open thread

Open thread: Are you brave enough to be curious?

Published by Lori Pickert on September 16, 2016 at 08:18 AM

I liked this thing I read this week:

My daughter pointed at the haircut she wanted, and [the hairdresser] asked “So what do you like best about this picture?” This seemed like a really good question. — poet Jenny Browne

Everyone is sure they want to raise lifelong learners, but so often adults don’t respond to children’s interests and plans with curiosity.
The point of PBH isn’t to move quickly through a set of tasks — Goal! Plan! Product! NEXT!
We want to stay curious — about what our children like, what they want to learn and make and do, and why.
It isn’t just about having a better project. It’s about having a better understanding of our child — their interests, their abilities, what they want to accomplish, and why.
If your child has an interest that you don’t like, you should be intensely curious. What is so interesting about this? What draws her in so strongly? What is she doing with it? Is it as meaningless as I think it is? Could it lead somewhere good? What do other people think? What have other kids done with it? Are there possibilities I haven’t considered?
If your child has an interest you DO like, you should be intensely curious. What is she going to do with this? What will she find when she looks for resources? What will attract her? What questions will she ask? What does she want to play and create and share?
Doing a Pinterest search or asking online for resource and activity suggestions is the opposite of curiosity. It shuts the door on what your child would have done that was completely different and unique. It takes her by the hand and leads her firmly from wandering in the meadow to walking on the sidewalk. To be curious is to keep all the possibilities open to see what happens without your guiding hand.
The hairdresser up above could have just given Browne’s daughter the haircut in the picture — or her best approximation of it — but she probed further, knowing that the more she understood about the child’s feelings and goals, the better she could help her achieve what she wanted.
This is how we should approach children’s desires and plans — with curiosity and a desire to learn more, so we can support not just today’s plan but the lifelong learner we hope our child will be.

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Anything you want to discuss? Ask? Share? Do it here! It’s your thread.

Open thread: Giving up on being perfect

Published by Lori Pickert on September 9, 2016 at 08:41 AM

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. — Anna Quindlen

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We start out the new school or “school” year (for homeschoolers, when the playgrounds are suddenly gloriously empty during the day! and all the new groups and classes start…) with new supplies and new plans — it’s a fresh start.

How long does it take for us to feel that first wave of disappointment when things don’t go the way we’d hoped?

When we struggle with perfectionism, we have the opportunity to learn something we can share with our children. We have the opportunity to struggle in front of them and show them how real learning and doing works.

When we pay attention to our fears and frustrations, we can learn about theirs. When we give up on being perfect, it allows them to give up on being perfect.

Perfection doesn’t exist — it isn’t real. You are imperfect, flawed, with talents and deficits, successes and struggles — you are real. The only things getting done in this world are getting done by real people, like you.

Do you find it hard to let go of your ideal imagining and get on with the flawed but real work? Do you find it hard to help your kids do it?

How do we work on developing a learner’s mindset vs. getting bogged down in our perfect fantasy?

Perfectionists aren’t people who do something perfectly. Perfectionists are people who fantasize about doing something perfectly. — John Perry

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Anything you want to discuss? Ask? Share? Do it here! It’s your thread.

Open thread: Room for learning

Published by Lori Pickert on September 3, 2016 at 07:05 AM

Being the person that always knows and always has an answer, doesn’t leave a lot of room for learning. — Andrew Zuckerman

• • •

Open threads will normally be started on Friday mornings but yesterday I was having a big day out with my son helping him run errands for his latest project — starting a business. Self-directed learning isn’t something you graduate out of — it just keeps leveling up!

The Zuckerman quote could refer to mentoring — if we are know-it-alls, it doesn’t leave room for our kids to do much learning. If we respond to every question with an answer, they never have the opportunity to research. We need to leave room for them to become experts — we need to leave room for them to teach US.

It could also refer to our own learning. If we stay in in our comfort zone, where we always know the answers (because that makes us feel smart and safe), how much learning do we do?

To really keep learning, we have to keep moving into the areas where we have more questions than answers.

What motivates you to learn something new?

