The Art of Asking Your Children the Right – or Wrong – Questions

 

Why do we ask our young children questions we know they can’t answer? Or ones we already know our own answer to? It just doesn’t make sense! Especially when the first response a child learns is some version of “No”. Being mindful not to ask little ones questions is one of the better takeaways on assertive parenting that I have found along the way.

“Do you want me to change your diaper?” mom habitually asks baby busily occupied with blocks.
“No,” baby replies.
“Well, it is time to change your diaper,” mom says, lifting baby off of the ground.
Why did you ask me, then? baby ponders.  Doesn’t what I say mean anything? Don’t you care about my opinion?

Of course, your child isn’t really thinking that, yet, but you get the point. Why not simply state, “I need to change your diaper now and then you can go back and play”?

In day-to-day parent-speak, it just comes naturally to coo to our babies and gently ask, “Are you hungry little one?” or “Are you ready for a nap?” when in reality it is time to eat or time for a nap. I mean, you are the parent and the baby doesn’t really know what’s what yet, so why ask? As kids do get older and do know what is what, these kinds of rhetorical questions, or questions asked without desiring a response, are just cause for frustration or disappointment. Kids simply do not understand rhetorical questions.

I can attest to that fact as a fifth-grade teacher. Every year, I am reminded of this as I watch my novice student teachers attempt to engage my students in a lesson the only way they know how — by asking a rhetorical question.  “Who has ever been to the beach?” Nearly every hand goes up. Eager minds erupt with memories that they must frantically share or their heads will explode. Pick me, pick me, their flailing arms and strained necks and faces practically scream.  “Wow, I can see a lot of you have been to the beach,” the new teacher continues. “Now put your hands down so we can continue with the lesson.”

What a bust! Hands go down, faces twist into frustrated scowls, and minds now wander down memory lane to the land of daydreams.  What a way to kill a lesson, distract your students, and make them less likely to engage next time! If fifth graders don’t understand the nature of a rhetorical question, how can your toddler?

So how do we change our passive, habitual, mindless parent-speak into assertive communication that strengthens communication with our child? Stop asking questions unless you truly care about the answer! If a subject is non-negotiable, don’t ask, tell!

It is five o’clock and time to get home for dinner, yet your little dear is happily enjoying the park. “Okay, sweetheart,” you say. “Do you want to go home now?”  What answer do you expect?  Of course, you know the answer is going to be a whopping “No” and you intend on going home either way.  So instead of asking, simply state the reality.

“It is dinner time. We are going to leave the park in 5 minutes. You have time for 2 more trips down the slide.” It is always helpful to break such news by giving a time warning so kids can mentally prepare for the next move. Try to reinforce good behavior with a show of gratitude, too. “Thank you for listening to mommy. I am so proud of you for listening.”

I have fallen prey to the habit of asking my son mindless questions many a time – it is a hard one to break – but I regret it every time!

“Do you want to go to lunch with mommy and grandma?” I ask as he contentedly plays choo-choos on the floor. OOPS! I quickly recant. “It’s time to go get in the car to meet grandma for lunch.”

“No, I don’t want to,” he responds.

Crap. The can of worms is open.

“Okay, Beau, we don’t have to go right now. You can keep playing for 5 more minutes,” I say, back-peddling. “Then we are going to get in the car.  You can play until then and you can bring one of those trains with you when we leave.  Do you understand?”

Some days, he protests no matter what.  Guess what?  We go anyway.  I am the adult.  Sometimes there is just no room for negotiation.  Such is life.  These are precisely the times when rhetorical questions have no place.  If there is no option, why pretend to offer one?  

It helps to soften reality with a bit of empathy and choice.  “I understand that you are upset about leaving your choo-choos, but you can bring one with you in the car. Which one do you want to take?”  

Now that Beau is older and can speak more fluently, I have begun asking him deliberate, closed-answer questions with options I know I can satisfy. “Would you like a bagel or yogurt for breakfast?”  “Should we go to the park in the stroller or on the bike?”  “Would you like to come to the store with mommy or stay home and play with daddy?”  In offering Beau these options, I empower him to act on his own behalf and show him that I trust his judgment to decide.

At the moment, Beau doesn’t know how to use the words both or neither.  When he does, we will begin working on his negotiation skills, but that is a whole other topic!

Giving options is important.  Anytime you guide children to make decisions for themselves, you help build their executive functioning, a set of skills critical to academic success.  Executive functioning skills help us get things done and include planning ahead, time management, focus, paying attention, comparing competing alternatives, recognizing the outcomes and consequences of different options, and making sound decisions.  The sooner we can engage our kids in decision making, the better!

To truly engage our kid’s intellect, we need to be mindful.  Asking arbitrary, rhetorical questions does a child no good and may even do some harm. Consider how you feel at work when a co-worker dominates a conversation and you can’t get a word in edgewise.  Even if you do, they brush you off because they already know the answers they were looking for.  Makes you want to tune them out, right?  Or not engage with them again.  We sure don’t want to do that to our kids!

The very nature of a question is to desire a response. Do your kids a favor. Get rid of rhetorical questions.  They don’t serve either of you well in the long run.

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The Truth Always Comes Out

My blog post about honesty last week brought me lots of attention. I knew it would.  I stick by my claim that at the time of writing, I had not yet intentionally lied to my son. However, no one is perfect. I had a moment of weakness last night that brought that record crashing down. I lied to my son and he caught me.

We were at the Concert in the Park. Daddy was at work and Beau and I had arrived early to secure space for the other two families who would join us. Beau brought his Mickey Mouse bubble wand to help pass the time but as the park filled up, the bubbles became a bit obnoxious for our neighbors. In a moment of distraction, I managed to wrest the wand out of his hand and sneak it into the wagon. He seemed not to notice or care, so I took the bubble solution off of the wand and capped it tight. Done.

Rows and rows of chairs now filled the park. The band took the stage, and my anxiety over holding this big area for the families who were now late due to traffic began to rise. I despise saving seats. I can’t stand the feeling that others can’t sit because I need so much room. I sensed rows and rows of coveting eyes staring at the back of my head as the music started. Of course, just then, Beau noticed the bubble wand in the wagon, grabbed it, and asked, “Where bubbles, mama? Where bubbles?” “The bubbles are gone, Beau,” I lied.

I couldn’t believe myself! Take it back, I thought. Tell him the truth! All week I had been engaged in conversations with my family and close friends about honesty, talking about how hard it is to keep every little word honest, whether certain comments pass the honesty test, and debating the importance -or not- of always telling the truth. My husband, especially, hung on my every word just to catch me slip up. He would have loved to have caught me saying this!

