Aloha!

2013 CFEO Transform Summer Season -

 

Aloha! Welcome to Cindi’s Corner, a site you can visit regularly to learn more about the inspiring work taking place at Hanahau`oli School, and some of the innovative approaches taking place in the world of progressive education. Periodically, I will share some of my thoughts and ideas surrounding the development of young children and tweens. I welcome your responses and any educationally stimulating thoughts you might have to share. I look forward to blogging together!

Aloha,

Cindi Gibbs-Wilborn (aka “Mrs. G-W”)
Head of School

 

 

 

`Ohana

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Hanahau’oli School celebrated ‘ohana this past weekend with the annual Children’s Fair event, drawing in families from the school community, local neighborhood, and island wide. Experiencing this Hui event in my second year provided me with an opportunity to closely examine what makes Hanahau’oli School so special: our children! It was refreshing to see our young students and alumni coordinating the food and game booths, entertaining us on stage, face painting, and organizing clothes for the White Elephant sale. There was a refreshing simplicity to the event, reminding me of the gifts we often take for granted during those fleeting childhood years. I noticed the student-created signs directing attendees to the various stations around campus, several young students taking responsibility for counting scrip and manning the game booths, our sixth graders helping to prepare food at the various stations, and alumni showcasing their creative side at the face painting booth. On that particular day, our children in various forms of joyful work and play around campus symbolized, in my opinion, the true vision of our founders, Sophie and George Cooke. If we provide students with the right tools and empower them to be responsible, collaborative, creative, and confident learners, they will thrive, finding happiness and purpose along their lifelong journey.

When I took the time to ask our alumni what brought them back to campus last Saturday, their responses evoked similar memories and emotions. Our former students said that they still look forward to Hanahau’oli visits because of the warm feelings and strong connections they provide. Positive relationships with teachers were often highlighted, and many of our alumni shared how a special teacher “changed their life” in a certain way. One alumnus told me how the library was a safe haven for him many years ago, as he was an avid book reader, and loved escaping to the world of literature during classroom breaks. The librarian could recommend his “just right” book, and off he would travel to a new world, ready to experience different adventures through the eyes of the characters. Another former student remembered how, almost 15 years ago, Mrs. Heath would lead her class in song and movement during circle time. She commented, “To this day, I still remember my first teacher’s warm smile.”

Believe it or not, research shows that these positive school experiences and supportive relationships help to determine future success in educational settings, the workforce, and even in other domestic relationships (i.e. spouse, parent, etc…) It makes perfect sense if you consider that students can only be open and available to learning if they feel safe, supported, and valued in their learning environment. Positive relationships and connections can engender a natural willingness and excitement to learn, feelings of security and empowerment, and ultimately lead to greater outcomes. Hanahau’oli educators have recognized and responded to students in this manner for close to a century, and I truly believe this is a one of the key reasons for our success.

As the Children’s Fair came to a close that afternoon, I reluctantly allowed my daughter to scale the climbing wall one more time before everything shut down. I stopped to pay careful attention to her as she climbed, and soon had my “AHA moment.” I realized with each step, the similarities between rock climbing and progressive teaching and learning. As a rock climbing guide, you are aware of your students at all times, providing them with tested safety mechanisms to support them, should they slip or drop off at any given moment. The guide may gently coach their students with foothold suggestions, or simply encourage with a motivational word if they are close to giving up. However the ultimate goal is to complete the challenge. The scaffolding that takes place during the climb is very intentional. It is not meant to disable, nor is the guide expected to take over and complete the climb. The students are provided with the proper tools, guidance, and encouragement, while the guide is never far behind, protecting them from serious harm.

Likewise, our teachers present in the same way each and every day they greet our children. They provide our students with rich experiential learning opportunities to stretch their thinking, challenge them to problem solve, and lead them to understand the world around them. Hanahau’oli teachers clearly understand what “climbing tools” the students need at any given moment, and serve to “guide” them from behind as they make “footholds” in new territories, scaffolding their learning as they move forward, slip or fall. These special mentors realize that it is only through these authentic moments, that deeper learning will take place.

And so, as we move into this season of thanksgiving, I’d like us to take the time to thank our teachers for understanding the importance of strong student relationships and student driven learning. In addition, I’d like to offer my deep appreciation to you, our families, for your ongoing support of the hard work that takes place behind our mock orange hedges, and for sharing such kind and creative young children with us. We couldn’t make a difference without your partnership and aloha, so please know how much you are appreciated!

Mahalo for all you do,

Mrs. G-W

‘Ike aku, ‘ike mai. Kōkua aku, kōkua mai. Pela ka nohona ‘ohana. - Recognize and be recognized. Help and be helped. Such is a family relationship. 

 

 

 

My Big Secret

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So it is the start of a new school year and my eight year old twins have returned to their classrooms, eager to meet their friends and teachers, and ready to begin the all-too-familiar rhythm of school days. As an educator of young children, I am thrilled to witness such excitement, as they return home each afternoon, eager to complete their homework because they state, “2nd graders are ready for more responsibility.”  I am hoping this energy never wanes, and my fingers are crossed that the evening tears and frustration are a thing of the past. They are both ready for the work ahead of them, and life is good!

