Balanced Bites Podcast #427: Teaching kids to think for themselves, embrace challenge, and love learning with Ana Lorena Fabrega

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#427: (and did she REALLY just say that about video games?!) …Ana Lorena Fabrega is an Author, Edu-preneur, and Chief Evangelist at Synthesis. Growing up, she attended ten schools in seven different countries. She then earned her BS in Childhood Education and Special Education from New York University and taught elementary school in New York, Boston, and Panama. Today, Ana Lorena (known by her students as Ms. Fab) writes online to over 200,000 readers about the promise of alternative education. Her book The Learning Game – Teaching Kids to Think for Themselves, Embrace Challenge, and Love Learning, is launching on September 5. Find it here:

Balanced Bites Podcast #427 with Ana Lorena Fabrega

Welcome to the new Balanced Bites Podcast! I’m your host, Liz, a nutritional therapy practitioner and best selling author bringing you candid, up-front, myth-busting and thought-provoking conversations about food, fitness, and life. Remember:  The information in this podcast should not be considered personal, individual, or medical advice.

I have spent YEARS researching whether a good multivitamin is truly necessary for overall health. But the truth is, there are a LOT of opinions out there, including from people like me, who love to ask lots of obnoxious, overly detailed questions. But the truth is, if I’m paying attention to how I FEEL, my answer was clear: I will be taking my multivitamin. And it will be from the brand Needed. Needed third-party tests EVERY batch for performance and quality, which is incredibly rare in the supplement industry and also incredibly important to me! To get started with Needed, head to Use code balanced for 20% off your one-time order or your first three months’ subscription. While you’re at it, add Stress Support to your cart. I’m loving that one, too.

Now about today’s episode…

This interview with Ana Lorena Fabrega, who is the author of the new book The Learning Game: Teaching Kids to Think for Themselves, Embrace Challenge, and Love Learning

 checks off a HUGE one on my bucket list. I have been following Ms. Fab for years now, cheering on her unapologetic, thought-provoking and action-oriented viewpoints and proposed solutions about traditional schooling, the problems with our current educational system, and how things might change to serve kids better in such a dynamic and rapidly changing world. When she announced she was writing a book, I knew it was time to have her on this podcast. And this is the second episode of 2 where I talked with leading experts about education – a 2 parter that I thought would be perfect to start the school year with. What’s fun? These experts might not agree on everything. But they BOTH have inspired such deep thought in me that I think they are a perfect compliment to each other.

Now, Ana has been a real influencer in my life for several years. So much so that we enrolled our daughter in Synthesis school for a time (you’ve got to experience it to understand, it is truly like nothing I have ever seen) and I cannot stress enough that her book is one you MUST get if you have school-aged kids in your life. 

For me, this interview served as a reminder to embrace my kids’ questions, to remember that we CAN fight this battle at home if that’s what life necessitates – as in, if finding an alternative school isn’t feasible or ideal for you. Because it IS a hard battle and for many people, a traditional educational environment is best for multiple reasons. But that doesn’t mean we can’t turn our thoughts to inspiring that curiousity, that questioning, that embracing of challenge at home with the opportunities we do have. And it also doesn’t mean that traditional school couldn’t be improved! And as I’ve said many times – it is the disruptors like Ms. Fab who drive change across ALL educational channels, from the local public school to the private, for-profit institutions. These kinds of conversations are necessary! Education is a human right, and the right thing to do is to constantly work to improve it, to ask questions, to wonder “could there be a better way, and if so, how do we integrate that possibility into our institutions?”

I think one of the most important things that Ana talks about isn’t that video games might not be so bad (gulp) but that maybe we should rethink what the phrase “good student” should mean. 

As she says:

Kids can get good at playing the game of school, but are they really learning?

How we can guide kids to think for themselves, encourage them to take risks and tackle projects of their own, and hopefully, guide them to love learning – the process of learning. And of course, as we talk about, teaching them to practice failure. 

Now, this isn’t just your run of the mill challenging of educational axioms and/or articles of faith, (whichever term resonates) … Ms. Fab paints pictures that REALLY hit hard, like the treehouse analogy I talked about, and whether you’re an opt-out-of-it-all type, a Waldorfy type, a hybrid homeschooler, a Montessori fangirl, a co-op connie, a Reggio ronnie, whatever…you’ll find that she really crosses all genres to both challenge dogma and solve problems that show up in pretty much any educational and/or even home environment. So have a listen to this episode and the previous one, be challenged, and reconceptualize education with me!

Ana’s book is The Learning Game: Teaching Kids to Think for Themselves, Embrace Challenge, and Love Learning…you can find a link to it through the show notes of this podcast, pre-order it now so you can get your copy from this print run. I have it, I’ve read it, and it is one of the best books on education I’ve read. On to the interview!

Ms. Fab: I love recording here ’cause it’s, yeah, I feel like I’m with you.

Liz Wolfe: Oh my gosh, that’s so nice. I have, so I, I wanna spend as much time as possible actually talking about things that matter with you. But I will say this, one thing I’m like, is that we, so we bought this house five years ago. Mm-hmm. And you know how like red light saunas are kind of a, a big thing right now?

Very, you know, and I walked down here and I was like, well this basement is, it looks like I could maybe one day put a little sauna in there if I ever wanna invest in a little sauna. And the realtor goes actually, and she pulls open literally a door in the wall and goes, look, and there’s this sunken hot tub grotto, viking sauna , it’s bigger than the one at my gym.

And we were like, what did the people do in here? Why is this here? It doesn’t work. It was exempt from inspections. And so I’m like, this would make a perfect podcast

Ms. Fab: studio one day. So that’s what, that’s where you are right now?

Liz Wolfe: No, that’s not where I am right now, because we, the demo on that, it is literally a stone grotto with a waterfall and a sunken hot tub.

Yeah. So the demo on that’s gonna be pretty pricey, but it’s, it’s like my bucket

Ms. Fab: list one day. Yes. Love it. Love it, love

Liz Wolfe: it. Oh my gosh. Um, okay, well, we’re recording already and I’m gonna do the intro after the fact. Okay. So if you’re ready to jump in, I’ll just jump in with the welcome to the show. Perfect.

Let’s do it. Anna. Lorena Fabre, welcome

Ms. Fab: to the show. Thank you so much, Liz. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Liz Wolfe: I am so thrilled to have you here, not just because what you have to say is so beyond important, but also because selfishly, I have an eight-year-old and a three-year-old, and I have learned so much from you, and in planning their education, especially over the last couple of years.

Things have been a little crazier, even than usual, but I’ve learned so, so much from you and I cannot thank you enough. So

Ms. Fab: thank you for that. Oh, Liz, that makes me really happy. Thank you for being a supporter of what I do.

Liz Wolfe: Absolutely. And you know, my oldest daughter was actually enrolled in synthesis school for a hot minute.

I told you in one of our emails that she’s one of those kids that actually is not into computers or computer games. Maybe we can change that at some point, because I’ve actually come around to the idea of certain video games and computer stuff because of you. So I’m excited to talk about that as well.

But I would love for you to first to, to start us out, give us a little bit about your history with teaching, and I’d love to know two different things. Number one, what your classroom looked like, what Ms. Fab’s classroom looked like, and number two, why you left that school setting to evangelize for synthesis.

And write your book and do everything you’re doing now.

Ms. Fab: Yeah, so I’m actually gonna start a little bit back since a, , a lot of my childhood has to do with a lot of what I do now. , so I was born in Panama, but , because of my dad’s job, we moved around a lot. So as a kid I went to many, many different schools.

By the time I was 14, I had been to 10 different schools in seven different countries. And so I, , at the moment, you know, I just thought that I was great at school ’cause I would, you know, I would pass with flying colors. I wouldn’t get in trouble. My teachers liked me most of the time. And, but then when I became older and I started to reflect on my childhood and my experiencing all this places I.

