Monthly Anchor Points: April

Anchor:  a person or thing that can be relied on for support, stability, or security; mainstay: Hope was his only anchor.

When we work to become the author of own family life, we take on the authority to provide our spouse and children and ourselves stability.  An effective way to do this is through the use of rhythm.  If you have small children, it takes time to build a family rhythm that encompasses the year.  If you are homeschooling older children and also have younger children not ready for formal learning, the cycle of the year through the seasons and through your religious year becomes the number one tool you have for family unity, for family identity, for stability.

I know some of the United States still is seeing snow, but here in the Deep South, April can be such a beautiful month – birds chirping, nests and eggs, bunnies, daffodils and other flowering bulbs.  Yet, in this month we remember some of the starkest and most horrible moments in humanity. Vicki Black, in the book “Welcome to the Church Year” writes that “During this week (Holy Week) we focus on the suffering and death of the innocent and vulnerable, the failure to stand by someone in need, and wrenching farewell conversations at a final meal with beloved friends.  We also ponder moments of injustice, cruelty and arrogant “hardness of heart” – experiences that we know all too well in our own world.”   Holy Week can bring up our own feelings of sorrow, anger, fear, regret, sadness and loneliness.  It is such a polarity of darkness and light, goodness and love and evil.  If we look, we find the ultimate overcoming of  darkness with love to the entire world .  Hopefully we carry on to bring peace to all!

I like this quote from Sarah Ban Breathnach’s “Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions”:  “For more than fifteen hundred years, the feast of Easter, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has been the focal point of springtime for Christians around the world.  Yet the Easter season is not only a Christian story, but a promise of renewal for all.”

Passover is occurring now – for over three thousand years Jewish families have gathered around the world to commemorate the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery.  Happy Passover, friends!

 

My month will be anchored by these festivals:

Wednesday, April 1st – Holy Wednesday – Tenebrae meaning “darkness” or “shadows” is usually offered on this day.  It is beautiful and sad. The book of Lamentation is chanted, and candles are extinguished in the church until only a single candle, symbolizing Christ, remains in the darkness.

Thursday April 2nd – Maundy Thursday   I often meditate on this day that this was the day Christ gave the commandment “to love one another”.  The Mass in the Anglican church on this night is haunting. I usually (always?) end up sobbing in a back corner.  How do we go out and love and serve people, how do we really love?   The feet of the people in the congregation is washed by the priests, the altar is stripped and bare, the church is darkened and every thing of beauty is removed down to the linens.  The extra bread and wine is carried to a space for the vigil in the night to come.  Usually a vigil is held throughout the night to stay awake and we contemplate our own failings and yet how this is not the final chapter of God’s redeeming love for us.

A very light meal, perhaps of green foods is traditional for this day.  “All Year Round” has a recipe for chervil soup. 

Friday, April 3rd – Good Friday  – In the book “Celebrating Irish Festivals”, the author mentions spring cleaning for the house and yard on this day, and also if you have chickens that lay eggs marking the eggs laid today with a cross and eating them on Easter Sunday!  Ruth Marshall, the author, also goes on to say:

Most people went to church on Good Friday and silence was encourage between  noon and 3 p.m., the time when Christ was upon the cross.  In Celtic Christianity, Christ was believed to be King of the Elements and the elements were thought to respond to his death.  The sky was expected to darken; and cold, wet weather was taken as a sign of nature’s mourning.

Hot cross buns are traditional for some Christians on this day, along with the trimming of an Easter Egg Tree.  This is also a traditional day to plant potatoes and seeds. This is especially important for children who are old enough to realize the significance of this day and who feel it is “Bad Friday!”  The transformation and new growth is symbolic and works deeply in the consciousness of children.

Saturday, April 4th – Holy Saturday   A day of stillness and waiting, but also a day of practical projects in preparation for Easter Sunday.  Making an Easter bread ring could be a wonderful project, or making egg shaped candles.    We often have an Easter Vigil Mass which is so very beautiful – some Anglican churches also hold this on Saturday night or on sunrise on Easter morning.  The Easter Vigil is the first celebration of Easter, and is among the most ancient of all liturgies.  We light the new fire and the paschal candle, we celebrate baptisms and the renewal of baptismal vows and the Holy Eucharist. 

