Saturday, April 28, 2012

9 Essential Skills Kids Should Learn

One thing I love about this article is the last point about being to teach kids to adapt to change. I find that to be a survival skill almost in a world that is so fast-paced and continuously changing as the author states. In my own experience, I had to adapt to drastic changes my whole life. First, with my parents divorcing, my mom and I literally moved around our entire lives. I went through numerous schools and  friends. Then when my dad took me to live with him overseas where no one spoke English, and I was away from my mother for years at a time. And various other cases throughout my life....and I am thankful for those moments. I truly believe that we need to change or shake things up abit for our children to learn this essential skill.

9 Essential Skills Kids Should Learn

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Kids in today’s school system are not being prepared well for tomorrow’s world.
As someone who went from the corporate world and then the government world to the ever-changing online world, I know how the world of yesterday is rapidly becoming irrelevant. I was trained in the newspaper industry, where we all believed we would be relevant forever — and I now believe will go the way of the horse and buggy.
Unfortunately, I was educated in a school system that believed the world in which it existed would remain essentially the same, with minor changes in fashion. We were trained with a skill set that was based on what jobs were most in demand in the 1980s, not what might happen in the 2000s.
And that kinda makes sense, given that no one could really know what life would be like 20 years from now. Imagine the 1980s, when personal computers were still fairly young, when faxes were the cutting-edge communication technology, when the Internet as we now know it was only the dream of sci-fi writers like William Gibson.
We had no idea what the world had in store for us.
And here’s the thing: we still don’t. We never do. We have never been good at predicting the future, and so raising and educating our kids as if we have any idea what the future will hold is not the smartest notion.
How then to prepare our kids for a world that is unpredictable, unknown? By teaching them to adapt, to deal with change, to be prepared for anything by not preparing them for anything specific.
This requires an entirely different approach to child-rearing and education. It means leaving our old ideas at the door, and reinventing everything.
My drop-dead gorgeous wife Eva (yes, I’m a very lucky man) and I are among those already doing this. We homeschool our kids — more accurately, we unschool them. We are teaching them to learn on their own, without us handing knowledge down to them and testing them on that knowledge.
It is, admittedly, a wild frontier, and most of us who are experimenting with unschooling will admit that we don’t have all the answers, that there is no set of “best practices”. But we also know that we are learning along with our kids, and that not knowing can be a good thing — an opportunity to find out, without relying on established methods that might not be optimal.
I won’t go too far into methods here, as I find them to be less important than ideas. Once you have some interesting ideas to test, you can figure out an unlimited amount of methods, and so my dictating methods would be too restrictive.
Instead, let’s look at a good set of essential skills that I believe children should learn, that will best prepare them for any world of the future. I base these on what I have learned in three different industries, especially the world of online entreprenurship, online publishing, online living … and more importantly, what I have learned about learning and working and living in a world that will never stop changing.
1. Asking questions. What we want most for our kids, as learners, is to be able to learn on their own. To teach themselves anything. Because if they can, then we don’t need to teach them everything — whatever they need to learn in the future, they can do on their own. The first step in learning to teach yourself anything is learning to ask questions. Luckily, kids do this naturally — our hope is to simply encourage it. A great way to do this is by modeling it. When you and your child encounter something new, ask questions, and explore the possible answers with your child. When he does ask questions, reward the child instead of punishing him (you might be surprised how many adults discourage questioning).
2. Solving problems. If a child can solve problems, she can do any job. A new job might be intimidating to any of us, but really it’s just another problem to be solved. A new skill, a new environment, a new need … they’re all simply problems to be solved. Teach your child to solve problems by modeling simple problem solving, then allowing her to do some very easy ones on her own. Don’t immediately solve all your child’s problems — let her fiddle with them and try various possible solutions, and reward such efforts. Eventually, your child will develop confidence in her problem-solving abilities, and then there is nothing she can’t do.
3. Tackling projects. As an online entrepreneur, I know that my work is a series of projects, sometimes related, sometimes small and sometimes large (which are usually a group of smaller projects). I also know that there isn’t a project I can’t tackle, because I’ve done so many of them. This post is a project. Writing a book is a project. Selling the book is another project. Work on projects with your kid, letting him see how it’s done by working with you, then letting him do more and more by himself. As he gains confidence, let him tackle more on his own. Soon, his learning will just be a series of projects that he’s excited about.
4. Finding passion. What drives me is not goals, not discipline, not external motivation, not reward … but passion. When I’m so excited that I can’t stop thinking about something, I will inevitably dive into it fully committed, and most times I’ll complete the project and love doing it. Help your kid find things she’s passionate about — it’s a matter of trying a bunch of things, finding ones that excite her the most, helping her really enjoy them. Don’t discourage any interest — encourage them. Don’t suck the fun out of them either — make them rewarding.
5. Independence. Kids should be taught to increasingly stand on their own. A little at a time, of course. Slowly encourage them to do things on their own. Teach them how to do it, model it, help them do it, help less, then let them make their own mistakes. Give them confidence in themselves by letting them have a bunch of successes, and letting them solve the failures. Once they learn to be independent, they learn that they don’t need a teacher, a parent, or a boss to tell them what to do. They can manage themselves, and be free, and figure out the direction they need to take on their own.
6. Being happy on their own. Too many of us parents coddle our kids, keeping them on a leash, making them rely on our presence for happiness. When the kid grows up, he doesn’t know how to be happy. He must immediately attach to a girlfriend or friends. Failing that, they find happiness in other external things — shopping, food, video games, the Internet. But if a child learns from an early age that he can be happy by himself, playing and reading and imagining, he has one of the most valuable skills there is. Allow your kids to be alone from an early age. Give them privacy, have times (such as the evening) when parents and kids have alone time.
7. Compassion. One of the most essential skills ever. We need this to work well with others, to care for people other than ourselves, to be happy by making others happy. Modeling compassion is the key. Be compassionate to your child at all times, and to others. Show them empathy by asking how they think others might feel, and thinking aloud about how you think others might feel. Demonstrate at every opportunity how to ease the suffering of others when you’re able, how to make others happier with small kindnesses, how that can make you happier in return.
8. Tolerance. Too often we grow up in an insulated area, where people are mostly alike (at least in appearance), and when we come into contact with people who are different, it can be uncomfortable, shocking, fear-inducing. Expose your kids to people of all kinds, from different races to different sexuality to different mental conditions. Show them that not only is it OK to be different, but that differences should be celebrated, and that variety is what makes life so beautiful.
9. Dealing with change. I believe this will be one of the most essential skills as our kids grow up, as the world is always changing and being able to accept the change, to deal with the change, to navigate the flow of change, will be a competitive advantage. This is a skill I’m still learning myself, but I find that it helps me tremendously, especially compared to those who resist and fear change, who set goals and plans and try to rigidly adhere to them as I adapt to the changing landscape. Rigidity is less helpful in a changing environment than flexibility, fluidity, flow. Again, modeling this skill for your child at every opportunity is important, and showing them that changes are OK, that you can adapt, that you can embrace new opportunities that weren’t there before, should be a priority. Life is an adventure, and things will go wrong, turn out differently than you expected, and break whatever plans you made — and that’s part of the excitement of it all.
We can’t give our children a set of data to learn, a career to prepare for, when we don’t know what the future will bring. But we can prepare them to adapt to anything, to learn anything, to solve anything, and in about 20 years, to thank us for it.