I realized that it’s not that I was great, you know, like that I was learning a ton in these places, but it’s that I had picked up on what I write in my book and I call the game of school. And this is a, a universal game, right? Lots of kids play this game, which is basically you learn what it means to be a good student in order to pass to the next grade level and, you know, appear as if you’re learning and pass through the motions and kind of survive those long eight hours that you’re in school every day, you know, for 12 years.

And so, um, It wasn’t until I was in high school that I did an internship at my dad’s educational company, and I started working with kids for the first time and I really enjoyed the whole dynamic of teaching them, but mostly learning from them. Like I was fascinated by how curious they were, all the things they would come up with, how excited they were about everything and how much they wanted to learn.

And so I was like, this is what I wanna do, like I wanna work with with children. So I went on, I studied education, I went to N Y U, I did the whole like standard teacher program. And it wasn’t until I was student teaching ’cause they make you student teach for like 200 hours before you get your, your teacher certification and graduate that.

I was observing students from different grades and different placements in different schools in New York and I realized, you know, these kids are bored to death. They are not really learning. They are kind of memorizing a few things in order to pass a test. But then after the test, most of them seem to forget.

Like it’s very common for them to just forget what they learned and they didn’t have this thing that I had observed in younger kids. I was student teaching at like fourth grade and fifth grade, like they were a little bit older. And I was like, well what happened with this like spark that kids have that they wanna know everything, they wanna learn about everything.

They’re curious, they love this. And that didn’t seem like that’s not what I was observing. And then I realized that they were all. Playing that game that I used to play in all the schools, the game of school. Oh, they knew when to raise their hand. They knew, you know, not to question the teacher. They knew, you know, they had to be quiet and sitting up straight and fill out the worksheets.

And so I, I was kind of discontent and, and, and kind of like, ugh, this is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life. Like, I wanna be a teacher. I wanna work with kids, but this is boring. Like, I feel like I’m wasting their time. And so I was like, well, I’m gonna do things differently in my classroom. And so, answering one of your questions, , I, uh, and in order to do all these things, by the way, I had to really deviate from the curriculum.

But for me, like fun was the most important thing. Like, I really, really made an effort and I would, sometimes you can ask like, all my teacher friends, like I was that teacher that would stay in school until like 8:00 PM sometimes just planning for the room for the next day, like the colors and the pillows and how I would put like, move the desk so that the kids could be on the floor or like the different activities and like, I would just try to do things that I knew that my kids would come in and be like, wow, this is so fun.

Like, I wanna stay here. The room was just, I spent a lot of time, you know, in the environment, right, so that it didn’t feel as cold and as rigid and then, One of the things that I would always do is come up with, you know, what are sort of like agreements, right? With the kids. And this really, really made a difference for the entire school year for me in the sense that the kids would come up with logical consequences, the things that we needed to do in order to have a classroom where everyone could thrive, everyone could learn, everyone felt welcomed.

And then what were sort of those consequences if we did not, , do the things that we all agreed that we needed in order to thrive as a class. And so, , I would give my kids so much autonomy and choices, like for everything. They all had a classroom job, but then they all had also like the opportunity to choose the books that they wanted to read.

They could choose sort of, they would tell me, we have this box where they would write the things that they were interested in at the moment. And then we would try to find, you know, we would pick a little paper with one of those things and we would learn about it. And so there was a lot of things that were not happening in other classrooms, but , it did get to a time during the year where I was like, oh my gosh, all this like common core, , tests at the end of the year and the map and all this are coming and I need to start prepping for the test.

Right? And so for the first years my kids were like, wait, what’s up? All the fun stuff that we do, like why are we suddenly sitting down and doing lesson plans and doing all this? And so , I would go back and forth between what felt good in my heart in the sense like what, when I knew the kids were actually learning and excited and then the things that I was forced to do by the curriculum, by the school in order for the students to pass this test and move on.

And so it ended up, I, I did it for three years and then the fourth year I was like, let’s see what happens if I actually don’t do test prep if I actually forget about it. And we just do the things that, again, I feel like the kids should be learning, that they are excited to learn about and I do it my way.

And so I did it and we did not test prep that year. It was fourth grade. And then I remember after the kids take the map test, I’m sharing this story ’cause it kind of shows what went on in my classroom. The principal calls me to go over the results of the MAP test and she’s like, Anna, your class placed first place in, in the map test in math and in reading.

I would love to know what it is that you did differently and perhaps you could talk to the other teachers and sort of in a professional development share the strategies. How did you test prep? And I was like, Do you wanna know the truth? I did not test prep. Like, actually, this is what we did. And I shared what we did during that year and she was kind of like, Hmm, I, I don’t know how you, how you’re gonna talk about this at professional development.

’cause that’s not what we do. And so really that was the moment where I was like, I, I cannot do this anymore. I love working with kids and, and I feel like I know deep inside what they need and, and how they learn and what makes them excited. But I just cannot do it within the school system. And even if you have all this like alternative ideas and things that you wanna implement, it’s really hard for one individual to change things within the system.

And so in 2019, I finally made the decision to leave and everyone was kind of surprised. They were like, what you miss? Fab? Where are you going? You love this? And I was like, well, I’m, I’m going to seek for, you know, alternative learning experiences. I would love to build something that kids are actually excited to do and, and that pairs up with the things that they’re gonna need in the future.

And that, you know, we, we use their time wisely. And so I had all this questions by the time I left of where, you know, how did we start? Like how did the education system even begin? Why do we teach the way that we do? Why haven’t things changed? And so I started writing and, um, I wasn’t quite sure where, where this writing was gonna take me, but as I started writing and sharing my writing on Twitter on different places, I started a newsletter.

I started connecting with people that were building really interesting things in the alternative education space. Some people were kind of, Building upon the same structure. And so it wasn’t that innovative and it didn’t call my attention quite much, but then I bumped into disguise that were building synthesis.

And, , at the time it was just, , the simulations where kids would be presented with real world problems, like hard problems even for adults. And they would have no instructions and they would just kind of like throw you in there and let you figure it out. And. It would build their communication skills and it would teach them how to figure things out for themselves and fail productively.

And then what do you do when you fail? How do you pick yourself up? And, and, you know, kids were actually for the first time that I was seeing, like thinking for themselves and formulating their own ideas and then, you know, kind of like seeing where their sloppy thinking was and then working in teams to kind of course correct that.

And it was super exciting, not only for us watching, but also for the actual kids that were going through the program. And I was like, wow, this, this is what the future of education looks like. The kids are empowered, they’re actually learning mental models and learning subjects through the games so they can then apply to the real world.

They understand what they’re learning. And so I was like, this is where I belong and this is where I feel like. You know, I can start writing about this and talking about this for a bunch of parents out there that are looking for alternatives and that are discontent with the school system, but they just don’t know where to look or they cannot afford to get their, you know, take their kids outta school, then what can they do?

So a lot of what I do now is, you know, in addition to being part of synthesis, and a lot of my ideas are incorporated there, and we’re kind of like building as we go, the future of education. And I can talk more about that later. I write about, and I create content around what are the options, , for parents.

And then, you know, why, why I believe so strongly that the school system, , does not work for every kid. And so that’s a very long ended answer for, for what you were asking me.

Liz Wolfe: Please offer as many long-winded answers as you want to because it’s all, it’s just gold. And there are a couple of things here that I wanted to talk about.

I wanna make a comment first and say, you are really validating our educational choices right now within my family. Because at the school, my kid, my oldest kid goes to, and that my younger child will start at this year, they spend several days, maybe even weeks at the beginning of the school year, crafting these essential agreements.

Like you were just talking about these important agreements that not only bond them together as a, as a school community, but that also lay that groundwork that foundation of ethics and character that that really drives their educational experience and their collaborative experience going forward.

