Your ears must be buzzing with all the talk about education. Well, while most of us have not felt heard during recent dialogues about the fate of the American education system, I'm listening. And I'm determined to continue offering solutions. The podcasts are only available to those who subscribe (no youtube blasts here). Why? The Little School Project is committed to giving support. offering strategies and being responsive to your needs. Episodes will include added-value content, interviews with experts, and lots of dialogue about how to navigate modern home/unschooling practice.
We all want out children to have the best shot at becoming a successful, good, and honest adult. Many parents have different views, preferences, and values regarding education. I have decided to research and document the leading reasons why parents choose private, public, and homeschooling and assess the cost, benefits, and concerns of each choice. In order to analyze and compare the choice of childhood education well will need to determine the categories of which we shall rate. I have chosen: Cost, Academic benefit, Social Benefit, Safety, and Accessibility.
So this post will analyze the benefits of investing in childhood education. Conceptually it seems to make sense as a parent to want your child to have the best amenities, environment, curriculum, and classroom atmosphere that gives the best experience of a quality education. No one would disagree with those desires for a childhood education. However, there are other variables and stereotypes that add fuel to the fire to the growing number of middle-class households who seek private education as if it is an exclusive club guaranteed to give your child a quality education and character.
Let's be frank, our world is not the same as it was 9 months ago. With recent political and socio-economic events, the collective consciousness has birthed a stillborn mission - to belittle, intimidate, divide and conquer. The "We" in "Yes, We can!" has been removed from all dialogue. In, the only personalized references given these days are, "I" and "My". That leaves out a whole lot of people to put it simply.
As an educator, I have taught all kinds of students from 2-year old Japanese kids to 45-year old Brits. Regardless of their age, nationality, gender or position, they share a need to know and my role is to provide a path to the content and strategies to own it. However, not every educator or administrator is at ease with the diverse student body they cater to. Not every educator or school community share the responsibility to provide comprehensive content that is culturally relevant to the students as well as reflective of our global identity. And lastly, not every child feels safe, nurtured, encouraged, respected or represented in those learning environments. So what are we to do? As I've mentioned before, the homeschooling and unschooling movement has grown and has become a viable option for many families; especially multicultural and TCK (Third Culture Kids) families and families of color. More and more, parents are taking a leadership role in where and how their children are schooled and what content they are exposed to. Bravo to them!
Good, effective and sustainable homeschooling and Tiger Mom practices don't happen overnight. Additionally, while homeschooling may be more socially common or accepted, the communities of support and resources, again especially for these families are limited. It is with all this in mind that my vision and mission for The Little School Project demanded revision. I continue to teacher-train and consult with school administrators and educational teams yet, leaving mixed and multi-cultural families out of the conversation did not align with my personal or professional values and goals. In order to provide access to the same products and services I deliver to institutions and organizations, I'm developing coaching programs, partnerships and materials (like The Little School Template, a curriculum model) that are affordable, easy-to-implement, compatible with most state curriculums, and supports the unique concerns and considerations of modern multicultural homeschoolers.
As we take a pause from classes, study, schoolwork and slow down to enjoy family, football, travel and a few days of sleeping in, we might also want to take a pause from homework. In the course of coaching parents and consulting with teachers and administrators, the issue of homework - how much, how little, the type of review or adding-on, has come up repeatedly and mystified both parties so much that it's no wonder students are overwhelmed or unmotivated to extend their own learning. As a parent, I firmly believe in play/play/service-based learning and inquiry learning logs and portfolios that document subject content, encourage transdisciplinary links, self-assessments and reflection. As an educator who has taught internationally and from K-12 and higher education, I have worked with families and schools that mandate and/or expect extensive homework plans and others that disregard it - there seems to be little difference in test scores or understanding; yet there are significant differences in attitude, self-confidence, resiliance and varied demonstration of understanding. Here, in the simplest (I hope) of terms are my thoughts about homework and the impact it ideally has on your child and your family.
I just read a brilliant NYT article about how a mommy blogger decided to stop writing about her children. She describes her realization of trespassing on her children's right to privacy and potentially endangering their well-being as being crystal clear although slow to be revealed. As a mommy blogger/mom-edupreneur, the vast majority of what I write about, education (at least on this blog - I have another green lifestyle site, The Homesteadista), revolves around children; their experiences, their socio-academic progress, their learning environment (homeschool). Yet, I make a conscious effort to address personal and professional issues without indulging in massive overshare which could in turn violate my daughter's privacy. While I may have the maturity and authority to choose how she is presented online, I am also confident that she (especially for someone who is a close second behind Kim Kardashian for Queen of Selfies, but still in the single digits is too young to navigate Instagram and Facebook is still off her radar) would have the same discernment. Or at least the patience to give it a second thought and ask mommy first. Fortunately, I could objectively take credit for all my mindful modeling.
I'm convinced that Jean Paul Sartre was the original inventor of headphones. Imagine when he scribed, "Hell is other people", he was probably trying to drown out the noise of unsupportive family members and unfiltered neighbors offering their unsolicited opinions about homeschooling with the even noisier sound of his singing aloud to himself. In his existentialist play, No Exit, discontent with his hell-mates stemmed from their continual reminders of his past transgressions and lingering temptations. Although Sartre's crimes-du-jour were manslaughter and various sensual misdemeanors, it's conceivable that what he was really busy with was how to avoid the temptation to justify his choices and if weakened, redirect his personal course and follow the crowd.
