Friday, December 30, 2011

On Not Becoming a Grinch

Well, Christmas came and went, and it was mostly merry and bright for my family, but keeping it that way was certainly not effortless. The days leading up to major family holidays are seldom made up of greeting card moments in my house, unless the greeting card involves harried frenzies and occasional freak outs.

I'd guess most families have their share of holiday stress during what's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. There's so much to do, such expectations. In the insanity of extra celebrations and assorted commitments other people want from you, what's actually important to you can get lost. In an already busy life, the whole season can lose its meaning.

What's with the pressure anyway? Why do parents force their screaming and terrified child to sit on Santa's lap and then pay $12.95 for a picture of it? Why do people rush around spending money they don't have just to buy some plastic junk that no one will care about or remember in 6 months? Does it really add to our joy?

I tend to sway radically from being relaxed to losing it, but this year, I made a conscious effort to avoid turning into a Grinch. Despite the fact that our local extended family requires numerous separate celebrations, at least one of which I'd end up hosting with my home in the midst of a remodel, I was determined to just focus on a happy season for my kids.

Did I mention that my Girl Child and I quit eating meat, so I had to think of a festive vegetarian dinner to satisfy 10 carnivores? And preferably one that the preparation and cleanup of which wouldn't push me over the edge? No matter, I would be cheerful for my kids.

They had saved up money to buy the biggest bag of dog food available, and wanted to collect bags of old tennis balls from the field next to the local tennis courts, all to be delivered to the dogs spending Christmas county animal shelter. It's a sad and dismal place, even for a shelter, and could use all the help it can get.

The clock began ticking. I had the food in my car for days, never managing to make it there. Part of me began to get grumpy about this extra errand which was completely out of the way when I was already running around like a chicken without a head. Then, I thought about my sweet kids, and the message I would be sending with my bad attitude.

Then, I thought about the dogs at the shelter, many of whom wouldn't make it out of there. For goodness sake, they deserved a tennis ball to chew, even if I was busy. So, I did some deep breathing and committed myself to quit the wanking about it and get down there, even if some other errand got dropped. We skipped a cookie party and made it at the very last minute, just as they were closing their gates for the holiday weekend.

Later, Boy Child and I were talking about the homeless people outside so many stores. We often have snacks in the car, and it's not unusual for my kids to give their granola bars or bananas to someone who is begging. But, while going without snacks is a giving gesture, the spirit of the season calls for more.

We began thinking about homeless children and Christmas. Being homeless at any age is sad of course, but the kid factor puts an even more tragic spin on it.

We decided to pick out some things to take to kids at the rescue mission. He was thoughtful, avoiding cheap plastic things that will only break and wind up in the trash, realizing puzzle pieces could easily be lost in transit, and that processed junk food was probably something they already had enough of. He thought noise making things might drive their already frustrated parents over the edge, so that was out too. He chose portable drawing supplies, gloves and cool beanies, lotions and soaps, bouncy balls, nuts and a little good chocolate too.

Getting things to the mission was another potential stresser. It's not on the end of town that I usually frequent, and as I mentioned, I was maxed on driving and errands. When what's meant to be a kindness turns into a nuisance, it kind of loses the point. Again, it just took some prioritizing. No one would miss one more activity I planned for our family celebration, and it left us time to drop the packages by Christmas eve.

All the baking and crafting felt mostly fun and loving. With conscious effort, so did most of the shopping. We missed gifts for a few people we didn't know we would see, but we just enjoyed the their company rather than feeling bad about it. We ended up skipping a couple of parties, and letting go of a few ideas, but were all fine with giving up some stuff to focus on the rest.

The numerous celebrations happened without the drama that extended family can sometimes bring. Certain people and situations tested my efforts, and I'll admit I slipped on more than one occasion, but I figure my best effort is all I can achieve as I'm far from perfect. I can't tell you how much deep breathing helped, but it did. When all the cooking, shopping, eating, wrapping, unwrapping and cleaning was done, I had mostly avoided becoming a Grinch.