So I love that. That was a little tick in the box for me, so thank you for that. Awesome. Now, one of the things I wanted to ask you about, . You mentioned that the younger kids still had that spark, that light where they still had that interest.

And I have goosebumps even talking about it, but at a certain point, as our administrator at our, at my kids’ school said that, that light kind of DIMMs, and I’m wondering number one, how kids sort of get trained out of that creative thinking and problem solving that they’re really born with. Mm-hmm. And also how you think we can solve that, given that you probably believe, and I believe as well, that education is a human right.

Mm-hmm. But we’re really, really struggling to manifest that productively at scale with the

Ms. Fab: traditional school system. Absolutely. So I completely agree with everything you just shared. Um, so one of the things you said is that we’re born with this desire to learn, so that’s that’s correct. So humans are hardwired to learn.

That’s how we’re born. We have this like, natural tendency to want to know about everything. Like if you look at a little kid , they, they’re curious about everything. And they have questions about everything once they start talking. And they’re, why, why, why? Right?

So, once they enter the school system, there’s a lot of structure in place and suddenly they don’t get to, like all their choices are kind of taken away from them, right? They don’t have any choice over the subjects that they wanna learn about, the pace that they are comfortable learning in, what direction they wanna go.

So suddenly a lot of the, their autonomy is taken away. And so kids love learning, but they don’t like to be forced to learn about the things that either they’re not ready to learn or they’re not interested in at the moment. And so that’s one of the first things that happens. You remove the choice and you start enforcing a lot of these subjects and you see it a lot with reading in particular.

There’s a big group that end up resenting reading and they, and they don’t wanna read for pleasure anymore because they associated with something that they were forced to do a very certain way. And sometimes their brains are not wired that way, but that’s how they teach you. And, and reading is a very hard skill to pick up.

And so if they force you and they, then they give you all this pressure that you need to learn about how to read by this grade. And if not, you go into reading remediation groups. So we start to put all this like made up pressures ‘ . And so all these forces start to make kids not want to engage in something that they originally loved.

And again, that’s one example, but you see this with math and you see this with writing and you see this with their curiosity in general. The other thing that to me, , was a very big red flag is how, , In school, you are not really allowed to question things. So it sounds like, wait, what? Of course that’s what you go to school for, but not really.

When you question things, teachers feel sort of, and again, I was a teacher, you feel like it’s an attack towards you, or you feel like, oh, they’re questioning authority. Or, you know, you have 30 kids, so how in the world would you have time to answer the 2000 questions that little kids have, right? When you have so many kids.

So teachers can’t possibly answer every question. So what starts to happen is not now, or, no, no questions, or stop asking. Or sometimes even parents get frustrated when your kid is like, but why? But why? And we’ll do this. And we’re like, stop it. Like, that’s it. And so they start to learn, okay, I should not ask questions.

Either they’re not gonna be answered, or I’m gonna get in trouble, or I’m gonna get the look from my mom or from my teacher. And so again, all this curiosity that they have, we start to tamper it down as a society, but you know, in the school, sometimes even at home. And so it’s a combination of all these things.

And then a lot of the things that we start teaching lack. An explanation. So it’s just like, oh, this is what we’re doing today. And unless you sit down with your child and you explain, oh, this is why you’re learning what you’re about to learn. If they don’t get to choose it, they really don’t make that connection.

And their brain kinds of kind of shut down. And they may memorize or learn the thing for a few days, but then it’s gone. And so the lack of context, the lack of autonomy and choices, and then us kind of like shutting down all this, like questions are a few of the things that make them, you know, kind of lose that spark and that interest in learning.

And it’s a shame, right? Because being a lifelong learner is perhaps one of the strongest qualities that anyone can have, right? And, and so that’s one of the big things. And actually. You know, the subtitle of my book is , Teaching Kids to Think for themselves, embrace challenge, and love learning?

’cause the love learning component is so crucial in order to be a successful and happy adult. Right? So, so those are some of the things that that are happening. And then what can we do in order to sort of course correct this and save this? Again, I’m gonna give some alternatives. But if you have your kid in school and there’s nothing you can do about it and your, your kid has to go to school, which is the reality for many, many families, then make sure that outside of school your kid has enough time to explore something that they’re really passionate about and something that they’re really interested in.

And sometimes parents are like, but I don’t know what, well, you help them find that you enroll them in different things until, until you find whatever it is that sparks their eyes and you let them spend time doing that. Sometimes, you know, it’s annoying ’cause again, they have so many questions, but you try to incentivize them asking questions again, and you’re like, you know, when you hear something, you know, ask why, and, and perhaps ask follow-up questions and don’t believe everything you say.

And you teach them to be like a skeptic. Which again, is not what they teach you in school, but you can do this at home. And so you can teach ’em, okay, I don’t know the answer for this, but we can go, let’s figure this out together. And so this kind of things where they feel more empowered over the learning, over the things really helps, even though it’s like small tweaks that you can do at home.

Um, and then also, yeah, in addition to spending time on something that they really love, also finding a problem that they feel that they can have an impact on and, and do something about it. And you teach them, there’s so many problems in the world, but there’s a lot you can do about it. And so find something that has a cause and that they’re very passionate about.

And then how can, how can we do something to work around that? So those are like some tweaks that you can do at home to kind of like incentivize and, and, and fire this flame that kind of like they start to lose at school.

Liz Wolfe: Gosh, you just make such an important point with talking about that home dynamic in addition to the school dynamic, because Absolutely there are dreams being squashed in school.

But I also do a very good job of squashing my own children’s dreams. And I don’t mean to, I am just, I’m, I’m so tired, I’m so maxed out. And there are times where I’ve been like, don’t a literally don’t ask why, just do what I ask you to do. And that is, that’s a tough one. And we as parents, we wanna send our kids to school and have all that stuff done for us.

But unfortunately that’s not really the way it works. And one of the questions I wanted to ask you was, as a, as a addition to what I just asked, just asked you was how this happens at home. That kids basically get trained out of creative thinking and problem solving at home. And it definitely happens a lot and it’s something that I personally need to course correct as well.

And one of the other questions I wanted to ask you about, and maybe this is a good time to loop it in, is you’re very passionate about, about. Helping children be unafraid to fail. That failure is an important component of the process of lifelong learning, of building a foundation, of solving problems. Do you notice at all that parents have been so conditioned to be afraid of failure?

Hello me? And how do we counteract that fear of failure at home and, and at school so kids can start to feel really comfortable with

Ms. Fab: screwing up? Yep. I, I love this question. I think it’s one of the most important things that parents can start to ask, and it all starts by that. It all starts by , acknowledging that, that you yourself have this fear of failure.

Most of the adults that I know, including myself, we have a fear of failure. And, and so digging in, why, if you think about it, school trains you to become a. Scared of making mistakes and of failing. Right? How? Because whenever you are learning about something, you get something wrong, it gets marked down red pen, you know, you get that f or that mark that goes into a report card that then goes home, you get in trouble for it, or it goes into your, , credentials and college.

So it’s all tied up. It’s like high stakes, right? There’s a big consequence if you screw up. And so not only that, but then also the attitude around it. Like your teacher, if you get something wrong, they look at you like, no, that’s not right, . Or that’s the, that’s the incorrect answer.

Like, they kids start to pick up on everything around that. And so I always talk to parents about, You know, failing is something that we’re gonna do for the rest of our lives, and it’s a skill just like learning how to play the piano, just like learning how to dance, ballet, like learning how to fail and how to pick yourself up is a skill that you need to practice.

And kids are not getting practice at failing at school when they’re little, and if you think about it, this is the time when they should have plenty of opportunities to practice failing and picking themselves up when, when the stakes are low, right?

If you wait until you become an adult, you know, that’s when you risk a failed marriage or a failed business or, you know, those are like high stake failures. And if you haven’t practiced, you can’t expect for you to know how to manage that when you’re older. And so, It’s interesting ’cause we already know that school is not conductive for that.

