Education hacking

“In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.”   ~Paul Harvey

There is a measure of comfort in knowing there are many others who have come through a situation like this before. In fact, there are 10’s of thousands of parents dealing with similar circumstances in rather uncharted waters.

The situation I am talking about is the BCTF job action with their employer the BC Provincial government. The bottom line is the school aged children of British Columbia are not attending class and have not done so since early June. My daughter thinks she has won the lottery.

What has been kind of interesting, as a result of all this, is our own education hacking program. First week of September, my daughter attended full days at her mixed martial arts club where she played games, watched movies and hung out with a bunch of much younger children, most of the time. As we headed into week #2, (actually week #4.5 if you count June), the realization became clear. Time to create her own education plan.

My daughter is only entering grade 6, so she has a limited perspective of how to create a proper plan, but she is taking guidance and following through. She is determined and fairly receptive to new ways of working. We are having a little bit of discussion about novel study. She wants to have all the questions ready to go for any novel of her choice, for example. With my schedule and my husbands to consider, we are barely holding on to help her with her planning, let alone create a novel study of her preference. So we are hacking it. I’ve grabbed a template online and we are working through a new way to novel study, which is mostly self-directed. She remains skeptical, “it is not the way my teacher does it,” she grumbles.

To show flexibility and keep engagement high, we decided on a block of self-study. In class last year, this was called “genius hour”. My daughter asked if she could study, “anything“? I said sure. It matters how one studies and the quality of the research, analysis and writing. So she picked – Superwoman. No, not Marvel comics. Someone far closer to her heart and her generation’s pop culture.

Breaking it down, here are the 4 blocks she is working on:


I think my daughter will learn a number of lessons as the days pass on. Probably, quite a few of them are not in the prescribed learning outcomes from the BC Provincial government. Valuable they will be in life, though. For that, this exercise will be worthwhile. And I am learning some things too. I am watching a young person adapt and change and blossom. She has impressed me with her enthusiasm and passion. I almost didn’t realize she had all that gusto inside of her.



Teenager in the house

“Keep true to the dreams of your youth.”   ~Friedrich Schiller


Yesterday my son stepped over from being a tween, solidly joining the ranks of teens. So far so good. It has only been a day. But we have been watching him change over the months and years. There have been little signs and clues. Nothing is happening in the flash of a birthday passing by the calendar.

The articles on the internet, (probably a bad place to look for information on this topic), describe a list of horrors which await parents. Luckily life doesn’t unfold for one person in the same manner as another. We don’t know the trials waiting for our family as our son grows into a man, but something about his character will be at his core to guide him.

I am looking at a document I wrote 12 1/2 years ago. It was titled – “Long term vision”, where I detailed hopes and dreams for my family, 10 years hence. I wrote an interesting paragraph about my son. Keeping in mind he was only 6 months old at the time, I was seriously projected my wishes, rather than having knowledge of him.

he is 10 now….11 in August he keeps reminding me whenever he asks to do something I think he isn’t ready for yet. He is so confident and big for his age. Sometimes he bites off more than he can chew and no-one is the wiser because he has the stride of someone who knows what he is doing. Under it all though, he has a lot of fun. He understands very clearly, at the end of the day, you only live once. He is content to still play and enjoy the age he is at.

Of course, not every detail of this vision is accurate. But the essence is spot on. Maybe that is what I find interesting as I review this and compare to the young man he is becoming. He is confident and self-assured. He still enjoys life.

Maybe all that will change as he wades deeper into adolescence. The hormones will rage and cause all number of problems and confusion for him, I’m sure of that. What I think will help unravel the confusion for him is at his very core – his dreams. From the beginning he had an active imagination, something which has served him well. He speaks of his dreams, he plans for the future.

Now I think it is our job, as his parents to help keep these dreams alive. Prop him up and remind him when life seems overwhelming. And maybe we need to lead by example. It might be time to reach back into our young minds and remember. Sort though what is there and act on the good stuff we find.

Technology break

My kids balked at the thought. They were filled with panic….and then questions. How does one go without technology for a whole long weekend? And, why?

I think my kids are like most of their age. Access to computers at home, and in the case of my son, takes one to school. They both have iPhones, sans SIM cards, so basically iPods. But they run IOS version 4, which allows for robust parental controls. Yet, still – they manage to navigate into territory we had not imagined or intended.

But that is not the reason for the ban, I mean break. I have been wanting to do this for a long time. Give it a try before our children became so entrenched that a weekend break would not be possible.

For two and a half weeks in Mexico last year, we had no computers for the kids. The compromise was iPhones. They stared at those little blue screens everywhere but the beach. The devices are like pacifiers. In an effort to well-behaved children, the technology is a big help. But I miss something about spending time together. The interaction is not the same.