But I didn’t take it back. I was stressed about saving these seats, about being watched and judged by the others in the crowd, and I did not want them to watch me argue with my son. So I let it ride. Convinced that the bubbles were in fact gone, Beau returned the wand to the wagon and I averted a possible meltdown. No problem, right?

Later in the evening while our group enjoyed the music, one of the kids went into the wagon, found the bubble wand — and the bubbles!!! He brought them over to Beau and me asking me to put it together for him and I knew I was caught. There were more bubbles, Beau’s face seemed to say. I quickly stood up, politely yanked the wand and bubbles from his hands, and quickly buried them again in the bottom of the wagon.

Beau followed me and reached into the wagon to hunt them out. I hugged him tightly and said, “I am sorry I told you there were no more bubbles. I should have told you that we shouldn’t use the bubbles here anymore. There are too many people here for bubbles now.” I felt terrible for having lied to him and even more terrible because I had been caught. Inevitably, the truth always comes out.

So do I believe that I spoiled my trust-relationship with my son thanks to this one moment of weakness? Certainly not. While disappointed, I can’t beat myself up. I recognize that we all make mistakes. We all lie despite our best efforts at honesty. But I do believe that stacked up over time, these little lies teach our children a lot about who we are, who they can trust, and about the kind of person they aspire to be. I still contend that it is absolutely in all of our best interests to do our best to be honest with our kids, even if we can’t manage it all of the time.

The very real truth is that we begin our parenting journey with the best of intentions. We hold ourselves to the highest of expectations and the highest of standards. Then we realize that reality is a b-tch. Our standards slide and our kids quickly learn that we are not perfect. In time, they learn that they are not perfect, either. That is part of being human. By facing our mistakes honestly and showing our kids how we learn from them, we teach them how to positively handle their own imperfections. We need to forgive ourselves for being human and just aim to do our best every day.

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Honesty is the best policy, in parenting as well as in life

I have never lied to my son, not intentionally at least, not yet.  Sounds like a lie, right?  Well, I have made it my mission to avoid even the whitest of lies, the silliest of embellishments, and the most innocent of nudges.  Why do I do this to myself?  I mean, everyone lies a little, right?   The simple, honest truth is that I want my son to trust me, down to the last word.  

No one will argue with me that honesty is usually the best policy, but not even my husband sees eye to eye with me on an all honesty, all of the time policy.  

What’s the harm in using parenting cliches?  We have heard them our whole lives.  “If you don’t eat your dinner you won’t grow up to be a big boy.  Don’t you want to be a big boy?” Grandmas coo.  “You are not getting out of the high chair until you finish your dinner,” Mommies warn.  “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you can’t play with any of your toys tonight,” Daddies threaten.  These are extreme examples, but you get the picture.

These types of seemingly harmless comments just slip out of people’s mouths without thought.  Maybe they were what we were raised with and so we believe this is how kids should be persuaded, through fairy tales, threats, and hyperbole.  I know the point is to coax kids into doing what we ask, but the truth is, we don’t really care if they finish their dinner tonight or not (just one more bite would do) and no one is really going to leave their kid in the high chair over night!  So why say things that aren’t true?  You just make yourself out to be a liar!

In our house, my husband likes to tell Beau things like “There isn’t any more banana, Beau,” if he has already had enough for today (and we are talking about the sickeningly sweet Trader Joe’s dried bananas that are essentially his baby crack!).  I know that seems like a harmless approach to keep Beau from getting sick on this treat, but it drives me crazy to hear!  Why not just tell him the truth? “You have already had enough banana for the day.  Let me get you something else.”   

To be clear, my husband is the most honest, honorable person I have ever met.  He keeps me honest in the rest of my life.  But when it comes to certain little comments, he defends them as simply being easier than fighting with him over tiny things like more bananas.  He just wants to protect Beau.  What’s the harm in telling him a meaningless fib to avoid a conflict?    

I understand his point, but it isn’t enough for me.  Everything we say to our children matters – every single time.  This may sound like a huge burden on parents, and it is, but it is critical.  Our words paired with our actions set the foundation for how well our child trusts or doesn’t trust us, and these bonds of trust are what will carry our relationship through the most stormy of waters later in life.  

From day one, children are constantly watching, listening, and learning. Kids are literal little sponges who absolutely do not understand hyperbole or sarcasm.  They need the truth even if it means an argument might ensue.  A) They need to learn how to accept the word “no” and deal with not always getting their way.  B) They need to know that you will follow through with your statements.  C) You want them to believe you when you speak.  D) Trust goes both ways!  If I offer him the bad news that he may not have another banana,  he learns that I believe he can handle the truth!  Me trusting him is just as important to the strength of this relationship as him trusting me.       

There are times when my husband complains to me, “He only listens to you.”  I argue that that in itself is hyperbole, but I digress.  Perhaps when it comes to listening to Mommy, he has learned that I am not hiding the truth.  I have trained him to trust me by showing him that he can trust me in even the littlest, most harmless situations.  If I tell him there are no bananas and then he goes into my purse and finds the bag, which he has started doing, he will start doubting other things I say and testing me in other areas.  I would rather have a lot of little battles early on then a big one about trust issues later.    

So what about big things like Santa Claus, you ask?  Am I depriving my son of our most beloved Western traditions because I refuse to tell a lie?  No, so far I have just emphasized tales like these as being just that, tales.  “Look, there is a man dressed up like Santa Claus over there” or “In the story, Santa Claus brings toys to good little girls and boys.  Are you a good little boy?  Would Santa bring you toys?”  I don’t need him to actually believe — and fear — Santa in order to get him to enjoy the holiday season and to be a good little boy.  Now, how to handle the tooth fairy?  We aren’t there yet and I am still working on how I will that handle that one.  I am open to suggestions!

And what about the truth about our own less-than-perfect moments?  My husband is adamant that he will not share his personal transgressions with Beau and I respect his wishes to maintain a blemish-free image in his son’s eyes.  He says he will admit that he is not perfect, but that he will lie in an effort to protect his son from making the same mistakes he did.  

I, on the other hand, while not advertising my teenage troubles, will certainly open up to him in appropriate detail if he ever asks me about or needs guidance and support with particular issues.  My hope is that because I have told him the truth his whole life, he will trust coming to me when he ever needs sage advice.

I need my son to trust me.  I know how difficult the teenage years are.  Building a relationship with my son that will withstand his adolescence is of the utmost importance to me.  I know that relationship started the day he was born and that we are forging it every day, with every word and action.   

The other day, Beau asked Daddy for a yogurt at an inopportune moment. Daddy said, “There isn’t any yogurt in the fridge.”   I couldn’t help myself.  “Really?” I asked.  “Is that the truth?” knowing full well what the truth was.  “No,” he replied.  “Then why say it?  It isn’t true.  Just tell him he can have it in a little bit or even that he has to wait until tomorrow,” I needled.  “I don’t know.  I guess it’s just a habit.  I will work on it,” he said.  “Thank you,” I replied.  

