Monday, December 21, 2015

What's inside a middle school brain?

6th graders are designing a recreational center for the school
using Google Sketch Up. 

It is amazing how much the brain changes from baby to kindergartner - parents are constantly awed by it. In this article by Katarina Schwartz, Harnessing the Incredible Learning Potential of the Adolescent Brain, she says that the teen years are akin to the years from birth to 5 for the ability of the brain to grow and develop.

I believe it!  In my experience, middle school kids are some of the most passionate learners there are. They need novelty and stimulation, for sure, and when their learning environment also gives them some autonomy, the magic combination spurs them on to amazing feats.

Witness the intensity of learning that happens in 6-7 STEAM Week - the joy kids show when designing and building bridges or launching rockets.  Or the concentration and grit it takes for 8th graders to complete a 20 page thesis and prepare and give oral presentations.  From thesis topics like Sugar, America's Favorite Drug, or State of Dreams, Panama's Role in the Power of the United States, you can just hear the passion.

Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg says that without novelty and intellectual challenge in school, teens are bored and they underachieve.

This past Friday, three eighth grade girls asked me if they could organize the whole school in a drive to collect clothing for a local homeless shelter.  Because they know they are supported in taking initiative, they have the courage to challenge themselves and to do good for others.

The developing brain of an adolescent is a wondrous thing!  Giving it a place and a chance to grow is a no-brainer.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Social-emotional learning at home

I love this article, Set Your Kids Free, that lists ten things that they should know how to do before they get to middle school. We tend to do things for our kids - but that deprives them of relying on themselves and gaining the satisfaction of being competent self-managers.

Teachers know that kids can be quite independent with some training, coaching and practice. Students are their partners in keeping classrooms functioning smoothly (cleaning up materials; doing chores; getting from place to place).

Here are some of the things that Elizabeth Stitt suggests that kids should be able to do before middle school.

  • Get up, dressed and washed on their own
  • Make their own breakfast - and lunch!
  • Get all their stuff to school on their own
  • Do homework on their own
  • Do some cooking and cleaning
  • Choose their own extra-curriculars (within your limits of time and funds)
  • Ask the teacher for clarification or help when they need it

Making sure your children can do these by the time they are eleven is your assignment, parents!  I know you will feel a deep sense of satisfaction and competency when you are done.  :)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Why is mindfulness important?

Weekly time with Buddies is one way we help children develop kindness, empathy, and caring. 
In a world where violence, discord, and disrespect are in the news on a daily basis, it is imperative that we give children (and ourselves) skills in becoming calm, kind, controlled and responsible.

To help our faculty become even more effective teachers in this area, Director of The Inner Resilience Program, Linda Lantieri, spent a day with us on Monday.  She urged the Parker faculty to continue to hold on to the courage to teach to the whole child - with compassion and collaboration front and center.

Linda gave us methods and practices that go beyond what we do with Responsive Classroom, daily calm breathing, self-reflection, and time outdoors.  To help children (and ourselves) be "in the moment," mindful and empathetic, she recommended daily activities such as building an increased vocabulary around emotions, writing gratitude journals, finding "pin-drop" moments and founding peace corners.

We know through research that children with well developed social-emotional skills do better at pretty much everything in their lives, so it behooves us to teach these skills explicitly.  Linda helped us learn a framework and techniques to build our own and our students' emotional intelligence.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Let 'em play

Play is the joyful focus of childhood - and the kind of imaginative play children do is something that fades as they move into adulthood. Can you picture a cocktail gathering of grown-ups who begin spontaneously racing all over the place chasing each other, clambering up a play structure and down the slide (over and over), and then deciding to take on roles of say, doctors with sticks as medical tools, while digging a hole in the dirt for their dead bug patients?  I love this image!

The natural developmental impulse of children to play is something that we tamper with at our own risk.  Taking it away is like taking away their tools for genius.  This recent article in the Straits Times, Let Kids Play to Help Them Succeed in Life, tells about five distinct types of play, (some of which adults still like to do): physical play, play with objects, symbolic play, pretense play, and games with rules.

The author tells about the creativity researcher George Lands who called children "genius-level divergent thinkers" who are naturals at coming up with multiple responses to problems, solutions that are highly imaginative and unrestrained.