For this weekend, I asked the kids to imagine we were living in the 1980’s. The reaction to what life was like then is interesting.

  • They both had visions of Pac Man. Yeah, only if you got on your bike and rode to the arcade with a pocket full of quarters, which your parents likely wouldn’t allow.
  • How do they talk to their friends without texting? The telephone is not how kids communicate these days.
  • I allowed Netflix and movies from iTunes, (we don’t really have regular cable TV and video stores are not available anymore). Last night, we watched “Saving Mr. Banks” and my children are so fixed on knowing what happens next, (immediately), they drown out the onscreen action with – “what happens next?” Effectively, their attention span has dwindled with their increasing need for immediate gratification.
  • My husband loathes board games, but has agreed to play “21”, which is really blackjack, which is really endorsing poker. But, I was raised on this card game, it was a staple in my 1980’s home.
  • Settlers of CatanI agreed to purchase a new board game – Catan. That was the kind of thing that would have captured my imagination as a child, not surprising my Son is very interested. But, not until Saturday. No stores are open in our community on Good Friday!


We’ve got a break in the rain today, sunny skies and an adventure into the world before technology as my children have grown accustomed to.


“Sometimes when you pick up your child you can feel the map of your own bones beneath your hands, or smell the scent of your skin in the nape of his neck. This is the most extraordinary thing about motherhood – finding a piece of yourself separate and apart that all the same you could not live without.”   ~Jodi PicoultPerfect Match

I had the privilege of helping a very soon, Mom-to-be out to her car today. Laden with her gifts, lightened of her work responsibilities, awaiting the unknown next phase. My heart was full of happiness for her. For all those firsts she is going to experience in the coming weeks. Gifts of the heart that are better than anything which could be bought at a store.

Those are the memories which I treasure most. The tiny hands stroking your skin. A first smile that lights up a tiny face. The sweet smell.

Fantastic smile 2003

Fantastic smile 2003

These sentiments are why a Mother thinks having another baby is a good idea. If she could so easily call up any number of other memories, there would be no second or third children.

My husband remembers those days very differently. He doesn’t, for a moment, wish for babies. He likes the constant push forward. He is encouraged by the eventual day when these little ones will take flight and leave the nest. And I feel the same, most of the time.

But the thought of holding a tiny newborn again is a wonderful feeling. The upshot now is the other Mom standing nearby who gets to soothe him when he starts to cry. That is a job I don’t miss so much.

School report cards

My kids brought home their report cards last week. This is a confusing situation for a parent. How we feel about our children’s grades, tends to be wrapped up in our own school experiences and improved expectations for our offspring.

Education reporting seems to be evolving all the time. All classes used to receive letter grades, now that distinction is reserved for the intermediate levels. Apparently a note about “meeting” or “exceeding” expectations is all that is required for young children.

But what does any of it, really tell us about how a child is faring in the school system?

My son is enjoying a most amazing Grade 6 experience this year. The combination of his learning style and the class dynamics are shaping up to elevate, not only his grades, but his whole outlook on school.

However, most children at our local public elementary are getting pretty much the same education as students from generations ago. In a time when technology can play such a vital role in how students learn and how educators teach, it is kind of sad that the system remains pretty much the same.

The bright spot is availability. The days are over, (if they ever existed), when you send a child out the door for grade one and don’t expect to be involved in their education until they are launched from grade twelve graduation. Today, the question is more likely to be, how involved should parents be in helping their children meet their educational goals? Schools are badly under funded, extra curricular activity choices, (at the school) are few and far between. Parents can fill in the gaps of core learning and extra activities, almost to a point of over scheduling.

We have always taken the approach that less is more. From a selfish perspective, who has the time? But also, who are we to interfere with professional educators? Turns out, parents know their children best – full stop.

So years ago, we waded into the murky waters of the public education system. It is not easy to be stymied when seeking solutions to help your child. It is shocking to learn that, while educators expect children to constantly be learning new things, they are quite reluctant to do the same. On the upside, it turns out to have been a learning opportunity for all of us. Finally we feel that all the work we have done together as a family and with the help of everyone at the school, progress is being made.

My kids came home from school and opened their report cards. They reviewed their progress since first term and gave us a summary of their status. They set goals for the final grades they plan to achieve. That is all I can ask for, really. Ultimately, these are the kinds of skills that will make them successful in the world, regardless of the grade achieved in elementary school.

Ski for the whole family

Jerry Seinfield was quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as fun for the whole family.” I had never heard anyone dare to say what many of us have always thought. How can one activity, on one day, truly be fun for the whole family? This idea landed, for me, at a perfect time. I was breaking away from my parents as a young adult and wanted to create my own fun. So I did.

