My daughter says she hates school

It happened again recently. A well-meaning family friend looked at my six-year-old daughter and asked THE QUESTION: “Do you like school?”

My daughter looked over her shoulder at me and I could see the concern in her eyes. With her look, she was asking me, Is this someone we can trust? Should I tell the truth? Or do I say what I think most adults want to hear?

I looked at my daughter and said, “You can answer her question honestly. You’re allowed to make up your own mind about school.”

Still uncertain, she looked back at the family friend, shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know. It’s okay.” This tepid response is a stark contrast to her first days of kindergarten and earlier in her first grade year when she would loudly exclaim, “I hate school! I never learn anything there! They never let you move! They never let you get messy! You can’t talk unless you raise your hand and the teacher calls on you!” Based upon her more neutral response, I can see that she is learning that adults want kids to like school.

The family friend turned her eyes from my daughter’s face to mine with a look that read, “Your kid doesn’t love school?!” I could see the anxiety in her expression. What will happen to this small child if she does not learn to love school? Is she headed into a life of delinquency? Will this girl ever find success in the workplace? Ever know the ease of financial stability? Ever recognize her academic potential? What will become of a child who does not love school? After all, the vast majority of us have been raised to believe that education is the pathway to success, the great equalizer that allows all of us a chance at the American dream.

The conversation went on with the friend prodding, “Well, do you like your teacher, at least?”

“She’s okay,” my child responded. Yet again, the family friend looked at me with eyes growing wide.

“Your teacher is just okay?” she said, the concern growing in her voice.

On that day, with that particular person, I left the friend’s concern hanging in the air between us. I let my daughter run off and find her sister to resume their play. I didn’t try to smooth over the rough edges of that conversation. I’m learning that it’s okay for my daughter’s truth to make others uncomfortable. I don’t need to silence her or justify her feelings in the hope that adults will see her or her school in a particular way. After all, it is possible that a school environment that does work for many kids does not work for my daughter. Additionally, I have realized that her dissatisfaction with school does not mean that there is something wrong or broken about her.

Strong words and the meaning behind them

When my daughter started kindergarten and began her litany about why she hated school, I listened to her reasons and didn’t pay much attention to the initial part of her statement: I hate school. In our home, we often hear strong words from our kids that are meant to communicate their big emotions about a situation. Sometimes those words have been, “I hate you, Mom!” Given that I try my best to react to those moments by listening to the feelings behind the words (though sometimes the words do sting and I fall short of my goal to let it roll off my back), I didn’t think much of my daughter’s word choice. Instead, I paid attention to the words that came next and heard her asking for a different type of educational environment than she was given.

  • “I never learn anything” became “I am not being challenged or learning about the topics that most interest me.”
  • “They never let you move” became “I need more opportunities to use my body during the school day.”
  • “They never let you get messy” became “I have sensory needs that are not being met. I feel controlled when I am given creative tasks and outdoor recess time because of the focus placed on remaining clean.”
  • “You can’t talk unless the teacher calls on you” became “I have ideas about the subjects we are learning that I am not able to communicate. I want to be able to talk about the things I’m learning.”

Given that I interpreted my daughter’s rant about her educational environment in this way, I was taken aback when my mother-in-law said this past summer that she was “deeply disappointed and concerned” that my daughter hated school. Until that moment, I was living in a world in which I believed my child was bringing forward intelligent critiques of the school system and advocating for her needs. Sure, her communication was a little rough around the edges, but for being only five and six years old, I thought she was doing a stellar job.

My mother-in-law’s comment sent me back to my own childhood with well-meaning grown-ups staring down at me and asking THE QUESTION: “Do you like school?”

I can still recall the look of approval and relief on their faces whenever I would say, “Yes.” In the beginning, I did like school. At some point, that changed, but my answer always remained positive. After all, I got good grades. I behaved at school. I had friends. What did I have to complain about? And, there was always that pressure from grown-ups to affirm that the current educational structure worked for me. Responding in the negative would have conjured up a kid who refused to complete her assignments or was frequently sent to the principal’s office. That wasn’t me. (I say that with no judgment toward anyone who didn’t do their schoolwork or who frequented the principal’s office, or has a child who fits those behaviors now. I say that just to communicate the judgments and misperceptions people have about kids who don’t like school. That’s all.)

