What is natural learning?

What is natural learning?

Natural learning is getting out of the way and letting kids self-organize and learn without intervention.

It should happen every day, multiple times a day if possible. It is the simplest way to allow for differentiation because it happens naturally. Children will call on their strengths when in flexible learning situations to put their best self forward. 

The key is to develop frameworks and educational products that don't get in the way of natural learning and development. To do that, the creators of these products have to be able to see what natural learning looks like and create products that support the natural order of things.

Moving to Cody, WY, The Other Side of the Story

Moving to Cody, WY, The Other Side of the Story

Our move to Wyoming was anything but smooth. Our first and only weekend in Wyoming was cut short due to snowfall and my husband’s interview schedule for his new position.

The wife of his soon to be boss drove me around town to show me what she had learned about in her six months in Wyoming, complete with an evening at their house on Cedar Mountain that had views that could take your breath away. The drive up their road was tricky though; there were rabbits everywhere!

A realtor assigned by the company would drive us around neighborhoods, but would not show us a house since there was no offer in hand. I remember the feeling of nausea and anticipation about how our lives might be changing and the lack of understanding by the one person who was assigned to help me see myself living here.

The quaint downtown street with the mountain views and mule deer wandering the sidewalks sold me on the place despite my fears.

Back in Texas, we leased a house site unseen on the road to Yellowstone. It would not be until a few weeks later, and my husband's early arrival that I would understand this small summer tourism town was not one you could navigate online. You had to be here in person. Talking to people, except not on Sundays since “we all go to church dear” or after 5 pm or before 9 am.

It was my husband's alarmed call from that first night in a dark, quiet cabin that made me realize how bad our plan had been. There might be a little creative license here, but it is funnier this way. As he described the herd of Elk outside the door, his lack of outdoorsiness and the talk of how to be cautious at night because of Grizzly bears let us know we weren’t in Kansas anymore Toto.

We did eventually find a wonderful house to lease in town, and soon after a home to buy. As we drove through our old neighborhood and passed the cabin this past weekend after our morning skiing, I was struck by its beauty and a longing to have a home someday out there. It was no longer the isolated wilderness that we once imagined. It was a beautiful landscape of home.

The other side of the story:

“You guys want to have some fun? I saw Texas plates turn off the main road, let’s see what they’ve got!”

“3-2-1 Now! Dart in and out in front of the car as fast you can as they make that turn up the mountain road! “

“Whee!!! Whoa, that was close!”“I have never seen so many rabbits,” said the wife to her husband.

“I am so glad you didn’t hurt one of those poor little things,” she said.

“That was hilarious, nice job Joe! Let’s wait until they leave and do it again. I love these outsiders.”

Such is a life of an animal in Yellowstone Country. Unsuspecting humans enter into a wilder world from whence they came, and the animals have a bit of fun at their expense.

Meanwhile, up on the North Fork, some juveniles from the Cody Elk Herd are planning a little prank. These poor Texas folks have no idea what they are in for.

“Uncle Jack, can you help us out with a prank? We need a Bull Elk to make some noise.”

“The sounds I make are not a joke. We only use that sound in rutting season,” said Jack.

“I know Uncle Jack, but just this once? Only a bull can make that sound, and we aren’t old enough yet.”

“Okay kids, let me teach you how to do it, and you can practice on the newcomers, but don’t tell your Dad. I don’t see any harm in that. The trick is to let it bubble up from your diaphragm, into a low growl, and then let it erupt like the geysers into an eerie whistle. Got it?”

“Okay guys, you heard Uncle Jack, work from the die something and explode with a roar! Okay, let's get into position the human should be coming back out with his puppy again. We can scare him!”

“Okay, let’s hang near the house, but be quiet until they get close. They can’t see in the dark like we can so wait...hold a minute... Now!”

Just then a small group of juveniles lit up the soundless space with the most bloodcurdling sounds that shocked the human dead in his tracks.

A few strange words erupted from the human as he ran as fast as he could with a flying puppy on a leash trailing behind him.