Cultivating this natural genius seems like a good idea for educators to embrace.  For sure, giving children time for exploratory play is key.  At Parker, with a mission of inspiring curiosity and nurturing confidence, giving time and importance to play is one of the most important parts of our curriculum.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Leave 'em smiling

A walk down to Pre K on any school day leaves me grinning from ear to ear.  Here is a glimpse of Parker Pre K at 10:15 this morning.  (For interpretation, see previous blog post...!)

How can you not smile when visiting
costumed friends hard at work in Pre K?!

How do you say popcorn in Spanish?

This is a pirate ship!

We always remember to wash our hands

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What you learned in preschool...

Baking apple muffins for a snack in Pre K
What should we be teaching kids to assure their future success?  

Claire Cain Miller in Why What You Learned in Preschool is Crucial at Work in the Sunday New York Times, cites recent long-term studies that support the basics of the preschool curriculum - for everyone.  It turns out that flexibility, empathy, sharing, negotiating and playing well with others, combined with intellectual acuity, are absolutely key.  Jobs and wages for those who possess all these skills have far outpaced those where just one or the other domain, either social or cognitive, is required.  

Of course, that's no secret for us here at Parker.  Part of our mission after all, is "nurturing confidence and community."  On the ground level in the classroom that means giving children daily challenges to work in cooperative groups - for example during middle school STEM week when small teams of "engineers" design and build a bridge, and then produce a documentary video to go along with it.

This year in the 2-3's teachers are piloting a "Flexibility" curriculum, specifically teaching children how to give up rigidity and embrace cooperation.  Teacher Lynn Schuster writes, 

This week's Power of Flexibility work involved the kids running through an obstacle course with a rigid body and then with a flexible one. The average speed for completing the course with a flexible body was twice as quick as with a rigid one.

Other skills that build emotional control and response inhibition - some of the basics for what is called executive function, are incorporated in practices like Responsive Classroom and time for sustained make-believe play.  In this way, children learn to think before acting, take turns, recover from disappointment, or deal with perceived unfairness.  

It is always nice to have our basic values and teaching philosophy supported by research. With graduates in their early 30's who are Emmy winning film-makers, mechanical and mathematical engineers, successful social and business entrepreneurs, doctors, artists, lawyers, and not-for-profit founders, we see it in action!
Middle School kids cooperate on the "Up and Over",
an element on our Low Ropes Course

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Magical learning

Finding living treasures in the woods.

Testing for air and water temperature in a study of
human and weather impact on water systems.

Observational drawing at the pond.
At a school where being outside is the cornerstone of learning and a daily expectation, where kids eat lunch at picnic tables, have 2 daily recesses, go to the pond or a stream for science class, wander the meadows or gardens for observation, inspiration and contemplation - the passion for learning is palpable.  We are so lucky!

It's just no big thing, that during Friday Muddy Boots Club kids will get dirty and wet while building dams.  Or that climbing around on a ropes course in the woods is a gym class activity.  Or that iPads will be used for documenting pond life in preparation for video nature-news presentations.

We take it for granted that schooling at Parker will bring transformative connections with nature, push students into zones of challenge, and bring them insights and purpose.  It's not a big secret, what we are doing.  It is completely intentional. The practice of getting outside all the time makes it seem commonplace to us.  It has become ingrained in the way we function.  That is actually kind of magical, given the conversations around the purpose and practice of education in today's world.
Testing what colors honey bees are attracted to.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Technology in our children's lives

Have iPads replaced conversation at the dinner table?  What do infants observe when their parents are on their smartphones?  Should you be your child's friend on Facebook?

In her terrific book, The Big Disconnect, Catherine Steiner-Adair writes about our dilemma as parents and educators: How do we find the right balance with our own and our children's technology use?  She walks us through these tricky waters with evidence based on interviews with hundreds of children and families and the latest neuroscience research.

I hope you will read this book.  I couldn't put it down.  It speaks directly to our worries about how a toddler's brain is affected by screen time. About how we need to heighten our attention to our tweens and teens and what their hidden internet lives are.  She helps us grapple with whether to give our second graders iPads.  And how to set limits for ourselves and our kids.

Steiner-Adair is practical and sensible and the book is a great read.

We will have two discussion sessions at Parker using this book as a jumping off point.  You don't have to read the book to participate, but it would be great if you read even one of the chapters. I'll be there and I'll recruit a teacher or two to weigh in.  Let's talk about these issues together!

