(Welcome back! This is the second article in a series on problem solving in the homeschool environment.)
Last week we spent some time analyzing how to apply Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs to the problems that may be arising in your homeschool environment. (Read it here.)
Many times naming unmet needs and honoring those needs with small habitual changes solves the problem you were experiencing. What do you do, however, when the needs of one family member are in direct conflict with the needs of another? How do you homeschool and meet everyone's conflicting needs?
I would like to tackle this situation and spend today's article taking a closer look at a problem solving technique from the agricultural field. Stick with me! This is one fun rabbit hole!
What is Permaculture?
In the 1970's an Australian ecologist named Bill Mollison coined the term permaculture by smooshing together the expression permanent agriculture. Boiled down to its essence, permaculture is agriculture focused on sustainability.
Mollison compared the practices of modern farmers with the flow of nature. He found that the modern farmer solved most of his problems with inputs. If the plants need nutrients, add them. If the animals need food, feed them. If the weeds need picking, spray them. Nature solves most of its problems with specialization and niches.
The Farmer's Inputs and Natures Niches
Let's consider first the farmer with his crops and livestock. Each of these inputs (food, water, nutrients) adds additional time and costs, and many of these inputs create their own secondary problems. You fed the pigs! Now what are you going to do about their waste product? You sprayed the weeds, now what are you going to do about the additional soil exposure?
Do you find yourself doing this? The baby is fussy... you pick him up. The 3 year old wants playdough... You open it up. The big kid can't reach the puzzles... You reach on up. You. you. you. you. You are solving most of your problems with input. No wonder you feel so tired by the end of the day!
Mollison is famous for saying, "You do not have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency." What does this mean? If you own ducks, you need to feed them. If you have a garden, you need to keep the snail population manageable. You can either spend time and money treating the snails, AND time and money feeding the ducks, or you can let the ducks loose in the garden. They can eat the snails for you. They are snail specialists.
If you approach your problems by first naming and honoring the strengths of all involved, you will find that you begin to value the unique contribution each element brings to the table. If you first respect the individual uniqueness of all players, you will find that the group can work together in a synergistic manner.
How does this play out in the homeschool setting?
Your children have a time of day when they naturally have more energy. Your children have a time of day when they naturally slow down and settle in. Your children have a natural gift towards one activity. Your children need more practice and guidance in another. What other patterns can you find? Spend a few days jotting down the rhythms you observe in your child.
In each rhythm, find the positive gift. If there is a tricky moment, really work to flip the behavior on its head until you can clearly see the silver lining. There is no behavior that does not have a gift hiding inside.
There is no behavior whose coin that does not have another side.
Back to permaculture for a second example.
Bill Mollison went on to spearhead the reemergence of a very old practice; food forests. He observed that nature has no farmer to spray pesticides and spread compost. What nature has is symbiotic relationships. So he began planting a mix of many different fruit trees in an area. Then he shared with the birds. The birds may have pecked a few apples, but they also fed their young every caterpillar they could find. Fewer caterpillars made for healthier fruit. Essentially, he paid the birds for the work they can't help but do.
Mollison noticed something amazing. He could spray to keep the caterpillars away and net the trees to protect them from the birds, or he could just let the birds eat. He may have ended up with a few less apples, but he also ended up with MUCH less work. As he observed, he began to notice how frequently the problem IS the solution. Every tricky moment holds a gem hidden inside. Every perceived issue provides the solution to another perceived issue.
Application in the Classroom
At the beginning of the last article I mentioned the teacher who expects first graders to sharpen their pencil after they hang up their back packs in the morning. Why would a master teacher do this?
The master teacher noticed children needed to know WHAT to do after they hung up their personal belongings. Without a clear goal, the children were creating their own inappropriate entertainment.
The master teacher noticed the children were already out of their chairs. They were already up and moving about.
The master teacher noticed the way the lesson was disrupted every time the children were asked to try things on their own, because their materials were not ready.
And so the problem became the solution!!! While the children were searching for something to do, they were already holding their materials, and they were already standing up, this was the PERFECT time for them to tackle the issue of the dull pencils.
Application in the Homeschool Environment
Over here at Hearts and Hands Homeschool, we have an issue that I mentioned in the last article:
The most annoying time of the day for me is the hour the daycare kids leave. It is annoying because ALL the children are tired. My own children are ready to have my undivided attention and our extra sweet joys are really starting to miss their parents. Also, you know how kids act when you get on a phone call? How it triggers some primal source within their tiny bodies? "Quick! Mom is on the phone! Now is the time for a crisis!!" SAME. Put simply, my children demand my attention when I need it to be elsewhere.
To try to solve this problem I first tried recognizing the needs of all involved:
My own children have just spent a full day sharing Mom ~ they NEED my individual attention to feel secure.
My extra Sweet Joys have spent a full day away from the people they love most ~ they NEED frequent snuggles to regulate their nervous systems.
I am nearing hour 10 of a house full of tiny humans lacking developed frontal lobes ~ I NEED a break.
It seems I could not solve this problem by simply attending to the needs of all involved because these needs were at odds with each other. My first go-to solution tool did not apply.
So instead, let's think about strengths!
My own children are strongly connected to their emotions at the end of the day.
My extra Sweet Joys are predictably ready for some one on one time at the end of the day.
The end of a work day means I am tired. My natural rhythm is ready for rest.
The problem is the solution, remember? So now I must ask myself, "Where or when would I want this strength?"
What activity is most meaningful when we are strongly connected to our emotions?
What can I only do when the children are coming to me one on one?
What is an activity that would serve me well, but I must slow down and rest to accomplish?
I will train the boys to expect "clay time" during the last 30 minutes of the day. Clay soothes exposed nerves. It will provide both meaning and deep pressure stimulation.
I will keep a small box of phonemic awareness toys near me as the toddlers play outside. Those who need deep pressure physical play to self sooth can do so. When they come "check in" and grab a snuggle, I can utilize the time to strengthen their future reading ability. I can help ensure learning is equated to receiving comfort.
I will place my bible study book on the shelf next to the phonemic awareness kit so that I may spend the in-between time in prayer. I can connect with God when I am most in need of respite.
Problem Solving Recap
Before you can solve a problem, you must be able to clearly define it.
First observe that there are no unmet needs causing trouble.
If the needs of those involved are at odds with each other, consider the strengths of each participant AS THEY ARE in that moment.
Consider your daily flow and ask yourself, "Is there another place, activity or time when this perceived weakness would instead be considered a strength?"
After you have analyzed the situation and decided upon a solution, spend the next 21 days in habit formation mode. Forming the new habit is its own mountain to climb, but at least you now know which mountain to start up.
Good luck on your climb! As always, I hope our journey inspires your own.
Buckets and Berries