Habits are hard to break, but some are absolutely worth breaking.  Honesty is the best policy.  Someday, when I have to have a sit down with Beau to discuss his own telling (or not) of the truth, I will share that old adage with him — and he will believe me.  

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Are the “terrible twos” a Declaration of Independence? What parents can do for their toddlers this Fourth of July

This Fourth of July morning while getting Beau dressed in his festive red, white, and blue, I started to explain to him what the holiday was all about – in a two-year-old kind of way.  “We are celebrating the birthday of our country,” I said.  “Just like when we celebrated your birthday the other day.  Today, the United States is 241 years old.”  

I pondered the meaning of the day a little more deeply as I finished dressing him.  Independence Day: the day the colonists declared independence from Britain for being over controlling and not allowing the colonists any say in their own governance.  It would only be a matter of minutes before I would have to learn something this Independence Day about parenting my two-year-old.           

Beau and I moseyed into the bathroom to brush his teeth.  Toothbrushing is usually something Beau enjoys, so I was totally caught off guard when he started refusing.  I pushed, trying to hold him still while I attempted to safely enter the toothbrush into his mouth.  But Beau pushed back, with tears, shouts, and lashing arms.

In the wake of my son’s second birthday, I am reading a lot about the “Terrible Twos” and how to survive them.  One resource says the “terrible twos” are cause by an internal conflict between wanting to break away from overwhelming parental control and yet still wanting to remain close.  This is a transitionary period when the child is feeling out his independence, trying to be and act older, and attempting to establish his identity in the world.  He needs the freedom to explore and try – and fail – without the heavy hand of a parent controlling his every move.  

The terrible two-year-old’s tantrums are in a sense a Declaration of Independence!  In writing the Declaration of Independence, the colonists listed the many grievances they suffered under King George’s heavy hand.  They claimed that a government gains its power from the “consent of the governed,” and since he did not take into account their needs, they had the right to abolish his rule over them.  They had addressed their frustrations with him over and over and finally, enough was enough.  The colonists were outta here!

Without the eloquence of language to express their demands, toddlers act out the only way they know how, emotionally and physically.  Beau was expressing a grievance, and to avoid a Revolution, I needed to start listening.  

Better to start listening now.  I know full well how kids go through a second transitional period in their teenage years which can end in full out rebellion.  This is a time in Beau’s future that I seriously dread, especially after how I behaved when lashing out against what I saw to be overbearing control by my parents.  Kids need to learn how to be adults, how to take chances – and how to fail – and to become who they are going to become, just as they did when they were two.  However, unlike at two, a teenager may really say, “I am outta here” if you don’t listen and those consequences are devastatingly frightening.  Working out a way to share control with Beau is something I would like to perfect early.  

If King George had heeded the warnings of our Founding Fathers, we may still be a part of England today.  Instead, we declared independence fought a terribly long war to finally break free.  I never want to fight that war with my child.  I will listen to his grievances and support him in any way I can as he transitions into independence.    

So how did I handle the toothbrushing tantrum?  Through goofy silliness, I managed to get Beau to stop protesting long enough to hand him the toothbrush.  Usually I brush them for him so this time, I asked him to do it.  He brushed the bottom row pretty well and then gave the brush back to me.  I urged him to brush the top and I could see the tantrum resurfacing.  Abort!  Abort! I thought.  “OK, Beau.  Nice job on the bottom row.  We’ll get the top later.”  In giving him some control, we had a half-brushed mouth until bedtime, but the Revolution was averted.  This particular battle was not worth spoiling all of the day’s fireworks!   When brushing before bed, Beau said, “Mommy do it?”  I smiled and hugged him.  See, he still needs me (sigh).  

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

 

  

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Say “Pay Attention,” not “Don’t…” – The Art of Positive Wording to Build Competent Kids

I had many thoughts about how I would parent before I became a parent. I read a litany of books before my son, Beau, was born.  Many I ignored or forgot once he came, so overwhelmed was I with the reality of late nights and how to cure seemingly inconsolable tears.  But a few books stuck.  One very easy and insightful read was The Complete Secrets of Happy Children by Steve and Shaaron Biddulph.  This book offers many simple, common sense reminders of things I think I always knew, but that I needed brought to the front of my awareness.  One huge takeaway was concentrating on how I phrase things to Beau, namely using positive wording to build up his competence and self-assurance, especially when giving commands or instructions.

“If a child is told ‘Don’t fall out of the tree’, then they have to think two things: ‘Don’t’ and ‘fall out of that tree.’  Because we use these words, they automatically create this picture.  What we think, we automatically rehearse” (25).

This idea made perfect sense to me.  Giving negative cautions and warnings instills doubt.  These doubts then become self-fulfilling prophecies followed inevitably by “I told you so.”   What a blow to the ego!  If there was any apprehension to try something new before, who would try again after that embarrassment!

Instead of “Don’t slip” or “Don’t hurt yourself,” tell your child how to do things the proper way.  In the case of my son, Beau, who has a jungle gym in the backyard, we tell him to “Stay focused on where you put your hands” or “Hold on tightly.”  Even “Be careful” seems to be too cautionary for my taste, hinting at danger and inciting doubt.  If he isn’t allowed to do something because it is dangerous, then I don’t let him do it, but if it is him just being a kid, I want to give him the confidence and courage to keep going.

My go-to phrase has become “Pay Attention.”  I use it constantly.  Pay attention climbing the ladder.  Pay attention going down the stairs.  Pay attention jumping off that rock.

I am not warning Beau of danger.  Being naturally risk-averse, he is acutely aware of when he is taking a chance.  Rather, I am asking him to use his senses, to trust his instincts, and to focus on the task at hand.  I am not telling him what NOT to do, but what TO DO.  This simple positive spin on my words shows him that I trust his judgment and that I believe in his ability to succeed, focusing his mind on doing something new rather than on running away in fear of what could be.

The other day, I actually heard Beau tell himself, “Pay attention” when he was climbing our jungle gym ladder!  I could see his awareness heighten as he concentrated on each little move with complete confidence and total control.  I felt like I could sit back, relax, and just enjoy watching him go!  He had the tools and the attention to be safe on his own without my nagging or hand-holding.  It was awesome!!!

Of course, there are times when a sharp “Look Out!” is immediately necessary.  But in our day-to-day language, we have to build our own good habits.  It took awhile to ditch the “Be careful” and “Watch out” so dutifully ingrained from my own upbringing, but now it is second nature.  I now feel like I have helped to establish a habit of mindfulness in my little one that builds him up and gives him courage and competence.  Our words become our kid’s thoughts.  What we say matters!

