Moms Must Make Mistakes (Dads, too)

Last week a key line in Daphne’s mother’s email to me was: “…parents are trying to be the best parents they can be (and can be quite unforgiving of themselves for the mistakes they make.)”

The very same day Daryl’s mother sent me this: “rick, heard you loud and clear on daryl’s first day. when i asked him what he was most looking forward to in second grade, he responded ‘my mistakes.’ I kid you not. It really happened! :-)” Continue reading

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Teaching, Learning and Creating the Conditions

After reading “Daphne goes to School” (last week’s post) Daphne’s mother wrote me a long email which she concluded with: “I guess the question I am asking is: “How do we encourage exploration and confidence without leaving a child unprepared for the judgment and criticism they’ll have to deal with later on? And at what point does “education” end and “the real world” begin? Or is your idea that an environment of experimentation and exploration early on will create a confident, centered person who isn’t shaken by the competition that will come?” Continue reading

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Daphne Goes to School

It was a hot day on the upper west side of Manhattan. I had just dropped my freshman stepdaughter off in her dorm room at Columbia University and was experiencing a rare and marvelous moment of directionlessness. Daphne, age five, stood at Broadway and 114th at a table with her father and held a sign saying “Lemonade 50 cents.”

I said, “Wonderful. Lemonade. Perfect thing on this hot day. How much does it cost?”
“Fifty cents,” Daphne replied with a smile.
“Fifty cents. That’s cheep. Can I have a glass?”
“Certainly,” said Daphne.
I gave her a five-dollar bill, and she reached into the zippered purse around her neck, giving me back two quarters.
“But I gave you a five,” I said. Continue reading

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Just Say Nothing

We want our children to grow up to be decision makers. We also want them to make good decisions. How can we get them to do the right thing and treat them as if they know what they are doing at the same time? How can we treat them as if they know what they are doing, when we half know that they don’t?

As I was saying goodbye to early childhood teacher Gretchen Ott on my last day at Children’s Day School, she reminded me of a very important technique. She said: “A long time ago I learned the trick of not saying anything. If a student did something I knew he knew was wrong, I would just give him a look. I’m still perfecting my look, and I wish I did it more.” Continue reading

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Don’t Get Mad; Get Creative.

Margaret had a classic class clown in her second grade one year. Ruben was smart, active, inquisitive, and made the class laugh several times a day, disrupting Margaret’s lessons. She found him infuriating, but fury was not recognized as an acceptable professional approach. By the third week of the year, she was sending him into the hallway for a “timeout” as a regular practice. That Friday, she lost her temper and sent Ruben to the principal’s office.

Over the weekend Margaret worried, thought, wondered, pondered, stewed, and talked to a friend about what she should do to fix this problem. Only three weeks of school! It just couldn’t go on like this. Nonetheless, Monday morning she arrived at school without a plan. Continue reading

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“Is My Child a Genius?”

I am thrilled to introduce my first book, The Genius in Children: Bringing Out the Best in Your Child. It represents forty-some years of helping parents and teachers educate children. Since education is a science, there are principles to follow and disciplines to practice; the book identifies many of these. However, in so far as education, like living, is also an art, this book and this blog are attempts to spark creative thinking about education rather than attempts at definitive solutions.

“Is My Child A Genius?” is the wrong question. Your child has a genius; every person does. The question is: How can I help this genius lead my child out into the world gracefully and effectively?

First, we must return to the original meaning of genius: “The tutelary spirit of a person, place, or institution.” There are many other words for this spirit. To the ancient Greeks kharakter was the imprint that the gods put on the soul at birth. I stand with James Hillman who says that muse, psyche, soul, calling and character are all different manifestations of the same thing: the you that is becoming. Elizabeth Gilbert thinks of genius as “out there.” I like to think of it as inside us. It doesn’t matter. Maybe it lives under the bed. Our job is to act as if it exists.

This is what education is all about and schooling is one of the many things children do to become educated. It is the obligation of parents and teachers to make sure that schooling occurs in the context of education.

What can we do to help? See their academic struggles in a long term context—they will learn how to read, you know. Support them through all their struggles without owning them. Avoid rescuing. Respect the challenges they choose. Value mistakes and conflict as some of the best sources of learning. Maintain boundaries tirelessly as they make their decisions and suffer the consequences. Cultivate the courage to face fears—your own especially. Play position. Love unconditionally. Most of all, believe in the untapped complexity and power in all children.

I wrote The Genius in Children with the hope that it will help each of us notice—or at least catch glimpses of—that beautiful, brilliant, ineffable, unique genius that each of us has. My dream is that we will all come closer together in respect for the infinite variety and complex diversity that make us all the same.

I am deeply grateful for the students, parents, teachers and other educators of Children’s Day School who unknowingly helped me write this book. I am indebted to all the great educators I have known as well as to all the enlightening conversations I continue to have with so many people. A special thanks to my family, my children, and my wife Victoria, who knowingly helped me write this book.

Please join in the conversation and have fun raising children; it’s the only way.


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Are You Overparenting?

Are you an over-involved parent, or are you a “slow parent?”  Do you make yourself known to the teacher on the first day of school or do you think it is better to just watch and wait? How involved are you with your child’s homework? Are you pushing your child too hard or not enough? These days parents are criticized for being “helicopters” or “snow plows” on the one hand, and on the other criticized for being “unengaged” in school–sometimes in the very next breath. These questions all reflect that our eye is on the wrong ball.

The question isn’t: “Is your parenting slow or fast,” but “Whose foot is on the accelerator?”

Last week, a proud mother wanted to show me how beautifully her fifteen-month-old daughter was progressing. “Show Mr. Rick how you can walk,” she said. When the child refused, the mother said, “She doesn’t do it when we want her, too.” That’s right, I thought, and that is something for you to be proud of and nurture. She is on a mission, and it comes from within, but pleasing you is not it.

There is a natural tendency for parents to want to have their children meet or exceed the benchmarks of “normal” whether it is walking, talking, reading or learning algebra. This is often taken too far. In many of our schools it is taken for granted that more, faster, sooner is better. Those who are “below average” are examined for some sort of dysfunction.

As a parent, grandparent and long-time school principal I am happy that many parents are feeling the need to stop pushing their children and are attracted to movements like “slow parenting.” But we are still asking: How slow should we go? How hard should we push? Those aren’t the right questions. What’s this “we?” It’s not about us; it’s about them. Carl Honore‘s titles distract us from the real issue. His son has it right: “Why do grownups have to take over everything?”

Children naturally to want learn? Schoolwork is play for them. Ask most kindergartners what they looking forward to in first grade and they will say: “Homework.” We take their love of homework away from them by owning it. It’s their homework.

Our children’s success is going to be a function of their comfort with and self-discipline in pursuing goals, not how fast or slow they move through the curriculum. Overparenting is forgetting who the chief decision maker is

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The Story of the Three Little Girls

Once there were three little girls, Kathy, Lilly and Susan. They were all new to my school in the seventh grade and had come from different schools. But in eighth grade, when they were together, they turned themselves into a gang that was mean to other kids with increasing frequency and ferocity. Teachers knew it was happening, but the girls were clever and slippery. We could rarely catch them in a teachable moment or a punishable act. The most we could do was talk to them. As you can imagine, that didn’t change anything.

Continue reading

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