As a parent, however, I have to admit a guilty secret that I have been carrying all summer. It is one that I am not so proud of, but I will continue to wear the cloak of shame unless I get this off of my chest. Over the summer, my kids had fun. Finally…I said it. There were weeks at a time when I forgot to have my children read a book, write in their journals, or practice their math flashcards. They often waited until the day before music lessons to practice their instruments, and I was secretly relieved when their instructors did not notice.  On occasion, I didn’t even follow up at night to make sure they brushed their teeth adequately, and they fell asleep in their clothes. A few evenings, the twins stayed up hours past bedtime, usually playing their Kindle and Nook, and watching all the movies they wanted until they fell asleep on the couch. My son even watched a PG-13 movie with his father one night….and loved it! We enjoyed cupcakes with layers of icing before dinner, and forgot to shower one night after coming home late from a pool party. I surprised myself one day when my children overheard me using a “bad word” (stupid) in front of them during an UNO game, and we all laughed hysterically. Fingernails and toenails occasionally grew to claw-length proportions, and it was not until I was scratched by one that I considered reaching for the nail clippers for a quick grooming session. And yes, I will admit there was one week when my husband was off-island and my kids and I dined out nightly for dinner, with hamburgers, pizza, pasta, and fried foods often being our dinner of choice, not to mention any dessert that had chocolate in its name.

My secret is out, and you know what? It actually feels somewhat liberating! As a principal of young children, I often spend much of my time giving advice to families as they try to raise respectful, responsible, and happy children, and yet I am juggling the parenting balls as well, and realize how the role of a parent is the most difficult job of any other I’ve known. We often find ourselves engaged in that tricky balancing act of providing structure, while encouraging our children to become independent and creative thinkers. I find it interesting that parents are often criticized by others when family rules are relaxed, and yet I think about the comment my child made at the end of summer when she was writing in her journal: “This was the bes sumr evr bekus I ate 3 cpcaks and wnt to bed at mednit wif mom and dad.” If the highlight of my child’s vacation involved snuggle time with her parents over a late night movie and chocolate mustache, I’ll make cupcakes every weekend.

I am told that these early years with my children will be fleeting, though the stories we create with them will be everlasting. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the stories our children remember involve late nights with loved ones, endless summers playing UNO and Monopoly, frosting-smeared family faces, and belly flop contests with mom and dad? If the memories my children walk away with lead them to create similar ones with their own children, I’ll push the repeat button on last summer over and over…how about you?

Preparing Kids for Summer

imagesSummer is right around the corner, and I feel the need to usher the season a speeding ticket for arriving so quickly! We have experienced a very full year, and I want to thank our families once again for providing us with many fond memories. The students have worked hard and deserve to be complimented for all of their progress and growth.

At this time of year, parents ask teachers the all-too-common question, ”How can we keep our children academically engaged during the summer so they don’t lose ground?” As both an educator and parent, I understand how challenging it is to balance the gift of “family down time” while keeping young minds fresh and supported during extended breaks. Many families want to know if it is absolutely necessary to enroll their children in an academic or extracurricular summer program. Indeed, in some cases, summer support might be recommended by your child’s teacher, as a critical bridge to the next school year. My two children certainly fall into this category, and we have fully supported their teachers’ recommendations. We trust that these educators intimately understand our children’s learning styles, and want to provide our kids with the tools they need in order to continue to meet with success. Other families select summer programs as an opportunity to provide creative social, artistic, and/or academic outlets, and those classes certainly abound. Finally, depending on parent work schedules, summer programs can also provide families with high quality enrichment activities while children are out of school and parents continue to work.

In other cases, however, summer programs are home-based, and children are given opportunities to create their own experiences supported by adult supervision and engagement. If I reflect on my own childhood memories, these were some of my most memorable days! Playing outdoors with friends, reading through an entire series of Beverly Cleary books, setting up lemonade stands, organizing whiffle ball games in the neighborhood field, skateboarding down my driveway, and building shelters with scrap pieces from my father’s wood pile were all summertime favorites.

As a child, I certainly didn’t think of these days as “academic.” As an adult, however, I can finally appreciate the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive enrichment that took place. To be certain, it takes a certain amount of mathematical expertise to become a lemonade stand entrepreneur, or measure, cut, and build shelters with precision. The gross motor skills required to balance, climb, run, and swing only develop and strengthen through repeated practice. I also honed my social skills throughout the summer, as my friends and I negotiated rules of play on the field, worked together to determine the price of lemonade sales, and organized teams for hide and seek.  Those opportunities surrounded me as a child, and I often fear they are slowly disappearing from the world our own children now experience.

This summer, may I encourage you to create an opening for your children to experience organic enrichment, realizing that most of our best summer learning opportunities come with little to no cost.  So whether parents are looking for home-based activities to combine with a summer school experience, or simply need ideas to spark that creative energy, I am providing my list of ideas to get you started and keep your children school-ready all year round!