Then the problem landed right back on my shoulders when I had children of my own. I was not so smug now. This was a real challenge. What I came to realize is, family fun with small children, is fun for small children. The fun for adults is trying to enjoy themselves through their children’s fun. This works best with adults who are close family members. Trying to invite along some child free friends usually doesn’t work. They have not become masters of sacrificing themselves for these tiny little people who are running rough shot around your life.

Through a lucky set of circumstances, my sister and I decided to pick skiing as a family activity. We each pursued this within our own communities, but each year we came together for a week to ski. This turned out to be a good idea due to a number of factors. Things like willing spouses who also enjoyed the sport, (super important and probably a show stopper if they had not been skiers already), and parents who could get us free accommodations near a very family friendly, beginners ski hill.

Over the years, all 4 kids learned their turns and fully enjoyed the week at the local mountain. But, as these things happen, when you start kids early, they have a tendency to become so good, they pass their parents in ability. My sister likes to attribute this to confidence and no fear of falling and hurting themselves. Whatever the reason, the 3 boys that once used to follow us down the hill like little ducklings, are well into expert terrain this year. My daughter really applied herself to parallel turning in an attempt to catch up to the boys. It won’t be long and she too will have passed me by.

So we are in a very lucky position to have found something to do in the winter that is fun for the whole family. It required a lot of work, nurturing and care. Almost like another member of the family – the perfect ski run that we all yearn for each time we go up the lift.

Family ski

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Friday night in the ‘burbs

We participated in 2 of the hottest social activities on offer in the Peninsula Friday night. Of course, that is tongue-in-cheek, but for my daughter especially, there were no other places she would rather have been. I remember what it felt like to have so much fun packed into a few hours that you could hardly stand it. The novelty of it, breaking with routine, having fun with your friends, running a bit on the wild side.

First up was the annual “Welcome back BBQ” at our kids school. For the students, this is like a penny carnival, mini midway and sugar eating feast rolled into one. For the PAC, it is one of the first big fundraising initiatives. For the parents, it is fun to watch the kids start out excited, planning their fun strategy, then end up completely wound up on sugar.

My husband volunteers to BBQ, and we were really fortunate to have hot and sunny weather. To contrast what September can be like, Sunday morning we woke up to the power being out from the wind and rain overnight.

The “jars” however are the most anticipated part for the kids. We created 5 of our own for the donation. Then for $2 each our kids bought 4 in total. My daughter was super disappointed when she got one of the jars we donated full of action figures. But my son found one of his friends that gladly traded a mixed jar of odds and sods.

Then at 6pm, we had to round-up the troops and head over to the belt ceremony. I finally found my son, just about to have his face plastered with a pie! That would have been interesting to try to clean up with napkins from the car.

Our children are learning a unique blend of mixed martial arts offered by Tong Moo Do. It has been a real pleasure to watch them advance through the ranks. There are a series of belt colors, starting with white. Testing is done frequently and the members perform their routine as a group in front of family and friends. Our daughter was advancing to a blue belt. This is the big time, as she will now be sparring and grappling. But for us, we have both kids in the same class, so for at least the next 6 months we are only going to the studio 2x per week instead of 4.

There is a new TV show on NBC called “Up All Night”.  The new parents are fairly young, hip professional types and are having a tough time adjusting to family life and all the constraints and changes that go with. I think it is safe to say that we have fully adjusted to life with kids. Which is probably why we find the TV show pretty funny. We are the older and wiser parents cringing at the situations these new parents are finding themselves in.

So this Friday night of fun is not young, hip or cool but for me it was the good stuff. These are the times when we look at each other and our children and really enjoy the whole experience of being a family.

Time disappeared

“A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours.”    ~John B. Priestly

As the kids summer vacation draws to a close, I was reflecting on the next phase they are about to enter at school. With my son just passing his 10th birthday and starting grade 5, I had to ask myself – “where has the time gone?”

I completely understand it has not “gone” anywhere and that time doesn’t “run” faster in one decade than another. But how much gets accomplished and just packed into any given day when you are a parent distorts your perception. When I was a child, I watched all this happen around me with my parents at the helm, but I had no idea of what it would be like.

“Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.”    ~Will Rogers

I sometimes think that given how many air miles I have amassed in my working life so far, maybe a part of me is still circling the globe on one of the jets. Like a little shadow, it will someday finally catch up to me when I stop travelling so much.

“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.”   ~James Matthew Barrie

I suppose accepting that my life is on some sort of permanent fast-forward, is the first step in helping myself. Trying to cram more into a day, clearly is not helping. Slowing down, and maybe trying to do a little less is sage advice I have been given. Appreciating how I have chosen to spend my time, when I am in the middle of it, now that would be nice.

