Thursday, January 30, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson was fascinating. I found his take on American students falling behind the rest of the developed world in Science and Math particularly interesting, but the whole interview was well worth a listen.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Anxiety Society and How We Nurture Children

I have come to believe our country is fueled by anxiety. Anxiety sells and buying and selling are the foundation of American culture. The Protestant work ethic is alive and well in America, which is good because you need to work a lot to buy the things that will make you happy. We must be happy, we deserve to be happy. Now. And happiness is always one transaction away. Or so the implicit story goes. What is happiness? How do we achieve it? I don't know the answer or even if there is one, but what I tell the kids when they are complaining about getting a green shaker instead of a red shaker is, "happiness is wanting what you have, not getting what you want," (usually just after I've said "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit"). If there is an answer to happiness I believe this is at least part of it. The pursuit of "getting what you want" is anxiety-inducing because it makes our own happiness dependent on outside factors.

Parenting does not escape the anxiety society. Parenting is anxiety inducing in and of itself, without the cultural anxiety that is added to it. We want our children to be happy, but are we going about it in the wrong way? The current parenting lore is to create a happy child you give them happy experiences and try to avoid unhappy ones. This is what our "instincts" tell us to do. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in their book Nurture Shock refer to how much credence is given to parental "instincts." They argue we confuse "instincts" with the societal and social lessons we've implicitly learned. The actual biological parental "instinct" is the "impulse to protect and nurture one's child" (Po and Merryman, pg. 6). How we protect and nurture is cultural and is learned, and to be an American is to be a consumer, unless you are consciously fighting against societal norms. It used to be that parenting started long before a woman had children. Parenting was a collective effort, typically by a group of women, where cultural parenting styles were implicitly passed down from multi-generational groups living and working together. Today we live mostly isolated from one another, removed from the education provided by the communal raising of children. Due to societal expectations placed on parenthood, not only are we anxious about our children surviving and thriving, but we are anxious about giving them every (usually commodified) learning opportunity available. Often free play and exploration are replaced by adult initiated activities. Some of this is due to societal shifts. It is no longer safe to send your kid outdoors to play with neighborhood kids until it gets dark. Part of it is a societal pressure insinuating that to be a good parent you need to pay for classes, activities, experiences. I believe it is important to try to recreate natural and organic interactions in safe places, wherever they may be. Kids need to be allowed to explore their surroundings, with the security of knowing someone is looking out for them, but not with someone directing their expoloration. Sometime in the past 20 years or so parents have become children's playmates. I'm known for saying "I don't play with kids." Developmentally, I'm beyond make believe. I love kids. I love spending my days with kids. I love talking with them, cuddling with them, reading with them, helping them navigate social interactions, exploring with them, but I'm not their playmate. Play is the important work of childhood, not parenthood (or caretaker-hood, as is the case with me). I don't want to guide their play. I want them to be bored and be forced to use their imaginations. I want them to be OK playing by themselves or in a group. My job is to create an interesting, stimulating and enriched environment and then step back. Be there for comfort or to help negotiate a difficult social interaction, but otherwise to observe, looking for signs of what they will be ready for next.

Alfie Kohn, the father of the Unconditional Parenting philosophy asked the question "what are the qualities you want your child to possess as an adult? Are you parenting in a way that nurtures those qualities?" We can't give our children these qualities, they need to be nurtured. With so much anxiety around protecting our children and giving them every opportunity we can, we are taking away the time and space needed for children to learn the important lessons of childhood, the lessons that help them become emotionally healthy adults. Childhood is the time to learn to manage disappointment, anger, struggle, persistence, not just looking forward to the next experience that is going to bring happiness.