They’re not giving kids practice with that. Kids are actually learning the opposite. They’re risk averse. They don’t wanna take risks ’cause they’re like, no, no, no, there’s a risk that I will fail and I’ll get in trouble and I’ll get that, you know, bad grade in my report card. And so what parents can do is first acknowledge where it comes from, then upend your conversation around failure with your kids.

Talk about this reality and be like, you know, I’ve noted that this is what happens in school, but we’re gonna make it different at home. At home. I actually want for you to pick something that’s really hard and know that you’re probably going to fail. And that’s okay. Let’s see what, let’s see what happens when you fail.

Let’s see what you learn. And start talking about failure as part of the learning process. You know, I, you know, we can talk about video games later ’cause I’ve recently become a big advocate for, you know, video games in moderation. But one of the wonderful things about video games is that it gives kids plenty of practice with this skill.

You look at kids playing video games, they’re constantly failing and failing and failing and picking themselves up. And they just, you know, they, they, they grow skin around it. They’re like, oh, it doesn’t matter. What did I learn this time? Oh, okay, I already know what I need to do for the next time. And then they just keep going and they don’t get frustrated.

Well, sometimes of course they’re like, oh, I lost, but they don’t get discouraged. You don’t see them putting their video game away, like, oh, I failed. I’m, I’m done for the day. It’s like, no, they wanna keep going and keep going and keep going until they succeed. And so I find video games fascinating as a, you know, playground to practice failing without high stakes involved.

Right? And so that’s one thing. The other thing is kids watch their parents for everything and they pick up on, you know, on adults in general. So when you fail, and this is something that we’ve been, we’ve started to practice at home, like my husband and I are terrible cooking. And I have an eight month old baby, but he’s like paying attention to everything.

So you, you know, you see him sitting down watching us cook and we’re like doing a disaster. We don’t do this. Right. And, and usually we get frustrated, but now we’re like, okay, this didn’t work out. Oh, I guess we’re gonna eat something else now. Or you know, just like your attitude around failing, it’s like, what did I learn?

Okay, next time I need to put one cup instead of a cup in half. And just kind of voicing out loud, you know, when you do things wrong, how it’s not a big deal, what you learned and how you react to it. It’s super important. You model the behavior that you want your kids to adopt. And so that’s, you know, kind of part of it as well.

And then having them try out several different sports, maybe if they’re into sports or games or whatever it is where they start by not being good at it. And then, , encouraging them along the way and just, , that feeling of, I’m not good, but I’m not gonna quit yet. I’m gonna keep trying a little bit more until I get a little bit better.

So they experience that sense of improving at something is also real important.

Liz Wolfe: It feels like that finding that one thing that they want to continue to work hard at despite ongoing failures might be that key in the lock, perhaps to other things that maybe they’re less intrinsically motivated to really work hard on.

One of the questions I was gonna ask you was, can we expect kids to want to fail productively at something? They’re just like, not that into, because maybe this is a conundrum of school where there are so many topics, science, math, engineering, reading, all of these different topics, and we expect kids to develop an intrinsic motivation for all of them.

I guess my question is, how do we promote that type of intrinsic motivation in subjects that kids just aren’t naturally inclined to as a parent? If you’re like, my kid’s just not a math kid, is that because not all kids are gonna be. Into everything. And that’s just a flaw of the education system that they’re gonna have to be up to some standard at every single thing or, I don’t know, I’m kind of talking around this, but I think you kind of get, get what I’m saying?

Yeah, yeah,

Ms. Fab: yeah. Well, I, I actually don’t think that this is necess, well, the flaw of the education system is to expect for kids to be good at every subject. I feel like that that’s one of the problems. But, , if you think about it, nobody’s exp expect, like if you, even the most successful people out there, they’re really, really, really good at one particular thing.

And of course they have a generalist background and they know a lot about different things, but like, they’re not good at everything. And so this expectation to be good at everything, I think is part of the problem. So it’s about, you know, watching your kids. ’cause a lot of what happens in school is that, Teachers and administration, and everyone’s focused on remediating kids’ weaknesses.

But what about, doubling down on their strengths, which is, you know, some countries do this, right? For example, in Finland, they, they do this, right? First of all, kids don’t start school until they’re seven, which I think is brilliant but then they start to observe kids and see what they’re really good at, and then they start to kind of like push kids to become the best at that.

Which by the way, I think is a way better approach than trying to see all the things that you’re not good at and trying to se spend all their time remediating those instead of making you really good at what you usually people love what they’re good at. And so spending time on that. And then it also makes you feel better about yourself, so it also boost your confidence.

And so, I think that, , there are certain things that, that everyone needs. For example, math is, it’s a fundamental thing that everyone needs to learn, but that doesn’t mean that you need to go all in math. I, I’m a big believer that kids will, will want to learn and will learn what, you know, this things when they need them.

One of the big problems in school as well is that we teach a lot of things just in case, you know, just in case kids will need it at some point in life, but research shows that knowledge decay really quickly. And so if you don’t use, productively what you’re learning in 14 days, knowledge decay.

And by the way, when I say productively, I don’t mean like filling a worksheet or passing a test, like No, no, I mean, like actually using this information or whatever it is that you learned to either solve a problem or to do something in the real world, like for you to see the direct application. And so a lot of kids are like, why am I even learning this?

Or I’m learning this, but then I forget. But then when you, when they actually need something, for example, They have an interest in Star Wars and in, you know, space. Well, maybe that’s the moment where you try to teach them about , space, travel. They’re gonna be receptive, they’re gonna wanna learn about it.

Even if it’s hard. That’s your entry point. They’re curious about it. They need it for something. Or, you know, they want to learn, they want to buy something and they, they’re, they’re in that age when they wanna buy, well, that’s when you teach them about money, right? And they’re like, Ooh, I, I, I want to understand money so that I know what to buy and how to spend my money.

 Or when they, they want to start using bigger numbers, you introduce them to a calculator or you know, they’re interested in dinosaurs and they, maybe that’s the moment where you start talking about centuries and millennial decades. So you kind of. Start by what they’re interested in and then, you know, eventually they’re gonna need all these things in order to do things in the real world.

And that’s sort of when you start introducing them. Now, of course this is challenging when you’re a full working parent and you send your kids to school and, and that that’s a, a different dynamic burden. In an ideal world, that’s how learning and teaching would work, right? We would wait until kids are ready or until they actually need it .

And that’s when you would teach it. And it’s a lot easier, by the way, to do so. You know, you see a lot of teachers struggling to get kids to memorize things and learn things, and they’re bored and you’re like, oh, what do I do? You’re not gonna achieve anything that way. Right? But if you start by something that they need or they’re curious about, you win half of the battle.

Liz Wolfe: Well, folks love the concepts of holistic and integrative health. For example. It’s the same thing with education. One of the things that I see you talk about again and again and again in reference also to this direct application that you’re talking about, is that you’re looking at things in context in a holistic way and an integrative way where you’re bringing in not just the kids’ interest in something conceptual, but also like their physical, like their actual physical senses, and just incorporating all of these different modes of engagement and learning to, to figure out whatever that topic is.

It’s almost like reverse engineering, I guess, education. And one of the things that you shared recently on Instagram was just so compelling to me. It was a picture of. You know, a bunch of angles and, you know, whatever this math concept is. And then next to it, there was a tree house. And that tree house was the direct manifestation of all of this work, this math, this engineering, this science.

And when I was looking at the left side of the picture at the just math stuff, out of context, I was like literally physically bored. Hmm. I was like, no, this, this holds no interest for me. But when I saw the tree house as a 40 year old woman, I was like, yes, let’s build a tree house and I will learn all that stuff if it means I get to have a tree house.