Actually, the eating part goes on, and probably will for a bit. Thank God for stretchy yoga pants! The gifts of excess sugar do take their toll on my household, and normally sweet and rational people have been a bit more intense. Maybe I'll freeze some for later, or better yet, host a tea and pawn it off on my friends and their kids. Of course, that would require more cleaning, so I'll have to think on that.  For now,  I'm just so glad to have my peaceful home back, and hoping I can keep my inner Grinch at bay long enough to put away all these decorations.

Hoping everyone had wonderful, Grinch free holidays too!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Teacher Vs. Facilitator

I've been thinking lately about what exactly makes a good teacher, and it's not a degree or certificate, that’s for sure. People who've earned those pieces of paper may have gained all sorts of knowledge, but it certainly doesn't guarantee that they'll be any good at teaching. 

I would guess that most of us have had teachers who were awesome, who loved their jobs and the material they were teaching, who wanted to share that love with their students. But, most likely, we’ve also all had teachers who simply should have been doing something else besides torturing students and killing any interest or joy in learning- the ones who don't even seem to like students, but seem determined to spread misery. 

When a family makes the choice to homeschool, the parents are often questioned as to their capability to teach, as if having that piece of paper is the only way they could handle teaching their kid. The fact that they studied fashion or business in college, or...heaven forbid...they didn't go to college, makes them incapable of sharing any other knowledge. 

The pressure comes from within too. Years ago, a good friend told me she "didn't feel qualified" to homeschool her child. The friend had an engineering degree and her child was three years old. was preschool, as in colors and counting, not rocket science for goodness sakes. Like most kids, this one was sent off to professionals, and fortunately most of them have been decent so far.

Other kids I know have been subjected to teachers who've humiliated and labeled them, and pretty much convinced them that they're stupid. The kids aren't stupid, just bored or wiggley or interested in something besides what the teacher is trying to make them learn. I’ve been pretty judgmental about bad teachers in the past, but I also think that a large part of the problem is in the very system itself.

Having sat on both sides of the teachers desk, I know without a doubt that the students I enjoy most are those who actually have an interest and want to be there. 

Excitement is certainly contagious - if the teacher is excited, the sentiment is likely to spread. The key to it all is interest though. If the students genuinely don't want to be there, but they feel forced into it, then they aren’t going to learn in any real, meaningful or long term way. So, in that scenario, what exactly is the point? It's a waste of everyone's time.

It's great when a teacher wins over reluctant sudents, although it's a lot easier when the students actually wanted to be involved in the first place.

When "students" start out uninterested, and remain so, well... everyone involved (teacher, other students, and the one who doesn’t give a hoot) would all be better off if that reluctant person chose to spend their time someplace else. The trouble in many instances is that the student does not have any choice- they have to be there. The thing is... you can sometimes force a person into a learning environment, but you cannot force them to learn. Even if you succeed in coercing them into memorizing facts or passing a test, you can’t “make them” remember long term, nor can you make them care.

It's not just with kids either. Besides homeschooling my own kids and teaching a few homeschool classes, I also teach Childbirth Ed and Breastfeeding classes to adults. Most of my students are willing- at least the moms, some of the dad's were drug there, and you can tell. I try to make it fun for them, and generally win them over, but once in a while, they just aren't into it. Personally, not to be rude, but if they don't want to stay, I prefer if they skip it then. If someone is coerced into coming and spends the class texting, rolling their eyes and sighing the whole time, it's not exactly joyful for me, or the person sitting next to them.

I've realized that I prefer to be in a role of facilitator rather than teacher. The difference isn’t just the wording. It’s also the attitude. I don’t feel the need for any of my "students" to take an exact piece of knowledge from the material. I don’t need to test them to see if they learned what I wanted them too. Instead, I’m interested in what was important to them--- what they did learn. 

I want to know what my students, whether children or adults, are interested in and to help them find the answers. We all take away different bits and pieces based on what’s important and matters to us. I want them to get concepts and understand processes- to question and think. I don’t want them to just fill in bubbles and parrot what I tell them.

In my recent experiences of teaching kids other than my own, I enjoyed it so much that I briefly considered getting a teaching credential someday. Then, I thought about the hoops and constraints and frustrations of trying to force feed prescribed material to non willing kids. No thanks. I don't think it's a system I'd fit into very well. 

