Educated At Home

I’ve received a number of inquiries lately about homeschooling by parents who are concerned with their children’s schooling in the traditional setting. Covid-19 has many considering homeschooling now. Their child’s safety is the number one reason. A close second is seeing how well kids are doing at home with their studies. I must emphasis however that distance learning is not homeschooling.

Fortunately, there are many options in education now. The age specific standards and one-size-fits all model in education is being questioned. Not all children learn the same, so we must tailor the method to the way they learn best. There is no homeschooling approach superior over the next. You know your children best. You also know what your family dynamic and culture is. For us, having harmony in the house and curiosity in learning were the most important qualities. I will admit, it took us some time to find our groove. It will for you too. Remember, the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your kids are- so everyone is going to be happier.

Our experience homeschooling began ten years when our oldest was in the third grade. She had a wonderful Montesorri School experience for K-2. I had friends who were homeschooling at the time and I loved what I saw in their kids. I knew then that I wanted to give it a go. We decided on a Hybrid program first- a 1/2 homeschool, 1/2 at school for one year.

You’ll have to ask yourself what you’re looking to accomplish by homeschooling. Are you looking for more family time?  This was huge for us as we love to travel and we could also visit places like museums and do field trips when everyone was in school. Are you wanting to see your kids happier? Are you motivated to homeschool so your children can follow their interests? Are you interested in homeschooling because of the negative aspects of school- grading, testing, bullying, drugs, sex? These are some of the questions that will come up and that you should discuss with your family.

Take each school year one at a time. Homeschooling is dynamic and you have many options to change things up. Your children grow and their needs change, especially as they get older. Always stay open to what they want and need. This approach makes them feel more engaged in their education- rather than just being told what to do. You will have to experiment along the way too to find what works for your family.

Types Of Homeschooling

Self-directed learning/Unschooling– Child chooses what to learn about (what are their interests and loves?) One has substantial time and autonomy to pursue interests in a deep and meaningful way. Mentors are key here.

Independent of state– You operate as your own school, must file affidavit every school year- this is very easy to do. No mandatory testing required,

Charter school or Hybrid program– Some give you set curriculum (Common Core based), others allow you to teach using your own curriculum- Most will have you teaching to the test and meeting standards for grade level. Need to check with Charter school or Hybrid program to see what they allow for curriculum.

 

Importance of Mentors– Once we started homeschooling independently, I knew how important the role of mentors were going to impact areas of study. Mentors provide a wealth of knowledge in a particular subject and are happy to share their expertise. Mentors want to help in any way they can, frequently going above and beyond to offer guidance. They often have a surplus of connections and influence that reaches far and wide. It’s important to have influences for the stages your children will go through while they are exploring different areas of interest.

Following Curiosity– The idea of following ones interest, or curiosity, was one of the main reasons we settled on self-directed education for our kids. Self- directed meant they were in charge of their pursuits. They had time to work towards mastery in their interests. They were not rushed into a new concept where they were sure to forget because of lack of depth in that study. Often, they would develop several interests that were connected in some way and this deepened their understanding. While self-directed education is not coercive in nature, we as parents would assist them in finding suitable online courses or resources.

 

Charlie Chaplin: This Is Life

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Charlie Chaplin, age 26… He read the poem below at age 70

 

As I began to love myself
I found that anguish and emotional suffering
are only warning signs that I was living
against my own truth.
Today, I know, this is Authenticity.

As I began to love myself
I understood how much it can offend somebody
if I try to force my desires on this person,
even though I knew the time was not right
and the person was not ready for it,
and even though this person was me.
Today I call this Respect.

As I began to love myself
I stopped craving for a different life,
and I could see that everything
that surrounded me
was inviting me to grow.
Today I call this Maturity.

As I began to love myself
I understood that at any circumstance,
I am in the right place at the right time,
and everything happens at the exactly right moment.
So I could be calm.
Today I call this Self-Confidence.