So that’s, that’s it, right? Like, how do we reverse engineer that? It’s, it’s everything that you’re talking about. And this might be a good time to start talking about your book, the Learning Game, I’m so excited about it. Yay. And I’m excited that you read it too, by the way that you read your own audio book, which I did the same thing. It’s quite a process, but that’s so great that you did that

Ms. Fab: Yes. No, I think there’s something special when you hear an audio book by an author, right?

Yeah. It’s like the feeling everything’s there. So it’s, it’s been a wonderful process. I’m about to finish tomorrow, actually . So, yes Everything we’ve been talking about and everything that I’ve talked about and written about for the past three years, I managed to put it in the book. ,

, but I wanna go back to what you were saying about the tree house, , because one of the things that happens a lot, and this is all in my book by the way, , that. In, in school, we, we compartmentalize subjects, right?

So it’s like you do reading now for 45 minutes and then, you know, just when kids are maybe getting excited, oh, you know, the bell rings, you shut down, you move on to the next subject. Now focus on math. And it’s like, you know, as if kids were computers, right? That they could just like close the tap, open the next one and that’s it.

That is not how learning works. That’s not how learn, that’s not how our brains work. Our brains are, you know, they learn, they’re interconnected, right? We learn when we see how diverse approaches kind of mesh together, why I need this. Oh, I see how this fits in how science fits with math. , that’s how we learn.

And so that’s why I’m such a big fan of project-based learning and schools that are, , that learn through projects because kids get to learn all these different subjects through connections and, and synthesizing all the things that they’re learning about. And so, , that example of the treehouse, it’s ’cause one of my biggest frustrations as a teacher was how after spending, you know, Weeks studying a math unit.

And the kids would finish the test and many of them would do great. They would get A’s and this and that. And then I was like, okay, now the exciting part, let’s do, you know this project where we’re going to actually put into, you know, application all the things that we learned about geometry, whatever it is.

And the kids were like, what? Like completely blank. And I’m like, wait, but you guys got this right on the test, so what, what’s going on? And, and I realized that the way that we’re teaching them is so disconnected from the way that kids actually learn. And the way we present things are not memorable.

Like they’re just not remembering. And so when I started to do internships at schools that kids were learning through projects, it was vastly different. Like you had kids really invested in whatever it is that they were doing, and because they saw the direct application to the real world, such as building a tree house, then it, it was completely different.

That’s the kind of knowledge that sticks, like when they understand what they’re going to use it for. And so I’m a big proponent for that, for learning by doing, that’s a very Lindy idea. It’s been around for so many years and, and I’m a big advocate for that,

the Lindy effect

Liz Wolfe: being the, the longer an idea has been in existence, the, the more it tends to stick

Ms. Fab: to stick around. That’s right, that’s right. And there are a lot of things in education that are very Lindy. , but that, you know, for example, we don’t follow in the traditional school system. Like one of them is Right learning by doing the other one’s.

This whole notion of, , learning with kids different ages, so mixed age groups, like one of the things that I criticize the most about the traditional school system are, are grade levels. If you think about it. When in the real world do you only hang out with kids your age , or with people your age?

 That doesn’t happen. That’s not reality. And when you have kid, older kids working with younger kids, the whole dynamic is completely different. It’s, it’s incredible. You have, the younger kids show you that they’re capable of doing so much more. Than in school. ’cause in school you put a speed limit, you’re like, oh, you’re in second grade.

You learn math up to here. But what happens if you remove that speed bump? So many kids that are in second grade will actually be able to do sixth grade, seventh grade math, but we never give them that chance. Right? Because they’re in grades. And suddenly when you have them in context, you know, with all older kids, they wanna try the hard things that the older kids are doing.

And most of the time they’re able to do it right. They just need the time, the space, and the opportunity to get to that. And then you have the older kids teaching the younger kids. And the best way to learn something and actually crystallize that learning is to teach it. Like when you teach it and you’re able to teach it, that’s when you know you’ve actually understood something.

So you have that, you know, back and forth where the older kids are teaching, the younger kids are doing things that you never thought they were able to do, and the teacher really gets to like step back and observe. It’s, it’s wonderful. And so that’s another very Lindy idea, for example, um, that I would love to see bring, you know, in, in classrooms nowadays, there are some schools that do it, but it’s not very common.

Liz Wolfe: So my daughter’s school, not only are they focused on project-based learning, which has been really, really cool, but they also are in a mixed age environment. So they were two through five. Mm-hmm. Which was lovely. I will say, I think as this becomes more common and the classes expand a bit, perhaps this won’t come up as much, but they only had one fifth grader, like two fourth graders, a third grader, and then mostly second graders.

So that balance of how many kids were, were in the class could present challenges that I think probably. In my mind felt disruptive, but were actually beneficial for them to be working through as a social emotional group. So I think that also is, is probably pretty big. I do kind of wish at times that the fifth grader was just so mature and so we had to be ready as parents to answer a lot of questions that we weren’t quite ready to.

But again, that’s part of just the overall dialogue conversation and that’s, I wouldn’t say the trade off, but that’s the glorious adventure of trying something that’s a little bit different and the things that pop up because of it.

Ms. Fab: What was the age group like? What was the age cap? It would’ve

Liz Wolfe: been second, technically second through fifth.

Ms. Fab: Interesting that they divided it that way. ’cause I, I, I’m a big believer of mixed stage groups. Yeah. I think it’s wonderful that there are certain CODOs that we’ve noticed that are more beneficial. So second through fifth is kind of a, a big gap. It was broad. Yeah, it was

Liz Wolfe: broad. And that really, I think, goes to many of the things that you’ve been saying, which is that this just isn’t happening that much.

There aren’t a lot of schools that are doing it. So in our school situation, I think it really just had to do with numbers and where everybody was falling and what teachers were actually available and willing to teach in this way versus in the way that perhaps they had been educated to teach in college.

So I’m hoping that this momentum, everything that you’re doing just continues and we see more and more of this so that we can really optimize these dynamics in the schools. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Okay. I wanted to loop back really quickly and ask you, do you talk about this video game thing in the learning game?

Ms. Fab: I do, I do. I have a whole section called, um, learning through games. So, yeah.

Liz Wolfe: Okay. Talk to me, talk to me about the video game thing and why perhaps as parents, we don’t need to be so, so intensely against screen time in this manifestation.

Ms. Fab: Yeah. Yep. So this is, this is a very broad topic, and so I’m gonna kind of touch upon the things that, that most parents ask me, right?

Yeah. Um, so the first thing that we need to understand is that there’s a lot, there’s a big psychological component behind screens. And so understanding like the earlier their parents are able to understand where all this, , behaviors are coming from, quote unquote addiction, which I, I don’t think it’s addiction.

There are of course some exceptions, but in the majority when parents say addiction, they just mean like, why are my kids so drawn to these devices? And so it’s super important to understand the psychology behind it, , in order to be able to support them. And the other thing, it’s. Screens are here for the long run.

They’re, they’re not gonna go anywhere. In fact, they’re gonna become a bigger part of our lives. And so it is our responsibility as parents to help kids navigate this world, right? , because it’s not easy. , but making screens the enemy is not going to help. In fact, kids start to then, , associate, oh, screens.

And my parents like, they hate this. There’s something super negative. I’m gonna hide this from them. I’m not gonna talk to them about it. I’m not gonna ask them questions. I’m gonna figure it out on my own. And I do believe that kids need a lot of guidance in order to navigate this world in a healthy and productive way.

And so not making it the enemy and understanding the psychology behind it. So for the psychology part, and I have a whole, um, chapter about this in the book. When you look at the three things that humans that we need in order to be happy and in order to thrive, that’s autonomy, which we’ve talked a little bit about.

Competence. We need to feel like we’re good at something and relatedness, we need to feel like we belong somewhere and that we connect with other individuals. And so a lot of what’s going on is that kids are missing this three essential, either one or two, or the three essential things that they need in order to be happy and, and, and successful, , and healthy kids in the real world.