What happens when you are surrounded by unlike-minded folks? Do you run and hide in the protective bubble of your tribe? Oh wait, where's your tribe? Facebook groups, homeschool co-op members, the five other alternative education families in the school district? Do you protest and try to sway and recruit to our side? Do you tune out just enough that you are still present, plug into that “happy place” and bear witness to the challenge really before you - being you, despite of who you are being with?
During the three and half years that I knew my daughter’s nanny, I only saw her cry once. This woman, Snow (her English nickname - don’t ask why, but know that it was significantly easier for me to pronounce than her Chinese birth name, which meant “May Flower”), is one of the sweetest, smartest, funniest women I know. She was a real “auntie” to my daughter (actually, the term for nannies in Chinese, “ayi” translates into “auntie”) - a playmate and caretaker in my stead. She was also the consummate Tiger Mom.
It's 6:45AM. The coffee is brewing, the eggs are scrambling, the kids are dressed and you are simultaneously juggling oranges, mascara, plates, to-do lists and possibly an Ipad. There should be a club of sorts for parents who are at their wits end, struggling each morning to feed their children and let alone themselves, a simple and healthy breakfast. You are not alone if even as a "home-based/unschooling" parent, you are struggling with preparing, serving and actually consuming that vital first meal of the day.
Every medical journal and institution agrees that eating a nourishing breakfast not only contributes to good health, it may also stabilize energy levels, emotions, and ability to concentrate. It’s kind of a no-brainer. It appears that when your child’s brain and body are fueled, his learning experience may be enhanced and his overall performance is likely to improve. In your case, you are more likely to produce stellar ideas in that brainstorming session, remember to return all those calls and not look like you're coming down off a meth-high while catching up with your BFF at the farmer's market. Additionally, those who regularly eat breakfast tend to eat more healthily throughout the day and are possibly less likely to develop weight problems or eating disorders.
As I packed this afternoon to return to Asia again (the third time in the past 6 weeks), for a week-long regional educational event, I realized that as much as I love this aspect of my consulting work, I don't love the disruption to my day-to-day routine. Aside from being away from my family (Facetime and Skype go a long way, especially when your little one hugs the laptop for a virtual, meaning literal embrace), the daily ebb and flow of our lives get a bit topsy turvy. My good sleeping and eating habits trail off and occasionally become non-existent, my emails get backlogged, the laundry doesn't get done. Life slides into a slower yet less efficient gear. I wondered how busy parents who travel and homeschool manage these shifts and shuffles. And then like a second wave of caffeine, clarity came and a VIP program that traveling and/or expat families will especially value. Not a frequent-flying relocation family? No worries, this program will also address your busy-schedule lifestyle needs as well. So wish me a safe trip and presentation. I'll have a Singapore Sling for you!
About 8 years ago, I taught a literature class at an international school in Japan. My students, high schoolers, 16 years old fresh-faced, bright-eyed and open-minded were like models in a Benneton ad - diverse, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, many of them TCKs (Third Culture Kids). The first book we studied, was Night, by Elie Wiesel. I was beyond stoked to see this listed on the curriculum as required reading. It was among my top 10 faves and one I had also read in high school some, ahem years (decades) before. In case you are unfamiliar with Night, it tells the personal tale of Wiesel’s experience with his father in Auschwitz and Buchenwald during the height of WW2. Despite their personal distance from Jewish tradition, the Holocaust or any remotely comparable experience (say as a refugee, witness to a civil war or victim of systematic prejudice), they got it. And when they didn’t, they tried to understand; mostly because they couldn’t fathom the possibility of it being someone’s reality. We talked about the relevance and relatability of the piece. Was it because it was written from a youngster’s point of view, like The Diary of Anne Frank?
One week we spent our lessons in the school’s private kitchen. It was the same week Rosh Hashana was approaching and we had reached the section in the book when The High Holidays also arrive and the prisoners expressed their faith and tradition through hushed prayer and secret gatherings. This was no coincidence on my part. We spent the week preparing a few traditional foods that would have been prepared during better circumstances. We discussed the symbolic meaning of the foods and imagined being in Eliezer’s shoes. One student burst into tears. She felt guilty for enjoying the apples and honey knowing generations before her, people were murdered for such a simple act. Another student remembered traditional foods his Nigerian grandmother would make when she came for extended visits - feasts he felt he could not explain to his non-Nigerian friends. Another student revealed how her parents were without home and country for a period of time as they immigrated to Japan. We also spoke about faith and religion and the difference between the two. This insightful crew wondered if they too would lose faith if under the same pressure? They wondered if they had taken the meaning of their specific cultural traditions for granted - if they relied too heavily on convenience, the tools, the ritual, the foods? Their take-away from reading Night and eating apples and honey in the spirit of a holy new year and in honor of Eliezer, and other boys and girls like him?
We are more alike than different.
Everything is relevant, even when it’s not about us.