Tweens,Teens and Technology
Wednesday, October 7
5:00 - 5:45 PM in the Library

Connected Lives - Ages 3 to 10
Thursday, October 15
8:30 - 9:15 AM in the Library

Let me know if you are interested in a later evening time for another session!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Play and passion develop purpose

In Most Likely to Succeed, Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era Harvard education expert Tony Wagner with Tony Dintersmith contend that there are seven essential skills for kids to develop for future success:

1. Formulate good questions
2. Communicate in groups and lead by influence
3. Be agile and adaptable
4. Take initiative and be entrepreneurial
5. Effective written and oral communication skills
6. Know how to access and analyze information
7. Be creative and imaginative

And I might add another. # 8. Do good in the world

These skills are another way of talking about what educators call the Four C's of 21st Century skills:  collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication.

I would add: # 5. compassion.

These are great goals to strive for in educating students in and out of the classroom.  The trick in school is designing learning activities explicitly around these goals.

Presenting scenarios for humanitarian use of fuel cells (6-7's); preparing for a Show of Work on Hinduism (2-3's); coordinating a hunger awareness event (8th grade); running a "health clinic" for parents and buddies (Pre K 3) - these are examples of activities that build the kind of skills we seek.

The unspoken message is that teachers must possess all of these skills to model and prepare a nuanced and effective program.  There is no better way to say it: When Educators Make Space for Play and Passion, Students Develop Purpose.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Robotics to tree forts - the balancing act

Technology is such a mixed bag.  Building a LEGO robot and programming it to do very cool stuff - that's truly fun.  And so is building an awesome tree fort.

I remember as a child, begging to watch the hour of cartoons available on TV on Saturday mornings before I was told to "Go out and play!"  That part lasted the rest of the day.

Finding the balance for our kids today is challenging.  How much computer time is OK?  How can we make sure our kids are getting time outside for exploring?  Both build skills they will need in their futures: intellectual acuity, perseverance, ingenuity, a creative mindset, emotional stamina, flexibility and cooperation.

Teachers struggle with this balance, too.  When should we start teaching keyboarding?  How young is too young for learning through apps?  Here is an interesting article from MindShift about an experiment that shows that pencil and paper note-taking is much more effective for recall and analysis than taking notes on a computer.  The brain processes information in many ways, and we want to get it right!

This summer our faculty is reading Catherine Steiner-Adair's book, The Big Disconnect.  I've heard her speak and she is compelling in her arguments against screen time for both adults and kids.  Our reliance on our phones and iPads  - our literal addiction to our devices - prevents us from connecting on an emotional level with those we love most.

Teachers will be discussing The Big Disconnect this fall and we'll hold some discussions with parents, too.  I hope you will join in the conversation!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Beyond Books

6-7's practice the presentations they will give to executives at local
fuel cell company, Plug Power.
Raising smart kids isn’t about teaching to the tests; it’s about building brainpower. Kids who can seek information, connect ideas and apply what they’ve learned aren’t just book- or school-smart – they are life-smart.       ~ Four Skills Smart Kids Need to Succeed, Metro Parent

Parker is a school filled with kids who love books.  But they don't stop there.  During the last weeks of school, we witness the multitude of ways our kids move beyond "book-smarts" to "life-smarts".
  • The 8th grade thesis presentations were passionate and poised.
  • 6-7’s STEM Week: students built hydrogen fuel cells and wrote persuasive speeches about how Plug Power should donate them to places in the world where there are humanitarian crises.  They will give the speeches on June 8 to Plug Power executives.
  • 4-5’s had a great trip to Ellis Island. They are each taking on the persona of an immigrant to America, then writing and performing a play for their Show of Work.
  • 2-3’s are studying China: writing research essays, learning Chinese music in English and Mandarin, accompanied by our Xingtao on the hulusi (traditional Chinese instrument) and creating scroll paintings.  They will be performing a dance for the Show of Work.
  • K-1’s are studying Africa through stories, research about animals of the Savannah, weaving, song and dance.
  • Pre K classes have taken field trips to Five Rivers and are delighting in the beautiful spring weather.  Teachers prepared a slide show highlighting the rich themes they explored this year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Where children yearn to be

Learning, like fire without oxygen, can suffocate without freedom.

In her Times Union editorial, Picturing Education on a Bell Curve, Kristin Christman bemoans the strictures placed around traditional schooling.  Why does school have to be the way it is?  Why can't we be more creative in how we structure school?

