospel of busy-ness for families. If your child is scheduled from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed with activities designed to make them paragons of ability, it’s entirely possible that they just need a break.
Maybe it’s something else entirely… it’s up to you to study your child and figure out what is going on so that you can move forward together. How do you do that? Keep reading.
Figuring out why your child is reluctant to learn:
First: Set aside that panic in your chest that your child isn’t learning “enough.” Breathe.
Second: Remember that no one cares more about your child or their success than you. You have the ability to figure this out and meet their needs.
Third: Remember that your child is learning already. You’re just seeking to get better at directing that within a peaceful relationship.
Here are some things you might try in getting to the root of the problem:
Ask Your Child
It seems ridiculously obvious, but sometimes we forget to ask the other participant in the struggle what’s going on with them. During a period of non-conflict, ask your child, straight up:
Why are you struggling with (whatever aspect of learning is difficult)?
Is there something I could be doing more of, or better, to help you?
What do you most like learning about?
What do dislike most about learning (the thing)?
Do you have any ideas about how we can make (the thing) easier or more fun to learn?
What are your goals for your learning?
Who do you most admire? (This will give you clues to their interests, you can use that!)
Don’t forget to follow up with lots of “why” questions to dive deeper. Resist the urge to talk over or through your child’s responses. Genuinely listen. Then sit with what you learn.
Assess Past Experiences
Take a long hard look at your child’s educational background. Did they attend school and have experiences with teachers that damaged their perceptions of learning and robbed them of joy? Have you been butting heads with them for years without adjusting the method of learning or communication, putting in place a pattern of struggle in the relationship? Were they convinced at some point that they “couldn’t” or were they given a limiting label?
Is there anything you can point to that has built a roadblock to learning for your child?
Do One Week of Observation Journalling
Without changing anything, take careful notes on one week of your child’s life, not just your structured learning times and educational interactions. What do they enjoy? What do they do well and with ease? Where are the struggles? When does frustration enter the picture? Note foods eaten and behavioral responses. Note hours of sleep, reading, exercise, screen time, play time and social interaction. Look for patterns. I had a friend growing up with severe learning and attention difficulties that were solved almost entirely by removing red food dye from her diet.
Do a Schooling Detox
Sometimes, the path to perspective is to step away from a struggle entirely. Your child will not suffer in the long run if you take a week, or a month, or a year, off of your educational trajectory. If your child spent time in an institutional schooling situation that was not positive, this can be absolutely vital. Remember that during the detox, your child is still learning.
How do you do a detox? Tell your child what you are doing and why. Then remove all educational expectations from the child and let them know that they can spend their time as they wish, within your family’s particular parameters for community living.
During a detox I still required my children to do their chores, participate in family activities, honor the screen time boundaries, and make community minded choices. Beyond that, it was up to them.
During the detox, make sure that you are doing your observation journalling, look for patterns.
Assess Your Child’s Habits
In the pendulum swing away from the overbearing and authoritative parenting of previous generations, many families have also moved away from establishing good and productive habits in their children. It’s my view that this is a mistake.
The reality is that we are all developing habits and those habits rule our lives, how we use our time and experience the world, and our eventual success. If we aren’t actively building good habits, negative ones are forming in the void. Here’s an article to read more about the 4 main categories of habits and how we can bring mindfulness to their formation.
It’s possible that your reluctant learner simply has bad habits.
Evaluate Your Biases
Think long and hard about your own educational experience, your expectations of family life, and the lifestyle you have chosen. Consider your own biases around education, child life, and your beliefs regarding the way things are, or should be.
Consider the possibility that the problem does not rest with the child as much as it does with your current approach. These can be big pills to swallow as a parent, but it’s vital that we ask the hard questions and be willing to do the personal work. Ask your partner or a close friend to help you see more clearly where you find your vision clouded.
Get Your Child Tested
If, after careful assessment, observation, and reflection, you believe that there is something more going on with your child, don’t be afraid to go through the process of having your child evaluated. You pediatrician can point you in the right direction. Your local school might have services available for learning evaluation. Don’t be afraid to invite the community to support and assist you and your child in solving the problem and acquiring tools to build towards success.
