Connecting With Young Children–Educating the Will: Week Eleven

“It is a lifelong path to become more and more self aware in our own speaking.” – page 88, author Stephen Spitalny, “Connecting With Young Children:  Educating The Will”

Such a beautiful line that speaks volumes into the true task of being a teacher and being human.  We support our children when we speak clearly in articulation and clear thinking.  Do we as adults talk so much, so long, that our children tune us out?  Do we avoid silence?  Do we interrupt the child’s play or own time in solitude in nature just to hear ourselves speak?

Most importantly, the ability to be “with” a child, not to solve the problem, but instead to listen, is a vitally important part of communication.  On page 92, the author mentions a study done that shows the average adult speaks 160 to 170 words a minute and that the average child aged 5 to 7 processes only 124 words per minute as a maximum rate. For those of us with children with auditory processing disorder or other processing disorders, think about how much time they might need  in space to respond, and how they may really need us to slow down.  The children will follow us better if we can slow down our speech!

Part of this process also involves thinking about the essential question: to whose consciousness am I speaking?  Clarity, brevity, honesty; careful words free of sarcasm is needed with small children; not a harried, stressed adult stream of consciousness.

The author also brings up this very important point on page 96:

Today there is a large degree of uncertainty living in adults, we are aware that we don’t really understand a lot of what is going on in the world.  We have lost confidence in our own thinking and decision making.  Some adults seem unable to form opinions or make decisions.  In early childhood children experience many levels of everything that confronts them.  They look to the adult for the meaning Iof their experiences and feel secure in that.  They are looking to the adult for confidence and clarity of judgment.  Without this decisiveness in the adults, the children lose their own confidence, and develop anxiety due to a feeling of insecurity. 

Such an important thought!  Too much choice in trying to treat a small child as an equal to an adult with too many choices can also lead to insecurity and an ironic lack of self-reliance as well.   I have written many, many back posts regarding offering so many choices to the tiny child, so I leave those rabbit trails for you to find today.

I would love to hear what you thought about this chapter so far.

Many blessings,

Weeks Nine and Ten of Homeschooling Eighth Grade, Fifth Grade and Kindy

Here we are in weeks nine and ten of homeschooling already – the Autumn is flying by!  Our mornings are crisp and the afternoons vacillate between hot and warm, so there has been a lot of time to go out and play.  I am so grateful for this time of year.  If you want to see what we have been working on, you can see this back post.

This week we were fairly busy spending time with a family whom we wanted to help and be with during a difficult time, so not as much happened “book-wise”  the past few weeks, but we are always learning and growing in life. We also took a fabulous field trip to a regional museum and heritage center to learn about Appalachian life.

Six Year Old Kindergarten:  We transitioned to an Autumn Circle – you can find wonderful ideas in the book “Let Us Form A Ring” and in the Autumn Wynstones book.  Little verses about squirrels, chipmunks,  falling leaves, and pumpkins have been speaking to us! We have been working on gross and fine motor skills a lot – jumping rope with rhymes is just emerging and lots of fun to practice, we have been walking a lot to a park near us that we can get to out our door and running in the skate park up and down the ramps and circles, lots of roller blading and biking outside, some hiking and playing with friends!

Our story has been “The Naughty Little Hobgoblin”, which is a favorite every year.  We have been painting with red and yellow, working with pumpkin in cooking several times a week, modeling with salt dough, cleaning the house and taking care of our dog each day, and working on little rhymes and verses.

In the liturgical year, we are already getting ready for All Soul’s Day and All Saint’s Day.  This is such a wonderful time  to learn some of the hymns and music for All Saint’s Day, and making a collage of different saints.

Fifth Grade – We finished up botany with a look at monocotyledons and a main lesson book page on that and some painting.  We have plans to paint pumpkins, winter trees and and spring tulips throughout the rest of the year and add them to our botany book.   We also are finishing reading “Flower Watching with Alice Eastwood” by Michael Elsohn Ross.