And so they’re looking for it online. And so I’m gonna give you some examples, and I’m gonna use schools an example, but again, this can also be reflected at home. So in school, Things like I, like I was talking about at the beginning, um, kids have very little choice over anything, over the subjects, over their peers, over, you know, the, the hour and like, they don’t really have a lot of choices.

Everything’s sort of imposed on them. So all that sense of autonomy is really taking away from them. So they’re not, they’re not getting satisfied at this human need of autonomy. And so sometimes they get home and then they have adult and post extracurriculars that sometimes they don’t even wanna go to.

Or they are super regulated by adults and so they also don’t feel this autonomy. And then they get home and they get to play a video game, or they get to go online and talk to friends online, or they get to do something, you know, where they suddenly have. The chance to pick what characters they want to be, who they wanna play with, you know, what games to play.

So they’re starting to have these choices that, again, are necessary in order for them to thrive. And so that need is not being met in the real world, but it is being met online. So that’s one thing. Then you have competence with all this rigid curriculums and with all this, like one size fits all curriculums and standards and this expectation that, oh, all kids will learn the same way.

So we’re gonna teach the same thing. So the many kids are not experienced competency in school. They don’t feel like they’re smart. They are not being taught in a way that their brain works or that in a way that they learn or they’re not being given an opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned in a way that suits them.

And so they don’t feel smart, and they don’t feel competent, and they don’t feel capable. And again, that is a, a, an essential human need. So then they go home. And they get to play this again, video games where they’re very good and they’re advancing levels and they’re starting to get that feeling of, oh my God, I’m very good at this.

I wanna keep doing it. ’cause you wanna keep doing the things that you’re very good at. And so again, a lot of kids not experiencing in the real world. So they’re getting it online. And then finally the feeling of relatedness, which is one of the topics that parents are like, wait, what are you talking about?

Because a lot of parents think that they sent their kids to school so that they socialize. And that’s one of the biggest critiques of homeschooling. They’re like, well, when are the kids gonna socialize? And I’m like, if only you knew that homeschooled kids socialize. Way more than kids in school, especially in school, and again, your, your kids seem to be in a very different school, but in this traditional settings where they have to be quiet, most of the time the teacher’s lecturing them, there’s very little opportunity for them to do collaborative work.

Recess has been caught down, and so really when do kids have the opportunity to properly socialize, which is again, a basic human need. They don’t, when you ask kids, they’ll be like, oh yeah, in the bus, The bus, like really? And so then they get home and online, there’s a whole world of people and of games.

And now they have like this collaboration games where you can play real time with other kids and this and that. And so they get to experience again, that feeling of, oh, here are people that I actually connect with, right? Because I don’t even have the chance to try in school. Right? And so a lot of parents think, oh, my kid’s addicted to the screens.

But really the poor kids are just getting these essential things that they’re not getting in the real world. So what do I tell parents first, realize this and, and spend some time thinking and observing your kid and making the connection, why is my kid playing? Why is my kid so interested in this? Is it because of the friends?

Is it because of that feeling of, oh my gosh, I’m doing something that I’m very good at. Or, or is it like I’m teaching myself something new, like trying to find out? And for that, you can observe them. You can join them, you can have a conversation with them. , and then try to find things in the real world that will compensate for this.

So if you realize, okay, my kid is really doing this because of the friends component. When else you ask them, like when else, like, what is something you would like? Oh, soccer, you would like to be in a soccer team and play with other, okay, let’s enroll you in soccer. So you start, you, you try to find how to compensate that in the real world.

, another thing that’s really helpful is. , understanding that screens are designed to feel like they’re never enough. So no matter how much time you spend scrolling through, you know, social media or watching episodes of Netflix or playing a video game, it’s never going to feel enough. Screens are designed that way.

And so the earlier that we understand that and that we’re able to help our kids understand that, the better. So you say, oh, you know, you acknowledge their feelings when they stop playing. They’re like, but I wanna keep playing. It’s not that they’re addicted, it’s just that screens are designed that way, right?

You need to know that it’s always gonna feel so you help them regulate. They’re not adults. They don’t know how to regulate, like you and I, that you we’re not crying when it’s time to like, you know, shut down social media and go to sleep. So you teach ’em, you’re like, I know this is frustrating. I know it never feels enough, but you know what?

You get to play a little bit more tomorrow after lunch. Or you get to use your phone again tomorrow when you know, you give them. You validate their feelings and then you tell them when they’re going to, , play with this or watch this again or do this again the next day. And so these are like little things that you can start to do to kind of relate with them and understand what it is that they’re doing.

, and so video games in particular I find fascinating because. They teach kids how to teach themselves something new. , I haven’t seen anything else like that. One of, one of my big critiques again about the school system is how everything’s so scripted and everything comes with instructions.

And we’re teaching kids to depend on adults to tell them what to do. And this is not something good for the real world, right? , in the real world, you need to learn how to figure things out for yourself, especially in this like world that we live in, where everything is constantly changing, everything’s chaos.

You need to know, you need to, you know, develop this skill of, let me figure this out. Like, I don’t know what this is, but I can figure it out. And again, like failure. It’s a skill that you have to practice and kids don’t have a lot of practice in, you know, figuring things out in school. Everything comes like, there’s a right answer, there’s a wrong answer.

Here are the instructions. So with video games, there’s a lot of figuring out, and that’s why I love synthesis too. ’cause the games are like that. Like we don’t give you instructions. The kids themselves have to just try different things that work, that don’t work and then they have to figure things out for themselves.

So they’re teaching themselves new skills constantly. And a lot of these skills, even though parents are like, I don’t see it. If you think about it, a lot of the skills are collaboration and problem solving and critical thinking that transfer to the real world. Of course, it’s not magic. It’s not gonna, they’re not gonna like play a game and then say like, I know how this applies to the real world.

But parents can help them by having, what, what did you play today? Tell me, what did you do? Wait, you learned how to do that? Is there a way for us to apply that in the real world? Tell me a situation, you know, at home where you could apply this skill. And you help them either through conversations. Some parents like to do journal writing with them where they can reflect on the things that they’re learning and see how they can bring it to the real world.

And so again, video games are a, a place for, for them to practice failing. For them to practice figuring things out. And they gain confidence in themselves, confidence in their ability to figure things out when they don’t know right, or to teach themselves something new. And so that, those are some of the reasons why, you know, and again, everything in moderation.

I do have all the research in my book that talks about, you know, what’s too much, what’s considered appropriate, you know, how many hours a week. Like I, I cover all that. And I also cover the research I follow very closely. , this PhD, , game designer called Jane McGonigal. , she has done a bunch of work and research around the benefits of video games in kids and in the real world and the harmful effects.

And if you do it the right way and parents are a big part of this, then the downside is very, very small and, and the upside is actually quite large. And so that’s why I’m a big proponent in, , you know, of these kinds of games in moderation. , and again, if you’re interested more in this, like I have a whole, a whole section about this in my book.

Liz Wolfe: Fantastic. And I’m curious, are there any two things, would you say that potentially video game time would be superior to just TV time where you’re just kind of sitting there, disengaged, zoning out, watching something very passively, perhaps video, certain video games might actually be more beneficial in those moments that parents actually need their kids to be in one place and not absolutely destroying things.

And if so, are there any particular games that you recommend or that you

Ms. Fab: like for kids? So, so yes, I do think that playing video games is definitely more productive, , than just watching tv. , there’s a lot going on when kids are playing. , and I, . I’m, I’m very careful when parents ask me this, like, recommend certain games.

’cause of course everything’s with a grain of salt and it depends on the kid. But I would, instead of recommending specific games, I would tell you, what is your kid interested in? And if you tell me like, Anna, they’re only interested in shooter games, I’m like, okay. , actually there’s very interesting research about shooter games, which says that.