As I began to love myself
I quit stealing my own time,
and I stopped designing huge projects
for the future.
Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness,
things I love to do and that make my heart cheer,
and I do them in my own way
and in my own rhythm.
Today I call this Simplicity.

As I began to love myself
I freed myself of anything
that is no good for my health –
food, people, things, situations,
and everything that drew me down
and away from myself.
At first I called this attitude a healthy egoism.
Today I know it is Love of Oneself.

As I began to love myself
I quit trying to always be right,
and ever since
I was wrong less of the time.
Today I discovered that is Modesty.

As I began to love myself
I refused to go on living in the past
and worrying about the future.
Now, I only live for the moment,
where everything is happening.
Today I live each day,
day by day,
and I call it Fulfillment.

As I began to love myself
I recognized
that my mind can disturb me
and it can make me sick.
But as I connected it to my heart,
my mind became a valuable ally.
Today I call this connection Wisdom of the Heart.

We no longer need to fear arguments,
confrontations or any kind of problems
with ourselves or others.
Even stars collide,
and out of their crashing, new worlds are born.
Today I know: This is Life!

Spring In Japan, Part 2

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Paige, Olivia and Natalie on the Shinkansen bound for Himi, on Toyama Bay, just outside of Takaoka.
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Yummy sweet potato ice cream that is only available on Shinkansen
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Mind blown seeing these trees growing out on a small island in the ocean!

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I waste no time getting comfortable and heading to the onsen for rest and relaxation!
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One of the gardens at the hotel…

The next morning we packed up and made our way to a beautiful, modern ryokan in Komatsu City called Sarai. It was here where we would stay for two nights.
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In Japan, you can wear your yukata (cotton robe) anywhere!

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We had many parties that included some very good sake!
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Another dinner party- here is our teacher, Yoshida Shihan
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A wonderful local artist came to celebrate with us and made everyone a personal artwork to take home!

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Hidekazu Mori-san making his art

Our aikido training and Honkoji practice was intense for the remaining days. Here, we had visitors from all over the world join our practice. One training session was in this Buddhist Temple.

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It was a crowded space. We took turns with our practice…
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Aikido friends
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For the afternoon training, we moved to another Budokan…
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These training spaces can be found all over Japan. They are massive! We had a great time exploring and training and seeing our big aikido family.

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Next stop was an early morning train ride out of Komatsu City at 5:15 am (the first train of the day out of Komatsu) to head back to Tokyo to go to Tokyo Disney for the day!

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Our first trip to Tokyo Disney!

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Fun!

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Olivia
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The enchanted castle- we arrived to see the Easter decorations!

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Only in Japan will you find curry popcorn!

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Until next time Japan! Sayonara 🙂

Spring In Japan, Part 1

We arrived in Japan for cherry blossom season. Japan loves flowers and takes great pride in showing them off! After our long flight over, we made our way to Takadanobaba station in Shinjuku where we rented a lovely three story house for the eight of us for two nights. From the station it was a good 10 minute walk. We passed streets full of restaurants and shops along the way. After getting situated at the house, we decided on a restaurant for dinner that had many choices and ice cold beer. After a long travel day we went to sleep and prepared for the coming days of adventure and tired feet. IMG_0027

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The next morning we were up early to get to our first aikido training day of the trip. Training at the Aikido Headquarters, Hombu dojo is not to be missed. We did the first class that starts at 6:30 am with Doshu. For more on the history of Aikido, visit here.
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Our first full day of sight seeing included Kitonomaru Park and Chidorigafuchi Park. This area has so much to do! We took many pictures under the blooming cherry blossom trees and found peaceful moments I will remember my whole life. We stopped for ice cream and decided on bento lunches from 7-11. Japanese 7-11 are amazing convenience stores. We bought plum wine and enjoyed our lunches in a quiet park like setting.

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Asakusa Temple was a quick train ride. There were many tourists, but nevertheless, I can see why… it was an amazing place! Anywhere in Japan during cherry blossom season is expected to be crowded. We discovered, much to my surprise, a shop called Mokuhankan. David Bull is a woodblock artist. I have been following his work for quite some time. When we walked in, David was in the middle of a class to aspiring students in the art of woodblock. His YouTube channel can be found here.