My daughter can dislike school and be a model student who is above grade level in some subject areas. Just because a child plays by the rules of the classroom environment does not mean that the environment is a positive one for that child. Additionally, we look to see if a child can perform certain classroom expectations, like sitting still with their legs “crisscross applesauce” and their hands in their lap, but we rarely ask, “Is this the best way for this particular child to learn?” Sometimes we believe that all is well with the child and the environment when the child can jump through the academic and environmental hurdles placed in front of them. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes even the children who seem to be performing well are screaming, “I hate school” on the inside. As the adults in their lives, I hope we take the time to listen beyond our own beliefs and biases about school to hear the kind of environment our children are telling us they need.

Michelle is a former college administrator turned stay-at-home mom in central Ohio. She is grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a person and a mom alongside her five and six-year-old daughters. Michelle attempts to knit, crochet, practice yoga, and read fiction in the midst of mothering.

How I use my planner to capture life’s memories with young kids

I am a visual person and need a paper calendar and planner.  I also use a wall calendar, but really love having a portable planer as well.  I do have a phone calendar app so that my husband and I can share a portable calendar, but honestly, neither of us is very good at updating it and we both tend to update our wall calendar.  It’s a system that works for us.  This post contains affiliate links.

What I use

I love this planner by Mary Engelbreit.  The pictures online just don’t do it justice.  It’s spiral-bound, and includes both month-at -a-glance and week-at-a glance sections.

I have always loved to see my whole month laid out in front of me.  Week-at-a-glance set-ups don’t work well for me.   But I still use the weekly planner portion of this calendar for another purpose!

monthly calendar page
Monthly pages that I use as my calendar, for appointments, activities, etc.

How I use the weekly portion

When my first-born was a baby, I wrote down everything about our daily lives in a journal.  Mostly, I was so sleep-deprived that I needed to remember when he nursed, and little things like that.  But as he got older I wrote down lots of milestones and funny things he said.  He loves when we look back through his book.  After my daughter was born I just didn’t write as much.  I was better at mentally keeping track of baby stuff, and didn’t write down as much.  So when my daughter was old enough to ask, I realized I didn’t write down near as much fun stuff to tell her about her babyhood.

weekly calendar pages
Weekly calendar pages that I use to write quick notes about things my kids did and said 🙂

Since the weekly pages are set up with a few lines per day, I decided it would be the perfect format to jot down something we did each day, or something my kids did or said that we’d like to remember.  This works well, as I try to keep it handy most of the time.  Except for when it ends up hidden under a pile of mail or school papers, of course.  It’s my minimalist practice in journaling.

I know there are lots of great planners out there with stickers and quotes, but I don’t feel like they’d add anything I’m not getting here.  Plus I love the art of Mary Engelbreit.  And while I used to love journaling, it’s just not going to happen these days.  So this set up, for me, is the best of both worlds.

Why am I not homeschooling yet? I know, I know...I can't believe it either

We had a lovely unseasonably warm day this week and headed out to the zoo after school.  We enjoyed the mostly empty zoo at a leisurely pace.  And I thought, why am I not homeschooling?  I should pull him and homeschool.  I see more signs pointing to this fact practically every day.  Questionable things happening at school, more and deeper unhappiness at home in the evenings.  I miss my son, and we’re experiencing negative behavior due to that disconnection between us.

We spent quite a bit of time with the penguins that day.
We spent quite a bit of time with the penguins that day.

I’m still struggling with the decision

I know all the above positives and negatives.   And yet, I’m struggling to make the actual decision.  Why?  I’m still trying to figure that out.

Why am I struggling?

All of the reasons I laid out in this earlier post about why I sent him to kindergarten in the first place.  They all still hold true.  We are still figuring the whole school thing out.

My son has mixed feelings. scan0001-1_20161031103006857 I’m not letting my 6-year old make this decision alone.  But I am discussing it with him, because his input is important to me.  And he wavers, depending on the day, about whether he wants to continue or not.

 

We are having a really negative teacher experience.  You might think that would make me run even faster.  And it is definitely a push, as it is majorly contributing to the negative feelings surrounding school.   But she’s new and might improve.  And she is not the entirety of the school experience.  I hate to let her make us miss out on any positives he’s experiencing.  And I met with the principal just days ago.  He seems great, and really seems to understand the issues we’re having.  He has a plan to help.