  1. READ, READ, READ!  This will always be my first and favorite recommendation. Make sure your children have ample opportunities to get completely and deeply lost in books this summer, through independent and shared reading, or a family read aloud. Children are never too old to have a parent read to them in my opinion!
  2. Cultivate the Artist – Find unconventional ways to allow your child to express themselves through art this summer. For example, try hanging an old sheet on a clothesline, fill squirt guns with washable tempera paint, and let your child “squirt” a picture and share their creation with you. Van Gogh would surely approve!
  3. Find your Inner Einstein – There are several books and online resources for parents who are looking for ways to nurture their budding scientist. A simple but fun idea is to collect toilet paper  or paper towel tubes in order to make really long tubes. Connect the sections with duct tape, and experiment with different inclines and slopes. Race with different sizes and weights of balls to predict which size or weight will win.
  4. Family Fun – Take advantage of concerts, museum events, park/beach clean ups, and movies in the park or local shopping centers. Free family events are often listed in your local newspaper or libraries, and are a great way to bring everyone together to do something everyone enjoys.
  5. Calendar Fun – Buy a family calendar and have your child keep track of the days/weeks/months until school begins. Integrate fun trivia at dinner (i.e. “How many weeks until the 4th of July?”) Allow family members to designate and schedule special family days (i.e. kids in charge of making dinner, ice cream outing, community service day)  with stickers.
  6. Vacation Extensions- As you do your vacation planning, work in a few experiences that will teach something your child can share with others. For example, if you’re going to be driving on the Mainland, you can check out books from the library on the specific states of interest, and document various information and observations during your trip.
  7. Dear Diary – It’s never too early to introduce journaling with young children. I have fond memories of my son and his paper-filled binder from two summers ago. At 5 years old, he wasn’t a fluent reader or writer, yet he was immensely proud of his personal journal.  I recall his vested interest in writing, sketching, and drawing that long summer. By the close of the season, his writing was illegible to a grownup’s eyes, but more valuable than the Hope Diamond, if you asked him. He still visits that journal from time to time, and I now realize that summer was an important stepping stone towards his language development.
  8. Let It Be – In the words of the Beatles, I would finally like to urge families to let go this summer and just “be.” Just imagine a day (or a week) with no agenda! You could sleep in, and no one would have sports practice, music lessons, summer school, or dance class (I’m salivating now). Your family actually might spend a few hours playing board games, taking a long hike, completing a puzzle, exploring a new museum, or going grocery shopping together to prepare a shared family dinner! I vow to make a concerted effort to do more of this over the next few months, and invite you to join me in this pledge.

Please enjoy the summer and I look forward to your return in August with memorable stories to share!

With warm aloha,
Cindi  (Mrs. G-W)

Making Time for Children

 

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I just returned from a three day trip with our Po’e students to the Big Island, an experiential trip they take in order to “bring to life” many of the Hawaiian units they study throughout the year. During our three day tour, we explored lava tubes, visited Kilauea to observe a live volcano, examined ancient petroglyphs, walked through a rainforest, visited a local planetarium, and learned a great deal about the history, beauty, and culture of Hawaii. I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of nature’s bright, eye-catching colors, and the dry and barren surroundings left behind by volcanic destruction. Stumbling upon a brilliant red ʻōhiʻa lehua tree in the middle of a lava field made me pause in my tracks. How could something so vibrant sustain itself in these harsh conditions? I repeatedly found myself seeking these various symbols of old and new; birth and rebirth; tradition and innovation. We were surrounded by many wonderful examples, and I couldn’t help but wonder if our young students recognized the significance of these stark contrasts.

Coincidentally, as educators, we are constantly in a similar state of flux with our students. Tradition and innovation are constantly spiraling in motion, as we introduce new ideas and concepts at a time when past theories and philosophies are still embraced. It is an exciting time for students, and their futures seem quite bright.

One of the hallmarks of working in a Progressive School is the opportunity to provide students with thematic and integrated opportunities to learn about themselves, others, and the changing world around them. On our trip to the Big Island, I couldn’t have been more proud of our teachers who planned this special event. They truly understood what it meant to create child-centered, developmentally appropriate, experiential learning opportunities. As an educator immersed in project based learning experiences, I know their planning involved several key elements. Research indicates that these practices are beneficial to students in any learning environment, so I would urge parents and caregivers to “make” time for the following when planning educational opportunities for young children.

Make It Relevant, Connected, and Fun
This one seems obvious, but it needs to be stated. Children learn more when when they have positive relationships with others in their lives. When relationships in the learning community are positive and create feelings of security and enjoyment, students are more available for learning and, as a result, more successful. Likewise, authentic learning experiences are much more valuable when students are able to directly engage and apply what they’ve learned. As a prime example, our students understood much more about volcanoes and their behavior by walking through a lava tube and standing next to a live steam vent than the best non-fiction book could ever share.