I have often wondered the same thing.  Does the lunch room have to be a loud place lacking in civility?  Why is there a rigid schedule that leaves out time for flexibility and play?  I recall as a child feeling like school was a long sentence stretching far into my future. Summer was the welcomed reprieve for losing myself in a book, and during my six weeks of camp in the mountains an unbelievably free time to discover what seemed far more real and important than what happened during the school year.

As progressive school educators, we have the luxurious freedom to work with like-minded colleagues to craft a school experience that puts the children first.  We can make school interesting and fun.  We can eat lunch at small tables with friendly civility.  We can take the afternoon for Muddy Boots Club or a week for tinkering with engines and planning how to do "good" in the world.  We like to ask ourselves, how can we best capture children's hearts and minds?  How can we make school the place children yearn to come?

School  - and at Parker that includes summer camp - is meant for intense friendships and self-discovery, where kids can get lost in a good book, tinker, dance, experiment and play in the woods. A place where kids learn to question and think, to hold themselves to the highest standards because it matters.

Christman has it right: To thrive, children require sleep, shelter, nutrition, fresh air, nature, athletics, play, love, family, friends, stimulation, education, community, a sense of power and purpose, and freedom to pursue their passions. Of course school should be that place where children thrive!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Guest Blogger - Head for the Day

The 6th graders made edible water bottles, and I tried one. They tasted terrible! I had a good day being Head for the day!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Why hands-on?

From planting seeds to constructing fuel cells, we engage kids in hands-on experiences.  Why is this a good way to educate?

Psychologist and education reformer John Dewey proposed that learning through experience, and not by rote, was key to children's intellectual and social development.  We see this dynamic in action as children work together to construct understanding of the world around them and determine how to ask questions and solve problems. 

The efficacy of hands-on learning is obvious: from preschoolers' exploration of growing things - to 6-7's recent STEM Week spent constructing hydrogen fuel cells and creating persuasive presentations for executives at local company Plug Power.  Through taking care of our world, from the simplest understanding of what plants need to thrive, to the nuanced and complex advocacy for how fuel cells and other forms of sustainable energy can be used in areas of humanitarian crisis, children gain a sense of agency and responsibility.

 Education becomes relevant and vital and of course, very interesting.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Celebrating Shakespeare and the Earth

We had an absolute ball on Shakespeare Night.  The  9-day artist-in-residence program with dramatist/clown Sean Fagan and his crew brings every child in the school onto the stage.  Seano works with our teachers and the kids themselves to adapt everything from a song or a storybook, to Macbeth, making a magical evening of theater.  The kids had crazy fun on stage, reveling in language, pratfall, song and plot line - and in each other's successes.

We are all a little tired today, so a buddy hike celebrating Earth Day was just the thing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Can we innovate in reading and writing?

Let's take "innovation" out of science class and apply it to reading and writing.

In this great article by Nancie Atwell, winner of the $1 million Global Teacher Prize, Atwell says that the most powerful innovation in her 40 years as a middle school English teacher was giving her students time and choice as readers and writers.

That's a powerful idea in an era of textbook and test-driven solutions for education's failures, and of course it is the same philosophy we adhere to at Parker.  Read Atwell's article!  It is filled with great examples of students who tune in to their intellectual lives through developing a passion for reading and writing.

Our eighth graders are preparing the oral part of their thesis projects now, looking for ways to make a compelling presentation about an idea for which they have developed expertise.  6-7's will be preparing persuasive speeches about third world uses for hydrogen fuel cell engines after a week of building such engines.  They will deliver their impassioned talks to executives at local company Plug Power.

Reading, writing and speaking that is attached to themes, big ideas, and high-interest topics is a huge motivator for kids.  Their hunger for more drives the practice that is needed to become more skilled. Teachers don't need to wheedle, push or pull the kids along.  They can set the stage for discussion and intellectual curiosity to blossom, make DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time a daily ritual, and stand back.  A great librarian helps, too.