Strategies for Engaging All Learners
A child is considered a “reluctant learner” when they don’t wish to engage with the educational process. So, how do we get them to engage? Well, there’s not one formula that works for all kids, but there are some general strategies that can help. Remember that there are no quick fixes. It’s likely that it took months or years for the problem to develop, it may take a while to improve it as well.
1. Focus on Relationship
At the end of the 20 year long haul of parenting, what is the most important outcome? Relationship with your child, right? Start by focusing on that.
In periods of non-conflict actively build your relationship with your child through positive interaction and activities, community development within the family, and tool building. A strong relationship is not one that is free of conflict, but it is one where the good outweighs the struggle and both parties feel motivated to keep building forward. Give your child lots of reasons to want to do the work of building their relationship with you forward.
2. Learn About Learning Styles
Do you know your child’s learning style? Take the time to discover it. At least 80% of what you teach your child should be tailored within their learning style. It’s okay to ask them to stretch 20% of the time to strengthen and build their ability to learn in other ways, but for core and key material, as well as anything that is a consistent battle, work within their learning style.
3. Structure for Success
Keep lessons short. Be sure that there are regular milestones that are achievable. Celebrate small victories. Involve your child in structuring their own time and learning plan so that they have ownership and feel empowered in the process.
Motivate periods of intense effort with appropriate rewards. Work up to your goals slowly.
4. Build Confidence
Odds are good that your child knows that you believe they are struggling and not succeeding in a particular area. Begin countering this negative belief by association through positive reinforcement and confident affirmation of ability.
Never talk about the struggle your child is having when they could overhear you.
Express your belief in their ability to overcome and succeed publicly and when you think they aren’t listening (when out with friends and your child is playing within earshot). Point out success. Underscore that struggle and failure are ALWAYS precursors to success. They aren’t a problem, they’re only stepping stones. Of course your child will struggle and fail sometimes, we all do. That’s good! Keep going.
Never, ever, compare your child to anyone else.
5. Build Productive Habits
Habit building takes time and persistence. It isn’t always fun, but it’s vital.
If you’re realizing that you’ve allowed your child to lapse into habits that are now working against him, talk that through and make a plan together to build new, productive habits. Remember to start small and work incrementally at your goal. If the ability to focus on a math lesson, or read for half an hour a day is your goal, then start with just five minutes, set a timer, and celebrate joyfully when the five minute mark is met! Stick with just five minutes every day for the first week, then inch it up two or three minutes at a time every few days until you reach your goal together.
Try This: Let Your Reluctant Learner Teach You
If you’re consistently frustrated with your child’s reluctance to learn in a structured way, surprise them this morning by announcing that you’re giving them a whole week “off” of “school.” (The detox described above)
Then, challenge your child to point out all the things they can learn their own way, in their own time in that free week. Admit the fact that you probably don’t see all the things they are learning and you need their help so that you don’t miss anything really important. Be open to the possibility that “learning” might be conquering the next level in Fortnight and be willing to celebrate anything they identify as learning or success.
For the entire week, refrain from directing or criticizing their learning process in any way. Do the observation journalling exercise (described above) and let your child know that for this week, YOU are the student of THEM.
At the end of the week, set aside time to think deeply and process what you’ve learned, observed, and recorded. Then talk with your child about what they learned in the week and how you can move forward together toward the goals you’ve set for and with your child.
As I’m writing this, the North American world is in the midst of reeling in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbury, and Breonna Taylor. Protests and riots are filling the news and police brutality and systemic racism are topics being discussed everywhere.
In the midst of all of the things that are heartbreaking during this time, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because, while the violence is a terrible thing, the conversations it is pushing have been too long in coming and need to be had.
As parents, we worked hard to make sure that our kids had a diverse experience.
We intentionally built relationships in communities with people of every colour and of diverse lifestyles.