Sunday, April 5th – Easter

And we will be celebrating  Easter Week and Eastertide!  Easter lasts for fifty days, from Easter Day through the Day of Pentecost!  The bonds of sin and death are broken!

Both the Holocaust and genocide in general is remembered this month with Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, April 16th and Genocide Remembrance Day on April 24th.  Our church is currently reading the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a light in the Holocaust.

My religious denomination celebrates many wonderful Saints and Holy Men and Holy Women this month.  One of my favorites is Saint Tikhon on April 7th.

There are also many secular things to celebrate from the signing of the American Civil Rights Act to Earth Day to William Shakespeare’s birthday.   Arbor Day is April 22nd, a wonderful day to give some love to the beautiful trees.  (It is also Earth Day). 

Ideas for Celebration:

  • So many crafts with Eastertide and spring themes!
  • Spring foods – dandelion greens, fiddlehead ferns, lighter spring fare
  • Observe nature – many of our birds are out and about building nests, and we have found many snails, lizards and turtles.   Snakes are out again.
  • Get out and hike
  • Spruce up the yard and think of ways to celebrate the wind – windchimes, yard pinwheels can be so fun!
  • Plant seeds if you can in your area – down here we can plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplants the second week in April!  Lovely flower seeds include candytuft, cornflower, nasturiums, marigolds, love in a mist. 
  • Storytelling – there are several lovely stories of the Easter Hare in the book “Festivals, Families and Food” by Diana Carey and Judy Large
  • Music is a glorious part of this month – in our family, we have Easter hymns for fifty days!  So much music to sing!
  • Depending upon where you live, kite flying may be a good option for this month.

The Domestic Life:

  • Spring Cleaning
  • Getting rid of all kinds of things to go into spring and  summer lighter and brighter than ever

Homeschooling:

  • This can be a harder time of year for homeschoolers…the end of the school year is coming, but has not yet arrived.  The children (and the teacher) may have spring fever!  This is always a good time of year to sit down and take stock as to what you have left to accomplish in the school year.
  • Planning for next year’s school – it is not too early to order supplies, plan block rotations, and get to work on plans for specific blocks.  If you plan now, it saves you so much trouble and anxiety during the school year.  Please do get started!

Many blessings,
Carrie

Empowering Children

Empowering children should always mean several things:  the dignity of the child is respected, the situation is set as right as possible if a party or an object has been damaged, and your relationship with your child is preserved. For a small child it isn’t really that they will “learn for next time” because a child’s memory begins to develop around ages six or seven.  Therefore, in many cases these scenarios that require empowerment will be re-played time and time again and as a parent one must be patient and guide.

A large part of this guiding and leading to empowerment is to be  “ho hum” .  “Ho hum” means different things to different parents but I think ideally it means holding the space,  listening and observing and being present.  Here is an article about what it means to “hold the space” from an adult perspective in palliative care; not all of it is applicable to parenting small children but it is helpful to read and to practice in your own life.  http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space/  The more you practice and are able to do this with adults, the better you will be at it with your children.   This is the most important step toward preserving the relationship and connection you have with your child, and in preserving the child’s dignity.

I think one of the differences between holding the space with an adult and then doing this  with a small child is that there may be a physical piece.  This could be holding the child even if the child is screaming and falling apart so they can press into this boundary.  Or, it may be as simple being present and humming whilst folding laundry  while a child is under a table and not wanting to be touched and then making restitution after the child has calmed down.  Only you can decide what is right then in the relationship with your child.

The action piece that occurs after the ho-hum and holding the space can be the oft-forgotten piece of empowering.  It empowers children to make things right.  This is probably the most important piece of guiding.  Once children are calm, especially for children ages nine and under, I like “doing together” as restitution.  We do things together to make the situation right, to bring restitution, we encourage.  This is empowering to small children.

