Welcome to LOLIPOP

LOLIPOP began as my master's thesis - an experiment in group learning with twenty homeschool families, including over sixty kids between six and fourteen years old. I coordinated 2-4 projects happening simultaneously, in 6 week sessions. The kids had a lot of fun, and the parents learned a lot about how this energetic and enthusiastic age group can have a successful learning experience. Since this first experiment, I have conducted seminars and webinars based on the LOLIPOP concept, and published For the Love of Learning: Giving Your Child a LOLIPOP Education.
This BLOG is for all those out there, trying to give their children and students the foundation they need to grow into great scholars, thinkers, and leaders. The principles align with the Leadership Education model and foster a love for learning, build individual confidence, and teach learning strategies that apply to a life time of great learning.
Check out more info about the book, seminars, webinars, and more at www.sdlaa.com.

Lolipop Learning, and terms and concepts such as "Love of Play", "Love of Sampling", and "Love of Producing" are the sole property of Amy Edwards. “TJEd", "Leadership Education", “Love of Learning Phase”, “Inspire, not Require” and other similar terms and concepts are taken from the works of Oliver & Rachel DeMille, and are used by permission and under license. For more information, visit http://tjed.org/.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What is a parent?

     Disclaimer...this is one of those blog entries in which I am thinking out loud.  Many of my blog entries are based on research and depth of understanding on the topic.  In this case, these are my personal opinions and thoughts...I hope they inspire some thinking on your part.  I am not the expert in your family, and I encourage all parents to own being the expert on their own families.  Take what is helpful, decide for your own family, discard whatever does not apply.

     What is a parent?  How do you view your role as a parent? If you indulge in shows such as "Dance Moms" or "Toddlers and Tiaras", you have seen numerous moms exclaim that their child's success is a direct reflection on themselves.  They take it personally when their child does not succeed, and they see it as their right and responsibility to "force success" upon their child.  Of course, these are the extreme cases (or they wouldn't get on TV), but how far from this are each of us?  How do we take it when our child does not succeed?  How personally do we interpret our children's individuality, especially when they choose a different path than we have chosen (for them)?  As I pondered this, here are some of my thoughts...

     As a parent, I am...
 - My child's first and always primary teacher
 - My child's role model for behavior and attitude
 - The temporary custodian of these precious individuals
 - A completely separate entity from my child

     I am my child's first teacher.  Even if you don't homeschool your child, you are building a foundation for their life time of learning, even in those first five years.  What foundation will you build?  I would assert that more important than ABCs or any academic foundation is a foundation of their Core.  Teach them what is "right", "true", and "good".  Be clear about defining these concepts for your children - clear that you personally have definitions for "right", "good", and "true".  Children do not need an "open mind".  They need the security of a solid Core.  Teach them the value of work.  They don't have to love work, but teach them the benefits (intrinsic, feelings of satisfaction) that come from a job well done.  Teach them the basics of healthy relationships, including communication skills.  These will all be very basic for young children, but they are a needed foundation.  Children who feel "shaky" about their Core beliefs, or who do not value work, or who are struggling with basic relationships will find it very challenging to turn their attention to academics once they enter school.  They will seek extrinsic rewards for academic performance and approval of teachers and peers, rather than an internal gauge of success.
     Regardless of where your child sits for school, you are always the primary teacher - the teacher they return to.  Do not delegate that role to anyone, regardless of their expertise.

     I am my child's role model for behavior and attitude.  Whether you realize it or  not, your children watch you carefully.  They may not always listen or remember what you say, but they will remember what you do and how your actions make them feel.  Even worse, if your instructions contradict your  actions and attitude, a child will become very conflicted.  Model the characteristics and behaviors you want your child to display.

     I am the temporary custodian of my precious children.  My children came to me with personalities and their own reasons for being born.  I have a few, precious years in which to help them develop their talents, strengthen their weaknesses, and uncover their purpose.  It is my responsibility to raise them to be the best of who they already are inside.  It is my responsibility to raise children who will be independent adults.  Of course, we protect our children.  Different ages require different levels of protection.  But if we completely shelter our children from life's difficult lessons, we do them and society a disservice.  

     I am a completely separate entity from my child.  I have a responsibility to develop my own talents, strengthen my own weaknesses, and uncover my own purpose - not live vicariously through my children.  Ideally, we have a strong sense of who we are and why we are here before we begin raising our own children, but we will continue to grow for our entire lives.  Even if we are still working on who we are, we should not use our children to define our identity.  Our children may accomplish much thanks to our parenting (and driving and money and time), but they should be permitted to own their accomplishments.  Allow them to work hard and succeed or fail.  If they fail, help them learn and move on from that failure.  Do not add to their failure that they have also failed you or "the family".
     I was struck by a thought recently in a discussion about "pride".  When we are "proud", it means that we are taking all of the credit for something.  We are warned against pride in scripture, because being "proud" in that context means that we are not giving God (our creator) any credit for our accomplishments.  We should be happy when our work pays off in accomplishment, but we still need to recognize that we did not do it completely on our own.  In a similar way, when we are "proud" of our children, often we are taking credit for their accomplishments.  Our children's success should make us happy (beyond happy...joyful), but be careful of how much credit we take for ourselves.