Make New Discoveries
One of my favorite quotes, penned by the renowned marine biologist, environmentalist, and author, Rachel Carson states: “For the child. . . it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. . . . It is more important to pave the way for a child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts that he is not ready to assimilate.” On our recent learning trip to the Big Island, witnessing students sitting in the rainforest with their eyes closed, patiently listening to the distinct sounds of nature, and later sketching what they learned about on their drawing pads were both inspiring. Many of us may have grown up in schools where information was “fed to us” through textbooks, lectures, worksheets and assignments. On occasion, we might have been lucky enough to have a teacher who regularly brought the classroom to life, allowing us to learn in multi-faceted ways, using art, drama, and other creative outlets. Those are the learning memories that I cherish most from from my early years, and I have much appreciation for those teachers who understand the impact of “curricular depth over breadth.” I learned much more though those personal discoveries, engaging all of my senses. In fact, research supports this, and the more we can structure these opportunities for our children, the more successful they will be in their adult lives.

Make Children Take Risks and Feel Empowered
This generation of youth is often called the “bubble wrap” or “tea cup” generation, as they have grown up surrounded by adults who live in a constant state of fear for their children’s well-being. Parents often strive to protect their children from failure, rejection, isolation, sadness, and loss. However, by doing so, we often disable our children in ways we can’t imagine. When we swoop in to smooth out every disappointment they face, we are unintentionally sending them powerful messages about our faith in them to bounce back from failure, handle disappointment, or problem solve without adult intervention. These are essential skills our children need in order to lead future productive lives in their families, the workforce, and other environments. Allowing them to experience safe risk taking now, along with the scaffolding and guidance that comes from positive parenting and teaching, will build a foundation for healthy problem solving and coping skills in the future. Our students on the learning trip were often provided with opportunities to experience setbacks in healthy ways. They were given appropriate responsibilities as class travelers to a new island (i.e. packing essentials, keeping up with flight tickets, being responsible for their class iPads, rising on time each morning). For many of the students, experiencing a first trip away from home, and making it through the night without a phone call to Mom or Dad was a monumental accomplishment. The students knew that the adults in their lives had faith in them, and they rose to the occasion. I believe young people need more of these moments in their lives. If we just give children a chance, the results can be surprising!

Make a Difference
Finally, I believe we need to give our youth ample opportunity to “give back” in authentic ways. Adult modeling is one of the best teachers in a child’s lives, as our youth are always watching us to learn valuable lessons about compassion, integrity, respect, and responsibility. I suggest adults regularly build in opportunities for children to care about their physical world (i.e. stream/beach cleanups, recycling, edible gardens), as well as the people who populate it (i.e. volunteering, clothing donations, Big Brother/Sister programs). Our trip afforded us with rich experiences to learn about rain forests, native Hawaiian plants, and the environmental reasons for their decline over time. Building in these experiences during the formative years will certainly serve to cultivate compassionate adults in the future. We know the world could certainly benefit from having more of these individuals!

As parents and educators, teachable moments are constantly within reach if we simply seek them. Finding the time to make them authentic and relevant can be a challenging task, but it certainly will pay huge dividends in the future. Enjoy the journey!

Parenting With a Blue Bangle

photoA few months ago, my children and I had a particularly rough morning at home. Most parents can relate to this scenario. My trusted alarm clock decided to take a weekday vacation, so I woke up an hour late. My seven year old twins were in extremely cranky moods when they rolled out of bed, and decided that obstinance was going to be the word of the day. In addition, my dog had found my expensive, custom made, dental guard which must have fallen out of my mouth during the middle of the night. It had quickly become her favorite chew toy, and was unrecognizable when I finally discovered it under my bed. When I reached the kitchen for breakfast, hair still wet, and mismatched shoes on my feet, I found that we were out of coffee and milk. My kids quickly complained that they were “starving to death,” and wished we had more to eat in our house than dry cereal and bananas. To top it off, my husband was away, so I was flying solo as a single parent, and my frustration meter had surpassed normal limits. After my five minute lecture (more rant-like, I’ll admit), and a very silent ride to school, I dropped my children off with a goodbye that sounded more heartless than heartfelt: “I hope you’ll have a much better day than our morning was at home.” It was not until I made it to my office, kids no longer in tow, that the pangs of parental guilt arrived.

That afternoon, my son ran up to me with excitement in his eyes, ready to tell me all about the wonderful trip to the museum he visited with some friends and their parents. My morning misery was now behind me, so I gave him my full attention, interested in hearing about the Lego creations he had viewed, and the fun he had with his buddies. He then leaned in closely and told me he wanted to give me something special. “I know you were upset with us this morning, so I wanted to spend all of my souvenir money on something and give it to you as my sorry present.” Inside a white, crumpled paper bag, I found a blue, plastic, gel bracelet. “I spent my last three dollars on it because I knew you’d like it,” he said. I paused for a moment, looked into his apologetic eyes, and said, “I don’t just like it, buddy. I LOVE it. Thank you for thinking of me. I am so sorry I was grumpy this morning. You didn’t have to buy me a sorry gift, but I’m going to wear this every day to remind me how much proud I am to have such a caring and thoughtful son.”

