A parent of two, experienced teacher and teacher coach, Brittany Cabrera, shares her experiences and insights on the importance of joy and curiosity in learning. How do we implement simple fun opportunities and gain more joy for all involved? How do we deal with our desires to go “over the top” when wanting to create joy and end up missing the joy for ourselves and our kids?
Find “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness” here.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the parents as learning coaches edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Parents and caregivers play many different roles, at times, even somewhat conflicting roles as they support children’s development. The pandemic has shown a light on the importance of parents supporting learners. In this podcast, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner that can support your coaching efforts.
Steve: 00:33 Parents building joyful curiosity for learning. Joining us on the podcast today is Brittany Cabrera. She’s a parent of two, an experienced classroom teacher and instructional coach and she’s joining us for a discussion around the joy of learning. Welcome, Brittany.
Brittany: 00:56 Thank you. Thank you for having me, Steve.
Steve: 00:58 Brittany, in an article of yours that I read, you shared the impact of reading, a book titled, “Joyful,” that that book had an impact on you personally and professionally. And I’m wondering if you’d start us off by sharing some of those insights.
Brittany: 01:16 So the book, “Joyful” by Ingrid Fatell Lee is such a well laid out book. It really dives deep into all of the things that we
take for granted in our world that naturally create joy in our lives. And I love science and I love things that are backed by research and science, so she does that. So something as simple as confetti, Ingrid Fatell Lee has identified this scientific reason why confetti naturally brings us joy, which is really interesting. It just made the entire book interesting. So these little things such as repeat patterns like polka dots, why that naturally brings joy, these things that you don’t realize are bringing joy to you in that moment and that – but they are. Or bringing in color, for example, the different colors of the rainbow spectrum. How that just naturally creates joy in us in our brains. So it was a very interesting book. It just helped me to look at a lot of different things that I do through a little bit different lens.
Steve: 02:30 So are you describing a connection between joy and learning that has a a brain connection?
Brittany: 02:42 Yeah, there’s definitely a brain connection. So you look at little kids. I was actually, I was outside and my kids at this point are eight and five. So we’re kind of at that cusp where my eight year old could not be as engaged in some of the baby like activities as she used to be and same thing with my five-year-old, but we were sitting outside the other day. It was a lovely day here to be outside and they got out bubbles. And so they said, “mommy, can you do the bubbles for us?” And I said, “yeah, sure.” So they’re waving this big bubble wand and they’re just having a time of their lives. And it just reminded me of the book, “Joyful” because in there, she has an entire chapter about floating things like balloons and clouds and bubbles and how they naturally bring joy to all of us no matter how old we are.
Brittany: 03:35 And then it led into this conversation with my eight year old of, I wonder if I could create a glove – this is what she said. She wants to create a glove that could catch a bubble and the bubble wouldn’t break. And so then she started talking about what would have to be on the glove, what would have to cover that glove because bubbles are made of soap and water. It just spurred this entire conversation all based off of the really, really simple thing of bubbles. She just – her natural curiosity just took it to a whole other scientific level and she’s over there inventing and designing a glove to catch bubbles.
Steve: 04:14 As you started talking, the picture that was in my mind is the times that I’m out for a walk and and I find the the parents or grandparents with the young child that two and three-year-old child who found the puddle. And the way they’re the way they’re jumping in the puddle and running through the puddle. And you know, it’s almost like I wish I could look into that brain and see and see what’s happening. But they’re making things up and testing it out.
Brittany: 04:52 Absolutely. And then you look at the faces on those parents or those grandparents, and there’s the pure joy for watching their child. Just sitting back and watching, it brings joy to everyone, both the kids and adults.
Steve: 05:07 And I think they’d find joy in watching my joy – the parents. The parents are looking like they gave me this treat of bringing their kids out here in this puddle.
Brittany: 05:18 Exactly. And then you guys start talking and you make friends and that’s even more joy.
Steve: 05:23 I’m wondering what suggestions you have for us as parents and and for me as a grandparent concerning promoting joy in learning with our kids.
