Mar 29, 2010

Progressive Schools 2.0

Oh... the end of March. Tomorrow I will have my last PTC (Parent Teacher Conference) for the 2009-2010 school year. Chicha is done with nursery. Bear's prep days are over. If you ask them, they'll tell you they had a lot of fun. Yes, school was fun.

The year she grew her first monggo plant.

Cloud, sun, house. Having fun with tangrams.

Their school directress Teacher Didi highlighted the word fun in her end of the school year address to parents. Definitely the kids had fun, she says, but she reminded us that in the process they learned... and learned a lot... and learned skills that are relevant to their lives and their futures. Literacy, check. Math, check. Science, check. Most importantly, she reminded us how the kids tucked in another year's experience in collaboration and another year of finding joy in learning -- and finding fulfillment in their work. In essence those were Teacher Didi's words, but unfortunately I have no verbatim transcript of her year-end speeches.

Cashiers of Bili Ka Bigas Ko. Name of bigasan their own idea.

The cutest tinderas in town.

Fortunately, I found this op-ed piece from the New York Times written by Susan Engel, Senior Psychology Lecturer and Director of the Program in Teaching at William's College. She wonderfully echoes the words of Teacher Didi. Any parent and teacher should read it as it highlights what developmental experts have known for so long about effective, authentic learning for children. Here's a snippet from Playing to Learn by Susan Engel....

In order to design a curriculum that teaches what truly matters, educators should remember a basic precept of modern developmental science: developmental precursors don’t always resemble the skill to which they are leading. For example, saying the alphabet does not particularly help children learn to read. But having extended and complex conversations during toddlerhood does. Simply put, what children need to do in elementary school is not to cram for high school or college, but to develop ways of thinking and behaving that will lead to valuable knowledge and skills later on.

Engel succinctly and eloquently explains why we had decided to put our kids in progressive schools like Explorations and Keys. So much gratitude goes to Chicha's Teachers Thrina, Aiza and Grace as well as Bear's Teachers Joy, Mandy and Timmy.

Teacher Aiza tries on her feathery hair clips.

Teacher Thrina borrows her pearls.

Thank you teachers for the rich conversations, for letting them use their imaginations, for allowing them to find the patterns and connections themselves, for obliging them their million-and-one questions. Thank you for those experiences you set up so that they constructed knowledge as opposed to just swallowing it -- just as Engel prescribes.

Keys Prep Days. Happy Days.

I mock-complained to Teacher Mandy when I had to skip eating rice for two entire days as part of Bear's "human experiment"... crazy teachers and your wild homework ideas! But really, this is what we love about you. You can bet he learned a lot during their theme investigation on rice. And he had fun.

As Bear read me his teachers' goodbye notes for him, longingly he said, very cuddly-bear-like... "I'm going to miss my teachers"... with lips curling downward and a tinge of sadness.

Chicha had asked me for the nth time "Do I have school tomorrow?" I explained -- again -- that she's on summer vacation. Her response: "this vacation is taking too long." That was just days into the summer break! That we were having a leisurely day at the mall involving a carousel ride and Golden Spoon yogurt when we had this conversation didn't matter... she was still thinking about how she missed school.

Yes my dearies, school was wonderfully fun. We're grateful because that's how it should be.

Nana I

I love hearing stories about my grandmother, mom's mom. The real Nana was cool, grace and spunk all rolled into one. She could whip up a super souffle, mix a mean cocktail, down it and entertain us with her stories. At the same time.
The Mak-Tatos and I (we missed you MacDaddy!) just got back from the mountains up North. We were there to attend a golf tournament that honored Original Nana.

Original Nana's daughters and great grandkids posing with the welcome sign

The family at the awarding ceremony

We stayed at Nana I's place. Kitchen looking exactly the way she left it.

Nana I's grandkids circa 1978.