We’ll see more if we stay longer.   My son is excited for the art show at the end of the year, where he’ll have one or more projects on display.  He’s experienced a school party, a school book fair, and a couple school fundraising events.  He hasn’t been on a field trip, or seen an assembly.  There are a lot of school things he’ll see just this year that he won’t experience if we pull him.  Overall, I think that’s not a huge deal.  But I do want him to experience some of these things to know they exist.

I worry both of us will have a hard time keeping up with friends we will no longer see every day.  My son and I both have friends that we see because he’s going to school.  We can try and keep up with them, but once schedules change and we no longer see them by default every day, that’s easier said than done.

And I’m overwhelmed…

It’s a hard decision and it feels more permanent that it really is.  I know that we can change what we’re doing and make any number of different choices, including public and private school, part-time school, or homeschool.  No choice is permanent.  But every change requires a lot of thought and effort, at least for me.

It’s hard to be different and go against the norm.  Ahh, the biggest reason.  It’s hard to know that this non-mainstream decision is the right way to go.  I don’t have any experience with homeschool outside of the past couple years researching it, and many acquaintances who are homeschooling.  It feels really overwhelming to opt out of the choice that everyone else is choosing.

The Silver Lining

All that said, I’m fairly certain we’ve already decided we’ll homeschool next year.  Full-day school (as opposed to this year’s half days) is just not something I want for my family at this time.  Knowing that, I feel more comfortable with my current indecisiveness.  If things get worse at school, we’ll pull him.  But for now, we’re floating along a little further on the cloud of indecision.

A letter to my son’s kindergarten teacher regarding rewards

Dear Kindergarten Teacher,

My son came home very upset on Wednesday and it lasted through bedtime.  He’s told me that everyone but a few kids, including him,  received 4 reward stickers.   He said he wasn’t talking when they were given out and he isn’t allowed to ask you about stickers or he’d “get in trouble.” It seems that giving many students the large reward of 4 stickers is pretty obviously a punishment for those that didn’t receive them.

My son has had a rough start to school emotionally and has regularly not wanted to come.  As I told you in my email and at our conference, it’s been only two and a half weeks since he’s actually been fairly happy to come to school.  All because of a fun science experiment and because he’s had the chance to connect more with you as a person.  After last night I feel like we are back to square one.  Wednesday night in bed he asked me to tell you he moved so that he never has to come back.

We don’t use rewards in our family because we are working really hard to help our children develop intrinsic motivation and to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.  There is a lot of research available to support our beliefs in this regard.  I know you said at curriculum night that you don’t believe 5 and 6-year olds will make the right choices without rewards,  but research doesn’t agree. I’m linking a couple articles that are well-sourced with research articles noted. http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/risks-rewards/ and http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-gold-stars-2/

Obviously,  I’d love to see you do away with rewards all together,  as they are truly just the other side of the coin from punishment.  Kids are smart and they know that. But I mostly want you to know that what happens at school has long-lasting impact at home.  Even if his perception isn’t 100% what happened, it is still what happened to him, and illustrates another reason why rewards are a slippery slope.  My son’s school day negatively impacted the rest of the day for him (and us as a family),  and the next morning was not much better.  For a child who,  according to you,  understands and follows the rules,  that seems like a very harsh punishment.

I know you are concerned that they learn self-control and to work independently.  But my goals are different.  I want my son to further develop his love of learning and learn to appreciate being part of a school community.  I want him to learn that school is an enjoyable place to be, because without that how can it be expected that kids will want to be engaged, active participants? I want him to know that his teacher is a person he can go to for help. I’d really love to work with you to achieve those goals.

Thanks,
A concerned parent

A few other resources if you’re interested :
http://www.livesinthebalance.org/walking-tour-educators

http://www.naeyc.org/dap/10-effective-dap-teaching-strategies

Why I Don’t Help My Kids On the Playground

Thanks to Natalie for this wonderful guest post!

