Monday, February 22, 2010

Raising our Kids to be Autonomous Agents

I've been doing a lot of blogging over at The Blog of Wellspring Community School lately as my interest has broadened from humane parenting to include humane education in the early childhood classroom. Today's post talks about the idea of giving our children a sense of agency:

This past weekend, the NJEEPRE Roundtable was held at the Kean University Child Care & Development Center in Union, New Jersey. It was such an inviting, relaxing and beautiful space, a really fantastic place to have a roundtable. We read and discussed the chapter on The Emergent Curriculum from the book We Are All Explorers: Learning and Teaching with Reggio Principles in Urban Settings.

It was a rich and interesting chapter, definitely worth reading. One of the main ideas was that the goal of Reggio-inspired educators is to give children a sense of agency - and, ideally, parents and educators should posses a sense of agency as well. Sense of agency was defined as:

Experiencing oneself as an active, self-directed agent who can, individually and in collaboration with others, formulate personally meaningful learning goals, figure out strategies to achieve them, engage the world to pursue them, construct understandings, and communicate the newly developed understandings to others. A sense of agency combines a sense of efficacy and personhood. It means: I stand in relation to others with my own motives and ideas and I have the competence to pursue them.

I think it should go without saying that if it is important for educators to endow their students with a sense of agency, then it is doubly, maybe even triply important for parents to do this for their children. There's even a word for it: Autonomy Supportive Parenting. As described by researchers Deci and Ryan and their colleagues, this parenting style "value[s] and use[s] techniques which encourage independent problem solving, choice, and participation in decisions versus externally dictating outcomes, and motivating achievement through punitive disciplinary techniques, pressure, or controlling rewards." (Grolnick & Ryan, 1989, p. 144) This type of parenting is associated with more pro-social behavior, better school outcomes, and greater self-regulation.

If we are trying to raise our children to be happy, competent, confident adults, then giving them a sense of agency, of autonomy, should be among our highest priorities as parents. If we do that part of our jobs well, then their ability to have respect for themselves, for other people, and for the rest of the Earth and her inhabitants will follow naturally from that.

Reference: Grolnick, W. S. & Ryan, R. M. (1989). Parent styles associated with children’s self-regulation and competence in school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 143-154.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Olympics

Like many other families the world over, we've been trying to watch a bit of Olympic competition each day. Bess especially likes the figure skating, of course, but she also likes the luge a lot - even she realizes the insanity of putting on a helmet and some spandex and riding a sled down a mountain at 90 mph. She likes speed skating too, though she insists that the speed skaters are simply figure skaters who are trying to catch up with their partners. As for me, I like snowboarding the best, and I am also having fun reminiscing about last year's trip to Vancouver.

As much as we are enjoying it, I can't help but wonder - how is it that we can pull off the Olympics every couple of years, but we can't feed hungry people, or make sure everyone has clean water to drink and adequate sanitation and medical care? I mean, honestly. Between deciding on a host city and all that goes along with that, to building the venues and ensuring adequate infrastructure in the city, to selecting athletes and getting them there, to televising the events, not to mention the money...if we put half as much effort into solving the world's problems as we do putting sports entertainment on television, if the creative minds and leaders and investors who are able to put these huge events together turned their energies toward human trafficking or global warming, I have to believe these problems would be well on their way to solutions.

This is not to take anything away from the athletes' accomplishments. I've always been very impressed with and fascinated by people who are able to push themselves to the limit, and I know they invest a lot of themselves in their sports. Go team!

But leave it to me to take the fun out of sport, I guess...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rescue Me

Yesterday marked two months since our dog Sarah went to heaven. Bess still asks on a nearly-daily basis when Sarah is coming home, so I suspect that she isn't ready for another dog yet. If you ask her, she'll tell you she wants a puppy, but what kid doesn't? I don't think that really has anything to do with an actual desire for another dog. As for me, part of me wants another dog to fill some of the empty space, and part of me knows that no other dog will ever fill the space left by Sarah and it would be unfair to me, and to the dog, to even try right now.

Our dog Chryssi is another story. She has been horribly depressed since Sarah left. She doesn't know what to do with herself. In or out? Sleep in bed, in the crate, on the couch, on the chair, on the floor? Where do I eat? She still hangs out in Sarah's crate at least 50% of the time. Partly I think she specifically misses Sarah: Sarah was pure alpha dog and Chryssi is happiest at the bottom of the pecking order, so they were a match made in heaven. But partly I think she is one of those dogs who really likes having canine companionship. She doesn't really spend a lot of time alone, and we have the cats to keep her company when the humans are out, but I think she is really longing for another dog.