That day, just one tiny snapshot in my journey as a parent, taught me more about unconditional love, giving, patience, and understanding than any book or workshop ever could. My son’s desire to earn forgiveness for such a minor event made me realize how delicate our children’s hearts are. They are watching us and listening closely at all times. The subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages we send them through our verbal and non-verbal actions are powerful. Through our interactions with them, we send them messages and truths about relationships and emotions. Granted, I was unable to provide my children with the best model of parenting that morning. I knew what the research said, however. Parents who listen to their children with interest, attention, and patience set the stage for positive communication skills in the future. I became so caught up in the day-to-day routines of parenting, that I missed an important teachable moment.

And now, three months later, I am still wearing my lovely blue bangle. It usually doesn’t quite match my work outfits, and the sparkly gel can appear somewhat out-of-place when I have to dress for more formal engagements. Those are small matters, in my humble opinion. I wear my blue bangle like the most precious diamond tennis bracelet and rarely remove it. If I am asked, I always enjoy telling the story behind my odd piece of cheap jewelry. It remains on my wrist as a reminder of my most important role as a loving, attentive, parent. I will continue to have days that start off on the wrong foot, with uncooperative kids, and oodles of distractions and frustrations. Hopefully, I can use my blue bangle to ground me, and refocus my energies on the most essential parts of life. After all, “the greatest audience children can have is an adult who is important to them and interested.” May we all be that audience.

My 2014 Parenting Resolutions

 

Have you ever heard the joke about the husband who committed to losing weight for his New Year resolution? As he stood on the bathroom scale one morning, sucking in his stomach, his dutiful wife caught him in the act and began to admonish him. “Why on Earth are you sucking in your gut? It won’t help. Holding it in certainly won’t make you weigh any less,” she quipped. “Ahh…how little you know,” he replied. “Sucking it in actually does help. It helps me see the numbers on the scale, so take that!”

I am sure one would not be surprised to know that losing weight has been one of the top American resolutions for years. If I can be somewhat transparent, it has been one of my top five goals for a large portion of my adult life.  Quite honestly, it is human nature for people to want to lose something as we escort in a New Year. We lose weight, bad habits, negative influences, poor spending practices, addictive tendencies. We are in such a rush to begin the New Year with a clean slate and leave all of our former weaknesses behind. Will we succeed? Only time will tell.

This year, I have decided to once again become “the Biggest Loser”, but I will place my focus on more important matters – my children and family. In an effort to become more connected, involved, present, and engaged, I vow to LOSE in four areas of my life:

  • LOSE heavy screen time. A recent poll from Common Sense Media indicated children between the ages of 0 to 8 spend over two hours viewing screen media on a typical day. More than a quarter of their screen time comes from viewing television, playing on computers, video game consoles, cell phones and hand-held tablets. The average age for first-time use of a computer is around 3-and-a-half years old. Though I am not at all opposed to periodic screen time, I do recognize the need to closely monitor daily use. I feel parents can occasionally lose sight of how much screen time is too much, and will resort to using the screen as a caregiver when life becomes busy or overwhelming. I think it is our responsibility as parents to make sure we are ever mindful of both the positive and negative influences of these devices. For example, my seven year old son would happily play on the Kindle or iPad for hours, with no adult intervention. One evening, I realized that he had been logged in to Candy Crush, Minecraft, and Ninjago, uninterrupted, for 2 hours. I was horrified to realize the time had gone by, unnoticed. We have since integrated egg timers, family fun breaks, and usage charts at home to help him understand his limits and how to manage his time appropriately.
  • LOSE myself in free play. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a well-known psychologist and author, proposed the concept of “flow” as a state of mind one achieves when they are fully immersed in a task, forgetting about the outside world. When you’re in the state of Flow, you are completely focused on the task at hand; forget about yourself, others, and the world around you; lose track of time; feel happy and in control; and become creative and productive. Research shows that “flow” has real health benefits as well, and can lead to physical and emotional states of well-being. I often witness my children in a state of flow when they are building pillow forts, playing Legos, or creating villages with empty boxes. I miss those days of childhood when ’being in the moment’ was organic, and instantaneous. I could quickly find a sense of calm and happiness in play.  In my adult life, however, when I attempt to take a casual walk around the neighborhood or play with my children, I often find myself thinking about the unfinished errands or chores, dinner that needs to be made, reports to write, or phone calls to return. It is never completely satisfying play, and I often find myself feeling as if I am not as connected with my family as I should. I am sure my loved ones sense my distraction as well. This year, I promise to make a more concerted effort to deeply engage with my children when I get down on the floor and play with them. I plan to lose myself to nature when I’m out taking a long stroll, and not worry about the emails pinging away in my absence. I may not reach a full state of flow this year, but I will certainly attempt to come close!
  • LOSE myself in family time. This dovetails somewhat with my last resolution, but it’s worth repeating again. Life these days is crammed with extras: work commitments, financial burdens, after school activities, religious activities, school projects, etc. As hard working adults, we often become bogged down with all the Must Do’s, and coveted family time can easily turn into a Want To. I urge all of us to move family time to the Must Do category, and make time to engage with family on a regular basis. For example, we have a standing rule in our household that unless a family member is out of town, or there is a late night activity, the entire family eats together at the table each evening, including our dog who scours the floor for crumbs. We have established predictable routines in our family (setting the table, family gracing of the food, sharing daily highs and lows), and we hope this will allow our children to grow up to become connected teenagers and adults in the future. We sincerely believe it makes a difference.
  • GET LOST outdoors. The research shows that children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation (I strongly encourage reading any of Richard Louv’s books for research-based evidence). Most parents with children between the ages of 3 and 12 cite safety concerns as one of the primary reasons they do not allow their children to play outdoors, however neighborhoods are also less diverse by age-groups, and more home-centered. In addition, after-school activities are more structured for children, making them less available for neighborhood play. Children predominantly play indoors, with their activities monitored and controlled by adults, compared to children a generation ago. In fact, children of this current generation can identify almost 25 percent more Pokemon characters than wildlife species by the time they turn eight years old. Something is wrong with that picture! What we have learned from researchers makes quite a statement:

