To School, or Not To School

It has been a long time since I have posted. I spent some time enjoying the last few posts that I did, following my own introspective mind through the process of debating keeping my business going, what my thought processes were and how I moved forward. Okay, the blog did not really chronicle how I moved forward. I seemed to have fallen off of the face of the earth. But here I am again, sharing what my brain has been mulling over for the past couple of years.

One thing that has happened, or hasn’t happened, is me getting my bearings back. I still haven’t located that passion, that drive that I had before that propelled me to read and look into everything that I could regarding education. I’m not entirely sure of the reason, other than I don’t really have a good outlet for this passion any more. I worked with a lot of stress for the past few years, and am still working in a stressful situation, although not the same one I was in before. I am trying really hard to not jump ship and land myself in yet another stressful work situation that I am not going to be happy in.

I think one of the reasons why I have been so unhappy is that my research has reached its logical conclusion, and it has been paired with life experience. That is the most dangerous pairing, because it means that there are tangible results to back up your hypothesis. And my underlying hypothesis this whole time has been that schools are not a healthy place for children. With all of the sitting in class, doing worksheets all day, with little experiential learning and not much connection to “real life,” school can drain the life out of some kids.

My own daughter went through k-5 and half of sixth grade in school. In first grade she was put in a remedial reading program because she was not reading at the school’s predetermined reading level. That was my first red flag for my daughter. She became very anxious about reading because she was not reading fluently enough for her teachers. But she loved to read, and her comprehension was off the charts. The next red flag came in third and fourth grade. She had switched schools and her grades started falling. I’m not sure what the differences were between the two schools, but third grade is when things start to get a little tougher because benchmark testing begins that year. Her third grade teacher and I had several conversations about her work, and her fourth grade teacher and I had to work out a behavior management plan for her because she was having a hard time focusing in class. I got the school system to do some testing and they determined that she had ADHD. I then got her tested by a psychologist and she determined that my daughter not only had ADHD, but Aspergers as well. The diagnosis wasn’t too much of a surprise to me; I had been going back and forth between the two as possible diagnoses for a while simply because of different things my daughter does, quirks that she has. But I didn’t think her diagnosis would come back as both.

Fifth grade was a nightmare as I tried to keep her off of medication. She could not keep up with homework and her attention and focus in class were non-existent, according to her teacher. In sixth grade I finally caved and started looking into medication options. I didn’t like any of the options because of the side effects. I didn’t feel good about putting my daughter on medication that could cause depression and anxiety, and my daughter complained because the medication I did put her on made her feel less happy than usual. On top of that, she was at a new charter school, and she began to develop anxiety habits like picking all of the wood off of her pencils and leaving a long piece of lead attached to an eraser. The teachers suggested mechanical pencils and stress balls, but with her lack of focus she would forget to bring these things to class half of the time. Her homework load became ridiculous and she began to have tantrums in the evening over homework that was taking her all afternoon and evening to complete. It was not a good situation, and I talked to her therapist about pulling her out of school. She had a therapist to help her with social skills, but even that situation was frustrating for me as a parent, because all I saw happening was the therapist pulling out a game to play, misunderstanding something that my daughter did or said, not listening to what my daughter had to say about what she did or said, and then my daughter having a tantrum because she was being misunderstood. Every week I watched this frustrating scene repeat itself over and over. But the therapist was a good support for me when it came to working through all of the considerations for pulling my daughter out of school.

I pulled my daughter out of school at the end of the second quarter of sixth grade. It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. Our society is so conditioned to believe that if your child is not in this system of schooling, then they will not be successful in life, that my hands were literally shaking as I walked down the steps out of the school after filing the disenrollment papers. The only thing that was going through my head was the terrifying thought that I was going to break my kid.

There is a process that I learned about before I pulled my daughter out of school called deschooling. When I first heard about it, I took it to mean the decompression phase that most children who are pulled out of public school go through before they really start to become curious about learning again. And there is a lot of truth to this process. My daughter is in the middle of this process right now, and I constantly have to remind myself that what she is doing during the day is okay. And it isn’t like she isn’t learning. More on that in a minute.

