August 30, 2009

The Colors of Summer

Butterfly beside the pool
where I pretty much live in the summer

Multiple variants of tomato bounty

More roadside yumminess
(at a stand that runs on the honor system, by the way)

Oooh, whose pearl-grey & aubergine house is that?


August 26, 2009

Auntie Camp III

When I was growing up in NY, a chance to see my cousins, who lived in FL, was the highlight of any year.

My sister and I are working hard to make sure that this generation of cousins (at least the East Coast ones) have a chance to develop and deepen their relationships with each other. For the past three years, my sister's two girls have spent some time with us here in NJ, while Mr. D has spent some time down in MD with them. This year's week of NJ Auntie Camp started with a promising sign (this shot was taken literally within minutes of our scooping up the fabulous Misses T & C:

And once the girls were settled in, we immediately broke out the games:

(Turns out Cousin C is a pretty serious Hang On, Harvey competitor!)

During the day, all three kids attended Princeton Friends Summer Camp, a wonderful camp which fosters both their imagination and their love of the natural world. (In the picture below, cousin C and Mr. D are showing off C's village, which she and her group worked on througout the week.)

Auntie Camp already has lots of traditions, and every year we seem to add a few new ones. This year's addition? The ritual dumping out of shoes BEFORE we get in Aunt Shelley's car! (Average amount of sand thus collected: 2.8 cups!)

Every camp week has a different theme. Of course you can guess from the picture that this year the kids attended during...

Superhero Week!

Can you feel the love?

Another tradition: end-of-camp Stewart's dinner

And the "so glad to have you back" hug?
Also traditional.

(We're already looking forward to next year!)

August 16, 2009

Lose the Training Wheels

Ways to assist a young person who wants to learn to ride a bike: Project confidence. Enjoy your own bike rides. Install training wheels. Spend time watching other kids riding. Smile encouragingly. Talk about caution, responsibility, and freedom. Model caution, responsibility, and freedom. Practice patience. Take the training wheels off. Promise to keep your hand on the seat. Run alongside. Yell words of encouragement. Start on a straight road lined with soft grass. Apply bandaids and kisses as needed. Require the donning of long pants. Put the training wheels back on. Tell true-life stories about your own learning. Allow breaks. Test the brakes. Watch for signs of returning confidence. Take the training wheels off again, this time for good.

~ ~ ~

This afternoon a friend told me the story of her daughter, many years ago now, falling in love with a school for the performing arts in another state and ultimately moving away to attend there. She made arrangements to stay with the families of several other students in order to make it work. As a sixteen year-old. Trying to imagine making that decision, I said, "It must have been so hard to say yes to that."

"I didn't say yes," my friend responded, "At least not at first. I tried everything I could to talk her out of it; I even dragged her back and re-enrolled her in the school in our town after I visited her at the school she wanted to attend. But two friends of mine sat me down and said, 'You have to let her go,' and they were right. So I did."

~ ~ ~

I am so fortunate. My learning network is well-stocked with thoughtful, courageous people.

In the past few months I've read several blog posts that resonated with me. Each dealt with the idea of supporting children's development as learners in a slightly different way.

In the first, Vicki Davis (aka coolcatteacher) tells the story of a white water rafting trip which she then relates to her goals for the students she works with:
We have got to come to grips with how to take children from walled gardens to a point where they can safely operate in public places before they graduate from high school.
In the second, author Maya Frost (The New Global Student), responds to articles on college search consultants by making an impassioned case for "breaking the cycle of learned helplessness":
When we rely on expensive services to prep kids for top schools, we are telling them that they can't possibly compete in the real world without our assistance — and our money. Parents who want their kids to be able to get great jobs they love after graduation (without their help) are better off teaching their kids how to flesh out an idea, research the heck out of it, and follow the thread that leads to the most thrilling and fulfilling opportunities.

Parents: If you are considering paying for college help, consider what you are saying to your son or daughter by hiring a consultant to do what most families handle without assistance. Think about how you might spend that money in a way that could give your student more opportunities to develop confidence, relevant skills, a clear sense of direction and flaming enthusiasm.

The biggest problem with learned helplessness is that it's contagious and hereditary. Stop the cycle now, and your kids will have a much brighter future.
Finally, just last week I read a post on parenting by C.C. Chapman over at Digital Dads:
What I’m getting at is that you need to make sure that your kids realize that the only way to succeed in life is to always work hard, to be strong willed and be the best you can be at whatever it is that you are passionate about. Yes, there are going to be plenty of people standing in your way, telling you no and gates set up to block them. But, I hope and pray that everything I’m doing with my kids is raising them to be a gatejumper who chases their dreams with every ounce of their soul.
I am interested in how these ideas play out in the real world. Most parents I know would agree with the idea that parenting is all about supporting their children's growth towards independence, but different parents are going to do very different things when confronted with the imagined reality of assuring some kind of "advantage" for their own son or daughter, or with the soul-gripping terror that can accompany the prospect of actually letting go.

