Tag Archives: homeschool

Creative Education: An Interview with Dr. Carolina Blatt-Gross

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA).

Photo copyright Georgia Gwinnett College
Photo copyright Georgia Gwinnett College

It’s amazing how far our understanding of children has come in the last two decades since 1994, when Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker cofounded Attachment Parenting International (API). I was in middle school at that time, dutifully sitting in a desk all day and using rote memory to absorb classroom material as was expected. Two years later, my sister did the same.

But in another four years, my brother entered the same classroom. A brilliant but easily bored child, he was not content to sit in a desk all day, and he learned best by moving—a lot! Unfortunately the public school he was attending was not at all equipped to accommodate his learning style, and my brother struggled through to graduation. Life has done little to hold him back, though, and today he is a highly successful young man.

API doesn’t take a stance on educational choices, but whether we as parents decide to homeschool, unschool or enroll our children in a public, private or charter program, API supports making informed choices throughout the parenting journey, and that includes our child’s learning environment. One of my favorite people to discuss this topic with is Carolina Blatt-Gross, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Art at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA, who lectures on art education. She is the mother of two very active children and a proponent of progressive learning environments.

RITA: Thank you, Carolina, for fitting me into your busy schedule. To begin, can you share about your passion for encouraging progressive learning environments for children?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: I have been making art as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I earned my PhD in art education that I realized how important art is to our educational environments and how quickly the arts are disappearing from traditional education.

We have become so focused on the linear, positivist thinking measured by standardized tests that we have forgotten about encouraging our brains to think in diverse, critical and creative ways. Art is essentially an elaborate problem-solving exercise situated in the enormously satisfying experience of making something with your hands and/or body—which means if you learn kinetically, the arts offer a wealth of opportunities to physically grapple with ideas and communicate nuanced concepts.

Once I had children, my dedication to art education was no longer academic. It became imperative that my sons have consistent opportunities to make things and to solve complex visual problems.

RITA: Your CNN article, “Why Do We Make Students Sit Still in Class?” very much piqued my interest as many of Attachment Parenting families have children with “spirited” temperaments, including children who do not fit well in the traditional mold of sitting at a desk all day. What learning environments are better for enhancing learning for any child, whether spirited or not?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: What learning environment is best depends on the temperament of each child. Some children might flourish in a still, silent classroom. Those children might find movement and sound distracting.

Other children, like mine, require a more active environment that will allow them to filter learning through their bodies. For these children, focusing their energy on restraining their bodies is a waste of student and teacher resources. This does not mean that they should be permitted to run around the classroom screaming and flailing chaotically, but rather that their bodies should become part of the learning in a structured way.

RITA: You mention your sons in the CNN article. How old are they now and what learning environment do you have them in?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: My sons are now 18 months old and 3 years old. My youngest son stays with a caretaker in our neighborhood who is invested in including music and art-making in his day.

My older son attends Hess Academy, which is a progressive school in Decatur, Georgia [USA], dedicated to authentic and child-focused learning. The teachers are exceptional at identifying and supporting students’ physical, intellectual, emotional and developmental needs. The students get to regularly experience art, music, language, yoga, dramatic storytelling, outdoor classrooms and all kinds of wonderful kinetic learning.

Although traditional formal education often dismisses these hands-on activities as secondary to the educational “meat and potatoes”—math and literacy—the teachers at my son’s school recognize that physical learning is part of the main course. Their bodies actually become part of their learning environment rather than a detriment to it.

RITA: How is this trend of pro-movement learning environments progressing among formal public/private schools? Are these progressive learning environments more the exception to the rule or are more schools beginning to go this route?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Education seems to be heading in a more progressive direction, and it is easier to find teachers who are interested in alternatives to neatly aligned rows of silent students. Montessori schools have been taking this approach since 1907, but the quality can vary dramatically from school to school.

Fortunately, as we understand more about the brain and its mysteries, we are starting to translate some of the research into practice. We now know that different parts of the brain are active during different activities, so the more parts of the brain we can activate during learning, the richer the experience will be for students—and the more profound their understanding of a concept. For example, learning to speak a letter, write a letter, read a letter, make that letter with your body, sing about that letter, paint a picture of that letter and so on all require different, but related, skills. These concepts build upon one another to create a more profound understanding.

