I was daydreaming about what learning looks like in the home and this visualization came to me.  I explain it in a video.  I’m curious what you think!

(I’ve started making videos hoping to make it easier to blog, but I’m still in a bit of a funk and don’t feel like doing much of anything, but here’s a start.)

Posted by harp on Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Edit
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I haven’t had many reading moments, but I’ve tried to skim a few books quickly while in reach of my parents’ bookshelves.  I finally took the chance to read about the Suzuki method from the master himself.  I’m glad I did.  My understanding of his musical training method differs in some important ways from what I understand of his writings.  Having lived in Japan and having just read a WWII story (Unbroken – a wonderful read and respectfully written, too), it gave me some interesting context and a greater respect for Suzuki’s work.  I feel the urge to write an essay, but napping kids won’t allow for that, so the quotes that struck me will have to do.


In many ways, Suzuki (1898 – 1998) was revolutionary and counter-cultural.  In a time when the nature vs. nurture argument was strongly weighted toward the nature side, Suzuki believed that nurture was not only far more important than nature, but believed a rather extreme version of the opposite.  Lone voices often have to overstate their case to be heard, and his insistence that an unsuccessful child doesn’t mean the child is stupid, but that his education was bad, is an important one that upholds the dignity of children and prevents the educator from an easy escape by the blaming game, which I heartily agree with.  Suzuki loved children and music was a playful game as well as work, a fact I never realized from his method.


Suzuki was the son of a violin maker who built up a huge violin factory.  Suzuki was trained to work in the factory, not play music, and only started the violin at 18, teaching himself.  Three years later he was studying in Germany.  There he had extensive contact with Albert Einstein, who acted as a kind of guardian.  Suzuki married a German, who was looked un suspiciously during WWII despite the fact that Germany was an ally of Japan’s.  She must have had quite an ability for language as she translated his book from Japanese to English.


Suzuki was also unusual in that he believe that anyone could train himself, “it is only a question of using the right kind of effort.” P.37  He thought up ideas and methods in a rather intuitive way, and was also highly influenced by the writings of Tolstoy, which he applied to himself rigorously.  This is rather un-Japanese in that they are more likely to respect learning from a master than relying on intuition and self-education.  Ironically, despite how Suzuki came to his methods, at the end of the book he calls for the state to get involved and have social workers supervising the education of infants in their own homes so all children can benefit from the kind of quality education Suzuki’s methods produce. (p.107)  The state doesn’t force the Suzuki method, but some followers teach dogmatically to what they believe Suzuki taught, and in my mind it produces something closer to slavery and boredom than the freedom and love that Suzuki intended.  It’s like reaching out to hold a snowflake.  Even if the ideas are great, if you try to institutionalize them you are more likely to destroy them.  (Let it be known that I very much appreciate my musical education, but as I have to think about how to educate my own children I am in the process of critical analysis to try to determine the methods I shall choose.)


How he decided to change his life:

“There is no merit in just thinking about doing something.  The result is exactly the same as not thinking about it.  It is only doing the thing that counts.  I shall acquire the habit of doing what I have in mind to do.” P.88

“If you put a task off until some other time, you will never get it done, because ‘some other time’ has it’s own tasks.   Consequently you end up doing nothing and become a person who keeps putting things off. Time doesn’t wait; but most people are so narigachi na no desu (not up to doing things).  The habit of action – this, I think, is the most important thing we must acquire.” P. 89


His Philosophy and Method


“The only concern for parents should be to bring up their children as noble human beings.” P.15


“I think, generally speaking, that we need only look at the parents to guess what the children will be like.” P.16


We don’t correct habits, we acquire a new habit that replaces the old with enough repetition. P. 90-91


A fundamental rule is don’t hurry, don’t rest.


Memory is the primary (he almost seems to say the only) skill needed for education. (p.92) Kids in his Talent Education program could memorize haiku at a steadily increasing rate.  They used poetry to train the memory.  I have many thoughts on this one, but memorization is both under and over rated.  I’m still struggling with what the balance should be.   It is clear that Suzuki’s original idea is to make memorization and repetition fun and playful, which I believe is an extremely important point that many Suzuki teachers miss.  P.98-99 talks of how Suzuki would play games with his students by asking them silly questions as they played to see if they really know the piece and could play and answer at the same time.  He also would mime playing a piece, then tell the kids of his group class to play the piece he had just mimed.  Fun like that, plus the inspiration of playing in a group with other and more able kids, seem extremely important to his philosophy.  I wonder if his ideas are much of the reason why Japanese education is so heavily based on rote memory . . .