A large part of our desire to travel extensively with our kids was drawn from a wish for them to see and experience the world as it really is and to live in places where they were the minority as a means to developing compassionate understanding. Evenso, their white skin went with them and the privilege that is attached to it followed. There’s no avoiding that, so we talked about it. A lot. Constantly.
We didn’t (don’t) always get it right. But we have worked to grow forward together, to develop active listening skills as individuals and as a family, and to acknowledge our own biases and our experience of race as white people within the rainbow of people who inhabit the planet. It’s heartening to see my adult kids now engaging in activism and using their privilege to work towards leveling the playing field. We aren’t there yet (not by a long shot) and there is still work to be done.
This week, I wanted to put together a list of resources for parents to use in conversations with their children about systemic racism and family activism. It’s not enough just to speak the right words, we must take action and responsibility together.
If you have resources to add to this list, please send them over!
Things to Read:
This book is for adults and teens.
Written by a white lady, for white people. If you don’t yet understand the difference between racist acts vs. racism, this book will break it down for you.
It will also help you unpack the ways in which white people’s fragility when it comes to discussions of race is impeding progress. Ever said, “Not all white people…” or made a move to correct or defend your position when challenged by a conversation on race? This book is for you.
In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo does a masterful job of helping white people see whiteness as a racial issue and helping us pull that massive plank out of our own eye before pointing at others. It’s a call to cultivating the stamina and humility we need to have the really hard conversations that are necessary to advocate for change.
I highly recommend every parent read this to help frame and steer the inevitable conversations you’ll have with your kids, no matter how young.
Required reading for young adults
This is billed as “young adult” fiction, but The Hate U Give is truly required reading for anyone who wants to begin to understand what it’s like to grow up black in America.
I’ve recommended this book before. I’ll recommend it again.
READ IT. Make your teen kids read it. Talk about it. Get uncomfortable. That’s where the change starts.
How to Choose Anti-Bias Children’s Books
The Social Justice Books project, by Teaching for Change, has compiled this helpful guide for parents and teachers on how to evaluate a book for bias and how to choose books to use with your kids that are anti-bias.
If you’re not sure where to start or what you’re looking for, I highly recommend starting with this list.
They have also compiled an incredible 60 book lists of multicultural and social justice books for children, young adults, and educators.
Compiled by EmbraceRace.org this list has summaries of 31 incredible books just for kids to open conversations about race and de-colonize history. No matter what you are using to teach history, you should be intentionally adding books that are from a non-white perspective. For too long, the narrative of history has been a white, Colonialist one. This list will help you change that.
“Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it, even though they might not understand the feelings. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness.
To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.
Beyond addressing issues of race and racism, this children’s reading list focuses on taking action. It highlights resistance, resilience and activism; and seeks to empower youth to participate in the ongoing movement for racial justice.
These books showcase the diverse ways people of all ages and races have engaged in anti-racist activism, and highlight how race intersects with other issues, such as capitalism, class and colonization. The majority of books center activists of color, whose lives and bodies have been on the front lines of racial justice work, yet whose stories often go untold.
The essential work of white activists is also included — to underscore that anti-racist work is not the responsibility of people of color; and exemplify the ways white allies have stood up against racial injustice. This list was curated by critical literacy organizations, The Conscious Kid and American Indians in Children’s Literature.”
Websites & Blogs to Read
The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers. Our flagship initiative is 28 Days Later, a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by Black creators. You can read more about the members of The Brown Bookshelf here.
On the Latinxs in Kid Lit site you’ll find a range of books for children and young adults that highlight the Latinx experience… dive deep, there is some really good stuff here!
Their vision is to:
Engage with works about, for, and/or by Latinxs.
Offer a broad forum on Latinx children’s, MG, and YA books.
Promote literacy and the love of books within the Latinx community.
Examine the historical and contemporary state of Latinx characters.
Encourage interest in Latinx children’s, MG, and YA literature among non-Latinx readers.
Share perspectives and resources that can be of use to writers, authors, illustrators, librarians, parents, teachers, scholars, and other stakeholders in literacy and publishing.