1.  Contact with the natural world can significantly reduce symptoms of attention deficit disorder in children as young as five years old.
2.  The greener a child’s everyday environment, the more manageable are their symptoms of attention, self-control, and focus.
3.  Proximity to, views of, and daily exposure to natural settings increases children’s ability to focus and enhances cognitive abilities.
4.  Nature is important to children’s development in every major way – intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically. Play in nature is especially important for developing capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and intellectual development.
5.  Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured outdoor play.

This year, I will work to promote more outdoor time with my family through mountain hikes, beach time, nature walks, fishing excursions, picnics, puddle jumping, and star gazing. Getting lost outdoors can be a win-win for everyone!
And so, as we enter the New Year, I share my parenting resolutions here, and invite you to join me. Let us meet on the other side of 2014 and see how we fared. I wish you and yours Hau`oli Makahiki Hou!

Teachable Moments

images-12There have been numerous times my children’s behavior made me wish a magic wand would instantly make my family disappear from the scene and teleport us back to the private and cozy comforts of home. We’ve all had them, right? You’re in the grocery store and you refuse to let your child push the cart any longer. After all, she’s bashed the back of your heels repeatedly with those darn wheels bumping into you. You think the foot may actually need to be wrapped and elevated when you get home. You take the cart back into your hands, and the full blown tantrum begins. Or how about the special toy your child spots at the checkout counter? It simply can’t wait for that upcoming birthday or Christmas. He needs it now! You try and play the good parent role and stick to your guns by repeating your words like a broken record, “Not today, sweetie. I wonder if you’d like to write this down on your wish list when we get home. You can start saving your money to buy one with your allowance if you’d like to.” When the crying, whining, or meltdown begins and I am completely trapped between impatient, frowning customers on both sides of me, my items already on the conveyor belt, that is the very moment I wish for my magic wand.

In my children’s very short lifetime, however, I recall two occasions some parents might describe with embarrassment, shame, or frustration. Surprisingly, I found myself feeling just the opposite. I didn’t close my eyes, take three deep breaths, and wish for my magic wand as one might imagine. Instead, I seized the opportunity to make these teachable moments for my children, and felt quite proud of my kids at the end of the day for the lessons we all learned.

Occasion #1:

Two years ago, my five year old daughter walked up to a man at our local pool who had an extremely large stomach. She looked up at him and said quite innocently, “You got a baby in there?” Not sure what to say, I put my hand over my mouth, and looked at his wife apologetically. Before I could even say anything, the man and his wife began howling with laughter. The man said, “I know, darling. I’ve had a bit too much food over my sixty-five years, and you reminded me I probably need to eat better and exercise.” As he walked away to get back in the pool, my daughter asked me again if he had a baby in his stomach. This was the perfect opportunity to talk with her very simply about babies coming from women, not men. I also told her how the man was telling us that we need to make good food choices and exercise so that our bodies stay healthy. I didn’t need to go on and on about the merits of healthy eating and exercise. She got it in that one short example – lesson learned!

Occasion #2:

My family was walking through the mall one weekend, and passed a man in front of one of the toy stores making balloon toys for children. He was quite talented with his craft, and there was a long line of children waiting to have one made. As we waited patiently in line, I noticed my son staring at the man, who happened to be a little person. My son didn’t ask me any questions, but as we approached the line, his curiosity in the man never waned. Finally, when we reached the top of the line and the balloon man asked my son what animal he wanted, my son’s only response was, “Hey, did you know that I’m taller than you?” I will admit I blushed during a very pregnant pause, not quite sure how to respond. The man, who was seated in a stool, stood up at that point and said to my son, “Actually, I’m a little taller than you, see?” He stood head to head with my son and made his point. Feeling a bit more at ease, I was then able to add, “Isn’t it wonderful that we can be many sizes and have so many different talents?” The balloon man went on to make his figure for my son, who was quite impressed. As we walked off, my son commented, “Mommy, I want to be a balloon man when I grow up.” And…while those may not be my exact aspirations for Tyler, the simple fact that my son was able to celebrate and accept human diversity in one of its many forms was akin to winning the lottery. I looked at him lovingly and replied, “I can’t wait to see you all grown up, Mr. Balloon Man!”