Another situation regarding empowerment came to my mind yesterday. Sometime just loving boundaries and words of encouragement are enough to empower a child that is not in a conflict situation but working through being capable as part of growing up.  For example, yesterday my five year old wanted to get dressed and he had pants downstairs but he didn’t want to go upstairs to get his shirt and socks. He really wanted me  to do it for him.  I set a boundary that I would not do it for him as he was completely capable and I was in the middle of things in the kitchen.  Sometimes children need to hear that too, and to follow through.  This is also empowering and part of being capable as children grow.  We can be kind and thoughtful, but doing everything for our children that they can do for themselves actually takes away their power in the long run of life.

Please share with me your favorite ways to hold the space, be ho-hum and empower your children.

Blessings,

Carrie

Multiculturalism In Waldorf Homeschooling

I have lately been exploring the ideas of multiculturalism within the Waldorf homeschooling curriculum, and lately especially the place of  Africa and  Asia within the grades  for the American homeschooler as these streams of civilization are part of the fabric of our society.    I have already talked rather extensively regarding Native American/First People streams before.  I am certain I will have something to say about the Latin American stream as well in days to come – after all,  one of my first degrees was in Latin American Studies.  The ideas in this post are borne from my own exploration and are solely my opinion.

In Kindergarten, fairy tales and little stories should come from ALL cultures and include festivals that are authentic and real to your community.  For Americans, I have a strong bias towards Native American tales and stories being used in kindergarten and throughout the first four grades, then moving into  more Native American figures and history in the upper grades, but all streams should be represented as fully as possible.   Although the characters in the  fairy tales themselves are archetypal, I feel strongly if puppetry is used, the puppetry should include a variety of skin tones that correspond with where the tale is from.

In the early  grades we include fairy tales, legends and fables, tales of the Old Testament/Hebrew legends, and the creation tales from many different cultures.   Especially if you are an American homeschooler, we have the streams of nearly every civilization running through our country.  Festivals could be included – for example, if you are doing a block of Chinese fables, you could include this block around the time of the Lunar New Year and see what is out in community to participate in, see, experience.  There are many African and African-American tales also wonderful for second and third grade, and hopefully community festivals you can participate in!  There are many wonderful Waldorf festival books about celebrating festivals, but I feel this can be authentic in a classroom setting than at home if this is not your cultural or religious background, which is why I mention community settings for the homeschooler.    This is an experiential level – for children to be experienced in real life, not in an abstract manner!

Artistic work in all of these grades should again, include skin tones of all colors that are accurate.  Old Testament figures, the Egyptians and Nubians of fourth and fifth grade should be accurate.    Fourth Grade is often seen as a year for the Norse myths, the Kalevala, etc but  “Hear the Voice of the Griot!” by Betty Staley  also mentions that this can be the time of Bantu and San stories.   

I  have also been  thinking strongly about American archetypes – for example, the West with cowboys and the vaqueros that became the foundation for the American cowboy, the Mid-Atlantic with coal mining, farmers in the mid-Western states, lumberjacks of the Pacific Northwest and how this would be embodied in the grades – some figures are larger than life, think of an  “American Tall Tales” block in second grade and we keep moving forward.  I think if you are American, an “American” stream is also important to think about.  It is complicated to think about so many people that have come to our shores, my ancestors included, and forget in this day and age the uniquely American archetypes that used to hold us all together in the past.

Fifth grade – I feel very strongly that Ancient China should be represented in this year, as well as Ancient Africa.  For Fifth Grade and up, a wonderful resource is “China:  Ancient Inspiration and New Directions” by Judith G. Blatchford, available through Rudolf Steiner College Press.   This 171 paged book is very helpful.  It is not divided by grade, so it is just a sort of “sit down and read” and gather gems as you go along.  There are many interesting things in this book as it applies to Waldorf Education and what Rudolf Steiner had to say about China!

