The Learning Curve, Pt. 3

This blog is the last in my little series of things I’ve learned as an educator about kids and how we adults can best support them as they grow. Part One of this series was a general commentary on kids’ flexibility and resilience, with a little bit about setting boundaries. Part Two talked about kids, their challenging behaviors, and gave some advice about the first steps for dealing with them. In this installment of “The Learning Curve,” I’m going to dive into some specifics of how to deal with some of the challenging behaviors that kids — both big and little — exhibit. (<<in imitation of a certain Italian plumber>>:) Here we gooooooo!

Challenging Behavior #1: Tattling

If you’re like me, you have kids in your life that want to tell you every single thing that another kid does wrong. And we want our kids to stand up for justice… right? …But we don’t want to hear “MOOOOOM, JIMMY’S MAKING A FACE AT ME AGAIN” every ten minutes, either.

Photo by Jonathan Pham on Pexels.com

Chances are, the tattler is bringing their trusted adult this troubling information because they don’t know how to handle the situation with Jimmy themselves. So, trusted adult can help in two ways: 1) help the tattler (let’s call them “Mia”) learn to set boundaries with “I Statements,” and 2) establish logical consequences for Jimmy when Mia tells him she’d like him to stop but he doesn’t.

For example: Mia uses this “I-Statement”: “Jimmy, I feel upset when you make weird faces at me because I feel like you’re making fun of me. Could you please stop doing that?” In response, Jimmy may agree to stop, and then actually stop doing it… orrrrr he might agree in the moment, but continue doing it later. If the latter is the case, establish a logical consequence: “Jimmy, your sister has kindly asked you to stop making faces at her, but you have continued to do it. If you make faces at her again, you’ll have to go play on your own in a separate room for awhile.” The logic of this consequence is that Jimmy didn’t respect Mia’s boundary, so he needs to take a break from playing with her for a bit.

It will take a while for Jimmy and Mia to get the hang of using “I-Statements” and respecting boundaries, but don’t give up! Stay consistent, and the tattling will subside as each kiddo learns to speak for themselves to their siblings, and therefore doesn’t always have to bring Mom or Dad into it.

Challenging Behavior #2: Tantrums

People of ALL ages throw tantrums. It’s not just toddlers, and it’s definitely not just teenagers. We all do it from time to time; ours as adults simply look and sound a little different and are a bit more subdued.

Photo by Nicola Barts on Pexels.com

When your child – toddler, teen, or grown – throws a tantrum with you, the first step is to just breathe. Recognize that they are having a hard time, and it’s making you have a hard time. Once you recognize this, you can show yourself some compassion, and then show them some compassion.

After that first steadying breath, don’t be afraid to talk to yourself. I do this all the time. When my kiddo is going off the rails with a meltdown – and I happen to remember my own advice, which isn’t always, okay – I breathe and I say to myself, “It’s okay, Sarah. It’s gonna be okay. You are patient; you are kind; you are gentle; you are loving.”

Once I’ve convinced myself not to blow my own lid, I offer compassion to my kiddo. I tell her, “I’m here to talk when you’re ready,” and maybe offer her a comforting stuffie, or just my hand, to hold. She might not want to take it. I tell her that I’ll be available to her when she’s calmed down enough to talk to me, and then I step away. When she’s more chill, she approaches me and we talk about our feelings and hug it out. 🙂

This approach has helped me TREMENDOUSLY both at home and in the classroom; I hope it helps you too.

Challenging Behavior #3: Disrespect

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

Call it out when you see it, guys. Indirectly if necessary; it depends on the situation and what kind of mood your kid is in. But never just let it sit there. This is where our I-Statements come in to save the day again.

If your kiddo is rude to you for seemingly no reason, step back and check in. What’s going on with them? Is something else bothering them that they need to tell you? Did you do something that upset them (it totally happens sometimes without us realizing it)? Offer compassion first; then use your I-Statement to let them know it’s not okay, and that you need respect and kindness from them.

If they are rude to someone else in front of you, it’s a trickier situation. You want to first offer them the chance to realize their mistake and make amends with the person. I might give them a questioning look, for example, and see if they acknowledge what they just said or did. If they don’t immediately make amends to apologize, then ask them a guiding question or three: “Stephanie, how do you feel about what you just said to Kim? …Why did you say it? …What is the best way to fix this situation…?”

Nine times out of ten, Stephanie will recognize that she just did something mean, and apologize to Kim…. unless there is some “bad blood” between the two – a history of wrongdoings. Then, you have to sit down and dig deep into the past hurts, to find where it all began, what common ground the two have, and how the relationship can heal.

