Teacher Appreciation Week!

The mediocre teacher tells.

The good teacher explains.

The superior teacher demonstrates.

The great teacher inspires.

William Arthur Ward

This week, May 6 through May 12, is Teacher Appreciation Week, and I would like to show my deepest gratitude for the very important role all of you are performing. Whether you are the main home teacher, a co-teacher, or a provisional teacher, you need to be acknowledged, honored and thanked. You are sharing an amazing gift with your children/students!
Parenting and teaching children may be two of the hardest jobs ever experienced. It’s not always easy to share knowledge with enthusiasm. It’s not always easy to provide guidance with inspiration. It can be difficult to promote self-confidence when we may not be feeling completely confident in ourselves. It can truly be challenging to instill the love of learning and to offer wisdom while helping to prepare children for living to their fullest potential.
Journeys are never completely easy. We will be challenged with hard times and frustrating moments. However, amid the challenges, we will also experience those shining moments of complete joy and satisfaction. If we approach our teaching skills by developing a quality relationship with our students, then we will be approaching our teaching as a positive, transformative journey for all who are involved.

Photo Credit: Joyner Family

Not only do we need to honor our role as teachers, we also need to honor our children, for children can be our greatest teachers. They allow us the opportunity for personal growth. Children help us to remember our dutiful role in continuously providing the best and offering the most we can in every learning moment. We need to find that crucial balance between a loving heart and a determined mind. Being the best teacher is not the goal, because we are all humanly imperfect and incapable of such a title. However, if we strive to do the best we can, then we are being the best teacher possible in that moment. This striving is a strong testimony to the Oak Meadow’s educational philosophy of the process vs. the goal.
In all my years of teaching and guiding students, I have discovered that the most important lessons we can instill in our children is the joy of learning, the balance of life, and to never give up just because it’s hard.
I was recently reading through Oak Meadow’s guidebook, The Heart of Learningwritten by Oak Meadow’s founder, Lawrence Williams. It offers such amazing insight, inspiration and guidance. If you haven’t read it lately, I highly recommend perusing it. If you don’t own a copy of the revised and updated 40th Anniversary edition, it is available through the Oak Meadow Bookstore.
 

Happy Birthday Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day to you!

The “green things growing” whisper me
Of many an earth-old mystery
.
–Eben Eugene Rexford

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on or near April 22nd. This special day was created and first celebrated forty-eight years ago in 1970. It was founded by Wisconsin’s U.S. Senator, Gaylord Nelson, who strongly believed in the need to support environmental protection and to provide environmental awareness.
FamilyEducation.com offers eight simple ways to celebrate Earth Day with your children:
1) Read a nature-inspired book.
2) Up-cycle trash into an eco-friendly craft by creating a craft from recycled material.
3) Take a family hike or bike ride.
4) Build a bird feeder and feed the birds.
5) Open your windows to the fresh spring air and listen to the sounds of nature.
6) Get outside, pick up trash, go on a scavenger hike, or plant some flowers.
7) Cook with local produce and grow your own vegetable garden.
8) Conduct a science experiment that teaches about the greenhouse effect.

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

Celebrating Earth Day is a beautiful way to demonstrate your love for the planet. Remember to make every day Earth Day, and teach your children the values in recycling, reusing, and reducing. Practicing the three R’s of the environment helps to restore and replenish this beautiful world in which we live. No matter what the ages of your children might be, loving and protecting the planet  is one of the most important lessons we can teach to them. Oak Meadow offers nature-inspired art and craft projects in the book, Oak Meadow Crafts for the Early Grades, such as the “Leaf Print Tiles”.
I’d like to leave you with a story that offers inspiration to me. It is called “Being Green“. This is a lesson in conservation that we all need.
Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.
The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”
The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”
She was right — our generation didn’t have the ‘green thing’ in its day.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.
So they really were recycled.
But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.
Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribbling. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.
But too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then.
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.
But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.
But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing.” We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.
But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?
sacramentoearthday_dana gray

FUN With WORDS!