You know when you see little kids, who have just learned to walk, being held up on climbing structures by well meaning parents? I don’t do that. I completely understand why parents (and grandparents) do that. We want our kids to enjoy the full playground, all the levels, the climbing, and the slides. Here’s why I rarely help my kids out on the playground. Continue reading Why I Don’t Help My Kids On the Playground

Ghost Bowling — Halloween Special Time

We’ve had a really busy couple of months. We’ve been letting connection time with the kids go by the wayside and it shows. I’ve been feeling disconnected and I have to imagine they are as well. So when my son asked if we could have special time one evening, we made it happen. We set the timer for fifteen minutes and got out the ghost bowling set I’d been working on for a kindergarten party at school. My son and I drew on the faces with black marker. We found that our new toilet paper from Aldi had white rolls inside.  They make great ghosts!

A friend who was a long time kindergarten teacher suggested bowling with pumpkins rather than a ball. So we decided to try out an assortment of mini gourds we had. They were surprisingly different from one another in how they rolled.  It was a lot of fun watching them roll wildly.

Our assortment of gourds. The bumpy one rolled hilariously, and the pumpkin rolled so fast it rolled up the walls!
Our assortment of gourds. The bumpy one rolled hilariously, and the pumpkin rolled so fast it rolled up the walls!

My son also had the idea to hide pirate coins in the rolls and see how long it took to knock down the ghosts with the pirate coin inside. We took turns setting up the ghosts and hiding coins inside in different configurations.  Then we tried knocking them down one at a time (or not!) with the gourds and pumpkin. Our aim improved quite a bit in just a short period of time.

Pirate coins fit perfectly inside the rolls. Special time ideas at their finest!
Pirate coins fit perfectly inside the rolls.

Special time is one-on-one time with your child, and it can be for as little as ten to fifteen minutes per day. I find that when we make time to include it in our daily schedule, we’re more connected and appreciate each other more. It is so easy to let it slide, especially when we’re busy. But it’s such a small time investment for such a large payoff.  It’s really worth it.

Learning through play and allowing kids to follow their interests

“We learn to do something by doing it.  There is no other way. “–John Holt

I watched my son focus for close to an hour as he watched and tried to catch a frog at a local park.   He was completely engrossed and working really hard.  No frogs were harmed or caught, but it was such an illustration to me of the John Holt quote above.  He was definitely learning, analyzing, and using everything he knew.

“If it hasn’t been in the hand and body, it can’t be in the brain.” –Bev Boss

Child-led learning works this way.  No agenda from parents or teachers.  My son was still learning, experimenting, and directing me how I could help.  I was there to help if asked, and to share in the experience.  To have a real conversation with him about what was happening.

Right now, while my son is in half-day kindergarten, we still have enough time for adventures.  But it is definitely one of many reason I’m leaning heavily toward homeschool next year, when he’ll be in school all day.  I can’t imagine not having the time or energy to take him to do these things that he enjoys.

I read so much on this topic, and think so much comes down to trusting our kids.  And most people are too afraid to do that.  It’s outside what is accepted practice in the US for educating our children.    But why?  Why is it so hard to believe that kids can know what they need?

And even if we choose that homeschool is the right choice for our family, I think this is still a conversation we can’t ignore.  Children learn through play and hands-on discovery. Choosing to opt out of the system isn’t a viable option for everyone and most children are still being subjected to an educational system that doesn’t line up with what we know about how children learn. Parents are the ones who can change what schools look like and how they treat students.  No more saying, “Well, I’m not hearing anything negative from my child.  So it must be okay.”  All our children deserve for us to stand up and challenge the status quo.


Natalie Chooses World Unschooling and Asking Why

“Why?”

I am asked this several times a day, particularly from my 3 year old. If you have young ones who are talking, you probably hear this all day long, too. I answer the question. She asks why again. And again. And again.

Lake Erie. Sunset view from Vermilion, Ohio. I want travel to be a huge part of our unschooling
Lake Erie. Sunset view from Vermilion, Ohio. This was our beach “vacation” this year.

I don’t want to squelch this curiosity. I answer as much as I can. If I am stuck for an answer, I suggest we look it up online. Kids ask hard questions sometimes! However, I do want the round of questions to end eventually, so I ask my 3 year old “why” back, in the context of the conversation.

“Why is the food I pulled out the oven so hot?” I’ll say. “Do you know why the food is so hot?”

