"We are living a public life on a global stage, the ones who can express themselves best, will be heard." -Laura Hill Timpanaro, Artist, Author, Educator

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Unguided Education, a recipe for success

It’s a phenomenon in my neighborhood. Children are guided at school. Children are guided at play.  So many children are engaged in guided after school activities that there are no children out playing on the block.  In the summer most of the children spend time at one or more camps.  This got me thinking.

I always hate when people say, “when I was a kid…,” but when I was a kid I remember spending a few weeks at day camp, sailing lessons and playing softball.  The rest was pretty much filled with endless days of searching for blue claw crabs off the docks by my house.  Early in the morning I’d hop on the banana seat of my bike with a bucket hanging off the handlebars, a ball of string and a crab net.  Then I’d ride down to the local fish store and get a fish head to bait the crabs.  My summers were spent this way, exploring the shore, talking to fishermen, learning to ride the waves, becoming familiar with the local ecosystem.  I remember the thrill and the terror of catching my first eel, which I threw, wriggling, back into the sea along with my pole and all the bait.

The point of this isn’t to walk you down my memory lane, but to jog the memories you hold of childhood summers.  Sure I have bad memories too. The lack of a/c, mosquitos that buzzed my ear all night, the boredom that came along with three months of freedom and culminated in hours of watching the clouds roll by while making grass whistles.

Think back, would you trade those days for ones filled with guided activities?

My guess it that maybe half of you would.  But I think we are missing a huge opportunity with our children when we don’t give them the chance to explore on their own. This year my daughters, who are 8 and 11, have been given a lot of freedom.  It took a huge amount of trust for them to overcome the fear that they lacked the abilities to navigate the world and even more trust for me to overcome the fear that freedom would result in disaster. 

Exactly the opposite has happened. My children are more interested and engaged in their world that ever before.

An old microscope sits in the living room, this year it has been used to examine flowers, spit bug spit and tiny creatures swimming in harbor water. My daughters discovered an ecosystem of thousands of fiddler crabs walking the shore at daybreak. They built forts out of driftwood and walked to town, purchasing ice cream with money they earned dog sitting.  They got an internship at the library using Photoshop to design bookmarks for the adult summer reading program.  They helped me craft and perform book talks for our new story, The Boy Who Cried Sea Monster.

If I relate this to school terms my daughters have spent the summer combining math, science, engineering and english language arts to create PBL projects using discovery and inquiry to formulate conclusions that led to results.  They have been self guided and have gotten feedback from people in different areas of the world on their projects.  They could not have accomplished this had I guided them.

As we move forward with new teaching methodologies, common core and technology, which some students will master before their teachers, I think it’s important to remember that many of these ideas have been here all along.

The greatest thing we can give to our children, our students, is the opportunity to use what they know.  Trust and believe in your students this year and who knows the results may surprise you, they may even change the world.


Read the books I write with my children.