Some Final Thoughts

This blog has gone on a long time. I really hope it contained some information that you’ll find useful. These are things I’ve learned from teaching, professional developments, personal therapy, child psychology classes, working with a child therapist, my Master’s program, and reading what feels like a metric ton of blogs and books. They’re not my ideas, y’all, and they go so much deeper than the surface I’ve scratched here. If I can recommend only one resource for you to start learning more about problem-solving with kids, I would tell you to check out Dr. Ross Greene’s work. The short version of all this?

How to deal with challenging kid behaviors: First, find the feelings and needs behind the behaviors…. then, try to help the kid learn to deal with them. ❤️

The Learning Curve, Pt. 2

Or: Kids and Their “Challenging Behaviors”

Captain Janeway Basically Representing All Parents and Teachers

Whining. Tattling. Shutting down. Tantrums. Throwing stuff.

One thing I’ve learned about all of these behaviors – from Dr. Ross Greene in his book “The Explosive Child” (you should DEFINITELY check it out, even if your kiddo is not explosive) – is that they all come from the same problem: the kid doesn’t know how to handle the current situation.

Another thing I’ve learned as a parent and educator?

Throwing a tantrum back only makes things worse.

The best thing we can do for our kids (and ourselves) when they throw fits is to stay calm. Do some deep breathing. Recognize that they are having a really hard time at the moment, and we can help them get through it… if we are able to control ourselves.

And there’s the rub. Because so many of us, as fully functioning adults, still to this day tend to have difficulty controlling our emotions. How many of us can honestly say that we stay kind and loving and under control at all times?

Anyone?

So, why do we so often expect better from our kids than we do from ourselves? I dunno, Batman, sounds pretty unreasonable to me. I admit, I’m not perfect at any of this. But the fact that now I know when I’m messing up… I mean, I think that might be a step to getting better.

I will not guarantee that if your child joins Luff Learning, I will *never* yell at them. I’m human. I make mistakes. I get frustrated with kids’ behaviors sometimes, since they’re not perfect either. But, I can guarantee that if I do yell… I will also apologize. I will also try to make it right with the kiddo. Because I believe that kids are human, and deserve to be spoken to with respect.

In my next post, I will write more about how to respond to some specific challenging behaviors that kids tend to exhibit. For now, I’ll leave you with this resource that you can try when your kid is flipping out, and you’re on the verge of doing the same. You can practice this with your kiddos, as well; I absolutely love how accessible it is! In the heat of the moment, you don’t need to go through the whole mindfulness spiel; you can just try the “starfish breathing.” The guy in the video doesn’t mention this, but I think it’s important: one helpful technique while practicing this is to focus on the feeling of your finger tracing your hand. Here’s the video. Hope this helps! Until next time, friends 😉

The Learning Curve, Pt. 1

This blog is part of a series of musings on what I have learned about kids and education throughout my years of teaching. The ideas here aren’t original, but this is the record of how my brain has processed them. I hope it helps a parent or teacher somewhere. 🙂

Today’s lesson?

Kids. Are. Amazing.

They are little learning ninjas. Also, like ninjas, they are extremely flexible. Seriously, how are they so flexible?!

Ha, anyway, the learning part:

  • They soak up academics when they’re little, SO fast.
    • ABCs and 123s, in order, by the time they’re 3? Whew!
    • Learning to read and write all this by the end of Kindergarten? Oh, man!
    • Playing with all these letters and numbers so much that by 3rd grade, they’re writing whole paragraphs and starting to learn the beginnings of how to multiply and divide?!? *Mind explodes*
  • They learn how to push our buttons.
    • They sure know how to get us going, don’t they?
    • This tells us that their social and emotional capabilities are probably much more advanced than they seem to let on most of the time…
    • When parents and teachers practice and teach mindfulness to kids, this power can be harnessed for good!
  • They very quickly learn where our boundaries are.
    • If we are firm and fair in holding our boundaries and expectations, kids will learn quickly to respect them.
    • If we aren’t resolute in our boundaries and don’t know them ourselves, our kids seem to intuitively pick up on this. They have a hard time knowing where our lines are if we continuously allow our lines to be crossed.
    • There is no one-size-fits-all solution or system that will get every kid to respect boundaries, rules, and expectations. Some kids need different approaches…
    • But one thing is for sure: praising a child’s effort when you see them trying can never hurt the process!

And, y’know, the flexibility thing isn’t to be sneezed at either. Not only are kids pretty physically flexible, but their minds and emotional states can do some amazing gymnastics as well. If their feelings get hurt, they bounce back with just a little TLC. If their brains are fried from all the worksheets the public school insists on giving them, they’re fine after a five minute brain break. If mom or dad yells at them to get their shoes on after telling them calmly approximately 14,398 times to put their shoes on, they can forgive. They make lots of mistakes, so they understand when we make mistakes, if we can own up to them.