It’s actually not a problem. If they are playing with people they know, like with friends or with family or with, even if it’s like online, if they know the person behind the screen, then it’s actually not a problem. , the problem comes when they’re playing with people that they cannot put an identity to.

And so anonymous people or people that they don’t know around the world, like if you’re gonna play those ki, like if you’re gonna play shooter games, it should be less than half of your game time. That’s what the research says. And it should be with people, you know, because that, in that way it doesn’t cause those aggressive behaviors and aggressive mentality that it does.

Cause when you can kind of like disassociate from the person that you’re playing with. So that’s one example, but I would really go for. Whatever it is that they’re interested. I, I love the ones that have to do like Roblox or this kind of games where they’re building things and it’s, you know, building their creativity.

They get to create worlds and, and they, you know, build and, and that kinda stuff. , I’m a big fan of those. That doesn’t mean my kid will want to play those games. Right. , then you have the ones that are more like cognitive or even, , seeing patterns, like things that, like beed or, or all the versions of Beed.

Like it actually has a whole cognitive pattern that the kids are learning that then extrapolates to math. And so, again, I have a whole section about this in the book that where I do kind of talk about it, but I try to refrain from saying specifically, you know, I would, I would focus on what nature, like what’s the nature of the kind of games my kid likes to play and then finding games in that, in that nature.

You know, it can be constructing, it can be, you know, puzzle kind of games. It can be, , competition games, , it just depends on what your kid is interested in. , in terms of actual. Building skills that are more a, a bit more maybe educational, like synthesis is the best example. That’s why I’m part of the company, , that I’ve seen out there.

And the kids, you know, we have several things. We have a digital tutor that’s actually teaching all those STEM subjects, but the part of teams, which are the simulations that are all games that we’re designed at the space, , SpaceX Lab School that one of our co-founders did with for Elon Musk’s kids, those simulations are out of this world.

 The kids love them, they’re challenge and, and they’re built with a specific challenge in mind with the specific mental models that we want to teach kids with the specific strategies that they’re going to need in, in the future. So if you want a very well designed game where kids are going to be actually learning certain things in a controlled environment, then I would check out synthesis.

Liz Wolfe: . Is there a process of sort of unlearning that has to happen for some kids, maybe once their parents find these, this information find you and they’re like, well, but I, I’ve already been on this track. Or is it too far gone for us? What happens when a kid who has been traditionally educated finds something like synthesis or starts to break out of that mold a little bit?

Is there a process of unraveling that has to

Ms. Fab: happen? Absolutely. And I think that we all get to this point at some moment in our lives where you realize that there’s a lot you need to unlearn. And I never, I don’t think it’s ever too late. So, you know, if you’ve had your kid in traditional school for a while and then you decide, oh, I wanna try something different, you need to understand that your kid has been, even though it’s not their nature, ’cause again, kids are not designed to be sitting down, quiet, not moving, but they have been in that setting for a long time or for a few years.

That’s all they know. So when you transition them or when you start to try these more alternative things, it’s very normal for them to be super frustrated at first when you don’t tell them what to do, when you don’t give them instructions when they are faced with failure and they’re like, I don’t know.

You know, it’s, and we see this at Synthesis specifically, the first sessions a lot like kids are like, This is way too frustrating. I need somebody to tell me what to do. Like, what do you mean? I need to figure this out. But I always tell parents, let them, these are all productive struggles. These are all things that are making them stronger and, and you know, more capable kids.

And by the second, third, fourth session, the kids. Realize that they do have what it takes to figure things out to, you know, know what to do when you fail. It’s not the end of the world. All these things or like when you get in conflict or, or you have a discussion with another kid ’cause they don’t have the same opinion.

This is gonna happen a lot in the real world. So this games teach you how to handle that, how to handle all this real challenges that you’re gonna face someday. It’s frustrating, but if you give them the chance and you give them the support and you’re like, this is part of the process. They, you know, and you, and you’re patient, right?

You need to be patient. It’s not like, oh, if they try it and they don’t like it after one session, it’s not that they don’t, it’s they’re not used to that. And I’m talking about synthesis specifically, but this goes for everything. And it also goes the other way around. I have a lot of parents that, , had their kids, let’s say in a Montessori setting, , for the first preschool years.

 And they were thriving and everything was great, but then there’s not a Montessori middle school. So they send them to a traditional middle school and they’re like, oh my God, my kid is a mess. He gets in trouble all the time. Montessori doesn’t work. It’s not that Montessori doesn’t work, it’s that your child suddenly went from being in this very free environment, you know, where there’s a lot of play, where it’s very student-centered, where they get to have so many choices over their learning, over what they’re doing, to suddenly go to this very rigid environment where choices are gone.

They’re telling you what to do all the time. Like it’s obvious, it’s normal that your kid is going to, it’s a shock. And so either way, you know, there is a process of adaptation and, , and yeah, a lot of unlearning that has to happen in order to, , transition to the next one. One of the

Liz Wolfe: things I see in the way you educate and the information you’re putting out there into the world is that you integrate components of many seemingly.

Polar opposite learning philosophies. I mean, Waldorf with like we’re talking video games. I mean, some of these things that feel so incompatible and you, you didn’t mention specifically Waldorf, but one of the things you said about delaying the onset of formal education, which is very Waldorf y. Waldorf is very outside.

We, you know, not we, but Waldorf will just looks at things in a very different way than you’ve got the Reggio and the Montessori, which you just talked about. And then you’ve got the synthesis and the gaming and the gamification of education. And to realize that these things all have valuable components that are important considerations in patching together a learning philosophy that works has just been so inspiring for me personally.

And yet another reason that I think your work resonates with so many people across the board. Is this intentional? Have you pulled from all these different philosophies or is it just a happy accident?

Ms. Fab: No, and I’m, and I’m so happy that you touched upon that because that’s, I don’t talk about this, but that is essentially the, the message that I try to send with my writing is that there is no one thing that works when parents are like, so what, what do I have to do?

And I’m like, I don’t have the answer. And, and something that I’ve realized when I left teaching and I started doing research of all these different philosophies and of, you know, in alternative education and traditional education, that first of all are not my ideas. And I wanna be very clear about that.

You know, there’ve been giants in education talking about all this for years. , but then it comes and it goes, and then, anyway, , I just kind of repurpose it and share it again. I. So what I’ve realized is I don’t identify with any, not like particular philosophy. Like I, I, there are things that I like from Montessori.

There are things that I like from Reggio Emilia. There are things that I like from Democratic schools. There are things that I like from very innovative approaches, but I don’t, I, there are things, you know, I always find one thing that I don’t like of, you know, or that I don’t agree with for me and my kids and the kids that I teach with each methodology.

And so what I think is that we need to stop trying to put into a box what education means and what learning means, and understand that it’s diversity of approaches and you pick and you choose what works for you and for your family. And it can be very different for one of your kids than from the next one.

And you need to understand that as well, right? In order to be flexible. And so that’s why if, if people are like, when are you gonna open your school? But if I were to open a school, which I, it’s not in my plans. Like I wouldn’t affiliate with any one particular philosophy because again, there thing, I would grab a lot from all the ones until I.

And it’ll, and it would also by the way, vary depending of where I am in the world. ’cause you have to look at the kids that you’re working with and where you are and the setting and the culture. And there, there’s just a lot. And so my hope with my book and with my writing and with everything I do is preparing to realize that.

It’s a lot less scripted than we’ve been told. , that learning doesn’t happen only in a school setting that there’s not one right approach and hopefully give them confidence to try and venture. , a lot of parents are like, oh no, but if I do this, then I’m gonna screw up my kids’ education. I’m like, well, if you stay doing the same, you’re kind of screwing your kid’s education already, so might as well venture out.