RITA: I live in a rural, conservative-minded area and yet hear of some teachers in the area experimenting with having children sit on bouncy balls rather than chairs. Are there some ideas that are catching on more than others?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Bouncy balls and rocking chairs as well as some sensory tools are becoming more common in classrooms and often with very positive results.

While there are likely benefits to allowing more movement in the classroom for some students, I would be wary of a one-size-fits-all approach, where all students sit on balls, simply because some are wiggly. This also seems like a palliative approach to a deeper problem. The bouncy balls might appease some students’ physical natures, but it doesn’t make that movement a meaningful part of the learning. It seems to be an easy fix but not a true embrace of the potential learning that could happen through students’ bodies.

RITA: Many public schools, in an effort to balance budgets with limited state funding as well as meet testing standards, are reducing time in schools in art, music and physical education classes as well as recess. What are your thoughts?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: There is plenty of research on the cognitive benefits of the arts. Studio Thinking (Hetland and Winner, et al.) and Arts and the Creation of Mind (Elliott Eisner) are two well-written sources. Unfortunately, in our test-centric culture, we often expect the arts to play a supporting role to subjects that are featured on standardized tests, and many studies attempt to understand how the arts can improve test scores.

However, the arts are worthwhile, satisfying and require complex thinking independent of their ability—or inability—to make us better at standardized tests. But that is more difficult to quantify.

Unfortunately, we tend to have a very narrow definition of intelligence that is generally limited to math and literacy skills, when in reality there are a multitude of different forms of thinking, communicating and problem solving. Forgetting about intellectual diversity is a myopic mistake, in my opinion. It not only alienates a large number of students but also creates a population with a limited, inflexible skill set and reduced intellectual resources.

Neglecting our bodies is never a good thing, either, both from a learning and fitness perspective.

RITA: What can parents do to advocate for more progressive learning environments in their local schools?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Parents can be vocal advocates for progressive education. Simply letting the administration know when a teacher is trying something that is successful with your child can provide powerful evidence that something is working. The bigger challenge is conveying that information to the governing bodies in education, since they typically establish the standards and testing requirements that teachers find so limiting.

RITA: Thank you, Carolina, for your insights. A final question: For parents who homeschool, what are some tips to setting up a home-based learning environment?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Parents who homeschool face the challenge of not having a whole team of educators with diverse skills, experiences and strengths to interact with their child. Take advantage of programs offered by local museum and cultural venues to get them exposed to topics and teaching styles that you may be unfamiliar with, particularly if your child does not share your learning style—which tends to be the natural basis for our teaching style. Also be sensitive and adaptable to your child’s strengths and weaknesses. If your student can’t focus on math because he wants to be outside all day, maybe it’s time to take the math lesson outside and start counting leaves.

Set Kids Up for Success in School

By Bill Corbett, author of the Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids book series and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids, www.CooperativeKids.com

Whether you’re reading this before your children start school or after they have started, the following guide can help you implement habits that support your child during the school year.1132275_33114655 blackboard

1. Adjust Summertime Leniencies. As school approaches or starts, set up a family meeting to discuss the rules that will change at home: bedtimes, homework, TV time, removing entertainment electronics from bedrooms, having to turn in social media devices, and friend sleepover rules  Allow your child to voice her concerns over these changes, negotiate until agreements are reached, adopt the policies, and implement them on a specified date. It’s also a good idea to document the changes and post them where all can see them as a reminder of what everyone has agreed to.

2. School Supply Shopping. Sit down with your children and determine together what supplies they are going to need for the coming school year. Take your younger children shopping and let them be in charge as they retrieve all the items on the list. Give them a set amount of money to spend to accommodate all that’s on the list. You’re the guide and the coach, so remain calm if extra items make their way into the basket. Allow your children to pay for the items at the checkout and carry the bags to the car.

3. The Work Space at Home. Collaborate with your children as to where homework will be done.  You can take turns coming up with the ideas, and if the kids suggest unreasonable locations—such as in front of the TV—allow them to be placed on the list at first. Go back through to review the list and remove any locations that are not agreeable to both of you. Collaborating with your children is a way of helping them feel respected and learn problem-solving skills, but you’re still responsible for setting healthy boundaries. Set up the space that was decided on, and help your children organize the supplies that were purchased at the store.

