Going Grocery Shopping With Kids? Read This First!

It’s a common scene in the checkout aisle: a tired-looking parent is hurriedly putting the grocery items on the conveyor belt. A baby sits in the front of the cart clutching a teething toy. A three year old stamps her feet impatiently and then inspects the candy bars at eye level.

It begins with a tiny whine but quickly turns into an attention-getting wail. Two options are quickly obvious to the parent: buy the candy bar or endure an embarrassing meltdown in public. Fortunately, there is a way to avoid grocery store tantrums and it comes down to four steps.

1. Role-play It at home

2. Give Reminders first

3. Be Responsive to Their Wishes

4. Set Realistic Expectations

1. Role play it at home

A little preparation goes a long way. Here’s how.

  1. On a table or on a rug, have your child help you set up some objects to “buy.” Get a piece of paper and only write down a few of the objects on the list.
  2. Get a basket to gather the items you need to “buy.” Then, pretend you are going shopping. Show your child the list and read the first item on the list. Select that item.
  3. Intentionally reach for an item that you know is not on the list and stop yourself before putting it in your basket, reminding yourself that you aren’t going to buy it at this time.
  4. When you are finished with your pretend shopping, return the items to the rug and help your child make a list for his/her own basket.


“I’m going to go grocery shopping, but first I need a list….Okay, I’ve got my list! Now I’ll shop. First I need… Oh look at this! Wait - it’s not on the list. Maybe I’ll put this on my list for next week, but I’m not buying it today. Let me look at the list again. I need….”

2. Give a reminder just before you go in

Before you actually enter any store, remind your child what the expectations are for shopping. Do this by taking the time to bend down to your child’s level, make eye contact, and speak clearly and calmly. Tell your child exactly what you will do in the store together.  


“We’re going to go into the grocery store now. You will get to sit in the cart, and we will do our shopping together. Do you remember how we played grocery shopping yesterday? Well, here’s our REAL list! I’m going to need your help. We only need things that are on the list… Can you help me stick to the list?”  


“Remember that when we go into the grocery store, we will walk, not run. We don’t want to bump into anyone and hurt them! We will choose the items on our list, and we’ll be done soon. Then, we’ll be ready to take you to the playground this afternoon.”

3. Be Responsive to their Wishes

Grocery stores are designed for one thing in mind -- to get you to buy what’s on the shelves! Everyone can be susceptible to the desires for wanting to buy what isn’t needed. Your child may want something that is definitely NOT on the list, and if you say “no” and argue as to why it’s a “no," you may be in for a meltdown.

The trick here is to respond and respect your child’s wishes as valid, human feelings that are worthy of your attention. Be prepared to listen, answer empathetically (yet firmly!) and move on.


“I see that you really want to buy this, but it’s not on our list for today. Would you like for us to consider putting it on a list for next time?”  


“I know how you feel! You really want this. I wish we could buy it! I want it too!” 

4. Set Realistic Expectations

What grocery store will be easiest for you and your child to navigate? Is it the tiny, local shop on the corner with fewer purchasing choices? Or is it the big superstore with wide aisles? If you go shopping at 8:00am on a weekday, will it be less crowded? Or is the better time on a weekend in the evening?

If you can pinpoint the right store and the best times for doing your shopping, it could be worth the effort.

Young children have limited attention spans and limited tolerance for overwhelming situations. Consider bringing a toy to fiddle with in the cart or snack to eat while shopping. Don’t forget that even with very small children, taking the time to smell the oranges that you are buying can engage their short-lived interest a little longer.

For older children, consider giving them a list of their own to help shop with, or send them on mini-errands to pick up items. Most children love helping out when the work is purposeful. If you can involve them in the planning and in their own behavioral expectations, you'll have even more success!


“Oooh, look how red and smooth the apples are this week! Would you like to feel how smooth it is?”


“The next thing on my list is bread. What’s the next thing on your list?”  

Your Plan of Action

Do you see a common theme here running throughout all of these suggestions? Having an overall plan and including your child in the responsibilities involved with shopping will help you get through your shopping experience in the smoothest way possible!  

Start now by writing down the answers to these questions on a pad of paper and make your plan now.

  1. Where do you commonly go shopping? List all the stores. 
  2. Which stores seem to be easiest for your children to navigate? List the top 2. 
  3. Which stores seem to be the hardest for your children to handle? List the worst 2. 
  4. What are your expectations for your children in the store -- Sit in the cart? Walk beside you? Snack while shopping? Make sure YOU are clear on these answers before talking to your children. 
  5. Have you role-played shopping? If not, put it on your to-do list now. 
  6. Practice your language. Your child wants to buy a candy bar. You've decided it's not on your list. What are you going to say? 

Happy shopping! 

Hey, Parents! 

Looking for long term solutions power struggles, meltdowns, and tantrums? CDIR now offers Illuminate Parent Coaching with Aubrey Hargis, catered to your family's situation. A 6-8 week intensive program helps you focus on positive strategies that WORK to help develop the responsible, considerate adults you are raising as children in your arms today.

Inquire here. 

Don't Feed Your Kids. Organize the Fridge!

Did the kids eat this morning? I didn't see it with my own two eyes, but what have we here? A hodgepodge of mugs filled with varying amounts of milk or water or.... something... on the dining table. And here, a couple strawberry hulls on the tile floor. And here, a mostly empty bowl of oatmeal by the sink.

Either the kids ate breakfast or we have the most capable rats this side of NIMH living in our house.

I don't need a mountain of evidence (or a secret society of super rats) to know the story. Since they were very young, we have given the children wide latitude in the kitchen. Kids being kids, I can usually tell what they're eating and how much -- with little effort.

Free Range Children

The idea that even young kids can feed themselves can strike people as odd. Isn't setting food out in front of the child two or three times a day one of our most basic duties as a parent?


Certainly, we must ensure our children are eating well, but allowing children some control over their diets doesn't shirk this duty. In fact, it can actually support another critical duty - teaching children independence and self-control.

Choice Leads to Good Choices

Giving kids some control over their diets doesn't mean a free for all. If you want your kids to make good choices, you need to make sure they have access to good things. That takes adult planning and preparation -- keeping the pantry and fridge stocked with easy to access choices like mason jars with precut veggies or a big pot of cooked oatmeal.

But the payoff is worth it. I find that children will ingest more healthy foods and a wider variety of healthy foods when they have control over what they are eating

Five Tips

Want to give it a try? Here are some tips for encouraging your children to serve themselves.

Don't feed your kids! Organize your fridge! Five steps to food independence

1. Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy foods.

