Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ubuntu and Child Development- How to Teach "Human-ness" at an Early Age

The term Ubuntu can roughly be translated into several different things including “Human-ness”. The most common definition for this African term is “I am, because we are.” There are different ways to interpret this saying but in essence it encourages people to put aside selfishness and embrace a sense of caring, empathy, love and generosity toward all peoples. It does not advocate for revenge and selfishness. Ubuntu encourages community. It encourages people to take a step back from themselves and see what they can do for others. This is a concept we have drastically moved away from as a society.

The core concepts behind Ubuntu are important when considering how we raise the children of the next generations. If you take a step back and look at the children of the current generation, and those soon to come you see a trend developing. People are becoming exceedingly more selfish, self-focused, in need of instant gratification and have a sense of competitiveness, which knows no bounds. The sense of competitiveness is fueled by the perspective that you always need to have more or be better than other people. This may be fueled by the perception that things are limited. But they are just that, things. This viewpoint stems from a sense of selfishness and fear. Many people say selfishness is innate. And to a certain point that may be true, but with concepts like Ubuntu, it’s possible to move away from that perspective and create a shift in thinking. It is imperative to teach a sense of human-ness to children from a young age. When children are exposed to this type of concept early on, their behaviors and view of the world are far more empathetic, loving and caring. Children raised with the model of interdependence, have a far more balanced perspective of their relevance to the community as an individual and as a contributor to the society as a whole.

The SEEDS philosophy is all about community and bringing people together. We believe it is essential to get children involved with others so they can learn to develop a sense of community and oneness with other people. It’s a simple fact that we cannot live without one another. The SEEDS community is focused on developing the whole child and therefore raising children to believe they play a key role in the whole community, just like every other person does. It is essential to use concepts like Ubuntu to help children understand that though they are unique, wonderful gifts to this earth, they are also part of a bigger whole. Many of us as parents, teachers, educators, mentors and so on, forget that while each child is unique and special in their own way, above all else, it is their special contribution to the community that is vastly more important. It focuses on the team, on the group. Without everyone contributing, and looking out for one another, everyone will eventually fall.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Wonders of Respect

One of the guiding principles of S.E.E.D.S. Community-based Education is the idea of mutual respect, mutual benefit.  We firmly believe this approach is a sound way to begin a relationship.  When it comes to education, everyone (students and teachers) has something in their knowledge base that is of potential value to others.  Teachers may be in front of the class and may have years of formal education to their credit.  Yet an uneducated farmer from a small rural village may have a better understanding of raising crops than a college graduate with more degrees than the average thermometer.

When meeting strangers, it is easy to misjudge or judge them by their appearance, the circumstances, or whatever biases and preconceptions we hold consciously or unconsciously.  Fundamentally we are all human beings, homo sapiens, and share many traits.  Some people feel they are superior to others and demand respect from those whom they deem inferior.  Granting strangers the minimum modicum of hospitality and respect could be the first step toward creating an opportunity to exchanging knowledge.  This begins the process of understanding to bridge the knowledge gap of other peoples, cultures, etc.  You may be surprised what others have to offer once they feel welcomed and secure. S.E.E.D.S. programs focus on facilitating learning and creating opportunities for people to learn.  The credo of “mutual respect, mutual benefit” is very appropriate as the true power of information is only fully realized when it is shared.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Learning is a Continuous Experience

S.E.E.D.S. Co-Founder Gregory Lee created a number of cyclic sayings during his nearly 3 decades of teaching.  The sayings are looped around a yin-yang symbol.  Originally he roughly arranged the worlds in a circle.  The original form of this cyclic saying was a single “loop” of words starting “Teachers should be students should be…” and ending with teachers.   Late versions used two simple phrases “Teachers should be students; Students should be teachers.”

This cyclic saying was borne out of the realization that as a student, he learned better when trying to teach the lesson to other students in a study group.  Sometimes the repetition helped him to more fully absorb the information.  Other times, trying to explain the topic to another student helped to clarify it in his own mind.  And then, in the spirit of life-long learning, a teacher continually learns new things to keep up proficiency and is therefore a student.

Personal experience and repeated validation keeps this cyclic saying current in S.E.E.D.S.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Teaching Children to Guide Themselves

This week we are featuring a quote from S.E.E.D.S. Co-Founder Natalie Zartarian.  Toward that end, this card sums up one of her goals and guiding principles.  S.E.E.D.S. strives to empower people to learn how they learn best and to be life-long learners. 

