A Little Bit of Modeling. A Whole Lot of Love.

I taught a class tonight and made it home just in time for bedtime.  I’d been looking forward to stories – and expected my daughters to be on their way up to bed.  But what I found instead was that Ani was already in bed and tucked in.  She wasn’t feeling super well and had retired early.  

Without packing her lunch.  Which meant it was going to be my job.  

But I found out that the lunch wasn’t made because I caught Teagan, her younger sister, already in the process of packing two lunches.  Without any prompting or complaining, she was helping out.  Just to be nice.

That, though, wasn’t what floored me.  I watched Teagan grab a Sharpie and begin to mark up the sandwich bag she had just filled full of sliced peppers, a staple vegetable in our school lunches.  Immediately, I told her that she needed to show her mother what she had done.  

She did this1:

Teagan Loves Ani

 

I can’t tell you how proud I was.  But I can tell you that I never told her, explicitly, that the way you help someone feel better is to write them a note.  That was something we modeled for her by slipping notes her way from time to time.  

You can’t teach love, so much, by way of demanding it or requiring it or lecturing on its finer points.  You’ve got to model it.  You’ve got to live it, or at least try to, and let the lesson come through a little bit on its own, as we trust that our children, or students, or colleagues, pay attention.  

Tonight’s scribbled notes2 were a fine reminder that, even when an example isn’t perfect, plenty of times the message still gets across.  

And I wonder where and how I could be modeling love better, myself.3  

  1. It’s maybe a bit hard to read – but it says “I love yuo (sic) Ani! (Heart) Teagan”. []
  2. She wrote a similar message on the pizza in another sandwich bag, too. []
  3. Later, Teagan chose Peter Reynolds’ The Dot as her story for the night.  Love notes to sisters and that book were the one-two punch of love for me tonight.  If you haven’t read that book, oh, you really should. []
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On Skinned Knees & Lessons Learned

It’s skinned knee season in our home, with two girls riding bikes of the two and four-wheeled variety, and a third toddling along just behind – ready for far more than she’s capable of.

And I’m not one to stop someone who’s trying to make progress, even if that progress might be dangerous.

So we’ve been through lots and lots of boxes of Band-Aids for hurts both real and imagined. And we’re quick to wash out wounds and make sure that we keep them looked after.

But no matter how well we wash and watch, some of them are going to leave permanent marks. Like the time Ani discovered that you can’t make a ninety-degree turn on a bike. Or the time that Teagan realized, in a most unfortunate way, that you cannot stop a tricycle like Fred Flintstone could stop his car.1 Quinn forgets, sometimes, about “down.” She’s still kind of new.

Each of those moments hurts. But hurt can have an upside. In fact, some would tell you that hurt, or pain, has an evolutionary advantage. It tells us when we hit a limit of some kind.

And those marks will help them remember the stories of the injuries one day. They’ll proudly show the little scars and blemishes that never quite go back to normal and explain that they rode a bike early, or took a chance on a curb or wrestled with a cat or went head over handlebars in a moment of panic.

But hurt, like fear, well, it just hurts. And to know someone you love is hurting is the worst kind of pain, a pain of helplessness and empathy and doubt.

Oh, how I wish I had a suit of Nerf and armor that I could force my children to wear when they go out into the world, or want to wrestle that cat. To be able to ensure the safety of my children, be they walking to school or traversing a steep hiking trail along the edge of a narrow cliff, would make my sleep come much easier.

But I don’t. And the marks and memories would be hard to accumulate from inside an impenetrable shell of foam. I also suspect it’d be mighty difficult to hear with all that Nerf so close to one’s ears.

There are plenty of days I want to say “Today, let’s stay here, where cars and cats and cliffs and sticks and stones and words can’t hurt us.” But I can’t. Because that’d be parental malpractice. As a dad, it’s my job to listen and bandage and help my children to be brave, to not stop when it’d be a whole lot easier and may well hurt a great deal less and be more safe to just stay still. Being brave? It’s important. And I hate it. Oh, there are days I very much dislike that job.

As a teacher, that’s my job, too.

I hope you’ve got a kit full of peroxide and Band-Aids with you as you take your charges out into the world. I hope you, and they, are being very brave.

  1. Of course, Teagan would have no clue who Fred Flintstone is. Or was. Whatever. But I do find it interesting that “Flintstone” is in my Web browser’s dictionary. []
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Hey You: Please Stop Bribing (My) Children

Dear Teacher/Sunday School/Summer Camp/Person I Trust with my Child:

This is a rather embarrassing letter to write.  See, I brought my kids to you because I trust you and know that you have something important to offer – your experiences and the things you want my children to be able to know and do when they leave you are essential, I think.

My children need to learn from you.

However.

I’ve noticed that, when you want my children to experience something, or you want them to take a risk or try something new, or to do something that might be hard, you often, not always, but certainly more than I’m comfortable with, tend to offer a reward of some kind.  Sometimes a snack, other times a small toy or a few minutes of a special game.

Every now and then, I see something like this:

Bribing My Kids

Really?  That seems like a bit much for bringing a friend along for what should be a rewarding experience of its own.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I just want to call those rewards what they actually are:

Bribes.

You’re bribing my children.

Could you please stop?

See, the thing is that we’ve worked really hard at home to help our children realize that there are difficult and challenging things that they’ll have to do from time to time.  Clean their rooms.  Do their homework.  Look after the pets.  Dream big.  Work hard.  Take risks.  You know – the important stuff of life.

And we can’t really be bribing them every time they do those things. If we did, then they’d only do the things we think they should be doing when there’s a bribe waiting at the end.  Or sometimes, in the middle.

That’s not good.

So, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you please stop offering a piece of candy every time my kids do something nice?  Or certainly quit offering them a bucket of it when they do something really big.  And if they read a book, can we skip the pizza, or the trinket, and just go with a high five and point my daughters to the book shelf to find something else to read?

I want them to do the good things anyway, candy be darned. Perhaps we could skip the bribing and just try to have them engage in stuff worth doing.

Thanks again for all that you do for my children.  I really am appreciative.

But enough with the stuff already.

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The First Thing Is How to Fall Down

Ani and Teagan are enjoying the start of their summer.  I’m enjoying observing as they dig in.  Today, they began taking some ice skating lessons, and I was very eager to learn how it went.

Teagan mentioned falling and skating and waving to her baby sister, Quinn, who watched from the bleachers.1

Ani mentioned falling, too, but in an entirely different way.  She told me, in her “I’m a 1st grader now, and I know some things” sort of way,  that before they went out on the ice, before they put on their skates even, that she and Teagan and her instructor talked about falling down, and what it should look like.

Actually, she showed me, which was funny.  But I didn’t get the chance to take a picture, so imagine Ani squatting and leaning and falling in a way that didn’t lead to significant long term injury.2

It hit me pretty quickly that what her ice skating teacher did was really, really smart.  I’m sure it was fueled partially by liability insurance requirement, and part compassion for children, but it was a really important lesson.

If you’re going to do pretty much anything worth doing, you’d darn well better be prepared to fall flat on your face.  There’s risk in the places worth working for. And it’s worthwhile to know how to fall, how to land in a way that will minimize the long term harm to yourself.

Just as important, you’ve got to fall with a thought for how you’re going to get back up.

I hope you’re thinking about how to help people fall down thoughtfully.  I hope that someone taught you about how to take a fall, and how to hop back up, raring to go.  Are you preparing the folks you know and work and learn with to go down hard in ways that’ll lead towards more chances to, well, take chances?

You’d better be.

Ani’s sore tonight, but her next lesson’s on Wednesday.  She fell down a bunch of times.  So did Teagan.   But someone showed them how to fall down, and how to stand back up.  They can’t wait to go out on the ice again.

Bring it, ice skating.  My daughters are ready.

  1. First walking.  Ice skating comes later. Today, Quinn was moral support. []
  2. It’s okay if you need to giggle a bit.  I did. []
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Ani’s First Day


First Day

Originally uploaded by Bud the Teacher

I asked Ani this morning what she was most excited about on her first day of school. Today, of course, being her first day of Kindergarten.  Big Deal.

“Learning and recess,” she said.

No hesitation.

I’m feeling pretty good about her attitude for the first day.

That day ends in about ten minutes. I can’t wait to hear how it went.

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Ani & the iPad or “Much Madness is the Father’s Curse”

Ani & the iPad
Creative Commons License photo credit: Bud the Teacher

I’m typically the guy who pays attention to the latest gadgets from a distance, reading up on them and learning about what they can or can’t do, but not striking on the first day of any new thing, for a number of reasons. For one, I’m cheap. I also don’t do well in lines or crowds. And buying most stuff on day one is buying into a public beta period, and often the better deal is a few weeks or months down the road as hardware is revised and software is tweaked.

But I had an extra few minutes on Saturday around noon, and I had a hunch about Apple’s iPad inventory. Namely, I figured they’d have plenty of devices to fiddle with at the Best Buy on my way home from the gym. So, with Ani and Teagan along for company, I wandered in to take a look at Apple’s iPad, released earlier that day.

I should interrupt my story here to tell you that, just prior to the visit to the store, I happened across this article on children and mobile devices for learning1, so I’m certain that my brain was thinking about my children and learning when we made it into the store.

I spend lots of time thinking about how my kids and the kids in our schools will think, learn and live in a world that will be digitally quite different from the world I grew up in. And I find myself jumping back and forth from the positions of “It’s all the same – the stuff is different, but the world is the same place” and “Holy cow. There has never been a time or place like this one.”

And both are valid positions, but they coexist. I spend lots of time in the spaces between those two poles. I’m that guy who sees that there’s value in highly structured and sequenced learning as well as time for exploration and play without outwardly driven purpose. Most of the important things in life aren’t binary, they’re much more complex than that. And I digress. Still further.

The implications of the iPad have weighed heavily on my mind this week, as I’ve read pieces like Cory Doctorow’s:

Buying an iPad for your kids isn’t a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it’s a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.

Dale Dougherty’s piece on Hypercard and its influence on a generation of young hackers is a must-read on this. I got my start as a Hypercard programmer, and it was Hypercard’s gentle and intuitive introduction to the idea of remaking the world that made me consider a career in computers.

Plenty of other folks have, in the last few days, said some pretty interesting things about the iPad either being the end of the world as we know it or the beginning of a new revolution of creativity and interactivity – and I’m just2 a dad trying to figure out how I want to introduce my daughters to the world of possibility and wonder that awaits them. I want them to tinker, to play, to explore and to dream. I want them to grab hold of the stuff of the world and make new from raw ingredients.

I worry that such making will happen in a locked down world, the world that Howard Zittrain saw when he wrote The Future of the Internet3, one where the generative devices that spawned the Internet become, like the iPad and the iPhone before it4, locked down and controlled by the people who make them, not the people who own them.

And even as I say that the iPad is a locked down device, I know that there’s creative opportunity and potential from within constraints, and that what’s locked down may or may not be a problem so long as there’s still a space for open, so long as there’s a multi-platform world where the languages spoken by one ecosystem are understood by others. My iPhone is a powerful tool. I suspect the iPad is, too.

But again, I’m a dad who’s struggling to figure out how to bring his children into the world of information and digital stuff while keeping roots in the good stuff of language and learning and literacy that came before the digital. 5

When we entered the store and fidgeted in a short line to play with the demo iPads, the girls were not interested. In the line. The moment they could get to the iPad, then begun to touch and poke and pinch and explore. They were immersed in the content, in words and letter and pictures and touch this to do that. I was struck by how powerful the experience was for them, more so than a random kids-touch-the-buttons experience. They were trying, as they could, to make meaning. I got what reviewers meant when they said that using the iPad was like interacting directly with the content, and not with the device the content’s delivered through. And, again, I know that it was the article and the pressure and the fact that I was a little high on the Apple expectations myself.

But I bought one. Against all my typical instincts and dispositions. Right then and there. What better lab for their experimentation? What father wouldn’t do such a thing?

I came to my senses about ten minutes later, just before I had to try to explain to Ms. the Teacher just what it was that I did, and just why it was necessary. She’s my grounding influence oftentimes, and she reminded me of a few things. Namely, I’m cheap, my kids have access to lots of the analog and digital world already, and, well, it’s early yet. There’s more exploration for me to do before I’m sure this is a useful tool for my girls. The right tool. Or one of several, which is more likely. I returned the iPad, unopened, later that night.

If you’ve made it this far, then you might be hoping this is the paragraph where I have the epiphany, the jewel that makes this experience worthwhile. And I’m so sorry to let you down. I’m finding that, often, there are few certainties when it comes to what technology is the right technology for helping kids to learn, or societies to remain free, or work to get done, or whatever it is that you want to make the tool do.

But my kids and I are going to be exploring this world together in a way that is new for me. As Ani heads out to Kindergarten next school year, and as Teagan’s not far behind her, there’s lots of work for us to do as co-learners together. Gadgets and gizmos and questions and tinkering. There’s much to do.

And there’re plenty of voices in the wilderness calling out to us with suggestions about how to do this thing.

We’re listening. But I’m also remembering what Ani’s face looks like in that picture at the top of this post, her tongue set between her lips as she digs in, determined, to play, to explore, to make. That’s a learning face. That’s what we’re aiming for.

And the clock6 is ticking.

  1. Written by Anya Kamenetz, who’s also written this book on DIY Education that I’m very much looking forward to reading. []
  2. Just. I couldn’t understate the importance of that job more. []
  3. Yes, that’s a wonderful book that you can download for free. Read it. Please. []
  4. Two devices I find fascinating and yes, I use two iPhones. Daily. []
  5. Language that, itself, is a tool and a technology, like books and magazines and pencils and pens and ink and pretty much everything that folks think about when they think about the “good old days.” It’s all technology. I know. []
  6. Digital, analog, or otherwise []
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Relations & Expectations

Teagan has, since her birth, been known to all of us as the little sister. The baby sister. That changed the day that Quinn came. Teagan’s now wearing two hats in our family – little sister to Ani, and big sister to Quinn.1

How we identify her is in large part via her relationships to others. How she identifies herself is tied up in those relationships, too. Rightly or wrongly.

And I’ve seen Teagan change her behavior to match the role that she’s filling at any one moment, alternately trying on the big and little sister roles to see which fit any given situation. She’s fiddling with expectation and agency. It’s fascinating to watch, particularly as the role of big sister is a new one for her. But she’s picking it up quite nicely.

All of the above to say this – I know that the people around us will rise to the level of expectation we have for them, which is why we should always set high expectations.2

But I’m re-realizing this morning that our expectations and relationships and even our identities are wrapped up in our relationships with others.

And I’m thinking about how I can honor existing relationships while building better ones in the context of high expectations.

How do we, I wonder, work to build, support and sustain roles and relationships that help us all to aim high and be better?

That’s a heavy question for a Monday, but a good reminder for the week.

  1. There are several other hats or roles that she wears, but you get the idea. []
  2. One reason Teagan is a great big sister is that we believed that she would be and we told her so. Had we said that she wouldn’t be able to handle it, she probably wouldn’t have. Funny how that works, and how we so often tell people that they’ll be unsuccessful before we even let them try. []
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Look Out, World


Originally uploaded by Bud the Teacher

This is Quinlynn Laura Hunt. She was born earlier this afternoon. We call her Quinn. She’s 7 pounds, 11 ounces, and 20 inches of awesome. I’m just getting to know her; so far I like what I see. (And hear. She doesn’t cry. She squeaks.)

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, everything in this last list? Still true. The world is a place of awe and wonder. Mysteries abound.

I’m eager to learn more about this young person. I’m humbled by the opportunity.

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Superheroes

Ani reminded me tonight, as we were driving to an event, that today was November 11th. She’s been working on her calendar at preschool.

“Veterans Day,” I told her. “Do you know what that means?”

“Yeah.” She answered without hesitation from the back seat of the dark car. “It’s the day for when superheroes save our city.”

I let that sit for a moment. Not quite. But as I thought about it, and the fact that she’s four, I couldn’t bring myself to correct her. There will be time later for deeper conversations, for more understanding and a better sense of just what “saving” and “heroes” mean. As for tonight, well, there was only one thing I could say.

“That’s right, Ani.”

And we drove on.

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