Brittany: 05:32 So my message for myself that I have to remind myself of, because I am no master of this either. And every day is a daily
practice is very similar to the same message that I have for teachers, for leaders, for everyone in education. We need to get back to the simplicity. The entire message of “Joyful,” Ingrid Fatell Lee’s message was how simple joy really is. And just remembering that simplicity. So looking at kids’ birthday parties or putting together Easter baskets, I looked on social media one year, which is partly the reason why I’m not really on social media that much anymore, and some of my friends had put out their Easter baskets and said, “oh, the Easter bunny has visited.” But it wasn’t just the basket. It was like bicycles and trampolines and all sorts of stuff. I was like, oh my goodness, that Easter bunny is insane.
Brittany: 06:32 I mean that is a six foot Easter bunny that drops Easter eggs and now he also drops off trampolines. That’s a little intense. It’s a little much.
Steve: 06:44 Joy gets lost.
Brittany: 06:45 Joy gets lost. And then I will do my own kids’ Easter baskets and I had just gotten things from the dollar section. Some of those bubbles were in there, stickers, the simple things. But the next day I kind of felt bad about myself. But then the next day, looking at the pictures that my friends had posted and the pictures of my own kids, the joy was the same. It didn’t matter how extravagant it was, just that simple joy. We see that also when the joke about the parent that buys the big gift for the child’s birthday or something and the child is more interested
in the box than they are the actual gift.
Brittany: 07:25 Right there. Keep it simple. Even something as simple as bubble wrap. The bubble wrap packaging that comes wrapped around the thing you bought that’s that could very well bring more joy than the actual thing you purchased. So just keeping it simple and watching that curiosity grow, because curiosity also has more of a chance of growing when things are curious. Going back to the bubble example, my daughter’s curiosity took her learning to a whole new scientific level from a really simple activity. So I think just keeping it really simple and just sitting back and watching and looking, and that’s where you’re going to get the most joy.
Steve: 08:10 You just put a big smile on my face because of the number of times as a grandparent, I stopped at the dollar store before I came over. And about four or five little things that in a bag, you know, that ended up costing me $5 could keep them going. And interesting, bubbles was frequently one of the things that I would, that I would drop in there.
Brittany: 08:35 Absolutely. It’s hard though, as a parent, it really is. It’s hard when you – because I think all parents want to give their children more than what they had. I think that’s, you know, a goal of all parents. And a lot of times it’s really easy to get caught up in the idea that giving our kids more than what we had means buying them more or providing them with more when really what the kids want is more of our time. More of those things are actually free and actually really easy to give, but we just oftentimes overlook them. So that’s hard and it is, especially in the age of social media and comparing ourselves to other parents and seeing what they’re able to give their children, it is a hard thing to remember but I definitely actively try to remember.
Steve: 09:27 Well, that simple jumps back out – another smile as I’m listening to you. My daughter’s Facebook page that I opened this morning had a picture of she and my granddaughter who set up an assembly line in the kitchen the day before packaging a ready-to-serve meal. And then went out and dropped it off for some caretakers who have their hands full as an extra piece. And I can only guess the joy. Well, obvious the joy they brought to the person who dropped it off for, but I think the joy between my daughter and my granddaughter as they executed the, you know, the making of the dinners and the delivery of the dinner. I think it’s just captured all throughout that. And it is simple as you bring it back to.
Brittany: 10:27 It’s simple and it’s serving others. And who knows, for your granddaughter, that simple serving of others could totally change her life and it change the trajectory of the decisions that she makes someday, maybe the career that she chooses someday. That’s another hard thing for parents, for myself sometimes to just let them be. To let the kids really truly explore what they are most curious about what they really are most interested in. And serving others is such a huge lesson and such a huge hugely important concept that we need to be giving to our kids as well.
Steve: 11:13 I’m wondering before we close out here, any thoughts on how parents can support schools? There’s lots of pressures on schools to move away from the kinds of things we’re talking about. And I’m wondering if you’ve got thoughts on things that a parent can do that support a school or support a teacher in creating the time for joy.