We began Ancient India with the concept of time.  We read the book “And They Were Strong and Good” by Lawton (please preview it for yourself),  and wrote a giant family tree on our board and talked about all of our ancestors and what countries they came from and how different couples met and what all of their occupations were.  From this look at time in our own family we talked about time throughout history – what is ancient?  What does that mean?  When we look at stories of Ancient Civilizations in this year, how old are these stories?

Outside of discussing time, I based our beginnings upon painting a picture of the landscape of India and how the first people who lived there were influenced by this geography – not much different than what we did in third grade in our Native American block.  The people of the Indus River Valley, who later moved to around the Ganges River, were some of the earliest civilizations in India.  So what things did the people of Harappa do?  They irrigated lands, grew wheat and barley, and  had carts with wheels.  And when we think of the Indus, where did this river start but in the Himalayas!  Known as Giri-raj, the Himalayas are supremely sacred. What is it like there?    The other river that flows from  Giri-raj is the Ganges – the Harappan civilization moved there, and it is the most sacred river, seen as an earthly incarnation of the deity Ganga. We reviewed all the climates and biomes of India to tie in a bit with geography, our fourth grade Man and Animal block, and our fifth grade Botany block and then moved into the Hindu Creation Story with the creation of Manu.

After that, we read a story about Indra, but did not dwell there and instead dug into the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and how the multiplicity of deities represent facets of Braham.

Other than that, we have been busy with math and spelling.These subjects are harder for our fifth grader and they take quite a bit of care and time for us in the day.  We finished “Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter” and started the book “The Iron Ring”.   My daughter read a biography of “”George Washington Carver” on her own (a Scholastic version) and had great comprehension of the details.

Otherwise, our fifth grader has been busy preparing to sing on All Saint’s Day, and horseback riding.

Eighth Grade – We have thoroughly covered the causes of the Civil War, and it took us some time to get our artistic work and summary written for that.  We discussed the biography of Abraham Lincoln.  Life on the Home Front was discussed in regards to the Civil War, and really how beleaguered the South was in the midst of this war.    We made a map of the Confederate States of America and  discussed the Civil War from the Battle of Bull Run to Antietam and how Antietam was the turning point of the war psychologically and the Battle of Gettysburg was the military turning point.  We learned about the course of the war through the biographies of Lee and Grant.

We are reading “Elijah of Buxton” by Christopher Paul Curtis and our daughter finished “Riders of the Pony Express” by Ralph Moody independently and  is now reading  a biography of Harriet Tubman

For geography, we took a lot of time reviewing all the states and capitals and the regions of the United States.  We also talked about immigration and Ellis Island in the early 20th century and compared it to immigration today of our Latin American neighbors for high school Spanish and the migration of people after Hurricane Katrina.  We spent quite a bit of time looking at Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of Katrina at the ten year mark ecologically, economically and socially.  This coming week, we will move into Canada, some Canadian history and current events (hello, new Prime Minister of Canada!), and reviewing all the provinces and capitals.

We are still working on math daily, and also high school Spanish.  Church has been busy; our eighth grader walked in our church’s Ministry Fair representing the Youth Group Ministry and also has been busy with Youth Group and  preparing music for All Saint’s Day masses.  Horseback riding and Wildlife Judging in 4-H is also part of our week.

Would love to hear what you have been working on the last few weeks.


Connecting With Young Children–Educating the Will: Week Ten

We are finishing up the rest of Chapter Four of Stephen Spitalny’s wonderful book, “Connecting With Young Children:  Educating the Will”.  You can see my commentary and the comments of those who are reading along for the first part of Chapter Four here.

This part of the chapter begins with:

Physical and social boundaries are also important on the path of a healthy developing sense of self.  The self can only find itself when it meets boundaries. 

And later:

The way to develop sustainable living habits is by practicing them yourself at home and in kindergarten.  If we think that cleaning up after a meal is a worthy activity with social and hygienic value, then we do the cleaning with the children present and participating.