4. The Homework Schedule. Each child is different when it comes to doing homework, so this next exercise will require patience. Help your children individually determine when they feel that they are best able to work on homework. Some children can do it as soon as they get home, and others need a break before starting it. Coach each child into establishing his own schedule, make it clear and defined, and then document it. Your job will be to help reinforce what is decided.

5. Control of Entertainment and Distractions. If you have never previously done what I’m about to suggest, announcing it to your children could be a challenge, so remain calm and be patient. I strongly encourage you to announce a rule that any and all entertainment electronics and handheld social media devices are to remain off or be turned in to the parents during the established homework times. This new rule should be in effect on school days (Monday through Thursday), even when there is no homework, and during weekend homework time. Removing the temptation to check electronic devices during homework time can help children focus attention on the tasks at hand. I have heard many stories from parents who did not implement this rule and had their children come home after school reporting they had no homework, only to suddenly and mysteriously remember a homework assignment later that night at bedtime.

6. The Bedtime Schedule. It is not your responsibility to get your children to fall asleep. That must happen naturally, and your children are more in charge of that than you are. Your job is to create an environment and an atmosphere that is conducive to your children getting sleepy and eventually falling asleep. You can define when bedtime will occur, ensure that it happens, and remove all distractions from their bedrooms, such as video games, televisions, cell phones and computers.

7. Nutrition. Many children (and adults!) find it hard to choose broccoli over candy bars. This is where you come in as a parent. You can ensure that your children have healthy foods to eat and control and minimize the least healthy foods when possible. This means making sure that your children have healthy dinners at night and nutritious foods available to them for breakfast and in packed lunches. I have seen many families where the family dinner experience is gone and everyone fends for themselves. Even if you are not always able to eat together, you can make sure that healthy foods are available for family members to choose from.

8. Being Available. I have heard from many parents who face challenges that make it hard to implement these suggestions: single parents who work long or evening hours, families in which both parents work in another city and don’t get home before 7 p.m., families with multiple after school activities that make it hard to be home and enforce a set schedule for dinner, etc. Do the best you can to be available to ensure that agreements are upheld and, more importantly, to provide help with homework and other assistance whenever necessary. They can’t do it on their own and need you to coach and guide them.


What Attachment Parenting is…and is Not

Maybe you never knew there was a name for it – the unique way you raise your child – but it’s in tune with your child’s needs and with your own needs, and your family lives it out daily. Or, perhaps, you do know there is a name for it, with many synonyms and variations, but you live it out without being defined.

It’s hit the news, blogs, social media, and forums where parenting approaches are more contentious than politics or religion.

Some may know what they know about it from a critique or a comment. But, every day, growing numbers of parents find the name and the communities that come with it – and breathe a sigh of relief to find welcome, encouragement, information, and freedom from judgment.

From professionals to media, it’s not just parents who are discussing Attachment Parenting.

The Latest Fad, or Something More? Time for some clarification and a reality check…

Unschooling: Learning through Play

By Jan Hunt, member of API’s Advisory Board and API’s Editorial Review Board. Reprinted with permission from www.naturalchild.org

Unschooling: Learning through PlayMy son Jason, now a young adult, has been unschooled from the beginning – we were fortunate to have discovered John Holt’s books when Jason was two, and never looked back.

Jason was a very inquisitive child, who loved learning new words and playing with numbers. He had an extensive vocabulary by 18 months, understood the concept of infinity at two years old, and taught himself squares and square roots at three. In spite of all this, I still wondered if I should use a curriculum, especially for math. It was hard not to worry when taking a path that was so different from the one I had taken in childhood. It was also hard not to be affected by my parents’ doubts, even though I understood the reasons for their skepticism.

