Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Rides, Horses, Lizards and Fun!

I'm Chinese. I grew up in a very Chinese household. Education was everything as evidenced by the universal jokes that all Asians Americans can relate to; a letter grade of 'A' is adequate, 'B'stands for bad, C is catastrophic and D is disowned and finally F; forgotten forever. Heck, even nonasian knew this which is why I was once asked the reason for me being in the regular math class rather than the AP class. My reply, "I'm the dumb Asian in the school". (in reality my parents weren't as academically hard on me due to my 'yellow brain damage' But that's another story for another day)

Grades meant a great deal, they reflected your intellect, your hardworking and projected your future and what parent didn't want the best future for their child. Once I became a teacher I realized how illogical this really was. Grades today reflect how adequately suited you are to a system that values certain traits - traits like neatness, following directions, orderly and outgoing. Those who learned differently or who had traits less valued struggled within this system because their intellect and skills were not measurable or considered valuable. As a result you were labeled as difficult, slow learner, poor listener, shy or withdrawn

A trip to the fair! Thank heavens for Ms Marni who made this possible. We got to test out Eli's responses to the rides and stimulus and Isaac had a lesson on physics that he didn't entirely enjoy but won't be forgetting soon. On the other hand, Keila couldn't get enough!
The ironic thing is that as future teachers we were learned in college that there are other types of intelligences (emotional, kinesthetic, etc) and taught to look for these to engage the children. In the meantime class loads grew bigger, standardized test became more important and as a teacher I was just staying afloat with the kids that fit well into the system. So much of literature even in recent years reflects this, such as Quiet by Susan Cain which talks about the strengths of introverts rather than the more egregious extroverts. Books such as these remind us that all personality types have gifts to offer especially when it is not so obvious and we as a society miss out when we select for certain traits.

It took Eli a bit to relax but once the spinning rides started, he was having fun, even if he only gave reluctant smiles and giggles to Ms. Marni.
Just before his first rollercoaster!

After I quit teaching I began to look at things a little more objectively. Did I just want to know that my kid had master certain skills and could regurgitate it back in paper? Did these grades honestly reflect his/her intellect or rather how well they fit the system? What attitudes were taught with regards to learning, failure and success? Did I truly want them to be a product of that system?

Now in all fairness the same education system can work for some - just not for my two oldest. They have grown to believe that failure was shameful rather than a learning opportunity or a step moving toward success, that being smart meant you had to be better and quicker than others and that knowledge had no real application. Kent and I wanted their confidence or success not to be found in letter grades but rather in discipline, good teamwork, constant learning and applying and then never giving up.
Sorting, cleaning shells and looking through a classification book.

These are some of the reasons we've made this change. I honestly don't know if I can teach my children these things, but I do know that in the years we've been in the system, despite high grades, praises from teachers and fellow students- my children haven't learned it and when things don't work, you fix it. Only time will tell and with each child it will be their own story.

In the meantime I've begun experimenting with different things. We recently made a field trip to a lady in Black Canyon City who owns 3 horses she uses for equine assisted therapy. I had actually looked into this when we started working through Bug-loves anxiety but most places charged so much for the program it just wasn't something we could justify in our budget. This lady was different, no matter the number in the group she charged for the cost of a bale of hay ($18.50) for two hours where you could do ground work (no riding) with the horses and in the process learn a great deal about yourself and how you work with others.
Prior to going we watched a video or two on YouTube (love the Internet!) about others who had experienced equine assisted therapy. I had little notebooks for the two to journal and draw what they think the experience would be like. Kent took the morning off and I had respite watching the younger two and we drove out for a two hour experience.

Catherine was wonderful and so accommodating. We had some quick introductions and filled out a paper to help her understand our personalities so she could find a horse that fit us. Biscuit was just like Isaac, energetic, friendly and playful. We tried to get Biscuit to stand still or to weave through barrels but found that incentive was what drove him. He had to know what was in it for him and as soon as he heard the horse cookies fall, he was easy and quick to get to task. Lady Bellam was different altogether. Cookies would not tempt her, but security, affection and a sure sense of direction did. She was much more like Keila.
Isaac has a fear of animals, especially large ones and it took quite a bit of convincing to even get him in the corral with the horses (Rita's ice was promised - the power of incentive!) He learned how to communicate with the horses decisively and clearly once he could set aside his fear. That empowered him in some ways so that he began to relax a little more and watch us work with the horses.
As long as I stayed by Keila's side she was an eager learner. Both she and Lady would try and anticipate what I wanted and if I should hesitate or communicate badly things went awry. On the other hand, when I did well, they both followed beautifully. By the end Lady would keep pace with me no matter how I changed things up and stop the moment I stopped.

Biscuit took me by surprise and began to tickle my neck. Such a playful fellow!

After the two hours I came away with a few thoughts. First off, I'm not always good at communicating what needs to be done. Giving that direction gently first, then a little more persistently and finally firm but calmly does a great deal. For my oldest I need to help him see the benefits behind the task and empower him with a level of control. With my daughter I began to see that her anxiety stemmed from anticipating what everyone else sought of her. I needed greater patience when a task was not completed correctly and make sure my instructions are clear and my mood calm because she could read those emotions like a book.
We got to hear about the horses and their stories which helped us to understand their particular responses to the environment. King George had a particularly sad story and Kent took to that horse a great deal. Really the lines between animals and humans is a fine one and you couldn't help but come away feeling more sympathy for all of God's creations.

Keila really enjoyed the experience and was highly motivated to write it in the journal I provided. We even read Black Beauty by Anne Sewell in the days that follow. Isaac hates writing but he sure loved to hear me read to him.

Teacher appreciation posters that the kids helped me put together.

This little fellow got stuck so we took a closer look and helped him out of his little predicament.

Backyard fun. The little pumpkin wants to be just like big sister, even if her feet can't reach the pedals.
Soccer drills with Baba.

So it's quite an adventure of sorts. At the very least we are making memories and having fun together and hopefully along the way they are being taught, especially in the things that matter most.


  1. loving it. You guys are doing great job. Missing you and kiddos. Grade and public school is way overrated. I admiire your patience and creativity. Miss you my dear.

  2. loving it. You guys are doing great job. Missing you and kiddos. Grade and public school is way overrated. I admiire your patience and creativity. Miss you my dear.