There is another meaning of the word deschooling, though. Through listening to a great podcast called Fare of the Free Child, I came to see that deschooling is a process that anyone can go through to unlearn some of the structures that schools teach us. One of those, for me, is the importance of how people dress. It always bothered me in school that I didn’t have the fashionable clothes that the other kids had because it was viewed as a status symbol. It bothered me as an adult that I didn’t want to dress in the types of fashionable, or nice, clothing that other adults did. It bothered friends of mine, too; one Christmas this group of friends pooled their resources and bought me an entire new wardrobe that was more to the style of the day. The fact that they did that bothered me then, and it bothers me even more as I am thinking back on it and blogging about it. Were they that embarrassed by how I dressed that they felt the need to do that? It was like they were trying to change me to suit their vision of what one of their friends should look like. It bothered me as a parent that my daughter didn’t want to dress the way the other kids did – not because I thought it was important for her to be “on trend,” but because I was worried that she would be viewed as an outcast because of her choices in clothing. Now I am learning to face my truth: it is okay for both my daughter and I to wear clothing that we feel comfortable in. We both are rather androgynous in our clothing choices, and sometimes we both choose to wear nicer, more feminine clothing. My older daughter is similar in her clothing choices. There is nothing wrong with that for any of us.

Another deschooling lesson for me came from my daughter very recently. I have been getting onto her about her language choices and how she chooses to talk. Not that she is using bad words or anything like that; she is actually the bad word police in our house. But she doesn’t use what I term “proper language” sometimes, and it grates on my nerves because our society views people that use language that is not “proper” as uneducated or unintelligent, and I do not want anyone viewing my daughter that way. But my daughter made the point that people talk in different ways because of the way that they are brought up or because of where they live, and it is not my business or anyone else’s business how they were brought up or where they lived that led them to talk that way, and it is definitely not my place to judge them for that. What a profound statement from my daughter that put my judgment of her language choices on notice! I did have to explain to her that, while that is very true and I appreciated her bringing that truth to my attention, there is that structure in place in our society, and while it is not okay for me to be judgmental about how she chooses to talk she should be aware of that structure even if she does not choose to adhere to it.

Even though I am still terrified daily by my choice to pull my daughter out of school, I see evidences of her learning all the time. We don’t go see the therapist any more, but my daughter told me the other day that she found a YouTube channel that talks about ADHD, Autism, and social skills, and that she is learning how to better relate to other people. And she did that on her own, without any suggestion from a therapist or a teacher, or even from me. During this deschooling time she has been playing Minecraft and Roblox incessantly, which is another scary thing for me (video games all day?), but I know that she is learning something from them or she wouldn’t be playing them all the time like she does. I have always believed that children do not involve themselves in something that isn’t just challenging enough, and that they aren’t learning something from, even if the challenge and learning aren’t readily apparent to us at the time. She is no longer on medication and I can tell that she is happier, less stressed, and less anxious than she was. And my conversations with her consistently show me that she is learning, even if it isn’t the prescribed academic learning that our society deems is so important.

So the question is, to school or not to school? I know that the answer is going to be different for different people, but I think you know by now what my answer is.

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Turning a Corner

So much has happened since I last sat down to write. I know it has been less than a year, because I attempted to move my blog to another site, but that didn’t last long. That site is about to come down, and I have pretty much dismantled the business. It isn’t a bad thing, though. The business was losing money hand over fist, and the stress of keeping it up finally got to be too much. Plus, I’ve had multiple conversations with people who are doing what I want to do, and their words are always the same: you need to go back to school. I’ve always fought against going to school, arguing that it is a simple piece of paper, but the truth of the matter is that in order for me to go into any type of research position or teaching at the level that I want to, I do have to go back to school. There really isn’t any question about it. So I started back to school last semester, but this semester has me really excited. I’ve been trying to figure out why, because I’ve never been excited about school. I mean, I like school, but I haven’t been thrilled about it. But this is the first time I’ve been in school where I didn’t feel like I was just doing it to get the piece of paper. It’s the first time I don’t have side-studying going on that I have to stop doing because I don’t have time. It’s the first time that school feels like the path to get to a specific goal, and anyone who knows me knows that I am going to work my darnedest to get to any goal that I set for myself. I’m excited about it, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

The Importance of Curiosity

Teaching should satisfy the curiosity of the children and stoke the curiosity of the teacher. – Sarah Riley

Last week I attended a professional development workshop that had us defining some of our values as teachers. I had done this activity a few years ago because I feel that it is important to know what you value in your life and in your classroom, because it defines what you do, how you act, and… well, it defines pretty much all aspects of your classroom. If you haven’t sat down and defined your own values, I recommend that you do so. It helps so much when it comes to planning, goal-setting, and other aspects of your teaching.

