Friday, February 23, 2024

My 5th Grader’s Surprising Choice for Schooling this Year…..

August 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Parenting From Balance©

I have come to clarity about school… for this year, at least.
My clarity descended upon me on Saturday morning, at exactly 11:13 am, hand poised, expectant, above the tray of lego bricks that spanned the space between me and my 4 year old son.
Building the kit that morning was a peaceful process, in a beautiful nurturing learning environment (not unlike Riviera PlaySchool): we were in the garden of my sister’s house, and calmly examining and deciphering the instruction manual, searching through shapes and sizes and comparing the 2D drawings to the 3D model for proper brick placement.

My 4 yr old son was calmly and persistently proceeding through the kit; though it was rated for 7 yrs he was having little trouble.

Pressure can come in many forms.  It can be a time limit, an annoyance, physical discomfort, a distraction, or even a self-limiting thought.  That morning my sister was in the kitchen, about 20 feet from us.  Her phone rang and she picked up.  It was a business call. I tried to tune it out but was having a very hard time doing so.
“Yes.  I understand.  Sure… No problem.  I really love that you are so positive,” my sister was telling someone.  My eyes were registering the Legos in front of me, but my ears were attuned to the kitchen.  Suddenly, I was having trouble finding the right Lego.  I was struggling to patiently assist and support my son.  The distraction was almost dis regulating for me!
A little known fact is that one of the most annoying and distracting sounds to a human is one side of a conversation.  This is because the brain, being a curious organ, engages with that single sided conversation in an effort to fill in the blanks.  As my son and I sifted through the legos in front of us, my brain was likewise, trying its best to find the missing pieces to the conversation.
Have you ever watched a cat shift its ears like furry radar dishes, surveying the audible terrain,  all the while calmly relaxing and purring?  My brain was like that cat; my awareness was the product of a highly honed, radar-like brain function that I was not particularly keen on desensitizing.  I would prefer to alter my environment than alter my brain.
As I observed how my 4 year old and I were both struggling to remain focused on the task that only moments before was enticingly engaging, I suddenly realized that I was experiencing what happens in regular classrooms  as a standard protocol.  People are expected to sit and focus through the clamor, as though it’s a badge of honor, or a skill, to tune that kind of over stimulation out.  They are effectively expected to desensitize their brains.  And this actually causes brain damage.

Pressure has no place in a learning environment.  It is counter to the goal, in fact.  Pressure creates cortisol rushes that burn through healthy brain networks and, left uncorrected, the stimulation can create new cortisol pathways that actual seek to fill themselves again and again in an addictive cycle.  Think of a child sitting on the edge of his seat, neck craned, eyes bugged out, peering at a video game screen, for example.  That looks like a cortisol rush unfolding to me.  Video games can do it, and so can crowded, noisy, or distracting atmospheres wherein a child is expected to perform.  The pressure can set that child up to be, metaphorically, on the edge of her seat.  While there are surely some social intelligence issues that can be mastered in that setting, I wonder whether those lessons can come more easily at a later point in life, after my children have a strong inner compass and clear self-awareness.

I want my children to know what brings them pleasure before they are forced to make personal compromises for the good of the whole.

At least for my child, a classroom than 12 ~ 16 with a great ratio of 1:8 maximum is the best atmosphere to promote healthy neural pathways, better self understanding, and a high degree of social intelligence.  Smaller class sizes are diverse and yet intimate enough to form deep and dynamic connections.  Anything larger becomes an environment to contend with, and perhaps even to protect yourself from.

I have believed in the power of ‘small’ on some level for my life as a parent.  That is why I created Riviera PlaySchool in the first place.  And this is why my 5th grader has experienced a variety of schooling modes, from homeschooling, to unschooling, to the largest Waldorf in North America (though the school population was cozy and nurturing, the campus was a 100 acre farm), to “college for kids’ in southern Oregon, to a white shirt & tie private school on the hill, to Davinci, a fabulous 2 day charter in Hawthorn, to our own local elementary in the Riviera. Each experience was enriching and armed us both with a better understanding of what worked and what did not, for us.
Though we homeschooled the last year, this coming year that would not be an option.  I felt much less confident in my ability  to sufficiently stimulate my son, academically or socially.  It’s time to hand over the reins.
My son and I sat together and made ‘vision list.’  He listed some of the things he wanted in an educational experience, and I listed some of the things I wanted.  We agreed on most of them: indoor/outdoor learning, self-directed content, project based learning, shared values in the school population, and proximity to home were perhaps the most important items on that list.  We came to a decision.  But I wasn’t completely convinced of that decision until that Saturday at the picnic table, building the lego kit.
It was then, in that distracted environment, that I realized more fully why my 10 year old was choosing the small private school in Redondo Beach, over the larger public charter.  The Knowing Garden has sedately stimulating, comfortable, nurturing classrooms, with highly dynamic, project based content that appeals to his curiosity.  And the decision was not all on my shoulders: because we have spent the last several years being open to trying different venues and modes, he was an able and important collaborator on this step in his journey.
So, peacefully stimulating is what we chose: a typical public school classroom is quite the opposite.  The sheer numbers and the insufficient ratios in a typical setting create an environment that is not conducive to academic learning and critical thinking.
In this decision for my son, I had listened to him, watched him, and discussed with him.  I decided that the price tag was worth it.  I don’t want any of my children to spend time sitting in a classroom that is not in their highest good.
Lots of Love,
(PS: Did you see how 15 year old Nicole Ticea invented an inexpensive, private HIV test that resembles a pregnancy test?  She attends a smallish private school in Vancouver.  Thought I would throw it out there, just for kicks. ;`)


One Response to “My 5th Grader’s Surprising Choice for Schooling this Year…..”
  1. Linda, I hear what you are saying about public schools. I have witnessed the pressure in various classrooms. What kind of tools and support can we, as parents, offer to the kids who are going to public school? How can we correct the cortisol rushes to maintain a balance?

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