I woke UP this morning, and after getting UP, watching the sun come UP and drinking UP my cUP of tea, I began thinking UP words. UP on top of my list was the word, UP. “What’s UP with UP?” I asked myself. If you look UP the word, UP, in the dictionary, you will discover that its origins come from Old English and its first known use was before the 12th century. It can be identified as a noun, a verb, an adverb, an adjective or a preposition; and as you can tell from reading this blogpost, it can also be used as an idiomatic expression.

upwords_lrg
Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

There are so many ways to use the word, UP, in your vernacular. Here is a fun blogsite that brings us UP to date with all the ways we can use the word, UP. Now it’s your turn to come UP with your own playful word. It’s totally UP to you, but what I know is that this two-letter word has brightened UP my day! So start UP your day by smiling UP to your ears. Look UP and read UP on your favorite word of the day. Then load UP The 5th Dimension song, “UP, UP and Away“, pull UP a chair and write a poem with your UPstanding children using the UP word family – or – you might even come UP with the idea of playing a word-building board game such as “Scrabble” or “UPwords”!
Photo Credit: Ojeda Family

Words can be FUN and weird, especially in the English language! The Oak Meadow coursework offers a variety of ways to have fun with words. There are also many books to share with growing readers, such as My Fun With Words – 2 Volumes: A-K & L-Z , written by James Artel and illustrated by Geoffrey Brittingham. “The Book of Pooh – Fun with Words” is a sweet movie about words with all our favorite A. A. Milne characters. There are also enjoyable games and word exercises to strengthen your children’s reading and writing skills, such as the 10 Word Games for Kids.

So, thumbs UP for the words that keep us UP on top of the world!

 
 
 

Wild Birds Unlimited

“My favorite weather is bird chirping weather.” – Terri Guillemets

As folklorist, filmmaker and singer-songwriter Dillon Bustin once wrote: Oh, my friends, it’s springtime again. Buds are swelling on every limb. The peepers do call; small birds do sing, and my thoughts return to gardening.

Yes! Spring is on the march, and for many residents in the northern hemisphere, the signs are showing. Even if it still feels like winter where you live, you can watch for the signs that promise spring is on its way. Where I live, there is a fresh scent of spring wafting through the air. The trees are budding, the peepers are peeping, the songbirds are trilling, and the sighting of migration northward has begun. Our feathered friends are even demonstrating activities in preparation of constructing or reconstructing nest sites for their pending broods. The red-breasted robin is also displaying signs of insanity by knocking into windows, as it thinks its reflection is another male in the territory.

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

The other day, I was visiting a friend who lives in the heart of the country. The warmer spring winds were blowing around dusk, and I suddenly heard the courtship song of the American Woodcock. This ritualistic land and sky dance is like no other and is rarely observed. It felt like a treasured gift, and I reflected on the times I have witnessed this mating dance with my own family and how every spring we would read  the chapter on “April – Sky Dance” from Aldo Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac. It’s worth reading!
Oak Meadow’s Kindergarten through grade 4 science lessons include activities on studying bird behavior and observing birds in their natural habitats. The second-grade lessons even encourage the students to try their hands at constructing bird nests. If you are interested in learning more about birds through stories, I highly recommend Shelli Bond Pabis’s list of Storybooks for Young Bird Lovers.
Here is a fun fact for all you bird lovers… did you know that the world’s oldest known breeding bird is an albatross named Wisdom? She lives in the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii, and at age 67, she is currently raising her recently hatched young chick.
If you are an avid birdwatcher, Bill Thompson, Editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, has listed the “Top 10 Long-awaited Signs of Spring”.

Happy Bird Watching!

Wild Weather!

In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.