So I have begun pondering the possibility of adding another dog to our family. Sarah, as wonderful as she was, was a lot of work. I mean, a lot. She had to be crated when we left (even to go to the mailbox) because if she wasn't she'd eat herself nearly to death. In fact, all things edible had to be locked up like Fort Knox, and let me assure you that if there was ever a breach in security we were made to pay very dearly for it. She was hyper, even until just a few months before her death, and she barked all the time. She was high-maintenance. I love her, but I do not have room in our family for such a labor-intensive dog right now. I want a mellow, easy-going dog, the kind of dog who only eats food you put in her bowl. One who is good with kids, cats and other dogs, and who doesn't require a lot of coat maintenance. And speaking of coats, I don't think I could handle a dog that requires outerwear. It's enough work getting the kids dressed to go out in the winter, I don't want to have to dress anyone else, especially a dog who may potentially go out twenty or so times a day. I want a dog who is sturdy and can go on hikes, but doesn't require an outrageous amount of exercise. A puppy is utterly out of the question on both practical and philosophical grounds. I don't want to deal with the nipping, chewing and house training, and I would rather give a home to an adult dog who needs one rather than adopting a cute lovable puppy who will be snatched up in an instant. And as for buying a puppy - let me just say, over my dead body.

I've often thought that I'd love a greyhound, but I think they require outerwear, and I'm not sure they would pass in the sturdy department. I like German Shepherds but they have a lot of coat - and probably too much in the brains department too. I don't really like little dogs, though the idea of a beagle has crossed my mind. But the truth is that we're probably lab people for life. The key is getting one of those big lazy ones instead of the wiry ones who bounce off the walls. I know that when the time is right a dog will find us who is right for our family. In the meantime, maybe I won't take Sarah's crate down just yet.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Little Perspective

My car has required extensive (not to mention expensive!) repairs twice in the last week. First, the battery and alternator went, and then four days after getting it back from the mechanic the brakes went.

Since John and his car are out of town, I needed to rent a car. So what this looked like went something like this: I dropped my car off at the mechanic at the crack of dawn in the snow, and had the rental car guy meet me there. I had to switch all my stuff, and two car seats, into the minivan they gave me - did I mention the snow? Then we had to all go to the rental car place to fill out the paperwork, and then we were off to an Attachment Parenting Support Group meeting. Of course, by the time we went back home, the driveway was a sheet of ice and I couldn't get the minivan up so I had to walk up carrying Harry (who hates the snow) and hoping Bess didn't face plant and require stitches. Then this morning, back down the frozen driveway into the minivan for school. Unfortunately, due to all the snow and freezing temperatures, the sliding doors were frozen shut, so we all had to climb into the backseat through the front to get into car seats. You'd think I would have enough foresight to go in through the passenger side, but I didn't - so I had to sit in snow for the entire ride. And the best part was that even though I didn't manage to open the doors enough to get in, I did manage to open them enough to make the car beep at me the entire ride to school to notify me that the door was ajar. Then back home, walk back up the driveway, then back down the driveway, back to the rental car place, back to the mechanic, car seats and stuff back into my car, and now all is well. This is all within a thirty-six hour window.

I am sure I don't need to tell you how irritating, not to mention exhausting, I found this whole extravaganza. I was especially irritated this morning when we were fifteen minutes late for (the first day of) school (in the past week because of snow and the holiday). On the way home, I started to think about how my thinking was making me think this whole thing was so annoying. The truth is, some people actually live in houses made of ice and hunt with spears to feed their families. Some people have to walk miles to get water, and then have to carry it home on their heads. Some kids never go to school, never learn to read and write. Some people can't afford a safe car, or any car at all. And I'm tired and aggravated because I had to move some car seats and walk up my driveway?

Isn't it funny how we can get so wrapped up in our own little thing that we totally lose sight of the big picture?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Keeping Informed

I really believe that Accurate Information is the foundation of humane parenting - and humane living, for that matter. I sometimes think how blessed we are to have so much great information at our fingertips. Other times I feel like I am drowning in information, and I am spending so much time researching that I don't spend enough time living the life I am trying to learn how to live.

Two tools that have helped me to organize my information-seeking behavior are: - I have this habit of reading about a book and thinking that it sounds fascinating, so I order it from inter library loan. Then I get it and either end up having more books than I could possibly read at one time, or deciding that it wasn't all that interesting after all, but I feel obligated to read it because the library went to the trouble of getting it for me. What I do now when I hear about a book that sounds interesting is add it to my Good Reads list under To-Read, and then when I return a book I check the list to see what I want to get next. I also keep track of what I've read and include a brief review so that I remember what the book was about.

Google Reader - I do not think I am overstating things when I say that Google Reader has changed my life! I believe that blogs are one of the most important tools we have right now for sharing ideas and information in real time, but I was also finding that keeping up with them all was a drag. I was using RSS and it would take me FOREVER, hours literally, to read them all every couple of days. I'd get frustrated and stop after awhile, and then many of the things that would have interested me didn't get read until the information was already out of date. Now, with Google Reader, I can very quickly scroll through my blogs and news sources, read what interests me, and leave the rest - and I can even do this on my phone while I'm picking Bess up from school or waiting for an appointment!