We live in a modern high speed technologically saturated world.  A common lament is the near total connectivity of modern life that people seem to lack face-to-face human interaction.  In less technologically advanced societies, families bond when sharing food.  Look around, and you see people sitting together in restaurants and coffee shops.  Each seems totally absorbed in text or email exchanges while connected to the world, yet isolated from those sitting at the same table next to them.

Retrieved from
As early childhood educators, we advocate direct human interaction as important for the development of the whole child.  S.E.E.D.S. lessons and activities are student-centered, project-based and involve group interaction.  How else will children learn to develop concepts and skills to interact with other people?

As Ghandi once said, “Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency.  Man is a social being.  Without interrelation with society he cannot realize his oneness with the universe or suppress his egotism.  His social interdependence enables him to test his faith and to prove himself on the touchstone of reality ”

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Common Core- Could it be more dysfunctional?

The Common Core is fast becoming the Common Bore as many students and parents are thrown into confusion and despair over the new style of basic mathematics.  “An Iowa woman jokingly calls it "Satan's handiwork.'' A California mom says she's broken down in tears. A Pennsylvania parent says it "makes my blood boil.''  “Simple arithmetic isn't so simple anymore, leading to plenty of angst at home.”  [These quotes appeared in “2+2=What? Parents Rail Against Common Core Math” from by Michael Rubinkam Thursday, Oct 9, 2014] 

When students get frustrated, they can readily give up and get bored having to sit through lessons they don’t understand.  They are not having fun.  This is not a very conducive learning environment.  As Walter Barbee said “If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.”  The Common Core does not give the child a real opportunity for success.  The Common Core is top down curriculum that is not student centered nor is it student friendly.  It takes simple math operations and makes them more complex.  The resulting confusion does not make students creative thinkers or problem solvers as was hoped.  The Common Core proponents and advocates lament the confusion is a result of poor program implementation and lack of adequate teacher training.  If this is so, you have to wonder why they launched the program if it wasn’t ready.  It makes you wonder if student success is really a consideration in this curriculum. So who is the slow learner now?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Who Drives Student Centered Learning?

Teachers who understand children’s needs are learning facilitators. These teachers recognize the need to foster a child’s curiosity through play. They engineer the environment to nurture, foster, protect and enrich the child’s learning opportunities. Play is the child’s natural learning process. The child is the driving force of their own learning. Teachers who acknowledge this fact allow the students to be in the driver’s seat of their educational journey. This is in contrast to traditional top down educational models where students are spoon fed a regimented standard curriculum. This one size fits all approach is counter to the natural curiosity of individual learners.

S.E.E.D.S. strives for parents and educators to be more aware of the need for a bottom-up curricular process that is rooted in the child’s curiosity. This approach invests in children. It creates a setting that consistently nurtures and fosters a child's curiosity and learning through personal interactions with the environment.  We call these interactions "play". By creating an environment supportive of play, the adults place the children in the driver’s seat. Now the children can have fun learning, which is what play is all about.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Learning: They Can't Take It From You

At S.E.E.D.S. we think learning and education are naturally occurring parts of life; they are not rights nor privileges.  They will occur with or without a teacher, peers or schools being present.  As socially responsible adults and basically good decent human beings, we believe each child should have the opportunity to learn to be a life long learner.  This is the basic tool to develop effective critical thinking.  It improves their ability to survive and use their resources to sustain themselves, their families, and humanity.  The natural ability to learn can be nurtured, fostered, protected and enriched by astute parents, early care givers and educators who promote and celebrate the child's innate curiosity and learning. With their curiosity intact, these children grow and progress through life with essential knowledge and skills to successfully guide them.   They will have learned how to learn, to become their own best teachers, and to be life long learners.  At this point, no one can take away their learning.

S.E.E.D.S The Big Picture

The Sustainable Early Education Development System (S.E.E.D.S.) is plain and simple - out of the box. The S.E.E.D.S. program utilizes the following tools: the Geographic Systems Model, the Community Based Education Model and STEAM to connect the “dots.” The essence of S.E.E.D.S. is to foster, nurture and enrich curiosity and playfulness starting at home and continuing at school. From infancy to around age three the brain develops 1,000 trillion synapses. This is double the amount of synapses found in an adult brain. These synapses are some of the strongest connections built in the brain, creating solid, long-term connections that support future learning, growth and development. By age 3, a child’s brain is 80% of the adult volume. Neural pathways are being created and reinforced.  Developing the brain is critical to the child’s survival.

