I saw this picture go through my feed today and it spurred a flurry of thoughts that I wanted to share. It seems like a benign enough statement, "A child who reads, will be an adult who thinks." Surely all "good" parents will agree with it, right??
And it's not exactly that I disagree with it. After all, *I* was a child who read (a lot!) and now I'm an adult who thinks (a lot!) So I'm proof positive of this sentiment, right??
Here's the thing. Reading is important in a literate culture, like the one we live in. But we've twisted this truth (that reading is important) into all sorts of other things that aren't true. For example many people believe that if a child doesn't learn to read in a certain "window" of time, then it will be very difficult for that child to learn to read later. Why do people believe this, when home-schoolers see repeatedly, over and over, and time and again that this simply isn't true? How can this be? Well, it's because school (or school like conditions) is (are) not the ideal environment for children to grow and learn in.
Anyway, I'm not saying that I have a problem with people valuing reading or books. I love to read. I love books! What I have a problem with is pushing unrealistic expectations on people - especially children - and "book worship". When reading and books are valued as more important than the actual child standing in front of us, there will be problems. What about children who AREN'T that interested in books? What about toddlers that can't sit still during story time? What about little boys that prefer to watch a video to fall asleep than listen to mommy read a book? What about children who love to go to the library to get new DVDs out and rarely read the books that are brought home?
I'm not talking about not having these opportunities (reading and books) available to children. I'm talking about pushing books on children because we've deemed them more valuable, more useful, more educational... better.
Another blog post came through my feed yesterday called, "Unschooling at Home and at Work, Part IV: Play... Where It All Breaks Down." In this article a professor talks about real conversations she's (he's?) had with students about what they like to do in their free time. The conversations that follow are pretty sad and she sums them up this way:
I’m not interested in anything.
These are people that have been through our school system. Literate people. Presumably people who read as children. People who have been exposed to our culture their whole lives. Clearly they are not absorbing the message that reading and thinking are not only worthwhile, but enjoyable!
So before you jump on the Reading = Thinking = Success and Happiness Bandwagon, rethink your strategy of how to get there. Forcing kids (PEOPLE!) to do things before they are ready will not ensure that you reach the goal.
Just yesterday Marisol read prayers to me off of a prayer dice her grandmother gave her. It was awesome. Yes, she partly has the prayers memorized from hearing them - but I could also tell that she was actively decoding each word, taking her time and really READING each one, not just rattling the prayer off. The road to becoming a fluent reader has not been an effortless one for her. She often wishes she could read NOW. But she also doesn't want to work at it and do things that bore her - like flash cards or read early readers. She definitely does not want to be FORCED to do anything (she is very clear on this point!) So instead, her skills and vocabulary have been slowly building over time. She also loves books. I want to keep that love intact, so I respect her desire not to be forced into reading and her pace of learning. I'm glad that I can do that for her.
Gerry's interest in books is slowly building over time. But he LOVES video games and the Mario games are often filled with stories and dialogue - all of which he insists on me reading to him.
Every day I model reading - mostly on the computer and my iPhone, because that is mostly where I read now.
So my point is, as parents WE should THINK before buying into something that seems "obvious". If this obvious "Truth" is causing discord in your life and stress in your relationships with your children, maybe it's time to dig deeper and clear the air between you and your child. When you see your child clearly for the amazing person they are, things will flow. Is your child exposed to letters, sounds, and printed words every day? Are they loved and are their needs being filled? Do you read to them when they are curious and want you to? If you can answer yes to these questions, they will learn to read.
As for thinking... It was noted on one of my favorite Facebook pages recently - I don't know a kid who doesn't think. It's sad that there are adults now saying they "don't think." Clearly our system isn't working for everyone. It's time for us to change our strategy.
Here are some great links to read more on this topic-
A Thousand Rivers
Unschooling and changing my perspective on the importance of reading
Yesterday I resolved to stop REACTING and RANTING (not before I started composing the "Rant to End All Rants" in my head first though!) Why? Well, it just doesn't feel good to be in that mode - to be reacting and defending and wanting to PROVE why your way is better. It is so much better to live what we believe peacefully and promote what we love, as opposed to bashing what we don't.
But then I read an article that annoyed me. And I was going to send it to one of my favorite bloggers so she could break it down - but then I thought, why don't I instead? So the day after making a Grand Resolution, here I am composing this post. Naturally. Because that's what happens when I RESOLVE to do anything.
BUT the good news is that this post is going to be extremely positive and inspiring. In my very humble opinion anyway. So even though I am reacting to something I didn't like, I'm putting out there what I do. So maybe my resolution still stands.
The post I read is called 12 ways to be the meanest mom in the world. But since I don't think it is necessary - or even desirable and effective - to be a mean mom in order to be a good mom, I'm going to list 12 ways to build an amazing relationship with your child and be an AWESOME mom (or dad! or any person in a child's life...)