And that’s the most important thing for us to teach them: mistakes happen, but we try again. Kids will learn to try again to be patient, if we try again to be patient with them. They will learn to apologize when they hurt someone’s feelings, if we apologize when we accidentally hurt their feelings. They will learn that failures are a necessary and temporary part of life, if we show them how to fail gracefully and then get back on the wagon. They are born resilient, they are natural learners; they are, as I mentioned before, simply amazing.

I’ll leave you with this video. In it, the speaker mostly talks about helping kids overcome physical challenges, but I very much believe that these ideas can help kids (and us adults!) get through academic, mental, and emotional challenges just as well. Enjoy the video and I’ll see you at class time, Luff Families!

~Mrs. Sarah

Luxurious Learning: All Education Should Be Special Education

So, why did Luff come to be?

If you’re here on this page, chances are, you are sick of the public school system for one reason or another. Overcrowded classrooms, overstressed teachers, overwhelming fixation on standardized testing, overabundance of technology in elementary classrooms, overlooking of the horrific bullying problem plaguing our kids…. The list goes on and on.

As a teacher in the public school system, I often felt smothered, squashed, stepped on, and helpless to stand up for anything that I knew was right for the kids in my classes. All of the ills of the public school system kept adding up and piling on, and in the end, I knew I had to leave it; I can’t conscientiously support what school districts are doing to teachers and kids. I don’t mean to say that I don’t support the idea of public education in general. Personally, I benefited greatly from my public education experience, likely because I went in with a love of and talent for reading, which was a privilege most public school goers don’t have (but that’s another blog post for another day). I believe all people should have access to a good education… Key word here being ”good.” Which leads me to the single, most important thing that public schools, in their current form, can’t provide for our kids:

Special education.

Sure, they have all kinds of special education programs and supports. Teachers have to check off all the little boxes that say ”yes, I provided xyz accommodations for Susie.” But as long as those boxes are checked, no one really cares whether or not Susie understands what she’s supposed to have learned. The bureaucracy of the process has sucked all the meaning and joy out of teaching and learning. Susie is shunted along to the next grade with her peers, and hey, who cares if she doesn’t know her multiplication tables yet – she can use a calculator in Algebra class next year anyway, it’ll be okay. We will just ignore the fact that she still doesn’t understand when she’s supposed to multiply and when she’s supposed to divide. Maybe her 9th grade teacher can catch her up on that – even though it’s a fourth grade skill.

And then, Susie’s 9th grade math teacher is infuriated that she has so many kids that aren’t on level. Because she is expected to teach them concepts that none of them can possibly understand – and if she doesn’t, if she does what’s best for them and goes back to the basic foundations of math that so many of her kids are missing – she’s in trouble.

But, it’s my belief that ALL education should be special education. Each child is different. Each child needs to relate to what they’re learning. Each child needs to be challenged and yet feel accomplished at their individual level. Not just those who are diagnosed with ”special needs.” Every child has special needs!

I have a dyslexic tutoring student – let’s call him Joseph. Joseph is in 5th grade and reading at a second grade level. He has to leave his general ed class for reading and go to a special ed classroom. I asked him what he does in his special ed classroom, and you know what he told me?

They give him things to color, or fidget toys to play with.

Do coloring sheets and fidget toys have their place in education? Absolutely they do! But was Joseph’s reading comprehension being served by being allowed to leave his regular reading class and just go play and color the whole time? No.

My point – and my apologies for being roundabout in getting to it – is this. In the public school system, students’ needs simply are not met. How could they be? When 35 kids are stuffed into one classroom with only one teacher to help them all? When every subject they learn is compartmentalized into a certain room and time of day (“at 9 am, in THIS classroom, I do math…. then at 10 am, in THAT classroom, I do science…”) rather than being blended and interconnected with all other subjects, as they truly are in life? When they have 8-10 different teachers for all these different subjects, and so no true consistency in their learning? When they are pushed through to higher levels of learning without mastering the basics first? When they are forced to take an arbitrary end-of-year test that has no purpose or relevance other than satisfying corporate interests?