Anyway, because I had already done this activity it was easy for me to write down the three values that were required of us during this activity. Since I finished before most people, I wrote down little sentences to highlight why I find these values to be important. In case you were wondering, curiosity, independence, and exploration were the three values that I wrote down. And the quote above is what I wrote down under the value of curiosity.

I have found that curiosity is a driving force – maybe the driving force – of everything I do in the classroom. I plan around the things that the students show curiosity about, and I learn so much about those things because I have to find resources and plan activities to help them learn about those things. I find myself curious about the things that the children do, how they learn, how they interact with each other, where they need me to take the direction of their learning. There is so much to be curious about in the classroom, and so many ways to satisfy these curiosities.

Reflecting on this quote at this time, I think that I would change it a little bit: I think I would say “Learning should satisfy the curiosity of the student and the teacher, and stoke their curiosities in order that they can learn even more.” When you learn about something, it doesn’t satisfy that desire to learn. Usually when I learn something, it brings about even more questions about even more things that I want to learn about. This is what I mean about stoking that curiosity; it is satisfied about one thing, but it keeps going when it comes to something related or even something totally different.

I heard a great quote on a podcast today (which was quoted from a different podcast that I don’t think I’ve heard yet): the opposite of depression is curiosity. I’m not sure I completely agree with it, but it does make quite a bit of sense. When you are curious, you are striving to figure something out or learn something; you have a goal and a purpose. When you are depressed you don’t have any of those things. No goal, no purpose, no anything. When we are teaching, we should have a goal in mind, something that we are striving for. Interested in how to foster productive relationships in the classroom? Develop a curiosity for how children resolve conflicts, how they learn empathy, and how to teach these skills to them. This is the essence of curiosity in the classroom, and curiosity leads to learning.

Going Back to School

I’m becoming excited about my place again, excited about what I am learning and doing. It has been a while since that happened, but I think that a pretty big change in direction has helped with that.

I decided to go back to school. A mentor has been suggesting it for a while, but I have brushed it off as unnecessary, since I have had the business and all. But the business isn’t cutting it, and it hasn’t been going the way that I intended for it to, so it is time to continue on my own personal journey so that I can figure out where the business needs to go. I have a really awesome idea where it should go, but I need time to get it there. And schooling. I think learning more will be a good thing. It usually is. After my mentor mentioned it and I scoffed at it (I actually filled out the application but didn’t follow up with my transcripts), I spoke to another woman who has had years and years of experience in the early childhood community as a consultant. I asked her how she came to be doing what she has done, and one of the major things that she mentioned was schooling. So apparently necessity in this field. I thought I could be one of those people that can drop out of college and make their mark. And in a lot of fields you can. But not this one. That may seem funny to some people who are reading this – that I actually thought that. But when you look at the innovators of this age, the Steve Jobs and the Mark Zuckerbergs, those are some pretty big role models who did not need to complete college to get where they are today. I look at the people I admire in the business world and they are saying and doing the same thing. But this isn’t the business world. This is the education world. Its a little bit different and I am working really hard to accept that. I love to learn, but I hate classrooms. I know that as I get farther along in this journey that will probably get better, and luckily there are more online learning programs now than there ever have been. That helps.

So I’m packing up the business for a while and going back to school. It is actually almost a relief. It will give me more time to post on here, I know that. I’ve missed it here.

Getting What We’ve Paid For

I don’t generally comment on presidential elections; I had my political phase a few years ago and now I’m content to spend my time worrying about things that I’m more passionate about, such as education. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pay attention. I follow news stories and generally know what is going on, but I don’t obsess about it. This stage of the election cycle is the part that I really try to stay away from. I call it “The Circus,” when all of the clowns that feel that they are uniquely qualified to be the President of the United States come out of the woodwork and begin shouting at each other and generally doing anything they can to discredit each other. If you can’t tell, I’m not a big fan of this part of the process. While I recognize my need to know who the clowns are and what they bring to the table, I’m not going to obsess over their antics from that point on.