“Oh man, here comes Dad, we are in trouble again, but boy was it worth it. See you fellas in the morning. You guys better get going.”

And with that, they all scattered hoping their parents would not know who pulled the prank all the while looking forward to tomorrow night’s time to play with the human again.

My friend Chris Brogan's book, Find Your Writing Voice, is what prompted me to write this back in January 2017. It is time to laugh and get back to living. I hope you enjoy the story, and if you want to improve your writing, buy the book already!

Rest in Peace

Rest in Peace

My father died this morning. True to the man he was, he waited until no one was in the room to leave as quietly as he lived. A man who would not tell us a year ago, that he directed his doctors to stop the treatments that took away his quality of life.
A man who jogged every evening at the local college to clear his head and care for his body. He would celebrate 60 years of marriage to my mother in November 2016.

A man who refused to let his family suffer and wait while he awaited his fate.
Over the years, we would share conversations about belief in God, to which he would reply only, "it is better than the alternative," to the truth of someone battling terminal cancer when he said, “no one, no matter their age wants to die, Kath.”
It would be in these moments over the years, brief and clear that I would learn about the man and his beliefs. I would never know his despair through words, even though on our last visit together it was all around him. The fear of the unknown and the love for my family and me was there in between the grimaces of pain and slivers of joy as my children would say, “I love you Pop.”
I will remember our trading of books and the beer tent at the end of more than one 5k. It is the memory of him cheering me on in only a way a man of his generation could through high expectations, appropriateness, and love.
Born in 1932, he would experience the world and its vast changes taking every discovery as a challenge to learn more.
I am at peace this morning as I prepare to make the journey home to help my mother and siblings put our father to rest. I will prepare music to sing at his funeral because there is no greater way to honor his life. 
I will hold my children a little tighter today and hug my husband longer as I remember that all we have is today. Tomorrow is promised to no one.

Deciding to Be Mentally Well and Saying Goodbye

Deciding to Be Mentally Well and Saying Goodbye

Mental health is a decision for me. I decided when I was diagnosed with BiPolar II that I would be well. 
The hardest part of that decision and with any type of learning is that I was not sure what that meant for me. I did not know what it was to be well. I did not trust my own mind to help me see it when it appeared.
My father who at the time of this writing is preparing to leave this earth asked me a question that has been turning around in my head for all of the years that followed. It was “now that you know what it is, what are you going to do about it?”
I would realize through the many teachers I have followed and learned from that being mentally healthy is a decision. The one I make each day and each moment.  

Every day is a new day to make that decision. Some days I am more focused on it than others, but it is always there in the background, “what are you going to do now?”
As I visited with him last week, knowing deep down that it might be the last time I would see him I wanted him to know I was okay, better than okay, well. The letters and calls in the months and weeks before would tell him all he needed to know. I would plan my return trip, and hope that he found peace soon while still wanting to be there when he found it.

I would pour out my heart between the lines of everyday activities and adventures of raising a family. I would send him books, postcards, and treats from our travels near our new home when he could not longer do that himself. I would take a little of him with us so that he and I could stay connected.
His check-ins over the years, would be “how are you doing?” which meant more than the passing phrase. It meant how are you doing, are you well, are you happy?
Yes, dad, I am well and I am happy.
Today, as I hold my breath waiting for that call, taking the time to meditate, and do my morning yoga, tend my garden, and write. I send out wishes to the universe for peace for his journey and that he will visit me soon in spirit.
We had a complicated relationship. His tough love from a distance, a man of few words, was actually just what I needed to know that I was strong enough to do this alone. I don't believe I would have found peace if I had been coddled through my illness. 
What are you going to do now?
I will send you off Dad with wishes of peace and love from a distance. I will live well and raise my children well and love my husband well. I will share what I have learned along my journey so that others can decide what they will do now. I am happy, and loved, and well.
I will remember you with that smile and hear you in those times I need to be reminded that being well is a decision and it's up to me. I am stronger for having you as my father, and I hope you're at peace as you begin your next adventure. 
Until we meet again. I love you,

The Art of Paying Attention

“What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random are just patterns we can’t decipher.” ~Chuck Palahniuk

Paying attention is the first step to intellectual development. It is what all of our outdoor school days have as their foundation. Paying attention is not about listening to a teacher and following rules, but for us, it is about a conscious awareness of being in and of nature, and how that is experienced in each child and the adults that guide them.