For adults, the word play is defined as “an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”  For a child, nothing could be farther from the truth.  When a child “plays”, the brain is undergoing physiological development.  From an ECE perspective, play is a serious and practical mechanism for learning. When you consider the brain development factor, this has profound impact on early learning.

 At S.E.E.D.S. we think it is vital to nurture, foster, protect and enrich curiosity and playfulness. A child needs to feel safe and secure in their environment, in order to be willing to learn and explore. Nurturing is the means of providing safety and security. Once safety and security is assured the child’s curiosity emerges. Through careful observation, the adult fosters the child’s curiosity. This is the start of opening a Pandora’s Box for adults. At this stage of language development the child may not possess words they need to express their curiosity. The fostering process facilitates language development and empowers children to ask the question why. Curiosity is expressed through the question why. Once the seed of curiosity is planted, it drives lifelong learning. 

If you understand this fundamental concept you can readily see the need to protect a child curiosity. This should be the top priority of all parents and teachers. Protecting a child’s curiosity encourages the child to learn to think outside the box, advances cognitive abilities and builds social skills. From this beginning adults can create learning opportunities to further enrich the child’s growth and development. Each of these components drive the making of the whole child. An unfortunate side effect of encouraging curiosity is often perceived as the bane of parenthood; the incessant asking of the “why” questions. 

The S.E.E.D.S. curriculum gives adults the tools needed to nurture, foster, protect and enrich the education of the whole child. This effectively keeps curiosity alive. The child’s playfulness and curiosity drives the learning process. These natural processes are fun and stimulating to the child. This is what children are doing when they play. They interact with the objects, environment, peers and adults simultaneously. It creates a simple system for the adult to support the child’s learning. In these play based situations it becomes much simpler to answer the “why” questions in the context of the real world. 

The interactions fostered by play, reinforce the synaptic growth and development in the child’s brain. This prepares the child for lifelong learning. The synaptic growth at this age, tends to remain a permanent part of the child’s neural makeup.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Education is the key to freedom.

S.E.E.D.S. aims to develop as fully as possible the potential the young minds of children.  By nurturing, fostering, protecting and enriching their early education, we strive to free their minds from the limitations that may be imposed, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, by others or by the children themselves.  Children’s minds are like sponges.  From the protective environment of the womb, they enter a world filled with diverse stimuli.  Their very survival depends on their interactions with the environment.  The first three years are the critical formative years that impact the rest of their lives.  An unfortunate fact of circumstances often occurs at birth.  Many children are born into poverty.  Their families struggle to make ends meet.  Preschool education is often deemed a luxury rather than a necessity.  What is the freedom referred to in George Washington Carver’s quote?  Freedom is an abstract term.  As such, people can read into it as they want.  The world is filled with challenges.  At S.E.E.D.S. we see education as a critical function to overcome many obstacles in a person’s life (e.g. conflict and prejudice, among others).  Education also holds the key to understanding and peace.  Basically, S.E.E.D.S. strives for the free intellectual development of all children as good, decent human beings.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Education Policy Fails

No Child Left Behind and Common Core curriculum are prime examples of top down education policies.  Be assured, these are NOT student centered.  In fact, many so-called student centered lessons are top down actions in “sheep’s clothing”.  Like so many other things in modern life, jingoisms and buzz words are catchy tags for the latest fads.  And like many TV ads, these phrases often fail to deliver.  On the surface, the students suffer.  No Child Left Behind also meant No Child Gets Ahead.  Everyone needed to be in lock step.  Common Core has revealed itself as many students got to experience the Common Bore up front and personal.  In the long run, the nation suffers.  You have to wonder who benefits by killing the curiosity of children who grow up to be adults lacking critical thinking skills.  Reflection and introspection seem to be lacking in most top down policies.  Perhaps policy makers curiosity died at an early age.  As adults, they can only create unimaginative education policies that fail to serve the students.  What we can’t quite figure out is where they got the creative spark to make policies that seem to line their pockets at the expense of the students, future generations and the nation?