[W]e have to discuss more fully the role that children assume in the construction of self and knowledge, and the help they get in these matters from adults. It is obvious that between learning and teaching, we honor the first. It is not that we ostracize teaching, but that we declare, “Stand aside for awhile and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before. — Loris Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children

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Anything you want to discuss? Ask? Share? Do it here! It’s your thread.


Open Thread: Words create worlds

Published by Lori Pickert on August 26, 2016 at 12:49 PM

Words create worlds. Accordingly, positive words will create (mostly) positive worlds — whereas negative words will create (mostly) negative worlds. So use your words wisely, especially your questions — as they tend to create the worlds within other people’s minds. — David Cooperrider

• • •

If you received my newsletter last weekend, you know why it’s been quiet around these parts for several months (and why I had to cease publishing the Tip Sheet). If you’re already on the PBH mailing list, but didn’t see the newsletter in your inbox, check your spam folder (or, if you have gmail, your social and promotions tabs); if you want to get the one I sent last weekend, sign up fast and I’ll get it to you before the new one goes out on Sunday.

Easing back into things, I’m reinstituting an open thread most weekends! Have anything you want to discuss? Ask? Share? Do it here! It’s your thread.


Love what David Cooperrider says above about words creating worlds — and the importance of being careful with your questions. When we talk with children about their interests and plans, we can accidentally kill their enthusiasm with the wrong question. We can create possibilities — or we can accidentally squelch them. I’ll put some of my ideas for engagement-killing questions in the comments!

So what’s on YOUR mind this weekend?

Open thread: The psychology of parental control

Published by Lori Pickert on December 7, 2015 at 08:56 AM

Classic PBH advice — Are you choosing the books, materials, and activities? Are you researching the field trip and making the fun plans? Let the kids do it! They’ll be more engaged, they’ll acquire more life skills, and they’ll retain ownership over their work. The more we do, the less they can do.

Yet parents have said to me, “I like being the one who plans things. That’s my role. It’s fun for me.”

Of course it’s fun for you — but as Capt. Picard points out, how engaged are kids if you’re the one doing the fun part? How much ownership do they feel when you’re the one doing the important stuff?

I’ve been reading a great book called The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires, and one basic idea it shares is that parents don’t just control kids through threats and punishment, they also control them through positive-seeming actions like rewards and managing their activities.

Some quotes for you:

“[P]arental control does not simply mean yelling or using physical punishment. … Some parents’ most controlling behavior comes from their desire to provide the very best for their children and to be certain that their children are not missing out on a single opportunity.”

“Parents and other caretakers can control through physical punishment, but they can also control through rewards and even praise.”

“If the goal of a parent is to assist in the development of a self-reliant, competent individual, then there are many ways in which control, although well meant, backfires.”

“If parental control is one end of the spectrum, what is its opposite? One answer is parents’ support of autonomy in their children. Autonomy support is an active process, which involves taking a child’s frame of reference, supporting independent problem solving, and involving the child in creating rules and structures. Using this approach, parents also provide choices for children and encourage their children to initiate their own activities. The goal of autonomy-supportive parenting is to facilitate a sense of self-initiation in children and to support their active attempts to solve their own problems.”

It is easy to see how PBH aligns with autonomy-supportive parenting.

If we’re the ones who choose materials, arrange activities, control the budget, make decisions, and take the role of providing exciting experiences both at home and on the go, we are maintaining control. That puts our child into a passive role. We have every good intention, but we rob our children of agency.

No matter how *awesome* the experience — and the life — we make for our child, they are passive and they don’t feel ownership, agency, or control. They don’t get the critical experiences they need to make their own awesome life — defined however they see fit.

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We are constantly trying to explain to parents new to PBH that they shouldn’t ask for resource suggestions but should instead help their child find their own resources.

The parents are confused — shouldn’t they want to find the *best* books, the *best* resources, the *best* activities?

But that’s a short cut, isn’t it? Asking for help locating the *best* resources means you don’t have to go out and laboriously find them yourself. It means you don’t have to spend time checking out and bringing home and flipping through those books that looked good but were actually useless. It means you don’t have to sift through a lot of possibilities online.

