Monday, June 28, 2010

Wooden Boat School

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

~ Mark Twain

What I look forward to the most in the Summer is to be a student. There is nothing quite like just sitting back and having your only responsibility be TO LEARN.

This year I was fortunate enough to start my vacation with a week long course in Seamanship at the Wooden Boat School, in Maine. The United States is a very beautiful country, I have to say. And that school, in Brooklin, Maine is a very special place. It is situated in the middle of acres of wild Maine land, complete with a lake, gorgeous waterfront, and bears.

Students of all ages and walks of life congregate to either build wooden boats or sail them, and everyone is happy. My teachers, Jane Ahlfeld and Jenny Bennet gave lectures in the morning and then stood back or gently guided us in the craft of sailing, much like Montessori directresses... observing and tailoring lessons to individual skill level and interest.

The school, in general, follows many of the principles that I love about Montessori:

- Hands on education
- Learning at one's own pace
- Excellent guidance, but you have to do the work yourself
- Trust in humans (lots of things are done in the old fashioned, honor system way)

I learned a lot, sailed a lot, made new friends, and loved every minute of it.

"Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place, not for another hour but this hour."

--Walt Whitman

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Be good, be happy.

There is simple kind of wisdom...

A six year old at school today dispensed the same wisdom (among other things) that my friend Dan, who is many years my senior, dispenses to me in his letters when he writes:

"Be good, be happy."

These are some of the notes she shared with friends on her last day of school... They are a gift. She shared them with friends. I share them with you.

Be good, be happy.


"This year you are going to be one of the oldest. Be just like me."

"You are the second youngest friend. Behave well."

"This year you are going to be an older friend. Be good."

Let it go.

Today was our last day of the year at school. It tends to be a day of a lot of emotion for me, and this morning I tried to prepare myself by reminding myself to breath and remain aware.

It is another cycle that closes. Our second year together at our school.

A big part of today was about letting things go...
letting go of the children that are moving on,
letting go of all that went undone this year,
letting go of the plans,
letting go of the mistakes,
letting go of the successes too,
all of it, go.

(This way we make space for the coming year.)

Like e.e. cummings:

"let all go

so comes love."

Monday, June 14, 2010

"If you're not learning, then you must not be teaching very well."

John Francis

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Peaceful Classroom

"There cannot be peace just because we want peace:"there SHOULD be peace because I am agitating for it". This does not happen. We cannot agitate for peace. When we become agitated we lose our peacefulness. Let there be no agitation. Purify your mind. Then every action you take will add peace to the universe.

Work for your own peace, and you will find that you have started helping the atmosphere around you to become more peaceful."

S.N Goenka "Meditation Now"

Saturday, June 5, 2010

About Praise

At school, I've been trying to keep to the rule of thumb: avoid all forms of rewards and punishments. (Alfie Kohn's book on the subject is all one needs to read to be convinced of their ineffectiveness.) While this is pretty straightforward in terms of not having sticker charts, grades, time out corners, and other typical classroom methods of control, I find it trickier when it comes to praise. It can be hard to find the right words when confronted with a beaming child!

For me, the bottom line with praise is that there is a right and wrong way to do it.

I find the arguments against using praise convincing:

-It is ultimately a form of "sugar coated" manipulation
-Children can become dependent on it
-It messes with children's motivations
-It can often belittle a child's success or joy (it can be kind of patronizing)
-It can create a pressure to "perform"
-It can rob a child of their sense of accomplishment
-Often it's just a habitual reaction instead of a genuninely thought-felt comment

(If you're not convinced by my bullet points, here's a great little article with more details about why a certain kind of praise is not the best way to acknowledge a child's achievement.)

At our Conscious Discipline meeting today, we touched on the subject of verbal encouragement. I liked the way our teacher, Helen Guda, spoke about the messages we convey when we praise and her suggestions on how to offer praise consciously.

- You can simply describe what the child did. ex: "You finished the addition tables!"

-Connect what the child did with the feelings of joy and satisfaction they got from their accomplishment. ex: "I can see you are feeling so proud about learning how to play that song on the xylophone."

-Describe what you see. "You put on your shoes all by yourself and you look very happy."

-Notice the effort and progress of the child. ex: "The last time you tried, you walked around half of the line before the water spilled. This time you made it all the way around."

-Notice the contributions that children bring to the group. ex: "You washed the snack table and now everyone will get to eat snack on a clean table."

-Consider if it's really necessary to say ANYTHING AT ALL. Sometimes just a smile is enough recognition.