Giving a picture of good education at home, he illustrates with a child who plays with the violin as a toy most of the day and her mother only occasionally corrects her.  This is quite different from the death-grip, never allow anything but proper technique focused training I associate with beginning Suzuki.  Sounds beautiful to me! (p.96)


First encourage the desire to play, then start instruction.  This reminds me of Lori’s idea of setting out provocations to inspire and capture the child’s imagination rather than forcing a lesson plan (an example of her approach would be to set out an arrangement of daffodils and 10 different shades of yellows and 10 different shades of green paints, then saying not a word).


“The development of ability is straightforward.  This can be absolutely relied upon.  People either become experts at doing the right thing, which is seen as a fine talent, or they become experts at doing something wrong and unacceptable, which is seen as lack of talent.” P.98


Learn to play beautifully from the very start.  Children are capable of it.  Throughout the book the theme runs over and over, children are capable.


How far the world has come.  P. 101 quotes a Frenchman’s report upon visiting Japan as seeing Suzuki’s students perform: “In spite of their handicap of being oriental, and Japanese, these children have been trained to reach heights only attained by the most superior children in Europe.”  Wow.  Though we may have a long ways to come in respecting other peoples and cultures, it is good to look back and be grateful for the progress made.


I am incapable of writing a short post . . . oops, that’s a fixed mindset.   I have not YET learned to write a short post . . .

Posted by harp on Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Edit
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My son loves it.  I regret the day I showed it to him because a three-year-old shouldn’t be addicted to video games, but that’s water under the bridge.  Any company that misspells its product names has questionable tactics, if you ask me.  But he is learning his math facts.  He wants to see the other worlds but is afraid to “kill” the bosses.  I told him if he beat the big challenge boss on level 1 I would buy the full version for him.  Well, three tries and he did, so I’m off to spend the money but found a coupon if I blog about it.  The code would work for readers, too, iblog.  I will update here if it works.


Update 30 April 2014

The code didn’t work and after some frustrating and slow responses from customer support it turns out their servers were down.  It could happen to anybody.  For the inconvenience I got 30% off, which I appreciate.  I plan to write a more thorough review once we’ve seen the full version for a bit.  Can I brag that my 3-year-old son waited patiently for more than a week to get his promised upgrade?  I’m so proud of him!

Posted by harp on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Edit
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I recently made a commitment of doing project time with Vivienne.  She’s cute and cunning enough to get plenty of attention, but as the middle child, it sometimes feels like she gets pushed aside.  She recognized and named in Chinese the character for eight at a party but nobody noticed because her brother was naming them all and taking the spotlight.  I wanted to be intentional about feeding her curiosity and gifts, so I made 8:30-9am her project time.


She gets to choose what she does and Joseph can join in her lead, or go play something else.  She’s chosen painting each day up through yesterday, and it’s such a pleasure to see her paint so freely.  Yes, she still mixes paints and sometimes spills, but when I think back to when we first worked with brushes in January, we’ve come a remarkable distance with just a little time nearly every day.


I get the paints from the hall cupboard and prepare water.  I tape paper to the easel and sit next to her on the wooden crate that blocks the entrance to the workspace from crawling babies.  As she chooses from about 6 brush sizes and experiments with acrylic paint and water, I watch and take notes, writing down my thoughts and ideas as they come. She uses a rag to wipe up spills, and announces when she is done.  We clean up together.  She carries her water to the sink and wipes up (with help).


Today she chose to watch Pimsleur and it made me realize just how much Joseph directs our everyday lives.  I normally try to find a compromise and split privileges evenly, but telling Joseph “no, Vivienne gets to pick” for a full 30min was difficult on all of us.  From which language to watch, to whether there are English subtitles, to whether the mouse is at the bottom so the numbers are visible, Joseph has biggest say because he generally operates the mouse.  Hopefully he’ll get used to following someone else’s lead for 30minutes sooner rather than later, but it makes me very grateful that I designated time for Vivienne to lead.  It’s so nice not to have to judge what might be fair or if I’ve pushed too far.  It’s Vivienne’s choice, period.  Everyone else gets a turn at another time of the day.


Which brings me to another recent addition to our routine: Mommy’s project time!  From 8-8:30 I get to choose what to do and the kids can watch, or go someplace else.  I love it, and I try to pick something the kids can enjoy watching.  Currently it’s DuoLingo French and German practice.  It’s so nice to tell the kids “no” and do what I want without feeling guilty about it.  Sometimes it’s a struggle, but they get the basic concept and 20-30 minutes is not too long for anybody to deal without mommy (baring emergencies).  Plus, Vivienne knows that she gets her project time right after mommy’s.


Other mommies, how do you deal with letting your kids take turn leading?

Posted by harp on Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Edit
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A few weeks ago Stephan took a day off of work so I could participate in the open house of the Lucerne Schools.  I can’t figure out how it’s determined which school a kid gets sent to, so I just chose to visit the closest elementary.