     Parenting is the most challenging task I have encountered in my life. There are volumes of books that will tell you how to do it correctly. If you find a book that resonates for you and your child, then use the resource, by all means!  But remember that you are the expert for your family and your children.  Do not abdicate that to anyone, no matter what credentials they have acquired.  Enjoy the time you have with your young children, and the beautiful people they grow to be.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What is a True Hero?

     In my last blog post, I discussed the importance of reading classics with your children, and one of the criteria I gave for a story to be a "classic" is that it contains a true hero.  I'm following up on that here, to explain what a true hero is, so that you and your children can better identify true classics.  We all idolize "heroes", especially our children.  It is important that our children to have a clear understanding of what a true hero is, so that they idolize the right role models and character traits.
     There may be many criteria that you have for your own, personal heroes.  That is fine.  I would like to define "hero" in the classic sense - that is as "heroes" have been portrayed in classics for the past 4000 years.  So what are the classic characteristics of a true hero?

A Hero Answers a Call to Action
     A true hero answers a call to action that takes him away from the safety of home and his known world.  Odysseus sailed to far away Troy to fight for his country.  Bilbo and Frodo Baggins answered such a call, traveling far from the safety and peacefulness of the Shire.  Luke left his quiet farm life on Tatooine.
     A story in which the main character never leaves his homeland or never actively chooses to do so (but is forced) does not portray a true hero. Sometimes a hero does not physically leave, but he must go outside of his comfort zone in order to answer a true call.  As you read books with your children, talk about the hero's call (mission or goal).  What did the hero need to go and do? Did he leave home?  Did he need to try something new that was scary? Who would be helped if the hero succeeded?

A Hero has a Mentor
     No hero can do it alone, no matter how brave or smart.  Classic heroes have mentors or guides who teach them through tests, comfort them through trials, and help them to be honest with themselves and face their character flaws to escape traps. Bilbo and Frodo had Gandolf.  Odysseus had Athena. Luke had Obi Wan.  Kirk had Spock.  Mentors help each of us succeed in life.  Choosing the right mentor is critical to our success in life.  We can teach our children the importance of choosing the right mentors (friends) and accepting help when needed as we read with them from classics containing great mentors.

A Hero Endures Tests, Trials & Traps
     A true hero overcomes tests, trials, and traps.  A test is a task to be completed or an obstacle to be overcome that will teach the hero knowledge or skills that he will need to complete his call (task, mission, goal).  A trial is an event or obstacle that the hero must simply endure.  A trap is an obstacle the hero must overcome that is created from his own character flaws or weaknesses.  All heroes have a fatal flaw, which is a character flaw they must overcome in order to succeed.  It is the turning point of their journey.  The difference between a hero and villain is that a hero overcomes his fatal flaw, while a villain submits to it and allows it to guide and even empower him.  Odysseus needed to overcome his hubris (a common fatal flaw in hero stories).  Percy Jackson needed to overcome his allegiance to others over what was right.

A Hero Overcomes his Fatal Flaw and Completes his Call
      Beware of stories in which the main character does not overcome a fatal flaw.  Just because the protagonist is successful by the end of the story does not automatically make him a hero.  Some stories contain main characters who are proclaimed the "hero" of the story, but events just seem to work out for him rather than him truly overcoming his own weaknesses.  True heroes have weaknesses, and they must learn to overcome them.  We need to expose our children to true heroes to show them the importance of working hard to overcome weaknesses and the importance of good character.  Exposing them to stories in which the hero always wins, simply by virtue of being labelled the "hero", is not only a bad story, but a dangerous example to set before them in life.

A Hero Returns Home to Help Others
     A true hero is not done when he achieves his goal, gets his gift, or completes his call.  A true hero then returns home, with the new knowledge and skills he has gained, to help the people he left behind.  In many stories, he must return with something that will save his family, his village, or even the world.  But in some stories, he simply needs to return, as a better, wiser person who can now help others and serve as a mentor to future heroes.  It is important to teach our children that life is not simply about achieving the goals they want to achieve.  Being a true hero is about achieving goals, acquiring knowledge, skills, and gifts, that will empower us to contribute to our family and our community in meaningful ways.

Death is not Tragic for True Heroes
     Recently, as I was teaching a high school literature class, we got into a discussion about the definition of tragedy.  I was fascinated that these young scholars, who had a rich background in classics, believed that any time the hero (protagonist) dies, a story is a tragedy.  Shortly after this class, I watched a movie in which all of the main characters survived the entire movie, including a fierce battle. I was disappointed in the author's choice to save all of the main characters, since it was so unrealistic and unnecessary to the story.
     A story is a tragedy if the protagonist is a virtuous hero who fails in his call (mission) or dies due to his inability or unwillingness to overcome his fatal flaw.  Death alone is not tragic, since we all die.  In some stories, the hero can only complete his call with his death, but if his death completes his call and saves others, it is not tragic. There are causes worth fighting and dying for in our world.  Our children can learn about these through classics and through the stories of true heroes.