How to talk to kids about race and books that can help is a great resource list of books for adults to advance their own learning and books for kids that will help open discussions.
21 Podcasts That Confront Racism in America
Podcasts alone won’t fix the undeniable racism, inequality, and injustice that Black Americans face, but they can deepen our understanding of the oppressive systems at work and our role in abolishing them today and every day.
Even very young kids can have conversations about race. Ours started when our not-quite-year old daughter freaked out when her godfather entered the room with his hair “out.” He always wore it in braids, but this morning, he’d brushed it out into an afro and the difference shocked her. We all laughed. He ran upstairs and put his hair “away” and then we all sat down to talk about why Poppy’s hair was different from hers. The conversations continued from there and took us around the world.
If you’re not sure where to start, turn on the news and look for current events to open the door to discussion. Or work to decolonize your bookshelf, art collection, and music repertoire. Or choose a movie the presents an experience different from your own and talk through what you observe and learn.
And, of course, begin with yourself and let your kids see you actively working to develop your anti-racist powers through listening, studying, reading, discussing, and the historic and current issues. Lead by example in deconstructing the Colonialist narrative and broadening your kids’ understanding of the world and the people in it.
This is the very best of worldschooling, folks!
Do you have a resource towards developing anti-racism as a family? Please share it! We’re collecting them for ourselves and others!
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How are you coping with the endless squabbles, frequent fisticuffs and constant bickering in your household during the lockdown – or is that just our family?!
Dealing with emotions can be hard at the best of times, especially in a blended family of six –add the stress of this pandemic when we’re all under the same roof with little opportunity for respite – and it’s a melting pot of high emotions and ongoing drama.
Pandemic or not, one of the most important themes we focus on when it comes to ‘educating’ our children is emotional management and regulation. Why?
Because EVERY single thing we experience in life creates a response in us – often a physical response and always an emotional response.
Sadly, so very many of us are conditioned, from early childhood, to ignore or deny these responses (feelings) and so we grow into adulthood spectacularly unaware of our own emotions and unable to express, discuss and sometimes even feel them.
We move through the world not understanding our own reactions, responses and behaviour, unable to understand others’ behaviours either, and end up repeating dysfunctional patterns, and creating or staying in dysfunctional relationships over and over again…
It doesn’t have to be like this. To us, understanding, feeling, processing and being able to manage our emotions is as fundamental as the three Rs!
So how do you help children learn about their emotions – how to feel them, how to make sense of them, and how to manage and regulate them?
1. Create Emotional Space
The beauty of emotions is that there is no right or wrong way to feel. One of the things that sets humans apart from other living things is our ability to feel with a wide range of emotions and yet our emotional literacy is at an all-time low.
Many of us find it hard to identify and name the emotion we’re feeling which makes understanding and exploration of it challenging (and change almost impossible), and so we default to patterns that aren’t always useful.
For example, anger is a key ‘displacing’ emotion – because anger often hides a wealth of deeper feelings: Hurt, grief, betrayal, rejection, abandonment…
It’s the 6 year old who kicks his sister in the stomach in anger, because underneath the anger, he’s feeling hurt and betrayed that she chose to play on her own instead of with him.
It’s the father who screams at his wife the next morning over a seemingly tiny incident, because he’s feeling hurt and rejected that she was too tired for sex last night.
How do we address and change these default reactions and patterns? Creating and holding space for feelings and emotions is the first and fundamental step.
How do you do this? By making emotions ‘ok’ in your family…
“It’s ok to feel how you feel.”
“No-one can tell you how to feel about this.”
“You are ‘allowed’ to feel exactly how you want to feel.”
“It is ok to feel.”
Once you’ve created the space to feel emotions, cultivating a space for curiosity, exploration and discussion encourages children (and adults) to learn how to verbalise and talk about their feelings…
“How does this feel for you?”
“What words would you use to describe how you feel?”
“Does it feel like …?” (The goal is to help them find the words that feel right to them, not put words in their mouth that don’t feel right to them).