One clown that I have been looking at a little more closely is Donald Trump, but not for the reasons that you would think. I am fascinated by the fact that so many Americans view him as a viable candidate. Now, don’t read more into this than I’m saying; I’m not saying that he isn’t a viable candidate. I’m completely neutral on all of the candidates right now because it is still early in this race. But this Donald Trump phenomenon has my attention because it is different. This man captured the attention of the American people. He’s popular. And I can’t help but think that this system that we have been paying into is finally showing its real fruit. Yes, I will tell you what I mean by that.

Look at our education system. Children are in a system that rarely teaches them to think for themselves or problem-solve their way through a lesson. Worksheets upon worksheets make our children good at doing one thing: worksheets. Schools don’t teach children how to be creative because most teachers are looking for one thing: the right answer. I would argue that some of the most successful people in this day and age are people who have dropped out of school and created something. Look around and tell me I’m wrong.

Schools do teach children some things that aren’t academic, however. They teach children who the cool kids are, how to dress to be one, how to talk to be one, and what to watch to be one. You aren’t cool unless you know what happened on the hottest new show on television and can wear the clothes and have the hair that the girls and guys have on those shows. And Donald Trump just happens to have starred in one of those hot shows. He got the reputation for being tough and not putting up with any crap. I’m sure he probably is that way in real life; you can’t be as successful as Trump is by putting up with anything. But life seems to be mimicking a reality television show at this point, with everyone rooting for the star. And that is why the Donald Trump candidacy is so fascinating to me. Trump is treating other candidates and even former candidates as if they are in the boardroom, calling them out for things that (to me) don’t even matter when it comes to a presidential election – such as whether or not John McCain is a war hero. And the public is eating it up, just like they were when he was on reality TV. To me, it feels like reality TV has met real life.

 

The Cult of Personality

In an effort to really understand what has been going on with me and my crazy mind-swings, I have been doing some research into areas that I believe will help me understand myself. I am reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, to be followed closely by Social Intelligence by the same author. I got these books originally as research for a book that I have been working on about conflict resolution (not the one that I was excerpting on this blog; that one has been shelved for now). Emotional Intelligence has been really fascinating so far, but I put it down for a few days to research something else that I have been curious about: personality.

I took a personality test years ago. It defined me as INTP. I didn’t know too much about that except that it means that I am definitely introverted. This past weekend I have been reading more into personality tests, what they measure, and what they mean. Did you know that, out of all of the personalities out there, INTP is the rarest? And from what I have read, it is amazing that I really get along with anyone at all since I live in my head so much. That’s an INTP for you.

I have a lot to learn about this whole personality thing, and it may be something that I read some more about. I had my fiance take the personality test so that I could see not only what his personality type is, but how our personalities interact together. I know, I can see how our personalities interact together on a daily basis, but one of the hallmarks of our relationship is that we don’t fight very much, and not over some of the things that other couples fight about. I was wondering if I could figure out why that is by examining our personality profiles side by side to see how our personalities work together. Also, it might be helpful with children in the classroom, too, to be able to see who has what personality and how we can work to make the classroom as comfortable for those personalities as possible. I think it will help me when I am dealing with my extroverted child, as well. She is about as extroverted as I am introverted, and I’m pretty introverted. That has already made for some interesting differences of opinion as far as how we should spend our time, among other things. There are many useful applications of this knowledge, and I can’t wait to share what I learn about it. And about emotional and social intelligence, as well.

What Am I Doing Here?

So a few months ago I told you that I was not going to be posting on this blog anymore; I was moving to a new website named after my company, Project: Preschool. My intent was to export this blog to that website and keep things going there, but somehow it never felt right. I never got that done. I got a few things moved over, but not the entire blog. After much introspection, I decided to continue my blogging efforts here. After all, I have my entire blog history on this site. This is where I started. This is where I can see how I have changed my thinking in the many years since I started.