     If you want to learn more about classic heroes and the Hero's Journey, I recommend Joseph Campbell's work and primary book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell describes the common elements found in myths and stories for thousands of years, spanning the entire globe.  His thorough account of the Hero's Journey found throughout cultures who had no interaction is fascinating.  This is not a book to read to your children.  This is a book for parents and teachers who want to better understand the elements of the classic hero.  I have included just a few, main elements of classic heroes in this blog entry, because my purpose is dealing with children, but Campbell identifies many more and goes into detail with examples from cultures throughout time and all over the world.  I will say that I do not agree with Campbell's conclusion that these common elements are a result of our Freudian psyche, but I appreciate the richness of his examples and explanation. Give it a read, and draw your own conclusions about why the mono myth exists.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Inspiring a Love for Classics

     Many parents and teachers, and college professors, encourage (perhaps require) teens and young adults to read Classics.  If you are pursuing a Leadership Education for your children, you know that Classics is one of the key components.  But our children should be gaining a love for classics well before they enter into scholarly studies.  If they love classics before they enter into more intense, scholarly studies, they will have an easier time tackling original classics as older students. 
            First of all, what do I mean by Classic?  In my canon, a literary work gains the title of Classic by meeting these three criteria:

1       The story has a timeless theme – teaches a timeless lesson about human nature or truth.

2      The author uses rich language and literary devices to enhance the theme.

3      The story contains a true hero – a protagonist who completes a full hero cycle (more about true heroes and the Hero Cycle in my next blog)

            Our children need to hear and read whole stories.  These are stories in which good is portrayed as good, evil is portrayed as evil, and good wins in the end.  Stories that blur the line between good and bad are confusing to young minds.  Save those shades of grey for older students, beyond puberty, who are ready to discuss the subtleties and true nature of goodness. Search out stories that teach universal truths about human nature and our divine life missions.

“Seeing ourselves as active characters in new and healthy stories
carries the power to transform lives.”
Daniel Taylor, The Healing Power of Stories

            Our children need to meet truly virtuous people in the stories they hear and read.  They need these hero models in a world that praises celebrity over character.  Classics give children a chance to befriend truly good people, observe how true heroes behave, and experience the consequences of choices in a safe environment.

“Our own characters are greatly shaped by the characters
in the stories in which we partake.”
Daniel Taylor, The Healing Power of Stories

            So HOW do you inspire a love for classics? If you break out Shakespeare or Dickens this evening and begin reading, you will most likely be met with yawns and objections.  And the greater danger is that your children will grow up believing that Classics are boring stories they never want to read.  Here are some steps to help your children get inspired:

1      Read Classics yourself!  And share your enthusiasm for the story with your children. Leave them feeling jealous that they are missing out on this great story.

2      Share children’s versions, especially those with good illustrations.  Simply familiarize children with the stories of classics.  The foundation needed is a familiarization with classics and positive associations (gained through reading together).  This way, when they are older and ready to read the original version, knowing the basic story will make understanding the elevated language easier.

3      Read different versions.  Fairy tales, especially have different versions of the same tale, such as Cinderella tales from around the world.

4      Tell stories.  Summarize the stories of the classics in your own words.  Encourage your children to tell the stories to you, in their own words.  Change the endings together.

5     Have them draw pictures of the characters and settings.

6      Watch movies together and discuss the similarities and differences from the original stories.  Which one do they prefer?  Why?

7      Teach them what a Classic is, so that they can discover their own classics.

            All of this applies to children in the Love of Learning Phase – typically between 8 and 14 years old.  But, if you have an older student who has not yet acquired a love for classics, try the above steps rather than pushing him or her to read the originals.  I will leave you with a passage from one of my favorite classics, Lord of the Rings.

            It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something….That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Love for Learning and Public School

     Where should your children sit for school?  Although many families pursuing Leadership Education and a love for learning choose to home school their children, there are families who choose to place their children in public or private schools.  There are many factors that influence where and how your children will be educated.  There may be a family situation in which a child cannot be home schooled.  Or perhaps your child's learning style or personality type require more group learning than you can provide on your own.  Leadership Education and a love for learning do not require home schooling.  So how can you help your children gain a love for learning and a Leadership Education in a public or private school environment?  Here are some keys to a successful Love of Learning Phase while working with a public or private school.