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We headed out to Shibuya, where we found a British pub for dinner, had some beers, and stopped off at the Disney store to buy our tickets for Tokyo Disney. After getting everything packed up, we caught up with the rest of the group to catch the train to Himi, on the coast. Stay tuned for Part 2…
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Wildflowers Are Great Teachers

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We set out early this morning and traveled to Borrego Springs desert in search of  wildflowers. With an abundance of precipitation this winter, were expecting another amazing superbloom this year.

We started out on our nearly 90 mile drive to the desert. Snow had blanketed a stretch of land the night before. It was so beautiful. It was like a picture snapshot of an idyllic scene and it was ours. We passed a group of cows in the snow, happily munching away; oblivious to our high pitched “oohs, and ahhs” as we clicked a few pictures.

The best part of the trip was the time we spent conversing, laughing, telling each other about silly videos and sometimes, just enjoying the silence in rural country. It’s these  moments in our busy and distracted lives where the “being” of business and distraction melt away. They have no place in the moment.

Sadly, we didn’t find endless hills of wildflowers, but we did experience something else. For us today, what mattered, was taking a drive and being together.

Attention and time. I think that’s what we need to give. Everyone wants to be heard and understood. In a period in our cultural history when technology rules our every waking life, where the aim is to be continuously “productive,” a simple drive to find native wildflowers puts life in a whole different perspective.

Children Changing The World

Greta
via The Guardian

 

Our children are the future. We live in a precarious time in history. We see the man- made and often destructive contributions being made to our humanity at large. We feel a deep unhappiness anytime we put on the news. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and yet, we place the burdens of the world on the shoulders of children to carry-climate change, greed, war, hate, division and a broken system of education. They want more to look forward to in their future. There will be many who think “that’s not my problem.”

But it is. We are all responsible.

Children should be celebrating the pleasures of their childhood without a care in the world. Instead, we leave them to fix what we’ve broken. We often discount them, due to their age and life experience in the world as inferior to our own. But this simply isn’t true.

I think children feel more and are more attuned to their feelings than we adults. They see the wrongs being inflicted upon them and want to help be the change. Their compassion runs deep.

Neill Strauss once said, “We are taught to focus on success, accomplishment, and accumulating memories and experiences in our lifetime. But what we’re actually building is the thing we focus on the least: our character. That’s what most of us will get to keep the longest. And perhaps what’s more important.

Our character is our foundation. When walls crumble around us, it’s what’s left in the rubble. I have hope for the future when I see the character of children acting in humble and positive ways for the betterment of their world. Children have been rising up to address issues important to them more and more in recent years. Were at a tipping-point of change. We see their resilience and their strength and we must help them.

I believe in our children’s future. We all have a duty to them. They did not ask for this mighty responsibility but are willing to take the reins in spite of us. I find that to be a true testament to the character of young people today. I am optimistic in feeling to live in a world where young people like Greta Thunberg, a fifteen year old Swedish student, has the strong will to act and see to it that their future doesn’t just fall by the wayside. It’s this strong will to do something that will save us.

We’ve been debating the “effectiveness” of school for a very long time. It seems, we’re divided on the subject. What does it mean to be successful in school? What does well-educated mean? The objective in asking this question is to be direct. Should it be the goal of every student to sacrifice their interests to learning random facts? Should it be the goal of every student to conform and become obedient to authority, without questioning why? Should we be teaching them to be passive and tolerant to tedium for meager rewards? What if a child’s idea of self-education is in saving the world? How can we deny them of their will in the interest to do just that?

When a child is motivated to do something, we need get out of their way and let them. Children want to live with a purpose. When we see young people wanting change, we should listen.

I see a great need in supporting children to follow their calling and do away with the idea that young people can’t possibly change the world. They’re doing it now. I see the future in very good hands.

