Last year at this time, I was gleefully dismissing back-to-school ads, knowing my children were about to enter their first year of homeschooling. I was very happy to not be caught up in the back-to-school fever!
This year I find myself at the opposite end of that feeling: I’m excited and a bit panicked by my new reality -- I’m about to open my own school! What a difference a year makes!
I think one of the most stressful decisions we have made with our children is where to enroll them in school. Talking with other families, I was glad to learn we weren’t the only ones feeling the weight of that huge decision: how to find the best school for them given the various options of private, public, French immersion, Montessori, homeschool, and now apparently opening our own school!
We thought so much about the most beneficial education options for our children, but the wild thing was that before my youngest child hit grade two, he had been in three different learning environments. We kept trying something and could see fairly quickly that, although there were certainly many positives to each situation, there were just too many big education rocks that we felt were missing.
We decided to try homeschooling last year but after a few months we could see that group collaboration was missing, which both my children needed for different reasons. One of my guys just really wanted to have more people around him, and the other wanted to interact with more than just his little brother.
Before taking my boys out of public school I looked at opening an independent school, but felt beginning with a unique system, even with the experience I had, was too overwhelming. I needed help! We started homeschooling, but I kept my eye on the education programs around us and in education powerhouse countries like Finland and Denmark. It is great to see all the articles in North American mainstream media about how their systems really support their students to be at their best.
My husband and I were at a loss for what to do for our own children when we experienced a turning-point. Feeling discouraged one night; I went to bed early, leaving my husband to ponder our children’s educational future -- again. To my utter surprise, when I woke up, I saw “ACTON ACADEMY!” written on our family whiteboard. Just the way he wrote it showed me he was excited.
The moments following that morning discovery are changing our lives. With my eyes still half open, I went to the website my husband had written down: www.actonacademy.org. I got lost in it and the videos there. Two hours later, I was in tears, with a grumbling stomach, still in my pajamas, and ready to fill out the application to open our own Acton Academy.
I remember watching those videos and constantly nodding my head in agreement. It was wonderful to discover an educational system that so reflected our personality, hopes, and what we thought school should look like in this century.
Alternative Education has been in the spotlight lately with the cover story “Learn Different” in the New Yorker Magazine, and then this great article about Khan Academy as the “Model for Future U.S. Education?” in the CBS program 60-minutes. We were thrilled to discover a way to actually deliver an alternative form of education that was so well-organized and hit so many education best-practice points that we were looking for.
We started the application process to open our own Acton Academy and sat nervously while we waited to hear back from them.
Two weeks later the Acton team approved our request to open a school, and four months after that, we signed a lease for some amazing space and started moving in! A week and a half from now, I will take a picture of the first students in our Infinity School.
We are going to be the first Acton Academy in Canada! We feel quite honoured to have this distinction because we’re quite sure this model is going to take off in our country as it has in the US and other parts of the world. There are fourteen existing schools, eighteen others opening alongside us this September, and others already scheduled to open in 2017. As we go through the process of learning the model and preparing the space and ourselves for our students, it has been invaluable to work together with these eighteen other groups of people in the same boat as us!
These are the main reasons we chose the Acton Academy system as the one for our school:
I also love that our students will be in a positive environment. While we can’t eliminate all negativity from our children’s lives, we can ensure that these experiences will be rare and if they occur, will be addressed by the whole community.
I know this year will have its celebrations and bumps but we’ll keep relying on each other to get through those bumps. We’re creating a close community of life-long learners and will go through this experience together. With the support of our founding families and the others who have already opened and are opening an Acton Academy this year, we’ll work together to give children the love, care, support, tools, and time to be their best.
Are you interested in alternative education or some ideas to improve your child’s school experience? I invite you to follow our school’s Facebook page where I’ll post what we’re doing as well as great educational ideas from around the world.
One of our rooms has more of a cafe feel:
We have bean bag chairs!
Before I became a parent, I don’t recall anyone telling me that parenting was going to be easy, but I also didn’t hear how incredibly challenging it could be. Even when I feel confident that what I’m doing is best for my children, they don’t always know that it is best for them. In fact, many times they think that I’m are out to ruin their lives. Asking a toddler to take a bath or not letting a child eat cereal for supper, for instance, will sometimes be met with the label of “meanest parent ever.”
Even though we as parents know that whatever prompted our child’s anger is the right decision, being called “mean” doesn’t feels good. When a child is angry with us and lashes out, it is common to second-guess ourselves and wonder what we’re doing wrong. Parents might even be tempted to backtrack in order to smooth things over with their child.
But even though no one likes to be called a “mean parent,” it can be helpful to remember the following in order to keep things in perspective:
In the thick of a tough parenting challenge, the head and heart do strange things. Many people assume that they are alone in their struggles and that difficult parenting moments don’t happen to others. But it is important to remember that you are not alone; that every parent has good and bad days. Nearly every parent will, at some point, be called “mean.”
Children lash out and say hurtful things when they are frustrated, angry, sad, or feel out of control. While most parents logically know that they are not, in fact, the “world’s meanest parent,” the words still hurt and a parent may second-guess their actions and core beliefs.
But the first component of the Connect Four Pillars is connecting with your positive core beliefs. When we get hijacked by negative self-talk, and take it personally, it can become more difficult to calm down and respond with empathy. Take a few deeps breath and remind yourself that lashing out is a reflection of your child’s emotions at the moment, and not a reflection on you as a person or your parenting abilities.