What are your information gathering strategies?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Online Learning Opportunity for Humane Parents

Raising a Humane Child is a month-long distance learning course for parents who wish to bring the principles and practices of humane education to their child-rearing and family life. Humane education focuses on providing people with the tools, knowledge and inspiration to create a just, compassionate, sustainable world for all.

Developed for parents with children of any age, Raising a Humane Child will expand parents’ strategies to help them bring humane education concepts and values to their children and manifest their vision for a better world, starting with their family. Participants will learn to help their children become more compassionate citizens and to make choices that demonstrate respect for the environment, other species and all people.

Course Dates: March 1-26, 2010

Course Advisor: Mary Pat Champeau is director of M.Ed and Certificate programs at IHE and has been a teacher for thirty years, beginning as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, 1979-1981. Her experience includes teaching in community-based refugee and immigrant programs in NYC, as well as teaching creative writing at NYU, working as a teacher trainer in Southeast Asian refugee camps, and coordinating language and culture programs for the World Trade Institute. She has an M.A. from NYU. Mary Pat is also the mother of two teenage children and an adopted pre-school age daughter from China.

About Our Distance Learning Courses: The Institute for Humane Education’s month-long distance learning courses immerse participants in a process of connecting with their
deepest values and helping them discover the inspiration, knowledge, tools and community they need to help create a more humane world. Each course includes:
• a course book
• a booklet of exercises
• links to relevant resources
• access to the Online Commons for engaging with fellow students and the course advisor(s)
• guidance and feedback from the course advisor(s)
• participation in one or more course salons (conference calls)
• a certificate of completion and/or Continuing Education Credits, if desired

Between the course assignments and the Online Commons, participants should be prepared to devote an average of 90 minutes a day to their course.

About the Institute for Humane Education: The Institute for Humane Education (IHE) is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) educational organization dedicated to fostering peace, sustainability and compassion through humane education. Headquartered in Surry, Maine, IHE has been training humane educators and promoting humane education since 1996. Co-founded by IHE President Zoe Weil, IHE:
• Created the first humane education certificate program in the United States.
• Created the first Master of Education in Humane Education in the U.S.
• Has trained thousands of humane educators reaching tens of thousands of students.
• Has reached hundreds of thousands of people and communities worldwide through our distance
learning programs and courses, our workshops, and our presentations, publications and resources.

IHE believes that human rights, environmental preservation and animal protection are interconnected and integral dimensions of a healthy, just society, so we must seek solutions to global problems that truly work for all people, animals and the earth. IHE’s humane education and humane educator training programs instill in others the belief that a humane, just and sustainable world is possible. Our programs and resources fuel the desire and capacity to live with compassion, integrity and wisdom. Participants in IHE’s programs put the knowledge and tools they gain with us into action in meaningful, far-reaching ways.

Find out more about IHE and our programs and resources:
Institute for Humane Education • P.O. Box 260, Surry, ME 04684
(207) 667-1025 Phone • (877) 544-1025 Fax •

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I just came across this blog post from The Happiest Mom called Mother's Hierarchy of Needs. It reminded me of a friend who told me the story of her first day back at work after her oldest child was born. She was in her office sobbing, and a co-worker asked if she was sorry to be leaving her new baby. No, my friend replied, she was crying because she wasn't the kind of mom who wanted to stay home full-time with her kids.

Financially, my friend does not need to work. But her need to work is real, if not as compelling as the need of a woman who struggles to put food on her table to find paid employment. She is comfortably able to meet her family's physical and security needs and is therefore able to tend to her own higher needs.

Personally, I also struggle with the fact that I don't want to be at home with my kids all the time. I feel guilty that I envy (and I don't think envy is too strong a word) my husband every time he puts on clothes that are free of wrinkles and stains and walks out the door to spend time alone in the car, followed by stimulating adult conversation and more time alone in the car to listen to something that isn't Music Together on the radio.

I have my finger in a lot of projects, and I am often asked how I manage to do it all. This is a humbling and baffling question for me because I feel that I don't do much of it particularly well, and I feel that I may be not be offering my kids enough mommy time, especially when I have a lot of things all coming to a head all at the same time. I joke that it is ADHD and caffeine that keeps me going, but the truth is that I need to do what I do for my own sanity. If I don't get a chance to have time for contemplation and reading, to explore thoughts and have interesting conversations, I am miserable. And a miserable Mommy is...well, not a very good Mommy.

Am I depriving my children of something important? Maybe. I'll never know, but I also think I am giving them a gift. I am providing an example of curiosity, and motivation, and open-mindedness and commitment that maybe they will follow someday.