1  Goals & Priorities
Make sure YOU understand your goals and priorities for your child's education.  You do that through your own study of developmental and learning needs for this crucial age.  For the Love of Learning is a great resource for understanding the goals and priorities for learning between 6 and 14 years old.  I also recommend Discover Your Child's Learning Style and Nurture by Nature.  Talk to your spouse and your children about educational goals.  Set aside quiet time when you can think deeply about the true goals and priorities for your child's education at this time in his/her life.  You will need a solid understanding of your goals and priorities for your child in order to communicate those to a teacher.

2  Communication
Be sure to communicate your goals and priorities to your child's teacher.  Preferably before school starts, set up a face to face meeting with your child's teacher and discuss your goals and listen to her goals.  Keep in mind that most teachers love what they do and value quality education.  Be respectful of her point of view, but don't assume she knows what is best for your child simply because she has been certified to teach.  Determine areas where compromise may be needed.  Be sure to communicate to the teacher that you want to support what she is doing in the classroom and work together on your child's education.

3  Get and Stay Involved
Set up a regular time when you can be in your child's classroom.  Even if you must work during the day, you may be able to find just a couple of hours, maybe early one morning, to be in the classroom.  See, first-hand, what happens in the classroom and how your child responds to that environment.  Keep the lines of communication open throughout the school year.  Become the teacher's friend and ally, so she is more likely to turn to you when she needs support.

4  Advocate for your Child
Give the teacher insights into your child's personality and learning style. Continue to communicate with the teacher, but don't criticize.  Talk to her about how you can help meet your goals for your child. Don't just complain; offer productive solutions that involve your help.  Remember that you are the expert for your child.  Even a talented and loving teacher is dealing with at least 20 children, each with different needs, personalities and learning styles.

A child can receive a quality and Leadership Education and gain a love for learning within a public or private school.  The key is your involvement.  If the environment at one school is not a good fit for your child or for your goals and priorities for your child, look for an alternative.  Even public schools, within the same district, can differ quite a bit.  The environment at each school is created by the administrators, teachers and even parents, so find the best one for your family.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Creating a Story

The Peasant Wins the Princess
A Fairy Tale
by Sammy Edwards 

     Once upon a time there was a peasant boy.  He was in love with a princess.  She had a lazy lady-in-waiting.  The princess said, "Lady-in-waiting, I'm waiting!"
     Then there was a prince, and he was a knight.  His name was Jack.  
     The peasant went to a wizard, because he wanted to be made irresistible.  So the wizard turned him into a cheeseburger.  The wizard said, "Everybody loves cheeseburgers."  But the peasant said, "But they don't marry them!"
     The peasant and the prince entered a joust.  The peasant lost in the joust, because his armor fell off.  But the prince was really afraid of dragons, and so the peasant defeated the dragon and won the princess.
The End

     This is a story that my son narrated to me recently.  I wrote it all down as he said it.  The words are all his.  The spelling and punctuation are mine.  Then I typed up each part onto the bottom of a piece of paper, printed out all the pages, and gave it to him to add pictures.  
     Creation requires material.  Although he put all the pieces together, he used material from his environment.  This story is the result of books we have read, movies and TV we have seen, and experiences playing with friends.  It's just fine that he's repeating parts of stories he has heard elsewhere.  Simply piecing his own version together is an important step in writing.  Even Shakespeare took his basic plot lines from well-known stories.  
     To help your children become writers: 
 - Create a rich environment for them.  Read good books to them.  
 - Write your own stories, especially about them or even about your own experiences as a child, and share them with your children.  
 - Listen to their stories
 - Write them down
 - Encourage them 
 - Don't criticize (all unsolicited advice is criticism).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Writing Naturally

     I want to teach writing in a natural way, because I believe that is the only way to inspire a love of writing and develop confident writers.  Throughout nature, we can see cycles.  When a plant is permitted to move through its natural cycle, it develops and grows into a beautiful flower, with little interference from us, and absolutely no force.

Natural.  Nature. Cycles!

