Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nature's Pull...

This past winter, I went out into the snow. Leaving the warmth of my family and home behind. To lay at the feet of the towering pines. The cold embracing me, the stillness quieting me. Later I found myself, arms wrapped about the tree, head pressed against its bark. Listening for the tree's heartbeat, having been told they have them. I heard instead only the beating of my heart reminding me of my life. The life of my family calling to me from the open door of the house, beckoning me back inside to join the fray.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Out of the Fog

"I write and write and write and find joy in it. A connection to myself. To others. A place of strength not known. Where I let fear go and press forward. Embracing those things important to me while looking for and supporting those things important to the rest of those I care about. This is where I am- giving to others and giving to myself. Slowly, hesitantly, walking down my path but seeing the light shine brighter as I go. Being only what I can be- doing what I need. I find the connection with others and love for others and they me coaxing me forward- embracing me on my journey toward home. The sun is rising as I set out. Come with me and enjoy what is in store."

I wrote the above last night during a workshop on Jungian archetypes. Amazed at how apt it was for where I currently am in my life. Perched between being a full-time mother and the haze that can sometimes accompany that place and the clarity that comes from finding one's life work.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Unfolding, Opening Yourself to the Journey

The two pictures in my blog post today were taken about a week apart. A week during which time I spun my wheels and rushed about, trying to force things in my life that couldn't and shouldn't be forced, ending up dissatisfied at the lack of results. Meanwhile, if you look closely at the buds on the branches in the two pictures in this post, you will see that nature has been quite productive during this past week. Slowly letting things unfold and open up, a dance of life playing out just outside my back door.
This dancing of nature acts as a heartbeat of sorts, keeping time for us and operating according to a rhythm that our bodies naturally pick up as winter moves to spring. As the the browns and grays of winter fade, and the green of spring unfolds we find ourselves shedding our warm winter coats and opting for lighter weight clothing without giving it much thought. Physically, we appear to be in tune with nature, our bodies walking in step with it.

Our minds are a different story. We (or at least I) try and obtain things for myself before the world is ready to relinquish them to me. I may think I am ready for a new phase in my life but roadblocks stand in my way. There are lessons I must learn first and I must journey and solve the many puzzles of my life, some frustrating and others rewarding. This preparation is an unfolding of the bud of my soul. An opening up, of allowing things in my life to happen as they should.

I need to pay better attention to the needs of my soul and less to the cry of my mind. Let the ancient wisdom of my inner world guide me through meditation and dream work . Let the spring buds on the trees outside my window serve as a visual reminder to slow down and be present and that life will unfold for me, allowing me to find my place in the world.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Week of Natural Learning.

What does Natural Learning look like? How is it different for young people than a week spent at school? The biggest difference is that there are no divisions between time spent learning and time spent having fun, no jumping for joy at the end of the school day on a Friday with dreams of uninterrupted fun all weekend. No dread on Sunday night as homework for the week ahead is rushed through and completed. Instead, life unfolds and learning unfolds. I am sure you have heard of the quote "live, laugh, love". All things we willingly pursue in life which enhance our being in this world. Well, as a Natural Learner, you would insert the word "learn" into that quote as well, and go after learning with the same enthusiasm as loving or living. It would simply be a part of you, an extension of yourself. Not something a teacher would give to you, but something you would give to yourself. "Live, laugh, love, learn".

In my post yesterday, I talked of how my son pursued his recent interest in physics by talking to a retired physics professor who told him about an online video class in physics at MIT. I then went on to talk of how my son is learning by leaps and bounds in his pursuit of knowledge in a Natural Learning environment. Maybe talking like that left you with the impression that my son is socially isolated from his peers and that he spends his days alone. That isn't the case at all so let me write a bit about how my son spends his week so that you can come to see how Natural Learning works and if it is something you would like to offer a young person in your life.

My son starts every Tuesday through Thursday morning rising at 7am then coming downstairs to spend time having a breakfast of pancakes or eggs, playing with the dog, watching the Today show, showering and talking to me until 9am during which time we leave the house for his educational center. Ryan then spends the next 5-7 hours being exposed to a myriad of activities in a free and experiential way with a close knit group of 2o of his peers. Just this week alone, this group of young people began preparations for a garden, did fund raising and planning for an end of the year trip they will be taking, gave presentations to one another on research projects of their choosing, and other such activities. Tuesdays are filled with math and science topics, Thursdays with language arts related activities and Wednesdays are free choice days where the young people choose between three offerings every 6 weeks.

Friday through Monday Ryan finds himself still up early each morning and is free to use his time to further explore things he has been exposed to while at his educational center or to pursue interests he discovers on his own. Ryan likes to use this time to read books of his choosing, do research on the internet, tackle algebra, do video game design, go rock climbing, take hikes, play with the dog, help out at his educational center as they prepare for a weekend event or talk to me etc...He is also just as likely to plan time with friends to go into the city by train, attend a local event, hang out at someone's house, or have them over here. Time spent at church with his peers and also community events at his educational center rounds out his week.

