Learning Landscapes: Slow and Steady into a New Year

Year of Small and Slow

A new year, a new opportunity to reflect and renew our beliefs, values and intentions. Many people create resolutions each year and then we hit the ground running trying to create big and important changes in our lives. There are of course big milestones worthy of marking and celebrating (like last month when Hilltown Families quietly turned 10 years old!), but in many cases with the new year we “go big” and then we end up returning to our less-than-ideal habitual routines.

What is the story that our children take away when they see this and what are a few “small and slow” resolutions we may want to consider that can help us reframe what it means to learn, educate and be educated in regenerative and sustainable ways? 

Honor What is Working Before Seeking to Change What is Not

Seek to mentor with love rather than teach with conviction. Teaching with conviction tends to lead into language that paints the issues in the world as black and white or perhaps shades of grey. Mentoring with love provides a lens into our mosaic world of colors. By doing so as a model and mentor we open ourselves to the possibility of partnering with our children because they too can help us remember the power of love. Help children not only look to bring love into their lives, but also to choose to direct love out into the universe through compassion and caring.

Think Critically About What Others Perceive as Mundane

Use the “small” to design purposeful customs and traditions that can attune our children to the connection with each other and our surroundings. Create traditions around the little, the mundane because they can be so big. For example, how do we greet one another first thing in the morning? How do we say good night? How can family and community values be reflected in such routine parts of our day? What about how we and our children enter the learning landscape, be it a play group, homeschool lesson or a high school geometry course? Small and slow.

If you don’t have any customs or traditions, co-create them with the children (rather than for them) and follow through. The little things are so big.

Playfully (and Gratefully) Explore the Wonder of Nature

Together don’t just learn; have an adventure. Connect with nature – nature of self, Earth and the Universe – by exploring something children see as mysterious, untamed, or socially “disallowed.” Experience the world by slipping into the shoes of Mother Nature or lack thereof.

This might mean setting aside and protecting time and space for children to play with information, ideas, resources and objects without goals, prompting or rules (other than basic common sense, safety, etc.). Inquiry is not all about dynamic learning tools and not everything needs a pre-determined (adult-designed) academic objective to be an effective “learning tool.”

In fact, think small and slow and at times allow minds to wander, boredom to “sit” and see what “learning objectives” children design. Encourage children to trust themselves and help them to not take anything too seriously beyond playful curiosity.

Listen To and Honor Children’s Voices

If our children are going to become catalysts that help to transform our future they need to be part of changing the story today. Looking at the world through the fresh eyes of a child can help us see things differently and adapt to a changing world. And remember, not all children’s chosen tongue is the formal written or even spoken word. What other means and modes might our children be already “screaming” with? Art? Language of the Universe – math? Music? Dance?

Going back to thinking about the mundane, what individual and community voices might emerge with in shared circle singing and dancing? Not song and dance used with a pre-determined academic learning objective, but those that ignite a community “spiritude” (spirit + attitude – thanks Rev. Christina Leone Tracy for the inventive term) where we look at one another’s faces, hear each other’s voices and feel our energy as the vibrations from feet move more than just the floor.

Or, perhaps our children are speaking most clearly with silence or the opposite, screaming for it. With that in mind…

Give the Gift of Silence to Learn Self-Awareness, Not Just Content-Awareness

Our children need time alone – quite time to think and reflect. Silence helps our children develop their own internal dialogue in order to narrate and understand the world, giving meaning to their lives. Abundant opportunities are all around – just listen. In constant noise we are often distracted by what is the loudest, but through silence children can think about their own thinking and recognize the nuance in other people’s thinking. Another incredible opportunity the gift of silence invites is for children to ask their own questions–and then ask better questions.

If Slow and Steady Wins the Race…

Small and slow behaviors and actions are empowering because they are designed, “owned” and targeted to the specific, personal challenges we face. Using small and slow solutions to reframe what it means to learn, educate and be educated does not just change the ending. It alters the entire journey. Our children need opportunities to experience and take action with what is being learned. It is no longer just “the message” to be learned; it becomes the means of learning.

If we hope children will learn how to care for themselves, others and the world, they need to know more than what it intellectually means to care. They need opportunities to experience and practice the behaviors and actions that exhibit caring. Making “small and slow” not just a message, but the means of learning and living children have the opportunity to become more than just the learner. They embody the behaviors to be welcomed into our communities as the models, mentors and educators that will transform the future. ​


Jen MendezJen Mendez

Jen is a wife, mother of two joyous children, experiential education mentor, and founder of PERMIE KIDs. She has a M. Ed. in International Education and has worked with children in the U.S. and overseas from early childhood through the primary years, as well as parent-educators. She integrates an ethical, design science methodology with her love for education to help others learn to design a customized education with their children that honors themselves, others, and the earth.

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