The funny thing is that in both situations, I could have wished for my magic wand to teleport us quickly back home. They both could have been awkward, uncomfortable, and embarrassing moments for all of us. What I didn’t realize at the moment was that I actually had my wand with me at the pool and in the mall. Instead of teleporting us away, however, the wand brought us teachable moments, and I invite all parents to try and search for more of these on a daily basis.

With Aloha, Mrs. G-W

 

 

Kendama: A School’s Worst Nightmare or Dream Come True?

 

kendama

The author’s children staging their first Kendama challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other day, I overheard some students making comments about a popular game on our school’s campus: Kendama. For those of you who may have blinked and missed it, Kendama is latest fad in many Hawaii schools, as well in other places on the west coast mainland. I have heard that stores can’t keep enough in stock to satisfy the new craze. This Japanese game has roots that go back to the late 1700′s, and is comprised of a wooden, mallet-sized object with concave “cups” on the heads and base of the mallet, and one “spike” on top. The cups are large enough to cradle the small ball, which comes attached to the mallet by a string. The object of the game is to catch the ball in as many different locations as possible (i.e. spike, cups, cross-section, base), with ranking and skill increasing as the complexity changes. During Kendama challenges, various stances and grips are required to perform different tricks. Accomplishing these difficult moves in sequence or repeatedly for long periods of time enhances your status in competitive play, as the first person to fail a trick is disqualified from play during a true competition.

As I observed these students at play and listened to the ensuing conversation, I was struck by one of the student’s comments in particular. Several of the students were having a disagreement about whose turn it was during a “challenge tournament.” One boy felt that his friend had been dishonest in play, and the other felt certain that they had played by the rules. After some bantering back and forth, without reaching resolution, one loudly warned the other, “You know we’re being watched, guys. If you don’t stop arguing, they are going to ban Kendamas for all of us just like they did with Silly Bandz and Pokemon cards at my brother’s school.”

I couldn’t believe my ears! Silly Bandz? Were these students placing Kendama on the same playing field as Silly Bandz or Pokemon Cards? I knew right then and there that I had to interrupt and take a stance. I walked right up to the boys with a bounce in my step, and asked them if I could give Kendama a try. After about five minutes, I was hooked! In fact, after I finished playing, I drove straight to the mall to buy my two seven year olds their own Kendamas. The twins were quite surprised to receive them this early (they originally had been told that Santa might bring them for Christmas), but our weekend was delightful as a result. Over the next two days, I never had to remind my kids that screen time was almost over, or to get outside and play. They took their Kendamas everywhere, and worked tirelessly to perfect their new moves and tricks. The television and hand-held games were all but a distant memory during those two blissful days. My husband even became a professed addict!

As a result, I decided to spend some time learning more about this new fad. Students are completely obsessed with it, and spend much of their recess and after school free time playing Kendama with friends. Sure, there are a few disagreements from time to time over rules, fairness, cheating, sharing, and/or scoring, but I truly believe the benefits outweigh the risks. And so, for those parents (and students) who wish to know how I really feel about Kendama, here’s the rundown. I fully support Kendama, when used appropriately, for the following five reasons (Pokemon Cards and Silly Bandz will not be up for discussion):

1) Kendama encourages and promotes hand-eye coordination, which benefits all children regardless of age, gender, athletic ability, academic strengths, or social capital. Research shows that strong hand-eye coordination helps individuals perform well in daily activities and athletic sports, and may actually help delay the aging process (I wondered if it also might help a 40-something female with memory challenges). I have witnessed children with diverse backgrounds, interests, and abilities find common ground with Kendama, and have been quite impressed with students’ facility, creativity, and ability to safely maneuver the ball in such a short amount of time.

2) Kendama stimulates creativity, as children work together to find novel ways to “catch” the ball, and become creative in their ventures to negotiate and create new rules of play or challenge. If one stops to listen closely to the conversations taking place during play, it quickly becomes apparent that creative thinking is taking place. How many different ways can once catch the ball? Is it possible to move the ball to various positions without stopping? Which move is the easiest to learn? Which one is the most difficult? Why do some kids spin the hanging ball before they begin the catch? Though I never performed well in high school Physics classes, I might have fared better had I experienced more Kendama-like entertainment in my younger years!

3) Kendama enhances focused play and attention. Just take the time to observe someone as they try to catch the ball. It requires careful attention to hold the mallet and swing the ball with the appropriate amount of force to accomplish a successful catch. My daughter, who often has difficulty with focus and attention at school, is enjoying the challenge that comes with Kendama play. In an era when increased screen time has grabbed many youth’s interest, it is refreshing to see Kendama as an alternative. Likewise, research shows that increased focus during formal and informal activities encourages children to clear their mind and attend to the task at hand, which leads to greater success in multiple areas of life.