I want to interject here for the homeschooling family.  I have seen mothers who have driven themselves absolutely batty in the home environment because they tried to include their child in every single thing they did, even if the task was very long – like bulk cooking, deep cleaning room after room, etc.  I think in the home environment with very tiny children, you may have to divide things up a bit more and think about HOW you would involve your small child.  We don’t have  a group of twenty-five children with us at home with the enthusiastic children to help carry other children, and I think we can get very “project-oriented” and miss the point of having our children help but also weave in and out of the work.  And the tasks must be things that are REAL – children can tell from a mile away whether or not a task is “essential” or truly needed.  Stephen Spitalny mentions – and I think this is very true in the home environment –  that the task must be done in a loving, peaceful, purposeful way.  This is so HARD for modern parents!  However, this work becomes the basis of a child’s play so it is very important for a healthy play life!

Stephen Spitalny writes on page 79, “Caring for one’s surroundings is a social gesture.”  Isn’t that true?  The difference between cleaning and caring is illuminated in his pages as an example.  He also cites that he finds taking care of the body and the surroundings are more important than crafts (unless again, it is a truly NEEDED piece of crafting or handwork for a festival).  This is what many homeschoolers work with as well.   Giving projects so children have “something to do” is superficial, he writes on page 81. It is just filling time.   If a child cannot play constructively, the first remedy to try is work.

Socially, we must work to cultivate a “mixed-age span” (page 83) and “a culture of service” in order to help the child become receptive of their fellow human beings.  I feel in the home environment, we create this with siblings, and with an only child we would create this for parents-child and extend this to neighbors or other close friends for meals, empathy, service, social responsibility.   A Waldorf homeschooler should be working in community, I believe.   Stories are also an important way to learn and demonstrate these qualities for our children.  The author mentions “The Winning of Kwelanga”, “Nkosnati and the Dragon”, “The Queen Bee” and “Shingebiss.”  Just lovely!

The other piece of all of this is WARMTH. I  have many back posts on warmth, and by this we mean both a warm physical atmosphere (natural fibers, natural materials, warmth of the physical body) but also a “soul warmth” – kind, loving words, human interest and attention.  I feel it is most often the second part of this warmth where we fail.  I would like to take that up in another post. 

Lastly, the adult must be participating in the world.  When we are connected to what gives us joy, interest, wonder…we transmit these feelings to the small child.

I would love to hear your thoughts.


Current Recommendations For Children’s Sports: A Sports Medicine Perspective

I attended several pediatric conferences in the last few weeks, and brought you a post about the new public health campaign in my state to close a “language gap” affecting children in the public school environment (you can see the interesting discussion in that post when some folks asked my opinion about the intersection of this campaign and Waldorf parenting, where we often do not speak as much to the young child and tend to use our speech in verse, rhyme, and song..Great questions and observations by parents! ).  One of the other interesting sessions I attended was about the history of children’s sports in the United States, and current recommendations in a country where the children are being pushed into elite travel teams and many hours of practice a week..and ending up with many injuries, surgeries and rehabilitation programs as a result.  The pediatric sports medicine doctors at this conference had quite a bit to say.

First of all (much to my personal dismay), they truly felt that the country was not going to “go back” and leave competitive sports for the upper middle school and high school levels the way it used to be.  They cited the 60 million dollar contract ESPN made with Little League in order to televise the Little League World Championship games, and the websites that list the top 7 and 8 year olds in basketball in the nation.  Yes, it seems crazy to those of us who are older and remember how things used to be.   Just crazy.

They also pointed out that history is not really on the side of going back to not having competitive teams for children younger than high school  either.  Essentially, at one point in time, the United States did “go back” and limited interscholastic participation in sports to those 10th grade and above (around 1939, after there was a flourishing of sports under Theodore Roosevelt and others prior to this time).  There were  many playgrounds about  during this time, and without coaches and such involved,  parents just  took over in teaching their children and forming sports leagues themselves.   Of course, in this day and age, this has further morphed into elite travel teams and the like.

