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. Our power of choice is strong, and our parents allow us this freedom, until they don’t. Choice and freedom slowly start to erode somewhere in childhood, usually by the age of 5- when we enter compulsory education and the probationary life begins.

Our choices are now limited and narrow because now we are “expected” to participate in school. What we need now is to be taught. By an expert. Who knows more than we do. But didn’t we show our parents that we were and are capable of learning and growing on our own? What suddenly changed? Did we give any indication of short comings in our development? Why is school then the answer?

Life in school, is like being on probation. Probation is defined as “the process or period of testing the character or abilities of a person and subject to a period of good behavior under supervision.” We punish, guilt, shame and emotionally manipulate them when they don’t oblige us. We ask them to conform, follow directions, not ask questions, and perform to unreasonable standards and testing, year after year until they graduate. This way teaches children to doubt their own minds and their worth as a person when the grades don’t measure up and it creates adults who will then tolerate emotional manipulation and abusive relationships because that’s been their model.  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 have seen 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.

 

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Abundance In Learning

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“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

People would think me crazy for buying “The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to quit school and get a real life and education” for my then ninth grader in high school. In fact, I was totally sane when I purchased it. It was the best book I could have got her. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

A terrible, pit-in-my stomach feeling was the wake up call. School was changing her in a way that was of growing concern. Before attending school, she was very excited about her learning- my eldest daughter loves to read and stay up on current events. She enjoys thoughtful conversation, challenge, loves art and music and performing in theater. School took her away from these things. She had no time. The usually gregarious, happy-spirited kid with a positive outlook became sullen, uninterested, moody and anxious. The stress about the homework,

the grades and the pressure her teachers put on her was taking more than it was giving.

As I began to look at her “work” being done in school, I felt a huge let down. There was no real learning happening. It became cramming  for the test, then quickly forgetting the information. It didn’t spark any joy. It didn’t excite or engage her. The work was pointless, busy work designed to break the spirit into submission, and that sadly, is what it did.

She would dread having to get up and go every morning. There were many mornings when I would look at her tired eyes, her nearly in tears. She spent many, many nights up until 2:00 or 3:00 am, working to get homework done for the next day. So I had to ask myself, would it be that bad for her to quit school and start to have a life that had some purpose, where she could choose to learn the things she was curious about, where learning would “stick” because she would have the power in the decision making? She would take control back of her time and would be liberated from the institution of school. She would take charge of her own education. So…

What conditions are present when learning really “sticks”?

For starters, you need a safe and positive environment, a personal investment, real world application, fun, relevance to life, social interactions, the ability to question everything, a passion and drive, teachers and mentors available to help when needed, autonomy, and no time constraints. Look at that positive model…

Now, here’s what we do in classrooms…

We sit in rows, our time is constrained to block periods, a one-size fits all curriculum, same age grouped co-learners, no real world application, teacher controlled, someone else’s questions, not allowed to question anything, standardized assessments, emphasis on grades, no choices in what to study, lack of relevance.

Somewhere along the way we got disconnected from the true purpose of education. To learn. The disconnect happens between what we believe and what we actually do in our classrooms. Part is nostalgia. We went to school, we appear to have turned out fine, it’s like a rite of passage. But the truth is, we didn’t really learn anything too. The method’s haven’t changed. The sad thing is other people like policy makers are setting the standards and expectations for us. We’re just doing what were told. Time to change all that.

It’s time we align our practice to our beliefs.

Most of us weren’t productive in school because we weren’t engaged in the process. Most kids will forget what they learn in school. We know this because we have forgotten most of what we learned in school. We cannot ignore this any longer. We learn when the interest is something we are invested in. All of us carry the narrative that we have to go to school, take a set number of classes, learn the way its taught, get good grades, attend with same age kids. We own that narrative.

The narrative now is that traditional schooling in breaking down.

The disconnect in schools aren’t built for learning, learning on one’s own looks different from learning at school. We have to acknowledge this huge contrast. A recent Gallup pole asked students from elementary school to high school their level of engagement in school. In elementary it was 76%, by the time high school rolled around, it went down to 44%. So at this point,

56% of high school students are not engaged in school.

What does this mean to you, as a parent? Is this acceptable to you? Are you “OK” with this?