New generation: Nana I's great grandkids. March 2010

You see apart from being all cool and super and grand like I told you, she helped change the landscape of women's golf in the country forever. Because of her, us girls now have equal rights in what was once a testosterone-filled arena. She was one of the few women on the rules committee (or was she the only one? must check sources). At an age when most people retired, she began a career as general manager for a golf club that didn't even allow women to step foot in the club on certain days. She knew every rule in the game by heart and led by example. I once whined to her that MacDaddy, BigBro and I were disqualified from a tournament we could have won because of some careless move we didn't even realize we did. Hellooo... whatever happened to good intentions? She said they were right and didn't join our pity party. She showed everyone who knew her that she embraced the rules but knew how to break out of the mold. I told you she was cool. Didn't I?

Mar 24, 2010

Street Art For Kids

Keys Grade School is going to help make this city cooler, one kid at a time. Here's a new addition to their Summer Programs....

Click on poster to enlarge.

Kids just love painting on walls... so let them. Only this time you can't call it vandalism. It's responsible street art under the guidance of Pilipinas Street Plan. As Teacher Joe explains it, "for this program, we decided to teach street art to kids with a view towards responsibility and focusing mainly on expression within bounds of art. Definitely, no encouraging of vandalism!" Coolness. Details on the poster.

Mar 22, 2010

Play Time

School's out. Hellooo Summer. This proud mama (and MacDaddy and MammaMia, and GrandmaB and GrandadDoc and LaT and the Titas) had a ball watching each boy perform in the school's closing programs.

Oh Tato. He was up on stage alright. He went through the motions. But he had this expression in his eyes, the melt-your-heart kind that seemed to plead 'Someone.. get me out of here. Quick. I'd rather be down there with the rest of you. Or anywhere else'. Cutiepie.

As for Mak, it seems he has found his second home. On stage. No one at our own home needed a calendar to know it was program day for him. He was marching around the house singing and saying his and everyone's lines as soon as his eyes popped open. More practice, more singing all the way until he was school-bound. He didn't get his wish. Little Miss Narrator was healthy as an ox and didn't quite need the help of Mr. Understudy. But he sang and delivered his own lines like there was no tomorrow. Or probably crossed his fingers he could do it again for more tomorrows. Mak falling in love with the stage. Who knew?

Extra special props to the Philippine Montessori Center's Instrumental Ensemble. Incredible bunch of kids. Four to six-year olds churning out ear candy using marimbas, metallophones, glockenspiels. (Confession: I had to spell check those) So amazing that the mini musicians are off to New York to perform at the Lincoln and Kaufman Centers.

The music program at the school kicks butt. Hats off to all the teachers too. Can't wait till next school year. In the meantime summer is calling.

Mar 20, 2010

Insufferable Robot In Paris

Or... boy who has an insufferable hope to see the French capital and an insufferable obsession with robots.

The 6-year-old above dreams of going to Paris. Bear wants to go the top of the Eiffel Tower. He thinks "square steeples" like the ones at Notre Dame are "nice" and better than "round steeples" like those at that church across the Mall of Asia. Random observations like that make me call him Mr. Opinionator.

He also loves robots. He's psyched about trying his hand at LEGO NXT robotics this summer. His signature dance move? The Robot. When his art teacher asked him to show her how he understood symmetry, he created Robot Skunk.

One day I want to enjoy Paris with Bear too, plus Pappy and Chicha of course. Hey, if you write about a wish on the Internet it will come true. Really.

While the wish has yet to come alive, here's a lovely little movie about A ROBOT ENJOYING PARIS, that actually inspired this random brain fart post. This video has Baby Bear written all over it. It's a robot taking in Parisian charm on a sunny day, playing with kids in lovely sweaters, ladies with long legs and nice shoes, snap-happy tourists, parks, fountains, Gothic architecture and a soundtrack called I'm Not The Lonely Son. Swoon...

A day in PARIS from Benoit MILLOT on Vimeo.

Look ma, no teef.

I never realized how adorable a toothless grin could be. Maybe because he once lived inside my uterus? Now I'm being insufferable....

Mar 18, 2010

Sunny Days

And... this is why we've been sort of M.I.A. 