I have started Luff because I have a vision of a school which is a community. Kids of all ages are gathered into one room to teach and learn from each other. Every child is encouraged to be their most authentic selves. Kids are taught boundaries, mindfulness, and compassion for themselves and others. Bullying, if it occurs, is addressed. Subjects are all blended together in unit studies that are relevant and interesting to the kids. We use gamification of our learning at every possible turn. Fine Arts are taught and used as a tool to enrich learning. Teachers support parents, and vice versa. There will NEVER be more than 10 students with just one teacher at a time. Students are given learning goals, milestones, and meaningful feedback rather than meaningless numerical grades. When a student doesn’t understand something, we stick with it and try new tactics until it clicks BEFORE moving on to a more complex topic. And students get time to PLAY and RELAX when they need it. Learning is flexible but rigorous. We work hard as a team, and then play hard to let off steam!

I believe passionately in this school model and what it can do for kids. I can’t claim complete altruism in this, though. A big part of why I started Luff is because it’s the kind of education I want for my own daughter. On a public school teacher’s salary, I could never afford to send her to another institution out there like Luff – and truthfully, I’m not sure that there are any out there quite like it, since all of our programming will be secular and fine-arts-incorporated. So, two birds with one stone, then. Start a school that’s the kind of place I want to work at – the kind of place that I think is best for kids – and send my own kid to it. It’s a big dream, and some might think it to be impossible. (I’ve sometimes thought it was impossible myself.) Luckily, I have SO much amazing support in this journey, which has definitely been a learning curve.

We all need that kind of support. Adults, kids, all of us. We need truly special education in our lives: learning experiences that are loving, supportive, challenging, and exciting to us. It is my ultimate hope that Luff can provide these things to children, and maybe even adults someday.

I absolutely applaud you if you have read this far into my late-night rants and musings on the state of education, and how I hope to change it with my co-teacher(s) at Luff. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, as well. I’m the kind of person who always has a lot of things to say, so I’m grateful for this medium and anyone who takes the time to ”listen,” as it were. And…. if you have read this, and agree with the learning environment Luff is trying to create, and think it would be great for your own learner(s)… Go on ahead and register by clicking here. I would absolutely love to have you and your kiddos on this journey with me. ❤

Luff Learning’s Motto: “Seek to Understand.”

We will Seek to Understand in every interaction, lesson, and reflection upon our own work and actions.

Besides its obvious connection to the goal of learning and understanding new concepts, the motto “Seek to Understand” speaks to the idea that so many conflicts between humans stem from a lack of communication of expectations/desires, and can be avoided. One of the primary goals of Luff will be to foster clear, open, honest, and positive communication between people (students, parents, and teachers alike). Every person’s goal should be first to understand another’s intentions, and then to thoughtfully respond – not just automatically react – to their words/actions. 

“Seek to Understand” also comes into play when we think about diversity. It’s important to make the effort to understand our differences and cultures so we can be inclusive and compassionate to all. 

Lastly, “Seek to Understand” also applies to how we will approach discipline in the classroom. Instead of punitive measures for students who break our expectations, we should seek to understand underlying causes and motivations of “problem” behaviors, which are themselves a form of communication. Once identified, we can then help the student make better decisions that will actually benefit them rather than disrupting the education of others. Mindfulness, compassion, and social-emotional learning are vital to the development of these decision-making skills.

What kind of a name is “Luff”?

It’s like love, but… fluffier. Fuzzier. Warmer. I originally wanted to call this school “Love Learning,” but that name got taken by some other business and I wasn’t willing to go with some weak-sauce spelling of the word like “Luv” Learning, because barf. Luff is objectively better, because it makes me think of cats and clouds. Okay, so that makes it subjectively better. Close enough.

But “Luff” has another meaning to me – one more special than being close to Love but better than Luv. You see, I had a friend in my young adulthood named Brittnay (not a typo; her name had a unique spelling). And, as you can tell by my use of the word “had” here, Brittnay passed away, many years ago, before she even got the chance to go to college. She worked with me and she was one of my best friends. She had a quirky sideways smile, a quirky sideways personality, and she would spread love and light everywhere she went. She carpooled to and from work with me, and one night on the way home, I fell asleep at the wheel. I crashed, but she was the one who died.

Many years and many, many hours of therapy later, I am still thinking of her; and with the name “Luff Learning,” I want to honor her. Brittnay had a silly little habit. She used to walk up to people at random – good friends, acquaintances, and even strangers – and look them directly in the eyes and say those three little words: “I luff you.” Ha, she would do it so often that sometimes I would even roll my eyes at her for it. But looking back, I appreciate those three words more and more all the time. I luff you. Sometimes she would say it while we were sitting on the couch watching “Glee” together (ah, those weird teenage obsessions), sometimes she would say it when I was in distress and complaining about my latest stress du jour as a way of lightening the mood and making me feel better. I luff you. 

And… y’know…. I just feel like the world could use a whole lot more Luff.