It seems like all of us have different opinions on what is "healthy," so do your own research here and run with it. I think we can all agree that getting kids to eat veggies is a good thing, so make sure to stock up on lots of those!

I strongly recommend keeping the junk food completely out of sight or better yet... don't buy it at all. Kids can't make good decisions about cookies. Sugar is just too tempting! We keep a limited amount of chips, cereal, candy, and snack foods in a high cabinet far out of reach.

2. Prepare your veggies ahead of time.

After grocery shopping, I try to give myself about 30 minutes to do some food preparation. I chop the celery and carrots into sticks. I cube the beets. Wash and spin the lettuce. Separate the broccoli florets. Slice the bell peppers and squash. Not only does this make fresh, raw food accessible to my kids, it makes cooking meals MUCH faster!

3. Store your food in child-accessible containers. 

In my fridge, I use more than one type of food container. Mason jars have the added bonus of being see through. Plastic tops seem to be easier for my kids to open than screw tops. Plastic baggies work great for some things. Recently, I've been really into these plastic freezable containers, but large yogurt containers and the like are great options for food storage, too.

4. Make sure the kid dishes and utensils are reachable. 

You can provide a stool so they can reach the family cabinet, you can choose a kids cabinet at eye level, or you can keep their dishes on a shelf. Our kid dishes are on a shelf very close to the kitchen table where they eat.

5. Designate a place for the dirty dishes.

In my house, the children put their dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and wash them. When they were younger, we kept a plastic tub on a low table near the sink that they could easily reach. They didn't have to wash their dishes themselves, but they were strongly encouraged to put them somewhere ready for washing.

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And One More Thing... Be Ready for Weird

Once given free reign, your newly independent kids may choose to eat things that would not occur to you... like a tub of shredded parmesan cheese or a clove of raw garlic or the entire 2 pound container of strawberries.

Click here  to join us in the next session!

Click here to join us in the next session!

Be cool with it.

They're experimenting and exploring their senses.

If they are eating something inappropriate, you can troubleshoot this a couple of ways. You can say, "Hey, kids, I'm saving the parmesan for the lasagna, so if you want some of that, tell me first, ok?" Or you can put the parmesan in the back of the freezer out of sight. Or you can put a Post-It note on the parmesan that says "MOM OR DAD ONLY." 

Over time, they will figure out what foods you allow and what foods you want them to ask about. In our house, all of the condiments are "ask an adult first" foods.

So give it a shot. If your fridge is full of all kinds of good food, they will thank you for it, and more importantly, they will learn competence and confidence in the kitchen.

Surprising Ways to Encourage Cooperation

At one point or another, we all feel the terrible aftertaste of envy in our social relationships. We see the venal colleague who gets ahead or the layabout relative who repeatedly falls into success.

The resulting envy and jealousy is all too human, as Shakespeare well understood. Still, we don't have to reinforce the traits in children.  

Consider the classic parental headache - sibling rivalry. Siblings get jealous of the attention the other receives. They become intensely concerned with equity. They fight. This is all natural.

But we parents all too readily add fuel to the fire. We pit the children against each other and declare one the winner. We visibly reward the child who is on "good behavior" and punish the child who is "acting out." We allow them to fight with each other without intervention. We may even ask them, "Why can't you be more like your brother?"

Want two children who hate each other? Do these things.

(Need more evidence? Read Alfie Kohn's excellent No Contest: The Case Against Competition.)

No Simple Solution

Here's the really tricky part. We may not even be aware we're setting kids up for failed relationships. Imagine a parent who, with the purest of intentions, regularly praises her oldest child for his math skills.

Does the always alert younger brother understand that the intention is to build the older brother's confidence and sense of accomplishment or does he interpret the message to be "you're never going to be as good as your brother"?

And what if it is the latter? Should the parent forgo the praise? Doesn't the older child deserve the kudos? 

To praise or not to praise, that is the question -- a simple question without a simple "yes/no" answer. Ironically, our culture is rife with social rules, linguistic queues, non-verbal tics, and more emphasizing duality as the norm. It's either victory or defeat, right or wrong, good or bad. We learn this as kids and live by it as adults

Musical Chairs Isn't Fun

Teaching kids that there are winners and losers is so deeply engrained in our culture, it feels nearly impossible to root out. Think about that most benign of children's birthday party games -- musical chairs.

The very thought that musical chairs could be harmful may feel absolutely ridiculous -- the kind of hippy dippy nonsense destroying our world. And, true enough, to an adult observer, the game is a kind of old timey fun. 

But let's imagine you're not an adult watching the amusing, chaotic scramble. Instead, you are a five years old playing the game.

You're feeling a bit awkward as you nervously walk to the music. With each step, you steel your nerves. Suddenly, the music stops. You lurch toward the closest chair and crash into the seat, edging your best friend out.

Everyone laughs and yells your friend's name. You laugh too, but it's fake. You're a bit sorry your friend didn't get a chair, but gosh you are so much more thankful it isn't you!

A chair is removed. The music begins again. The anticipation builds. You get the hang of the game and intentionally hesitate with each step so that you are always in front of a chair, never in the middle.

More chairs are removed as your friends join the crowd of losers. You realize suddenly that there are only a few chairs left. You're starting to think about winning. Your confidence is high.

The music stops again, and you lurch for the nearest empty seat only to find that there isn't one. Everyone is laughing, and your face burns in humiliation as everyone is pointing at you and yelling.

You smile good naturedly, but inside your stomach is churning. You join the group of losers, and once you sit down, you are immeasurably relieved in the solidarity. Your best friend sits beside you, and you are equal again. You are both losers.

The positive skills taught through the game must outweigh the other, especially in their interactions with each other.

The Lessons We Teach

So is musical chairs destroying our children? Should we toss it and other competitive games out because it might hurt someone's feelings?

Not at all. Competition is natural and has pushed humanity to great heights -- funding the space race and Renaissance -- and great horrors -- fueling war and exploitation. 

By exposing children to healthy competition, we can arm them with the social skills they need to handle victory and defeat with grace and courtesy and guide them away from internalizing -- or worse yet, replicating -- its darker side.

But teaching healthy competition means being aware of the implicit lessons the game or competition is teaching. The positive skills taught through the game must outweigh the other, especially in their interactions with each other.

Consider what is learned from musical chairs.

  • It's okay to put winning above friendship.

  • Rooting for others to lose is socially acceptable.

  • Losing is humiliating.

The answer isn't necessarily to toss musical chairs, but we may want to do it differently. We want children to value their human bonds! We want them to root for each other! We want them to feel good about themselves! What would a version of the game look like that fostered those lessons?