Try and if it doesn’t work, you pivot and you try something else. And if it doesn’t work, you try something else. And, and having, you know, the, the desire and the patience to do this until you land into what fits for your child. And, um, and so, and hopefully the book yeah, will give them confidence to design their own learning game by looking at this diversity of approaches.

That’s why I’m, I’m, and we’re not gonna talk about politics right now, but this whole idea of like school choice is really interesting to me because I feel like finally parents, Are going to have the chance to do this. To say, okay, I wanna try, you know this and I wanna try a little bit of this. And I wanna try and see what fits with your kids’, , family and schedule and find something that’s actually more tailored.

’cause every kid is different and there’s no way that we can grab one philosophy, one curriculum, one, you know, set of standards and say, this is for, for all. No, you can’t do that. And so hopefully, , parents realize that there is a diversity of approaches and, and will find a way to incorporate what works for them and for their family.

Mm-hmm. Well, you were talking

Liz Wolfe: about how kids need autonomy, competence, and relative relativeness Was that relatedness?

Ms. Fab: Yeah,

Liz Wolfe: relatedness. Relatedness. And I think on top of that, what parents need is confidence and trust. And one of the things that your work has really done for me is inspire a lot of confidence in my decision to sort of strike out on our own and, and find something that I feel is best for, for us and for my kids.

And also I think, I hate to call you a disruptor. I don’t know how you feel about that word, but I do great. I, this is where the change happens, right? Through the disruptors, through people that are courageous enough to, to put this out there. And in particular with your work, you are not afraid of nuance.

You’re not afraid to put things in context. Like you said, it’s not some Iron Cloud philosophy. It is a constant learning. You know, learning happens all the time. An incorporation of many different things that are interesting that people should be thinking about. And it’s a living, breathing thing, which I think is very courageous in and of itself because you’re not out there, you know, stumping for followers.

It’s not about having a big following and, you know, getting those pats on the back, like this philosophy that you’ve created. It’s really about the kids and the, the learning experience. And I think that’s just remarkable.

Ms. Fab: Mm-hmm. Well, thank you so much. I, I appreciate that. Absolutely. Well,

Liz Wolfe: we’re coming to the end of our time.

Can I ask you one quick, rapid fire question? Go for it. You’ve got an eight month old son, and I’m curious if you have any ideas in your head of what his educational journey is going to look like or if you’re just like, we’re gonna, we’re gonna take it as it comes.

Ms. Fab: So, looks like you know me already, it’s definitely, I’m gonna take it as it comes, but I do get this question a lot and, and I try to formulate some sort of an answer to, but, but really I’m, I’m not worried.

I’ve already seen what happens in schools, both as a student of multiple schools and then as a teacher of multiple schools. And so whatever I do outside, I’m confident that my kid’s gonna be learning more. One, two, . He’s gonna be out exploring, you know, just let, let’s see where his curiosity takes him.

Reading lots of books, you know, as, as he pleases, just like exploring the world with no structure. I feel like the structure, I mean, and, and there will be structure in certain things, but not in terms of what he’s learning. And then , around that age where I feel like he’s kind of ready to begin to be introduced a little bit more formally to subjects.

 I’m part of synthesis and like I was saying briefly, we launched a digital tutor, which is like nothing I’ve seen. , and you can try it, by the way, online for free on the website, just the demo so that you kind of experience what it is. But , We know that the best way to learn something is through, , if you have like a, a one-on-one tutor, like that’s how, you know, Alexander Degrade and Aristotle and all these people in the past would learn like one-on-one tutoring.

 But obviously this is not a reality nowadays. Like, you know, teachers have 30 students and it’s just not possible. Right. And so we’ve designed, um, a tutor that is infinitely patient that. Is a master at their subject. So what we do is we grab, , really, really good educators that have, are excellent at their craft, and are good teachers.

’cause they’re two different things. You can be an expert but not be a good teacher. So we find that person and then we record this person for hours and hours and hours and we catch their mannerisms. They’re examples, they’re stories which are huge, like all this human element. And we’ve put together a tutor that you actually feel like you’re learning from an adult.

And it’s incredible. It’s like, again, you need to try to understand it and there are no, you know, extrinsic rewards and coins and points and this and that, like nothing of that. But kids love it and they love it because they are. They have somebody that will stay with them until they understand the concept and then move on when they’re ready and they explain it in a way that makes sense and that it’s so tangible and so applicable that kids are, it sounds cheesy, but they’re excited to learn because they’re understanding math and they’re understanding the relevance of math.

And so we just started with, , math is the first subject. We’re doing complexity science as well, which sounds crazy for an eight year old, but it’s working. And we plan to cover every subject in STEM to begin with. And so by the time my son is seven, you know, in six and something years, we are gonna have a huge curriculum out there.

So, I love this idea of being able to cover the academics in an hour a day and then the kids have the rest of the day to do whatever it is that they want, right? To be able to engage in project-based learning. I love the idea of forest schools, like I’d probably enroll him a few times in the forest school around my house.

I do also love the idea of micro schools, everything that’s like in a smaller setting where you can have an influence in what they’re learning and you know, it’s very, Personable and not too long and flexible, like that’s the kind of thing that I’m into. But again, all this can change, , depending on, on what’s happening like from here to seven years, so many things are, are gonna be different.

So yeah, again, it goes back to diversity of approaches. I’m a big believer of online learning as well, not as you know, the entire thing, but I do feel like there’s a big benefit of kids understanding that there’s a huge world out there that you’re not limited to your, you know, neighborhood or your town.

You can actually have access to people from all over the world. You can actually have a saying in problems all over the world. Like I’ve experienced it with my job and so there are some online learning communities and self-directed learning communities online that I would love for my kid to be part of.

 And traveling like these are all things that I feel like would. Make up for, for a good education. And the most important thing is that I’m willing to pivot. If it doesn’t work, I never think like, oh, I’m starting with this. I need to stick with this. Like, no, absolutely not. It’s like, we’re gonna try this.

Let’s see what happens. Now we’re gonna try something else until we find, you know, and it keeps evolving. So, the answer’s like, I’m not worried. I’m gonna go as I’m not worried.

Liz Wolfe: I love that I wrote that down. That’s, that’s the quote of the day. I’m not worried.

And if you’re not worried, then I’m not gonna be worried either. I do. I love how you are leveraging technology to meet kids where they are and as they are, because so many of us are so afraid of technology. But to talk about what you can do with, with, even with ai, but also talk about forest school in the same breath.

That is balance, that represents balance to me. And I think that is an ultimate goal, is to have healthy, balanced kids who are excited about what they’re learning about, who are passionate about something, and what,

Ms. Fab: what more could you ask for? Absolutely. Mm-hmm. Can you tell folks where to find you?

Yeah, so, , you can find me on Twitter at anna fabrega 11. , I write a newsletter that’s been paused for this year since I had my baby, but I’m coming back. Fab Fridays. , you can find it at my website, and on Instagram, miss Fab Learning Lab. You absolutely

Liz Wolfe: must follow her on Twitter. By the way, folks, I went through your Twitter again recently and was just blown away.

It is such a great medium for you. So follow her on Twitter, follow her on Instagram, buy the book, pre-order the book. Once this podcast airs, it will be just, I think a week, maybe two weeks that you’ll have to wait to get the book in your hands. And of course, do the audio book as well because she reads it in her own voice and that is always amazing.

Thank you so, so much for coming on with me today.

Ms. Fab: Thank you so much, Liz. You ask great questions.

Thanks for listening to the new Balanced Bites Podcast! Before you shut down your podcast app, PLEASE take a moment to subscribe and leave a review! It’s a small thing you can do that I appreciate more than you can imagine! And speaking of what we can do for each other, if YOU have a question you’d like to have tackled on this podcast or an interview you’d like to hear, submit the details at Let’s keep unpacking, unraveling, contextualizing and nuance-ing the important questions together so we can be empowered, informed, active participants in our own health and happiness.

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