 

 

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End-of-the-Year Thank You Letter to My Students

Dearest Class of 2017,

What a year of learning we have had!  From Magellan and John Smith, we learned what makes a great leader.  Using the Bill of Rights, we debated what defines us as American.  During the Presidential Election, we practiced tolerance and learned about what makes democracy work.  Reading My Brother Sam, we redefined what it means to be “right” and recognized that every story has multiple perspectives of truth.  Your Current Event Reports brought the outside world into our classroom, exploring what each of you believe mattered most at that moment.  In the STEM Lab, you worked as a team, managing each other’s unique personalities to achieve a common goal.  During Genius Hour, we each celebrated the gift of time to explore our passions, doing what little we could to impact the world “outside of these four walls” and exploring our future careers.  I had my own Genius Hour which inspired me to start my blog and begin writing a novel!  I hope you continue to give yourselves a Genius Hour every week, a time to explore whatever your heart desires.  Your passions will no doubt change as you grow up, along with your interests, but I hope your love of learning never subsides.  Every experience, no matter how small, becomes a part of you forever.  Life is about experience.  Try to rack up as many as you can.  

Take with you everything you learned this year about tolerance and virtues, character and gratitude, and most of all integrity.  Use your common sense.  You all know all of the right answers.  Look deep inside and trust yourself.   I have given you a list of some of my favorite Quotes from our Daily Journals.  I hope you hang it on your wall and read over it for inspiration in the years to come.  Words of wisdom become part of us as we reflect on them.  Reflect often.     

Each and every one of you will do amazing things in your lives.  You may not recognize them as amazing at the time, but I will always want to hear about your successes and even your struggles.  You know I love a good mistake, one that you learn and grow from, and I want to hear about those, too.  I will never stop caring about you and your adventures in life.  Please keep in touch with me.  I am always just an email away.  

I love you all and thank you for an amazing year of laughter, learning, and fun!

Best wishes

Attitude   By Charles Swindoll

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company … a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude … I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you … we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

My Favorite Quotes of the Day

“The only limitations are those you put on yourself and the ones you allow other people to place on you.” — Jean Driscoll

“Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were the world looking at you, and act accordingly.”  — Thomas Jefferson

“Try to make at least one person happy every day.  If you cannot do a kind deed, speak a kind word.  If you cannot speak a kind word, think a kind thought.  Count up, if you can, the treasure of happiness that you would dispense in a week, in a year, in a lifetime!” — Lawrence Lovesick

“When you’re done learning, you’re done!”  — My Daddy

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” –Voltaire

“Courage is doing what you are afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you are scared.” — Eddie Rickenbacker

“Teamwork: Simply stated, it is less me and more we.”  — Anonymous

“We are all given the same number of hours in a day.  Some people just use them better.” — Unknown

“Make decisions based on love, not on anger.”  — Reverend Hunt Blood on the River

“Every job is an autograph of a person who does it.  Autograph your work with excellence.”— Unknown

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” —  Atticus Finch

There is such a thing as bad art.  If you do not give it your all, it is bad.  Do what’s in your heart, and it will always be good.” — Mrs. Fouladi

“There are no small parts, only small actors.”  — Constantin Stanislovski

“You have only one thing in your life and it is your reputation.” — Steve Scully

The Four Agreements:

  1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your BEST!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to advocate for your high-energy child at school

All parents want teachers to like their children, to appreciate and understand them.  Of course, parents also want their kids to learn and thrive, but this can only happen in a respectful, nurturing environment. Sadly, this environment is rarer than you might think, especially for high-energy kids.    You can and should advocate for your child and I will share simple ways how.

My friend and colleague, Ali*, recounts the first years of her son’s schooling.  They were a nightmare!  In preschool, Tucker* started “being bad.” Near-daily phone calls about his behavior sent Ali into a constant state of panic and anxiety.  She dreaded picking him up from school every day to punish him, but what else could she do?   As a teacher herself, she knew the rules and he was breaking them!  She took his toys away, his TV time, anything fun.  She even enrolled him in a tough karate dojo to instill some discipline in him, but nothing worked!  She started to think there was something really wrong with him!  

Ali searched the internet for an answer, any label that would explain his problems and lead to a magic “cure.”  Was he ADHD?  ODD?  Autistic?  Does he have too much sugar in his diet?  Gluten intolerant?  She just couldn’t understand why he would act that way.  She actually admits she stopped enjoying her son!   

Of course, she knew her son could be a handful, especially when bored.  So she filled their weekends with outings to zoos, parks, train rides, anything to keep him productive.  When engaged, he was his authentic self – a happy, curious, full-of-life little boy – but this was not the child teachers saw at school.

One summer day, an insightful horseback riding instructor noticed Tucker’s spark and nonchalantly cautioned, “Hey, Mom, don’t let ‘the man’ ruin your boy.  You got a good one there.”

The lightbulb went on.  Maybe Tucker wasn’t the problem.  Maybe school was.  He would be going into 1st grade in the fall and Ali decided to meet with his teacher right away and level with her.  She introduced herself and said, “Tucker is a great kid, but he has to be busy.  He loves reading, helping, playing outside, competition, and challenges.  Fill his downtime with any of these things, and he will be a delight.  Don’t, and he will find his own ways to keep himself busy.”

Luckily, this teacher took what Ali had to offer and ran with it.  It worked!  Tucker finally had an amazing year at school after a terrible preschool experience.  His “bad” behaviors were non-existent, he did well in his classwork, and his teacher actually liked him!  Ali’s frontloading of the teacher paid off, that year, but every year is different, and you need to be ready to go to combat if you need to!     

For the most part, teachers really loving, selfless, intelligent souls.  They just have so much on their plates and, let’s face it, high-energy kids make running a classroom much more challenging.  When managing a classroom, teachers use the tools they have – rewards and punishments often topping their list.  The goal is to build a working relationship with the teacher so you can work together to make life at school rewarding for everyone.  Here are a few insights on how.