Every choice we make is a reflection of the best information we have at the time, as seen through the values we hold. If I am reflective and transparent in my work with students and my work as a parent, will it help me "maintain course" as I move forward?

I want to be thinking, "Will this choice help move this child (student) towards a life oriented towards life-long learning, ethical and deliberate decision-making, and love?"

Or, more simply:

Will this choice move us all towards the day when the training wheels come off?

August 03, 2009

Beware of Dog

(Photo credit: T. Feld)

Here's a guest post by my amazing sister, who lives in MD. Our son is currently down there visiting with his aunt and uncle, his two beloved cousins T & C, and their two dogs, Chance and Nina. Nina is a relatively new addition to that family, and this post is an excerpt of my sister's email to me yesterday:

It's very common for dogs to fear kids. Kids are louder, more physical, and far less predictable than adults.

Your son is awesome. He was pretty much attacked by our new dog THREE times. Every time, I slammed her to the floor and held her down by her neck and threw her out of the house, etc... to make sure she knew where he was in the pack (i.e. way the heck above her). She never got all the way TO him, but charged at him, barking, baring teeth, the whole nine. Then, I tried holding her in one arm while loving on him with the other arm and talking to him like he was the greatest. That's when she COMPLETELY freaked the heck out and went wiggy, flinging herself any which way to get the heck away from him, and cutting my nose with her tooth on the way (I really felt more as if she was running with knives and cut me on the way by than as if she actively bit me, but whatever it was, thank GOD she didn't get D, and WHO WOULD BLAME HIM if he a. wanted her banished from the house permanently or b. wanted to go home or something.)

But NO. Quite the contrary. He heard me talking to Steve about how D wasn't doing a thing to her and usually wasn't even NEAR her when she went off, and how we might need to get rid of her if she can't handle visiting kids (she has never had any similar reaction to adults). D said, "Oh, no! I hope you don't get rid of her! I like Nina. I think she's just really scared of me." What an amazing response. And he meant it.

Then, I thought about it and realized her reaction was totally wig-out fear-ish. I thought about eye contact. D had said that before each "charge" she had been staring at him for minutes on end. Well, for him to know that, he must have been staring at her, too (again, can't blame him a bit -- I would keep my eye on her, too). If she's wary of him, and then he keeps locking eyes with her, she will definitely take that as an aggressive sign (poor D was being anything but...)

I told D if he wanted, we would just keep her outside while he's here, unless he's at camp, or down in the basement, or in C's room w/ door closed, etc. I told him that would be completely understandable and fine by me. I told him too, though, that what I would prefer is to have her around some of the time, so she can get used to him, and put her out if she's staring at him, or making him at all nervous. He was 100% cool with that. I even asked if he was sure and he said "yes."

Then, I told him to completely avoid looking at her, at all, and loaded him up with treats. He carried those things like sabers! It was as if he felt safe as long as he had a treat! And without my urging, coaching, etc, he took the whole thing on like a little scientist, and began trying to offer her treats in different ways -- sitting down first, not looking, with voice, without voice, putting it on the floor, holding it in his hand. He was SO psyched when he got her to slink up and gingerly take it from his hand -- after at least 45 minutes of work -- her ears slicked to her little head. And, the whole time, he was expertly managing Chance (who needed treats, too, don't cha' know...) and C, who kept trying to "help."

Then, I told him that the most reassuring position for him would be to sit with his back to her, offering up his behind, so to speak. He said, "Okay, that's really scary." I said, "You're right -- forget it." Within 40 minutes, he said, "I want to try the really un-aggressive thing." Little sweetie. So, he did, and slowly, over the course of the evening, she eventually came up and began licking his outstretched hand, with him still not looking at her. He was on Cloud Nine!

This morning, we were all snuggling in bed, and I asked him to continue avoiding eye contact, and she came right over to him on the bed, rolled on her back, offering up her tummy and neck. I told him that was a great sign. He was still nervous every time she moved quickly, and we had to reassure him that she was coming to lick him, not attack him, but he really, really wanted to be her friend, so he hung in there through understandable fear. (She's still nervous when he moves quickly, too, so we will keep a very close eye, and not make any assumptions that everything's great now, etc...)

He is in charge of feeding her. After b'fast this AM, he said, "Tomorrow, maybe I can look at her!" He really likes her, God bless him. He's just been a gem, and I think the two of them will be fine now. And I intend to make it clear to him that he has really helped our family with his courage and his efforts to work with her. You should be very, VERY proud.

(Of course we are proud.
And SO grateful to my fabulous sister!
Our Mr. D has experienced the winning power
of kindness before,
when he tucked a non-English-speaking
classmate under his wing.
He knows about aggression from our conversations
about which games we approve of him playing,
and what makes a great wrestler great.
He knows about fear and violence because
as Quakers, we talk about the hidden roots of violence.
And he knows about the scientific method because
ever since he started asking "why" about everything,
we've been responding, "We'll tell you what we think,
but first, what's your theory?"
We have NO idea where he learned patience.)