     There is a natural cycle to writing, and understanding this can empower you to inspire your children to love writing and grow into great writers.  Some home school parents neglect writing in the early years, only to stress highly academic writing as college entrance approaches and they begin to panic.  Although we should not force our children to write when they are in Love of Learning Phase (typically before puberty), that does not mean that we neglect the development of writing.  So what can you do that will lay a foundation for great academic writing--essays and research papers, and perhaps a publishable novel--when it is needed (later)?
     The seeds of the natural writing cycle are stories.  Any stories.  Stories about dreams. My son loves to tell me about his dreams, and then I record it in a journal with space for him to add a picture.  Stories about their every day life.  Each evening, sit down together and ask your child about his favorite thing that happened that day.  Record his life stories in a journal.  Write these stories exactly as your child describes them--verbatim.  Do not correct wording or even comment on the stories at this point.  You can insert correct punctuation, which is a great way to model punctuation, but don't explain the punctuation unless the child asks.
     Have you noticed that you are doing all the writing?  Before the child writes, you write for her.  Allow her to simply tell her stories.  Speaking, narrating, simply forming her life and dreams into words comes before she does any of the writing herself.  All children are different, and each child will want to write down her own stories at different ages.  Allow your child to be the guide.  Do not push and decide for her when she should do the writing herself.  If you encourage your children in telling their stories, and then show them the stories in print, they will want to write on their own eventually.
     Many children evolve to creative stories, and you can record these as well.  As the child and the stories mature, you can ask questions to help the child embellish the stories--question the details of the setting or physical appearance of characters.
     The next step in the natural writing cycle is the seed of essay writing.  It is the act of encouraging a child to express his opinion in writing.  These are not formally structured essays.  They are simply the child's opinion, and eventually some evidence to support that opinion.  Young children may write a note to their parents to express their discontent with a family rule or situation.  Great!  They are viewing writing as a tool of personal expression.  I don't recommend assigning topics before the age of 12-years-old, and only within the context of a class or project the student has bought into.  But we can encourage children to express their opinions and to include their reasoning and any evidence or examples they can think of in writing.  They can even incorporate that story-writing to make their opinions more compelling.
     According to the California State Standards for Language Arts, children should be writing paragraphs by 1st grade (that's 6-years-old for any home schoolers not keeping track), and essays by 4th grade (9-years-old).  The standards then explain how the essay is continually taught for the next 5-6 years of school.  What a great way to get kids to hate writing!  I disagree with this approach.  Students do not need to be introduced to essays until they are 12-years-old (about 6th or 7th grade).  And it doesn't take 5 years to teach essay writing (unless you start too early).  However, they do need a foundation that is building up to that point.  Allow them to tell you stories.  Write down their stories, and (very important) show them their stories in print.  Encourage them to write down their stories.  Encourage them to write down their opinions and then support them with stories and examples.  If children gain this foundation between the ages of 8 and 14, then teaching essay writing becomes very simple.
     Happy writing!

For more information about LOLIPOP Learning check out our Facebook page or the book For the Love of Learning.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This is Just a Test

     What comes to mind when you hear the word "test"?  Most people don't get happy or excited about tests. Most home schoolers despise testing, and many cite it as one of the main reasons their children do not participate in public school.  Even the families who do allow their children to participate typically take great pains to explain to the children how meaningless the standardized testing process is. I am not a fan of State Standardized Tests, but I do believe that "testing" is an important learning environment.

     Why do we test? If you ask that question to most mainstream educators, the response is to "assess learning and comprehension" or to "asses readiness" of a student to move into a particular subject or onto the next level.  But testing should be used primarily as a learning environment--just one more tool to enable learning.  When a student thinks hard about what he has been learning, digests it, and then reproduces it in the form of a test, that helps his brain fully process the learning. Making connections is what solidifies learning. Here are two views of testing--think about which one you hold currently, and which one you feel is correct.

1  Testing is how students prove what they know to the teacher.  The teacher wants to uncover what the student has NOT learned yet.

2  Testing is one of many tools a teacher uses to help students connect personally with what they are learning.  The teacher wants to uncover what the student has learned, and build the student's confidence by showing him how much he has accomplished.

     What is testing?  When I say "test", do you think of Scantrons and multiple-choice worksheets? Do you imagine a student who is questioned under pressure? These are forms of testing, but they fall under the first view of testing described above.  I use testing every day as I teach my own children and the students in my classes.  But if you asked my children, they would tell you that they never take tests.  You would get the same answer from my younger class students (I will explain about my older class students a little later).

     Here are some ideas to consider.  I give "oral exams" when I stop reading a book and ask questions:
"What do you think is going to happen next?"
"Do you think he's a bad guy or a good guy?"
"Why do you think he said that?  What did he mean by that?"
"Are there any clues about how this will end?"
I give oral exams when I ask a child, during a science experiment, "What do you think will happen next?"

   I give "written tests" when I ask my children or students to do tasks such as:
Draw a picture of your favorite character (go back through the story to find out details about him/her).
Write another story about the same characters.
Write a story in the same genre (a fairy tale or adventure or historical fiction).
Rewrite the ending (if they didn't like the author's ending).
Write out what happened in our science experiment, so we can remember what we discovered.
Draw a picture of that flower or tree or bug we are looking at outside.

     I am asking my children to digest the learning on a deeper level and interact with the book or experience, rather than passively receive knowledge.

     I also teach classes for students between 12 and 16 years old, and they participate in tests as well.  For the younger students, about 12-14, most of my "tests" are in the form of Quiz Games, and the students work in pairs or teams, so no one student feels all the pressure.  For my older students, I do administer formal oral and essay exams.  But these students know that the purpose of these tests is to help them learn the material and articulate what they know, and to build their test-taking skills.  I teach test-taking strategies and give feedback to help them do better the next time.  The process is helpful and confidence-building, not demeaning and frightening.

     Life is full of tests.  Help your children and students gain the confidence and skills they need to succeed through life's tests, but keep it appropriate for their age, developmental stage, and individual needs.  Give them the chance to shine!