Read more in 2-3 teacher Lynn Schuster's blog Here in the 2-3's or in K-1 teacher Jennifer Gresens blog posts about writing and reading.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kids need to play

As our country has increasingly embraced the academic orientation of the educational reform movement, many children no longer have the opportunity for imaginative play, particularly after they enter kindergarten. They therefore lack the foundational skills that are linked to play: memory, emotional self-regulation, oral language and literacy, perspective-taking, and social competence.  It is these so-called “soft skills” that enable children to succeed in elementary school and beyond.  
                                                                                             ~ Laurie Levy in her blog Still Advocating

There is a reason that children love to play.  It is a natural and developmental way of learning.  Laurie Levy, founder of an innovative preschool in Chicago, writes in her article Play Needs to Follow Kids to Kindergarten, about the essential skills gained through imaginative play.  

Play is a renewing and refreshing part of the day for students of all ages.  The tinkering, social negotiating, roll-play and enjoyment  - and the choices involved in deciding what to play and with whom - are as important as the hour for math, music or reading.  Thank goodness at Parker we have the freedom and philosophy to give importance to play beyond preschool and to hold it inviolate in a fully scheduled school day.

Not lost in translation

This year we admitted our first student from abroad - Xingtao Liu from China. It has been an amazing year from the perspective of all of our students, our teachers, the host family, and of course, Xingtao himself.

Xingtao's grasp of English has become nuanced and deep.  He has become a full part of his host family's life and the community of the school.  Xingtao told his host parents in his Student-Led Conference that he had learned everything in more depth this year.

This morning, he was part of the Skype interview with a candidate from China for next year's 7th grade.  Xingtao and the interviewee conversed in both Mandarin and English (and then he translated for Laura, our admission director and me.)  We asked Xingtao to describe his experiences here to the student on the computer screen, which he did in lilting Chinese.  We asked him to translate what he had said.

"Chinese education and American education are different.  In China it's more about skills. Here at Parker it's more about the personality.  You learn how to be a person."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How often do students get to do important work?

Once a student creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom -- work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful -- that student is never the same. When you have done quality work, deeper work, you know you are always capable of doing more.                           ~Ron Berger

Ron Berger is an amazing educator.  He used to teach fifth grade in Western Massachusetts, and is now Chief Program Officer at Expeditionary Learning Schools.  He wrote two books that we use as a guide for how we teach at Parker: A Culture of Quality and An Ethic of Excellence.  I love these books.  

I recommend that you read an article he wrote that is part of a series about Deeper Learning in Edutopia, Highlighting Student Work. Ron writes about the exceptional work that is possible for every student to produce.  When students have projects with an authentic purpose, that are done for real reasons and audiences beyond the teacher, they can rise to heights they didn't know were possible.  

This is what we strive for at Parker.  Stream to River in 2-3 and 6-7, the Thesis Project in 8th, and our upcoming hydrogen fuel cell project with local company Plug Power all come to mind.  When 6-7's present their persuasive arguments about energy to the executives at Plug Power, their ideas and delivery will matter.  High stakes - high expectations - high motivation - high achievement.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

After Parker

Our alumni are amazing folks.

After Parker about half of our kids go to public schools and about half to independent schools.  95% go on to college - many to top tier schools and that's impressive.  But it is what they do with their educations that is most important.  After college their stories vary widely: from the Peace Corps to the diplomatic corps - from PhD programs to tech start-ups.

These are interesting people, committed to making a difference in the world - where ever they land.

Associate Director and art teacher, Susie Merrett, who has been at Parker since the beginning, recently sent our alumni a Facebook message, "What are you up to?"  She has had wonderful responses.

From the Parker class of 2010 to the class of 1997, below is a teaser of some of their stories. To read more about our interesting grads, CLICK HERE!

Elana Cohen ‘10: Hey Susie! I’m at Cornell and currently studying to go to medical school; right now I’m planning on a double major in English and biology with a concentration in molecular biology and a minor in fine arts. If you need anything else let me know!

Aaron Banks ‘98: Hi Susie and fellow Parker alumni, After graduating from Tufts University, I moved to Washington and worked in politics and advocacy, including on Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and as Campaign Manager for the anti-global poverty advocacy organization ONE. In 2010, I joined the Foreign Service and have had diplomatic posting in Washington, New York, Yemen, and London, where I am now half-way through a great two year tour.

Molly Mulligan ‘97:  I finished my PhD At UMass Amherst in 2011M1 in Mechanical Engineering and moved to Israel to do my Post Doc at the Technion in Haifa. After that I was supposed to come back to the USA, but instead I got a job at a startup in Tel Aviv called SpacePharma, where I’m the director of lab technologies. My company is pretty cool, because we are working to be a low cost alternative to the space agencies around the world for doing space based research in a variety of fields including biology, medicine, material science, and agriculture. I’m really enjoying life in Israel.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A customized education

Six- and 7-year-old children are active learners. They use all of their senses to learn in a variety of ways. Each child learns at their own pace. Play is their work. Using materials they can manipulate helps them think about how things work, use their imagination, and solve problems. They construct knowledge through their experiences.

