Friday, February 26, 2010

What do "Shutter Island" and non violent communication have in common?

My husband (my best buddy) and I went out to see Shutter Island last night. Oh my gosh it was shocking. I was not up for it. But very well done. If you love superbly fine actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ben Kingsley, and you crave the psychological thrill of Alfred Hitchcock, the cinematography of Stanley Kubric, and the drama of Martin Scorsese, then this is for you.

Ben Kingsley, always amazing, played a sinister-looking yet surprisingly humanitarian head psychologist in a cutting edge psychological institute for criminally insane people.

And this brings me to why I would be writing about a movie on this blog: I was surprised to find that his character was an advocate for something resembling non violent communication! He said in one place in the movie (to paraphrase) 'All these people need is someone to listen to them. They just need to be heard. And through being heard, they will hopefully arrive at a place of taking responsibility for their actions. They will do away with the blame. And thus they can live life fully, here, and in the now. In the present. In reality.'

And if you haven't heard of non violent communication, then maybe you've heard of The Four Agreements. It is basically just another way to express non violent communication. There are many ways to describe that way of being in the world.
At Riviera PlaySchool, we have all of our teachers read "The Four Agreements" to read, and we let them know that this is how we want to operate within our community. We also send them downtown (Los Angeles) to train with Ruth Beaglehole at the Center for Non Violent Education and Parenting.

If we could all just try to come from that place, then the world would instantly shift to a much more peaceful and welcoming place to be.

Riviera PlaySchool (Redondo Beach, CA)
A Mindful program for the 'Whole Child,' inspired by the best of Attachment Parenting, Bev Bos, Montessori, Waldorf and Non-Violent Communication.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Allowing Magic to Happen....

I like to make opportunities to allow for magic in my teaching, by providing lots of parts of things for the children: tape, boxes, spools, pipe cleaners, twine, wire, glue-paint, glitter, scissors, tongue depressors, yarn, pom poms, cardboard tubes, corrugated cardboard, glue guns for attaching heavy parts (when building spaceships, for example) ribbon, string, fabric...

And we then let the kids lead us, and devise their own creations. Magic can happen in any environment if you have a few elements:

- freedom to explore
- power; permission to create
- space to create in

(I think this is also the definition of how invention happens!!)

I think that an environment that provided children with these elements is best suited for every child. Any person feels good in such an empowering environment.
We had a big box today at my preschool. The children first painted it, then another group made it into a car, and then it became a clubhouse....
The best "toys" are the ones that are open-ended and undefined.
We like to have plenty of "parts" around. Parts that one can create a fantasy from...

Riviera PlaySchool
A Mindful program for the 'Whole Child,' inspired by the best of Attachment Parenting, Bev Bos, Montessori, Waldorf and Non-Violent Communication.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

REM sleep and Deep Play....

There seems to be a parallel between "deep play" and REM sleep. There is something psychologically refreshing about both, and somehow a sameness... Something connected there. As if you somehow reap the benefits of REM sleep when you are engaging in deep play.

Now how to provide ourselves and our children with more of both!

Riviera PlaySchool
A Mindful program for the 'Whole Child,' inspired by the best of Attachment Parenting, Bev Bos, Montessori, Waldorf and Non-Violent Communication.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Academic Standards, and "Success"

It is so hard, as a parent, not to be seduced by the thrill of having our child "succeed." And what exactly defines "success?" In early childhood, we often judge success on how much a child knows. This leads many parents to put their children into "academic" programs that focus on abstract knowledge, rather than experiential, play-based programs. Is this drive for children to know lots of things, and to perform their knowledge, for the benefit of the children, or their parents, or the result of a misinformed society creating academic standards that are not developmentally appropriate?