Brittany: 11:39 That’s a hard one. I fully believe that as a parent, I’m my kid’s first teacher. And so I was having a conversation with a friend the other day who’s moving to a different state and she’s concerned about the school system there. “Oh, I don’t hear good things about the school system,” but they really want to move to this other state. And I said, you know, as parents, we really are our first – we are our children’s first teacher. So the way I kind of look at the schools for my own kids is that they go there to learn how to work with other people. They go there to learn how to be in a classroom, how to respect authority, especially for my daughter who that’s one of her biggest lessons in schools, how to respect authority. And they go to school for a lot of things and yes, for academic growth as well. But in the end, the experiences that I provide for my children and that knowledge of what they’re curious about and taking them to the zoo when they’re curious about animals or taking them to a museum when they’re interested in dinosaurs, those things are on me, not the school.
Brittany: 12:56 And so I think that your kids are going to be okay. I think they’re going to be okay. You are your kids’ first teacher. I think that communication between parents and schools is so incredibly important, but I hesitate to say that because sometimes that communication isn’t always the most positive communication and that kind of goes both ways. I think that really keeping – when I say communication, keeping that focus on how we can work together as a team for these kids to help them grow. I think that when parents and teachers come together under that umbrella of we’re working together as a team here, we work together. I think it just is so beneficial for all parties involved, especially the kids. So with that, the conversations are more of this is what they’re interested in, or the teacher asking the parents, what are they interested in? Or just saying, you know, sometimes I’m having a hard time connecting with your child. What can you tell me? Can you help me? What works at home? What are you guys doing at home? And the parent also being excited for that relationship and for building that relationship with the teacher is so important.
Steve: 14:12 So if we flip that as a parent, I can offer up some of that information, even if it hasn’t been requested as a way of letting the school letting the teacher know that that joy and that curiosity is important to me. And being able to give the teacher some recognition when they came home with it. When I taught first grade, whenever the parents could come in and tell me what we were doing in science or social studies, I knew I was doing a good job because the kids were running home to share their excitement. If the parents didn’t know, I knew I needed to take a look back, that I may have been missing something. So those words from parents, we’re always reinforcing.
Brittany: 15:07 Yes. I think that any time parents can offer that support to teachers, I think it just is so much more powerful for the kids. I think about my son. He was speech delayed, so he’s in speech and right at the beginning – so the whole speech world, and the fact that he has an IEP and that he’s in a special ed umbrella, that was a different world for us. And when I first met his speech teacher, we just sat and talked. And just sitting and talking has made the biggest difference in his growth. I was just naturally expressed to her, “oh, he loves dinosaurs.” He cannot say his R sound to save him, but he can talk about the T-Rex all day. Get him to talk about dinosaurs and he is going to go on and on and on.
Brittany: 16:00 And so she’s really just run with that. And now this little five-year-old is talking about the Pachycephalosaurus and all these other dinosaurs that I can barely even say their names and he’s in speech. So that, that type of connection between parents and teachers is so incredibly important and can really just grow. I think that having the time to talk, having the time to meet each other, it’s been very challenging this year. There are many schools where the parents and the teachers have never actually met in person. And that’s an incredible challenge to overcome. Emailing back and forth, setting up a Zoom, hose are all great. But also, you know, sometimes things can get lost. Real intention can be lost in an email. So I know that everyone is really looking forward to being able to see each other in person really meet each other in person here in 2021 and I think it’s a great time for us to start to rebuild those relationships.
Steve: 17:11 Terrific. Brittany, I’m wondering, before we close off, would you mention the book and the author again, I’m thinking some parents might want to look for that.
Brittany: 17:19 It is “Joyful” by Ingrid Fatell Lee and the cover has confetti all over it so it’s a really fun cover.
Steve: 17:28 Thank you so much for joining us here today and a joyful rest of your school year.
Brittany: 17:35 Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Steve [Outro]: 17:38 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.