Our last nature school day for the academic year took place at Beck Lake Park. I wanted the kids to experience the Braille Trail in Cody, WY. Being in nature should be a time of play and discovery, and as nature guides, it is our mission to pay attention when this time of play and discovery is interrupted.

I know for me as their guide that I learn much more through the art of paying attention to and from them.

I chose the Beck Lake Braille Trail today to remind the children that we can see with our senses just as those with challenges of sight allow their other senses to "see" nature.

The Braille Trail was one of my first nature walks with my family when we moved to town. It’s accessibility with a smooth concrete path, and trail markers allow anyone to experience nature. There are bathrooms, and shelter from the sun.

We began our nature experience with an exercise I call Soundscapes. 

Soundscapes are the process of paying attention through your sense of hearing. I brought quilts for the children to sit or lay on so that they could drop into their hearing sense. As they lay back and close their eyes, I give them gentle prompts.

  • What do you hear above your head?
  • What do you hear below your feet?
  • What do you feel on the ground?
  • What do you sense in temperature and movement above you and below you?

The last question is asking the children to feel for vibrations and the wind. We have already explored how animals communicate in a previous outing, and how animals or humans can experience the vibrations. This dropping into the senses of feeling and hearing are the basis for the Soundscape exercise.

We could take this soundscape further, and ask the children to draw the sounds on a map, but that would wait for another day.

After we experience the sounds, we ask the children what they know about Braille. A discussion that leads to a curiosity of reading by touch takes off. That is our cue to begin our walk through the Braille Trail. I do recommend smaller groups for sensory walks and hikes. Ideally, 3-4 children max per adult is best. Smaller groups are better because you can stop and pay attention to everything around you. Wagons are great for any tired little ones on the trail.

Before we started down the trail, I talked to the children about patterns in nature. I asked them to notice patterns in the bark of trees, rocks, leaves, and anything else they could see. I also reminded them of their felt senses, and we talked about the patterns of the wind at different points on the trail.

The children discovered a small snake in the grass just off the trail. I reminded them to observe, but not intrude on the snake's sense of space. The lessons of the language of senses in nature are always within reach.

As we completed the trail, we returned to the tables, and we broke up into groups. One group began work on a Zentangle. I reminded the children of the patterns they saw and showed them how to create their coloring patterns. This is an enjoyable activity with many therapeutic benefits including self-regulation and paying attention.

Some of the children got up from the table to explore the nearby nature and then began drawing their repetitive patterns. A Zentangle is a type of doodle created by filling in sections of an image or shape with designs. We chose our models in nature. 

As children learn to self-regulate, they often need to find a way to escape their circling thoughts or actions. A Zentangle station can be a place of refuge for a child and only requires some paper and pens. Keeping a tote bag with pens and paper in the car is a great on-the-go tool.

Our other group began a project of paying attention through touch. If you have mixed ages with you, have your older children gather 3-4 similar objects, such as twigs, rocks, or leaves.

Mark one of the objects in each group with a marker, and then have each child get to know the object. As they explore the objects, let them know that they will be asked to identify the one that is marked without seeing it. This activity was great fun and a challenge for many of the kids. The art of paying attention was taking hold, for them and for the adults with them. 

The last exercise was a gloved experience, and the children that were attracted to do this activity took part. Now that the children have experienced their heightened sense of touch, they were asked to put on a pair of garden gloves. Touching nature through a glove creates a barrier between you and your senses. Not unlike, not being able to see the forest or the trees.