-Mark Twain

In the northern hemisphere, spring has arrived, but many parts of the U.S. can’t seem to shake off winter. No matter what season of the year, strange weather events occur in every corner of the globe. In Oak Meadow’s coursework, observing seasonal weather and its effect on plants and animals is a significant part of the kindergarten, first grade and second grade science lessons. In the third grade science curriculum, weather conditions are studied by tracking weather and clouds, learning about lightning and thunder, and engaging in educational activities and artistic exercises in relation to tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes (or typhoons). According to encyclopedia.com, the definition for extreme weather is a weather event such as snow, rain, drought, flood, or storm that is rare for the place where it occurs.
For additional information on weather, meteorologist Crystal Wicker created an informational site for children called Weather Wiz Kids. Kids Discover also created an interactive iPad app for kids, which displays the most extreme forms of weather on Earth. It includes an interactive cross-section of a hurricane, HD videos of tornadoes and lightning, and the science behind extreme climates.
In addition to the serious side of extreme weather, you might like to read the book, Thunder Cake, written by Patricia Polacco. It is a heartwarming and beautifully written story about Patricia (the author) when she was a young girl, and how she overcame the fear of storms with the help of her grandmother. You can also introduce some fun ways we use the weather through idioms and phrases, such as under the weather, weather the storm, or fair-weather friends. It might be a great time to include a spelling and vocabulary exercise on the difference between weather, whether and wether.
The wonders of weather are wonderful!
 

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick’s Day is an enchanted time – a day to begin transforming winter’s dreams into summer’s magic. – Adrienne Cook

Every year, on March 17th, people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day don their greenest garb, search for four-leaf clovers, eat corn beef and cabbage, dance the Irish jig, march in parades, and search for the leprechaun and his pot of gold. There are many famous Irish sayings and blessings that come to mind. One of my favorites Irish blessings is: “May you always walk in sunshine. May you never want for more. May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door.”
Whether you are Irish or not, it can be a joyful occasion for both young and old. As a child, my favorite part of this celebration was wearing a bit of green (so I wouldn’t get pinched). I also delighted in imagining how a leprechaun might appear, as well as hearing the legend of this mythical creature.
Since St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, there is the expectation of extra revelry. One of the oldest worldwide celebrations is a parade. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States was held in New York City in 1762, which was before the Revolutionary War and prior to its independence. If you’d like to join one in your area, here is a list for every state and throughout the world.
If you prefer to enjoy a quieter celebration, perhaps your family would like to host a gathering that includes educational games and fun-filled activities. You could have a treasure hunt to search for a “pot of gold”. Instead of playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”, you could have a geography lesson by pinning the country of Ireland onto a map of Europe.
Playing group games can be a lot of fun, too. Here are the rules for “Leprechaun, Leprechaun! Where’s Your Shamrock?”

  • One child is the leprechaun, who sits in the middle of the circle with eyes closed.
  • One of the children in the circle hides the shamrock behind his/her back. It’s suggested to have an adult distribute the shamrock so everyone gets a turn.
  • Circle children say: “Leprechaun, Leprechaun! Where’s your shamrock?  Somebody has it in their pocket!  Guess who?  Maybe you?  Maybe a monkey from the zoo!  Come on, Leprechaun, find your shamrock.”.
  • Leprechaun opens eyes and has 3 guesses as to who has the shamrock.
  • Child with the shamrock becomes the next leprechaun.

A St. Patrick’s Day gathering could also include a healthy green treat, such as a Mint Patty Shake that will delight the palette of all your guests. Here is a simple recipe:
Ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 cup refrigerated coconut milk
  • 1 pint mint chip ice cream
  • 2 cups packed baby kale

Instructions:
In a blender, combine coconut milk, ice cream, and kale. Cover and blend until smooth. (Makes 2 – 8 oz. servings)
While you are sipping on your green beverage, you could share some St. Patrick Day jokes and riddles:
Q: Where can leprechauns always find gold on St. Patty’s Day?
A: In the dictionary!
Q: Why are leprechauns so concerned about global warming?
A: They’re really into green living.
Here’s a few more theme-related riddles and jokes, just for the fun of it!
At the end of the festive day, you might enjoy reading some special books about St. Patrick’s Day. The site, Fireflies + Mud Pies, has an excellent source of books that will be a delight to story readers and listeners, alike.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

It's Sugarin' Season!