“I wonder where that feeling came from…what do you think?”
“What caused/triggered that feeling?”
The more emotional literacy we help children cultivate when they’re young, the better their ability to navigate any situation life will throw at them and create deeper, more authentic and more fulfilling relationships in all areas of their life.
2. Use Sportscasting
Many adults find it tough to talk about emotions – it’s a skill we can get better at though it’s not one many of us have been encouraged to cultivate and so we find ourselves in repeating patterns…
Consider that argument you have on repeat with someone close to you; the one you can never seem to resolve and which pushes your buttons like nothing else.
Think about the person at work who you cannot bear to be around but have to work closely with, even though they may never have actually done anything ‘wrong’.
Consider the overbearing mother who just won’t let you live your own life without comment or judgment even though you’re a capable, functioning adult!
Many of these feel like unresolvable, unchangeable situations. They are not because while you have no control over other people, you have full and sole control over yourself, and that’s all you need. This is the message we give to our children, over and over.
So how you do initiate a difficult, potentially conflict-causing conversation about what might really be going on underneath the surface? By using a technique I call ‘sportcasting’.
This is a technique I’ve honed based on Janet Lansbury’s method for addressing difficult toddler behaviour.
Sportscasting is a valuable way to get underneath any unconscious, game-playing devices or indirect, passive aggressive ways of communicating because it brings out the pattern into the open, puts a name to it, and allows both parties to address what’s actually happening in the dynamic between them from a place of conscious awareness.
Being able to verbalise what might actually be going on under the surface, on behalf of someone who can’t yet express it themselves, is a powerful way to step out of that pattern, especially for children.
Why It Works
It’s hard, in the heat of a moment, to maintain a clear head, especially if you’ve been triggered. It’s also hard to hear and understand what’s actually being said when the words sometimes don’t appear to make sense or don’t match your sense of what’s actually going on.
Stepping into sportscasting mode allows you to instantly and immediately step out of the drama, get yourself into a more adult space, and observe what’s happening as a more passive onlooker, than get sucked into a back-and-forth, emotionally-charged exchange which does nobody any good.
It allows you to look beneath the surface of what’s being said, to understand what’s actually going on, and empowers you to see things from a different (their) perspective and why they’re behaving and responding as they are, because you begin to understand where it’s coming from.
How Do You Do It?
To begin sportscasting, there’s a process you can use…
Step 1: Observe and verbally reflect back your experience of their behaviour.
Step 2: Identify what triggered the behaviour in the first place.
Step 3: Identify and encourage verbal expression of the emotion/feeling being displayed.
Step 4: Provide space for discussion to take place.
The key here is to sportscast the behaviour you’re experiencing and then ask a direct question to be answered, which creates space for constructive and open dialogue instead of mudslinging or further game playing…
“It sounds like you’re really angry at me for changing this filing system; what could I have done differently to make it work better for you too?”
“It sounds like you’re frustrated by the lack of progress; is there something that’d help you to feel more ok with the process?”
“It feels like you’re really upset by something I’ve done; can you tell me what that is?”
“It feels like you really want to control what I do; can we talk about why that is and how that feels for each of us?”
3. Agree On Positive Forms of Communication
There are many ways of communicating that we learn as we grow up that keep us rooted in patterns that don’t serve us well in adulthood. These include:
We use these because they’ve either been modelled to us by our primary caregivers or because we’ve learned to use them to get our needs met when we haven’t been empowered to do it differently.
How we relate to and communicate with people is fundamental to our experience of life; none of us lives in a vacuum and yet we continue to use communication that is harmful to our relationships and our own and others’ emotional wellbeing because we’ve never been taught anything other.
In our family, we consciously and openly talk a lot about the things we value as a family when it comes to how we communicate because how we do this has an emotional impact on everyone.
To us, clear and honest communication, kindness and respect, etc. are important and so we encourage our children to use forms of communication that are:
Take ownership of their emotions
You might like to consider and explicitly agree as a family how you’d like to communicate too. This agreement can then form the basis of all your communications with each other and has everyone’s buy-in.