These programs have a child ready (academically) for today's' highly academic kindergartens by the time they are 5! So the bigger quest here is how to get parents to relax, and understand that development takes time; and that time is dictated only by the clock within their child. And there is no judgment on this. Some kids are ready to read at 4, and some are ready at 8. It doesn't mean that either is better. They will all read finally, by third grade. Today's kids are not failing the academic standards -- the academic standards are failing our kids! Everyone has their own timetable. If we honor it, then they can bloom.

I read somewhere that Einstein didn't speak until he was 5. If he had been born in this decade, he would be facing evaluation by psychiatrists, and probably drug therapy for his potential autism or other neurological problem... and then what would the world lose?

A child is ready to learn when s/he is ready to learn. I read somewhere else that any academic advantage a child has in kindergarten is short-lived, and outgrown by the time they are in 4th grade. This means that if you take their 3rd and 4th years, and spend them drilling on alphabet and counting, you have simply wasted their time. These children might know how to spell apple, but do they know that an apple is crisp, and cool, and sweet, and white in the inside, red on the outside? They might know that one plus one is two, but do they know that "one" weighs less than "two"?

It also reminds me of the new "your baby can read" fad. What is the sense of this? It reminds me of something I did, when I first met my husband. He is a native Farsi speaker, which is written in the Arabic alphabet. I wanted to show him that I could read it, so I memorized the alphabet in one night. Not a big deal, really, since there are only 26 or so symbols to remember. In the morning I demonstrated my new ability to read Farsi by reading the title of the Persian newspaper. My husband said "very good. impressive. Now tell me what it means."

The same goes for these little guys who are drilled to learn abstract facts and codes. They can definitely do it -- that is not even in question. Their minds are supple sponges, ready to soak up anything within reach. But when we give them things to learn that are driven by our agenda, is that to their benefit, or ours? Are we allowing them to develop their gifts? Are we even allowing them to develop naturally?

And this pressure we feel to keep our child moving in rhythm with the rest of their society is all governed by "standards." And those standards for children are not developmentally appropriate. Kindergarten is intended as an arena for social and emotional developmental, and first grade a transitional year as our children move from the concrete to the abstract. The system now has foreshortened this in a disastrous way... in fact, many people now refuse to send their child to kindergarten until the age of 6, to avoid the stressful experience their child may encounter in today's academic and achievement-oriented kindergartens.

In setting guideline for appropriate standards for young people, most challenges arise because the people in charge lack an understanding of developmental milestones and stages. It is pervasive, throughout our society, and trickles down to the parents' level. The stigma of having a child who is "slow" is a hard one to bear. And if your child doesn't measure up according to academic standards, then he the implication is that he is a little inferior than the rest of the "normal" population. Ouch! It's hard not to take that one personally. This is your crown jewel, your little prince, the apple of your eye. A chip off the old block. And you have just been informed that he is not quite good enough. (And what does that say about you...?) And the funny thing is that there is really no "not measuring up" at all! If we all understood ages and stages, then most of these judgments about our children would not be made at all!

Just because our society has advanced into the computer age does not mean that children do not still need to develop from the ground, up. We need to allow children the opportunity to experience the REAL world before they advance into the abstract. We need to let them pick and eat and hold an apple, before we expect them to recognize that a black line drawing represents one.

But the bigger challenge, as educators and child advocates, is how to express this to parents, caretakers, and other educators in a way that they will embrace. How to express this without being judgmental and therefore turning them off completely to what we have to say (and therefore losing the opportunity to make a positive change in someone's life, and in the world itself.)

Riviera PlaySchool
A Mindful program for the 'Whole Child,' inspired by the best of Attachment Parenting, Bev Bos, Montessori, Waldorf and Non-Violent Communication.

Lots of Love,
Linda Shannon

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A good explanation for why we don't force sharing....

THE DAILY GROOVE ~ by Scott Noelle

:: Goodness Is Inspired, Not Required ::

Situation 1:
You ask your friend what she wants for a birthday
gift, and she says, "I would treasure *any* gift
from you!"

Wouldn't you feel inspired to give her something
very special?