India is traditionally well covered during this year   I like Marsha Johnson’s block on The History of Chocolate for math because this is yet another way to acknowledge South American geography and history as cacao and also other countries that produce chocolate.  It is important to remember that this year is not so much history as it is mythology, the feeling life of a culture (which you will harken back to in seventh grade with tribes of people)  and a note to the changing and evolving consciousness of humanity.  Steiner talked about the streams covered in India, Babylon, Persia and Greece but I feel since the American consciousness includes streams from all over the world, it is appropriate to build a foundation for the coming world history and world literature  for this in fifth grade.  Again, please make your drawings accurate with skin tones and provide accurate examples of handwork and crafts.

I also feel whilst fourth grade covers local geography, fifth grade should cover the United States of America (if you are American).   I acknowledge and like the idea of Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources, Inc to place our North American “neighbors” in this category as well – Mexico, Caribbean, Canada.    North America also includes what we as Americans often refer to as Central America and some folks seem to forget this!

Sixth Grade -In sixth grade, the Crusades, the arrival of Islam, the Ottoman Empire is traditionally well covered.  However, I  also feel strongly that feudal Japan should be included as an example of Medieval East Asia and perhaps even independent Vietnam, the Khmer Empire, or the Kingdoms of Burma or even Medieval Java  included as representatives of Medieval Southeast Asia.  We choose to study European Geography in this grade to go along with  Rome, but you may choose to map it out differently, especially if you decide to cover some of the Asian countries in their medieval periods.

Seventh Grade -In seventh grade, one can more closely study the Mongol culture and history, the rise of Buddhism, the Silk Road and China as part of “The Age of Discovery”, and also include the great explorer .  We studied African geography  in this grade and also  included Ancient History as well as explorers and colonization and the diaspora along with the geography, Ancient Civilizations and explorations of South America.   There is plenty to explore.  Latin American geography is another area of exploration.  I also feel this grade should cover Native American tribes again and colonial America

Eighth Grade – In eighth grade,   the study of modern history is broached with broad brush strokes and themes, and will continue into ninth grade in many Waldorf high schools. One most likely will touch upon colonialism,  nationalism and the rise of  independence as part of these themes, and of course there are many examples of this around the world.    I believe eighth grade should include Middle Eastern geography (you probably have already covered some of this; however, much of the Middle Eastern landscape was changed as a result of World War I and  II and it makes sense to cover this here)  Asian and Pacific Rim geography.    If you do decide to foray into more modern history past World War II, one could of course include Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines and more. 

If you want an example of how to work with this if you are in a non-European country, I suggest the teaching manuals from East Africa Waldorf training that are available for free on line.  It shows how this training center  has adapted the curriculum to fit their geography and streams of cultural groups. 

Many blessings,
Carrie

Why We Do What We Do In The Early Years

I often find parents who have small children are rather flummoxed by what they find on this blog.  I base my parenting upon development  – from streams of years of developmental testing from The Gesell Institute, from the pedagogical insights of Rudolf Steiner and the secondary pedagogical literature of the Early Years of Waldorf Education, from the research of Attachment Parenting, from my own experience as a pediatric health care professional and from just plain common sense.  And research – there actually is research in this area!

The Early Years is not a time of rocket science, yet we have strayed so far from what a small child needs in most countries across the world I think it would take massive public health campaigns to get back to having things be developmentally appropriate for a small child.   

The hallmarks of this campaign should be, for the Early Years child before first grade:  sleep and rest, time in nature, steady rhythm, protection from adult information and the seeping of adult and high school activities down to these tiny children, meaningful work, play, protection from all electronic screens, the building up of a healthy physical body and to model children reverence, and to provide children the sense that the world is a good place.

