Nature can teach kids about the world and themselves

The Artdog Images of Interest

Last May, I blogged in some detail about ways that kids can learn to think better and be creative by getting out into nature. That series was focused on keeping kids learning and teaching them to value nature during a summer away from school.

But just because they’re back in school now, that’s no reason for them to stop learning from nature. I’d like to hope that they benefit from classes that teach science on beaches and riversides. But if their schools can’t afford field trips, I hope they get an opportunity somewhere.

I’d like to hope they get to grow things in school-run gardens, to learn about plant life cycles and where food comes from. But if they don’t get that experience in school, I hope they get it from someone.

Maybe they’ll be sent on nature scavenger hunts. Those always make great homework projects. But if the schools are forced to teach to a different test, maybe their moms, dads, older cousins, Scout leaders or someone will take them out to find the wonder in nature, anyway.

Perhaps they’ll have a class project to observe a variety of clouds and learn to tell them apart. But if they don’t, I hope some caring adult will take the time to show them.

Perhaps their school will have a birding club, or they’ll take a trip to a zoo, aquarium, or nature preserve. Wouldn’t it be great if they could learn to observe animals with quiet respect? But if the school’s too busy drilling on grammar and math facts, perhaps an uncle, aunt, grandparent, or other trustworthy adult can help them learn the joys of such excursions.

Family is the first resource when schools are stretched too thin, but if your family can’t take on a full-fledged nature and science curriculum, remember there’s help available in faith communities and community groups. 

Importantly, there also are active youth organizations, such as Camp FireGirl Scouts, and Boy Scouts of AmericaYes, I know both Girl and Boy Scouts have been embroiled in controversy recently. But don’t let that make you lose sight of the fact that they’ve enriched the lives of several generations, and I’m here to tell you that both organizations still contain plenty of committed adults who only desire to help young people grow into knowledgeable adults. (Full disclosure: I was a Girl Scout myself, a Camp Fire summer camp counselor, my daughter was a Girl Scout who deeply loved her summer camping experiences, my son is an Eagle Scout, and I served as a Boy Scout Merit Badge counselor, so I’m not exactly unbiased about these organizations–though I’m also not blind to their flaws).

Whatever you do with your kids and wherever you do it, remember that an enduring connection with nature is a lifelong gift for your children–and a vital survival understanding for all of us.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the photo of young kids with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent observing life along a riverbank. I also want to thank the Green Corn Project Blog, for the photo of the enthusiastic class of second-grade gardeners; to Connecting Youth with Nature for the photo of the kids with magnifying glasses and Small Talk SLP via Pinterest, for the Nature Scavenger Hunt page; to InnerChildFun for the photo of the little boy with the “weather window,” and to E is for Explore! for a different variation on the “Weather Window Cloud Identifier” idea; to EDventures with Kids for the Animal Observation sheet, and to Cornell Labs’ Bird Sleuth K-12, for the photo of the budding birders with binoculars. Finally, I’d like to thank C&G News, and Harper Woods, MI Girl Scout Leader Anna Jochum for the photo of 2nd- and 3rd-Grade Brownie Scouts on a winter survival exercise, and to the Utah National Parks Council of the Boy Scouts of America for the photo of the Scout leader teaching a group of boys a little about leather tooling. I deeply appreciate all for sharing!

Disorders

This post is late, and it will have to be short. Disorders of several sorts have beset close family members in recent days, and as a result a certain level of chaos reigns. When such things happen in our personal lives, we may feel as if we’ve been run over.

Photo by Ryan M. Kelly – The Daily Progress/AP

But actually being run over is much, much worse. We have glimpsed recent new horror (including synagogue congregants, holed up in fear while Nazis marched outside in American streets) in Charlottesville, VA, where “all sides” did not contribute to the public disorder in equal measure, no matter who desperately wishes to believe otherwise.

AP Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Anger does beget anger. Confederate monuments and statues all across the country have become targets in reaction to the white supremacists in Charlottesville.

Image source: WNCN-TV video screenshot, via The Blaze.

In such an environment it’s difficult not to wonder if the world has gone mad–or if perhaps we have. Patience is hard to find. Perspective is hard to find. Just as it’s hard to keep one’s head in a mob, so it’s hard to keep one’s eyes on core values.

But that is our current national test.

IMAGES: Many thanks to CNN, photographer Ryan M. Kelly of The Daily Progress and AP for the photo of the horrific impact of a car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters in Charlottesville, to Los Angeles ABC Channel 7, Pablo Martinez Monsivais and AP for the photo of President Trump making a statement about Charlottesville, and to The Blaze and WNCN-TV for a pictorial article about the destruction of a confederate monument in Durham, North Carolina.