Situation 2:
Another friend says, "I hope you're getting me
something *good* for my birthday... I just *hate*
tacky gifts!"

Wouldn't you feel like giving this friend a pile
of fake dog poop?! :-)

The point is that you feel most inspired to please
others when you don't feel pressured or coerced --
when you don't "have to."

Children are no different. They love to please others,
especially their parents, so long as their inspiration
to share pleasure isn't confounded by implied threats
of punishment, reward, or withdrawal of approval.

Today, let go of all "required goodness" by affirming
that your child is inherently good, and is *free* to
express that goodness... and free *not* to express it.

Remember that the best way to foster children's
authentic goodness is to let them see how much *you*
enjoy expressing your own goodness.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What do Birds Know that We Don't?

As parents, we often want to save our child from every pain that comes by. We would gladly feel the pain ourselves rather than see our child struggle with it. (And without getting into it too deeply, this is probably because the crying or pain or struggle brings up things within ourselves that are unexamined or unresolved.)

For example, we naturally jiggle a child in our arms and against our hips to distract them from their crying. But what does it accomplish? Are we stopping them from crying for their benefit, or for ours?

Just yesterday I just had a wake-up call about my relationship with my 4 year old son. It began as I held another child for 40 minutes while he cried for no reason apparent to me, or to any of the other teachers. There was nothing obvious to "fix," so I did what I could: I simply held him and allowed him to cry. I didn't try to jiggle him out of it. I didn't try to joke with him, or cheer him up, or even reassure him about some fears I could imagine he might be having. I had absolutely no idea why he was crying, so I just let him cry. While he was crying, I periodically checked in with him: "Would you like to call your Mom?"


"Would you like to call your Dad?"


"Is there anything I can do to help you?"

"No. I'm sad. Hold me."

His little frame was filled with incredible resolve. I could feel him confidently conquering some big fears. And he obviously knew that he had the strength to do it on his own.

At one point I looked him in his teary eyes and said matter-of-factly "You're doing great." He nodded, and kept right on crying. During his process he was clearly reaching down inside and pulling out resources he had previously not yet discovered he possessed.

After about 20 minutes more he sobbed his final sob, and looked up. Something had caught his eye brightly enough to propel him out of my lap for some investigation. He quickly immersed himself in a starch and truck "snow" plan for 10 progressively sunny minutes while I sat nearby on the grass and watched invisibly. Suddenly he looked up, and said "Hey Linda, guess what?!"

"What, Joey?"

"I'm not sad anymore!"

His face was bright and triumphant. He had overcome something on his own, and in the process had developed another tool for his emotional tool chest... he had gained a skill that will carry him through life and allow him to stand on his own feet!

It hurts us so deeply to see our child in pain, in hardship. And it hurts our child even more when we shield him from that pain. It prevents him from filling his emotional toolchest!

Birds know this too: They must peck their way out of their own shell in order to survive in the world. In the process of pecking their way out, their cardiovascular system develops and strengthens enough to allow them to live outside of the shell that protected them pre-birth. And if they are helped out of the shell; if their mother were to remove some of the shell for them, they would not be capable of surviving outside of it.

It is all unfolding perfectly, and our children are more capable for having faced their own difficulties, with us standing by them, and allowing them to have their own process, and their own feelings and emotions.

Yes, yesterday was YET another wake up call for me, and it hurts a little. I have many children in my care, but my own son is 4 and a half. I know that I have not allowed him to cry in the way I allowed my little friend to cry yesterday. Sometimes I was too triggered by the crying, sometimes too tired, and other times too preoccupied to really hold him and let him cry at length. Maybe part of it was him: he doesn't seem to like to be held when he cries. But for whatever reason, I know I have not always been as present with my son as I was with Joey yesterday. And I am so glad that I am able to wake up now, before it is "too late."

Here's to Being Awake!

Lots of Love,
Linda Shannon
Riviera PlaySchool, a Redondo Beach preschool for attachment parents