Advocate for your high-energy kid through a positive relationship with the teacher

  • Meet teachers right away and level with them.  Share specifics on what makes your child successful.  Try something like, “My son is a sweetheart, but he is a handful!  He needs to stay busy.  Trust me.  Here are some things I know have worked with his previous teachers and that I use at home.”
  • Write all of your ideas and suggestions down.  After the dust of September settles, send an email reminding the teacher of your previous conversation.  Repeat your suggestions, ask how things are going so far, and how you can help support at home.
  • Relate personally to the teacher.  Express your desire to work with her, not against her.  Through candid conversation with your child’s best interests at heart, you can brainstorm honest supports together.  
  • Be professional.  You will get more bees with honey than vinegar, so be respectful always.  If you have to get more aggressive about asking for what your child needs, you will be better received if you have a reputation for being realistic, level-headed, and honest about the situation at hand.  Pick your battles wisely.
  • Listen to what the teacher has to say.  With a patient, gracious, objective ear, try to understand what behaviors the teacher is seeing in the classroom.   Be open to hearing the truth.  Is there something new that you didn’t know about?  
  • Talk calmly and frequently to your child about school.  If things seem OK, leave them alone.  If not, ask for specific examples. But don’t create a problem that isn’t there by prodding over the subject if it doesn’t come up naturally.  Let your child move on and grow out of it if he is ready to.
  • Teach resilience and thick skin.  Advocating does not mean being overbearing.  Your advocation should be in private.  Your child should not be privy to it.  Teach him to hold his own, make good choices, ask for what he needs, and face each day with a positive outlook.  He will be an adult someday and this is his training ground!

Take quick action  if you see that things are getting out of control

  • Be honest with your child and yourself.  If she was bad before and that earned her street creds, she may continue to push that identity with her peers.  It may be that once learned, your child really is playing the “bad” card.  You may need to talk about reputation and owning one’s actions at that point.  Talk about appropriate time and place for certain behaviors and how she is received so you can empower her to learn self-control.
  • Make “school rules” and “home rules” and be clear about how and why they are different.  Be calm and consistent with following through on consequences.  Maintain the simple law of cause and effect.
  • Prioritize and focus on three behaviors at a time, max.  Let the rest go!   If you overload your child with “No’s” and “Should have’s,” all you will get is a shutdown or a rebellion!
  • Look for triggers to behaviors.  What situations or patterns that lead to out-of-control or “bad” behaviors?   Empower your child by helping him identifying what they are.  Slowly teach ways to prepare for and handle these often unavoidable situations.
  • Remember to smile, laugh, and love your kid.  Discipline should teach, not punish.  If you need to cool off before communicating with your child about what may have happened at school, do!
  • Make sure your child knows you are on his team first and always! Everything you do is out of love, even if it doesn’t seem that way to your child in the moment.  When the disciplining is over, do something fun and meaningful together to keep your bond tight.
  • Take care of your kid’s spirit.  Constantly remind her of how special her spark is, how important her creativity is, and how much you love her unique being.  Build her up.  Some days will be better than others, but every day is a fresh start.   

Make tough decisions if you must

  • Not every teacher — or school — will be on your team.  You may have to make tough decisions and weigh your educational options.  You want a school that will serve your child’s needs and unfortunately, this may not be your neighborhood school.  Consider non-traditional options if you must.

Don’t Give Up on Your Child

 

Ali’s son, Tucker, is just wrapping up his 2nd-grade year and it was not great.  His teacher was super uptight and made every little thing a big deal.  She really didn’t like him.

Looking at the upcoming teachers at his current school, Ali fears he may have many more challenging years to come. Hopefully, she can keep his self-esteem up and his spirit alive in the process.

What gives Ali hope is the realization that many famous people also didn’t fit the mold as kids. They had to make their own path and wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Thankfully, most had supportive parents who let their kids break free of the mold and be fully themselves.  

Ali believes the qualities that make Tucker “difficult” today will lead him to be a major innovative success someday.  Her fingers are crossed because, as she says, “Rule followers don’t really change the world.”

For your reading pleasure:

* The names of my friend and her son have been changed.

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10 strategies for making life at school easier for high-energy kids (and their teachers!)

No teacher wants a child to be unhappy in her class. Every good teacher intends to do best by her students. But as my husband says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Some may consider that teaching kids to sit still and to work quietly is a priority, and it is, but not at the cost of the simple joy of learning. Yes, kids need to learn right from wrong and how to be socially aware. They need manners, respect, patience. They need to learn how to differentiate right time and place for certain behaviors.

Many teachers demand quiet calm of their students “or else,” punishing them for their louder behaviors. But for little kids learning how to become respectful adults, demeaning and shaming them for being themselves is not the way!  All kids want to be “good.” All kids want to learn. So how can teachers positively support active kids not naturally prone to sitting still?

The secret kids will learn from and work hard for anyone they like. What kinds of teachers do kids like? Teachers who like them back! And kids can tell if you fake it! Attitude is everything! Appreciating, respecting, and enjoying students is the best way to get them to try new and challenging things, to persevere when they want to quit or scream, and to reign in their impulses. Dislike them, and they will do their best, too…in exactly the opposite direction! This is when otherwise good kids act up, misbehave, or seek negative attention. And it’s all in the hands of the teacher.

Now, let’s be realistic. While exceptionally rewarding, teaching is an extreme challenge. It is emotionally, mentally, and spiritually draining. On top of lesson planning to individual student needs, delivering curriculum well, soothing parental concerns, and meeting high administrative demands, teachers must juggle thirty-plus budding personalities and the unique baggage that they each bring to school. Every day has its unknowns that must be dealt with at a moment’s notice, ideally with grace and good judgement. There are good days and bad days and trust me, even the best teacher has bad days. Let’s face it. This job is exhausting!

Sometimes we just don’t have the energy for our high-energy kids. Some kids just seem to make life in the classroom “easier.” Calm, quiet, self-motivated, independent workers? Yup, easy. Active, high-energy, needy, or overtly social kids? Not so easy! But absolutely no less important, and certainly no less interesting or inspired! In fact, they may often be more so!

So how does a teacher work with high-energy students in a way that respects, utilizes, and maximizes their best qualities while still allowing the demands of the classroom – and the teacher – to be met?

Here are ten strategies teachers can use to support even their most hyperactive kids – and themselves – in their classroom.

1. Communicate the “game of school

  • Elementary school isn’t all about grades (gasp!). In fact, it is less about grades than almost anything else! This fact is often overlooked to the detriment of our students. School is about learning the basics of reading, writing, and math, but also of how to be a functioning, productive citizen. By telling kids this truth, we empower them to work to succeed even if they struggle in areas like homework completion and test scores.
  • There is a “game” of school and those who know the “rules” do better than others, even if they aren’t smarter. Just like checkers, the game isn’t hard, but no one can win without knowing the objective. Teach kids how to play the game!
  • High-energy kids can learn – and WIN – the game if given a chance to learn the rules. Teach them the strategies and they will excel! Make them your best “players!”