In this Times Union article veteran teacher, Peter Rawitsch expresses frustration at the lack of time for science, social studies, exploration and play in his public school first grade class.  He feels that Common Core and testing pressures have pushed an inappropriate curriculum upon children and teachers alike.  

For expert teachers, the most effective way to teach is to get to know the learners in front of them and tailor the teaching/learning experiences accordingly.  We are lucky at Parker that we have small class size and the teacher:student ratio in our lower grades of between 1:4 and 1:8 for several hours each week.  The teachers know the children and their skill levels intimately.  This is an incredible luxury - and it is also why we can customize the learning to a wide range of learners.

In Finland, the most successful country in the world on international tests of reading and math, the schools have no grade level standards.  They just don't think that way.  Their model is based on the developmental timeline of each individual child - and by knowing each individual, teachers can customize  - not standardize - the learning.

The public school system in Finland is more like our private school system.  Each school is independent in its methods.  Within this autonomy teachers are respected professionals who make decisions about what students need and should learn each day.  In this way, Parker is much like Finland. Our students are successful not because of standardization, but because teachers have the freedom to customize the learning.   

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When students take charge

Student-led conferences will be rolling around in a couple of weeks, and the preparation has already begun.  Students of all ages will choose pieces of work that show their strengths - and pieces that illustrate areas where they need to grow. They answer questions designed to foster self-analysis, "What do I do well - and which piece of work shows it?"and "What steps do I need to take to improve?"  They practice the presentations well before conference day.

Students gain a feeling of responsibility for their own learning and success - a key skill for life. Practice with self-reflection gives them confidence and self-knowledge.  From a parent's perspective, the typical question, "How's my kid doing?" segues into realization that their child is able to look deeply and set real goals.

In the Mindshift article Why Students Should Take the Lead in Parent-Teacher Conferences, the authors say, "Over time the parents begin to set a higher bar for their children at these conferences."

Walking around and observing the family groupings at student-led conferences is one of my favorite things at school.  The conversations are revealing and often touching.  The child holds his or her parents' undivided attention and feels their respect and pride.  They both glow.  So do the teachers.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The beauty of blocks

Big blocks, little blocks, hollow blocks - they're simple and classic  - and research says they increase kids' language skills.  Blocks promote slow play - the opposite of the beeps and buzzes that rev up the brain when kids use digital toys and games.  Blocks also promote social interaction, cooperation, and spacial reasoning.  Playing with blocks builds executive functioning - the skill that most predicts success later in life.

Blocks are a practically perfect toy in every way.  Read about Why Slowing Down Stimuli to Real Time Helps a Child's Brain.  At home or at school, blocks rule!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Teen hearts and minds

Insights into the adolescent brain are always welcome.  It is both wonderful and challenging to be an adolescent and to teach and parent one, too.

This interview with Frances Jenson Why Teens Are Impulsive, Addiction-prone, and Should Protect Their Brains, gives great insight about what is actually going on inside the developing mind of an adolescent.  Her book, The Teenage Brain looks like a great read.  

What most interested me in the interview was the advice about using media.  Teens (and preteens) don't yet have the ability to stop doing an alluring activity when they need to.  For example, they want to keep their phones under their pillow at night - texting and responding to "pings" and not sleeping.

Fortunately our teens have us - their parents and teachers - to help them when their brains are not quite ready to.  It's up to us to take the phone away, to set the limits, to help them remember that they can cope with setbacks, and to give them opportunities to practice good decision making.

A few things I have noticed about middle school children is that they are passionate about ideas, embrace causes with all their hearts, and thrive when given real responsibilities.  They deeply desire to be part of a close community and to be known - and accepted - for themselves, and forgiven for the mistakes they inevitably make.

The photo above shows preschoolers helping our middle schoolers take out the recycling.  Being in the role of a nurturer is something that most teens absolutely love.  Within the embrace of a caring community, teens can take intellectual and emotional risks.  When they feel confident that adults around them will provide the stops that their own brains can't, they are free to test limits within the bounds of safety.