We Make the Rules

The other day, our family got out a bingo-style game the kids had received for Christmas. The kids were excited to play it, but instead of reading the rules for determining a winner, they made up their own rules, making it a cooperative game.

We each used more than one bingo card so we would have lots of pictures to look at. We enjoyed matching the picture cards to the pictures on our bingo cards. We stacked them up when we got extra pieces.

When another player needed a piece, we noticed. It was the perfect opportunity to practice skills like generosity and what Montessori called "grace and courtesy" like this: "My brother needs a bat! I have this extra bat. Would you like to have it?"

Competition was alive and well in that moment -- the drive to complete the puzzle. But so was the cooperation. Not long after the game ended, the boys were back at it - arguing about who got the bigger apple.

The game didn't end the sibling rivalry, but it did reinforce a critical lesson. People may disagree, but when one wins, we all win.

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Please, Don't Spoil Summer Vacation

Sometimes the seasons come upon us shockingly quick. It's not just the weather and fashions. Our moods and ideas about what constitutes good living shift with the season as well. 

This is a good thing. We all need a good shake-up now and then. Besides, we are human animals - syncing with the natural world is only natural. 

But sometimes we find ourselves scrambling to accommodate the seasonal hype around us. We think we need to create an entirely new, seasonally appropriate routine for our children. 

The Summertime Blues

As I write this, summer camp registration is at full tilt. Anxiety, too. Hearts plummet at the thought that we may have missed a grand opportunity for our little ones because we were too slow to register. (Naughty parent.

And hot damn, those classes can be expensive! We find ourselves in a debate about what's the most worthy investment for our families and how much we can afford. 

Five half days of "art camp" + several hundred dollars + a preschooler who does enjoy painting but truthfully loves playgrounds more = money well spent? 

But if we don't sign them up for all this enrichment, aren't we depriving them of The Essential Summertime Experiences of Their Generation? Aren't we RUINING them? 

And besides, what else are we going to do with the kids? People have to work, you know? 

So what's a parent to do?

Over Scheduled

I know that many of you are filling up your summer bucket lists, contemplating vacations, and looking at your calendars thinking about how bored your kids will be unless you figure out how to fill the weeks ahead. 

Out of curiosity, I asked some of my friends for their favorite summertime memories. Take a look at what they said.

"Summers in the country... North Carolina at grandma's. Running down red clay roads. Eating berries off the vine and apples off the tree."

"Outside at the pool all day. At camp hiking and rock-climbing. Reading all day in the cool basement. Ice cream and frozen candy bars. Sailing." 

"Pool from the time I got up to the time I went to bed. Only stopping for adult lap swim."

"Swimming in the dark at night and eating my mom's homemade ice pops after hours of swimming in our pool. And pretending to be Whitney Houston while singing along with 'I believe the children are the future' on our record player."

Is it just me or are you noticing a theme here? I can see these children running around barefoot, fingers sticky and dark with berry juice.

I see them dive bombing into the pool from the highest diving board over and over screaming with anticipation as the dopamine floods their brains and the water cushions the fall. I see their frozen treats dripping onto hot sidewalks.

I see myself as a little girl melting play dough in the hot sun on my backyard slide. Warm thunderstorms, sitting out on the porch with my mama, swinging back and forth and cuddling.

Making up symphonies inside my head while laying under a Texas-sized ceiling fan in a house without air conditioning. That enormous geode my brother and I found in our yard and lugged up onto the porch only to shatter the thing into a million glorious crystals.

The Simple Things

If you ask your children this question twenty years from now what they cherished most about their summers, I'm hedging a bet that it will be something slow, long, lazy, and amazingly simple that you'd never think to put in your summer bucket list.

You can make this happen for them. Just try a little less hard to schedule everything, ok?

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Good Teaching Is Student Centered. Stop Depicting It Otherwise.

The first Tuesday of May is National Teacher Day, a factoid once known mostly by pedants and calendar completist, but thanks to Google's doodle celebrating the day of appreciation, the word may be getting out. 

Too bad they botched it.

Google Doodles have a long history of controversy, which says something about the company's brand and influence. The company has long insisted that the doodles are apolitical -- meant for fun and a way for staffers to express their passions. This may be true but being featured as a doodle is no small thing.

Literally. According to internet live stats, Google processes about 40,000 searches a second, or about 3.5 billion searches a day.

Even if you discount the people who won't see a particular doodle (Google varies them by nation), the number of impressions (or times Google shows it to a person) is huge.

An "A" in Good Intentions

So many, many people will see the doodle, and isn't that a good thing? Aren't teachers worthy of praise? Besides, how controversial could a teacher appreciation doodle really be?

Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation Day (May 9, 2017)

Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation Day (May 9, 2017)

Because this is the Internet, I'm not ready to discount the likelihood that someone, somewhere will find a way to make it controversial, but the doodle itself isn't particularly inviting of controversy; we're not talking Pepsi-level tone deafness.

Rather, it is skillfully designed if not somewhat banal and obvious. And therein lies the rub.

Google needs to create an image that catches the user's eye while conveying the idea pictorially. This means it has to be simple to understand. Enter the visual shorthand.

To wit, the doodle features six figures in front of a screen that flips through representations of various math and science subjects. The largest figure is the teacher. We know this because... well... it's teaching. Or at least teaching in the way we generally think about teaching.

Notice that it's much larger than the other figures (teachers work with children!); it has a book and glasses (teachers are academics!). And, most importantly, it has a pointer and half open mouth (teachers love pontificating on important things.)

Break the Stereotype

Aubrey and David Discuss the Whys and Hows of Student Centered Learning

None of these things are necessarily slams, but they SHOULD NOT BE shorthand for "teacher," especially the pontificator in chief. That they are says much about our profession and how people think of it... the sage on the stage, the professor spouting knowledge like a font.

It is exactly the kind of thing Maria Montessori warned against when she talked about treating children as though they were empty vessels to be filled. That was nearly a century ago. The image - and practice - persists.

Owning Our Narrative

Ultimately, this isn't Google's fault. They wanted to celebrate educators. Rather, the fault is ours as educators. We own it.

But always it is done collaboratively, with the emphasis on the learner’s journey, not the teacher’s knowledge

We have to flip the narrative so that when people think of teaching, they imagine a place dominated by students. The teacher guides, watches, helps, supports. But he does not only or always teach. 

Sometimes, the students teach; sometimes, the teacher learns. But always it is done collaboratively, with the emphasis on the learner's journey, not the teacher's knowledge.