There were no special signs or sign-ins.  I just walked in and followed a group of screeching kids and asked the first teacher I came upon.  She happened to be a first-grade teacher so I ended up staying with her.  (Kindergarten is not part of “school” and is therefore not part of an elementary campus.)


Immediately I was greeted by friendly and curious kids, who wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there.  As the rest of the kids trickled in after their lunch break (which they go home for, by the way), I looked around the room.  It looked much like any elementary room I’ve been in, though the blackboard and other equipment were much more sophisticated.


If I understood the schedule correctly the teacher started five minutes early as everyone was there.  Only half of the class comes in the afternoons, with one group coming Mondays and Thursdays and the other on Tuesdays and Fridays, so there were only three boys and five girls.


Enthusiastic, bright, curious, active.  Swiss kids are just like American kids.


The teacher was very calm, patient, organized, and the kids kept her hopping.  I have always admired how teachers can manage a whole classroom of kids – and this was only the half of them!


The main bulk of the afternoon was spent doing individual work on letters, with the beginning and end of class consisting of songs and games.  During the individual work silence was expected and delivered.  The discipline of the kids was impressive, but not as oppressive as I observed in a Japanese kindergarten – but that was during a presentation of a guest, so I might be comparing two entirely different things.


In any case, the kids were happy to answer my questions and explain what they were doing.


I was happy to note the kids were allowed to have water bottles – is that not allowed in America these days?  As for going to the bathroom, I never noticed.  Sometimes the kids went in the hall to work, and once two kids were given the duty of delivering a box someplace else (for which they didn’t need a pass), and given the general openness of Swiss schools I’m guessing no such special permission for that basic necessity of life is needed.


In any case, I was impressed with the kids, impressed with the teacher, and convinced as ever that I don’t want to send my kids to school.


I mentioned the discipline of the kids.  They stayed focused far better than most adults would when given a boring, repetitive task by an outside authority.  They made the work as interesting as they could, but lack of time often required their creativity to be cut short.  It appears each child could pick which letter to work on, but he had a daunting list of tasks to complete before he could move on to the next letter, including writing it on the blackboard, making it out of clay, writing it out over and over in a workbook, reading nonsense syllables to a friend out in the hallway (because in the classroom they were to work in silence, remember), reading a word list to the teacher, filling out two pages of letter tracing and other busy work from another workbook, etc. etc.  They spend a good hour at it, and they knew how it worked.  They had been well trained.  The girls liked to beautify their chalkboard creations with boarders and different chalk technique, and some took great care in how they colored in their letter on their personal alphabet on the board that indicated they had completed all the tasks for that letter.  But I empathize with the boy who, when I visited his desk, flipped through his workbook, showing me each page he completed saying “this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one . . . “suddenly there seemed to be a nearly infinite number of letters in the alphabet.  I helped him focus long enough to finish the last two tasks of the “G” page he was working on.


The finally games were played by pairs of children and one girl begged to have me join their group.  She was given permission (one of the rare times the child’s preference could be honored) and I ended up with her and the above memtioned “G” boy.  We had a pile of face-down cards that had a picture and an unrelated word and we had to find the picture that went with the word and so form a chain that eventually connected to a circle.  At the end the curve was not the shape it needed to be for the last card to make it a circle, and the girl asked the boy if he would like to make the circle.  He said he did and went to work, slowly, carefully, and in a manner that mixed up all the cards before they came together again (in any case, it was not the most efficient way to achieved the desired goal).  He started bending in the curve too sharply and his peer scolded him for it.  He kept working despite the increased scolding and then proclaimed “I made a G!”  Girl: “But it’s supposed to be a circle not a G!!!” “And it’s backwards, silly!”


Don’t apply your learning.  Don’t make mistakes.  Follow the rules. 


The games were clearly more interesting to the kids than the quiet work, but going home was clearly more interesting than staying.  With all the nearly identical artwork on the wall, and all the necessary direction and discipline in the classroom, school seems to be one long exercise in learning to follow directions and putting your own ideas aside because they don’t fit the plan or impress your peers.


Many thanks to the children and teacher for letting me observe.  They were great, I just don’t buy into the system anymore.  I can’t send my son there.  Besides, he already knows his letters!  What would he DO in that time?  The teacher is busy enough.  She can’t keep him fed with extra stuff the whole time!


At the end of the teacher read off names from the cleaning rotation.  The kids who had tasks that day did them well, as you might expect since I’ve reported on their excellent discipline and competence, and the rest were free to leave.  NO BELL!!  That makes Swiss school a thousand times more humane than American ones in by book.

Posted by harp on Friday, April 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Edit
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I remember from my own homeschooling days. I was busy learning, but those associated with schools used scary and important sounding words.  I visited a top Christian school, and I went to a top high school, and I learned that they are empty words.  They still strike fear in my soul and empty learning of all beauty.  In my humble opinion, of course.