Of course, we don’t want you to do that boring slog yourself — we want your child to do it!

Slowly locating the best resources seems like a waste of time. But it is how children learn. And it is never a waste of time for children to do their own meaningful work, at their own pace, in their own way.

When it comes to learning, we don’t want to take a short-cut.

If they don’t have the opportunity to compare and contrast different books and other resources and decide which are the best — which have exactly the information they need, which present it in the most easily understood way, which are more entertaining and fun to read — they don’t develop the ability to do that. They don’t practice critical thinking; they don’t learn to set their own goals and make good assessments. They become passive recipients of other people’s suggestions.

They may even look at the “best” book and think (silently), Oh well, this isn’t what I wanted, so I guess what I wanted doesn’t exist, since this is the *best* book.

They learn that the way to find what you need is to ask other people or find a blog post listing the “10 best” xyz. They are trained away from active, hands-on research. They don’t develop the skills to wade through all the options and determine which best meet their needs and desires.

When we become a filter for our child, we take away their need to learn how to filter. When we depend on someone else to filter for us, we’re choosing from a subset created by a random person who doesn’t know us or our child. Our child is now two or more degrees away from doing their own research and making their own discoveries.

PBH is slow learning, and we should be in no hurry to find great resources. All of the work that goes into researching, discussing, comparing, rejecting, branching out, talking to experts, and so on — *that’s why we’re here*.

“The ways we control can be subtle and can be laden with good intentions.

Think of a small boy holding a bunch of tulips. To keep the flowers together, he grasps them tightly. By the time he arrives at his grandmother’s, the stems are crushed. But he meant well. That same sort of thing can happen to parents who hold on too tightly to their children.”

…and to their children’s learning experiences.

“When children go through the motions, complying with adult directives and contingencies, even the positive outcomes they accrue — good grades, trophies, and so on — do not facilitate a positive feeling.

Only when the person feels a sense of ownership of his or her actions can positive experiences translate into healthy self-esteem and well-being.

The goal of parenting for positive self-esteem is not necessarily to ensure that things go right. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the child has one more trophy on the shelf.

What parents must do is to create conditions under which children can take pleasure in their own choices and accomplishments because they are theirs.” — The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires

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I haven’t done an open thread in a long while, but I’m hoping to make it a regular Monday thing.

For those who haven’t participated before, you can ask any question or share/discuss whatever you wish in the comments — it doesn’t have to be related to the above discussion. The thread will stay live so don’t hesitate to jump in after it’s already been up awhile!

Open thread!

Published by Lori Pickert on August 4, 2012 at 08:17 AM

We’re here and we’re chatting, so if you have something to share, jump in!

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on November 18, 2011 at 01:38 PM

[V]isions, no matter how grand, need to be acted upon to become real. Ideas, clearly, are important. Without them change has no rudder. But change also needs wind and a sail to catch it. Without them there is no movement. — Elliot Eisner

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 02:15 PM

Education is an important determinant of income — one of the most important — but it is less important than most people think. If everyone had the same education, the inequality of income would be reduced by less than 10 percent. When you focus on education you neglect the myriad of other factors that determine income. The differences of income among people who have the same education are huge.Daniel Kahneman

We grow up believing that what counts most in our lives is that which will occur in the future. Parents teach children that if they learn good habits now, they will be better off as adults. Teachers assure pupils that the boring classes will benefit them later, when the students are going to be looking for jobs. The company vice president tells junior employees to have patience and work hard, because one of these days they will be promoted to the executive ranks. At the end of the long struggle for advancement, the golden years of retirement beckon. “We are always getting to live,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson used to say, “but never living.” Or as poor Frances learned in the children's story, it is always bread and jam tomorrow, never bread and jam today. — Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Thoughts? Problems? Dreams? Share them here in the open thread!


Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on January 29, 2011 at 03:01 PM

Two things to share today.

On a classic CCB post, a new comment and my answer, excerpted here:

I am curious, does this type of learner end up doing well in groups and capable of being a team player? Is the intractability saved mostly for Mom (I feel like this sometimes)? Do you seek out more group opportunties or is this child destined to be a independent worker or entrepreneur?