2. Teach kids the “Rules” — the “Soft Skills”

  • Success at the “game” of school requires intellect, of course, but even more, it requires a knowledge of the Hidden Curriculum or all of the unspoken “soft” skills necessary for doing well at school.
  • Soft skills include qualities like integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, professionalism, flexibility, patience, perseverance, problem-solving, common sense, organization, and teamwork, etc.
  • Soft skills are not innate. They need to be taught to kids. While some kids may naturally be more apt, all can learn them. We should not punish kids for not innately having them. We are their teachers. It is our job to prepare them.
  • Be honest with kids about how their behaviors are perceived by others. If kids understand WHY behaving in particular ways is important and how others respond — both positively and negatively — to behaviors, kids may work harder at self-regulating. While executive function, or the ability to self-regulate in order to plan, focus, remember directions, and multi-task, is not fully developed until way into our 20s, we empower our kids when we are honest about what is expected and why.
  • Teaching soft skills builds self-esteem! We all know what it feels like to stand out. Give kids tools and strategies to improve their “people skills” so that they can make better choices toward success.

3. TEACH “Time and Place”

  • Kids need to know that there are times in life when, even as adults, we need to be quiet even when we want to be loud or serious when we want to be silly. There is a time and a place for each of these behaviors. Kids need to know what times demand which behaviors and that everyone has to work hard at self-control, even grown-ups!
  • Communicate the message that we are at school to learn but that we all learn differently. While you may need to move around a lot, others may need it quiet. Respect others’ learning needs and they will respect yours.
  • Coach’s Comments: “What you did isn’t necessarily wrong, it just wasn’t “right” right now. When might it be a better time to…?” or “What might have been a better choice at that moment? In that situation?”

4. GIVE a Time and a Place

  • Honor the different learning styles of your students and provide time and place for each. Allow students to shine in their own way at different times of the day.
  • Provide choices in learning, such as project-based lessons or Genius Hour.
  • Give kids the day’s schedule! Let kids know at the beginning of the day what is coming and which activities will require quiet focus and which will be more active so they can prepare themselves for longer stretches of focus if needed.
  • Create a classroom that the kids own. Giving kids management responsibilities can get messy and chaotic at times, but with strong coaching and leadership, it is a working chaos where all kids buy in.
  • Offer class jobs that cater to all types of kids and honor their leadership when they push to do their “job.” Explicitly teach kids how to do their job properly. For example, we have a class pet, Fred the Leopard Gecko. Our class “zoologist” is in charge of maintaining fresh water and cleaning the cage. There is a lot to learn by helping a child know that, “No, Fred does not need fresh water in the middle of the math lesson.” Learning to wait 10-minutes until it is independent work time gives that hands-on, antsy kiddo something to look forward to!

5. Make the “game” of school easier to play!

  • When making lesson decisions, work to get student buy-in. Ask yourself:
    – “Would I want to do this assignment?”
    – “Who might struggle with this? What can I do to tweak it to             make it more reasonable for them?”
    – “Have I made this lesson relevant to my students?”
    – “Do they understand why we are doing this and how it will help them in their future?”
    – “Do they have any control over the products they are creating?  Could they?”
  • Level with them. Explain what is expected and when. If a child knows that there will be some time later to play and be noisy and social, they will try harder to be quiet when they need to.  If you need to, broker a deal with them.  They will feel respected that you understand their needs.
  • Give lots of opportunities for both quiet and boisterous activities and balance lessons and the day’s schedule between high and low energy activities.
  • Provide “Brain Breaks” such as with free websites like GoNoodle, or even just a jog to the fence and back or a “special delivery” to a nearby classroom can do the trick to get active kids to relax.
  • Be realistic and honest with yourself. Some things are just too much to ask at certain times of the day. Be flexible with your schedule and your lessons. Mold them as you need to. If you are happy, so are the kids!

6. Have a sense of humor

  • Don’t be too serious. These are kids for crying out loud! Remember what it was like to be a little kid and then act accordingly. Have fun with your students! Life is too short not to!
  • Be OK with less than total control. Think: “This is not my classroom, it is our classroom.” Share it with your students and you will all be happier.
  • Understand that even though kids aren’t perfect, they are working harder than we think they are!  Give them some credit!
  • Teacher ATTITUDE is everything!!! All the strategies in the world won’t help you if your demeanor says you are annoyed with a child. Show tolerance to teach tolerance. Kids follow your example. Kindness always matters. Negativity is a slippery slope and it is hard to get back to positive once your other students start mimicking your annoyance.

7. Love your high-energy kids’ high energy!

  • Don’t we all wish we had more energy? Especially as our coffee wears off mid-morning or we have to pep up to attend an after school IEP meeting! Energy is a well-valued commodity.
  • Respect and appreciate the energy your kids can share with you!
  • Energy is a strength! How can your students’ energy be harnessed and used?

8. Don’t take anything personally

  • When kids are not following your lead or understanding your plan, take a deep breath and question what is missing. It isn’t about you, personally, but about the circumstances. Keep your personal judgments at bay and just move forward.
  • If you are not getting through to a student, ask how you can communicate what your expectations are in a way that will get buy-in from that student? Even if he can’t control his energy, if you two are on the same page, at least you can both get along and work positively towards a common goal.

9. Discipline with Dignity

  • The root of the word discipline is discipulus, Latin for “pupil.” Use discipline as a means to teach, not to punish.
  • Kids want to impress. They want to please. They want to shine! But they also don’t want to stand out negatively. We crush them little by little every time we call them out in front of their peers. They don’t want to be “bad.” Don’t create “bad” kids out of good ones!
  • In order to flourish, kids need to share their ideas and creations and to be heard in their own special way, at least some of the time. They need to be in a classroom that has room for them, too. Make room for them!
  • Give lots of guidance about when and where behaviors are appropriate.
  • Address actions and choices, not personalities. Kids aren’t bad, choices are bad. Remember that!
  • Discipline in private. Conference with kids confidentially about what they could have done. Remember, they are our pupils in behavior as well as academics.  They do not need to be punished as much as they need to be coached.
  • Coach’s Comments: “You aren’t ‘bad.’ You just made a choice that wasn’t appropriate for this situation. What actions or choices might have been better received?” “What can we do next time?” “How can I help you next time we are in this situation?
  • Imagine that each child is your own child. How would you want them to be treated in this moment? Maintaining a positive classroom where all children are respected is paramount to success, both mine, and my students.

10. Give Yourself a Break!

  • I am far from perfect. I am being tested heartily this year by some high-energy students. Writing this post has really challenged me as a teacher to face my own progress towards providing a welcoming, safe, nurturing classroom for my high-energy kids. I struggle, too, even with all of the tools I know how to use. The truth is, I get tired and the demands on me are high. But I also know that appreciating these high-energy kids it is worth it.
  • Every day is a fresh start. I may not have had a perfect day today, but I have tomorrow and how I use it really matters.
  • Kids forgive. They will give you second chances. Give them chances, too.
  • Keep trying, keep smiling, and keep the big picture in mind.

