Archive for the ‘school’ Category

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Summer 1977: Can a Kid Survive?

June 14, 2016

The first few days of summer are the best. So good, in fact, that some parents take a day or two off so they might revel in the well-remembered feeling. No more school. No more tests. No more teachers. No more social pressures. No more responsibility. Kids sleep in, hang out in pajamas, and make pancakes. It’s great. Until about the third day.

Summer can become a parent’s nightmare. What if the kids never get out of their pajamas? What if they become zombies? What if they hook themselves to screens with an I-V, and their brains shrivel into peanut-sized capsules?

For today’s parents, the pressure to create a summer experience is on. A child’s summer must be filled with brain-building, developmentally appropriate, and organically filled activities. Life becomes complicated with carpools and play dates and field trips, and before June is over, parents cry for a schedule that does not involve cleaning a kitchen that’s cluttered with bags of chips and boxes of Cheerios. No wonder day camps and summer classes have exploded in popularity.

Call me crazy but how about throwing a TBT day? Throw Back Thursdays to 1977, or for those brave enough, participating in a full week of TBT time travel?

Here’s what it might look like.

Breakfast? Forget about whole-wheat, flax-seed filled pancakes with pure maple syrup and fresh berries. Kids get Applejacks and a sliced orange. In 1977, kids didn’t hang out in pajamas all day so they must get dressed and make their beds. What’s next? That’s their problem, not yours, but here’s an idea: open the door and send them outside. If they’re young, a parent can give them a pail and point to a pile of dirt. There’s no need to sit in the sandbox and create castles by using sophisticated engineering techniques listed in Parenting Magazine. This is 1977. Kids figure it out.

Fancy field trips? Nope. Indoor skydiving and zip-lining adventures have not yet been invented, but there is the library. It might be air-conditioned. Swimming is a crowd pleaser but remember—parents don’t go. Not only is there a lifeguard to watch them flip into cannonballs, but parents didn’t drive their kids places in 1977. During a TBT day, kids ride their bikes to the pool or walk with a group of friends—it gives them time to dry off on the way home.

No pool? Use the hose. Sprinklers are fair game, but there aren’t any fancy slick and slides or super-soakers. Other alternatives? Kids can build forts, which might take all day. Jars of paint and some rocks offer the opportunity for kids to become Picassos. Manic monopoly will likely become a parent’s new best friend—the game can take hours, even days. And when all else fails, a simple deck of cards will do. Even alone, a kid can play solitaire, figure out magic tricks, and build card houses (psssst: engineering skills). In 1977, games rule, especially while drinking red pop and eating marathon bars (the chocolate and caramel kind, not the protein and chia seed kind).

Lunch? Whole Foods did not exist in the disco decade so forget about quick trips for sushi or steamed Korean buns. Stop at McDonalds or ask the kids to make their own sandwiches; peanut butter and jelly or marshmallow fluff, but they could invent something new—like fried bologna and egg with ketchup. Long afternoons? Naps are good. Books are better. Uber-active kids get sent back outside where they invent their own projects. Maybe they’ll build a boat made from milk cartons. Who knows? They’ll figure it out.

Remember, technology is banned during 1977 week. It wasn’t invented. TV screen-time is limited unless there’s a new episode of the Brady Brunch. Game of Thrones and How I met Your Mother did not exist. There were no clickers back then, either. If kids do watch TV, they must get up, walk across the room, and physically flip through channels—all four of them. CBS, ABC, NBC, and PBS were the only stations that existed. Also, television went static in the middle of night.

After dinner (hot dogs, Kool-Aid, Jell-O salad, baked beans, and grape popsicles), kids may find a few neighborhood kids and play flashlight tag, but if they’ve played long and hard enough, they might just collapse and fall asleep.

And voila. Like that, a day is done, and you’ve survived 1977. Good luck the rest of the summer.

 

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Tis the Season to Test

March 1, 2016

Sharpen your #2 pencils. Stop. Never mind. Fill in the bubbles correctly. Stop. Never mind. Write your essay clearly. Stop Never mind. Take the test via the computer. Stop. Never mind. The testing procedure has changed. Again.

