Women in History at Three Percent

In December, 2013, Time published a list of the 100 most significant figures in history. Number one is Jesus, number thirty-six is George W. Bush, and number 100 is John Locke.

And the women? Only three names place among the hundred.6iyXjaBin Number 13 is Elizabeth I. Queen Victoria ranks 16. Joan of Arc comes in at 95. No American women made this list, which the authors (two men) acknowledge is primarily white and Eurocentric.

At school and home, are we doing any better than 3%? Are we ensuring that our girls and boys learn about the significance of Elizabeth Blackwell, Frances Perkins, Marian Anderson, Maya Lin, Sally Ride, and Sonja Sotomayor (and these are just from the last one hundred seventy years)? We can’t ignore half of humanity any longer.

Change begins by noticing even the smallest things and then collecting data, so here’s a challenge to try throughout March. Count the number of male and female pictures you see on the front page of the daily newspaper. At the end of the week (or month), look at your results.

Do your results reflect your beliefs about the world in which you hope your students will thrive?

Or do you see that the world needs your help? If so, how will you effect change?

Seeds of Greatness: Marjorie and Sam

One October, a parent named Marjorie asked if she could visit our class and teach a science lesson. The author of The Victory Garden Kid’s Book (available at Amazon), Marjorie brought in tulip bulbs and her son Sam—my student—assisted.

My bulbs sleeping under New Yorker covers (Fall 2014)

My bulbs sleeping under New Yorker covers (Fall 2014)

The fourth graders crowded around a table as she split a few bulbs open and helped them touch and explore its different parts. The tulip flower was already inside, she said, as she pointed out the bud. Sam helped answer questions. Marjorie’s enthusiasm radiated as she captivated everyone with the wonder of a flower tucked inside a bulb.

Afterwards, we traipsed outside and planted bulbs. In the spring,

Bulbs know when it's time to push awake. (Feb 2015)

Bulbs know when it’s time to push awake (Feb 2015).

the students rediscovered them and busied themselves measuring elapsed time, time to bloom, height, temperature, and formulated more questions. Planting bulbs

Everything's awake thanks to darkness and cool temps. (Feb 2015

Everything’s awake thanks to darkness and cool temps (Feb 2015).

wasn’t part of that year’s science or math curriculum, but the hands-on aspect made it a natural fit.

That day, Marjorie and Sam planted seeds of greatness among us. From a shared hands-on lesson, my students grew and flourished.

Forced daffodils inside, 4 feet of snow outside.

Forced daffodils inside, 4 feet of snow outside.

Family, TV and Ice Pops

If you have children of any age, you know what fussy time is. It’s that difficult time between school or daycare and home, right before supper. Everyone’s on edge, exhausted, hungry, irritable, and whiny.img-ice pop

Sound familiar? Not to mention that you’ve had a long and stressful day at work, after which you tore around town, carting kids from daycare or school to lessons, sports and activities.

Meanwhile, no one notices that you’d like a fussy time, too.

What worked for our family? TV and ice pops. Not every day, but often. After dashing home I never could get carrot sticks together, but ½ an ice pop along with the Disney movie du jour helped a lot. Thank goodness my daughters preferred chicken, peas, and couscous. We limited our menus to ten minutes of preparation.

After some protein, the evening improved. Supper, conversation, homework, baths, reading, and bed.

I’ve always felt that it’s okay to let a few things slide to achieve a peaceful-ish dinner and evening. Why this topic in a blog on education? Because classrooms today put tremendous pressure on children to learn every minute. Recess is disappearing. Standardized testing begins in March in some schools , so test prep and instruction intensifies. All of these are extremely stressful for students.  These pressures travel home with them and affect their family members.

Even though it’s hard, we parents are the best ones to help with that.  Nothing is more important than helping your child decompress and never before has family time mattered so much.  Only you can spend the time that matters with your child to help balance their lives. Cuddle on the sofa. Read in the same room. Watch a little quiet TV together. Go outside and play after supper.

And remember that for one family, ice pops helped make this possible.

Dear Valentine,

Here comes Valentine’s Day—don’t we need those happy reds, pinks, hugs and kisses more than ever?1 Finding time to help our children organize their school valentine cards is hard enough. Now, what about your spouse or partner?

Years back, my husband and I stopped giving each other valentine cards. The prices were insane. The choices were either cartoonish or drippingly icky. Plus, it got too hot in the card aisle crowded next to other hot, desperate, last minute people straining to reach for a card, any card.

We decided to write each other love notes instead.

rose 1My husband and I have a history of this. In college,
he discovered that I adored getting his love notes delivered on Saturday mornings. After that, he made sure his notes arrived every Saturday on the dot. I cherished his letters but his thoughtfulness was equally important to me.

This Valentine’s Day, why not write a personal note to your loved one? Only you can choose the words that connect you both. If writing a note creates panic for you, then focus on smaller things that you appreciate.

I love it when you hold my hand… I love your green eyes…I love it when you empty the dishwasher.

Handwritten notes are winners. Mix it up with Valentine’s Day and you’ll be a winner, too.