Oak Meadow’s k-8 teacher, Sarah Antel, shared this wonderful article on her thoughts regarding the tapping of maple trees. I hope you enjoy reading her wit and wisdom on the subject of the “Sugarin’ Season”!
It is hard to imagine on a subzero day, but trees will soon be ‘waking up’ as their life-giving sap starts to flow from the roots, where it was stored in the shortening days of autumn, to the leaf buds awaiting to unfurl. One tree in particular in the Mid-West and North Eastern United States and Canada provides more than beautiful scenery.
The Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum, is tapped this time of year so humans can harvest its sap; the liquid will ultimately be boiled into maple syrup or maple sugar. The Sugar Maple is tapped because its sap has the highest sugar content relative to other tree species (2%-3%). North America is the primary producer of maple syrup.  The weather is ideal for this sap flow; the nights are below freezing so sap stops flowing, and the spring days are warm and often sunny, which encourages sap flow. A weather pattern such as this prevents the tree from turning sugars to starch. Once the nights are above freezing, and the days warm into the 50s, the sap will turn and is no longer ideal for making high quality maple syrup.

1-sugar shack
Photo Credit: Sarah Antel

The modern maple sugaring industry has made sugaring an efficient and scientifically driven business. However, many of the tools used now still have distant roots in their ancestry. The Native Americans were the first people to make maple syrup. There are many stories of how this wonderful tradition was discovered. One story tells of how a warrior sunk his tomahawk into a tree trunk and water flowed out; his wife then boiled meat in the water and it made syrup. Another legend tells of a Native American finding a sweet icicle formed from the liquid of a broken maple branch.
Photo Credit: Michelle Menegaz

Native Americans’ methods of making syrup were rather ingenious. Some tribes collected the sap in birch bark baskets or hollowed out logs. They allowed the liquid to freeze overnight, then they removed the layer of ice as the sugar did not freeze. Several nights of freezing and removing the ice left them with a much sweeter liquid as the sugar content became higher. Another method, which may have been paired with the ice removal, involved adding hot rocks to the sap; this would cause the sap to boil and the water to evaporate. The sugar again became concentrated and the liquid thicker.
1-home sugarin' grandpa
Photo Credit: Sarah Antel

Today, no matter a person’s level of technology, the methods of making maple syrup remain essentially unchanged. If you live in a part of the world where the weather allows for maple sugaring, you can make your own syrup with just a few buckets to collect sap in. If you do not live in a maple producing region, you can still include this rich lesson in your curriculum. Sugaring has so many cross curricular connections; one can explore density, history, measurement, botany, nutrition, geography, etc. The list goes on!
Whatever you choose to do with the information, enjoy sugaring season where ever you are, and the next time you put maple syrup on your pancakes, you will know a bit more about where your food came from.

Fostering Self-Esteem

“Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry.” 
― Alvin Price
For many students, the first semester is finished and the second semester begins the advancement towards the end of another school year. For parents and home teachers, this is a perfect time to look at ourselves and our behavior. We might ask ourselves: How can we resolve to be a better person, parent and home teacher? As homeschooling parents and the primary influence of our children’s lives, it is especially important for us to foster good self-esteem. Bonnie Williams, co-founder of Oak Meadow, shared some thoughts on the appropriate way to do this in her archived article, “The Opportunity of Children”.
As homeschooling parents, we are in the position of primary influence upon our children’s lives. We can therefore insure their self-esteem is not damaged in childhood. In turn, we can feel confident that our children will grow to be happy, contributing members of society. Good self-esteem leads to responsible behavior.
We learn to love and accept ourselves when we are loved and accepted by those closest to us. Children who must compete with their peers and sit in a classroom of 30 children every day very often do not learn to love and accept themselves, but rather learn to judge themselves harshly. This in turn can lead to crime, anti-social behavior, obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, anxiety, and disordered thinking. When we are starved physically or emotionally, we do desperate things. Most children (and adults!) have a tendency to look for external factors to resolve their desperation. Drugs, food and other abuses arise out of this internal experience of emotional malnourishment. In addition, a child with low self-esteem often hides this lack of self-confidence behind a mask of bossy and aggressive behavior.