I see the collective consciousness turning. I work with families everyday who are invested in their children experiencing their own emotional journey. But when fighting societal norms the inevitable questions arise "How are other parents viewing this?" "Am I being a bad parent?" But the science on child development is pointing against the societal norms of child rearing, against keeping our children protected form harsh experiences, towards the realization that the more anxious parents and caretakers, the more anxious their children are likely to be. There are more and more articles and books that are asking parents and caretakers to step back and look objectively at their role and consider it in terms of child development. An article I read that opened my eyes and changed a lot of the way I approached my role was "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy" by Lori Gottlieb, which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 2011. There is an air of accusation about it that doesn't sit well with me. I send it to my friends before they have children hoping it doesn't feel like a personal attack, so if you already have children, proceed with caution! The thing about our current parenting culture is that it isn't anyone's fault. It's the water we fish are swimming in, but it's important to get some perspective and approach our roles with children as honestly and thoughtfully as possible. And relax. Not worry so much about making the perfect decision or the perfect kid. Our job is to nurture the qualities we want to see in kids and think critically about the best way to do that, so they realize those qualities in themselves.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

My Education

This was previously the information page for our preschool The Great Green Room. We have since established a website you can find at

I have decided to use this blog as a forum to share information, thoughts, articles, experiences, observations and maybe some other things if I think of them.

First I'd like to share little bit about me and what brought me to this place. I have worked with children in various settings for the past 20 years and I have been running the preschool/daycare I founded for the past 5 years or so. In 2007 my brother and sister-in-law were looking for childcare for my nephew and they found it underwhelming and depressing. They saw kids sprawled in front of the TV all day, bad food, few activities. Their difficult journey was the seed of thought for what is now The Great Green Room. I had just returned from my Master's program in London where I'd recently completed my Master's dissertation entitled "Who decides what kids eat? The influence of transnational corporations in children's diets." My work on this topic fueled my passion for being mindful of what we feed children. The "American diet" is placing an unsustainable strain on individual and environmental health. I knew that as a caretaker, I would have the opportunity to create a healthier and more sustainable approach to food for our kids. I loved working with kids as a camp counselor and environmental educator. I developed a passion for early child education through my own education journey, my time as a nanny and then as a preschool teacher. Opening up the daycare in 2009 gave me the opportunity to combine these passions and meet a need doing what I love. In 2011 we transitioned from a daycare to a preschool.

This blog isn't going to be about me personally, but it is from my perspective and and will reflect my interests. I'm sharing my education journey so you have a better understanding of where I am coming from (and you can choose to take my thoughts with whatever size salt grain you'd like). I had never been "a good student." I learned early on that I wasn't good at traditional education, which, in my 5th grade mind translated as "I'm not very smart." I always did fine in school. My mom would spend endless hours helping me with homework, I had many teachers who genuinely cared about me. Upon reflection I now know that my smarts came in forms other than academic achievement. I was smart enough to get through without letting the fact that school rarely made sense to me get me down. Socializing. I was good at socializing. From preschool through my undergrad years socializing was where I excelled. It wasn't until I graduated from Western Washington University and took a job as an environmental educator at Camp Orkila that I realized I was confusing being "smart" with being curious. What I learned in school was that I wasn't smart, and that took the curiosity right out of me. As an environmental educator I actually wanted to learn more about what I was teaching. I wanted to read about environmental science. And when I read these environmentally science-y books, I understood them, because I cared. I liked learning* for one of the first times I could remember (*our society's narrow definition of "learning"). What was the difference? I was outside, moving, touching, smelling, talking. It was hands-on and experiential. I lost my curiosity in school. I found it when I went outside and connected with a different way of learning that spoke to me. I don't mean to bash traditional education. It is great for a great many things, but meeting the learning styles of all students is not one of them. I reclaimed my love of learning (we're all born with it!) and went on to earn an M.A. in Communities, Organizations and Social Change at City University, London. I loved my Master's program. I loved learning again. Through this all, I gained a passion for experiential education.

Preschool is the perfect setting for experiential education. There is freedom and variety in early childhood education that is so much harder to find once a child reaches kindergarten. Do you want structure, academics, play, Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio Emilio, no philosophy at all or a mixture of philosophies (as The Great Green Room is)? You can find all those in early childhood education. There are so many things I love about my job and working in an educational environment with young children, but the fact that we can respect each child as an individual and trust that they will reveal to us what they are ready to learn and how they will best learn it, is my favorite part.

DISCLAIMER: I do not have any children of my own. This brings pluses and minuses with it. On the minus side: I cannot relate to that deep emotional connection with a child that only a parent can have. I don't have that primal need to protect my child. On the plus side: I can step back, offer some perspective and offer the experience of working with many kids. I hope I share thoughts and articles of interest... or at least conversations starters!