 

The Price Of A Life

 

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

Henry David Thoreau

Earlier today I read a post a friend had shared on Facebook about a sixteen year old in Orange County committing suicide last weekend. Notes the child left revealed pressure from school had led them to take their life. Is this child alone in feeling this way? How many more kids go unseen and unnoticed? How many stress and anxiety disorders don’t make the news. How many others don’t even get noticed by parents? As a parent, this rattles me to my core. I can’t imagine the unspeakable anguish the parents must feel right now. A child lost forever.

School today subjects many kids to unreasonable pressure. It sabotages family life. It robs them of creativity and imagination. It robs them of time for personal interests or to simply to be with their own thoughts.

The pressure is becoming worse every year. We’re seduced into thinking that if our kids just work harder, get smarter, improve their GPA, get into a better college and become prosperous that it will all lead to a happy, satisfying life. Scratch away the pretty exterior and you’ll find kids that are exhausted, bored and lost. Perhaps even suicidal.

As I type the words “school makes me feel” into Google the top three suggestions that appear are stupid, empty and sad. One of the top reasons for kids to be brought to a family counselor is anxiety related to school. The symptoms show up in many ways from insomnia, eating disorders, loss of interest, anxiety, depression, physical complaints, fatigue, social isolation and self harm to behavioral problems, anger and destructiveness. It’s often the brightest children who are most sensitive to the wrong that’s being perpetrated on them. They often lack the maturity to understand and articulate their feelings so it shows up in the form of behavior problems.

When did we stop valuing “well being” over grades?

When education is focused on grades and competitiveness, children can’t help but feel enormous distress. Kids who come home with stellar grades and honor roll receive praise. We puff them up to believe that this was the desired result of all their “hard work.” What were really imposing is our own expectation. It’s an enormous burden to carry.

Regardless of any well meaning reassurance from parents or teachers, a child’s self worth is highly impacted by grades. In school, the child becomes less human and is regarded more as a factory product that is subjected to a quality control system of testing and grading. “Grades” may be more appropriate for beef than children. The declining mental health of many children is direct related to school. After all, school tout their number of “college bound” students as a major marker of the quality of their education. There is no measure for the number of physically and emotionally healthy adults that result from their education.

The amount of homework is only one of many systemic problems. Grade school kids come home with nightly homework that approaches 2-3 hours as they get into middle and high school. Even an adult with good paying job would resent coming home to an additional 2 to 3 hours of work at night. It disrupts sleep, family life and mental health.

According to research professor, Dr. Peter Gray, Ph.D “Because of increased uncertainty about future employment, parents worry about their childrens’ abilities to make a living more then they did in times past, and this contributes to their increased tendency to view childhood as a time of resume building. Somehow, parents believe, if they can get their children to achieve high scores on tests, and get them into the most prestigious schools, they can protect their children’s future. They are wrong, of course, but the perception persists. They become convinced by the rhetoric that their children will fail at life if they don’t get high grades and get into a good college. Parents are expected to play the role at home that teachers play at school, pushing and prodding their children to do the things the school system has decided they must do.”

When faced with low scores on academic achievement tests the knee jerk reaction is to argue for more longer hours and more homework. In Japan for example, students perform as well as their Korean peers at math despite a drastically shorter school day. In high-scoring countries like Finland and the Netherlands, the focus is on highly individualized support for students.

So can we stop placing pressure on our kids? For some, like this child that thought the only way to end their pain was to commit the worse kind of infliction, I offer you this…

You mean more than your grades. You are worthy of life. We need you here to do great things. You are a special person that has much to offer the world. There are many who love and care for you. If you are struggling with suicidal feelings, please reach out to someone.

If you’re a child, and unhappy about the demands placed on you in school, do something about it. Demand your family time back. Insist on no homework. Involve other students, be a voice for the masses. There can be no system without you. It cannot exist without you. Educate yourself. Find mentors and people that will support YOUR DREAMS. Commit to something worthwhile. It’s your life.

If you’re a parent that places unnecessary pressure to compete in school, please stop. To see what school is really for, watch the brilliant TedxYouth talk given by Seth Godin here.

 


Who Can Hear The Music?