Valuing Creativity

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

Finding a way to value creativity in education, in the workplace, and in life, tends to ignite joy wherever it is found. Keep searching for new ways!

IMAGE:  Many thanks to Looney Math Consulting for sharing this image. It’s one of several in their excellent article, “Honoring Creativity in the Classroom.” 

Dogs teaching kids how to read

The Artdog Images of Interest

My Images of Interest this month spotlight creative and unconventional approaches to teaching that have been gaining traction in schools, libraries, and other places devoted to teaching–including our own homes, if we share them with children.

Literacy dogs:

By now, the science is pretty well settled: reading to a calm, accepting dog (or other animal) really does help children learn to read better. Here’s a video that covers most of the important things about kids reading to dogs.

My first video is about therapy dogs of R.E.A.D., Reading Education Assistance Dogs, from Intermountian Therapy Animals, an organization started in Salt Lake City, UT in 1999. It’s a group I’ve blogged about before.

But now for a little something different: how about a dog who inspires children to read–by reading, himself?

Meet Fernie, whose owner Nik Gardner (headmaster of the school where Fernie works) chose him for his temperament, and taught him not only to be a literacy-support therapy dog, but to respond without verbal cues to commands that are printed on flash cards. He’d learned to read four different commands (“Sit,” “Down,” “Roll Over,” and “Spin”) when they were featured in The Telegraph in February 2016, but Gardner vowed then to teach him more.

Regular readers of this blog will remember I’ve featured literacy dogs before. Just sayin’–they do their work well. You’ll probably see them featured here again!

IMAGES AND VIDEOS: Many thanks to VOA for the video and photo of the R.E.A.D. program in the New York City Public Schools. Thanks also to The Telegraph, and to SWNS TV, photographer David Hedges and YouTube for the information, video, and photo of Nik Gardner with Fernie.

A time of new challenges–and then some

Although my children now are grown and I am no longer either teaching or enrolled as a student, this time of year has always felt like a pivot-point for me.

For most of my life, August has been the time when my family (Mom and Dad were both teachers) and I would shift from a summer of differently-structured time, to plunge back into the challenges of the new school year.

Headed back to school: What should we prepare them for?

My time at the helm of a classroom probably is over, for well or ill. But at this time of year I can’t help thinking about the challenges today’s teachers and students face. Our picture of the future is continually in motion, but the age-old job of teachers is to prepare their students for it as best they can. That’s one of the few things that hasn’t changed!

But what should teachers prepare them for?

Our immediate future contains a massive range of possibilities. Technology that seemed remote only a few years ago now is imminent. From personalized medical care based on an individual’s genome to advances in brain-computer interface technology, our picture of living, working, and learning in the 21st Century is changing rapidly.

We’re beginning to feel the effects of climate change in shifting weather patterns and greater environmental hazards, from more intense storms, more widespread flooding, and hotter, less controllable wildfires.

More intense storms are only one of the environmental hazards kids will increasingly face in the future.

The news tells us the USA has officially recovered from the Great Recession of the last decade–though some of us will never make up the lossesAutomationsome aspects of globalization, and a shifting dominance of industries in the economic sector have taken away some jobs and transformed demand for skilled labor.

Learning new skills throughout life to remain employable is a new feature of the employment scene, a trend that isn’t likely to change in the future.

Our political and social landscape has been changed by economic and demographic shiftsphilosophical polarization, and new social norms about what is and is not acceptable. The so-called “bathroom bills” that have recently targeted transgender students are only one example of the lengths laypersons with no understanding of problems sometimes try to meddle in school affairs.

As if all of that wasn’t enough of a challenge for teachers, consider that there is now literally more history to teach than there was several decades ago, and the best pedagogical standards demand the inclusion of a range of ethnic and socio-economic viewpoints, not just “old dead white guys.”

New scientific knowledge is developed every year, and a quality science education demands that teaching adjust for newly-discovered facts or risk teaching erroneous information (there’s enough of that already).

School breakfast programs provide essential nutrition for millions of kids who otherwise might come to school too distracted by hunger to learn.

Educators also are now expected to accommodate a wider array of needs than they’ve been asked to do in the past, from feeding kids breakfast and lunch so they can be alert in class, to crafting lessons for differentiated learning and individual learning styles, despite often-overcrowded classrooms due to budget shortfalls.

It all adds up to steeper challenges for teachers and school systems every year. I wish them all the best of success, and good luck.