This is the image we want to come to mind when people think of teaching. Teachable moments come in many forms. Google is creating one. Let's take the lesson to heart.

Five Ways to Respect Newborns

It's not just you. Science confirms it - babies smell delicious. They also look like angels when sleeping. And nothing is as soft as a baby's bum.

Little wonder that we think of babies as small and helpless creatures, which is too bad, really. Babies actually have immense power. No adult could accomplish anywhere near the task the baby has taken on in the past nine months of growth. 

But more than that, our tendency to underestimate babies makes us it harder for us to respect them.

We love them. We protect them. But respect? Respect In the way we respect a mentor or person who persevered? The concept is too often foreign even though babies both have much to teach us and have undoubtedly persevered. 

Respect for children -- not just protection but actual respect for them and their work -- should be a central tenant of our social contract. It is one of the surest ways to social growth. 

The baby is biologically driven toward becoming a great adult human being. If we give him the respect he deserves as an infant, he will grow into an adult who treats other adults with respect -- creating a stronger, more civilized, peace-seeking society in the future.

Developing human potential

As Dr. Silvana Montanaro writes in Understanding the Human Being, a newborn has "a strong drive to develop all the components of his human potential harmoniously." Here are five ways to foster this development through respect.

1. Snuggle and Nurse Your Baby Often

Give your baby direct, physical contact -- and lots of it. Skin-to-skin cuddles, babywearing, and cosleeping are all great ways to facilitate close contact. Human babies are born with the instinct to be close to their mothers, as they seek round-the-clock nourishment, comfort, and protection. Rather than trying to keep up with the usual household duties, take time to nurse and snuggle. You cannot give a newborn too much physical affection.

2. Allow sleeping and eating on your baby's schedule, not yours

The treatment of children should really be considered a matter of social importance.
— The Absorbent Mind

Newborns are gifted with a biological rhythm that tells them exactly how much nourishment and sleep they need. Allow them to regulate these needs themselves by making both milk and a calm place to rest available. Trust in your baby's instincts.

3. Provide Consistent Routines

Children have a natural sensitivity to order, and routines remain a great comfort throughout childhood. Your baby will naturally come to understand the difference between day and night and will be comforted by daily, repetitive experiences. By changing baby's diaper in the same place often enough, he will come to know and expect what is about to happen. By singing the same lullaby to your baby, he will soon internalize the music, so the first few lines soothe him right away.

4. Let them look around and move their bodies

Newborns are notoriously nearsighted at birth for a reason. Their ability to focus on objects is the exact distance between your breast and your face. Allow your baby to gaze on you while you nurse, and give him lots of eye contact and smiles. Newborns also need to be able to move their bodies. Laying on a lap in a rocking chair or on a soft blanket on the floor is perfect for stretching muscles and nearby focusing. Conversely, bouncers, play yards, swaddling blankets, and other common baby products can restrict both the baby's view and ability to move freely (and may contribute to problems like plagiocephaly).

5. Stimulate their senses

Babies thrive in environments rich in sensory contact, and you don't need to work hard to create one for them. Bring your baby into the thick of life, and rich sensory experiences will take care of themselves. Eat nutritious food, and you'll give your nursing baby a taste sensation (breastmilk takes on the flavor of what the mother eats). Let your baby listen in on adult conversations, and softly speak to him directly about what you're experiencing. Go outside and feel the wind softly blow. Stand under a branch and look at the leaves as long as his gaze remains focused. 

Making Tantrums a Positive Experience

When your child is having an emotional meltdown, it's hard to keep your cool!

What if your child is crying uncontrollably or is kicking and screaming on the floor? What then?

No matter what, realize that it is your job as the parent to push your own emotions aside as much as possible in order to help your child. But how? It takes practice and a lot of determination.

In this video, I ask you to turn your thinking about tantrums around. Instead of seeing the tantrum as something negative to nip in the bud, look at it from an educational perspective...a positive learning opportunity for both you and your child.

Tips for Success

  1. Be Their Voice. Children do not always know how to communicate their frustrations to you. Your job is to help teach them how.
  2. Be Strategic. There are two times when your child is more likely to be in a receptive state: before the tantrum starts and after the tantrum is over. If at all possible, use those times to your advantage.
  3. Keep Cool. During the tantrum itself, remain compassionate and patient until it's over. If your child likes to be hugged, provide physical comfort. If your child prefers to be left alone, just hang out sympathetically nearby until the tantrum is over.
  4. Keep Firm. If you said no to something your child wanted to do, really mean no and stick to it. Don't give in just because there is a tantrum. Giving in will not solve the problem. Discussing feelings and coming up with solutions and compromises will.
  5. Be Kind to Yourself. You're only human. Every tantrum gives you the chance to grow and change as a parent to meet your own unique child's needs. By putting a positive spin on the situation, you are not only empowering yourself, you are raising a child who will learn how to put life's hurdles into perspective.
Carving a Soap Alamo Taught Me Nothing and Everything

When I was in the fourth grade, everyone in my class carved replicas of the Alamo out of Ivory soap. When I share this with non-Texans, they tend to snicker. I mean, sure, why wouldn’t they? Children, knives, AND the Alamo… is there a more Texas school project imaginable?

Well… maybe that time I welded a barbecue pit out of a 50 gallon drum in 9th grade.

Of course, making a barbecue pit did theoretically teach me some tradable skills -- welding; cutting metal; following plans. Carving the soap Alamo? Less tangible.

Then again, I have never welded anything else in my life. Heck, I don’t even like to barbecue. But that soap project, it stuck with me. It gave me a frame. It told me a story about culture and history… not about the Alamo, per se’, but about the mythos of it, about its role as a symbol in my community’s collective sense of self.

Kill Your Heroes

Over the years, I pushed and pulled against that frame. As a child, I loved the myth. As I aged, I saw the story in more and more nuanced ways. I learned to place it in context of race and culture. In college, when I was actively killing my heroes, I reveled in destroying the myth. I, too, snickered at it all.

I may be younger than that now (to quote Dylan), but mellowing with age hasn’t made reconciling with the myth any easier. If anything, in the Era of Privilege, the idea of carving a soap Alamo is even more troubling -- almost unimaginable. Whose story are we omitting? How common is that culture we’re building? At this point, where does a soap Alamo -- let alone the actual Alamo -- fit?

Social Progress and Hard Conversations

I’m not the only one who’s spent the last several decades staring down traditions and common bonds. It seems at times that the only thing we the people have in common is the belief that we have nothing in common. We’re fractured -- fractious at times -- and in deep, very troubling ways.