We live in a time of ABUNDANCE– sources for learning are everywhere, virtually at our fingertips. We need to talk honestly about education. We don’t discuss them because if we do, they put the entire experience of schooling into a conversation that many of us don’t want to have. This is going to be a hard conversation, and one I hope you are willing to have. Our kids’ future is at risk. Their world is changing everyday. Every child wants to be a part of this changing world. They want real experiences that have relevance to their life. They want passion and a personal investment beyond grades. They want autonomy. They want control.

If we can successfully give them that, they are only limited to their imagination!

Summer Road Trip Part 2: Truckee, CA

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Donner Lake Summit
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We rented a house on Donner lake. So relaxing!
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Donner Monument
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Nature needs our protecting
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Philip and I made this on one of our hikes around Donner lake
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Beautiful morning on the lake

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Fun place! Jax has a lot of history
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Truckee river
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kayaker braving the strong river
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We did a 10 mile bike ride down the Truckee. It is the heart of this beautiful land
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Glenshire community
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A sweet little pup we met
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Legacy Trail
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Just a dude and his dog paddle boarding Donner lake

 

After our Yosemite visit we made the journey to beautiful Truckee. I found us a house on Donner Lake from Air bnb where we would spend the next four days enjoying all the Truckee has to offer.

Arriving in the early afternoon we were excited to unpack the car and get back out into nature. Donner Lake is a gem. It was our first time staying in Truckee (We’ve always stayed at Lake Tahoe in the past) so exploring someplace new was exciting. We found a little market where we stocked up on groceries for the trip. We really just wanted to hunker down and not go out to eat a lot. We BBQ’d most evenings, packed sandwiches for our day trips and always had plenty of snacks.

We visited the Donner Memorial Monument and museum, watched a short movie about the Donner Party and the many challenges they had along the way. What a life they were seeking. Sadly, many of the group died trying to reach their destination.

We did a few hikes, rented bikes one day and biked 10 miles along the Truckee river. We had really wanted to do the rafting trip we did years ago but with all the snow and ice melt, the current was too strong and was not an option for us at the time so we’ll just have to go back and do it another time.
Our time in Truckee was wonderful! I love our family vacations 🙂

 

Summer Road Trip Part 1: Yosemite

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We packed up the car with everything we would need for our adventures to come in Yosemite. This was our first time here- Philip had gone as a child with his family. We were all so excited to get there. When you enter the park you feel like you’re being transported to a different planet. We were just blown away with the sheer size of Yosemite. We pulled over to take some pictures of the valley view, waterfalls, sheer granite cliffs. It was so beautiful! With over 1100 square miles of pristine, undeveloped land for our adventures, we were anxious to get settled in and get exploring.

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We rented a cabin at Half Dome Village. Half Dome Village had everything we could possibly need- a market, restaurants, coffee place and more. We explored the area around Half Dome Village, found a group of deer grazing in a meadow, got pizza and beers and settled in to the cabin, played a game of Scrabble, and went to bed. It had been a long travel day and we were pretty tired. The tent cabin was set up with a double size bed and three twin size beds. We brought our sleeping bags and pillows, they supplied towels and extra wool blankets. The night we camped it snowed! We knew it was going to be a cold night.

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We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong.”

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The next morning we were up at sunrise to start the day. After a terrible nights sleep I just wanted to get moving. The girls and I were the first up so we let Philip sleep while we got some caffeine and something to eat and had a chance to charge our phones. The cabins don’t have electricity and there is a lights out at 10 policy. I have to say, it was nice not having to be connected, in fact, they encourage you to just unplug and enjoy the quiet.

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After breakfast we boarded our first shuttle around the park. Yosemite has shuttles all over the park and encourages you to use them as you can imagine there aren’t many parking lots. Our first stop was to the Yosemite Fall trails. We hiked around, took pictures and had a great time. We had plans to do Bridalveil falls and Glacier point hikes too, but we were so tired! We decided to head back to the village to collect our things and get on the road to go to Truckee, near Lake Tahoe.

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As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.” John Muir

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Wild beasts and birds are by right not the property merely of the people who are alive today, but the property of unknown generations, whose belongings we have no right to squander.” Theodore Roosevelt

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We ended up getting lost on our way out due to construction that was happening and many roads were closed. We ended up in Tuolumne Meadows. Because it snowed the night before, there was fresh snow in the trees. We felt so transported to a winter wonderland. We were playing John Denver, just really enjoying the beauty when we see two deer playing in the snow in the meadow. It was picture perfect!