The other reason cited for not being able to “go back” is that this is seen as the most scheduled generation of all time.  Parents know where and what their children are doing practically every second of the day, so free play seems like a huge barrier to overcome.  Even if children go outside to “free play”, generally a parent is standing there.  Some children are afraid to play in their own neighborhoods. Safety and lack of greenspace and such are seen as barriers to free play.  Finally,  the last barrier  is an electronic one, where children will stay inside and play on a screen or watch a screen rather than being outside.

The sports medicine doctors recognized that by age 14, 73 percent of the children involved in competitive sports QUIT!  The differences between child and adult led games were discussed.  When children organize games, it is much different than when adults do!  When children organize games, the children organize it around ACTION.  There is not a lot of sitting on the sidelines usually, even if a game is stopped in the middle and players are traded to make teams more “equal”.   Children craft games hinging on challenging and exciting experiences, close scores because children don’t  usually want a blowout (sometimes there are “mercy endings” if scores are really disparate), the rules are bent or changed or added to make things more fun or more even (remember “do-overs”?) .  There are even things like “ghostmen”, or having the bigger children  “handicapped” (throw with your left, kick with your left)  to make the game and teams more even.  So much different than when adults get involved!  The pediatric doctor acknowledge this, and hope to do a few things so this spirit is not lost forever.

The wish of the sports medicine doctors and athletic trainers in the room seemed to be for  a focus on safe skill acquisition, and to encourage fun, peer support, enthusiastic and safe coaching (and they pointed out that most coaches do not learn anything about child development at all!) and most of all, rotation of sports throughout the year without a “specialization” in one sport until the upper middle school grades.  They also want to encourage free play.

There was a  big push discussed  for pediatric providers to provide realistic expectations for parents.  There was a study in 2006 by Rohloff out of Wisconsin where 22 percent of the parents interviewed EXPECTED their child athletes to become pro players!  That is a super high expectation considering that  less than 7 percent of high school athletes even play in college.  In American football,  less than 1 percent of high school football players make the pros.  Out of the four million babies born in the United States, 300 will earn a pro paycheck long enough to say they had a career in pro sports.  In the meantime, is this tiny possibility enough to ruin a child’s body for life?  When we are dissecting what to do after shoulder surgeries for fourteen year old pitchers, rehabilitation for gymnasts who have severe back pain and need hardware implanted, etc. and the best way to rehabilitate a child whose identity is their sport,   is this what should be encouraged?  Instead, nurses, pediatricians, sports physicians, physical therapists, athletic trainers, coachers are being asked to provide parents with realistic expectations, with the idea that early specialization is not helpful or necessary to sports success in the later years and that the focus should be on establishing health, not pro players.

There is a call and a push for better training for coaches in the area of child development, injury assessment and prevention of injury; to develop safety programs, products and rule modifications for safer play;  to encourage free play as much as possible and to discourage early competitive specialization, and to help parents and those working with student athletes to understand readiness cues for sports that are related to development.  It doesn’t seem as if any organization is taking this under their wing as a public health campaign at this point, however, and I am not certain the message is really getting out to the average American parent.  I wish there was.


Language Nutrition and The 30 Million Word Gap

I have had the good fortune to attend several pediatric conferences in the past few weeks, and I hope to share over several posts some of the more interesting new research and advances in childhood development and public health campaigns  with you all.