We had a beautiful afternoon filled with tree climbing and some lawn games. The key to any outdoor school time is to allow the kids to explore with their senses and redirect them when their stronger senses might lead them away from the group. Doing this as a family is one of the most rewarding ways to pay attention to your children. We learn so much by following their lead, challenging them, and helping them expand what they have learned through their senses.

Children all have unique abilities, and it is up to us to see the patterns in the chaos and guide them as they grow.

Educational Choice for Super-Sensory Kids

Educational Choice for Super-Sensory Kids

Jane’s first-grade teacher calls to say that Jane’s behavior problems are escalating and she needs to discuss them with you.

Escalating? You did not know there were issues, to begin with, you say. Now, you know Jane has issues at home, but you feel blind sighted that the teacher waited until she was overwhelmed to talk to you.

Teachers do their best to handle things themselves, but knowing more information early on can prevent many problems down the line.

I know because I have been there. Our first year of attending classes showed me just how much I need to help educate those that help guide my children's learning. It is not about micromanaging, but it's more like getting to know one another better.

Helping your child's teacher understand your child’s sensory profile before they begin the year will allow the teacher to ask for help and guidance and ultimately this can be beneficial for her entire classroom.

It may be more likely that the school is not an ecological fit for your child, and you will need to make some adjustments.

Ecological fit?

Your child’s environment may consist of home, daycare, or preschool, and various other places. It contains extended family members, community members, and teachers. The match between what these places and people can provide to meet the needs of your child is known as ecological fit. Just as flowers need to the right ecosystem and conditions to bloom, so do humans.

A match can mean the differences between a year of growth and a year of regression.

Fortunately, we live in a time where educational options for your child are limitless, but we need to know their requirements to be able to search out the right fit.

First, begin with your child’s individual sensory profile to find schools, learning guides, and environments that might be the right fit. You also will be better equipped as a parent because you understand and can help guide your child through their challenges. Teaching philosophy does not matter as much as the people guiding the learning.

It might be as simple as asking how much outdoor time is woven into the day, or how much freedom will my child have in how they explore the learning environment.

Democratic and Montessori schools can be excellent for children with sensory modulations issues because they lack the requirement to do a certain activity at a certain time. The key is whether or not the school is willing to help your child by providing a safe, flexible, nurturing environment while he or she navigates their development.

Waldorf schools can be a beautiful fit too, but your child has to be at a place in their development where they can regulate their responses in this type of environment. Waldorf schools that have a Curative Education specialist are ideal. To be successful in any learning environment, they need to understand how to calm and regulate their sensory selves or have a teacher that nurtures that process.

For example, if you have a child who seeks vestibular or movement-based input and cannot get enough spinning, swinging, sliding, and rolling. A classroom with a corner swing, spooner boards, or a balance beam that they have free reign to use when needed is essential.

A classroom that is connected to the outdoors, by providing many intervals of outdoor play is ideal. An outdoor play space and garden can produce the effects of a sensory gym.

The outdoor play provides natural sensory input that allows your child to focus on playing, which is a vital learning process.

Regular shifts in instruction in a traditional classroom that transitions between movement based learning and seat work are best for every child, but for a child seeking vestibular input, it can make the difference between growth or frustration, meltdowns, or outbursts.

So where do you begin? Start with a parent-based sensory profile assessment. If you are new to the world of sensory systems, I suggest purchasing The Learning Tree by Stanley Greenspan, MD. It will help you understand how the senses show up in your child.

You can help your child that is experiencing sensory challenges overcome them. Just start with understanding what they are, and you will begin to connect to the world with your child.

We Are Always Learning

We Are Always Learning

“Why do you put on yoga music to do yoga, to do meditation, to relax your body?” asks my son as he was drifting off to sleep in our bed. He wanted to snuggle, and I needed to shake off the day.

They notice so much more than we think. I was influenced by my own parent's habit of movement. My mother always enjoyed riding her bike around the neighborhood, daily calisthenics, and now walks. My father went jogging every evening without fail after a long day at work and into retirement. He continues to walk when he is able. It is their practice in movement.  