(Also, if you really believe that the "kids these days" are the "laziest, rudest, most entitled kids in history" maybe you should check in with past generations and see what *they* thought of kids back in their day. Go back a few years, to oh, I don't know, maybe the 8th century BC when Hesiod said, "I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint". Ok, so I'm not really sure who Hesiod is or if he really said that, so maybe this one from Plato is more familiar, "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?" Hmmm... I guess the whole, "kids these days" notion isn't so new!)
Ok enough ranting! On with the raving! Without further ado, 12 ways to achieve parenting awesomeness and build amazing relationships with the children in your life:
1) Support your kids' natural, biological rhythms and help them get enough rest. If school is part of your family's life find ways to make going to bed enjoyable. (Of course do this whether school is part of your life or not. I only mentioned it as a "condition" because bedtime is usually more of an issue for families that have to conform to the school schedule). Find a routine that works for everyone, but be flexible. Recognize that there are times when children aren't ready for bed at the "normal" time and other times when they may need to go to bed earlier. On the weekends let them catch up on sleep if they need to. Have discussions about why it's important to get enough sleep and ask them for ideas if bedtime is becoming unenjoyable. If your family has opted out of school, even better! You can really respect your child's natural sleep schedule. You can also give them more freedom in exploring their limits, what feels good, and what works for them. Your discussions will probably include respecting other's need for sleep and appropriate behavior if they stay up late (aka - daddy needs to work so we have to keep noise at reasonable night time levels! Also, Mommy is just plain tired.)
2) Have a variety of food in the house. Allow your kids to choose what they want to eat. This is a big topic to cover in a short list. However, limiting kids and controlling their food does not lead to healthy, balanced eating habits. If they want "dessert" let them eat it. If you must worry about someone's diet, let it be your own. Model what you think is healthy eating. Have natural conversations with them when things come up - like the time you eat too many potato chips and got a stomach ache (I may or may not have done that last weekend.)
3) Give your kids some spending money regularly. But be generous with them also. We give our kids an "allowance" every week. Right now Marisol gets $5 (she's 8 years old) and Gerry just started getting $3 recently (he's 5 years old). We do not tie the money to chores or behavior. It is automatic. The benefits are many: they learn to save, they learn how much things are worth, there are fewer debates about what they can get when we go to stores. But I've also realized that I want to surprise them with things they love once in a while too! Because I love them. Because it takes so little to give them joy. Because I believe the best way for them to learn generosity it so experience it and see it, so I want to model it. There is no one right way to approach money and one thing I've learned is that our approach is always evolving. But keeping open, honest communication about money and being generous are good starting points for us right now.
4) Support your child through challenges and be their advocate. If they find themselves involved in an activity, a class, a job, or any relationship or situation in which they are unhappy support them. Listen. Offer insights if they want them. Ask what you can do to help. Life will always have challenges but you can show them that they don't need to face them alone and that they are up to facing them. They will learn how to make the best of things if it is worth it to them and they will also learn what situations aren't worth staying in.
5) Watch them do hard things and be in awe. Children are born wanting to learn and grow and try new things. When they find things they are passionate about they WILL do hard things without you "making" them do anything. Be ready to support them in the way that is best for them, determined BY them. Sometimes that will mean helping or even doing something for them, sometimes it will mean commiserating, "man, that *is* hard!", sometimes it will mean keeping quiet but remaining present. Sometimes they may even want you to give them some space. Respect that they know what is best for them in any given moment.
6) Give them a watch and alarm clock if they ask for one. Believe that when children find something worthwhile to them they will learn to manage their time. But help them in the meantime. Some people sleep through anything - even the loudest alarms! (My sister was one of them, and I've heard other people say the same thing!) Work together to find ways for your child to succeed. They will learn it is ok to ask for help when they need it.
7) Support your kids in their interests. Involve them in financial decisions. Of course, gratitude for what we have is very important. But learning that there is no shame in wanting more is too. We bought a wii gaming system less than a year ago. We are probably going to get a wiiU for Christmas. No, we didn't go out and buy it the instant our kids (ok, Gerry) wanted it, but they know that we are planning to get it. He also knows how much money it is and that "300 dollars is a lot of dollars." And in the meantime we go to Best Buys and Targets and Gerry gets his fix.
8) Be there for them when they experience true loss. Because they will. But if it is a loss that you can help fix, help them. They will learn kindness this way. And they will learn to help you when you make mistakes too. Show them how to be responsible by being responsible, reliable, and truthful.
9) Be truly radical and give your child more freedom than you are comfortable with. Whether it is about "screen time" or food or exploring their environment, be willing to push your comfort levels because you want to build trust between you and your child. Fight the urge to restrict, limit, and control even though all the other parents are. Besides you know that control is a myth anyway.
10) (and 11 and 12) Model, Model, Model
If you make a mistake, apologize. They will learn how to apologize naturally this way. If you see them struggling with a friend - help them. Support them both by listening and asking questions. Children are intelligent - they know when they've done something wrong and they want to make amends. Be the kind of person you want them to be. They will follow suit. Help others because it is important to you. And remember that your kids are some of the most important people that *you* can help. Notice the things that they do for you and others and thank them sincerely.