Photo Credit: Alice Potchen

We can see, from the effects noted above, the absolute necessity to protect our children’s self-esteem. I would like to suggest two things that we, as homeschooling parents, can do to help our children maintain good self-esteem:

  • Teach age-appropriate material in a manner suited to the individual learning style of the child. If your child is not yet ready to read, don’t panic and try to drill him or her. This will only cause your child to feel like a failure. Trust in your child’s innate intelligence and curiosity, and know that he will read when the time is right for him. The same is true for math. Some children take longer than others, but as adults, nobody will ever ask them how old they were when they learned fractions! In addition, if the material that you are presenting does not seem interesting to your child, try presenting it in another manner. Many, many children learn best through doing rather than reading.
  • When we find a quality in a child that we are unable to accept, it’s important to ask ourselves why this quality disturbs us so much. Is it a quality within ourselves that we don’t accept? For example, a child may be hyperactive and drive us crazy. If we were able to focus patiently with that child, would he find it easier to focus? Is it our own inability to focus comfortably that makes us so impatient with our child? When we criticize him, are we really chastising ourselves? Perhaps the child is unable to express his feelings positively and bursts into expression through temper tantrums. We have to look to see how well we express our own feelings, then ask ourselves if we encourage the child to express his. If we don’t express our own feelings positively, then we set an example for him that ultimately drives us crazy.

Not only are we in the position of being able to foster good self-esteem in our children, but we are also able to recover ourselves in adulthood. As our children push our emotional buttons – and they always will – we cannot send them off to school for a respite every day. We must live with our children 24 hours a day. Therefore, it is a little more compelling to find ways to resolve some of these personality conflicts that exist between ourselves and our children. This is “recovery of ourselves in adulthood”. We must take this opportunity to discover more about ourselves and the state of our own self-esteem. Do we love and accept ourselves, are we free to love and accept our children, or are we still reacting to the way in which we were parented? Is it time for us to make new decisions about how we want to parent? These new decisions will flow forth as we become aware of our old reactionary patterns that are no longer appropriate. Each of us deserves the opportunity to create our family unit as a work of art, adding colors of our choice and not somebody else’s!

A Seed of Love

A seed of love, when planted in the tiniest of hearts,  can grow to lead a life to that which happiness imparts. – Unknown 

It is important to recognize that one of the major tasks for a home teacher is to create an atmosphere in which real learning can occur. Such an atmosphere exists where the children are nurtured and supported to explore their own personal interests, as well as the world around them. As we are all well aware, this best happens where there is a warm, loving relationship between the child and the parent. 
Sharing love is like sharing a treasure. Whether it be through expressing warm thoughts towards one another, opening up and sharing feelings with each other, or just spending some pleasant moments together, it is the essence of the learning process. In a loving relationship, we also discover that communication becomes greatly enhanced. When communication comes from the heart, be it verbal or nonverbal, it allows the opportunity to better understand and accept the thoughts, ideas and actions that are shared with each other. This form of communication may come through a special hug, a quiet conversation, a wonder-filled nature walk, or even in the sharing of a favorite art exercise or baking activity. Whatever the form may be, grabbing these wonderful opportunities will truly aid in deepening the bond in our relationships. 

Photo Credit: Crawford Family

When we are sharing these treasured times together with our children, we are spending true quality time with them. Quality time certainly does not mean planning a special activity at a particular time, but rather means experiencing quality moments that are unscheduled and spontaneous. All of us, as parents, have had our children rush to us with enthusiasm and bright faces saying, “Come quickly! I have to show you something!” How do we respond to our children’s excitement? Do we reply, “In just a minute.” Or do we say, “Later, I’m really busy right now.” Or do we not even hear them because we are so absorbed into our own work? If we could just keep in mind that, when we give our complete attention to these unexpected and unplanned moments, we are also acknowledging how important they are and how wonderful it is to be a part of the joy in their lives. If for some reason, you can’t drop everything and attend to your child’s request at that very moment, you can still express your eagerness: “I can’t wait to see it! First, just let me _______ (finish making your sandwich, hang up the phone, take the sleeping baby to bed, etc.) and then I’ll come right away.” Of course, then you have to do that, as quickly as possible.
I once asked my sweet little seven year old friend, Anna, “What do you think of when you think of love?” She replied without any hesitation, “My family.” This immediate response would be the same answer for most children. Family plays a very integral part of life for the child, which is certainly another valid reason why family-centered education will flourish most in a healthy, happy environment.
As your family ventures through homeschooling, please remember to keep in your heart that when you clear time and space to focus completely on your child’s lessons, when you teach the lessons with personal interest and enjoyment, and when you introduce the new material with sensitivity towards your child’s skill level, you are sharing love that will provide not only a sense of fulfillment for your child, but will also give you great satisfaction for your own teaching endeavors.