I recently attended a session in a conference about my state’s efforts to improve public health outcomes through impacting disparities in school-aged children’s performance.  Essentially, there is data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that has essentially said when we compare college graduates to individuals who have not finished high school (and no, I don’t know if or how homeschoolers were included in any of this data or student who have attended technical programs), this is what was found:

  • college graduates live at least five years longer than those who have not finished high school (female college graduates 83.5 years versus females who have not finished high school 78.4 years; male college graduates 79.7 years versus males who have not finished high school 72.9).
  • the infant mortality rate for infants who are born to women who never graduated high school is nearly double that of women who graduated from college
  • college graduates have a 1.3 percent reduction in diabetes, a 2.2 percent decrease in heart disease, a 5 percent reduction in obesity, and a 12 percent reduction in smoking compared to individuals who have not finished high school.

The biggest predictor to academic success is the quality and quantity of words spoken to the baby in the first three years of life. (NOTE:  This is from research; for those of you who are concerned regarding this statement and Waldorf Early Years education please see my comments in the comment box below).  There has been research regarding “The 30 Million Word Gap” stretching back to a study published in 1995 by Hart and Risley and publicized since then in such places as The New York Times.  Essentially, it has been found that there could be a difference of 30 million words in the language environment over the period of the first three years  of a child’s life.   This means that children from vulnerable families enter kindergarten with half the vocabulary of their peers.  In the public school environment, there have been links between third grade proficiency as strong indicators of academic and economic success, a decreased risk of incarceration, pregnancy, violence and unemployment and the improvement of health and less risk of chronic disease, so this gap in language becomes more critical.  Public school third graders who cannot read at grade level are four times more likely to drop out of high school.  In my state, only 34 percent of the children are reading proficiently and on grade level in third grade (which also makes me wonder if it is only 34 percent, which means the majority of third graders are “at risk” , should we be measuring reading proficiency in third grade? However, I guess that is another topic!)

Early language exposure is critical for a baby’s healthy brain development and seen as part of increasing a small child’s vocabulary, school readiness and yes, success.  The most effective thing a parent can do is talk with their baby.  A screen will NOT take the place of talking with a baby or toddler or preschoolers. 

So, my state is rolling out the first state-wide public health campaign in the United States to increase adequate language for brain development, called “language nutrition”.  It will emphasize the power of interaction and that NO ELECTRONIC DEVICE can match  engaged human interaction.  The  partners collaborating on this are many, including Emory School of Nursing, the Marcus Autism Center, Department of Education, Bright Start, Georgia Tech, Talk With Me Baby, Get Georgia Reading, the Atlanta Speech School, Georgia Pathway to Language and Literacy, Emory University School of Medicine, The Georgia Coalition for English Learners, Georgia Department of Public Health, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and will pattern off the model of the “Back to Sleep” campaign and other public health campaigns.   You can see more about the campaign at the Talk With Me Baby website.

Nurses are especially being targeted as changemakers for families in this campaign as 99 percent of expecting and new parents will see a nurse at some point between the 3rd trimester of pregnancy through the first year of life. The goal is to help parents see that they are their baby’s first and best teacher and to give parents strategies to overcome any barriers to language acquisition for their children.  In our state, 30 percent of children are in childcare but 70 percent are not in childcare or are in childcare in an informal setting, so parents have to believe that they can make an impact on their child’s language abilities (and turn off their phones! This was cited over and over by the health care providers in my course as a source of frustration in trying to connect with parents and in trying to get parents to connect with their babies and toddlers!)

There have been several projects similar to this in different areas of the United States, including The 30 Million Word Project, Providence Talks  (based in Providence, Rhode Island) and Too Small To Fail, but this is the first state-wide campaign.   My international readers may find it strange that issues such as these are often addressed at the state level and not the federal level as a result of our governmental structure.  Overall, it will be interesting to see what happens as a result of this campaign over the next few years.  I believe the entirety of the campaign will take complete effect by 2020.


Eighth Grade American History Block One

I put together an outline for eighth grade American History and decided to share it in hopes it will help other mothers.  History can be some of the hardest blocks to put together for several reasons:  because there is so much, because we are trying to teach through themes and biographies which is different than the way we were taught in school, and because we are trying to bring in  light in the darkness of some of these time periods for our children in the upper grades of six through eight.