It doesn’t mean it will always happen (we still get name-calling, game playing and indirectness rearing their ugly heads frequently!), but an explicit and conscious agreement helps to create a new, more positive default for everyone to work towards.
There’s a wealth of opportunity to talk and learn about emotions currently – from how everyone’s feeling about the lockdown, isolation, homeschooling and home working journeys to navigating the day to day friction of sharing the same space in such close proximity.
Talking about our emotions and how everyone’s feeling – openly, honestly, directly and with positive intent – is, I believe, one of the most positive approaches we can take to helping our children (and ourselves) survive through the uncertainties of where we find ourselves currently.
It’s possible you could even see this time as an opportunity to address some of the longstanding patterns that may be highlighted when you’re so ‘close’ to your loved ones for the foreseeable future…as a truly valuable opportunity to thrive during the pandemic, and beyond.
If you’ve got kids of multiple ages at home right now, this question just got very real. For most people, school closures mean that there are kids of multiple ages needing help for multiple subjects and parents everywhere are struggling.
Your questions might sound something like this:
How can I be everything to everyone?
How can I teach letter sounds and square roots at the same time?
How do I manage all of the lesson plans for several children and minimize the prep time required?
I’m spending hours preparing eight to ten sets of lessons per child, depending on what the schools have sent home, for two or three or four children… how do I keep all of the balls in the air?
WHAT do I do with the pre-schooler in the meantime?
As with most questions related to education, there are multiple answers, the one presented here has grown out of a careful study of educational history, our family’s multi-generational legacy and a good dose of common sense.
This is what I recommend for people who are intentionally homeschooling for the long haul, but it’s just as applicable to parents trying to cover all of the bases with kids home during the school closures.
First: A bit of educational history
Although much can be said of the origins of our current educational system and its roots, traced through Germany and influenced by the Hindu approach to mass schooling to support the caste system, I will, for the sake of space and sanity, discuss only the American system of mass schooling, which began to fall into place in the latter half of the 1800’s.
Up until the advent of institutional schooling in America, “education” took on one of three forms:
A one room community school
Often, in the course of a childhood, more than one method would be employed in the schooling of a young person. It was out of this system (or non-system) of education that such great minds as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were born.
My grandmother, and her mother before her, taught in several one room schools. I have seen the pictures. She taught clear through the depression, without pay part of the time. Some of her students lived in abandoned box cars and came to school hungry, so she set up a local food program to feed as well as educate the kids when they got to school.
Her schools lacked funding, books and basic necessities…and yet the children learned. She had more than fifty students at Starkey School in Michigan, between the ages of five and eighteen, all by herself, when she was only a year or two older than the oldest pupil. And yet, the children learned.
My grandmother did not have eight sets of eight lesson plans per day, one for each grade level. She did not work eight times harder than a teacher today who teaches only one, or at most two grades at a time. So, how did she do it? How can you do it, with your two or six instead of fifty?
My grandmother had an advantage that we do not have today:
She wasn’t steeped in the public school mentality. She herself had attended one room schools, it did not seem odd to her to have twelve year olds sitting beside five year olds and sixteen year olds helping eight year olds.
One of the biggest obstacles to home education today can be our preconceived notions of what “school” should look like.
I know, as a trained teacher, it was for me. I had to consciously let go of all I had “learned” about education and ask anew, “What does it mean to be educated?”.
If I intended to teach my own children because I didn’t want a public school education for them, then why would I seek to replicate that which I was trying to avoid in my living room?
I had to set aside John Dewey’s ideas about age-segregated classrooms, which find their roots in misapplied evolutionary theory, and begin to think of education in the same light as any other sort of growth: not segmented into little boxes, artificial levels, or grades, but rather as a fluid, ever changing organism in continual motion, along with the development of the child.
While the schools are closed and your kids are all home together, it is a great time to experiment with other ideas of what education can look like, especially if those other ideas also lighten your load as parent and teacher!