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Day Trip: Diamond Valley Lake

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We spent the morning out at Diamond Valley Lake to celebrate my husband, Philip’s birthday. It was a beautiful, temperate day and the wildflowers were in FULL BLOOM- a spectacular show of many varieties- California poppy, arroyo lupine, goldfields and canterbury bells, to name a few. After all the much needed Winter rain storms we’ve had, the lake was full of water! Living in Southern California, we’ve seen nearly all of our lakes water deplete year after year of drought, to alarmingly low levels. It’s a great place to visit and hike, fish or just enjoy the beauty. We had a great time and can’t wait to go back. 

For more information, visit http://www.dvlake.com/

Japan Adventures: Tama

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Hello Kitty in Tama Train Station
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Onward!
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Behold the Gudetama egg!
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!!!
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These games were impossible to win
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Olivia trying for a shiba inu
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Lights in Tama
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Tunnel of lights

After leaving Kyoto, we headed back to Tokyo as we had one last day in Japan and didn’t want a super heavy travel day on our last day traveling back home. We enjoyed the train ride, getting a glimpse of Mt. Fuji as we passed through Shizuoka! Hiking Mt. Fuji is something I would love to do someday.

We stayed at the Keio Plaza Hotel and enjoyed our stay very much! Near the hotel was a shopping mall, restaurants, a fun arcade and Sanrio Puroland. Decorations and lights were everywhere to celebrate Christmas. The Japanese love Christmas! One of the things they do for the Christmas holiday is eat Japanese cheesecake and Kentucky Fried Chicken! Puroland was closed the day we were visiting, but it looked like it would be super fun to visit. Next time!

Japan is a place of deep inspiration for me. I love it for the raw beauty, fascinating culture and hospitable people. There is an ease about the Japanese people, their humble character, often confused with shyness. They are a people of order, they all know their place and where they fit it. They are extremely hardworking in everything they do. Maybe that for me is what I love most. The artists of Japan spend an entire lifetime refining and continually growing in their craft or trade. I have watched countless videos on anything from wood block printing to sumo to sushi chefs- they all take great pride in their work and that for me is something I continually strive for. I want to be the best version of myself and the Japanese inspire me to do that.

Dewa, mata ne,

See you next time Japan!

Japan Adventures: Kyoto Part 1

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Our Airbnb in Kyoto
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Shopping in Kyoto
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Ryoan-ji Temple and gardens
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Those colors!
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Karesansui (rock) garden at Ryoan-ji
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Beautiful!
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Taizo-in Temple
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Details
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I love all of it!
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Stunning!
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Traveling monk
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The colors are so pretty!
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Mike and Philip in Kyoto
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Ryoan-ji steps
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Persimmons
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I love Kyoto!

Kyoto was the place I had been dreaming about visiting for as long as I can remember. Pictures don’t do it justice- Kyoto needs to be felt. I arrived and completely fell in love with it. When a place you visit for the first time just completely blows your mind. Kyoto is that place for me.

We rented a wonderful house in Kyoto through Airbnb and the seven of us enjoyed our Kyoto neighborhood so much: a comfortable home, warmth from the kotatsu table (look it up!), the Family Mart a short 5 minute walk away, the takoyaki and yakisoba noodle place right next door, temples within any walking direction, friendly neighborhood, vending machines on every corner and the slow pace we were looking forward to after our last week in Japan.

Carre and I were so excited to go explore the temples. Visiting the Ryoan-ji Temple was a highlight for me on this trip. We visited here twice, it was a 5 minute walk from the house. Philosopher’s walk and Taizo-in Temple were another 5 minute walk. Like I mentioned, Kyoto is one of those places that must be felt. It has a certain feel to it, a sense of wonder, mystery. Then the beauty of the place just takes your breath away. Carre and I would say, just when you’d thought you’d seen the most beautiful thing, something new would be equally, if not more lovely. This happened so many times! It is one of my favorite places and I cannot wait to go back and see more, feel more and explore more.

Arashiyama in Kyoto is the next blog post. Stay tuned!

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