As I write this, it is May and we are in the middle of the high-stakes testing season. Even with the best of intentions, my patience runs thin. I am being forced to keep my kids quiet for longer periods of time than I know they can handle. I need to remind myself that my kids are doing their best, for me, because I love and support them. Their high energy is not bad energy unless I make it “bad.” My attitude is everything.

Classrooms need to be safe places for all kids, hyper or calm, loud or quiet. Children need an honest balance in their lives and in their classrooms. The outgoing, energetic kids bring so much to an educational setting. Their explosive zest for life takes learning experiences to exciting new places from which all children can benefit. The most important thing a teacher can do is to honor the unique needs and personalities of his students and to teach in a way that respects and nurtures each child’s spirit without damaging it. Self-esteem is fragile. We must teach appropriate behaviors and boundaries in meaningful ways so that all kids are always showing their best self to the world in a welcomed and encouraged way.

Working with high-energy kids is worth it! Instead of fighting their energy, embrace it and you will be rewarded with a positive, energetic, cooperative, learning environment where all students are respected and will flourish.

This is part 2 of a 3 part series.

For your reading pleasure:
“Soft Skills: Preparing Kids for Life after School”
“Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What’s the Difference?”
“The Great ‘Medicate’ Debate”
“Alternatives to Medication” – The ADHD Debate


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High-energy or not, kids need to be allowed to be who they are, for all of our sakes

Beau and Willa Today collage

 One size does not fit all when it comes to school experiences, but the reality is, schools are set up that way. Certain kids, namely the quiet, pensive, independent kids, fit the “one-size” better than others. Louder, more boisterous kids often struggle because there are few, if any, natural outlets for their high-energy so they get “in trouble.”

This “trouble” for just being themselves can turn good, positive, motivated, enthusiastic learners into, well, trouble-makers! They are taught that something about them, their energy and excitement, is wrong or bad. No kid should ever be made to feel ashamed for being who they are, but it is even more tragic when an overwhelming zest for life is made out to be a problem. Everyone loses.

Join me in this three part series. First, I share the story of my son, Beau, and his best friend, Willa. Different as different can be, they have shaped and enhanced each other’s lives and development by bringing out each other’s more subdued qualities. One quiet, one loud. Together, they are a perfect balance. Sadly, though, their special differences will not likely be appreciated equally when they start school. This is a potential tragedy in the wings.

In part two, I discuss my beliefs on what a teacher’s responsibility is in regards to supporting high-energy students and offer strategies teachers can use to support even their most hyperactive kids by truly harnessing, appreciating, and using their energy as an asset in the classroom.

Finally, in part three, I will offer my thoughts on how parents of high-energy kids can prepare for, deal with, prevent, or even avoid the harsh realities of school for their kids.

Part 1 - Beau and Willa

When I first started talking about starting this teacher-mom blog, my initial thoughts were to focus on boys and the struggles they have in the classroom. I thought that I had a niche there. Well my dear friend, Jenn, stopped me, pointed to her little girl, and said, “It’s not all about the boys, you know. Girls struggle in school, too.”

I followed her glance to find her daughter, Willa, standing on top of Beau’s little white kitchen table that Willa had given him for his first birthday. Beau stood on the floor next to her, begging for her to get down. One testing the rules and the other enforcing them, Beau and Willa are three months apart and challenge every stereotype about what “boys” and “girls” are like.

Willa has been full-speed ahead since the day she was born. Beautifully affectionate and generous with hugs and kisses, Willa is a quick friend. Naturally social, she trusts herself and those around her. High energy and naturally unafraid to take risks, she is game to try anything...with or without prompting. She falls down like a champ and jumps right back up unscathed, always ready to go, go, go, again. Willa may not get something right on the first try, but she learns through active participation. She is the epitome of the famous Ben Franklin quote:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Beau, on the other hand, is the definition of cautious. In doing something new, he first watches. He sits, listens, processes, and learns. When he is ready, he begins to test -- each motion, each person, each bite, each step, often fussing along the way. Taking his time, he puts all of the pieces together in his head until confident he can do it correctly. He studies, rehearses, practices, and perfects in his quiet, contemplative way. Even when it comes to jumping off the couch or running a course with his choo-choos, he lives a risk-free life, charting a clear path and going over and over and over it to perfection. Beau is a lot of fun, very playful and creative, but he is not the life of the party. He is only social when it suits him.

Beau taught Willa how to slow down and how to share the stage, to be more sensitive and patient with others. Willa taught Beau how to defend himself and how to take risks, how to be more outgoing, more trusting of others and of his own abilities. Beau is a fuller, more active little person because of Willa. These two kids are yin and yang and the best of friends. Beau and Willa need each other. They thrive because they pull each other out of their own comfort zones, exposing and giving opportunities to test their more subtle, less dominant qualities.

Beau didn’t understand Willa at first, but he learned to appreciate her active, hands-on approach to the world because we as parents fostered their understanding of each other. This was important to us because we wanted to hang out together for playdates but we were also aware that tolerance is a virtue. Beau may whine over silly little things and Willa may hug too hard, but eventually they learned that this is just part of who the other person is.

Schools are Not Playdates

Playdates are selective, they are a choice. We, parents, chose only to facilitate playdates where our kids can shine and are respected for being who they truly are. At no point is one child made to feel like they should be more like the other or do we celebrate our kids’ conformity to playdate “rules.” No, a playdate is about play and our parental focus is on simply teaching our kids to be mindful and compassionate about the needs of others and to teach them to understand what the other needs so that they may both happily enjoy each other.

Schools are not playdates. Kids are randomly brought together and expected to conform to the rules of the classroom. Hyperactivity is never a classroom norm. This is what has Willa’s mom nervous.

Taming Potential, So Much is Lost

Jenn recognized from the beginning that Willa was exceptional. Willa is a light that beams unconditionally, filling every room. Her energy and zest for life overflows her tiny body. She has the potential and drive to do amazing things in her life. Unfortunately, Jenn knows that Willa’s potential could be hindered if put in an educational setting that doesn’t respect and nurture her exuberant energy or one that stifles or discourages her from exploring her talents and becoming her best self.

Sadly, this is already happening. Willa changed due to the atmosphere at her child care. Especially during the transition from in-home child care to a school-style setting, her mom noticed that Willa was not excited about going to “school” after the first few weeks and that she was listless for the first hour after she got home. Sure, she may be worn out from the day, but Jenn thinks it is more than that.