Lori at PBH brought my attention to Accelerated Reading programs.  Sounds like Pizza’s read for free pizza ploy with a lot more technological bells and whistles.  All of their success stories center around test scores and statistics.  They might mention interest, but in such sick ways as this.


““Students here feel like everyone collectively cares what they do in our lab, and that builds the value of reading,” Jimenez said. “Maintaining a clear and consistent mission, enforced classroom management, great communication, constant monitoring and the students’ favorite incentives, all factor into what works best for AR here.””


Gag me with a spoon.


In contrast, my three-year-old and I just finished making muffins together.  He read the instructions, stumbling over words like “ingredients” and “granulated” but nailing “baking powder” and “mixing bowl,” and getting close with “ginger” and “cloves.”  He would read out the next ingredient, measured it out, then find his place again to find the next one while I nursed the baby.  Did he need help? Lots of it.  Did he get any “points”? Absolutely not.  Did it matter?  Not one bit.  Together we will have muffins to enjoy . . .


Learning is for life.  Not brownie points.  Muffin points on the other hand . . .


“Beep beep beep, Mommy” says the two-year-old.


Gotta go!

Posted by harp on Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Edit
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More food for thought from the Project Based Homeschooling blog.  Education 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.  Nowhere do they mention Daniel Pink’s “Drive” where he talks about motivation 1.0 etc., but it has similar ideas.  This is no summary, but a note for my future reference.

Posted by harp on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Edit
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I founrd this article from the Project Based Homeschooling blog.

How do we prepare our children for what's next?

It's thought provoking, and I am pretty sure I don't agree with all of it, but do appreciate much of it.  I'm noting it here for my future reference and in case anyone else finds it interesting.  Here are a few quotes:

EMBARK ON A MEANINGFUL PROJECT.Help your child (at any age, really) by being willing to help out—but emphatically not to lead or rescue—in an extended, risky project that has real impact in the child’s community—school, neighborhood, church, synagogue, community center. But stay out of the way. Let the kids shape the project. Kids should find a project that will probably not succeed in all the ways they hope. Dreaming big, taking risks, and scaling back if and when you have to are fantastic skills.


LEARN HOW TO BE A RESPONSIBLE DIGITAL CITIZEN. Learn how to give and take feedback in a public and responsible way. There are different software tools that can help you set up a system where each student has an online identity, for privacy. Give each student 10 stars to award over the course of, let’s say, a 10-week project. Each week, every student is required to award one star to a member of the team whom s/he deems to have done the most to move the project forward. Before students award their stars, they need to put in writing, on the class website, the reasons for the choice. They shouldn’t waste good energy on negative criticism. Critique is the easy way out, as anyone who has read the trollish comments on the Internet knows. Negative comments are a drain on everyone’s energy and negativity is not the same as high standards. If each star is awarded with a well thought out assessment of why merit has been earned, that is a far better way to train judgment than trashing.  What special contribution did a classmate make that made you want to give him or her a star? Everyone will learn from the answer (and the accumulating stars). Sound easy? It’s not. But if you can learn judgment–not silly bubble test grading, not sarcasm or bullying but clear-eyed judgment on the way to the group’s success at attaining its goals—then you are building up a repertoire of successful skills and methods that you can call upon later, in any circumstance.


Q. If you could suggest five practical applications to apply to every school in the country, what would they be?
  1. End standardized EOG tests–they demotivate learning and good teaching.  Instead test in challenging ways, using tough game mechanics with real-time feedback on results so kids can learn from the test—not be taught to scam the test!
  2. Make all learning real, relevant, tied to communities, with real application in the kids’ lives outside of the classroom. Example: Ban research papers—unless they are published online and have an informative, persuasive, or other real purpose for others. Learning should have an impact beyond getting an “A” on  the assignment.
  3. Teach kids to think through, with, about, for–and create–new, interactive digital global communication. I don’t mean this as an add on. I mean rethinking all the subjects we now teach in view of the possibilities (what techies call “affordances”) of the digital age. That means getting rid of the “two cultures” binary. STEM subjects are impoverished without creativity, analysis, critical thinking. The Information Age is about putting back together the knowledge that the Industrial Age subdivided. A simpler way is to say have them all learn Scratch multimedia programming and think about the possibilities.
  4. Restore arts, music, shop, P.E., dance:  Kids need the soul-stirring learning that lets them move, make, sing, create, dream.
  5. Eliminate the “college prep” and AP distinctions, and stop making college the implicit standard for all education, back to preschool. Many worthy careers don’t need higher ed.   Many careers that don’t need higher ed still need a liberal arts education in creative, applied, cross-disciplinary thinking, all of which are as necessary to run your whole hair salon or motorcycle repair shop as they are to get a law degree. Conversely, make college free and open to everyone, at any age. Now, that would be a game changer!
Posted by harp on Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Edit
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