Monday, August 4, 2014

Helping Around the House

Helping Grandpa fix the toy tractor.
While I focus a lot of energy on free play and outdoor play on the Facebook page, the basis of Taiga Teacher has always been place-based education. The idea that teaching is highly effective when local concepts and examples are employed to build understanding of broader, more global concepts. A microcosm/macrocosm type of scaffolding, drawing upon a learner's prior knowledge to make connections to the new information being passed on. In the simplest form - teaching in context and bringing learning back to the real world. Since we are talking about place, what hits home more than HOME!

There is so much being touted about free play. My favorite benefit being that it enables children to be better goal setters and promotes their ability to self actualize. I see a trend, as disturbing as the elimination of play in the academic setting - the elimination of children helping their parents with household chores. One of the most fertile grounds for learning is at home. We live in such a fast paced world, with so many obligations. Parents often barely have enough time to load the dishwasher or mow the lawn between work, soccer games, book clubs etc... Often chores are rushed and parents feel they don't have time to slow down and include the child. It is true that a child might make the task take twice as long, but the benefits are HUGE!

Helping Grandma lead the donkey into the barn.
I've read quite a few parenting books in my 5.5 years on the job and one of the suggestions just about every resource I've come across is to engage children in the household tasks. It may be painful at times, especially when they are little and developing both their fine and gross motor skills, but such activities are exactly for just that purpose... developing their skills, both physical and mental. When kids help with the chores they learn process skills... how to see something through from beginning to end. They feel empowered and engaged. Most negative behavior based on my research and experience is because children are grappling for control - control of their feelings, their physical surroundings, their bodily functions, their thoughts, their belonging... When we invite them to join us and show them we trust them enough to be involved and that everything takes work, practice and patience we are giving them an enormous gift!

Learning in context:
Making pie crust.
Simple chores such as emptying the dishwasher has kids sorting items: forks, spoons, knives, small plates and big. Helping wash the dishes teaches physics, properties and tendencies of water and chemistry- mixtures and chemical reactions. Cooking too introduces many chemistry concepts, as well as measurement, states of matter, and even culture. Helping dad with the car teaches not only mechanics, but physics, and sheds light to the behind the scenes life all manufactured objects have. Every task from harvesting food from the garden to sweeping the deck or shoveling the snow has a lesson if you take the time to appreciate it. This goes for our toddlers to our highschoolers.

Opportunities to build on knowledge are always found embedded in tasks. Cleaning windows is a chance to build rich vocabulary - discuss what transparent means and what the opposite of that is. Discuss why Dawn dish soap cuts through grease and how it is used to help clean animals after an oil spill. If you don't know yourself, research it. Showing your child how you learn is a precious a gift. There's always an opportunity waiting to be harnessed!

Opportunity to connect:
Chores also provide a time to talk with your child while the attention is not on them or you, but on the task at hand. It's a good time to discuss what is going well and to troubleshoot other parts of life that aren't going so hot, for example left over feelings from a big transition such as a move.

Healthy Risk Taking:
The other huge benefit of household chores is learning to take healthy risks in a supportive, safe environment. By risk I don't mean letting my 2 year old put the knives away when unloading the dish washer. I take those out first. My older son often volunteers to do chores I often wonder if he's capable of taking on at his age, for instance one day when he was 4 he wanted to help vacuum the house, despite the stand up machine being taller than him. He attempts these tasks and makes his own decision if he is in over his head, capable of carrying on, or he asks for help, another skill I encourage in my children and hope they take into their adulthood. The humble ability to know when they need help and the ability to feel secure enough with themselves to ask. On this particular occasion he assessed that he couldn't wrangle the contraption on his own and decided he would just use the hose attachment and do the edges and corners like he had observed me doing before.

Risk taking is a monumental and often overlooked part of academic life. A child who is afraid to take healthy risks can be debilitated in the classroom. Risk taking happens almost every moment in life. A simple example would be a child coming across a new word they've never seen before and making the leap to either trust themselves to figure it out using the context clues, sounding it out or throwing up their hands. When a child takes risks, they are trusting themselves to try something new. The crucial component in this is knowing that making a mistake is ok and a valuable part of the learning process. Letting kids make mistakes and learn from them with out intervening is challenging, but so necessary. It tells them you have faith they are smart enough to figure it out. "I told you so" can prohibit anyone from trying further. Celebrating a child's attempt with a phrase like "That was wonderful how you turned off the water and figured out how to keep it in the sink!" Allowing yourself to face the unknown is a finely honed skill that can lead to big life altering events like taking a leap and applying for a dream job, buying a house, sending a book you wrote to the publisher, starting a business or choosing a major in college. You won't do it if you don't trust yourself or do not feel supported, no matter the outcome.

Imagine how much more they can help out when they are older if they learn to help out early. How responsible they will be....

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Foster what people do well, go with your instinct, break the rules for the power of good, let individuals teach themselves. I am at a loss for words to aptly describe how truly monumental this one family's story is. It hits every chord of what needs to happen and change in education today! Parents, teachers, SPED teachers, administrators need to see this. It should be mandatory viewing for everyone! I kept almost turning it off thinking I got the point they were making, and they just kept hitting all the things that need to change about our system!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mush On!

As the Yukon Quest  is winding down, the first few mushers now in, we prepare for the most infamous of dogsled races, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race! Here's some great footage from the vantage point of the sled of Egel Ellis on a sprint (short distance) race.

A great lesson about genetics would be to compare what breeds are used in sprint dogs vs endurance ones. Sled dog lineage is an important part of the process.

Nutrition for sled dogs is also a great topic to explore. I've been at parties with mushers and there's nothing more entertaining and weirdly interesting, than listening to them have a serious discussion around the campfire about.... dog poop and how it relates to how well their dogs are absorbing the nutrients from their specially planned diets.

There's great activities, lesson ideas and plans for teachers, parents and homeschoolers on both webpages:  Yukon Quest and Iditarod. Lots of great lessons integrating math, mapping, history, science, reading and writing!

Some great children's books about mushing:

Great Non-fiction Novels: