Friday, November 8, 2019

Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids and Start Raising Kind Ones

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I came across this article just last week. I was hooked as soon as I read the first paragraph:

"As anyone who has been called out for hypocrisy by a small child knows, kids are exquisitely attuned to gaps between what grown-ups say and what grown-ups do. If you survey American parents about what they want for their kids, more than 90 percent say one of their top priorities is that their children be caring. This makes sense: Kindness and concern for others are held as moral virtues in nearly every society and every major religion. But when you ask children what their parents want for them, 81 percent say their parents value achievement and happiness over caring."

Wow. We all say we want our children to be happy, caring, good people, but deep down, do we really just want them to be successful? Are we even conscious of this fact? Have our kids realized something about us that we haven't realized about ourselves?

The authors of this piece, Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant, go on to explain why kindness is essential in our society, how we all benefit from kindness, and how to explicitly reinforce kindness in our children.

When our kids come home from school, we always ask, What did you learn today? What if instead we asked, Were you kind to someone today?

The Grants convinced me to give it a try.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Key to Raising Brilliant Kids? Play a Game

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Do you want your child to grow up to be a happy, healthy, caring, social person; a creative, collaborative innovator; a thinker; a good citizen? According to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, the best (if not only) way to nurture these qualities in your child is to play because everything "goes through the social. Everything we learn starts with collaboration and relationships. When you think of it, we aren't born ready to hop out of the womb and into the world. We have a lot of learning to do, and the learning is social."

In this interview, Hirsh-Pasek explains the "6 Cs" children need to be successful learners: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. We nurture these qualities through play.

Lest you think the "6 Cs" are just another educational gimmick, as Hirsh-Pasek describes them, they're really just a distillation all we've learned about child development and high-quality early childhood education over the past decades. Part of our learning has evolved from the mistakes we've made. For instance, we've pushed the curriculum down and disregarded everything we know about children's brains and children's bodies in order to meet inappropriate, unreachable expectations.

Hirsh-Pasek's message is simple. Push back. Play.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Letting Our Children Make Mistakes

Later this month we will start reading the Torah from the beginning. The first book of the Torah, Bereishit, is also the name of the first parsha. The stories in Bereishit are the ones everyone knows: creation, Noah and the flood, the Tower of Babel, and the journey of Abraham and his family.

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We'll also read about Adam and Eve. God creates a paradise for them but warns them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Curious and tempted, of course they eat the fruit. In that moment, they become aware of their nakedness and lose their innocence.

I've always thought that this story is a beautiful metaphor for parenthood. We want to provide our children with everything they need to be happy and healthy and safe. We want to shelter them from the harsh realities of the grown-up world. But, ultimately, we can't. Our children grow up, explore, take chances, make mistakes. They become their own people and -- eventually -- leave home. It makes us sad, even though we always knew it was inevitable, because (let's be honest) we lose a bit of ourselves when our children grow up and grow away from us. 

I've always seen God as the model parent here. God realizes God wouldn't always be able to protect and shelter the human souls God had lovingly created, and therefore God lovingly lets them go when the time comes for them to start living their own lives. 

Letting go of our children, whether it's to attend preschool or leave for college, is tough. But it's what we do because we love them. And it's the hardest thing a parent will ever do.

The second hardest thing a parent will ever do is let their children fail, but let them fail we must. Letting our children make mistakes, letting them take risks, and letting them fail along the way is how they learn what it means to be an adult. Did God allow Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit? Or did God just know they were going to eat the fruit no matter what God said? Does it really matter? They ate it. They weren't supposed to. And there were consequences. 

I think the lesson to be gleaned from this story is that parents have to accept that their children will make mistakes. They have to accept that their children might even disappoint them by making choices the parents wished they hadn't. And that's ok. We're going to love them anyway, no matter what.

Wendy Mogel has written some excellent books for parents on raising resilient and self-reliant children. Check out The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Cultivating Empathy in My Children, From a Neuroscience Perspective

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Wanting to share another great article I've read recently, I dug into my archive and found this fascinating piece by Erin Clabough.

She explains that children need to be given the space to learn how to be empathetic, even when that means they will make choices along the way that we wish they hadn't. In order to really teach empathy, we have to allow our children to practice empathy in real time under real circumstances. They need to feel good (or not good) about the choices they've made. The neurology behind why this works is just an added bonus.

Clabough says, "To actively work on empathy, we must teach our children what to do with the feelings and thoughts that get dredged up by social conflict. To begin, we can provide a framework to process the social content — parents can name the emotions and help explain other perspectives.

And parents, then we back off. If we want compassionate acts to be deeply rewarding to our kids, then we have to allow them to pick a course of action on their own terms. And if it all goes wrong, we let them feel what that choice feels like. Afterward, we can provide a framework to process it and help our kids generate lots of alternative solutions. We talk them through the present, but instead of focusing on what went wrong this time, we help them see a clear path to choose differently next time."

Friday, September 13, 2019

What's Lost When We Rush Kids Through Childhood

I come across so many truly good articles about early childhood education and child development that it seems a shame not to share them. This one was sent to me by a colleague. It's titled What's Lost When We Rush Kids Through Childhood and it's an interview with Erika Christakis, the author of The Importance of Being Little.

What really resonated with me was her answer to the question of what quality early childhood education looks like. Her answer: relationships. I wasn't surprised that this was her answer; I was just thrilled to see it in print.

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Read the article here. And know that this is what we at Agudas Achim Preschool strive for every day.

Christakis also makes excellent points about taking the time to see the world through a child's eyes, slowing down, and not "adultifying" childhood. I hope you enjoy it. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Planting Fig Trees for Our Children

By the end of September, we'll be reading the final chapters of the book of Deuteronomy. Moses will remind the people of the covenant God has made with themGod has not only made this covenant with the "people standing here today," he'll explain, but also with "the people not here today." He'll be talking about future generations: us. And our children.

This notion that future generations are beholden to the promises of their ancestors might not fit with our modern sensibilities, but to me it's a profound reminder that what we do now -- or don't do now -- will matter in some way, somehow in the future. Our actions (and inactions) do have consequences, some of which are immediate, and some of which we'll never even live to see.

For parents, this might feel especially overwhelming and exhausting. It's just so much responsibility, which can be terrifying. At some level, it might even feel like a burden. But we do have another option. 

Image result for parent and child planting treeWe can remind ourselves of another Jewish value, tikkun olam, which means repair the world. We can believe it is our duty to work with God to finish the work of God's creation, meaning that it's incumbent upon us to do our part -- small or large -- to make the world a little better than we left it. We can remember that we're not doing it just for us; we're really doing it for our children and their children.

There is a story about an old man who is planting a fig tree by the side of the road. A stranger walks by and laughs at him: “Why are you bothering to plant that tree? You’ll never live long enough to eat its fruits!” The old man replies, “My ancestors planted fig trees for me. And now I am planting this fig tree for my children and grandchildren."

What constitutes a fig tree in our modern world? Slowing the effects of climate change? Finding the cure for currently incurable diseases? Of course. But how about getting to know your neighbors and smiling at strangers. Tipping the barista. Holding the door open for the man behind you. Making eye contact with the woman standing on the corner holding a cardboard sign and saying, "Good morning." When your children see you going out of your way to behave in kind and considerate ways, they learn how to respect and value others and their life experiences. They internalize these lessons, which they then model for their children. And, thankfully, hopefully, the cycle continues.

As this new school year begins, and as your children continue to grow, take time to acknowledge, and feel joy in, all the fig trees you're planting for them. It's easier than you think.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Grasshoppers to Giants

From June 2017

In a few weeks, we'll read about Moses sending twelve spies into the land of Israel to do a reconnaissance mission. They come back talking about a land flowing with milk and honey, but also inhabitants the size of giants. The scouts had felt like grasshoppers in their presence. Upon hearing this report, the Israelites are terrified.
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I imagine that some of our students entering kindergarten next year might feel like grasshoppers when they walk through the doors of a school much bigger than the one they've just left. 

It's hard to do something for the first time. And going to kindergarten -- all by yourself, without mommy or daddy or a caregiver to walk you to your classroom door -- is a big first. But it's also one you'll never forget. 

I hope that your child's first day of kindergarten, whether it'll be this September or a fews years from now, is beautiful and meaningful. Your child might go in feeling like a tiny little grasshopper, but on the way out, full of pride and accomplishment, they'll feel like a giant.

Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids and Start Raising Kind Ones

I came across this article just last week. I was hooked as soon as I read the first paragraph: "As anyone who has been called ou...