To learn more about development stages and how they impact a child's learning, read For the Love of Learning, available here.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Inspiring a Love of Reading & Writing

     Did you know that C.S. Lewis read Beatrice Potter's stories as a child, and that inspired him to create his own stories with talking animals (Narnia series)?  Great writers begin as readers of great books.  Reading and writing should be learned, and taught, as integral components.  So, the best way to inspire your children to write is to first inspire your children to read.  Begin by simply reading books aloud to your children.  Even after they can read on their own, they will love to listen to you read to them.  I still read aloud to my teenage daughter and to my husband.  Reading aloud to them will allow them to relax and enjoy stories that they would struggle to read on their own.
     In the book, For the Love of Learning, I give a detailed description of what parents and teachers can do to inspire learning in specific subject areas, such as: reading, writing, math, science, and history.  All children need a foundation of love for learning, confidence, and strategies in order to grow into great scholars and thinkers.  Ideally this happens before puberty, but if you have an adolescent child who hates learning, lacks confidence, or lacks learning strategies, these practices will help fill in those holes.
     To nurture a love for reading and writing, read aloud to your children often.  Choose from a wide variety of genres--fiction, non-fiction, biographies, short stories, chapter books, plays, poetry, speeches, etc.  As you read, share your own feelings about the piece.  Why do you like it?  What does it make you think about?  Keep it simple but honest.  Then do some writing together.  If children are reluctant at first, you can lead by sharing your own writing with them.  Write short stories about your children.  Make up fictional stories with your children as characters.  This will show them the power of stories and of writing.  Don't worry about their spelling or grammar.  You can even write for them, as they dictate a story.  It's all about getting their ideas onto paper and showing them how wonderful writing can be.
     To build confidence in reading, allow children to choose what to read on their own, and you read aloud to them from stories that are above their current reading level.  Don't push them at this point in their education.  They will get there.  We want them to associate reading with positive emotions.  We don't want them to associate reading with "work" or something they are forced to do.  Here's a little trick that I did with my oldest that inspired her to read more on her own.  I would read aloud from an exciting chapter book each night, and sometimes I would stop on a cliff hanger..."Oh, well, it's time for bed.  I'll read the rest tomorrow."  I would kiss her good night and leave with a smile--leaving the book there.  She would grab the book as soon as I left and work hard to read what happened next.  She didn't think of it as work, although it was.  She pushed her own reading ability, but she wanted to do it.
     A quick word about audio books...I love audio books.  We listen to them in the car and sometimes just for fun.  My whole family listens to audio books--my husband, me, and all of our children.  However, you don't want to replace reading aloud with audio books.  Children at this stage in development need to bond with family, and reading aloud is a great bonding activity.  These children need to associate positive emotions with reading, which will happen as you read aloud to them, curled up together on a comfy couch, but not as they listen to an audio book.
     To build confidence in their writing, simply allow them to get their thoughts onto paper, without criticism.  Remember, all unsolicited "help" is criticism!  
     A parent recently asked me, "When do I stop teaching spelling and grammar?"  The real question is when do I start teaching spelling and grammar.  I don't teach spelling or grammar until my children ask for it.  Some parents have expressed concern that their children will never ask to learn spelling and grammar.  Well, they may never ask for those boring grammar lessons that are completely disconnected from any real reading or writing, but they will eventually care that the spelling and grammar in their own writing is correct.  If they are exposed to many great books, they will learn spelling and grammar from example.  Of course, I do point out, as I read to my children, little grammar point in the stories as they are relevant.  For example, I will say, "Oh that ends with an exclamation point, so he must be yelling.  Let me read that again with the right voice."  They begin to see how punctuation helps to communicate the writer's message and tell a better story.  When my children begin to write on their own, I may ask honest questions about what they are trying to say and help them choose punctuation that communicates their message.  I don't do it in a way that criticizes them.  I realize this is a tough one for many parents.  Your child may not ask or care about spelling and grammar until he is in his teens.  Allow me to reassure you, as a literature and writing teacher of middle and high school students, spelling and grammar can be learned very quickly when students have a foundation of great books (either they have read them or they have listened to them read aloud), and they care about their writing and have confidence in their ability to learn anything once they are ready.
     To teach children strategies for learning to read and write well, show them that there are many ways to interact with a book.  It's not just about sitting down and reading and remembering everything.  Help children make their reading real by acting out favorite scenes, reciting fun poems together, drawing pictures of characters or settings.  Show them that reading is a great strategy for learning about anything that interests them, but it's not the only way.  Show them that writing helps us in many areas of our lives--not just "school."  Make out lists together for shopping or birthday wish lists.  Make lists of pro's and con's to help make a tough decision. Show them, through example and gentle instruction, that writing is a way to organize our thoughts, share our ideas with others, and solve problems.
     To end, here is a list of resources to help you inspire readers and writers in your own home or classroom.