Schools were once a lynchpin in crafting common experiences; it’s ultimately why soap Alamos and handprint turkeys are important. I learned nothing about Texas history in general or the Alamo specifically from the project. But it stuck with me. It informed my evolving sense of self. It was a frame against which I had to measure moral and ethical choices. What did it mean to be a Texan? How do you celebrate your heritage without whitewashing history?

The Place to Learn

Schools are the very places these questions should happen, but, sadly, we’ve left very little room for them. Over the last few years, we've made the purpose of schools all about measured achievement in specific academics (i.e., science, not art; non-fiction, not literature).

In part, the shift reflects our obsession with getting our money’s worth from schools. Achievement scores in easily quantifiable areas -- like algebra -- are great metrics. You either know the Pythagorean theorem or you don’t. Writing a beautiful poem? Isn’t that in the eye of the beholder?

Along the same lines, we made schools into career preparation factories -- meaning important, high-paying technical careers. We tend to imagine the future as an even more tech-rich version of today (because we usually imagine the future as being like a supercharged version of now.) Computers and programming dominate our imagination; therefore, kids must be trained in technical subjects.

Not Less but More

To be clear, I would never argue against teaching math or science or deny the role schools must play in preparing students for college and career success. I firmly believe that education is the cornerstone of our democratic system. It prepares people to engage in civic life. It gives all people, regardless of race or income, a fairer chance in life. It represents our hope for the future and our better natures.

And while it too rarely achieves these outcomes -- especially for people of color -- all the more reason to support, grow, and engage with education. Make it better.

And we make it better by bringing back the soap Alamo… well, not the soap Alamo, per se’, but the things represented by it. The common experiences that bind people together.

Writing New Narratives

We need to confront our past in order to form a bedrock upon which to build our brighter future.

In the past, it was simpler to decide on these common experiences because we listened to fewer types of people. Now we’re trying to listen to more people (or at least some of us are trying), trying to be sensitive to our built in biases (our privilege, in the parlance of now).

All this soul searching makes building shared traditions that much harder; but it  also makes them all the more vital. The more we understand our differences, the more we need some threads of sameness. We need to be inclusive in our traditions. But we need traditions. And we need to honor them. And we need to teach them.

We don’t have to carve Alamos or make pilgrim hats, but we need to do things that give us frames, common memories, shared experiences. We need to do things that force us to talk and work through differences. We need to confront our past in order to form a bedrock upon which to build our brighter future.

And if that means spending a few hours of class time carving a tiny bald eagle out of soap, I say bring on the Ivory.

David Hargis
10 Homeschooling Tips: #1 - Follow Your Child

This is a part of a series on how to make homeschooling work. Click here to read more from the series.

It might sounds obvious, but it’s important to stress that homeschooling DOES NOT work like traditional schooling. It’s not because (or only because) you’re teaching at home or teaching your own children. It’s because traditional school is structured, in no small part, to support LOTS of kids at varying degrees of skill and readiness at the same time.

Managing a classroom of very different young learners and trying to get them all to a common goal is not for the faint of heart. It’s why teachers think so much about classroom management. Keeping order is essential. The best teachers know how to keep discipline through engaging learning.

A Partnership Like No Other

Nonetheless, what they’re trying to do with twenty-three 3rd graders is not the same as what you’re trying to do with just the one. If you model your homeschool experience after what the phenomenal 3rd grade teacher down the street does, you’ll flop. Your lessons will go on too long or not long enough. The child won’t be ready and will revolt. In a traditional classroom, you have strategies to handle these - remediation activities to fill gaps, extension activities to fill time.

But here’s the good news: You can’t be a teacher, but you shouldn’t be try to be one, either.

Instead, you must be the child’s partner. It can’t be said enough. Get the teacher thing out of your head. Yes, you should be actively engaged in pulling together resources. Yes, you should be seeking learning opportunities. Yes, you are ultimately responsible for your child's education. However, you don't have to (and should not) do these things in a vacuum.

Do them with your child. Look for resources together. Make a list of ideas of things you might want to do, craft, or learn about together. Give your child some empowering language about the learning process. 

Many classroom teachers would envy your ability to follow the child and provide the instruction he or she needs at the moment he or she is ready (professional educators call it differentiated instruction).

Find the Balance

Following the child doesn't mean letting go of all rules and standards (though there are some educational philosophies that go to that level). Rather, it means identifying the learning outcomes that are meaningful and developmentally appropriate and inviting the child into the process as a full partners.

And when it gets hard and your child is pushing back, keep this in your back pocket:

"I know that you don't want to do this, but the truth is that sometimes things that are hard just take a lot of practice before they become fun, and when you've learned how to do this, it's going to be amazing. I remember when I was learning how to do this, and this is how I learned. How can we help you learn it? What would work best for you?"

Montessori Education in the Internet Age

Walk into any quality Montessori school in the world, and you will see some of the most beautifully prepared learning environments imaginable. Wooden materials, carefully arranged shelves, observant teachers.

Chart: Pew Research Center

Chart: Pew Research Center

What you won't find, by and large, is a tech-heavy curriculum.

Though nearly every adult American owns a cellphone (see Pew Research chart), rare is the Montessori school where smartphones, tablets, or computers play a major role.

A Strained Relationship

The lack of computer-based assignments might surprise public school teachers given how gung-ho traditional schools are about technology.

Montessorians, by comparison, have a somewhat less enthusiastic opinion with technology - especially in the early years. In Montessori schools, the amount of technology integration depends on the educational philosophy of the teachers.

Some schools ban all technology, believing that children need to learn with their own eyes and hands and absolutely not while watching a screen. Some schools have a computer in the classroom but only allow it for teachers. Some classrooms have computers in the classroom and allow students to use them for internet research and to practice typing skills.

Occasionally you will find a Montessori classroom that embraces more than that in the elementary years, but at least in the Montessori 0-6 year old scene, you will find a near-absence of the digital. If you are a parent at home exploring apps on your tablet or smartphone, you may see apps for something like "Montessori Math" or "The Pink Tower" (a quintessential Montessori material). 

Don't fool yourself into thinking that if you download this app for your child, he is doing the activity that Montessori developed and adopted into her method. There's a reason for all those beautiful wooden materials.

What Changes, What Doesn't

Aubrey and David Discuss Healthy Technology Use

Maria Montessori was not aware of the enormous technological changes that would occur in the years after her death (1952), but she was adamant that the learning of abstract ideas begin with the child's own hands using concrete objects.