So what caused all of this? What am I really doing here? Well, being in introspective person that I am, I really started examining where I was going and what I was doing. I haven’t been happy in the classroom in quite a while, which is a shame because that is where my passion has always been. I have been pounding away at the professional development business with a little bit of success, but I’m not sure what kind of gains I have been making with anything because the business is still very new. And exhausting. I mean really, when we get right down to it, starting a new business is one of the most stressful and exhausting things you can do, especially if you have a full-time job as well. And I realized that somehow my priorities had gotten mixed up. Somehow the business became more important than the classroom. I think I know how it happened: when you are an assistant teacher in a classroom, you don’t have quite as much responsibility for the direction of the class or how the classroom is going to look or anything like that. That is where I started with this new job and because I didn’t have the added responsibility of being in charge of the classroom I put the business at priority number one. Of course, it had been a big priority before that, when I was so stressed out at my other job. Anything to get out of there, right? At least, that is how I felt. I wanted to grow the business so that I could stop working for other people and be my own boss. And that is great, if that is what you want to do. But in the middle of all this stress I lost sight of the classroom, which was where my passion started. Heck, that is where my passion is – I just didn’t realize it for all of the stress. The business was always supposed to grow organically from what I was doing in the classroom. The classroom was always supposed to come first. It didn’t end up that way. It ended up with me being completely stressed out about slideshows and presentations and did these people like what I was doing and what am I going to do to market this thing and what product am I going to produce next and how fast can I get it put together.

STRESS!

I hated my job in the classroom. I’m not sure how much I liked the business. Don’t get me wrong; I love doing the workshops. It is all of the work that I have to do to get the workshops and after the workshops that I don’t particularly care for. And I started thinking about what was going on. Why did I hate the classroom? I used to love the classroom! I used to get up every morning fired up to go to work and play with the kids and explore things and do things and I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to work and play and explore. And I did. And I loved it.

What happened?

I lost sight of what was important. I lost sight of my love. My love for the theories of education and creativity and curiosity were replace by books about how to grow a business. If you are like me, those books aren’t nearly as interesting as the theories of education and creativity and curiosity. I just got rid of a huge pile of those business books this weekend in an attempt to get back to what is important.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the business at this point. I love doing the workshops and I don’t see me stopping at this point, but I don’t see the workshops happening the way that they have been. I don’t see the marketing happening the way that it has been. I see me getting back to what is important to me: the classroom. And I hope that you will stay with me on this journey as I continue to push forward into the things that are truly important.

There Are No Bad Children – Three Tips for Discovering the Intent Behind Children’s Actions

I had to give this blog post some time to marinade in my mind before I wrote it because respect to children is at the heart of everything I do. It is inherent in every move I make, every word I type, every book I read to research topics that I want to teach about. I try to make it every part of every move I make in my classroom. Sometimes I don’t succeed (but no human is ever known for perfection), but I know when I do because I enter into a state of flow that only being in sync with the class as a whole can bring.

I recently gave a workshop about classroom environments. This workshop discusses how to create an environment that will be comfortable and engaging to everyone who is in it for the 8-10 hours a day most teachers and children are there. It takes into account the space as a whole, as well as the materials that are in the space. I love doing this workshop because I love seeing what teachers come up with to make their space more comfortable and engaging.

This night, however, there were a couple of teachers who were stressed about the environment in their classroom, and I’m not referring to the classroom or the materials. These teachers were concerned about the children in their class. I’m not going to get into specifics here because I take a firm stand on confidentiality, not just with children but with teachers as well. Suffice to say that the teachers were concerned about the material that I was teaching them because they felt that no matter what they did, how they changed the environment, what kind of materials they put out for the children, they were going to destroy it.

I had no answers at this workshop. I discussed this class at length with these teachers and came up with nothing, but not for a lack of trying. I discussed stress management techniques, which the teachers said that they were using. But when I tried to get to the heart of the problem – the intent of the children – the answer always came back the same: their intent is to destroy whatever they can get their hands on.

I don’t doubt that some children like to destroy things; disconnecting is one of the schemas that children explore countless times throughout their lives. However, these teachers feel that these children destroy things maliciously, with clear intent on destroying materials that don’t belong to them. And no amount of explaining, questioning, suggesting, or hinting was going to make them feel any differently.

Children feel. We all feel, but children feel much more deeply and much more intensely than adults do. Most of the time they do not have the self-control to handle their emotions and will act out in ways that seem destructive in an effort to gain a sense of control over their lives. Our jobs, as teachers, is to discover what is causing such big emotions in the children we care for. It isn’t safe to have children destroying everything, and it isn’t okay either, but rather than slapping a label on the child (“He’s so bad” or “He’ll destroy everything”), why not take some time to figure out why this child is behaving in this way?