Who decides what people should learn?
Before we consider the practical aspects of teaching several children at different levels all together, let me ask you this:
Who says five year olds should be learning letter sounds, digraphs and one syllable words?
Who says nine year olds should be learning about the middle ages but that government should be saved for ten year olds?
Who says that times tables need to be mastered at age eight, and not before, or after?
Who says physics and chemistry are to be saved for high school students and then taught in isolation?
The answer: Public school curriculum developers.
These folks try to set national standards which are adhered to by all districts, and most private schools as well. This herd mentality to education guarantees a somewhat homogenous outcome and the ability for a student to finish fourth grade in California and begin fifth grade in Delaware with a minimum of disruption or overlap in curriculum.
That’s a good thing if you’re trying to create one particular type of consistent educational outcome.
The real question is this: If you are not in the public, or private, system right now, why should you care?
You shouldn’t. If your seven year old loves rocks, teach geology. If your four year old can read the basics, buy him real books and get out of his way. If your nine year old is just barely “getting” his times tables, then meet him where he is and provide arenas for him to experience success, rather than feeling left behind. Step outside the box you were raised and educated in.
So, you have two kids, or six. The school has sent home a curriculum packet or online learning that is stressing you out every single day trying to do it “their way.” Your kids are gritting their teeth and muttering at the screen. Your heart knows there has to be a better way, but you can’t for the life of you see what it is.
Here’s the answer: A return to the one room schoolhouse mentality. Even if only for the short term while schools are closed.
Teaching One Room School Style
The building blocks of education can be divided into two groups: the three Rs… Reading, Writing & ‘Rithmatic… and everything else.
The three Rs are skill-based and progressive. You have to learn your letter sounds before you can read little words; you have to have a grasp of many little words before you can read a novel. You must make straight and curvy lines with a pencil before you can make letters. You must make letters before you can write words. You must be able to add before you can understand multiplication and subtract before you can understand how to divide. These subjects require a person to begin at the very beginning, and build skill one step at a time.
The “everything else” includes, history, geography, literature, science, art, music, physical education, memorization, life skills, and… well, everything else.
There is no need to compartmentalize these subjects into specific grade levels, or to fragment what you are teaching within a given subject to three different children. For example, there is no need to be teaching “neighborhoods” to your five year old, “states and capitals” to your ten year old, “land forms” to your eleven year old, and “Africa” to your fourteen year old. Pick one geography unit for all of the children to study at once and then teach each child what he is ready to learn within that unit.
Example: From a family unit study on “North America”:
Hannah, 13, is making a North America Notebook. She writes a one page summary of facts about each of the United States and Canadian provinces. She colors a map of that place, and sometimes a picture of the bird and flower that represent it. She includes summaries of the lives of important people from that state and what they’ve contributed to American culture.
Gabriel is 11, he too keeps a notebook and is reading books about characters from the various regions. He’s making lists of places he’d like to see in person: Yellowstone National Park is at the top of his list. He is writing short summaries of books we’ve read about various individuals from particular states and their histories.
Elisha, 9, keeps a notebook too. His project, since he was very small, as been to collect postcards from the places we visit. Of all the kids, he’s most excited about the Friday night “state meal” we’ve been fixing based on the traditional foods from one of the places we’re studying. He’s long been our “map boy” and is always happy to point out where we are, where we’ve been, or where we’re going. He loves to colour maps and he’s always excited about getting the Jr. Ranger badge at every state park we visit. Because he’s interested in landforms, we’ve been talking about those and checking out books from the library that talk about geology and landform geography in North America.
Ezra is 7. Last time we studied North America he was 1 and his big project was learning to ride in the car with a happy heart and see the world from the backpack, high atop Daddy’s shoulders. Now he’s big enough to give narrations about the stories we read, and has kept journals on our travels. He is learning where Grandma and Grandpa and other important friends and family live. He likes to look at the maps and ask Hannah where the things he points out are. He is learning that some states are warm, and some are colder. He has wondered aloud why there are no lines on the ground between states when there are lines on a map, so we’ve been talking about arbitrary political divisions and how they influence the culture, history, and politics of a place.