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“The young person who is alone on the seashore or in the forest and hears music; those people who have the knowledge that the music must be followed- must stay with it. I’m sure that in our world, where emphasis is put on success, the song is heard and forgotten.” Joseph Campbell

Having a good ear is essential to any musician. It’s what separates exceptional musicians  from amateurs. Intuition plays a big part, as well as acute awareness to sound, pitch and tone. It’s this same kind of awareness that were tapping into when were following our bliss. Were being sensitive to what moves us, much like the many musicians that felt the call at some point in their life. A spark was ignited, and from that day forward they were hooked.

Our family is a musical one. My husband plays the piano and violin. Both of our children play too-the youngest plays the violin and ukulele, the oldest plays guitar, ukulele and is a classically trained singer. They do it for the love of it- it’s in their DNA. The hours spent practicing scales and repertoire without any acknowledgement or fame doesn’t matter. They are playing, not for the admiration, but for the will inside them to be better for themselves. I’ve witnessed during their practice when time stops, that they’re in a kind of trance like zone, creating their beautiful music. The bliss experienced when studying their craft can’t be put into words.

I use the music analogy because it’s a powerful one. When we think about success we often don’t associate the idea with happiness. In our culture it’s become two separate entities. Something like, you’re only happy until you’ve reached some level of success. Only then when you’ve become what our society deems successful, are you happy. This is where we’ve got it wrong. Instead of pushing and prodding our children to “play it safe”, get good grades, get into college, do something because of the money “success”-we could and should be fostering the idea of following the music in ones heart- the passions and desires that don’t care about the money, that don’t worry about what they might be, that aren’t wrapped up in the trappings societies have placed on us.

I’ve often said that the world needs all kinds of people. We need, more than ever, children brought up to value their own worth, trusting in who they are as individuals, exploring what their life might look like when they “follow their music”.

This is a beautiful quote by David W. Orr,

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

It’s a shift in consciousness. Everyday we hear the perils of our planet and our humanity. I can imagine a world where people turn inward, and re-evaluate their role in society, their importance on future generations. How we raise our children now will influence tomorrows great leaders and thinkers. The growing dissatisfaction in education for many young people is coming to a crossroads. Many students feel trapped in a school system that does little to support them and their engagement to the work being done is extremely low. It has little relevance to them. They can’t hear the music…

“The worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival – the issues now looming so large before us in the twenty-first century. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us.” -David W. Orr

Some of the most “successful” people I’ve met are those who have given an extraordinary amount of time and effort to creating a world that has harmony, personal freedom, time to do things they enjoy,  high integrity, a deep sense of purpose and above all, humility.

So what are we to do?

What dreams and wishes could we all fulfill if we never abandon the music? What if we never betray our deep seated passions and truth? What if we re-evaluated everything we knew and were told and taught about success? Would we be happier? I believe we would. My role as a parent is to be a supporter of dreams, and encourage my children to make their own meaning in life. The change happens only when we re-educate our hearts and minds and make something that matters… more than mere success.

 

 

Picnic In The Park

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“We were together. I forgot the rest.” Walt Whitman
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Ready to picnic!
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Salads, Cider and Cards
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She’s a card shark!

Live Oak Park in Fallbrook, California is one of our favorite places. Living in Southern California has its perks- beautiful weather year-round, mountains, deserts, oceans all within an hours’ drive, and beautiful parks like this. With 27 acres to explore, we always find something fun to do. On a whim we decided to pack up a picnic and go play.

Live Oak Park’s oak trees were once a food source for local Luiseno Indians, who are believed to have spent time here as much as 1500 years ago. Know where to look and you’ll find their “Indian kitchen”, an 18 foot long bedrock mortar where they ground acorns for food. Pretty cool!

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When we take the time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like a picnic, our hearts are full, our belly’s satisfied and our spirit is at peace. What will you do today to bring happiness to your life?