Play and School:  This is not the time for academics.  There is NO published research that shows a child who learns to read early does better in school later on, but there are studies that show the benefits of a play-based Early Years program.  Here are a few links on this subject:

https://deyproject.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/readinginkindergarten_online-1.pdf

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/03/why_preschool_shouldnt_be_like_school.html

The value of unstructured play:  http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00593/full

Value of play-based preschools over academic preschools: http://mhpcns.com/resources/play_vs_academic.pdf

Alfie Kohn’s case against direct instruction of academics in Early Childhood Education:  http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/early-childhood-education/

Homework:  Research regarding the unclear relationship between homework and academic achievement (and hint, this talks about the optimal amount of homework in studies of high school students, and the disparity of benefits homework provides across groups of people, and the lack of clear benefits of homework for small children):  http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Instruction/What-research-says-about-the-value-of-homework-At-a-glance

Pitfalls of homework from Stanford University:  http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/march/too-much-homework-031014.html

Benefits of homework vary across nation, grades from Penn State (again, most of the research is being done at the middle and high school levels, and I think homework is another seeping of adult and teenaged ideas down to the smallest level of our population.  Early Years children are not teenagers!):  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070227171018.htm

All parents who want homework sheets given to their kindergarten-aged children should have a look at these studies. 

The Value of Protecting our Children From ADULT information:

The value of protection for our children:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/11384246/Too-much-information-destroys-childhood-innocence.html

Study from Pediatrics regarding use of mobile devices by caregivers and children in restaurants:  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/03/05/peds.2013-3703.abstract

Why are we in such a fearful place in parenting small children?  It is not a race to run as fast as possible to get to the next stage of childhood. It should not be a stage where the parent is so full of fear of parenting and uncertainty in  trying to hold a rhythm in the home and guide a small child that keeping the child busy every second  is the norm.    If we set an unhurried pace at home and are happy being in our homes and neighborhoods, our small children will be as well.  And they will have much greater health because of it!

Blessings,
Carrie

Which Waldorf Curriculum Should I Buy?

This topic comes up over and over again on Facebook groups, Yahoo Groups and in real life.  There is even a Facebook group devoted to sharing information about the different curriculums called “Waldorf Homeschool Curriculum Discussion”.

If you as a homeschooling mother have investigated Waldorf at all, then you probably realize that for the Early Years, under the age of 7, life and being home is the curriculum.  Play, meaningful work, rest, stories and songs and verses and being outside, along with seasonal activities IS the curriculum.   It is living and changing.  You don’t need to buy a curriculum for this, but if you feel you need verses, songs, or seasonal ideas, there are plenty of books, Pinterest boards and the like to demonstrate ideas.  You could also attend an open house if you have a Waldorf School near you and see a puppet show.  This is the time to develop your own skills, learn to be able to set a rhythm in your own home, and be a gentle leader in your own home if you plan to homeschool in the grades.  There is no “homeschooling” a four year or five year old in Waldorf!  You are living a beautiful life!  Life is the curriculum!

If you have investigated the Waldorf curriculum for the grades, you probably have seen there are certain subjects that Rudolf Steiner indicated as part of the development of the holistic human being by age, and there are some things built up in secondary pedagogy over these years as being done in certain grades.  You have to know enough to see how this curriculum can be adapted to your own unique geographical environment  (look at the manuals from the East African Waldorf teacher training curriculum and see how they adapt the curriculum for their country and continent) and most of all, to the unique child standing in front of you.  LOOK at the child right in front of you.  This is homeschooling, and homeschooling with Waldorf means you are a TEACHER.    It is not “child-led” but it is sensitive to the child based upon Rudolf Steiner’s view of development and how you, the teacher, brings it!

So this type of homeschooling takes work.    And that seems to scare many.   I  also feel many parents are interested in Waldorf Education because they perceive it as gentle (it is), child-led (it is not), nature-oriented (it is), easing into life in a more gentle way that is unhurried (it does, but then the other grades become VERY rigorous indeed).  The early years of play silks and wooden toys don’t last forever and wooden toys do not an early Waldorf childhood experience make.  Waldorf Education is about protection of the child, but it is also about bringing things at the right time developmentally and that does mean the world opens up, especially after the age of twelve.