Because Ryan is learning in a natural way, he finds the pursuit of knowledge fun and thus is constantly going after what interests him. There never is a line between work and play, it all just blends. There never is any downtime either and I find Ryan constantly wanting for more. Asking me if we can do math one day or help him with a research paper the next. He is hungry for it all and seems to have a thirst that I can't seem to quench no matter how many resources I throw at him. It is exciting to see and I constantly wonder where all of this will someday take him. A far cry from a year ago when he was ensconced in a public school classroom hating how learning was being forced upon him. The freedom to choose is allowing for him to burst forth rather than be held back in his learning. Making the quote "live, laugh, love, learn" his own.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Total Freedom in Learning= Exponential Growth in Knowledge

I attended a talk by Daniel Pink, the author of "A Whole New Mind" this evening at a school near my home. The biggest take away from his talk for me was when he mentioned how artists that are allowed to create paintings without any constructs turn out a higher quality of work than those creating art for a specific purpose or for someone else. Daniel's example made me think of our schools and that if we could apply the same principle shown above regarding artists to our students, by essentially allowing for more freedom in our schools, then maybe we would turn out better students. Students filled with passion and creativity and ready to move toward solving some of the problems facing the world.

Daniel talked tonight about how the policy makers in education need to get out of the way and allow teachers to run the schools, but I don't think that is the answer either. I believe teachers would feel the need to teach, to fill students with curriculums of their choosing when actually the reverse is needed. Students should be given the opportunity to fill themselves with knowledge based on their own self directed interests. I would like to see a complete switch take place in education where teachers provide the answers if and when students come looking for them. It would be a teacher's job then to create the desire and passion to learn and subsequently guide their student's interests.

An example of this sort of educational model can be found in the homeschooling arena where many children and teens are given freedom to pursue their interests, some with a higher degree of freedom than others. It has been my experience as a homeschooler, that the more freedom I offer my son Ryan, the more passionate and creative he becomes. In fact, now at age 14, after learning in a free environment for almost 5 years, I am finding the number of interests my son is pursuing with enthusiasm to be exploding. It seems almost daily, Ryan comes to me with a new idea of something we wants to learn or study further.

Just last week he told me he wants to learn more about astronomy, physics, JFK, and the Cold War, many of these interests sparked by exposure to these topics at the alternative educational center he attends. I told Ryan that he would have to go it alone in the physics field because I had flunked physics in high school. I explained I would be more than happy to provide resources in which to pursue physics but I wouldn't be able to "teach" it to him. I also went on to say that many colleges expect their students to know how to pursue knowledge and that many recent high school graduates come out of school lacking in that skill, having been told for years what to learn and how to learn it.

Imagine my surprise then when we were at the climbing gym on Sunday and met a retired University of Pennsylvania physics professor who told Ryan about how he could take a Intro to Physics class online with MIT through a program called Open Course Ware. He wouldn't get credit for the course, but would get fantastic exposure. Ryan, without my knowledge, went onto the site one morning when I was out and watched the first video of the class, taking notes and excitedly telling me what he had learned when I returned home.

This same sort of example happens over and over at my house and the incidence of this happening is growing exponentially, so much in fact, that much of Ryan's time is spent in the pursuit of knowledge, with little regard to time of day or day of the week. I am just as apt to find Ryan researching something on a Sunday as on a so called "school day". Because Ryan's learning is self-motivated or directed, it is a better quality of learning. Learning he is passionate about and will remember far longer than the typical student who forgets what his teacher taught him after being tested on the material.

So my idea of educational reform would be to throw out most of what we currently do in schools and start anew. Offer freedom in learning to students and have multiple age classrooms so young people can learn from one another. Have teachers become facilitators and guides who stoke the passions of students by introducing a variety of topics to young people in an experiential hands on way. But most of all, give students the time to discover what most interests them and allow them to pursue it. Like the artists stroking a paintbrush against the canvas, creating what they see in their minds eye.

Below is a link to an excellent article written by Daniel Pink regarding his thoughts on education in this country which I discovered after I wrote my above post. We have very similar thoughts on how education needs to change in this country but he goes into more depth and supports his statements with many examples.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Nature Fools on April Fool's...

Heavy, big snowflakes are drifting down from the sky outside my window. Cloaking the ground all around on this, the first day of April. Typically a day to fool an unsuspecting person, but on this day, there is no joke, winter has returned!

Why is it that the first snowfall of the season brings on joy and the last snowfall is something to be endured? The first snowfall is a sign of many dark days and cold weather ahead and really should be more feared than the last snowfall of the year. One which can be enjoyed for its sheer beauty with the promise of warmer days just around the corner.

With these thoughts in mind, I am going to embrace the flakes of winter, get out the sled one last time, and fly down the hill behind my house.