Friday, June 20, 2014

Go To Hell, It's Summer!

 Yesterday was the last day of school for my three oldest kids. I feel like I just crossed the finish line of a marathon, hands on my knees gasping for air.  The past few weeks I’ve passed other parents at bus stops, in school hallways, on field trips and returned their dazed looks with “how are you?” The predominant refrain is, “you know, June is crazy.” Yes, I know. Here is a sampling of what has been added to my already full schedule this month. Three separate choir concerts, a dance recital, 6 field trips, an end of the year medieval celebration, my daughter's formal “spring fling dance” and middle school graduation. Somewhere in there is the pressure to get (or even worse- make) a grand thank you gift for all my kid’s teachers and the guilt of failing, again, to do this simple task that everyone else seems capable of. Top that off with under-slept kids frantic about finals, excited about yearbooks and over sugared from end of the year celebrations. As I drop my daughter off at the school at 6:15am for a field trip to Canada that gets her home at 11pm, I find myself thinking, “mile 20, I’ve made it this far. No sense in dropping the kids off at Walmart and driving away now.”

So imagine my emotional reaction when, with only ½ day of school to go, my daughters first grade teacher sends us parents a final email with this:

This week we talked about the importance of continuing their learning over the summer.  Here are some ideas in addition to MobyMax, RazKids, and XtraMath.

Typing practice:
·         All the Right Type – directions for accessing this resource are included as an attachment. 
·         Student should be writing every day, and their writing journal from the year still has plenty of empty pages.  Today we brainstormed a list of ideas that they could write about and they have a copy of this in their journal.

GO TO HELL!!!  I just finished a marathon, don’t tell me I’d better keep running!! That was my emotional reaction. I don’t actually fault this teacher, who has been amazing all year. I suppose she is obligated to give this good advice, just as my dentist urges me to not eat too much sugar. For the record, I eat chocolate after every meal (yes breakfast too, wipe that horrified look off your face!).

Now, I’ve been at this public school thing for 10 years. There was a time that I had lofty ambitions that I didn’t know were lofty.  I thought things like “we are going to read everyday and spend time practicing math. My kids are going to be on top of their game when they go back to school.” But 10 years of complete and absolute failure has worn me down. I no longer have any na├»ve ideas about our summer educational achievements. The only thing I know for sure is that we will listen to audio books in the car on road trips. This is not for educational reasons. This is so I won’t leave my kids on the side of the road half way to our destination. Whenever I make this threat (BE QUIET, STOP FIGHTING OR GET OUT OF THE CAR!!) my husband nods knowingly and quips, “you better be quiet, when she says she’ll leave you on the side of the road, she means it!”

Let’s be real for a moment. My kid’s summer is about 2 ½ months. During that time, this is the education I want for my kids. I want them to catch bugs, eat watermelon and marvel at the blue sky. When they are bored I want them to sulk around until they strike on a brilliant plan, such as building a fort or spying on me and their neighbors- (spying on me gets boring, I’m sitting on the couch reading a book, eating chocolate- no you can’t have any, this is moms chocolate. Go outside!!).

I heard on NPR this week that a city in Sweden is debating a “No Homework Policy.” The argument for this policy is this: kids should be able to learn what they need to during the school day. We shouldn’t be overburdening them or their families with homework. Different types of learning take place as they interact with their families and the world. There should be a space for that.

So, we are having a Sweden summer at my house. I will limit screen time and order some books from the library. But that is as much effort as I will make to “continue their learning” this summer. We will go to parks and hike and camp and watch movies together and revel in our freedom from the tyranny of school (which I am grateful for, ultimately).  Nine months a year is enough for book learning and worksheets. And I pledge to do this all guilt free. Want to take the Sweden summer guilt free pledge with me?? Then go get some chocolate, a good book and order your kids outside. It helps to lock the doors, FYI.

Looking for some good audiobooks to enjoy with your kids this summer? Here are a few of our favorites (we get ours downloadable or on CD from our library):

Extra Credit by Andrew Clements (we love all Andrew Clements books)

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Ida B by Katharine Hannigan

Monday, June 9, 2014

Let's Play!!

Photo Source
NPR recently ran a series on the the pressure to cut recess in favor of more academic time in American schools. My youngest is about to start full day kindergarten. He is my fourth child to do this, but my first boy. In light of this TED talk on boys in our schools, I’ve been wondering what it will be like to watch a son go through school. I’ve felt more apprehensive than I did with my girls. The NPR spot on the decline of recess in our schools alarmed me. I immediately looked up how much time my son would have at recess this fall. Turns out he will get 70 minutes a day, which I am happy with, though I wouldn’t complain if he got more. Apparently, many American kids aren’t so lucky and will have to make do with much less play-time.

The decline in play time in American schools is a response to failing schools and dropping test scores, which became mandated with the No Child Left Behind Act. The faulty premise is that if we have more time to cram knowledge into our kids, they will perform better. Contrast this with Finland, which has gained notoriety lately for its phenomenally performing schools (which out perform our schools by any measure). How do they approach play? Well, differently then us. For starters, Americans average 27 minutes of recess time a day, while the average is 75 minutes in Finland. That contrast is made all the more dramatic when you consider that their school days are shorter than ours (and they spend less time doing homework). Anyone want to move to Finland with me?

If there is one mantra that sticks out to me from my child development classes in college, it is this: “play is a child’s work.” Which is to say, all kinds of valuable things are happening in a child’s brain when they play. They are actively learning when playing. They are processing and solidifying classroom learning on the playground. Not only is play learning, it is preparation for learning. Active play puts kids mentally in a space where they can absorb new information when they go back to the classroom. So much is lost when we yank this mental/physical rug out from under them. As Ken Robinson says, “If you sit kids down hour after hour doing low grade clerical work, don't be surprised if they start to fidget.”

I feel strongly about our kids need and right to play time. It is an essential component of a well rounded curriculum.  Take some time to explore the links below to learn how different cultures approach child's play and education.

  • I know they are 20 minutes, but oh please, listen to the brilliant (and funny) Ken Robinson:
           How To Escape Educations Death Valley
           Schools Kill Creativity