If you really want to introduce some grammar, try these fun books by Lynne Truss.
Twenty-Odd Ducks
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Girl's Like Spaghetti

A very inspiring book for writing, when they're ready, is Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic.

And check out the monthly Jr. Classic on www.sdlaa.com.  Each month, a new classic book is featured.  Just click on the title, and you will access a pdf full of activities and discussion activities based on that book. Completely free.  You don't even need to register for anything!

For more inspiring ideas, follow LOLIPOP on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/LolipopLearning

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Inspiring a Love for Math

The focus this week on the LOLIPOP Learning Facebook page is MATH! So, how about a blog entry all about MATH!

How do you get your younger child to love...enjoy...ok, just not scream at the mention of...MATH? Can you inspire an older child who has already developed a hate of math?  Here are some ideas.

Throughout my elementary and high school education, I was always placed in the "advanced" math groups or classes.  But I never felt competent at math.  The only way I could succeed was to memorize a ton of information and then spit it back out on tests.  Sadly that worked, and I received good grades in math.  The reason I say that is sad is because I never got out of math its true value and beauty. Many years later, when I was studying with a small liberal arts college, I began to read stories about mathematicians, theory about math, and I learned how math is all around me, in the arts, in music, in nature!  That's when I fell in love with math.

So the first step to inspiring your children is for YOU to love (at least appreciate) math.  How do you do that?  Start with some stories about mathematicians.  A great place to start is with the series Mathematicians Are People Too.  A few other books that I love are Men of Mathematics by Eric Temple Bell, The Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael Schneider, and The Joy of Mathematics by Theoni Pappas.  When I read about how and why math is all around me and affects my life, and how beautiful it is, I fell in love!  And then that love began to spill over to my children. Get reading! 

Then share these stories with your children.  They can only love ideas they feel a connection to, so introduce them to some mathematicians. Show them that these "geniuses" struggled, sometimes failed, and kept moving forward slowly.

"If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is because they do not realize how complicated life is."
--John Louis von Neumann

"The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple."
--Stan Gudder

Keep it simple!  Show your children math all around them as you go through your day. Young kids can do math through sorting laundry, setting the table, counting (real) money, examining sections of an orange, sorting M&Ms or Skittles and graphing how many of each color, doing puzzles, drawing... Older kids can create scale models of their bedroom furniture, measure for new flooring, measure for a garden, calculate money needed for an item they want to buy.

"...mathematics is the sister, as well as the servant, of the arts and is touched with the same madeness and genius."
--Harold Marston Morse

"Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting."
--Gottfried Leibniz

If your child is struggling with math, take a break from the math book and explore some art--drawing, sculpting, combining shapes, or simply observing shapes in art, or have them learn a musical instrument.

There is an expression that no one should attempt algebra until they have hair under their arms.  The brain changes significantly during puberty.  Physical changes actually enable the brain to think abstractly in ways it cannot before puberty.  Algebra requires abstract thought, and so is best saved for after puberty has begun.  But adding numbers on a page can also be abstract to a young child.  Be sure to do concrete mathematics with your kids.  When adding, use manipulatives.  These can be anything you have around the house.  They don't need to be fancy or expensive.  Use candy bars to teach fractions.  Measure items they live with and care about.  Find shapes in their every day lives, not just in a math book. Play board games that require both dice and a spinner, so they learn the connection between quantity and those symbols we use for numbers.  Make your own 10 sticks with popsicle sticks and dried beans instead of buying expensive place value manipulatives.  Keep it hands-on!

Lastly, here is a list of some math resources and reading books that I like.  There are many more out there, but here's some ideas to get your started.

Mathwise, James Overholt and Laurie Kincheloe
The M&Ms Brand Counting Book, Barbara McGrath
The Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar Fractions Book, Jerry Pollatta
Spaghetti and Meatballs for All, Marilyn Burns
The Greedy Triangle, Marilyn Burns
Sir Cumference series, Cindy Neuschwander
One Riddle, One Answer, Lauren Thompson

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P.S.  The picture at the top of the page is my 10-year-old daughter doing her math in a tree.  Math makes her anxious, but nature (especially our tree) makes her calm.  So, she likes to climb up in our tree to think about math.  In the Love of Learning Phase, it's not about how much math they can learn.  It's about learning to love math.  And this is a great way for her to associate positive emotions and experiences with "doing math."


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Going to School before LOL Phase

In the Leadership Education materials, children under the age of 8 are considered in Core Phase.  This is a phase during which they learn about core values - right, good, true.  They establish their bond with family and learn about healthy relationships.  And they learn the value of hard work (even if it takes a few more years to truly appreciate it).  Raymond & Dorothy Moore, often called "the grandparents of home schooling", and the authors of "Better Late Than Early" also support keeping younger children close to home.  I agree with all of this, which makes today's observation interesting but also a bit of a "duh" moment in my education journey.

