Category Archives: Guest posts

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.

“You’re tattling again!” A look at tattling from a child's perspective

Thanks to Michelle for this guest post about tattling!

“You’re tattling again,” my daughter tells me the teacher responded to her one afternoon. My daughter approached her first-grade teacher to inform her that a fellow classmate was opening supply cabinets.

“So, are we allowed to go into those cabinets?” my six-year-old questioned.

“No,” her teacher replied.

This is just one of many examples involving “tattling” that my daughter has brought home from her year and a half in public elementary school. For her, tattling is a new concept since it is not a phrase we use at home. When our two daughters come to us about another child’s behavior, we listen because our child has come to us with a concern. We don’t solve the problem for her. But, we do help her find language to address her concern with the other child.

In this situation, we might have responded with, “Thank you for noticing what’s happening in the classroom. I know that you can remind your classmates of our rules. Do you want me to stand near you this time while you let him know?”

Why do kids tell?

In this instance, my daughter’s immediate follow up question reveals her primary motive in coming to the teacher. She is asking, “Is that student doing something that is allowed? Am I allowed to go into those cabinets, too?” Her motive is not to cause the other child to have consequences or be punished. Rather, she sees something happening in the classroom that does not make sense to her and she is seeking out clarification from the authority figure in the room. How do I know this? Because I asked her and my daughter has a history of responding with honesty. There have been situations where she does want another child (usually her younger sister) to face negative repercussions and she is typically upfront about that desire.

My daughter attended a preschool focused on helping children stand up for their bodies, articulate their personal boundaries, and confront unwanted behavior from others. She is no stranger to saying, “No!”, “Stop!”, and “Respect my body!” She has also been raised in an environment both at home and in her preschool setting where adults have been her resources when others don’t listen to her boundary setting. Her first week of kindergarten involved a boy in her seating group calling her names and purposefully spitting in her face. My child did exactly what she had been raised to do. She repeatedly responded, “Stop spitting in my face! Don’t call me that!” When she got home, she told me about the incident and her reaction, and I felt reassured that she was able to look a new child in the eye and establish boundaries for how that person should treat her.

Children looking for help

In other words, my child does not run to adults to solve her problems for her. But, she does need to be able to turn to the grownups in her environment when someone fails to listen to her boundary setting, when a situation is confusing, or when she is uncertain how to appropriately handle a conflict. As adults, we have access to many resources. We can seek help from family and friends. When conflicts escalate, we can call the police or other emergency personnel. We can choose to get help from a counselor, therapist, or professional mediator. If we are uncertain about a rule or law, we can search for information on our computers and phones. We can even drive ourselves to the library and find entire books filled with information and resources that can help us. Now imagine if you were five or six years old and navigating a new school classroom environment. What resources are at your disposal? Who can you turn to in times of conflict or confusion? Naturally, your teacher is the first person that comes to mind.

No tattling

After a year and a half of wading through a school culture that is drastically different than our home and preschool experiences, I can’t recall all of the times the term “tattling” has been on my daughter’s tongue as she got into the car after school. In fact, I struggled with finding just one or two examples to write about in this post. In the end, I decided that what is most important in all of the incidents that we have experienced is that my daughter is looking to her teacher for guidance and it is not being given. My child’s teachers have not been the resources she has needed when peer conflicts have arisen and classroom rules have been confusing. Instead, she has received a curt response to “stop tattling.” During our fall conference, her current teacher informed me that my daughter is “a little police officer.” After a conversation in which my husband and I tried to articulate our point of view about why we don’t use the term tattling in our household, the teacher continues to use that phrase with my daughter.

Tattling vs telling

Based upon a Google search of tattling in the classroom, our school’s approach does not seem to be isolated or unique. Teachers are charged with the responsibility of helping children distinguish between “tattling and telling.” Telling is intended to be something that violates the physical or emotional safety of another. Some teachers seem to group all of the concerns children express about their peers and possible violations of classroom rules into the category of “tattling”. I believe this distinction is nuanced and difficult for a kindergartner or first grader to understand. Additionally, grown-ups may have a difficult time understanding what constitutes a violation of a five or six-year-olds “emotional safety.” “She won’t play with me at recess unless I give her my marker,” might feel like a small incident to a parent or teacher. For a child, this might be a difficult and emotionally threatening situation that requires the help of an adult to navigate.

Using the term “tattling” communicates that a child’s concern is not worth adult attention. When my daughter has received this feedback from teachers, she has articulated that she feels corrected, scolded, and silenced. When we use this language, we are shaming our children for having a concern that feels too big to handle on their own. How can we expect them to turn to us throughout their lives as their challenges grow if we cannot take the time to listen and help them now? As a mother, I worry about the long term consequences of my child learning in an environment where her concerns are communicated to be invalid, unimportant, and extraneous to the learning environment. In fact, one website indicated that tattling takes away from “real learning,” but isn’t learning to respond to conflicts with our peers one of the hardest, ongoing lessons of our lives?

There are better approaches out there

During my research, I was happy to find this resource from Responsive Classroom that argues for a more nuanced approached to tattling. It is important to empower our children to resolve conflicts and establish boundaries with their peers. As parents and teachers, we do our children a disservice when we intervene and do this difficult work for them. When faced with a child who brings us a concern about a peer’s behavior, we can role model how to communicate with others and help our children find the words to articulate their needs.  If we fail to do this, we communicate harmful messages that can have a long term impact in silencing our children. When we dismiss their attempts at communicating a concern as mere attention seeking behavior or a general nuisance, we are creating an environment in which adults cannot be trusted to be the resources our children need.

Resources:

A balanced perspective from Responsive Classroom: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/what-to-do-about-tattling/

Difference between tattling and telling: http://www.togetheragainstbullying.org/the-difference-between-telling-and-tattling

Managing tattling in the classroom: https://classroomcaboodle.com/teacher-resource/tattling-school/

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.

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.