When Jason was seven years old, he asked for a math book as his special holiday gift that year. We had recently read John Holt’s glowing review of Harold Jacobs’ book, Mathematics: A Human Endeavor, in Growing Without Schooling. The book proved to be as wonderful as John Holt had said, and we enjoyed it a lot. But a few months later, I noticed that Jason hadn’t looked at it for a while. I decided to suggest reading a chapter per week together. Fortunately, I was busy that day and didn’t get around to asking him. That evening, Jason came up to me, book in hand, saying, “Let’s play math.” My first thought was, “Whew, that was a close one.” Had I made my offer, he probably would have accepted it, and even learned from it, but where would the concept of math as play have gone? Continue reading Unschooling: Learning through Play

From Homeschool to School, and Back Again

By Nikki Schaefer, staff writer for The Attached Family

**Originally published in the Fall 2008 Growing Child issue of The Journal of API

Fall leaves“Mom, there’s just seven more days until the first day of fall!” my six-year-old son announced, giving me the usual morning “fall countdown.” “How are we going to celebrate? Can we jump in the leaves?” he asked.

“You bet!” I responded. “How about jumping in the leaves and making caramel apples?”

“Hurray!” he cheered, with his younger sisters jumping in on the excitement. Continue reading From Homeschool to School, and Back Again

Looking Back on My Time as an AP Mother Now that My Children are Grown

By Lisa Walshe

Raising babies and small children is hard work. Physically, there is a lack of sleep and just the constancy of keeping up with toddlers. Apart from times of illness, I enjoyed the experience and found it relatively stress-free. All I had to do was go with the flow.

The challenge began when I had to take my son, Guy, to school.

The Problem with School

Guy was bright, well-behaved, and a delight to be around, but this was a time of great sadness for him as he found out that other five-year-olds did not believe in the same things he did. As he grew older, this feeling of being disappointed in the kindness of others continued. He was extremely trusting and honest, so he thought others would be in return. I remember in the sixth grade, he told me that he had learned to pretend to be “normal,” to not care about others as much.

A Different Kind of Education

After living in an apartment in Hong Kong for five years, we moved onto a boat for six months. During that time, we found great happiness in not having to go to school and be with others. The marina we lived in was out of Hong Kong, and it was like being in another world. Guy would spend hours studying fish and sea creatures, learning things from the local boat crews. Both Guy and his brother Dean would entertain themselves with creating things from paper, blue tack, and other random items they had available to them. They were never bored! When my husband was home, he taught our sons boat-related skills, such as how to tie knots and fix things.

Loving Each Uniquely as They Grew

Guy and Dean showed great interest in the arts growing up, both having been into music, drama, and the fine arts. From an early age, it was evident that they would pursue careers in a creative space. Today, they both work in the design and production of computer games. Although they share many passions, they have always done their own thing. It was obvious they were very different from the beginning, and my husband and I have always tried to respect those differences.

I do not think there is anything that can prepare a parent for the teenage years. It is always going to be hard. I never tried to be their friend, and Guy once told me, as a young adult, that he was grateful for that I had cared enough to say “no!”  That is not to say that he liked it at the time, or that we did not have many arguments. Guy always needed to see the justice in any situation, and he felt everything more intensely than most.

Guy was much more concerned with fitting in, and Dean seemed not to care. I think Dean had learned so much from watching Guy cope with adolescence that there were many experiences he just did not have to go through. Dean decided, at 12 years old, that school was too much of a social circus, and he chose to homeschool. He spent his time attending an adult art school, while pursuing his drama and personal sporting interests. He fitted his studies in around the things that mattered to him, and life was much easier for him.

Looking Through an Adult Child’s Eyes

When I asked my now-grown sons about the benefits of being raised AP, 21-year-old Dean said that the key to parenting is holding the baby a lot. And Guy, 26 years old, said that AP’s about developing a strong emotional bond so that the parents know their children well enough to know who they are as individuals, and then using that to guide them in developing into their own individual personalities, likes, and dislikes.

All I do know for sure is that I do not regret a moment of the time I spent mothering, and my advice to all is to enjoy each day and to just do what feels right. Looking now at Guy and Dean, I am pleased that they seem so emotionally secure. They are successful, sensitive, independent, and extremely honest young men. I’d like to think that their start to life, in the way I parented them as babies and young children, played a part in helping them become who they are today.

As he grew older, this feeling of being disappointed in the kindness of others continued. He was extremely trusting and honest, so he thought others would be in return.

A Day in the Life of a Homeschooling Mother

By Avril Dannebaum, co-leader of API-NYC

One morning last summer, as my husband was getting ready to leave for work, I casually mentioned to our 10-year-old son Gerard that today was writing day and that the assignment was 250 to 300 words on his fishing experience during our vacation. “Oh, no! I can’t do it!” he yelled, as he lay down on the couch and proceeded to dissolve into a wet puddle of anxiety.