POSTED: 02.14.2012

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Help...Reflections on a novel

Upon reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I thought I would share a few reflections as the book had a profound effect on me emotionally. The first being that my favorite character in the book was by far Aibileen because she was in opinion the silent hero of the novel. At times she would be treated with such disrespect by Mrs. Leefolt and Hilly, yet she always remained quiet and did her job with little complaint. At first this passive quality bothered me about her and I wasn't able to fully appreciate it until the end of the novel, where I expected her to finally stand up to Hilly, but instead she remained graceful and dignified, which was most heart-breaking. Although the main characters all make out in the end with hopes of a fresh start as well as Aibileen, I couldn't help but feel a deep sadness for her at the loss of her beloved "children." Her walking down that road brought tears to my eyes because in a way I did feel as though she had been defeated, even though she had gained so much.

This book also made me reflect deeply about myself as a mother. I wonder now what my mom, husband, friends and family think of me as a mother. Am I uptight, critical, loving, stern, protective, careless....? would I even want to know? The mother's in this story play crucial roles, yet we only get to view them from the perspectives of the maids and Skeeter (the child), and the reader is made privy to the many flaws that these mothers all have. What will my own children say about me in the future? What does my 4yr old think of me now? Hilly, on the other hand is made out to be a wonderful mother, but a horribly vindictive person. The question raised in the novel is, can one be a good mother, but at the same time be a deeply flawed person? I thought about this for a while, and to me it seems that just loving and showing your children love may not be enough to qualify as a good mother. As a Muslim I believe that a good mother is one who raises her children with morals, values, and ethics, and teaches her own children to be fair, just, and trustworthy and to treat others with respect and to not be spiteful, vindictive and hateful. And although Hilly's children are were to small to realize it then, they will when they grow up, and her kids will be a reflection of who she is. On the other hand, I at times sympathized with Elizabeth, and felt that Aibileen's criticism of the way she mothered Mae Mobley to be one-sided. I even compared myself to her, thinking "Oh GOD AM I AN ELIZABETH?" I started conjuring up all the times I yell, or scream or get frustrated with my kids...does that make me unloving? Of course not...but as i read I felt the need to keep reassuring myself that I am NOT that mother. Not all mothers are perfect or know how to show their own children love depending on how they themselves were raised, and I got a very clear idea of how Mrs. Leefolt was raised from her own mother's visits. She was the feared, cold, stern, grandmother. If Elizabeth was raised by such a woman, then how could she be expected to be any different with her own child. And while it is sad, and I felt for Mae Mobley so much and cried for her, because no child should be made to feel the way she was made to feel,  I also feel sympathy for Elizabeth becasue I feel she honestly doesn't have a clue.