Winter, Contraction and Frustration

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them. For such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere, except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity, and love.” ~ Thomas Merton

For those who live in the northern hemisphere, the months of January and February bring us to a midpoint of the winter season. We find ourselves experiencing drastic changes in weather, along with different forms of personal attention and focus. It is a time of contraction, in which we turn inwardly and reflect within. Often times, this season can also initiate a sense of tiredness and discouragement. Even our children’s attitudes can begin to disintegrate, and the enthusiasm during the first few months of school starts to wear off.

Lawrence WilliamsSince 1986, I have had the great honor and privilege to know and work with Oak Meadow’s co-founder, Lawrence Williams. Over the years, I have developed an amazing respect for his boundless wisdom and timeless energy in providing a quality education for homeschool families. I have also collected a plethora of articles written by Lawrence. So, “from the archives”, I have the pleasure of offering his timely article on:

Winter, Contraction and Frustration

Now that we are in a new year, and in the midst of winter, let’s stop for a moment to consider what effect this is having upon our children, the learning process, and us.

The learning process has two phases: expansion and contraction. These same phases are also apparent in the seasons of the year. The season in which we are presently immersed, winter, is the season when the forces of contraction are prevailing.

The predominant effect of the contractive phase is the feeling of being closed in, and the feeling that nothing is moving. In terms of the learning process, we often feel that our children are not making any progress, and we begin to doubt our effectiveness as teachers. Of course, this closed in feeling is much more apparent in the extreme northern latitudes, where the temperature is much colder, and snow covers the ground for most of the year. However, even if we are living further south, we still experience this sensation, although its effect is modified somewhat, and it tends to become a more subtle inner experience, rather than an outer obstacle.

Another effect, which is most fascinating, is that during the contractive phase, things do not appear as they really are. The same thing is occurring in nature. If we didn’t know any better, and just arrived on this planet without an instruction manual (a familiar feeling?), we would look at the barren trees and the frozen ground and would suspect that everything was dead, with no chance of revival. However, since we’ve lived through many winters, we know that things are not as they appear. Underneath the surface of the earth wonderful things are happening and in a few months life will spring forth again, and everything will be green and growing profusely.

So the most important thing to remember while teaching children in the midst of the contraction of winter is that, while it looks as if nothing is happening, it is only because everything is happening under the surface. However bleak it may look, however hopeless your children’s progress may seem, however many times you feel as if you are totally frustrated, just remember that it is not really that way. Within your children, just as within nature, marvelous things are happening at this moment, and in a few months the growth that is occurring will become apparent, as we move into the phase of expansion, when all things become visible.

The best way to handle the contractive phase is to accept it as an opportunity, not an obstacle. There are many ideal learning experiences available at this time of year. Take advantage of them. Don’t stay indoors, trying to complete academic work with everyone irritable. Go outdoors and look for animal tracks in the snow. Even if you are living in a more temperate climate, and there is no snow, watch for the events that happen in nature only at this time of the year, such as various animal migrations. By cooperating gracefully and joyfully with the opportunities available within this cycle, you will be teaching your children one of the most valuable lessons in life: how to find opportunities within apparent limitations.

In Lawrence William’s book, The Heart of Learning, Chapter 7 offers additional information on “Rhythm and Learning: Expansion and Contraction”. If you haven’t read this chapter recently, it might be a good time to add it to your reading list.

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