Why DO I do yoga? I think the question is why did I start practicing yoga.

I began when I was searching for ways to slow the pendulum of mood swings and grab some peace and stability. I thought I could eradicate the mood swings all together until I realized that mood changes are a normal part of living. It is how quickly we find our equilibrium that matters.

I read a study somewhere that said that yoga was good for mood disorders and bought a yoga DVD and a mat. I would move onto taking classes online, and connected with one instruction in particular. David Magone was as much a truth teller as a yoga teacher. He would guide me through the subtle shifts in awareness that made finding the proper alignment possible. He would speak of intention and to stay with your breath. I followed along for a long time before I understood what any of it meant.

Change is like this. 

We have to get out of our comfort zone and just begin somewhere. Just write, share, sing, or move, in whatever channel was given to you when you were born to express yourself most freely. It is where you can begin. We have to start if we ever want to learn. 

Learning is a moving target.

I have been reading a lot about Curative Education. A healing practice that originated out of the work of Rudolph Steiner and then further developed by Dr. Karl König. Dr. König went on to found the Camphill Movement in Scotland in 1940.

“The world speaks to children through their class teacher if the teacher has first permitted the world in its abundance to speak to them.” Kevin Avison & Martyn Rawson - Towards Creative Teaching

One of the most powerful things that I discovered about Waldorf teachers is the focus on the foundation of the teacher’s inner life. As we started our hybrid learning experiment, I went looking for a guide. A daily what to do type of thing. 

The problem is that my children and your children are evolving. They are always in transition, so a step by step plan just doesn’t flow well. The curriculum is the child, so we must learn to flow through it with them. 

As I began this path of learning how to help my son, I was frustrated by my lack of knowledge of how best to begin. I followed my connection to nature and found ways to soothe us all in the connection there. 

It would be my education of my inner life that has led to the awareness needed to help him. As I began to understand my inner storyteller and the false dialog, my new knowledge spilled over into parenting. As with any moving target, there are days when I do better than others.

That is why I do yoga at the end of the day. It is about acceptance that I must continue to stretch and find stability in myself to guide myself and my children through life.

They are paying attention, and we are always learning. Our life begins again each day.

It's Time to Come to Our Senses

It's Time to Come to Our Senses

"Mommy, do you know what I created?" asks J.

"No, but I love how colorful it is." 

"It is my emotions from today. This one is when you made me mad." 

These are things that your kids say that stop you in your tracks. I was relieved he knew how to express his feelings. I also learned how important it is to be able to express your senses.

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." Alfred Einstein.

Several months ago, I guided the kids through a natural alphabet project with their class. I was inspired by the book by Theresa Sweeney, Ph.D. called Eco-Art Therapy. 

Okay, I know what you might be thinking. Why is this even important? 

Does it have any value? Is it just another woo-woo idea to help us feel better? 

"The more high-tech education becomes, the more nature our children need." Richard Louv, The Hybrid Mind

Richard Louv cites a U.S military study about how some soldiers seem to be able to use their latent senses to detect roadside bombs and other hazards. 

I don't need a military study to tell me that people do not have an awareness of their personal safety anymore. 

We live just outside of the east gate to Yellowstone National Park, but we haven't always lived here. We moved here a couple of years ago, so I never realized how disconnected many people are from their surroundings.

Beginning in May each year, the stories start of tourists being injured or killed after being too close to a wild animal. The problem is a lack of connection to their personal sense of safety. You can see them approach animals to get a selfie or just the right shot. 

This one lesson of nature connection could help protect tourists in national parks, students on college campuses, and soldiers on the battlefield by allowing them to tap into their sensory awareness without a mental story that would influence their decisions.

Children that learn to connect and identify their senses will have a natural advantage in many different endeavors. They will strengthen vision, hearing, spatial awareness, smell, and even a more elusive set of mental senses that often become a source of stress or depression when misunderstood.