I suspect that Dr. Montessori would approve of some careful and limited use of technology were she alive today. How could she not be amazed by the global social connections? Today, a grandparent might video chat with a faraway grandchild. A parent-to-be might search for tips on preparing the home for a new baby. A student might research the Galapagos Islands not only by reading books but also by watching a video of a family on vacation describing what they see and feel. There are lots of interesting opportunities for us to use technology in a way that enhances our exploration of and connection to the world that most of us see as positive additions to a learning environment.

There is not An App for That

The problem arises when we attempt to replace a valuable hands-on experience with an abstract one too early. Take the pink tower, for example. To an inexperienced eye, the child simply stacks a set of ten cubes of varying sizes into a tower, with the largest on the bottom and the tiniest on the top. An app on a tablet could presumably replace this activity with a virtual representation of pink squares that can be dragged and dropped into position.

A child of preschool age can certainly learn to order these squares by size, but so much is lost in value! When the child carefully lifts each cube, its size is known by a myriad of sensory cues that go far beyond the visual. The shape and size of each smooth side is fully explored by little hands; the weight of each is compared to the next. A misplacement of the next-smallest cube is easily recognizable when the heavier cube on top causes the tower to wobble or fall.

Even the tower itself is subconsciously compared to the child's own body size and the mathematics of cubing in increments of 1 cm each is internalized in order to develop future algebraic thinking. Swiping the pink blocks on an app is about as realistic as a flight simulator is to flying an actual airplane.  

So How Do We Know What's Appropriate? 

No doubt, we have a ton of intriguing technological inventions at our disposal for use with kids, and as parents and teachers, it is up to us to decide how they may or may not fit in with our philosophy of education. We must be especially careful when simply regurgitating tried and true teaching techniques and manipulatives in a virtual format. What looks like the same activity may not actually nurture the child's full engagement of the senses, which is a non-negotiable in any quality material designed for early childhood.

Our children deserve for us to constantly question the educational validity of any of the techy stuff in their environment. There is only one path to collective knowledge of what is helpful or a hinder to a child's development, and that is through continued observation of the children themselves.

Five Tips for the Montessori Beginner

So you want to do Montessori in the home but aren't sure where to start. Maybe you follow those Instagram feeds filled with achingly beautiful photos of some fantastical Montessori home and think "if only I knew the secret, my house, too, could look like that." Perhaps you've toured a Montessori classroom, beautifully prepared with neat shelves of learning materials and thought, "if they can do it with 17 kids, certainly I can do it with just one!"

Well, I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is you can't replicate the Photoshopped fantasy nor the carefully managed classroom. The good news is you aren't supposed to. Montessori is much more a philosophy of child development than a set of things to do. Plus, you're doing it in your home -- under real world conditions. Expect the mess. 

So where does that leave the aspiring Montessorian?

Mastering the philosophy can be a life's pursuit, but there are a few tips you can incorporate right away to help you along the way. You might now 

#1. Follow your child 

This is number one for a reason. Learning new skills will not occur without your child's interest. Following your child means seriously observing your child's stage of development.

What toys does your child keep coming back to over and over? What is he/she trying to do? Learning to crawl? Pouring and spilling water everywhere? Spending hours turning the pages of a book? Going to the potty to (ahem) play in it? Catching bugs constantly? Picking out a shirt to wear, discarding it, only to put on another shirt?

I can't tell you what activities to focus on in your Montessori home because that's your child's job. Many classroom teachers will tell you that they can't truly design the shelves without meeting the children and observing them. This is even more important for you, Montessori parent, because unlike a classroom filled with child centered, ready made curricula, you are incorporating your child into a family-centric environment.

You most likely have limited resources and space, so focus on your child's interests. You can (and will!) change the environment as your child grows older and has different needs. Write down a list of your child's current obsessions, whether it be banging pots, throwing blocks, or matching colors, and ask yourself, "What is he/she trying to learn from this behavior?"

#2. Invest in shelves and baskets

While you're not likely to achieve immaculate, you do want to make your Montessori environment as organized and peaceful as reasonable. It also keeps your house from becoming too cluttered with random kid stuff because you can't stuff everything on a few shelves like you can in, say, a toy chest or some bins.

Unlike toy chests, shelves naturally encourage you to limit quantity.

Shelves are cheaply found at stores like IKEA and Target plus garage sales and thrift stores. You can find excellent baskets at Goodwill for less than a dollar. If you can afford it, invest in several shelves and LOTS of baskets and trays. Check out our Montessori shopping list to get a better idea of what to look for at a thrift store.

Remember, you don't have to get everything at once. Start with baskets and shelves. You won't be disappointed.

#3. Choose some of your child's nicest toys 

Toys are fine when the quality and quantity is appropriate. If adding toys, pick ones your child loves; that inspire and nurture; and (if at all possible) are beautiful and made of natural materials. Likewise, steer clear of flashy, noisy, battery-operated toys as much as possible and focus on toys that spark your child's imagination.

And the toys that you aren't choosing to put on your beautiful shelves? You don't have to throw the rest away, but do keep them away from your child's shelves, hidden wherever you have available. A closet? The basement? The laundry room? Giant plastic storage tubs are great for this, as are heavy-duty black garbage bags, as long as you have them labeled "not trash"!

And if you find yourself acquiring a massive amount of toys, it's a great idea to donate them in batches regularly.

#4. Limit quantity

If you have a toddler, you probably won't be needing all 286 blocks that came with the set. You might need about 20. Just enough to stack into towers and topple down. Put those in a basket and store the rest. You also don't want to crowd your shelves. Space the baskets on the shelves so that it is obvious where the work should be returned.

Space the baskets on the shelves so that it is obvious where the work should be returned.

Are you wondering how many toys to put out at a time? I can't tell you that, but your child will. If you have a toddler who is into "dumping" making a big awful mess for you to clean up every time, or if you have a four year old who is having a hard time putting things away, you probably have too many toys.

You also might want to select one type of toy and rotate within the category. For example, if you have a lot of puzzles or different sets of building blocks, consider displaying one or two and put the rest away for now.

#5. Get Support

You can't make this journey alone. You need help! Start with spouses, partners, or others who are actively participating in raising your child, such as grandparents. The goal is to have a shared vision for what Montessori in your home looks like. This may require you to have some hard, deep conversations -- especially if your partner isn't totally onboard -- but it's critical.

Go further, though, and reach out to friends and other parents. Talk to them about what you're doing, even if you aren't completely confident in it. In fact, talking about it will help you better understand your own perspective and dissolve the feeling of isolation so common in parenting. 

Lastly, look for mentors in other places. The Internet is filled with wonderful resources for parents at any stage of their Montessori journey, including our own Montessori 101 Facebook group. Join the conversation! 