I usually will get a silly answer when I do that. We laugh and move on until the next time someone is curious about something. Later, I’ll hear an earnest little voice say, “be careful, mama. The oven is hot.”

We have no formal schooling going on, at ages 3 and 4. Unschooling and the newer term world schooling (which I refer to as world unschooling from here on out) are my choices for educating my children. And even with their insatiable appetites for knowledge,  it astounds me when they will tell me something I didn’t realize they knew.

“Did you know when ice melts that it becomes water because of the sun?” My 4 year old asked me the other day.

“That’s cool. I didn’t know you knew that!” I replied. When was the last time we talked about it? It could’ve been this summer when I was putting ice in our drinks. Or last winter, when it snowed. It could’ve been from the times I let the kids play with ice cubes and warm water for entertainment.

If you hold an ice cube in your hand, you can watch and feel it melting. You can see the water dripping off your hand. You can taste it. It firmly imprints in your mind exactly what an ice cube does when exposed to warmth. No one needs to sit you in a classroom and tell you that ice turns into water, while showing you a picture of ice melting.

Sunrise shadow play. Learning is playing and playing is learning!
Sunrise shadow play. Learning is playing and playing is learning!

What is World Unschooling?

If unschooling is child-led, informal education, than world unschooling would almost be a specific style under the unschooling umbrella. Traveling is important for stretching us out of our comfort zones and out of our daily routines. It can introduce me, the adult, to new things that I may not have even been aware of before. I can give my children more; more than I have inside my brain. More than my biases of the world. More confidence, more abilities, and maybe more languages.

While I dream of a longer, immersion style travel, starting somewhere in Europe, our travel is currently far more humble. We have been going on short weekend trips, along with regular trips to our local zoo and new (to us) parks. We are hoping to take our kids on their first international trip before the end of 2016.

Even if we can’t travel internationally this year, we can go to one of the natural history museums in our state. I’ve never seen a dinosaur skeleton. Neither have my children. We can visit a different zoo and see living animals we haven’t seen before, such as a hippo. Hippos are amazing and deadly creatures and they fascinate me!

Right now, I want to introduce them to the world I know, the world I don’t know, and always encourage them to keep asking why.

ABOUT NATALIE

Natalie started the travel blog blissmersion.com in April, 2016. Blissmersion is combination of the words “bliss” and “immersion, because she loves combined words almost as much as she loves alliteration. Longer, slower, immersion travel is her goal because she wants to show her children the world. Blissmersion is the collection of their travel adventures, as a family, and also of Natalie’s past travels.

School volunteering made hard

I always thought I’d volunteer at my children’s school when the opportunity arose. I do remember as a kid not really liking it when my mom would be in my school volunteering, unless I could be with her. But generally I was glad she was around, and glad she was involved.

I had my first volunteer opportunity to volunteer for a PTA walkathon that was held during school hours. It was hot and rather horrible, honestly. My son had a huge meltdown once he realized I was there.  He was miserably hot and when he spotted me, his emotion let loose.  After the walkathon he refused to go back into school. The event was really bad, so I can’t really blame his reaction. It was hot, kids were begging (and not being allowed) to stop walking before they had completed the mile walk. Several straggling kindergartners got lost in the woods during the walk.  There wasn’t enough supervision, so kids were fighting after the walkathon, throwing their snacks and water at each other.

I actually chose to sign him out rather than force him back into school. The teachers let me decide, and the secretary said it was fine and noted how hot it had been during the event. I hadn’t expected his reaction and wasn’t really prepared to deal with it. I’m not sure I made the right decision but it was the decision that felt best at the time. But now I’m really second guessing whether I can volunteer in his classroom at all.

His teacher asked for parent volunteers to help in the kindergarten class while they work on their work stations. But the work stations don’t occur in the middle of the class time, and I’m not sure my son will cooperate when it’s time to for me to leave. I would really, really like to view the classroom dynamics for myself and witness the atmosphere that my son complains about so much.  So I’m really trying to figure out how to make volunteering work.

I know many kids don’t react the way mine do. Most seem happy to see their parents and just as happy to have them leave. But if you have a child like mine, I’d love to hear how you make it work. Do you volunteer at your children’s events and school?