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An Extraordinary Life

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When you look at great, influential people of history, people who’ve made significant contributions to the world in which we now live, we have much to thank them for. I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s, Leonardo Da Vinci, An Autobiography. We cannot underestimate or deny his genius- wildly imaginative, passionately curious, visionary, painter, sculptor and architect.

Leonardo was born illegitimate, without privilege or affluence. He never received a formal education. He could barely read Latin or do long division. He did, however, become one of the most inspiring, clever and brilliant human beings to discover, through his curiosity, how to learn. Leonardo took his learning very seriously. He spent much of his youth outdoors, where he marveled at the natural world and explored ideas and concepts that were of interest to him. One thing Leonardo was curious to know more about was the tongue of a woodpecker. He studied this in great detail. There was no reason he needed to know this. It was simply a curiosity.

We might all take a lesson from Da Vinci. His intense observation, wild imagination and experimentation are what fueled him. This is something we can indulge in ourselves and our children.

We should be so bold as to not just take “received knowledge”, but we should be willing to question it, to be imaginative and think differently. One brilliant passage, where Da Vinci’s free thinking attitude challenged the people who ridiculed him for his lack of formal education says,

“I am fully aware that my not being a man of letters may cause certain presumptuous people to think that they may with reason blame me, alleging that I am a man without learning. They strut about puffed up and pompous, decked out and adorned not with their own labors, but by those of others…

They will say that because I have no book learning I cannot properly express what I desire to describe- but they do not know that my subjects require experience rather than the words of others.”

The greatest gift we have is our mind. The innovators of tomorrow start with the curiosity of children today. We must be willing to think outside the box in education.

Our efforts should be in indulging our childrens’ curiosity. We should be inspiring them to to think about what they find worthy, what they want to spend their time exploring and pursuing and let them do that. Let’s give them the time and the space to explore their world like Da Vinci once did.

In the words of Walter Isaacson, we must be relentlessly curious and creative, we must treasure knowledge for its own sake, retain a childlike wonder, observe, see things unseen, go down rabbit holes, get distracted, procrastinate, think visually. Let your reach exceed your grasp. Indulge fantasy. Create for yourself. Collaborate and be open to mystery.

 

Time For Change

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Albert Einsteins handwritten advice, given as a tip to a bellboy back in 1922, recently sold at auction for $1.56 million dollars. The humble note, translated from German reads,

“A calm mind and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

Albert Einstein’s “theory of happiness,” is a prescription to find joy in the simplicity of our lives. It asks us to pursue practices that bring us peace and to be wary of those practices that cause us great distress and perpetual tension.

We’ve been sold on the idea that happiness is in direct proportion to how much money we make, that our worth is in our status. Our culture’s “busyness” and “constant restlessness” is driving us farther away from true happiness. Just look at the basic needs we need to live modestly- a roof over our heads, food in our belly, people to share it with.

What if we decided to put more emphasis on the small things that make more of impact on our well-being? What if we showed more appreciation towards what we already have? What would happen if we practiced gratitude in every little thing we did? Not only do I think we would have a calmer mind and gain more freedom, but we’d also be happier people living in more harmony with nature.

I think it’s a worthy step in the right direction, do you?

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Building A Sturdy Bridge

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One can choose many paths to take in life. We have the unique ability to flex our power in making choices and decisions. As a young child, we grow and learn naturally. Our curiosity is a fantastic teacher. We may choose one toy over another or we may prefer to bang on the kitchen pots and pans over building mud houses in the sand box.

If we are to raise free thinkers and confident individuals, we must create an environment that provides a healthy model that benefits the child’s well being, personal integrity and autonomy. We see first-hand what happens when a child is given freedom to learn on their own, follow their curiosity and study their interests at their own pace. They build the bridge of their choosing to cross. By doing this they take responsibility for themselves at a much younger age. Being personally invested in the process makes a huge difference!  Alfie Kohn, American author and lecturer in the areas of education, parenting, and human behavior said,

“The way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”

Let’s choose to get out of the child’s way and allow them the space and time to develop their talents and inclinations and encourage them to express who they are as individuals, in an environment that will not stunt their passions and curiosities and spirit.