Easing into the work period with Radio Taiso and silent reading.

One of my memories of going to elementary school in Taiwan is the morning assembly. This is where we all line up and gather in the field to raise the flag, sing the national anthem and do some morning exercise. I’ve always really liked the morning exercise part of the assembly. I’m not sure why, but stretching first thing in the morning just seems like a great thing to do.

Last year, I was searching for a way to ease the kids from “home” to “school”. In the morning I’m constantly rushing them to get dressed and get ready to go to homeschool. And they’re always busy trying to play with each other. It was hard getting them to settle down once they get into school.

I hit upon the idea of using Radio Taiso.  It’s the same as teachers doing yoga after kids come in from lunch time recess.  A way to help the kids focus and bring them back into the classroom. Except I like stretching exercises instead to signal the start of the day.  Plus I needed to add my own personal exercise in or else I don’t get any.

We did this one for quite a while actually.  There are some days where the kids don’t want to do them and other days where we forget.  We just picked it up again for the new school year and I was surprised at just how well the kids have learned the stretching routine, even Astroboy.  Right now, at 9AM, I chromcast this onto my TV and the kids will come running in from whatever putzing around they’re doing to start the exercise.  We go downstairs and start school right after.

I felt guilty all year Radio Taiso is in English.  With a quick google, I came across this video.  It’s titled 舊式國民健康操.  Super cheesy to me.  It’s totally like the old stretching exercises I remember doing as a child.  And it’s in Chinese!  So I will try this out with the children.  But I like the Radio Taiso exercises better.

Another thing I did, though not consistently, was to have a 15 minute morning silent reading time when the kids come into the classroom.  This often turns into Thumper wanting to read more and Astroboy not wanting to read at all since he can’t read.  But for 15 minutes the classroom is quiet (sometimes) and it gives me the chance to finish prep or to finish tidying up the classroom, or even to just finish mentally switching gear, before school starts.  It wasn’t super successful because I was really bad about stopping prep.  But otherwise I really relish the quiet time.

Information overload and mindfully learning Mandarin

Photo courtesy of Novell & Novell Counseling

Photo from Novell & Novell Counseling

Some people collect CDs, DVDs, or Christmas ornaments, I like to collect information.  Recently I browsed through all of the articles and websites I’d clipped in Evernote over the last 6 years on parenting, child development, Montessori activities, how to teach music, how to learn to read Chinese, writing Chinese, teaching Chinese, and Chinese books.  Wow!  I have a lot!

I’ve read so many books on different education philosophies, ways to teach language, math, issues in teaching, parenting.  If you ask me about these subjects, typically I will answer with “I read somewhere……”  or “I know a website…..”

Recently, this information gathering has been coming at me with faster and faster speed with the discovery of FB groups.  Double wow!  There are so many groups out there with people passionate about the subjects I’m interested in.  They all have something to share!  I really felt, for the first time, the power of crowd sourcing.   The Internet is a vast place.  Here I’d thought there was a dearth of Chinese materials for heritage parents, but it’s all over the place and someone else has already found it.

Unfortunately, many of these information don’t get used.  It was only recently that we started listening to Chinese radio stations on the iPhone and iPad, even though I’d installed the app 3 years ago.  The articles on best ways to teach Chinese characters?  Not used because Thumper is now passed the primary years and we learned our characters some other way.  Places to visit in Taiwan that I’d bookmarked?  Didn’t even pull them up while I was in Taiwan and researching my itinerary for weekend jaunts.

Then there are all the educational resources and materials.  The Chinese character component tiles, myriad of websites available to learn zhuyin and characters, and links to Chinese Youtube cartoons.  Haven’t really looked at them though we could because we are learning them right now.  Or our 國語日報 that I’ve had for 3 years but haven’t given to Thumper to read.  Even the 扯鈴, 毽子,陀螺, and various other kinds of Chinese cultural toys I bought in Taiwan for the kids.  All in a storage box!

Each time I see something, I think, hmm…maybe I should try that.  Or, hmm…this looks like a good thing to use in the classroom.  Or, that looks like a good philosophy in teaching children (Unschooling?  Classical Education?  It all sounds promising.)   The Chinese curriculum we could be using online.  They all look so good.  I want to try them all.

There are two different approaches to time management, one, ala Getting Things Done, talks about  getting things out of your “inbox” and how to organize them into todo lists.  The other way, outlined in the Four Hour Workweek, is about how NOT to have todos put into your inbox to start with.  Sometimes, having fewer choices is better.

I feel bad often for not using the resources I have at hand.  I spent (and continue to spend) so much time gathering them.  However, on the good days when things go swimmingly well with the children and I feel very accomplished as a teacher and parent, I notice it is because I’m following my own personal philosophy and being mindful.  Often, I’m in the moment with the children, something comes up in our interaction, and we go and use a material or talk about a certain topic, or I give them a 5 minute lesson on the spot.  Not only am I following the children’s interests, I’m mindful of their mood and receptiveness.  When I start getting ambitious and think, “I can turn this into a long elaborate teaching lesson and REALLY teach them about xx!” that’s when I lose them: when I plan and give lessons based on what I think they ought to learn.

Cases in point.  We’ve been gardening and growing wheat grass out of our Back to the Roots fish tank.  One day, a simple activity of harvesting these wheat grass to make smoothie led to a lesson on the Parts of the Root.  Or, when the children start saying Thank Yous everywhere we go, unprompted, and can make their own breakfast and lunch.  In these moments, I feel in tune with my environment and what I feel is important to impart to the children.  I’m not trying to unschool, to learn through play, to be a Montessorian, or a Classical education follower.   I’m just being me.

I’m trying harder now to temper my enthusiasm and curiosity for new curriculum and materials I see.  There is a LOT of ways to learn Chinese.  One thing in Montessori philosophy that really resonates with me is that she observed the children and THEN developed her curriculum.  She didn’t start out thinking children will learn better in a certain environment and then implementing those ideas.  The curriculum is very much integrated and not quite how we traditionally learn, and yet again and again research comes out to support this way of learning.

My goals for the next few months is to go back to working on mindfully learning our Mandarin.   It’s a constant battle.  Maybe it is time to unsubscribe to a few FB groups!