My amazing friend, Sybille, home-schooling mother and educator from my home in Northern Italy, made an interview with me in German and Italian on her blog: http://buntglas.wordpress.com Here it is in English:
This is an interview with my dear friend Carmen, an expert on self-directed learning. Carmen Gamper has lived in San Francisco for four years where she founded New Learning Culture Consulting to assist parents and teachers in educating children with ease and joy.
Carmen, before you founded New Learning Culture Consulting you worked at a variety of schools where you gained practical experience. Yes, I worked as teacher and director at the alternative Montessori School “Kinderhaus Miteinander” in Austria. I also re-structured the classroom environment, and re-wrote the mission statement, which resulted in that alternative school being awarded the status of an accredited school. Then, I co-created with a group of parents an alternative Montessori school, “Aktive Montessori-Schule Meran mit nicht-direktiver Begleitung – Die Pfütze” in Italy. I worked at that school as a teacher and pedagogical director. As a learning consultant, I also supported the alternative Montessori-School “Umaduma” and assisted parents from a variety of schools , before moving to San Francisco. Here in the Bay Area, I volunteered consulting and workshops from the beginning. Because this service was very well received, I founded New Learning Culture Consulting.
What’s your educational background? I graduated from the University of Innsbruck and Bolzano in English and German literature and linguistics with a pedagogical training. Then, I did a Montessori-teacher training with Claus-Dieter Kaul of the “Institut für Ganzheitliches Lernen” in Munich. I studied with Rebeca and Mauricio Wild, the world’s foremost promoters of self-directed learning, and with Ulla Kiesling, a German, cutting-edge child psychologist. I constantly keep myself updated through school visits, conversations with teachers, parents and children, cutting-edge literature, magazines and newspapers, and original writings from reform educators all over the world. As you can tell…I am myself a passionate self-directed learner.
You foster self-directed learning in home-schooling and classroom environments at various kinds of schools, by offering tools and skills from a variety of learning methods such as Montessori, Steiner and Reggio Emilia. When being with children, which principles should be considered in all learning approaches?
I think all educational approaches should be based on respect for the child:
– Children shouldn’t be forced to learn specific skills prematurely or study specific content against their will, over a long period of time.
– Children can learn with joy and ease when new skills and content are connected to their personal life, when they feel respected and loved, and when their authentic needs are being met.
– Children, especially younger children, are connected to their inner guidance and should be allowed to co-create their curriculum, and learn in self-directed ways. Children who become used to following an external agenda for many years often loose the connection to their inner guidance, but can reclaim this connection when given time and space.
– Grown-ups can learn to control their fears in order to fulfill children’s authentic needs.
– Grown-ups can see themselves as constantly learning, which will help them connect joyfully with kids.
– Grown-ups need to take responsibility for children. Adults need to dare say ‘No” when a “No” is required.
– In order to develop social skills, children need strong boundaries that grow with the ability to take responsibility.
– The most courageous parents try to discover what their child really, really needs, and then try to fulfill those needs.
Which questions do you hear most often from parents and teachers? Parents often ask: How and when should I say “No”? What could I do when my child does not respect my “No”? What can I do when my child doesn’t want to learn a specific topic? What can I do when my child is lazy? Which hands-on learning materials are appropriate for my child? What can I do when I know my child is lying or stealing?
Teachers often ask: How can I include elements from Waldorf and Reggio Emilia in my Montessori-based curriculum? How can we collaborate better as a teacher team? What can we do with parents who are too fearful? How can I introduce the hands-on learning materials to children? How can I set boundaries respectfully?
How can adults recognize when a child isn’t happy, or isn’t feeling well? Children often are not able to verbally express that they are not feeling well. Often only an adult with an open heart can tell when a child is suffering inside. Often children silently cry for help by developing physical symptoms such as head and belly aches, bed-wetting, and eczema. On an emotional level, symptoms include aggression, excessive fear, and sadness.
Healthy children, on the contrary, are naturally curious and usually active in an inspiring environment in order to follow their natural instinct for learning.
For many children, the very structure of public school is harmful:
The long hours of sitting still against natural impulses to move; time pressure and stress while trying to study; the unnatural 45 minute rhythm of change between subjects (a natural learning cycle often takes 3 hours); the fear of testing, grading and especially negative grades, which brand students with a stigma of ‘bad’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘not smart;’ teachers with burn-out syndrome who are unable to perceive the needs of the children anymore; the early rising (often in darkness) which results in sleep deficit; the rule which says not to communicate with other students during lessons; the problematic relationships between children who are under pressure; little or no support for learning social skills, e.g. conflict resolution; little or no respect for natural stages of development and learning rhythms; the complicated abstract ways of explaining, e.g. math, which could be so easy with hands-on learning materials; and the list could go on…
Maria Montessori and Rudolph Steiner both wrote several times in different words, that the success of an educational method is to be measured by the happiness of the child.
For me it is clear that one method of schooling cannot be appropriate for all children. Different children have different needs. For some children adjusting is easy; for some it is impossible.
