Friday, June 5, 2015

Zen & the Path of Mindful Parenting

Announcing my forthcoming book, Zen & the Path of Mindful Parenting: Meditations on Raising Children. Available October 2015! Amazon will email you when it's ready to order:

I share with you honest and sometimes funny experiences as a parent as I seek to grow myself through the trials and tribulations of raising kids. I weave Buddhist and secular mindfulness teachings with the Hero's Journey, which I think the path of parenting is all about.

Technology and Nature: Today's Kids Need Both

You have no doubt read that kids these days spend too much time on screens, and too little time outdoors. Articles and books arguing the evils of screen time quote studies linking screen time to obesity and diabetes as well as depression and lack of vitamin D (which can lead to cancer).

Then there are the equally compelling articles and blogs that posit that playing computer games is actually really good for our children. They learn hand-eye coordination, three-dimensional design, problem solving, and even social skills. They are exposed to math concepts, story arcs, and consequences. 

Which perspective is to be believed? I think it's both. Kids benefit greatly from screen time, and they need to also spend lots of quality time in nature. 

I suspect that the problems of screen time arise not from the computer or TV itself, but from circumstances outside the screen bubble, like poor nutrition and lack of attention from caregivers. I also sense that the debate - too much screen time? too little nature time? too much testing? - about what kids should really be doing with their time has more to do with our adult compulsion to control things than about kids themselves. The fact is, we cannot control the future. Sure, we can give our kids good nutrition, and that will give them a huge leg up in future health. We can make sure they learn to read, speak clearly and assertively, and perform math skills so that they can  follow whatever field they wish. But we don't know what jobs will exist in the future. We don't know what discoveries and experiences they will have that will lead them into a certain field. We also don't know what the changing planet will mean for them, although we have some ideas.

Climate change is here, as evidenced by crazy weather, acidifying seas, and melting ice caps. Because we refuse to turn off the CO2 machine, it's only going to get worse (and in fact, even turning off the machine wouldn't help for 100s of years, as we've already crossed the threshold of CO2 levels in the atmosphere). This is one reason why it is imperative that kids get to know the natural world. "If sustainability depends on transforming the human relationship with nature, the present day gap between kids and nature emerges as one of the greatest and most overlooked crises of our time, threatening people and countless other species. Helping children fall in love with nature deserves to be a top national priority, on par with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving species and wild places," writes Scott Sampson in How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature. 

But, consider the skills a child learns while exploring biomes in Minecraft, building houses and fighting zombies. She learns, in short, to craft and defend a world. She learns to keep trying when she is doomed. She learns to ask questions about how to solve problems, and learns how to find answers to those questions. These skills will help our children save our warming planet or learn to adapt to it just as much as a love of nature will. 

So I encourage parents, educators, and policy makers to stop arguing about the evils of screen time and whining about how little time kids get outside, and seek a powerful balance. Take kids outside. Let them use the same skills they so love in video games as they explore, question, and discover. Give them time to fall in love with nature. Then encourage them to do the same on a computer. What they create will go beyond anything we as adults could try to craft or force through their carefully controlled educations.

I believe it will be young people who love nature and are really skilled at well-created video games who will create technologies, policies, and plans that will bring our species into the next phase of human life on Earth, one that responds to the changing planet in a positive way. We can support them in this by bringing them outside and supporting their love of technology. It isn't an either/or situation, it's both-and. Nature and technology, engineering and love.

Homeschooling is About Cultivating Relationship


I recently read an article in a parenting magazine about how parents today spend too much time directly attending to our kids and trying to be super-parents, and it's wearing us out. How in the past, parents could send their kids out to play and not see them until dinner time. And I got this flash of understanding as to why so many parents can't understand why in the world I would choose to homeschool. Why they often feel slightly threatened by my homeschooling. They think that by homeschooling I am spending even MORE focused attention on my kids, and they are already tapped out with the homework-driving-to-practice-school-drop-off-plus-quality-time rigamarole. How do I possibly do that plus teach them and be with them ALL DAY LONG??? 

I don't.

What people don't realize is that homeschool is not business-as-mainstream-usual plus being their teacher all day. The moms (and dads) who try that approach burn out pretty much instantly. We mostly just spend time living in each others' space and learning about the world together. This article I read didn't count time "around" your kids, like when they are reading or on the computer, or time at meals. That is the majority of my time, spent "around" my kids. They play together, they play outside, they play computer games, we go to activities like homeschool skate and homeschool day at the Botanic Gardens, where I talk with my friends and our kids run around (or skate, as the case may be). I can whip out the microscope and we can look at pond water samples and look up the creatures we find. We do chores. We read books.

A non homeschooler reading this is probably thinking: "How is that homeschooling? How is that learning anything?" I know my kids are learning because I have a relationship with them where I get to talk about all the things they are thinking and wondering. I get to see them drawing pictures, I hear them throwing fun twists into their imaginative play that they picked up from somewhere. I can hear their vocabulary grow. I see them doing math when we cook, garden, or shop. I don't need to organize lesson plans, usually, because we humans learn by living. I get to see it used, explored, and developed. And I don't need to test them because all that learning gets used all the time, and through my connection with my kids, I see it. The key here is connection, rather than "hours spent" or some other external measure of "efficacy" or "goodness" or "success." It's just about connection. It's about creating meaningful relationships in and outside the home.

Homeschooling Books Recommended by Clea Danaan

Here are a few books to get you thinking about creative and eclectic homeschooling.

“This is a beautifully written, honest, introspective, soul-revealing, and soul-stirring account of one family’s choice to live close to nature and to allow their children to learn naturally, without school, in a self-directed manner.  The book’s biggest message, I think, is that we do have choices; we can chart our own lives, we don't have to follow the crowd if we don’t want to.”—Peter Gray, Research Professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn
___________________________ essence of John Holt’s insight into learning and small children is captured in Learning All The Time. This delightful book by the influential author of How Children Fail and How Children Learn shows how children learn to read, write, and count in their everyday life at home and how adults can respect and encourage this wonderful process. For human beings, he reminds us, learning is as natural as breathing. John Holt’s wit, his gentle wisdom, and his infectious love of little children bring joy to parent and teacher alike.
A new and updated comprehensive guide to homeschooling education for bright and talented children that gives parents essential information, including: tips for getting started; advice on social and emotional needs; homeschooling approaches and learning styles; pros, cons, and expectations of homeschooling; curriculum resources; research on and traits of gifted and creative learners; considerations for budgeting, planning, and record keeping; and practical strategies from real homeschoolers to help your homeschooling process go smoothly! New edition on the right. The older edition is also very helpful and is the copy I own.