We did Colonial history and American independence in seventh grade, so I picked up with Native Americans in the opening of this block.  I wanted to paint a picture of our country with its First Nations, and how these changes were affecting these nations.  Since we live in an area of the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears, I wanted to use a different Native American group to show that what happened in our area was not isolated. I chose the Navajo and the Long Walk.  We began with Navajo poetry and the book “Sing Down the Moon” by Scott O’Dell.  We really worked with this book from a literary analysis kind of perspective.  From there, we went to the biography of Thomas Jefferson – what did he look like? what did his contemporaries say about him? what was important to him?  what were his interests?  We studied the Louisiana Purchase, and the journey of Lewis and Clark and the biographies of Lewis, Clark, York and Sacajawea.  Our main read aloud was Burchac’s “Sacajawea”.

From there we moved into Westward Expansion, the Erie Canal and the Golden Age of Canals (the Erie Canal was not the only canal!!), the steamboat.  From there we looked at Texas – how did Texas form as an independent Republic, biographies of famous Texans of this time period, The Mexican –American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe and why this was important.

We reviewed the ideas of Manifest Destiny and how the brief Pony Express still captures the minds of Americans.  Wae looked at Sutter’s Mill and the California Gold Rush (the first major gold rush in the US actually was here in the Southeast and not too far north of where we live so we have been there to look at things), how this impacted the Native American population and we looked at how this lead to things like the race for faster ships and then the growth of the clipper ships and whaling industry in the Northeast.  Then we looked at general technological advances, mainly through the biography of Eli Whitney and the cotton gin and how this only increased and entrenched slavery in the south and led to immigration in the North (although we also talked about the telegraph, John Deere, the vulcanization of rubber, etc)   I talked about some of the resources and things we are doing in our Civil War studies in the back posts where I recap every few weeks what we have done in eighth grade.

So we are essentially looking at all the events leading up to the Civil War, the biography of Abraham Lincoln and some of the famous Africans who struggled for freedom,  the Underground Railroad, and then specifically at the battles and course of the war through the biographies of Lee, Grant and Sherman.  Then to reconstruction, the 13th and 14th Amendments, and biographies to compare and contrast Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois.  We will talk specifically about the rebuilding of Atlanta and the beginning of the historical black colleges in our area.  We will then look at Custer, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull and I hope to talk about the Lakota Waldorf School and the Pine Ridge Reservation today.  The last things we are going to talk about will include Joseph McCoy and the rise of the Cattle Industry, and the Transcontinental Railroad with a special and close look at the Chinese laborers who made the building of this railroad possible.

We will pick up History again in February and cover The Gilded Age right through the War on Terrorism, Israel-Palestine, the Information Age/Digitality (nanotechnology), and the the third millenium – what are the challenges, what is our responsibility or role?  Just planting seeds for high school!

Later in the spring, we  also will  have a Peacemakers block where we will cover the important biographies of Harriet Tubman and Sojurner Truth, Martin Luther King Jr, (and compare and contrast Martin Luther King Jr to Malcolm X; I read a biography of Malcolm X this summer that was very interesting), Andrew Young and John Lewis from our own state.  We will also talk about Women’s Rights with Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B Anthony, Wangari Maathai and Malala Yousafzai.  Lastly, we will end with a look at nationalist Peace Movements with Ghandi, a look at Sierra Leone and Liberia, along with Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the fight against apartheid.    Other figures may be covered during read-alouds or assigned independent reading – some many great figures to be covered.  Other areas will be covered in our World Geography track and our Asian Geography block (the Dalai Lama will certainly be included in our Asian Geography block).

Our eighth grader will be over fourteen and a half by the time we hit the last parts of this, and is pretty ready for these topics. This outline could be completely different based upon the child in front of you!  So, don’t take my word and run with it – look at your child, dig around in your history books and on websites and see what you would like to bring in when.