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Parent Testimony: An Evening in the Life of a Wonder Parent

By Zach Lahn on April 20, 2022

If you are a Wonder parent, you know well the “end-of-session-whirlwind” that sets in the night before an exhibition.

What’s a parent to do?

Dr. Elizabeth Dean is a parent at The Village School (TVS) – our affiliate in Northern Virginia. She describes beautifully and accurately the emotional roller coaster we have all ridden and why it matters how we respond.

You can read her story below. I hope it strengthens your spirit and fuels your journey.


Here is a peek into our house just last night through the often tricky transition from after school to evening to bedtime.

It is the end of the session, so our Elementary Hero is busy clicking every last click on Journey Tracker to ensure she earns the badges she has been working towards. She is stressed and anxious by all that she hasn’t done. She vacillates between excitement because it is the end of the session and she can see what she has accomplished, and frustration because it is the end of the session and she can see all that she failed to accomplish. She begs to stay up late to do “just two more skills on Khan” and “I have to finish writing my personal mission statement” and “I really want to set my goals for Session 4 right now!”

Meanwhile, in the other room, our Montessori Hero is busy writing “notes of gratitude” to everyone she can think of, inspired by something that happened in her studio that day. She brought home a gratitude jar with slips of paper listing things she and her fellow learners were thankful for – she took this as a call to action and wanted to continue her exploration while showing off her newfound ability to sound out words and write sentences. She is determined to “write 100 notes tonight before bed.”

As I shuffled from one room to another – reprimanding the dog who has also been busy eating a computer charger and ruining yet another ornament from the lower third of the Christmas tree – I think of how grateful I am for the “no homework” policy at The Village School. In the words of Ron Ritchhart, work is something you do for someone else and learning is what you do for yourself. My heroes are not working. My heroes are learning, and they are deep in it.

I finally convinced one of them to get in the shower and start the transition to bed. We agreed to finish the 92 other gratitude notes tomorrow. At our house, our kids hold us captive while they are in the shower – does this happen to you? Is it just me? I know this won’t last forever, so I let it happen, and like so many aspects of parenthood, I am full of a combination of deep love and dread. When I’m held captive in the bathroom, it’s almost like the veil of the shower curtain creates a sense of intimacy. It is our family confessional where all thoughts are spilled. On this particular evening, unprompted, our Montessori Hero decided to share her goals: “Mom, I’m going to finish the light blue handwriting book and then I am going to learn cursive. My goal is to do a few pages every day so I can do it all next session.” Desperately trying to remember the right kind of praise to say, I cringe and hold back the I’m proud of you and squeak out the Wow, I hear you making a challenging goal for yourself – it’s clumsy, but it’s okay. The veil of the shower curtain helps.

I ran back downstairs to check on the end-of-session-Elementary-Studio-marathon happening only to find my 8-year-old sifting through at least a dozen Chrome tabs open on her laptop. She is excited to see me because she wants to show me this new way of organizing her work that she has just discovered because of the “Learning to be Intentional” badge. I look. I listen. I bite my tongue to hold in the hurry up and please get to bed. I run back upstairs to check on the shower situation before there is no hot water left.

On the other side of the shower curtain is a request to play the “It’s Not” game, one of her favorite thinking games she learned at school. The premise is to see everyday objects as new things, valuing creative and divergent thinking. “It’s not soap, it’s a magical potion that makes rainbows wherever you soap it,” comes the voice from the other side of the curtain. Before I can share, I hear the other yelling my name from downstairs.

Still lost in the tabs on her screen, she asks me if she can share her Passion Project speech with me right before she begins to rationalize why she needs to stay up even later examining the work of her peers and providing them feedback so they, too, can achieve a badge at the end of the week ceremony. It is shortly after this debate that she gets overwhelmed because she realizes she hasn’t completed all the tasks for her Math Adventure badge, and she begins to break down.

I am so grateful for her sense of overwhelm. At the Village School, learners have the opportunity to be emotional and feel overwhelmed about work and learning that matters. It probably took me about a year into my Village School experience to proudly admit that I really actually truly hope that she doesn’t get all the badges; I hope that she doesn’t complete all her goals; I hope that she feels regret about what she did not accomplish over the course of the session. I hope this because it will be an experience from which she will learn. I also realize that as a parent, I can only have these hopes because of the environment and culture at The Village School.

I don’t have to imagine what this same evening would look like in my house if we attended a more traditional school because I work in one and have for the past 15 years. The overwhelm would be about completing worksheets or packets with fill-in-the-blank notes, preparing for a multiple-choice test, answering the questions at the end of the test book chapter, or completing a Pinterest-y activity to celebrate the 100th day of school. The overwhelm would be about compliance and completion with invisible strings of relevance to my learners’ lives and imaginations. The overwhelm would be caused by a fear of failure that defines self-worth. And most striking, the roles would be reversed: me begging my kids to think about school or complete the work assigned by their teachers instead of my kids begging me to stay up later to keep thinking about school and the learning they have chosen for themselves.

The students I work with are focused on all work and no learning. This is not by choice, my students love to learn, they just see it as something they do “after my schoolwork is finished.” “School isn’t actually about learning anymore.” Students cram for tests only to forget the content days later – something they readily admit. These students feel the same emotions of anxiety and overwhelm that my Elementary Hero feels at the end of her session, the difference is in the life-worthiness of the work that created the emotions in the first place. Failure in a traditional school could have potentially harmful ramifications for learners, and also many times it is the parents who are held accountable and not the students themselves. In these schools – in my school – there is no game of “It’s not” – rather the game of school is always about selecting one right answer.

So in the space between after-school pick-up and bedtime, there is so much to be grateful for as a TVS parent. There is struggle and it’s not always pretty, but I do know when there is a struggle, it is a worthy one. There is no homework or test for which to cram. There are, however, many tests of patience, character, perseverance, and so much learning.

[Blogs or portion of blogs may be adapted from the blog of our partner school founder and advisor, Laura Sandefer.]