People – especially children – sometimes treat the people they feel safest with the most harshly. If the name-calling and outbursts happen relatively infrequently, your child’s lashing out may actually be an indication of a strong parent-child bond.
Because your child feels comfortable with you, she feels safe expressing her emotions and letting herself go a bit. If, however, the outbursts and name-calling happens on a regular basis, you may want to consult with a family or child therapist in order to determine if there is something more serious going on.
As much as we wish that parenting was always smooth sailing, there will be rough patches. What’s more, parents need to set limits, draw boundaries, and say “no” when a child’s request is not safe or in their best interests.
It is okay if our child doesn’t like us when we’ve had to stand firm in our limits. After the dust settles, do something that helps your child feel connected with you.
Although it can be difficult to keep our own emotions in check when our child calls us, “the meanest mom ever” or says “I hate you,” it is important to try to stay calm. I sometimes find it helpful to leave the room to collect myself for a minute or two when emotions are highly charged. By reminding ourselves of positive core beliefs like volatility is not productive, we’ll be showing our child healthy ways to respond rather than react without thinking first.
Once your child has calmed down, you can use the situation to implement the other pillars of Connect Four Parenting. Specifically, you can respond to your child with empathy, telling him or her that you understand why they are upset. And you can also teach them how to have empathy for others by explaining that their words were hurtful to you.
Sometimes the most meaningful discussions will follow a highly-charged emotional outburst. Once a child knows that you have empathy for them, they will understand that they are heard and understood. As a result, the child may feel more comfortable confiding in you, and you can fill her attachment tank. And ultimately, you can both move past the negative emotions of the situation so you can better connect with each other and process emotions in the future.
Many children respond well to routines, and consistency in parenting can be beneficial for the entire family. Routines provide comfort for parents and children alike, and by applying consistent parenting techniques, children know what to expect when they behave in a certain way. In fact, as I recently explained in this post, fear of the unknown often tops the list of greatest fears for parents and children alike.
Fears of the unknown often manifest as tantrums. Because children are bombarded with changes every single day, establishing consistent daily routines can help minimize the extent of the “unknown” in their lives. Routines can be especially helpful when the child or family is going through a transition, such as giving up a bottle, going to a new daycare, changing schools, moving to a new city, or even meeting a new friend. Routines reduce anxiety and create a sense of predictability, which can provide a sense of comfort and safety in the child’s ever-changing and expanding world.
What’s more, routines also teach children self-control and internal regulation. As Laura Markham, PhD said, “While helping children feel safe and ready to take on new challenges and developmental tasks would be reason enough to offer them structure, it has another important developmental role as well. Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively control themselves and their environments. Structure allows us to internalize constructive habits.”
While routines provide a sense of comfort and safety, and teach children self-control and self-regulation, over-prioritizing routine and consistent parenting can create undue anxiety and an unhealthy rigidity – which is why it is important for parents to find the right balance between consistency and flexibility. Since life is messy, plans change, and things are often out of our control, a certain amount of flexibility is also necessary so that families don’t get derailed when things don’t go as planned.
A flexible approach to parenting gives everyone in the family room to make mistakes, learn and grow. Additionally, flexibility sends the message that the family functions as a team, and not as a dictatorship. You can help show your children that their voice matters, by letting them make choices regarding minor decisions. For instance, if our family’s routine is to order in on Friday nights, we may give each child a turn choosing the restaurant we order the food from. Even if we don’t agree with the choice, the rest of the family learns to be flexible and open-minded about the choice.
Flexibility teaches children to be adaptable and can teach them the importance of being open-minded. If a child is overly reliant on routines, he or she will be less able to adjust to life’s changes. Additionally, teaching your children to be adaptable and open-minded can help build resilience as a family, so that you are all better equipped to handle life’s pitfalls and challenges.
Not to mention the fact that flexibility in parenting can also make your job as a parent a little easier. Much of parenting is trial and error; we learn on the job after all. So it is helpful to be able to change course when we find out something isn’t working. For instance, if you create a practice piano after school routine, but after a few weeks, you realize that one of your children needs a short break after school in order to decompress, it might be necessary to change your tune about that routine. What’s more, sometimes we parents do make mistakes. By leaving room for flexibility in our family routines and parenting beliefs, we can learn from those mistakes and move forward.
“So much of parenting is trial and error. Instead of being locked into one particular way of parenting, we can be free to try something different or think about things in a different way. Not everything will work for your family, and that is OK! Being open to learning and growing as a parent may allow you to meet each of your kids in a way that works best for them.” – Nicole Schwartz, MA, LMFT
So how does a parent find the right balance? Well, consistency in your core beliefs will guide you on when and how to be flexible. Ask yourself: would a variation from the routine or the consistency still be in line with my core beliefs? If yes, then perhaps your family would benefit from a more flexible approach to the situation. For instance, if staying up a couple hours later on a Saturday night so the family can watch the Olympics together or go for a sunset stroll on the beach fits to your goal of enjoying family recreation, then perhaps a flexible approach to bedtime on those nights is beneficial.
By being aware of your goals, core beliefs, and consistently prioritizing those, you can work toward striking the right balance between routine and flexibility for your family.