In a one room school model:
Each child will have their own phonics or grammar program and progress at their own rate. Each child will have their own math program and work along at their own level. Each child will practice reading every day, receiving encouragement from the other children on different levels than he is. Science, Geography, History, Art, Music, and almost anything else you want to teach can be done as a group.
The principal is simple: Teach to the oldest and let the learning trickle down (a different take on Regan’s economic policy!).
Read books aloud that are geared to your oldest and supplement with books for the younger children.
Do projects that can be adapted to include the smallest baby and the most gung-ho teen.
Encourage older children to learn by teaching.
You know well how much YOU learn by preparing lessons for your children, pass on that gift to your older children by allowing them to design activities and lessons for younger siblings. Watch documentaries and online materials together and encourage discussion where everyone, regardless of age or experience, participates and shares what they are interested in and learning around the topic.
Take a survey of the minds beneath your roof and develop studies based on the interests you uncover. Do your best to “live” the subject matter… eat the foods, build the artefacts, read first hand accounts, watch the documentaries, narrate (tell the stories of what you are learning) together.
How to Make Multi-Level Teaching Work
This part is easier than it seems. If your kids are working through a schedule for the day, set aside some blocks of time for working together, and some blocks of time for independent work.
If I had a third grader, a fifth grader, and a pre-schooler here’s how I would work it out:
Schedule independent seat work for each school aged kid for an hour when the preschooler is most cheerful during the day (mornings?) or is napping (afternoons?).
Get both kids at the table with their assigned math and language work and be available to tutor them during that time. If your preschooler is awake, set them up with some crayons and paper so they can “do school work” too, or maybe some playdoh or duplo, or something that will hold their attention for 10 minutes at a time, have several of these activities in the wings to trade out a new one when the first one starts to wear off.
Do any read alouds during meal times. While they are having lunch is a great time to read a chapter of a book aloud to everyone.
Watch any documentaries, YouTube videos, or other content related information together and discuss it out loud.
During the block of time when your preschooler is most needy, make sure that the older kids are set up with some aspect of the project that they can work on independently. Maybe this is a project they have chosen, additional reading or watching, or some creative application that doesn’t require your input. CHALLENGE THEM to come up with their own ideas for what they would like to work on within the larger theme.
Try This: Look at your home the way my grandmother looked at her one room school.
Look at education as just an extension of the other growth your children are experiencing and nurture it in much the same way. What you will quickly find if you let go of age segregated learning in favor of this more homogenous, natural style of teaching and learning is that your children will rise to the occasion.
They will love learning together, and teaching one another. The young ones will stretch to show that they can “keep up” with older siblings, who will be trying to learn even more and loving their position of teacher and encourager.
The kids will take ownership of their educations, and frequently teach YOU a thing or two about the subject at hand. Instead of some students being higher, or lower, or ahead, or behind, or smarter, or average, all are learning together and growing together.
Quietly, beneath the subject matter, the mess of projects, the joy of story hour, the questions asked and answers searched out together, another type of learning is occurring. Children in a learning environment with people of various ages are learning something else that other children are often missing out on. They are learning to relate socially in a real world setting. Children in one room schools, or similar environments, learn to interact with the old and the young. They learn to hold their own intellectually with people of all ages and abilities and they learn to see themselves as parts of a world larger than their own experience.
If this concept is new to you, start simply, with just one subject.
Maybe it’s history, or geography. Maybe it’s Science, or Art.
Gather materials around the same topic that will appeal to each of your kids at the stage they are at not.
Gather a few more that will stretch them.
Brainstorm an action plan for real world learning that orbits your topic, this could be travel (for later, when restrictions are lifted), museums (many of them have collections or tours online during the school closures), documentaries, YouTube videos, books, people you know with experience, classes, festivals, or anything else.
Involve your kids in the idea generation and the planning, to build excitement.
Then, make an action plan together for the learning… or download ours!