Saturday, June 28, 2014

Teach Your Children Well

A couple months ago we decided to pack up everything and go on a trip across North America. We are going to spend a year seeing, hearing, smelling and touching things. We are going to "unplug", in a sense, and give ourselves a real experience. Something to remember. Since we made this decision, there is one concern that keeps popping into our heads and has been the topic of many discussions between Jessica and I. How do we create a stable and secure environment that our children can thrive in?

Jessica is a Montessori teacher and both Noah and Sam attend the school where she teaches. The school is amazing. It's not just a place where you send your kids to learn. It's a place where you learn, as a family, to nurture the development of your children. The basic concept is to encourage kids to pursue their interests in education and to let them learn independently with self-correcting activities. A teacher will observe her students and determine where their interests lie. She will then take students, one at a time, and give them a presentation. The presentation is done with the child sitting with his hands behind his back and the teacher slowly and deliberately completing the activity. There is not much talking during these presentations because talking can distract the child while they observe. They simply watch, and since it is an activity that is based on the student's interests, they are eager to try the activity themselves. The teacher leaves the student with the activity and allows him to perform it as many times as he wants. He can do it once and move on to one of the other activities that the teacher has already presented to him, or he can work on it all day. The teacher observes, once the student masters the activity, she gives him another presentation in the same category that is higher in difficulty. Boom! A self guided education that touches completely on the student's interests and keeps him in his zone of proximal development. 

So, we are sold on this method and it is really working for the boys and suddenly we are going to take them on the road and home-school (RV School?) them. So what do we do? Well, since Jessica knows what she is doing, she has ordered up some Montessori activities and copied a bunch of literature at her work. We have also been coming up with real-life ideas to help the kids learn. I mean, we are gonna be on a never ending field trip, it only makes sense. So, as far as curriculum, we have a pretty good idea of what we are going to feed their brains. The biggest challenge we face is coming up with a routine. Long car rides, living in a new place every few weeks, supply runs, and rolling with the punches are all things that have the potential to set our kids back developmentally. So, I have been really worried about it. Then, something happened this week that completely restored my faith in the resilience of children. 

We spent the last 10 days improvising our way around the state in our camper. It started with a family wedding in Traverse City that was a TON of fun. After that we just didn't feel like going home so we took up residence at Higgins Lake State Park. Jessica loves this park because there are playgrounds and beaches every 20 feet along the lake. The camp sites leave something to be desired because they are mostly unlevel, have little to no privacy and they are pretty close together. Regardless, we always have fun there and the boys love it. The other night, after dinner, Noah and I decided to take our gloves and bat and go play baseball. When we got to the field there were already some kids on the field playing a pick-up game with ghost runners and rule changes every inning to accommodate their lack of players. When we walked up, a boy who was probably 10 years old greeted us. His name was Grayson and he was from Lake City. He asked our names and then said, "You wanna play? It doesn't matter how big or small you are, everyone can play."

Noah and I accepted his invitation and he started talking to Noah, "How old are you? About 5? You can be on our team and you have an important job. You are going to be our pitcher."

My parental alarms started going off. Was I really going to let this 10 year old punk talk my 5 year old into pitching to a bunch of big kids in a game of campground hardball? Since I am a strong believer in the Montessori method, I stood back and just acted as a participant in the game and let Grayson run the show. So, there was Noah, on the mound, trying to throw balls over the plate against a kid 3x his size. He threw the first pitch and surprised everyone, including me. I could see in his eyes that he had something to prove. That he wasn't just a little kid, he was a pitcher with a job to do. I was overcome with pride as I sat on the bench waiting for my turn to bat (they put Noah and I on different teams). Noah threw 6 pitches to the first batter and struck him out swinging. HOLY HELL! Noah just struck out a big kid. Was this really happening? The next batter stepped into the box and Grayson yelled out, "Okay Noah, get him out and we win the game!" 

Apparently we had walked up during the last inning and Noah was acting as the closing pitcher in a close game. The next big kid stepped into the box and Noah delivered a strike over the plate. The batter swung really hard and just missed. I was immediately concerned for Noah's safety and then Grayson walked in from the outfield and gave the batter a look and said, "C'mon dude!" 

The batter responded, "Okay, I will play along. You gotta make the little guys feel good."

It suddenly became clear to me that these kids were awesome people. Everything they had done since we walked up was carefully orchestrated so they could make Noah feel special. I wanted to hug their stupid faces and tell them how awesome their parents were but I had to play it cool, just like they were. The kid in the batters box got two more pitches and missed them both. Noah struck him out and won the game for his team. The kids in the outfield ran to the pitchers mound and cheered Noah's name while lifting him off the ground. It was really an uplifting experience. It was getting dark so the big kids had to go back to their campers and I let Noah take some batting practice. He was so proud of himself and I was proud of humanity in general. 

There is a lot of bad news out there but occasionally, you hear stories like this. Special needs children being turned into sports heroes and prom queens by their peers. The little kid in California who got to be Batman for a day. Feel good stories that put a positive energy into the world. When you actually see it unfold it is pretty amazing. These kids didn't have an adult telling them what to do. They didn't feel bad for Noah. They were intrinsically motivated to do something nice for someone else. Maria Montessori would have been proud. 

So, as a parent, I will probably always have concerns about educating my children but as long as there are kids like "Grayson from Lake City" and his baseball pals in the world, I feel confident that Noah and Sam will do just fine. 

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