My husband came back to the living room. I worried that he’d be late, but he took the time to sit down and explain to Gerard that he could definitely write and all it took was an outline. I let him do his stuff. I had been homeschooling our son for almost three years, and both my husband and I knew that Gerard knows how to write an outline. But hearing it from Dad couldn’t hurt.

Eventually Gerard said he just wanted to be left alone. Hubby left for work after I reassured him that our son would be fine, and didn’t he remember what a wonderful 250-word report he had written a couple of weeks ago on our trip to the American Folk Art Museum?

I headed out to our community garden, watered some new transplants, then came in and made my son breakfast. He was still moaning about not being able to write. I told him he had his reading to do first, another chapter of Treasure Island by Stevenson, then math, and then we’d work on the outline together.

Keep balance. It’s hard to stay centered when my son is storming about telling me what he can’t do. Yet I have an idea of what he’s going through. He’s a star in his own personal drama, and I should know because I go through it every time I need to do something important. My process is to ventilate, have a fit of nerves and negativity which I then just have to work through (usually by washing the floor or getting rid of those pesky cobwebs near the ceiling which keep cropping up). And I wouldn’t like it if my husband were to patronize me about my occasional bouts of insecurity. Give the boy his space.

So we get done with algebra, and it’s time to do the dreaded writing assignment. I get out a fresh pad of paper. We talk about the fact that a short essay is usually about five paragraphs. The first one and last one is a given: Introduction and Conclusion. It’s the in between where you have to get a bit creative. We also discussed that 300 words divided by 5 is just 60 words per paragraph. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! We also discussed that, like any other essay, we use the five Ws and H: who, what, where, when, why and how.

As we talk about it, I see him relaxing. I throw out a title, “Fishing Vacation,” and he thinks it’s OK. I start asking leading questions like, “What do you need to go fishing?” “Equipment,” he says. And there is our second paragraph. He lists the things needed, and I scribble them down for him.

Third paragraph is a how-to – something we’ve practiced a lot. He smoothly lists the steps needed to do fishing. I suggest that this is going to be a longer paragraph than 60 words, more like 100 to 125. He agrees. I can tell he’s warming up to the subject.

Paragraph Four: I suggest the “why” of fishing. He replies that it’s fun. “Fun?” I say in mock horror. “It’s not fun for that poor worm. And what about the fish that you’re going to hook?” He gives me a look of real horror, as he sees that there are two sides to this issue.

We don’t say anything about the final paragraph. It’s a conclusion, and he knows how to do those.

I hand him his notes, and he heads to his room to his computer. He asks me to sit with him while he composes. Then he asks, “Can it be fictional?” Sure why not? Suddenly, my son is having a very good time. He’s no longer going to Esopus Creek with his parents. Instead, he’s going by himself to a place called Beaver Creek.

The first paragraph whizzes by, and he asks me to do the word count. Fifty-five words. The second one seems to go a bit faster, and is over 60 words. The third paragraph is 113 words, and he’s laughing to himself. “Here’s the funny part, Mom,” and he reads it out loud to me. It’s humor for 10-year-olds, but that’s what he is, so he loves it.

At this point Gerard realizes that he’s only about 35 words away from the minimum word count. He writes it in one sentence. “I’m done,” he announces. No, you still need a conclusion. “OK,” he shrugs and goes back and writes a bit more, but you can tell, it’s over for him, just an afterthought.

At 285 words, he’s written yet another essay. His formal schooling is over for the day, but there will still be art, music, or exercise in the afternoon. We do three hours of the formal stuff, and then afternoons are free for the soft subjects, and I almost always follow his lead in what he wants.

I ask him why he was so upset this morning. “Well, I forgot what it was like,” he replies. That’s summer for you. Take just a little break, and the anxiety builds.

I’m proud of my son. And I want him to continue to feel the exhilaration of writing and the joy of sharing one’s thoughts on paper. Days like today, when I see him shine…well, I’m just grateful for Attachment Parenting teaching me to do what is right for my family and to follow my heart – something which has included the one-on-one work of homeschooling.

I’m just grateful for Attachment Parenting teaching me to do what is right for my family and to follow my heart.