For Sale

There has been some drama in our house tonight. It started with the realization – there was some serious unfinished homework. At 6:15pm tonight with dinner still being cooked, my son was frantically looking for a poem to memorize and dramatize for a class presentation tomorrow.

There was, of course, ample opportunity to do this over the weekend. Even by doing that, he was really cramming because the assignment was given weeks ago. Some non-inventive excuses were thrown out. An attempt was being made to choose a poem from a book in the house by Rudyard Kipling. Like that was possible to memorize in a few hours!

I basically escaped. I couldn’t see a way to speak nicely to either my son or my husband. Groceries had to be done, so I dashed for the door. If nothing else, they would have at least eaten by the time I came back and hopefully devised a plan that didn’t involve letting our son “learn the hard way“.

When I returned, my son was calmly memorizing “For Sale” by Shel Silverstein. The poem talks about selling your sister to the highest bidder. There are times when he wishes he could do just that. Not a stretch to memorize this poem.

All is well that ends well, I guess.

Out of the mouths of babes

What a great night watching the Canadian election returns with a nine-year old and an eight year old! They have not really studied political science in school to any great degree, but they sure have some strong opinions. I suppose it is the strong-willed parents they live with.

Flashback to the election day in the US when Obama took the Presidency. I was lucky enough to be in Hawaii that night. Anticipating a Canadian style TV coverage event, we tucked in to watch it. As I now know, the electing of a President is a might site different from a Canadian election night. How disappointed I was!

But tonight was Canadian politics at its best. A real nail biter! It went almost to 8pm before we knew if the Conservatives took the majority. It seems the West actually mattered! And the NDP in a whole new game, most seats in the party history. And just in, Elizabeth May wins a seat for the Green Party. That is the first Green Party win in not only Canada, but all of North America.

My two TV watching companions are chomping at the bit to vote themselves. Counting the years and how many elections until they too, will participate in the miracle of our Canadian democracy. It was really exciting to be their Mom tonight.

The tooth fairy is tiny

I’ve told this story a few times recently and everyone thinks it is funny. Probably because it didn’t happen to them.

Two weekends ago at the end of our family ski day at Cypress Bowl, my nine-year old son managed to wrestle out the first of his bigger baby teeth. That was Saturday night. Dutifully the tooth went under the pillow and in the morning, no tooth fairy. My eight year old was not fazed. “That happened to me too”, she said.

Monday morning, there was panic in the house. No tooth fairy had arrived on the second night! Between the 2 kids, there was agreement that this was an unusual case. My husband was already at work, so the pressure was on me to understand this strange occurrence.

So, first to bring out the big guns – money. I asked my son to get my purse and I would give him $5 for this tooth. My daughter was amazed. She had not received near that kind of money from the actual tooth fairy. How lucky for her brother. What good fortune that the tooth fairy did not show!

If only my son looked as satisfied. So an explanation was also in order. Possibly she did sneak into his room and tried to retrieve the treasure but this new size of tooth is far too big and heavy for her to carry. Could it be that since she is so tiny, she can’t fly with the big heavy back teeth?

And so it was solved, the tooth fairy is very tiny

Is there time for slow?

My kids have more toys, books, games, friends, parks, beaches, pools, more activities in general to keep them occupied and they still come up with the classic, dramatic statement – I’M BORED. I do remember feeling that way at their age, with a whole lot less stimulation at my disposal. My parents would of course argue that they had so much less than me. Perception is reality, I suppose.

And now, I wish with all my heart to feel like there was not so much responsibility pressing on me all the time. I can’t imagine feeling bored. I have a continuous list of things I like to do, it is in fact never-ending. But there does not seem to be enough time in a day to get to much of it.

There must have been a point along the way when time started to speed up. When I was pregnant with my first child, a man whom I did not know very well said to me, “You have no idea how fast the next 20 years will go by.” I was skeptical – what did he know about me? And of course it has been 10 years since that day and it most certainly has flown by.

From the days when I was a bored child, I wanted nothing more than to be older, have more privileges, take more risks. Now in my forties, I don’t care to be any older, responsibility has been piled on pretty high and if my skiing ability is any indication – I am risk averse. The irony is not lost on anyone who knew me as a child.

So now, in a world that has become more complex, fast-paced and some would argue a little less kind – how do we make time for what is really important? How do we enjoy slowing down? On long weekends where I have a stretch of hours to enjoy whatever I choose, my to-do list for personal enjoyment is packed so full that inevitably I am sad at how little I accomplished!

So a long weekend is approaching and I am purposely not creating a list. It is my 41st birthday somewhere in there and other than a reservation for dinner, I’m going to try to remember the joy of slowing down.

Happy Easter!