Group dynamics are very interesting. Natural leaders tend to lead, negotiators tend to negotiate, dynamic thinkers come up with ideas, detail-oriented kids manage quality control, and etc. — and, it’s important to stress, no one child fits only into one category. Again, they tend to be a mix of traits. In a group situation, one particular trait may stick out to the adults, and that child gets labeled and the adult moves on. But careful study and documentation can reveal secondary traits that are strong and important... [continued]

Read more at The Relentless Learner post.

And, another follow-up article to the Tiger Mom brouhaha, this time in the New Yorker:

On our bad days, we wonder whether this way of thinking is, as Chua might say, garbage. Last month, the results of the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, tests were announced. It was the first time that Chinese students had participated, and children from Shanghai ranked first in every single area. Students from the United States, meanwhile, came in seventeenth in reading, twenty-third in science, and an especially demoralizing thirty-first in math. This last ranking put American kids not just behind the Chinese, the Koreans, and the Singaporeans but also after the French, the Austrians, the Hungarians, the Slovenians, the Estonians, and the Poles.

“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable,” Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, told the Times. “The United States came in twenty-third or twenty-fourth in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

Why is this? How is it that the richest country in the world can’t teach kids to read or to multiply fractions?


Taken as a parable, Chua’s cartoonish narrative about browbeating her daughters acquires a certain disquieting force. Americans have been told always to encourage their kids. This, the theory goes, will improve their self-esteem, and this, in turn, will help them learn.

After a generation or so of applying this theory, we have the results. Just about the only category in which American students outperform the competition is self-regard.

America’s Top Parent: What’s behind the Tiger Mother craze?

The last bit about self-regard reminded me of when we discussed perfectionism and praise. The previous part about how we can’t teach kids to read or multiply fractions reminded me of those other recent interesting articles attacking our educational system’s results.

As always, this is open thread so feel free to ask any question or discuss whatever you wish — and have a good weekend!


Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on January 21, 2011 at 03:24 PM

A large number of US university students fail to develop critical thinking, reasoning and writing skills because of easy classes and too little time spent studying, a study found Wednesday.

The study of 3,000 students at 29 four-year universities found that 45 percent “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during their first two years in college as measured by a standardized test.

After the full four years, 36 percent had shown no development in critical thinking, reasoning and writing, according to the study, which forms the basis of the new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.

U.S. College Students Don’t Learn Core Skills: Study

Just another quote to go with these interesting quotes.

And for those following the “Tiger Mom” story (and thank you, Mamie, for sending me the link), an update and a question in this article:

Though Chua was born and raised in the U.S., her invocation of what she describes as traditional “Chinese parenting” has hit hard at a national sore spot: our fears about losing ground to China and other rising powers and about adequately preparing our children to survive in the global economy. Her stories of never accepting a grade lower than an A, of insisting on hours of math and spelling drills and piano and violin practice each day (weekends and vacations included), of not allowing playdates or sleepovers or television or computer games or even school plays, for goodness’ sake, have left many readers outraged but also defensive. The tiger mother’s cubs are being raised to rule the world, the book clearly implies, while the offspring of “weak-willed,” “indulgent” Westerners are growing up ill equipped to compete in a fierce global marketplace.

One of those permissive American parents is Chua's husband, Jed Rubenfeld (also a professor at Yale Law School). He makes the occasional cameo appearance in Tiger Mother, cast as the tenderhearted foil to Chua’s merciless taskmaster. When Rubenfeld protested Chua’s harangues over “The Little White Donkey,” for instance, Chua informed him that his older daughter Sophia could play the piece when she was Lulu's age. Sophia and Lulu are different people, Rubenfeld remonstrated reasonably. “Oh, no, not this,” Chua shot back, adopting a mocking tone: “Everyone is special in their special own way. Even losers are special in their own special way.”

With a stroke of her razor-sharp pen, Chua has set a whole nation of parents to wondering: Are we the losers she's talking about?

The Roar of the Tiger Mom

I love the juxtaposition of the Tiger Mom article (and follow-ups) and the burst of articles about how our students aren’t learning anything in high school or college.

What do you think?