(click so you don't have to strain your eyes)
Mak and Tato in the issue of Smart Parenting this month. 
Thanks, Monica!

Kwentos, kwentos to follow.

Mar 17, 2010

If You Want To Be An Architect

...or engineer, business person, Lego designer, clothing designer, stylist, rock star, the next Katherine Bigelow, teacher, entrepreneur or whatever... here's a Letter of Note for you. It was addressed to a young, aspiring American architect during the Great Depression.

click to enlarge

It was written in 1931, but I think the advice will always be sound. The man who wrote it is Charles Morgan, an architectural artist who did work for Frank Lloyd Wright. You can read a complete transcript of the Charles Morgan letter here.

page 2 of 2

A few quotes....

"Imagination is the only quality that is creative."

"Above all else the artist must not copy. Imitate nothing except principle."

"A real architect like any good man in any business does not waste any time whatever doing things which he might be ashamed. He must above all be a sincere artist."

Sage words from Morgan, yes? If you read his entire letter, I disagree with one point though: please have more than a sandwich for lunch. You need ample, healthy meals to work hard! I know, I know... I am such a smother-mother.

By the way, Letters of Note is an awesome blog. Letter writing is an art in itself and it's a great online gallery. See how a young David Bowie answers fan mail; how Hunter S. Thompson can kick-ass writing novels and cursing his heart out in a letter; how Dr. Seuss is truly worthy of our admiration. Check out how J.D. Salinger reviewed Raider's of the Lost Ark in a letter to a friend. And... be entertained by Courtney Love's letter to Spin magazine with her assertion that Madonna is utterly artless. Plus so much more.

Mar 12, 2010

When Kids Ask Tough Questions....

How do we answer? I asked the child experts and shared their wisdom in this month's issue of Working Mom Magazine.

Tell Me Why
experts answer tough questions kids ask

Inquiring young minds want to know: "How did I get inside your tummy?" A child who had just experienced the death of his Lola may ask: "Mama, are you going to die too? Questions like these may fluster even the most intelligent and enlightened parents.

When my son was two, he asked: "Why is the sky so big?" Hmmm... do I reply with science or do I get into my first existential conversation with him? I settled for a bit of both, but it really got me thinking. When my child gives me a tough question, how deep should I go? How specific? I want to be honest but, what if I confuse him more? Suddenly I had more questions than my son.

So, I turned to the pros. Child experts give us advice on what--and what not--to say in answer to 8 tricky questions kids can ask:

1 Why did Lola have to die?

Bennie Ancheta-Veloso, curriculum director of Explorations Preschool and mom to 5-year-old Mauro advises against saying "Lola is just asleep" or "resting." First of all, it's just not true. Young children don't grasp euphemisms well. If Lola was taken by an illness, a good approach is to emphasize that she does not feel any pain or "owee" anymore. Don't forget to clarify that death happens when people are extremely sick, so your child is not terrified by his own sniffles.

Bringing God into the discussion at too-young an age is also tricky territory. My 4-year-old niece was devastated when her favorite Lolo passed away. In an effort to appease her, she was told Lolo was taken by God to live with him in Heaven. Now she's upset with God because "he takes people away and never gives them back!" When talking to young children about death, explain the facts first without the spiritual aspect. You can discuss your religious beliefs another time.

Teacher Bennie offers advice that's good for any question thrown your way-- always look for context. Asking where the question comes from (a book, a TV show, or an experience?) will guide you in what direction to take your answer. Be honest about death being inevitable, but keep your answer brief. Add details only if your child has follow-up questions.

2 How did I get inside your tummy?

Deborah Rothman wrote the book Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking About Sex. She says a question like this does not necessarily call for a talk about the birds and the bees. A small child just wants to know: "How did I get here?"

If your 3-year-old son asks you this question, he's not asking for details about your sex life. You just have to give him a little biology lesson. If your child is curious about how the sperm enters mommy's body, you can say: "When adults make a baby, the vagina and penis fit together like puzzle pieces so the sperm can go in to meet the egg."