The curriculums currently on the market include Celebrate the Rhythm of Life Living Curriculum Program,  Live Education, Waldorf Essentials, Earthschooling, Lavender’s Blue, individual offerings from Rick and Jennifer Tan at Syrendell and Marsha Johnson at her Yahoo Group waldorfhomeeducators@yahoogroups.com and her on-line store The Magic of Waldorf, and  Christopherus Homeschool Resources, Inc.   I am not really including  Enki and Oak Meadow as they were written by former Waldorf teachers; Enki is closest to Waldorf pedagogy our of the two, but each are there own distinct programs with their own scope and sequence.  So these are more “Waldorf-inspired”. Little Acorn Learning is aligned with Lifeways of North America, and is nature-based.  I don’t know of any other curriculum programs than these.   Also, please do not forget the myriad of resources available to Waldorf teachers that are also available to you through booksellers such as Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Waldorf Books. 

If you are not piecing together your own curriculum, (which I recommend you try to do, especially in the early grades when it is easier and you can get the hang of it), then you will have to sort through all of these options.  Most mothers I talk to say they would love to have enough money to purchase more than one curriculum because each one has its gems, its loveliness, and they like to combine pieces and resources.  In the upper grades, where there is much less in the way of curriculum to pick from, you will have to do this anyway. 

If you want to see my criteria regarding choosing curriculum, I suggest you look at this back post.  You can also look at this post about how to learn more about Waldorf Education and the suggestions there.    Look carefully at the credentials of the people writing the curriculum and how much they have extensively worked with children in real life . If you are writing a “Waldorf” curriculum and using that word – where is your training, Foundation Studies, workshops that helped train you in this method?  I think all of these things combined make a “curriculum” worth looking at.

Blessings,
Carrie

The Ten Kinds of Play

If one of the hallmarks of the early years through the teenaged years is play, it helps us as parents to know about the different kinds of play and what these look like.  In this way, we can help our children achieve healthy play if healthy play is difficult for them.

The number one thing to do to help encourage ALL of the kinds of play I am listing below includes turning off all screens – TV, computer, video games, etc.  Stop them cold turkey.  This is important for all small children as we offer a gesture of protection, but this is especially important if  your child is having trouble with creative play.  And start to schedule in large amounts of “unscheduled” time.  That sounds contradictory, scheduling in unscheduled time, but children of today are rushed from adult-led activity to adult-led activity.  They need time to just daydream and be – that is the genesis of being creative.

Here are some types of play:

  • Large Motor play – climbing, jumping, swinging,  crawling
  • Small Motor play – Fine motor play might include things such as sorting objects, stringing objects, bringing objects in and out,
  • Rules- based play – You see this a lot in pick –up games led by children.  I saw this this weekend at a 4-H event where I observed a  very large group of children ages 8-14 or so were playing kickball.  They figured out where the bases would be, what the foul line was, how far apart the bases should be after a few rounds, etc.  They were making the rules and changing the rules as they went along.  Children do not acquire this skill in adult-led youth sports.  Youth sports NEED to be balanced out by neighborhood pick-up games that are led by children working together.
  • Construction play – Building play.  We often think of building forts, ships or houses but I would also include older children building ramps for a skateboard or bike.  
  • Make-believe play – we see this often in kindergarten aged up children.  At first props may be needed, but older children, even ages 9-11 often have elaborate make-believe games with characters and scenarios.
  • Language play – Using words for play – telling stories, playing with words and rhymes, circle games and songs…..  This can overlap large motor play in the case of jump rope rhymes or hand clapping games.
  • Playing with art – Modeling, creating music, drawing, making posters and puppet shows are all examples of this kind of  play.
  • Sensory Play – playing with sand, mud, water, gathering natural objects that have different textures. 
  • Rough and tumble play – Animals do this too!  This is how children often learn body awareness and boundaries.  This kind of play often needs to be watched to make sure boundaries are set for how aggressive or how dominant a player becomes, but it is important for children to play like this.
  • Risk taking play – Play can and should involve risk.  You most likely will not find this on a conventional playground, but out in nature and even in childhood games.  In a childhood game, this is estimating risk – can I steal to that base? can I run fast enough to make it to “home” without being tagged?  In nature, this might be how high can I climb in this tree?  Will this branch in the tree or log across this stream support my body weight?  This is an important kind of play.  I think this type of play can easily morph in the later middle school and high school years into things that are active, involve an element of risk, but are generally a safe way to get risk-taking behavior out there.  For seventh and eighth graders and up, think about dirt biking through a Motorcycle Safety Awareness club, a tree obstacle course with ziplines, more strenuous hiking and camping, anything with animals such as horseback riding or dog training, rock climbing, skiing, etc.  Help children develop their own abilities to assess risk.  This is an important skill for life.