My youngest is currently 6-years-old.  He has attended a charter school 2 days per week this school year. I never intended to send him there, but when we went to the open house to check out the program for my 9-year-old, he was so excited at the idea of a "real school",  and he begged to go!  So I figured that we would give it a try.  If he didn't like it, he was always welcome to come back home with me.  Throughout the school year, we have taken lots of days off, staying at home or going on field trips instead of going to "school", so there truly has been no pressure on him to attend.

Every day that he is supposed to go to his school, he is so excited!  He gets himself all dressed and ready to go, and when we have parked the car, he literally runs to his classroom.  His teacher is a sweet and patient home school mom who nurtures his love for learning.  The learning is all project-based and student-driven, with a lot of choice and play time. He has never complained or asked to stop.  And if I ever suggest he stop, he objects strongly.

However, around lunch time, at least once a month, he gets tired and frustrated and decides he wants to go home.  He has even walked out of his classroom and away from his teacher, much to her dismay.  Again, I offered to have him stay home with me or do another activity with me instead of go to "school", but he begged to continue going.

So, my solution was to go with him to school.  I've been in and out most days, but lately I've stayed right outside the door the whole time.  Today, it really hit me what he needs and why most kids under 8 should probably wait to start school.  Although he had a great time, he came out to hug me or check in with me several times during the day.  He never wanted to leave.  He just needed a little reassurance.  A couple of times, he came out for consolation after a disagreement with a friend.  Although his teacher is very kind and willing to help resolve issues, and he is very comfortable talking to her, he truly needed a "mommy moment".  I didn't do much.  A squeeze and a kiss, and he was quickly back in the classroom.

I wrote about children under 8 in my book, and that was based on a lot of research.  But I just love it when real life illustrates the points I so strongly encourage and teach to others.  Today I was reminded that even if children under 8 ASK to go to school or ASK for group classes, they truly need to stay close to mom and stay within a family environment rather than an "institutional" environment.  That doesn't mean that they can't participate in such groups.  Some children need and even thrive in such environments, especially if they are extroverted, have performing personalities and need more social outlets.  Here are a couple of suggestions - dare I say warnings.

1.  Make sure it is something they need (ask for) and not something you do out of fear of "lack of socialization".  There is always time for socialization when they are older. How old depends on their personality and learning style.  One of my children, who is extremely introverted, needed to wait until she was almost 10 to participate in group learning.

2.  Be sure to keep it limited - time and group size.  For young children, one group per week is a good start.  Be sure they still have plenty of free time, at home, with family.

3.  Stay close by.  These children need to return often to the security of family.  Don't think that just because it's a quick check-in that it's not important.

4.  Choose a group with other moms who understand your philosophy and goals about educating your child.  I once had an unfortunate conflict with well-meaning moms who were trying to help by "teaching" (aka forcing) my young child to sit through a class without me.  Communicate clearly, and don't assume that they share or understand your point of view when it comes to your children or your educational approach.

I know that those early years can be overwhelming.  But they really do go by quickly, and you'll miss them once they've passed.  Enjoy the bonding time with your children.  Let other things go for now.  Focus on these precious moments with your little ones.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Inspiring Science

Today we had a very inspiring science day, so I thought I would share that with you.

I have several Ask magazines.  These are magazines published by the same company who publish Cricket, Spider, and Lady BugAsk is specifically about Science, and is aimed at 6-9 year olds.  So last night I looked through a few old copies, and found something interesting that I wanted to share with my kids today.  The issue I chose had a story about some hikers who found a body in an melting glacier.  Scientists used carbon-dating and other investigative techniques to determine that this man died about 5,000 years ago.  The ice had preserved his body and several of his belongings, making him a great discovery for archeologists.

I read the story to my children, and then we did our own experiment.  We filled up several plastic cups with water.  Then my kids chose some items to submerge - a strawberry, a twig, a leaf, and a piece of paper.  They used rocks to hold the items under the water.  Then we placed the cups in the freezer.  We will take them out after a week, observe them, let the ice melt and compare them to the same items set aside but not frozen. 

One key here is that I did not approach this as if I had something I wanted THEM to learn.  I approached it as though I had something that I found really cool and interesting and I wanted to SHARE it with them.  We learned together. 

We finished up our morning with a math activity.  We took a bucket of coins to the Coinstar machine and traded them in for paper money.  Before we put them into the machine, we all guessed how much money it was (I won, but I wish that my 6-year-old's guess of $6,000 had been correct).  The machine was great, because it printed on the receipt how many of each coin we had.  We took our paper money home and put it into our family vacation fund (a lesson in life skills and goal setting).

Remember to take advantage of those natural learning moments that occur simply in the course of family life.  And consider investing in some of those magazines to help inspire learning. 

Here is a list of a bunch I like. 
Lady Bug
Baby Bug
Highlights Puzzle Mania
Highlight's Math Mania
Ranger Rick

And Superhero comic books are great for inspiring boys to read!