Teacher Bennie gave her inquisitive preschool son this answer, as she drew him a "scientific" illustration: "Daddy has a kind of seed inside his body called a sperm, and I have an egg inside mine. This sperm from daddy joined up with the egg inside me. The sperm swam to my egg using its strong tail. It swam very, very fast."

3 Why do they say Tito John is gay?

Rothman suggests you first clarify what a couple is. Give examples like you and your husband, an aunt and uncle your child knows are married. Explain that couples love each other in a special way. They love each other's company so much that they spend a lot of time together or get married like mom and dad. Then explain how there are cases when couples are made up of two men or two women. Since Tito John has a boyfriend, not a girlfriend, then he is gay. In case Tito John is single, say he prefers that his special someone would be a man like himself, not a woman.

Kids will often take this simple, factual answer. Tell your child that they may hear the word "gay" used negatively and that it is nasty to use the word that way. Use this as a teaching moment to explain tolerance and acceptance of different people.

4 If God is real, why can't I see him?

Didi Manahan, directress of Keys Grade School, says she is conscious about being theologically accurate when answering questions about God. A practicing Catholic, she would respond this way:

"There are many things that are real that we can't see. We can't see the air, but we believe it is there because we can see it rustling leaves or feel it cool our faces. We can't see radio waves, but we know they are there because they make our cell phones and internet work. In the same way, we can't see God, but we can see the things He does. When you are extra patient with your brother that is God working through you. When people helped the victims of Ondoy without being asked, that's God working through them.

5 If God is good, why are there bad people and poor people?

Teacher Didi says that if you do not have a ready-response, it's fine to admit this to your child. Explain that you need time to think about your answer or even do some research. She herself took time to think this one out and came up with this reply:

"There are poor people and there are bad people not because God made them that way, but because of bad choices that people make. God did not promise he would get rid of poverty or bad people. What he promised us is that even if we sometimes do bad things, he will love us. He also promised that if we are sorry for the bad things we do, when it is time for us to join Him in Heaven He will welcome us. He made this promise to everyone."

6 Mom and dad are fighting, are they going to get a divorce?

Leah See, assistant directress of Keys Grade School says, "This particular question is very telling of a child's anxiety. It's important to affirm your child's feelings first, then give your answer." Here's how she would reply:

"I can see you're upset because your mom and dad are fighting. Moms and dads try their best to love each other, but sometimes they disagree and that can lead to an argument. When they argue or fight it doesn't mean they are getting a divorce or that they don't love each other anymore. They just have to figure out how to resolve their disagreement."

7 Why is Sandro's house bigger and nicer than ours?

This question reflects an unintended form of peer pressure and a child's wish to be more like his friend or for you to be more like his parents. Joe Sibayan, curriculum coordinator of Keys Grade School advises against using statements like "they are richer" or "we are poorer" or "because we can't afford it." This can make a child feel deprived, maybe even skew his sense of values towards materialism -- or stir up envy.

Assure your child you have enough resources to care for the family, but emphasize that being rich in love and happiness is more important than material wealth. Here's how teacher Joe would put it:

"Grown-ups decide to do different things with their money. Sandro's parents decided to spend a lot of money on making their house nice and big. We decided to spend it on other things, like that nice trip we took last year and saving money for your school. How did you feel when you saw Sandro's house was so big and nice? I hope you felt happy for him, because that's how we should feel when we see other people have nice things."

8 Why is f@_k! a bad word?

Emphasize to your child that words in themselves are not bad, but the intention behind saying them can be the problem, says teacher Joe. Remember previous question No. 3? If your child is reprimanded for blurting an expletive and asks why that word is bad, here's how he would explain it:

"You know that you can touch in different ways, right? There's a touch that's loving, like when you hug or shake hands. There's a touch that hurts, like when hands are used to hit someone. It's the same when you talk. You can talk in a loving way by using gentle words. But there are words that can hurt. Those words you just said are words that hurt others, so we choose not to say them."