Skeeter's mother is another character who I sympathize with greatly. While she is often critical and down right hurtful to her own daughter, you still feel that she does love her and truly just wants whats best for her and the only way she knows how to show this love is to try to constantly "fix" and "change" to be and look the other girls. These women are all just a product of their own upbringing and their environment. And while they should be able to think for themselves and know right from wrong, their reputations and social status is always on the line. In regards to the Maids, their treatment of them is horrendous and unfathomable, but you have to ask yourself, if you were living in that time, would you have put everything on the line to try and change things? I would like to think I would. But I don't know if I would have had Skeeter's courage, maybe I would have. 

Our own characters are definitely shaped by the times in which we live. How many of us today are actually doing anything to make right the many wrongs that are happening on a daily basis? I would like to say we all try in our own ways, but do we really try? Most of us, including myself, are so caught up in our own lives to even think about worrying about changing what's happening in the rest of the world. As scary and risky as it was for Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter, they did what they knew in their hearts to be right, which brought many consequences not only for them but for others in the community. Minny was a very noble character, I loved the fact that she mouthed off to everyone including her white almighty employers. She stood up for herself to everyone except her husband unfortunately which I found to be very ironic.

The racism depicted in this novel is a part of our past and unfortunately our present, and I don't believe it is inherent, but taught. Aibileen was doing a good job trying to raise Mae Mobley to see past colored skin, but we can only hope that she will grow up to be a product of her teachings and not of her mother's or Hilly's. Racism is still an ugly and shameful part of our daily lives. Has much really changed since the 1960's? Just look at all the comments that were made after The Hunger Games came out about Rue's character! And that is just a minor example of other things that go on out there in the world. May God give me the wisdom, strength, and patience to try and change the things I know and feel to be wrong in this life.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Moving Abroad

It has been a hectic couple of months since  about a month ago my husband was offered a position to work abroad in Europe beginning July. While we were thrilled, (we had been working on this move for a few years), it kind of threw me for a loop with regards to homeschooling. Ever since I decided to homeschool in early October I have been preparing myself for doing just that....In New Jersey of course....and now everything seems to be so much more complicated. I feel as though I have to start from scratch.

Luxembourg is a landlocked country nestled between the beautiful countries of Belgium, Germany and France. It is just a two hour drive to any of those countries. However, the languages spoken are 3: Luxembourgish, French, and German. While ex-pats make up a good percentage of the population in Luxembourg, it is safe to say that English speakers will be a bit rough to come by. I know that Ameera should have no problem picking up the language(s) quickly being that she is only 4, but I wonder how to transition her properly into our new life there. I have been going over so many different scenarios in my mind, as well seeking advice from family, friends, and those who have been through this experienace before. Many have asked if I will still homeschool and at first my response was surely not. But now that I have become more comfortable with the idea of moving and our plans are falling into place I am exploring all my options.

 The schooling system in Luxembourg differes from the U.S. greatly. Firstly, local children do not begin any formal schooling until the age of 6yrs. And these schools primary focus is on languages with less time dedicated to other academic subjects. However, if you are not a citizen then local schools can be somewhat challenging to get into. On the other hand, there are two international schools that are English speaking and use the British Curriculum, these schools take children from 3yrs old and only offer language as an elective. Then there are the European International schools that accomodate French speaking children, and finally there is one Montessori school (english speaking) and one Waldorf school (German speaking). All these schools I found doing research on the internet, but I will know much more once my husband and I fly down for our 1 week orientation. My major concerns are meeting other moms and children and being able to communicate with them, which is why I thought it might be best to place her in a school for the first year as way to meet people and integrate ourselves quickly. One thing I love about the school systems is that every month or so all the schools have 1 week off, not including major holidays and 4 day weekends. This leaves plenty of opportunity for travel which was another concern of mine. I didnt want to have to worry about pulling her out of school everytime I wanted to travel. And if I placed her in a French speaking school the first year then she would surely have a handle on the language and be able to communicate well with the locals and children if  I decide to keep her home the following year.

My only hesitation is that I really want her to be home with me to be able to experience this whole journey together and be out and about exploring and discovering new people, places and things. And I can always give her language training through classes and other resources I find. It will just be more work for me to find them. The country is very small so there is not a huge variety of resouces but I am sure whatever I do find, I can make work God-willing. Such a beautiful country, so much to see and do and learn. I just pray that whatever I choose I am making the best decision.