The amazing thing about children is that they are human beings, just like adults! Yes, they will make mistakes (like adults) and yes they have less experience than adults - but they really want to feel good, and living well with others does feel good for all of us! They want to be connected to you and to the wider world. Punishment and praise (or other rewards) are not necessary and in fact, not helpful.
Yes it's a lot of work being a parent and staying connected to our children - but it is worth it! And once you start to see that they really *do* master everything they need to in their own time, you will feel more confident in them and yourself. Not only will you have amazing relationships but you will feel like an awesome mom (or dad, or grandma/grandpa,or aunty/uncle) too!
I read an article about a child's math test. When her mother looked through the test she noticed that one question was marked wrong that shouldn't have been, because her daughter's answer was right. Turns out the company that created the test had the answer wrong. She went on to explain why this is a big deal. Here is the line that stood out for me, "In a low-stakes world, Pearson’s screw up was a low-stakes mistake. But now we’re forcing our kids — our eight, nine, and ten year olds — to live in a high-stakes world."
At first I got all fired up when I read that. It honestly made me really angry. "We're" forcing our kids. Who is we? Why are parents cooperating? Do the majority of the people really believe that they have no choice in this matter? And who says it's a high stakes world? Why are we letting "others" decide for us?
You may call me naive. You may say I'm privileged. And you may be right about both. I am reminded often of the little bubble I live in. I see that many people believe these things - that our world is a cut-throat, competitive, hard place. And still, I choose not to believe that. I believe we are meant to live in cooperation with each other. I believe that when we do, we are happier and healthier. I believe our children are craving a different way.
So what I want to do is yell, "WAKE UP! *You* have a choice. Yes you. You don't have to FORCE your kid to do anything if you don't feel it is the right thing to do. And I'm fairly certain it isn't."
Maybe your personal situation won't allow for homeschooling. I understand it isn't an option for every family. But that doesn't mean you have to just go along with and feed the current system. It's up to you to change it if it isn't fitting your child's needs. Refuse to buy into it. We all know about supply and demand - if enough parents stop buying what's currently being sold and start demanding change, it will happen. I know it's hard. It may feel impossible. So you start simply. You tell your child that their test scores don't define them and your love and approval will never depend on a letter or a number. You don't feed the hype and competition that fuels the school culture. Maybe you start conversations with other parents or your child's teachers about information you've read about how children learn. You tell your child (and yourself) that we all learn differently - in our own way and time - and you BELIEVE it. And if you don't believe it yet, you fake it until you do.
It seems that a large majority of our population is being driven by fear. Fear that our child won't be "successful" and that it will be our fault if we don't somehow get them through the system. But what is success? And what if THE SYSTEM is actually what is holding so many of us back? Then why are we doing this to our children? (And if you need some more reading, here is an article written by someone who believes that education doesn't guarantee success. So there is at least one other person out there.)
I'm not fired up anymore. I'm tired. I hope more people start questioning things and taking back what is rightfully theirs. All of our children deserve the best, and what we're serving up isn't it.
My mom and sister were here for a couple of days - in fact they are still here for a couple more hours. We've had a really fun long weekend together (See Gratitude #34 and Gratitude #35.)
Ok, now they aren't here. In fact they just left. This is what happens when you blog in bits and pieces - Life.
Physically I feel a little ill (nauseous) after they leave. I'm tired and sad. (Of course part of that could be the vodka I drank last night and the fact that Mike, Laura, and I stayed up till almost midnight watching "Dating Naked". Sometimes the most fun choices aren't the "best" - but when you only get to hang out a handful of times per year you take advantage of every moment!)
Marisol is especially sad. We've already looked at Laura's work calendar to plan our next visit. That helps - knowing when we will be together again helps.
But still. I miss them so much.
Over the weekend I was thinking about "attachment". I work hard to live in the present moment, to embrace "what is". It is a never ending process and practice. It is not something you "achieve" - it is only something you can come back to over and over - like your breath in meditation. Death has been on my mind a lot this year. There is nothing like facing this truth - we will all die - to put everything else in perspective. Being attached makes saying goodbye so painful - whether it is for a few months or for life. We fight letting go fiercely.
I know intellectually that I have much to be grateful for. Just the fact that I don't want my family to leave, that I always want more, that we enjoy our time together so much, that saying goodbye hurts - these are good things. But the feelings, oh the feelings. (And I can't even blame it on PMS - I just had my period! Sometimes I'm grateful to be sad at a time when I know it's not "hormones" - because I think sometimes we're always looking for a reason or to explain our feelings away, instead of just letting them be.)
I'm learning not to fight the feelings. I'm learning to let them flow. I'm learning that they will pass. I'm learning to let them be and to also keep doing things that I know will make me feel better. I'm learning to connect with my kids more instead of pushing them away when I'm sad. I'm learning to forgive myself and my kids when we all feel out of sorts and are getting back into our groove. So much learning.
My life is amazing. But I still get sad. My life is awesome. But I can still dream of ways to make it better. I am grateful. And I want more. All of these things are true.
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.