While Willa is learning important lessons about boundaries and how and when to sit still and follow instructions, Jenn fears that Willa is being tamed and that her bright light is being boxed up during the day. She is afraid that the wonderful spark that is Willa may be being dimmed. They just don’t appreciate Willa there like everyone else in her life does. In a worst case scenario, Jenn fears that Willa may learn to believe that there is something wrong with her--that her fabulous, positive energy is a seen as bad thing, a negative, something to hide or be ashamed of, or that she, herself, is “bad.”

Learning about Difference

Two-year-old Willa is everything good, fun, and positive -- the life of the party, a friend to everyone, and the first to greet you at the door to make you feel welcomed. She has not yet learned the harsh reality that some people are “different” and that different isn’t always perceived as a good thing. In no way, should she ever be made to feel “different” for being the amazing little girl she is. That would be a tragedy. Yet Jenn senses this is happening and we adults know from experience that it happens so quickly.

For Jenn, it’s personal. She thinks a lot about her own life -- the way her parents made her feel “different” -- and how much better her life could have turned out if her assets had been nurtured. Growing up undiagnosed but with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) tendencies, Jenn felt like her parents shamed her for being a dreamer, for being distracted by the glorious ideas that filled her whimsical childhood mind. She bottled up her imagination, her true self, her dreams for her future, conforming and hiding her brilliance from the world, and feeling insecure about who she was. School did nothing to challenge her or help her discover herself, so she messed around, got in trouble, and only achieved if she liked the teacher. What made a teacher someone she “liked”? They were energetic, collaborative, passionate, and showed their students recognition. Sad that that wasn’t the norm, right?

Jenn wasn’t hyper, but school did not draw out her best. Even today, she is trying to find direction and a way back to her true passions, searching for a career that will fully realize her potential. She does not want what happened to her to happen to Willa--feeling labeled and then cast aside, or feeling like she needs to hide her light. But even more importantly, she wants Willa to be encouraged and inspired to pursue her true self, educated through experiences that bring out her best! Is that too much to ask for?

It’s personal for me, too. I was an introvert, content to blend into the walls. In classrooms growing up, I was allowed to be silent, to go unnoticed, and in the end, to be unchallenged. I was happy to be that way, too, because the loud kids--the hyper kids--were always getting into trouble, and, while I felt bad for them, I blamed and resented them for their behavior. Why couldn’t they just behave? It always made the room tense and uncomfortable when the teacher got upset.

It's Not the Kid's Fault

It wasn’t until now that I realized that it was because the teacher got upset, because the teacher did not appreciate the energy in that time and space and handle it wisely, that they were in trouble. It wasn’t the kids’ faults. It was the teachers’ attitudes, perceptions, and standards that transformed these innocent little kids, my peers, into problems. Perhaps if the teachers had a different mindset or better strategies to help them understand and support the energies of these kids, we would not have lost so much instructional time as the teacher tried to “control” these kids. How relaxed and fun school could have been if the teachers had found joy in these kids and had given them positive and appropriate outlets for their energy!

I do not want Beau to ever be forced into a setting where he is uncomfortable because his teacher does not have the tools or the patience maximize the potential of the different types of kids in the class. I never want him to learn that high-energy, highly-spirited kids are “bad.” He adores Willa and to see her subdued or belittled for her energetic approach to life would be a devastation. He loves her exuberance and would not be the person he is today without it! Kids like WIlla, given what they need to succeed, help him to be his best self. Finding a way to use the enthusiasm of kids like Willa would enhance school so much for everyone, teachers included, creating a positive and healthy experience where all children thrive.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - How can teachers embrace and engage their high-energy students?  While it may be a big change and even a challenge, it is worth!

A special thank you to Jenn and Willa for inspiring this article, and for Jenn, especially, for your candor and confidence. I love being your comadre!

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Genius Hour – The hour that changed my classroom!

Genius Hour Collage

I have never been one for stereotypes.  In fact, I have prided myself in breaking as many as I could in my life.  So when I spent the summer preparing for a classroom full of hyperactive, athletic-minded, school-averse boys, I knew that I was also preparing for similarly minded girls.  I mean let’s face it, good teaching is good teaching, and I was prepared to do ANYTHING to make my class an ideal learning environment for all of my active, curious, hands-on kids.  

Enter Genius Hour.  I had read about Genius Hour for several years and LOVED the idea, but was frankly terrified of the risk it posed to my heavily structured, highly disciplined teaching style.  But coming off of maternity leave after a summer of soul-searching, I was prepared to take the leap.  What could I lose?

Modeled after Google’s 20 Percent Projects where employees spent roughly one day a week working on the passion projects that brought us Gmail, Google Talk, and Google Sky, Genius Hour offers students time at school to explore their passion, whatever it may be within reason.   In the words of my student, Ashley, “Genius Hour is one hour a week to work on your passion, something you have always wanted to learn but do not have time to do at home.”  

Students highlight and research their passions and develop products or skills that they then present to the class, discussing the mistakes they made along the way, how these mistakes shaped their product, and what they would do differently next time.  The projects cater to the interests of each individual.   For example, Ashley wanted to learn a new language. She shared, “I have always wanted to learn French but never have the time or focus at home.  Since I am already at school and focused, I can turn this focus to my passion for this one hour, and then back to reality.  I live for Genius Hour!”  

Genius Hour transformed my classroom and my entire approach to classroom learning.  It also opened the doors for me to be recognized as a Teacher of the Year Semi-Finalist for Orange County in 2016!  It is incredible what letting go of the reigns and putting the learning decisions into the hands of your students can do! 

In just two years of implementing Genius Hour in my class, I have seen projects in film making, animation, photography, fine arts, needlepoint, coding, novel and screenwriting, modeling, music mixing and composition, architectural and fashion design, video game creation, app design, and robotics!  We have also had small businesses started and several non-profit organizations created!  One in particular, Just for You, is hosted on GoFundMe.com raising money to create care packages for cancer patients to help them feel cared for and loved.  The sky really is the limit when you give the power to learn to the learner.  

I have learned to say “Yes” to all forms of ideas, trusting my students’ visions, and guiding them to plan, problem solve, and THINK through their processes.  Since this hour is a privilege, productivity throughout the week is higher than ever before.  Students who never turned in homework now frantically complete it so they can participate.  

My students have repeatedly impressed me with the scope, depth, and risk of their projects, proving how capable they are when it is their ideas motivating them.  I give them the gift of time to develop their passions, bringing innovation, entrepreneurialism, personalization, and FUN to school in an experimentally constructive, artistic, and challenging way.  I know this is exceptional teaching because it is what I want for my son, my new definition of greatness.  

This attitude of “Yes” has also helped me at home with my now 22-month-old son, Beau, as he explores his baby-passions and artistic flares.  Choo-choos and painting...at the same time?  I say, “Yes!”  They can go hand in hand, and we all learn more for it!