Let's Nurture Children's Intrinsic Joy of Work

You don’t have to look very hard to see just how deeply society links work and self-worth. Our fables teach children that work means life - the industrious ant survives the winter while the lazy grasshopper starves. We extol the virtues of labor in idioms like "an honest day's work" and sayings like "haste makes waste.” We equate hard word with spiritual worth in proverbs (literally in Proverbs) like “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”

There’s a good reason we have these expression and stories; the community’s survival relies on people doing their jobs. It's why we've designed so many extrinsic motivators for work - from salaries and promotions to gold stars and letter grades. We want tangible proof that our work has value to society.

But beyond the fear of societal ruin, a job well done (another great idiom) just feels good. It is intrinsically motivating. And when the social benefit and the inner joy find balance - magic! Your body and mind feel good, born from the inner satisfaction of personal success and the quantifiable contribution to something greater.

The Daily Grind

But if work is so satisfying, why are an ever increasing number of Americans unhappy at work? For one, the nature of work has changed dramatically in recent decades, growing increasingly abstract. Consider - In 1860, over half of the American labor force was in agriculture. Now it’s less than 2 percent. 1860 may seem far off, but when talking about social change, it’s like an atomic blast - fast, hot, and destructive.

If you want to put it in the context of one person’s lifetime, in the early 1970s 1 in 4 Americans worked in manufacturing. Today, it’s less than 1 in 10. That’s fewer than work in healthcare, retail, or business. All told, over 80 percent of Americans work in the service industry, largely making intangible things that contribute to a bigger, slightly less intangible thing.

And as work becomes more and more intangible, the assigned extrinsic value becomes more and more important. I can’t point to the miles of rail I helped lay, but I can point to the money in my bank account or the size of my car.

Old Challenges Made New

To be clear, the paycheck is not a new idea; the concept of wages likely goes back to the Neolithic Period. Likewise, this isn’t a romanticized notion of a past where everyone owned the fruits of their labors. Historically, few people truly owned their work, just as few owned their land. Wealth inequity is as old as wealth accumulation.

But we underestimate the radicalness of social change at our own peril. Ultimately, it’s a matter of tempo. What is the tempo at which our biology can change versus to the tempo of change around us? When they sync, you have a music. When they don't, you have disharmony.

The measure of a Person 

The coupling of one person’s labor to a machine few understand and fewer control makes our tangible contributions to society so abstract as be practically invisible. Or, to paraphrase Eliot, we measure out our lives with coffee spoons.

Over the years, as abstraction has invaded our lives, we’ve come up with lots of ways to give it intrinsic definition. We talk about “climbing a career ladder” or “building a future.” No surprise that these idioms give the abstract (career, the future) physical properties (climbing, building).

And it all works fairly well. It’s not perfect. There are many workers struggling with the shift from more tangible industrial work to the service industry. But when you look at how many Americans have access to clean water, reliable food stocks, health care, education, and other living standard indices, society as a whole is in a better spot than it was in 1860. Plus, abstract work can be very fulfilling. The service industry creates many social goods.

But there is danger in the system’s complexity. What any one person does at work is a very small cog in the insanely complicated machine of modern capital and finance. And like all complicated machines, when something goes wrong, it's a huge task to figure out what broke, why it broke, and how to fix it (see also, subprime mortgage crisis).

And for more and more people, the machine is feeling broken, our faith in it misplaced or abused.

Finding Frederick

So what to do? To start, we must acknowledge - as a society - that meaningful work isn't always (or only) quantifiable on a spreadsheet. I'm reminded of Leo Lionni’s wonderful children's book Frederick about a mouse (the titular Frederick) who prepares for winter by collecting memories of the summer.

His peers (who are all collecting food) mock him for laziness until the dead of winter comes and the others find that Frederick's memories (expressed through art) have immeasurable value - helping keep the group warm through the very long, cold winter.

Perhaps more than ever, as the old tangible forms of work disappear, we need to weave this lesson into our social contract. We must build a society that values its Fredericks, and we must start by updating our attitudes about education.

Training children for jobs is practically a guiding tenet to schooling, but it must end. As Maria Montessori warned in The Absorbent Mind:

“The child is not an inert being who owes everything he can do to us, as if he were an empty vessel that we have to fill. No, it is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child who once he was.”

In other words, respectful education prepares children for life. It doesn't train children for job success; it nurtures their creative and intellectual powers, divorcing them from any external mark, and doing so keeps alive their intrinsic love of work.

A chance to get it right

If it's any comfort, these are not new problems. Lionni published Frederick in 1967; Montessori The Absorbent Mind in 1949. Eliot’s “Prufrock” goes all the way back to 1915.

But all the more reason that we must engage. This problem isn't going away on its own. Industrialization, automation, modern finance -- their effects aren't ending. But as parents and educators, we can play a critical role in helping society redefine its attitudes about work.

In fact, it could be our generation's truest, most authentic and important work.

Considering Homeschooling? Here’s How to Make It Work

Curious about homeschooling? You’re not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 3.5% of school-aged children (and growing) are homeschooled. For context, the number of homeschooled kids in 1999 was about 850,000. Today, it’s over 1.7 million.

There is no one reason why people choose to homeschool. Likewise, while there are definite clusters in the data -- most homeschoolers are white, have three or more children, and are two parent homes where only one partner works -- there is also surprising diversity.

For example, parents’ educational level isn’t a differentiator; homeschoolers are evenly split amongst parents with some college, bachelor's degrees, and graduate degrees. The same kind of split holds for income levels and grade ranges.

"A Trial By Fire"

Whatever draws a person to homeschooling, one thing cuts across -- it can feel like a trial by fire. Even those trained in education and aligned with a homeschool-friendly philosophy can face times when they’re not exactly sure what to do. In fact, sometimes that educational training can work against the homeschooling parent.

As a classroom teacher, you learn how to manage a classroom full of similarly aged children. You try to find a happy medium between what works for all kids in the class and what each unique child needs. You try to design experiences that balance academic rigor and classroom control; your peers and supervisors tend to evaluate your quality against this balance. And you get to learn from your mistakes. You practice and repeat your lessons each year and get better along the way.

Homeschooling breaks everyone one of the rules. You may have children at wildly different development stages, not even bounded by age. Classroom control is not a thing. And there is no learning from repetition. No one has ever homeschooled Your Child at This Particular Age before. Ever. Including you.