What can parents do to make life easier for their children? There are many things parents can do. Solutions depend solely on the parents’ willingness and ability to fulfill their children’s genuine needs. Every family can find individual solutions which can be open to change over the years:
1. Traditional school: Compassionate parents can accompany their children with patience and love through the school years, in awareness that the structure of the traditional school system itself produces tension. Parents can provide a relaxed and inspiring environment at home, help their children with the loads of homework, and constantly reassure them that success, failure and other events at school are not changing their respect and love for them. Parents can support understanding of school lessons and homework, for example with Montessori materials for all basic math, posters and excursions.
2. Part-Time Home-Schooling / Charter Schools: If parents find a school is willing to share educational responsibility, they can send their child a few days a week to a learning center, and home-school on the other days. Also, Sybille recently shared this story with me: Every two weeks, this mother spends a full day with her daughter. She does not go to school, and the mother does not go to work. On that day, they only do things they both love to do!
3. Home-schooling and collaborating with other home-schooling parents: exchanging materials, joining or founding associations, organizing meetings and lessons together.
4. Founding or joining an alternative school, e.g. a Montessori-school, or a school based on “Inspired Self-Directed Learning.”
When a child has difficulties in learning a specific subject, and parents would like to support his/her learning progress, what should parents be aware of? In order to understand the situation thoroughly, parents should ask themselves: Why does the child have difficulties learning this subject? Is the subject connected with the child’s personal life? Is the child able to understand the subject, or is he/she learning those sentences by heart? Does this subject overwhelm the child’s ability to think in abstract terms? Is this way of teaching appropriate for the child’s stage of development and learning style? Can you wait and teach the same subject at a later point again? Can you find hands-on learning materials and games, or organize excursions to help explain the subject?
How do grades influence children? How can we help children cope with the grading system? The awkward competition caused by the grading system is problematic on many levels It creates much unnecessary suffering. On a philosophical level it fortifies the differences between social classes; “the good and worthy ones,” and “the bad and inferior ones.”
On the emotional level, it creates much suffering for the “bad ones,” and reduces self-esteem. The repercussions can be felt into adulthood. It also complicates or hinders authentic relationships (friendship, companionship) and collaboration between children, and between students and teachers.
Learning assessments do make sense, when children can compare their own progress to their own previous results over time. Then child, parent, and teacher really discover how much a child has learned over time.
When given a say, children and teenagers love to compete with a chosen “competitor,” a student who has similar capabilities. That way a competition becomes fun for the ones involved!
Teachers can assess learning progress by documenting what they see in the classroom, and then talk about that with students and parents.
Many parents aren’t happy with the traditional school system, but do not have alternatives (home-schooling or alternative school). Often I hear “My child used to love painting, but since she goes to school, she hates it!” Or, “My child’s homework is a burden for the whole family!” What can parents do to prevent their children from losing the joy of learning, or how can they re-awaken it? When parents insert their children into the traditional school system, they almost have to count on their children losing the joy of learning. This system is not created to keep the joy of learning alive, but to control learning progress and teaching content. Often, parents can only limit the damage (but not prevent it) by accompanying their child with empathy, and offering more joyful learning opportunities in the afternoons. However, often children are so exhausted from school, they just need time off to rest and play freely.
Many parents are confronted with problems they don’t know from their childhood. For example, should parents set limits on using TV and computer games? What are the criteria for setting those limits? I believe that children need firm limits when using media, because media holds a great danger for addiction. Basically, I find “less is better.” However, I wouldn’t deny children all access to modern media. I think that a few well-chosen programs can be an inspiration for children. A major criteria for videos should be slow-moving images, and content without violence. Rapid series of images evoke stress-reactions in the child’s body. There is so much to say about media…but I feel I’m already over my limit of blog space… 🙂
Please share a beautiful experience from your consulting work. My most beautiful experiences occur when I am able to help someone increase their quality of life with children. I’m always very happy when I observe the positive effects of the Montessori hands-on materials for kids and adults. Often I hear, “Is that really that easy? I thought it was much harder, that’s why I didn’t get it!”
Your opinion: What makes children happy, and what makes parents happy? Adults are happy when they have developed the ability to recognize integrity, beauty and truth in themselves and in children. Children are happy when adults fulfill their genuine needs.
If you would like to know more, you can ask questions on this blog, or order Carmen’s handbook “The Sacred Child Companion.” Carmen is coming to Italy in July/August. She will offer a series of public events, and also be available for private consulting. Please check here later again for exact dates. www.NewLearningCulture.com
OFFER: Carmen and Sybille are super happy about the great amount of visits to this blog. As a sign of our gratitude to all the readers and participants, we are offering a free copy of “The Sacred Child Companion” in a raffle for all the readers who leave a comment on this blog 🙂 Take the opportunity to get your own free copy of this precious manual!!
THANK YOU SYBILLE!!! Go team go – Blessings to ALL THE ADVOCATES FOR CHILDREN around the world!!!
Educational Consulting for Parents and Teachers