What kinds of play are your children doing? Can you think of a type of play that is not on this list?

Blessings,
Carrie

Teens and Behavior: Is It All Just Hormones?

The short answer is no, not entirely.  I have been reading the wonderful, accessible book “The Teenaged Brain” by Frances E. Jensen, MD and Amy Ellis Nutt.  When we look at a teenager from a neurophysiology perspective sees more than just  hormones at work.  Some of the main points I took away from the first few chapters in this book regarding adolescent and young adult physiology follows:

Yes, hormones do rise.  The concentration of hormones does change; however the levels of hormones are not any different than the levels found in young adults.  So, if hormone levels are not any different than young adults, than what is the neurophysiologic challenge adolescents are facing that seems to make them more impulsive, more emotional than many  young adults?   (Although judging by some of the idiocy we are seeing on college campuses as of late, I guess this could be argued! LOL)

Part of the challenge is the way the brain is responding and  trying to regulate hormones  that have been previously dormant.  The brain is changing, and the  receptors in the brain and the neurotransmitters that go with these changes is profound.  Sex hormones are especially active in the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain.

Adolescents have an ability to reason that is as sharp as an adult’s reasoning, which is why an adolescent can perform well on standardized testing, for example.  Memory and the ability to learn new information is at an all-time high.   However, reasoning often seems to fall short in real life, for example,  a teenager’s perception of risk often falls far short of the reality of risk.  Why is this?

Part of this stems from the maturation pattern of the brain and part of it stems from the fact that a teenager’s brain gets more of a sense of reward than an adult brain because of the increased amount of dopamine that is released. 

The brain matures from the back to the front, and the parietal lobes mature late and the  frontal lobes are the last area to mature.  This is important because the parietal lobes help regulate being able to switch between tasks and help the frontal lobes to focus .  The frontal lobes help send inhibiting messages to the reward centers of the brain – but they are not fully developed and develop last.  They also function in prospective memory – the ability to hold in your mind the intention to perform a certain action at a certain time in the future.  (This skill is almost physiologically stagnant in children ages 10-14, so please don’t just expect them to remember!)Also, the prefrontal cortex that processes negative information, doesn’t work as well in teenagers’ brains.

When we crave what the brain perceives on a physiologic level as a “reward” and we get  a dopamine rush, the teenaged brain is less equipped to deal with shutting the dopamine reward of risky behavior down because of the less developed brain physiology.  Remember, the teenaged brain is about 80 percent mature and teens are hypersensitive from the standpoint of brain physiology to dopamine rewards.  The teenaged brain also releases more dopamine in response to a potential “reward” situation so it can be particularly difficult for a teen to resist situations, especially if negative consequences are never experienced, or if negative consequences are experienced, they are less likely to learn from the situation because they do not process negative information in the same way as a mature adult.  Therefore,  they are more likely to keep repeating the behavior.   This can help explain, for example, things such as addiction in teenagers is more strongly “stuck” in an adolescent’s brain and risk and reward system.

Based upon the above, we know the adolescents consistently disregard risks associated with sexual activity, alcohol, drug use.  We can add to this mixture a society that has devalued sexual activity and the peer role in risk-taking behavior.  Social isolation for girls and a lack of extra-curricular activities for boys increased risk-taking behavior (page 113).  This has nothing to do with the physiology of the brain per se, but we know environment and physiology always mix.    Mood and emotions also can be of profound importance in decision-making moments in teens as well.   

Lots of food for thought in this book.  I highly recommend this as a great read to help you understand and parent your teenager!

Blessings,
Carrie