I think I'll stick with being a freestyle facilitator. I can bring interesting material and have fun sharing ideas and projects of my choosing. I have the flexibility to adapt and change things based on the individuals and the group I'm working with. The students enjoy the time, and so do I. 

For parents who are afraid you aren't qualified to teach, you might try facilitating instead. 

Yes, yes, I know that at some point there are things they "have" to learn. But if you can be flexible on when and how, and trust the students, you might have a lot more fun, and be amazed at what everyone picks up in the process.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Search for Sasquatch

You just never know what is going to inspire a group of kids, but if you let them run with it, the results are often very entertaining.

About a month ago, we were visiting a friend who showed us some clips from some rather, well... "interesting" TV shows. They seemed to be sort of back woods reality TV, featuring real life characters who search for bigfoot, wrestle giant snakes in the bayou, and things like that. I was amazed that this would be TV worthy, but I guess with a billion channels, you have to stretch things like the meaning of worthy.

Well, the kids all found the whole thing hilarious. Now, we all live in "the country" and are familiar with mountain folks, but we couldn't tell if the people on these shows really acted that way in everyday life, or if they were just hamming it up to be on TV. Either way, the kids found it completely entertaining and were inspired to create a spoof series of films along the lines of what they saw.

We had a sleepover, and after staying up until the wee hours eating about 12,000 pounds of leftover Halloween candy, they came up with a loose script. In the morning, they set out with camera in hand. I didn't see them for hours, but did hear some occasional "Bigfoot howls."

The result was the following three minutes of humor that I hope you'll take the short time to watch (and comment):

Of course I found this all rather amusing, but I think it's also worth noting that the kids learned quite a bit from the process. Scriptwriting, acting, character development, plot (well, sort of) and all the filming, editing etc that went into it. There was a lot of teamwork happening, and they managed it all without any adult intervention. Some might say they were playing all day (which they were) but I contend that they were educating themselves as well, and that it was a worthwhile way to spend a morning with friends.

None of the kids involved had used the movie making computer program before either, but they figured it all out on their own, and had a great time doing it. They also learned that wind sounds louder on video than in real life, and it makes your dialogue hard to understand, but alas, you can't control nature. Now they're on the hunt for a way to drown that background noise out.

Since the first episode, the kids have made two more. They are hysterical with their twisting and turning, nonsensical plot, and the wind is still giving them grief. Nevertheless, I love watching their inspirations come to life, and can't wait to see what they come up with next.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Guest Post Book Review: Midnight Blue

Today's post is from my fabulous Girl Child. She recently read a  bizarro book that I had on my shelf from a Children's Lit class I took a few years ago, and I wanted to share her review here. I hope you'll enjoy it. So, without further ado:

A Response to Literature by Lily C:  

      Midnight Blue by Pauline Fiske is an imaginative science fiction novel, which is both captivating and creepy to read. The book follows the story of a troubled girl named Bonnie who runs away from home in a hot air balloon. Then, she finds herself swept into a weird parallel world where she encounters much the same difficulties as she did in her original one.
       The majority of the story takes place on a remote mountain farm, called High Holly Hill, where Bonnie isn’t sure how she got there or how to escape. The farm is owned by strange (yet kind) people and is supposedly looked after by two mysterious gods. The creepy sense of the setting only contributes to the supernatural feel of the book.

In the two worlds the book takes place in, things are both opposite and similar, like a parallel universe. In the original world, Bonnie lives in a crowded city apartment, but in the second one it’s a country  farm. Still, the characters in both worlds are strangely similar, and the very person Bonnie ran away from in one life has an alternate identity in the second.

Overall, I both liked and disliked this book. It seemed to have a confusing plot- unlike a lot of fantasies, there was not a clear quest for the main character to follow, or conflict to solve. Even by the end, I didn’t understand how Bonnie had been transported to the other world, or what the villain’s motives were. But, I was still caught up enough by the intrueging characters, and quick-moving pace, that I wanted to finish it. It reminded me of “A Wrinkle in Time,” mostly because it’s so weird.

This novel was, overall,  an interesting piece of literature, and I can definitely say it is unique from any other book I’ve read.

By Lily C.