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  • Writer's pictureMallory G Foster

Month in Moments - September '20 Edition

It's a strange "back to school" season for educators, administrators, childcare providers, parents, and kiddos. Some of us are fortunate (even if there are days when this doesn't feel like a blessing :) ) to be able to have the opportunity to try to balance work, learning, and play from home. Some (most) of us may feel more rushed, frantic, and stressed as we face new norms. To help you launch into learning, September's Month in Moment's calendar is all about...LEARNING :). Each week, the kiddos in your life will get to learn like people in different fields (artists, mathematicians, athletes, etc). If you follow me on Instagram (@watchwonderbloom), you know I've recently shared some insight on the basics of learning. I'll revisit a little bit of that in this blog post, and be sure to download September's FREE Month in Moments calendar!

How do we learn?

When we look at learning, it is important to acknowledge that the study of learning and our educational systems don't always intersect perfectly. There are A LOT of different systemic pressures and stakeholders impacting our educational system. There are a lot of injustices and inequities in our educational systems. We used to think of learners as blank slates. We've also thought of them as computers - If I put this info in, then I will get this answer out. Learning, and learners, are complex. They are part of learning communities, family systems, cultures, etc that impact how they learn. In a very simplified way, we can view learning as actionable memory making. To make a memory, we: take information in using all of our senses; use info or skills and practice them; if we practice enough, the information becomes stored in our long term memory; and if we practice enough, we can access and apply the information when we need it in new ways. The information we take in is most engaging and memorable when it is hands-on, relevant, or related to a question we actually care about - the more meaningful the content, the more sense we can make with it. Practice is most impactful when it is co-regulated - when we have chances to learn in community, to discuss and fine-tune our (mis)understandings, and to affirm our identity as a learner of the content we are exploring. What might this look like? We might want to learn about land forms. We could read a chapter about land forms, use flash cards and quizzes to remember them, and move on. Or, we could be given a map and asked where we would build a house. We could then build our own model map, labeling land forms as we go. We could end with a group discussion about where we'd build our houses and why. The first option might be more efficient, but it is unlikely to be as effective. What I have found is that a sole focus on efficient "learning" doesn't sustain a passion for learning or bolster a sense of wonder.

This month, I also got a few requests to focus on social-emotional learning and resilience. We all have learning superpowers - things we rock at as learners - and w all have things we struggle with. What I found as a high school teacher was that curiosity and a willingness to wonder and be wrong and work through it was a FAR better predictor of educational outcomes than any test data I was privy to. Whether you call these soft skills, 21st Century Skills, Habits of Mind, or something else (see these compared here), one thing these skills have in common is that they empower us both as learners and as humans. In this month's calendar, I noted daily learner habits you can celebrate with the kiddos in your life when you try a task! These are designed to cultivate kiddos' identities as lifelong learners; learners who can be creative and full of wonder, who can ask questions and work together, and much more.

What does this mean for how we learn, teach, and talk about learning with the kiddos in our lives?

  • Make learning meaningful whenever you can. If your kiddos are learning about shapes, look for those shapes in the illustrations of books or around your house. Try building things with different forms and decide which 3D shapes are the easiest for building.

  • Use language that honors the effort and the process over the product or a label. For example, instead of saying, "You're so good at math!" try, "WOW! You stuck with that problem and figured it out!". And please, even if you are about smash your head into a wall over a math problem, do not say, "I'm just not a math person" (and don't say this for any subject!). This offers kiddos a lovely out to take whenever learning gets tough, invites them to believe that some people are just made to fail at certain things, and misses opportunities to learn through the struggle. If you are a problem-solver, you can rock at math. If you are patient, you can rock at math. If you love tinkering with puzzles, you can rock at math. If you are willing to ask for help when you are stuck, you can rock at math. As my brother says, "Excuses have zero uses"... so do your kiddos' teachers (and your kiddos) a favor and don't give kiddos a prepackaged way to get out of putting forth effort in a learning environment (and also... don't put yourself down) :).

  • Take breaks to synthesize! Talk about what kiddos are learning. Learning and working from home? Take walk or stretch or workout breaks. Play a math game, doodle a story based on what you read, take a walk and see if you can see what was discussed in science class.

Looking for break ideas? Conversation starter? Playful projects that encourage kiddos to celebrate their awesome learner habits? Then...

Download the FREE Month in Moments Calendar here!

What can I expect from this month's calendar?

Well, for starters, it actually has the right number of days this month... (August's calendar had the wrong number of days and I'm blaming that one on pandemic brain...). You'll still see weekly themes and daily themes. If you are teaching or facilitating learning at home, this is SUPER helpful to do! If I don't do this, each day is a free-for-all and I have to think of 28-31 random, stand-alone ideas. Weekly themes (like, "Learn like an artist") help me pick, and stick with, interesting content. Daily themes (like "Move it Monday") make it so I only have to come up with seven kinds of activities. When these intersect ("learn like an artist" and "move because it's Monday"), ideas come rushing faster!

The daily themes tie in movement, family walks, tea time, reminders to share you work, and more! The weekly themes help learners identify what makes them a great learner and helps them cultivate more learner skills - like problem-solving, creativity, persistence, and more. You'll see phrases you can share with kiddos ("Learners gather information") and engaging activities. Kiddos will get to learn like artists, historians, mathematicians, and athletes as they decide who they are as learners. I chose to focus on these areas because they are ones that are often the first to be overlooked or cut from our curricula and/or are very polarizing - some of us have VERY strong feelings about whether or not we can do math, play sports, or create art. This month invites you and the kiddos in your life to get at the heart of these different content areas and to get at the core of learning - curiosity, wonder, effort, and communication. Here's to a new (school) year of life-long learning!

Looking for more? Check out The Bloom Classroom and one-on-one family life coaching with me! Remember to share pictures or tag @watchwonderbloom when you share pics of your family at play and learning!

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