4) Kendama curbs screen time. Go ahead, try it and see for yourself! My children were totally hooked on electronic gadgets each weekend (since we banned them from use during the school week). They previously swarmed on their handheld games like a beehive full of hornets each Friday after school, and I never imagined anything could take them away from their cherished screen time. Kendama changed all of that, and my children now look more forward to Kendama time. It has become a terrific family event that we all enjoy.

5) Kendama introduces children to simplicity. Remember the days when children would find delight in building with empty boxes, making paper dolls out of paper, or creating a musical band with pots, pans, and kitchen spoons? Well, Kendama comes pretty close to being categorized as a “simple toy” (without the $15 – 60 price tag, of course). The materials include a piece of wood, a string, and a ball. You don’t have to plug it in to recharge it. The concept is fairly straightforward. Creativity is encouraged and supported. The game has withstood the test of time. Our current generation of youth are typically introduced to many innovative ideas and products requiring complex ideas, thinking, and materials. Having the opportunity to experience “simplicity” is a gift, in my opinion, for it gives students an authentic perspective on “finding joy in ordinary things”.

And so, I encourage you to allow your children to experience the ordinary, whether it be Kendama or building a village with empty boxes. The benefits will be many, in my humble opinion. In fact, my only problem at the moment is finding time to go shopping and buy my husband his personal Kendama. I just might wait for Christmas in his case!

As always, I look forward to hearing from my readers and would love to know your opinions.

With Aloha,

Cindi

 

 

Creating Habits of Goodness

Po`e students weed the kalo garden on a recent learning trip.

Po`e students weed a kalo garden on a recent learning trip.

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel with over fifty Po`e students to Ka`ala Cultural Learning Center on an experiential learning trip to understand how ancient Hawaiians lived “from mauka to makai,” and used the land and ocean as their only sustenance. Not only was I struck by the beauty and awe of our natural surroundings, but I was most impressed with the manner in which our students managed themselves. They were attentive listeners, engaged learners, polite to our docents, kind to one another, respectful of the protected land, and  appreciative of the hands-on experiences afforded to them.

A few weeks earlier, My family and I enjoyed a weekend outing with Hanahau`oli families at the local ice skating rink. Once again, I noticed a pattern of behavior that made our JK-6th grade students stand out in the crowd. When younger children needed support as they skated around the ice, I witnessed our older students rushing to their aid on more than one occasion. Likewise, if individuals happened to fall down as they rounded a bend (present company included), a student or two would quickly skate to their side, lean  down with compassion, and ask if they needed help. During the lunch break, I overheard a number of “unprompted” manners being used by students. They needed few reminders to show appreciation for the entertainment that day. I felt quite proud to call these students my own!

In one of my recent conversations with a Hanahau`oli parent group, I referenced the concept of “habits of goodness” to describe the traits we should aspire our children to have as they seek to find fulfillment in life. As parents, we often find ourselves equating our children’s success to academic/artistic/athletic accolades, trophies, medals, or other sorts of recognition. What we tend to forget, however, is that these small “snapshots” of our child’s life are simply moments in time. Though they may be laudable achievements during their journey to adulthood, what about the bigger picture? Isn’t there more to life than the destinations? Why not attribute more purpose to the journey, and the specific tools children need to get there?

For example, how can our youngest citizens make a difference now in an increasingly complex world that is yet to be defined? What “habits” will these children walk away with after they leave school to insure they are able to handle conflict resolution, think creatively, problem solve, collaborate, make connections, demonstrate resiliency, live with integrity, exhibit patience, and continue to care about the world around them? I like to call these traits “habits of goodness,” after a cherished book in my library by author, Ruth Charney (highly recommended read for teachers). I believe these are, in many ways, more essential to laying the foundation for success than the highest grades on any exam.

One of my favorite online websites I often frequent is (click here) Roots of Action , a virtual resource for adults to help ”nurture young people who care about others, contribute to the social good, and act to improve the planet.” The founder of the site, Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell often speaks to adults about the “internal compass” young people need to develop. According to Dr. Price-Mitchell, this compass is comprised of eight essential abilities: resilience, learning, social skills, caring, self-awareness, creativity, strategy, and character. I invite you to visit her (click here) interactive illustration to learn more about these abilities and how these might help to shape individuals who regularly practice habits of goodness.

I love witnessing our students hard at work and play at Hanahau`oli, and feel quite fortunate to be surrounded by many talented educators who understand their developmental needs. What pleases me the most, however, is knowing how closely our parents and teachers work together on behalf of each child, working to instill these habits of goodness. I am already seeing the many benefits in the daily interactions I have with students, and notice the marked growth that can take place as they mature through the grades. You are laying the foundation for a very rewarding journey, so stay on the path!

As always, I love hearing from you.

With Aloha,

Cindi Gibbs-Wilborn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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