1. Observe – Watch the child throughout the day – his interactions with others will probably be the most important here. If the child comes into the classroom all wound up, observe to try to discover why. Observation is your friend here – if you can see the destructive behavior in the context of their own frustration, it may help you find the root cause.

2. Communicate – Ask the child why they are destroying materials. Find out if they are upset – and if they are upset, find out why. We can’t help children feel safe until we know what it is that is making them feel unsafe, and sometimes we won’t know until we ask. Be sure not to sound judgmental – as if the child were doing anything wrong. If you approach a child as if you were mad or angry, they will either lie to you in defense (so they don’t get in trouble)or not say anything at all.

3. Breathe – Breathing is important, for us and for the child. Do some stress management with the child and breathe with them, especially before you have any kind of conversation with them. Our own stress management is important if we are going to approach the child in a non-judgmental way.

Destructive behaviors can be very frustrating, but with these tips, you should be able to help the child come up with solutions to their own frustrations that will help them be more productive and less destructive.

Perseverance

Today I watched a child working with some boards to create some ramps. It was quite a system that he set up:

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At one point, he had a really hard time balancing the boards on the different cones and objects that he was using for that purpose. I watched him closely to see if he would get frustrated, but he simply kept right on working and adjusting, trying to get everything to fit and stay the way that he wanted it to. When he was done, the results were very impressive.

I have watched children like this for a while. When they are creating and they are really in that creative zone, they don’t seem to get as frustrated as they would if they were being asked to do something or if they aren’t in that zone. They work harder and smarter and really focus on what they are doing. They don’t really give up until they get so frustrated that they have to walk away – and then they walk away. They don’t fuss or cry or scream, they just simply walk away.

The differences in attitude between the children who get in this zone and the ones who don’t are so astounding to me. I experiment with different materials in the classroom all the time to try to find things that allow children to enter into this state of focus. Open-ended materials, loose parts – these are the materials that guide children into flow. They are much better than the plastic toys that most manufacturers market as the best toys for children. Children don’t need fancy toys to create. They simply need real, found materials, some time, and some patience from us. When they have those things, they have super-focus and the perseverance to build amazing structures, all on their own.

“I Don’t Believe You”

So today I got a lot of writing done. I am determined to get a book done; I’ve been talking about it long enough. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on Facebook for the topic of the book, and that is a good thing. I did start writing a book about six months ago, but what I was writing was way too much for me to start out with. This one is a lot simpler, and it seems to be coming together fairly well so far. I’m under no illusions when it comes to how long it will take me to get this book put together. I know it takes awhile, and I’m sure that I’ll learn a lot along the way. I’m always up for a good challenge, and I’ve always wanted to write a book.

While I was on the playground today I was listening to another teacher discussing a situation with a child. I’m not sure what the child actually did, but the teacher asked the child about it and the child explained what happened, and then the unexplainable happened: the teacher told the child “I don’t believe you.” I couldn’t really believe that I had heard that; I can understand not believing every word that comes out of a child’s mouth, especially if the child feels that there is a threat of punishment involved. However, to actually tell a child that you don’t believe them?

Think about it this way: Imagine that you are telling someone that you trust a story about something that happened, and they say that they don’t believe you. How do you feel then? Inconsequential? Like the story didn’t even matter? Like they don’t even trust you? How do you build a relationship on that? Working with children requires that we build relationships with them with mutual trust on both sides. If a child is telling you something untrue, then that means that they don’t trust you with the truth. And if you tell them that you don’t believe them, that isn’t going to repair the trust issues that are present. It is only going to make it worse.

I try really hard to make sure that there aren’t these trust issues in my classroom. I don’t use punishment at all. We talk through things until we figure out what happened and we figure out solutions to problems. I try to approach situations with as little judgment as possible so that children feel safe telling me the truth. Lying comes from fear, usually from fear of punishment. If you take away the fear of punishment then lying stops.

So how do you make sure that children know right from wrong without punishment? That is a question that I always get asked, and I just answered while writing my book today. Maybe my next post will be an excerpt.