For my children, they began by creating something that connects them to their senses. The lesson has a long-lasting effect as they now are aware of their felt senses and emotions and will question and reflect as you can see evidenced by my son's drawing. 

The object of the lesson was to draw, paint, or create something that represents the felt senses because if you understand the difference between what you are feeling and what is a mental sense or story, you can avoid unnecessary suffering.

You will also be more able to adapt to the rapidly changing world in which we live. Would you like to see more sensory based nature lessons? Check out the Art of Paying Attention.

The REAL Reason Johnny Doesn't Want to Read

The REAL Reason Johnny Doesn't Want to Read

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and the growth of our soul. That's why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there'd be no Resistance.” 
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

“Look at this book I am reading! Did you know that Godzilla was in a short movie for the first time in 1910?” This conversation about his latest find in my stack of new books began just after 7 am. 

How do we help reluctant kids learn to love reading? What if their resistance is a cry for help? A way to become visible. A way to send up a flare to get someone to notice them?

Johann Herbart as the "father" of educational psychology believed that a student's interest in a topic had a tremendous influence on the learning outcome and believed that teachers should consider this interest along with prior knowledge when deciding which type of instruction is most appropriate.

How do we help children master reading well enough to follow their interests?

We need to take a constructivist view of education, which means that we must assume students must be actively involved in their learning and concepts are not transmitted from teacher to student but constructed by the learner. 

How do we get children actively involved in learning when they are resistant to reading, a skill that is required for many types of learning?

Resistance is that internal dialog that keeps us from doing, growing, and being all that we were created to be. It is as present in educators as it is for the students that they are trying to reach. There are cases of developmental challenges that need to be addressed in learning, but resistance is at the root of many students reading problems that do not have a developmental problem.

Where do we begin to unravel resistance?

We go back to the beginning. We observe how our children learn and take in the world around them. Every child will have one natural intelligence that is stronger than the other. A child who loves numbers and logic might struggle with a language based intelligence such as reading at first unless they are allowed to experience learning in a way that is supported by their strengths.

For example, the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Steps is a method that would resonate with a child with high spatial awareness and ability to recognize patterns. They would do well with this method. As you open the pages, it presents phonics and phonemic awareness in the way of symbols - much like mathematical equations. It is a step by step logic approach will draw in a logical thinker in a way that a linguistically based method would most likely frustrate them. It also provides that all important emotional connection between a student and a teacher. This bond helps form the basis of their intellectual development.

A child that has a high intelligence in language and linguistics will thrive with phonics apps and sound-based methods because it avoids the symbols and sequencing challenges as it builds on the strength of sound awareness.

Seeing the natural strengths in children begins with observation. It also avoids the misunderstanding of resistance. Often resistance to learning is misunderstood as defiance when it is often a defense mechanism to shield a child from the anxiety of failure.

4 Ways to Turn Around a Reluctant Reader

1. Read to your children A LOT!

We read a fiction novel to our children every night. We take turns, and all hang out to hear the latest antics. We have read through Harry Potter series, BFG, and now are working our way through the Phantom Tollbooth. 

2. Have your children learn another language online

Duolingo is an excellent free tool for language learning. It also requires students to translate phrases back into their mother tongue by typing it into sentences. 

What language should they learn?

Let them try out several different ones and choose for themselves. It is not about mastery, but about exposure to language and reading in more than one way. 

3. Give your children access to books at many different reading and interest levels. Get to know your public librarians. Allow your kids to spend time exploring and encourage your kids to get to know the library staff. They can explore and have a feeling of connection with others who love to read and learn.

Our children have a unique opportunity. Their mother is an educational consultant for a book distribution company. This means that there are books everywhere! 

Seriously, I had my husband building more bookshelves yesterday for our front hallway. They also have a mother who loves to read, and they see me reading. That is where it begins. 

We need to get past labels and begin to see our role as detectives. Why are they resistant? As they start to experience small wins, they will become more confident and with any luck run to you excited about a new book they found.