Tis’ the season for standardized testing, although it’s easy to lose track of which one is being administered. CSAP? TCAP? CMAS? PARCC? NWEA? ACT or SAT? The amount of money spent to create and choose the best test to maintain accountability is mindboggling. In the end, does testing do any good? Do tests make our kids smarter? do they make students better writers? Do they make our teachers better or our schools more productive? Do tests accurately measure a person’s intellect? What about a student’s physical or emotional well-being: can a test measure health and happiness? Shouldn’t values and integrity go hand in hand with lesson plans, and if so, how does a test cover that? This blog is full of questions—just like a test.

In most American public schools, standardized tests are administered in the spring, giving teachers the ability to teach to the test for most of the school year. But don’t blame the teachers—they get tested, too. In 2001, the Bush administration designed No Child Left Behind, launching the obsession with test success, and although NCLB is no longer in place, testing remains an essential ingredient in public schools.

Should communities continue to support educational systems that measure success by a test score? I don’t think so. Very rarely will an exam measure creativity; or for that matter, passion, perseverance, and responsibility. Tests don’t make kids better writers. They might make them nervous writers, but not better writers. A writer learns to write well by reading widely and practicing often: not once a year on a test.

As a writing instructor at Colorado Mountain College, I will also say this: some of my most successful students are not those who scored perfect SAT scores. They are students who’ve shown drive and determination. They’re students who’ve experienced life and have found ways to make sense of their world, creating their success through effort and true grit.

It is possible for schools to assess progress without a standardized testing system. Many charter schools, private schools, and a few brave and progressive public schools use alternative measures, some of them outside the box and others radically simple. Games and collaborative activities can be used to develop critical thinking. A student who shows up every day for a clarinet lesson or basketball practice will learn something about dedication, effort, and results. Some progressive schools develop student portfolios, measuring progress and knowledge by a body of work, rather than by an exam. A test is not the only measure of success. An environment where students are encouraged to express themselves creatively can result in healthier, less anxious people.

I recently read an article about a teacher in Kentucky who’d ordered a newfangled push-pedal contraption that her kindergartners used under their desks, keeping them physically engaged while working. Really? How about letting kindergartners run around a playground for twenty minutes? During standardized test weeks, many principals and teachers remind parents to feed their students a healthy breakfast and to make sure they get plenty of sleep. Am I missing something, or isn’t it important for kids to eat healthy breakfasts and sleep well all the time? What message do we send by spending so much effort preparing for a test?

Let’s let kids write: write creatively, write for fun, write to practice, write to journey, write to express themselves; but not to be tested.

 

 

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Back to School: What’s Important to Know?

August 17, 2015

Yes, it IS still summer, but students across the country are heading back to school, and although I hate to see big, yellow buses round the corner, a heightened energy resonates with me. It’s a season full of possibility; positive and encouraging.

As teachers begin to set their curriculum, I’ve decided to set my own; as a parent, an educator, and a concerned community member who wants to see our children and our society thrive.

What is important to learn? What goals have we made for our families, our students, and ourselves? In my book, achieving a 100% on a test, winning a race, or landing a lead is fantastic, but not what’s essential or really all that important. So—what is important to know? I’ve created a list.

  • Love: enough said
  • Kindness: it goes a long way
  • Acceptance: of others and oneself
  • Balance: between one’s mind, body, and soul
  • ABC’s- and 123’s: we all need to read and to add
  • Self-sufficiency: learn how to learn on your own
  • Spirituality: find faith
  • Respect: yourself and others
  • Healthy habits: eat well, sleep well, rest well, work well
  • Understanding the world around us: this includes geography, cultural behaviors, religions, politics, and social influences
  • Self-confidence: trust your intuition
  • Nature: spend time outside, it’s life’s best and yet most underutilized teacher
  • Beauty: look for it everywhere—in the slice of an orange, the shape of a cloud
  • Creativity: make time to discover and explore
  • Visualize: dream possibilities
  • Compassion: it also goes a long way
  • Gratitude: enough said

As your kids climb aboard the school bus, keep life in perspective and remember what’s really important.

What’s on your list?