The Grand Adventure

This doesn’t mean homeschooling is impossible, but it does require a commitment to experimentation. With every new stage of development your children pass through, you are learning anew, growing with them, changing your technique, curriculum, and relationship. You are on a grand adventure with your children, and although you will gain confidence, your approach will be uniquely catered to your child and your family.

If you want homeschooling to work, you have to be ready to experiment, fail, and experiment again. You must commit to education being an inseparable component of your relationship with your child. School is not a place; it is a journey. It doesn’t begin when your child reaches "school age." It starts at conception.

In other words, you've been building this education thing from the ground up all along.

Top Ten tips

So how do you make it work? Good curriculum and a solid understanding of education are critical, but every child-parent dynamic is unique. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring these ten tips for homeschooling success:

  1. Follow your child.

  2. Adopt a theory of education.

  3. Be a mentor, not a "teacher.”

  4. Study child development and psychology.

  5. Use local learning resources.

  6. Prepare a supportive home learning environment.

  7. Join a homeschooling community.

  8. Stay up-to-date on educational research and trends.  

  9. Contemplate your daily rhythm.

  10. Nurture yourself.

Considering homeschooling? Follow CDIR on social media or subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you get each update.

To School Or Not To School. That Is The Question.

A few years back, I attended a panel at SXSWEdu featuring three very important people. At some point, the topic of adaptive learning came up – how good it was now, where it was going next – and one of the panelists said something that has really stuck with me. Or, rather, it’s what she didn’t say that has stayed with me.

What she did say, essentially, is that adaptive learning is much trickier to make work than we imagine – the assessments, the decision-making algorithms, the number and variety of content – and so we’re not there yet.

What she didn’t say is that we already have something in schools that is incredibly good at doing these things, and it’s called a teacher. Trained, skilled teachers know how to “read” their students' needs using a variety of assessment formats, how to process that information, how to differentiate instruction. They do it every day, over and over again, as teachers have for centuries.

Change: The Only Certainty

We will figure out adaptive learning, of course. It’s only a matter of time (and not a great amount of time either, I suspect) before we create a system that not only does what a teacher does but does so tirelessly, more accurately, and more scaleably (oh and much more cheaply). Our adaptive learning systems are getting closer all the time, and thanks to the drumbeat to put devices into the hands of every child, we’re paving the access road.

On the one hand, all students will get the benefit of a master teacher, not just the lucky few. I have no doubt that achievement levels will generally rise when we get to other side of this mountain.

On the other hand, what’s the point of it all?

Somewhere along the way, we decided that the purpose of education was “to school” children.

To School - A verb meaning to go through the process of attending a formal learning environment in order to be exposed to important things.

To School - A verb meaning to go through the process of attending a formal learning environment in order to be exposed to important things

Learn the periodic table. Learn algebraic equations. Learn to write a five paragraph essay. Prove that you learned them using a test. Get remediation when you fail. Take a master test at the end to demonstrate that you successfully schooled.

A computer will be able to do all these things very well, and if that’s the point of school, then maybe it’s what we deserve – not just in terms of our schools but in terms of our society. If we can create a computer system that’s a better teacher than a human, there’s not much left that computer systems won’t best us mere mortals at. So what, exactly, is the point of “schooling” on all that science and algebra (or writing or art)?

The Future of School

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a luddite. This future doesn’t scare me. But I’m also not a pie in the sky optimist who sees a utopian post-work world. That vision strikes me as a bit too ”I.G.Y.

What I do believe, though, is the world we’re moving into will change society at a deep, fundamental level and in ways we can’t currently imagine.

And I also believe that we need to have a very hard conversation right now about what schools are for. If they are simply a place “to school,” then their time is probably coming to an end because adaptive learning systems will do that better than humans, and that would be dire for our democracy. We need schools, perhaps now more than ever, but we need them to be more than a place for schooling.

"It Is the Child Who Makes the Man"

The purpose of school is not a forgone conclusion any more than is its future. A century ago, John Dewey wrote:

"The school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends.”

His contemporary, Maria Montessori, argued that “the child is not an inert being who owes everything he can do to [adults], as if he were an empty vessel that we have to fill.”

What was true then is double so now. Together, these argue for an alternate vision of the school as a place to explore and create, to be given the opportunity to become an individual who can contribute to society in meaningful ways. And that means more than just the ability to do what now passes for academic work. It means the ability to reason. To practice ethical decision making. To learn how to create and how to be.

Let the adaptive learning algorithms do their thing. We teachers can do much more.

David Hargis
The Journey to Adulthood: Age 12 - 18

This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood.


If you've ever thought that living with a teenager is like living with a toddler, you're not that far off. Adolescence, the third plane of development, is a time of great transformation that mirrors, in many ways, that of early childhood (the first plane).

The relative calm of the second plane (6 - 12) buckles under a surge of hormones, bringing with them a body on fire and a mind practically incapable of anything but looking inward.

The Inner Storm

During this time, when we observe young adolescents between the ages of twelve and fifteen, we often see them wallow in self loathing, leap without looking, and sleep until lunchtime.

They seem self-centered and egotistical -- the center of the universe. They are highly susceptible to both addiction and mental illness. There is a shockingly high risk of suicide.

These are children in a crisis of development.

A Four Letter Word for "Children"

Teenagers are hard. Little wonder that many adults roll their eyes at even the word "teenager." Compare it to the word "adolescent," which shares an ending (-escent) with lovely words like "effervescent," "luminescent," and "iridescent."

Roads go ever ever on, Under cloud and under star, Yet feet that wandering have gone, Turn at last to home afar. Eyes that fire and sword have seen, And horror in the halls of stone, Look at last on meadows green, And trees and hills they long have known.
— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

These words convey a general feel of a changing, a flickering, a movement, a shining. "Teenager" does not. It begins with a whine and ends in a raging growl -- two characteristics associated with this plane.

Yet "adolescent" is more accurate. Like the changing, moving effervescent spring, humans in the third plane are experiencing a period of intense, wild, and wonderful change.

The Second Half

By age fifteen or so, the fire is still burning, but the transformation is becoming more peaceful. The creative inner work that was done in the first half of this plane is being perfected. All of life shows this pattern. An ebb and flow.

Ages fifteen to eighteen are the "flow" of the third plane. You are likely to look at a seventeen year old and see a great gain in decision making skills and a resurgence in academic interest compared to a few years earlier. This is a sign that while not fully developed, the child is seeing himself more as an adult, looking outward into the world, the universe in its proper place again.

We have a tendency to think of development as something that happens to kids, petering out sometime after high school, but that is not the case. Development does not stop with the third plane (nor even the fourth plane). It is an endless journey, a road that goes on ever and ever.