They’re going to need it.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Apple Country Living, for the “back to school” bus-and-kids photo; to CNN, for the photo of the Plaza Towers Elementary School, after a massive tornado hit Moore, OK, in 2013; and to the Eau Claire WI Leader-Telegram for the photo of employment seekers at a local job fair. Many thanks are also due to the Kansas City Chiefs for the photo of a “Wake Up” School Breakfast spread they helped promote for National School Breakfast Week at a local middle school (this photo is from their 2016 project).

Supreme art

The Artdog Quote of the Week  

As teachers and students head back to school in the USA and elsewhere, it’s important to establish priorities.

IMAGE: Many thanks to InformED’s article, “30 Things You Can Do To Promote Creativity,” by Miriam Clifford, for sharing this image.

Disruptive kids

There seems to be widespread agreement that in general “kids these days have no respect,” or at least less respect, compared to earlier times.

There are restaurants all over the world that have resorted to banning small children from their premises, either after a cut-off time in the evening, or entirely–and as a result, many have seen their businesses boom, despite angry reactions by some parents.

Oddly, this deficiency in children has been a fairly consistent complaint since ancient times. In 1907, Kenneth John Freeman summarized complaints, culled from ancient Greek manuscripts, in his Cambridge dissertation:

“The counts of the indictment are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise . . . . Children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves, of their households. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offences against Hellenic tastes, such as crossing their legs. They tyrannised over the paidagogoi and schoolmasters.”

Apparently, it wasn’t much better in the eras that followed, at least according to some contemporary observers; Mental Floss recently published a collection of quotes about the shortcomings of young people from the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. Many of these complaints regard upper-class children, not just the urchins in the slums.

Of course, as famously depicted in the works of Charles Dickens and others, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a lot of children did run wild in urchin gangs. I have written more about them, and the origins of public schools during the Industrial Revolution, in an earlier post.

Is it really so much worse now? A lot of people think so, and not just older, curmudgeonly folk. I would submit that even the most disgruntled restaurant patrons are significantly better off than in the days of urban pickpockets and roving youth gangs that would assault and beat up passers-by in the streets without regard for police presence (except in places where that still happens).

But that doesn’t mean disrespectful children aren’t more defiant, outspoken and profane than they were a few decades ago in the US and other parts of the industrialized world. It seems clear they are, and the reasons cited range from poor parenting to exposure to unhelpful media messages–all of which may well share some blame.

But it troubles me when I find people blaming learning disabilities, ADHD or autism on a lack of good parenting (what a needless burden to place on parents and kids alike!). I also hear a lot of sentiments to this effect:

For me, this comment crosses a line. It implies that a parent would have “ended” the writer, and that the response would have been appropriate. In former years, when “children were seen but not heard,” that could all too often be because they feared what we would today call child abuse. Not in all cases, certainly. And even people whose parents were too reliant on corporal punishment don’t like to think their parents actually harmed them.

But if you listen to some people, all restless children need is some good, old-fashioned discipline to shape them up. This may be true in some cases, and it certainly is true that parents who neglectfully allow their children to be “brats” are setting them up for a lifetime of being despised by others.

But there’s a reason why not every restless or unhappy child is automatically at fault. Parents often take them places that are inappropriate (for example, fancy restaurants), at hours when they’d be healthier if they were in bed (have you seen small, fussy children in grocery stores after 10 or 11 p.m.? I sure have. In their place, I’d be cranky too), and place unreasonable demands on them by over-booking their time or pressuring them to perform beyond their capabilities or developmental stage.

Children are not small adults. Their needs are different, as are their understandings. Moreover, their growth cannot be hurried–no matter how much Mozart they hear while still in the womb.

A little common sense (and a good book on child development) can go a long way toward addressing disruptive children. But then, as Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common.”

IMAGES: Many thanks to Westword, for sharing the photo of the crying toddler in the restaurant booth (there, it illustrates an article titled “Five reasons to ban disruptive children from restaurants”). Thanks also to  Today’s Parent, for sharing the photo of the kid with his tongue out; it accompanies a pretty comprehensive article offering sound advice on the subject. The photo of “hoodlum boys” from an earlier time depicts a group from Knoxville in 1910; it illustrated an article on The Brownstone Detectives, “The Hoodlum Boys of Hancock S.” The “If I had spoken to my parents” graphic is attributed to Chris Tian on Facebook. Finally, thanks to HerLife Magazine (and Bigstock) for sharing the illustration for “Overcommitted Kids.”