The Science of Grass

Imagine a classroom full of bright faces eager to learn the science of growing plants. Green grassThey’ve read books
to learn about the parts of a plant, looked at photos of growing plants, written poems about plants, and interviewed their parents about gardens.
The final step is to grow their own plants.  Their teacher knows there isn’t a dime left in the materials budget.

Then she has a brainstorm.

Over the next week, she saves the clear, shallow, salad bar container she buys at lunch. At home, she finds leftover soil and a half-used bag of grass seed languishing in the garage.

dreamstimefree_221498-2dreamstimefree_221498-2Back at school, she gives each small group one container. From there, the students handle it. They fill it up with soil. A generous fistful of seeds covers the top. The children water their containers and place them on the warm windowsill.

On Monday, they dash in and check on their seeds. Every container has at least one spindly thread reaching up, a cause for excitement. They count and check their measurements, estimations, and predictions. They discover that they must adjust the watering schedule as days pass.

Soon the containers have a lush, spring green carpet of grass growing. The students pass their containers around, examining the root systems and remarking on the length of the grass.

Best of all?  They touch the grass. Their fingers wind in and out of individual pieces. They stroke the grass from soil to tip, saying they never realized how soft new grass was.

The children’s strokes turn to caresses, much like they’d do with a beloved pet. Before they know it, the grass is bent over flat from so much love.

The teacher asks them, What do you think will happen next?


S’now Fun?

Schools canceling. Parents working from home.  If you’re counting on plenty of babysitting via TV or video games to keep your children busy, stop! That “s’now” fun.  Read on for 10 ideas for real snow day fun and learning.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  1. Read.Snuggle with a book and read with a family member. Talk about the book together as you go. Find new places in which to read, like the bathtub.
  2. Bake. Reinforce math by doubling or halving a recipe. Make something to share with a neighbor or friend.
  3. Fall. Backwards, that is, into snow. Make snow angels and decorate them with paint.
  4. Build. Dress for outdoors and build snow families and snow forts.
  5. Knock. Check on your neighbors, especially senior citizens. Bring them a treat you made.IMG_3579
  6. Shovel. Help move the stuff around. If you don’t have a shovel, use a broom.
  7. Imagine. Encourage open-ended play. Dolls, cars, models, Legos, anything with small people or animals work well. When a child uses anything to pretend or make up stories, that’ open-ended play.
  8. Measure. Find all measuring tapes, rulers, yardsticks, even a dressmaker’s measuring tape if you have one. Estimate the measurement of things around the house, then check using one of the tools.
  9. Draw. Can you draw a map of your house? Your neighborhood, town, state, the world? Copy one if you need to.
  10. Write. Compose a valentine poem or a card message for Valentine’s Day.

Print and post this list for your children to use.  Join them for some of these so snow days become memory-making days.

Outdoors With Paints

“Were you painting outside?” asked my husband. He knew the answer. IMG_3571And it wasn’t that one of our resident woodchucks had awakened and marched outside dragging paints and a brush.

A rediscovered, unused set of acrylic paints had awakened me. I gathered a handful of brushed and dashed outside to my canvas: the snow.

Flicks of red, arcs of green, drops of blue, inclusive of animal tracks. The brushes were too small to get the effects I wanted. My hands froze without gloves. But it wasn’t the final product that mattered, it was the desire to try something new and enjoy the fun of self-expression.

Most children feel this way, too. They like to enjoy the freedom to express themselves in new ways.IMG_3577
If they paint in the snow, let them see how their art changes with lower temperatures.

Teachers, lead your children to fling around some paint today. Parents or grandparents?  You come, too.*



*Phrase borrowed from The Pasture by Robert Frost (c. 1915)


Empathy and Kindness, Pet-Style

A few days ago, our family lost our beloved 17-year-old mini poodle, Muffy.Muffy Aug 2012  Saddled with a girl’s name, Muffy lived a pretty healthy life. Though he endured infirmities as a senior, we accommodated him by finding snuggly blankets, adjusting his water bowl to a comfortable height, and carrying him in and out.

In his younger days, I brought Muffy to school and the students made him an instant celebrity.  He’d never had so many stories read to him in one day.  The students showed empathy and kindness, something we now have entire curricula to teach.

I admire teachers who keep pets in the classroom because they seem to have a special insight into children. Their focus tends to be less about teaching children responsibility and more about what each of us learns from animals. I know educators who bring their dogs to school and I’ve seen how stroking them helps evoke a kind of mellow grace in students. Especially in older students.

Other colleagues of mine have created ingenious roles for animals in schools.  One kept an aquarium with a student desk and chair parked in front of it. She’d read that watching fish could help children self-regulate, and she had a couple of students in mind.  The rest of the class wanted to use the aquarium for quiet thinking, too.  Soon she had to post a sign-up sheet.

Another teacher kept a rabbit hopping around freely.  You might think that would distract first graders, but not at all. The children easily integrated the rabbit into their routines and learned to step carefully around him.  The rabbit used a litter box, too.

In one urban school, a teacher kept two guinea pigs in a huge cage on legs. She made it into a writing center.  Children drew their chairs around all four sides, some propping up their feet on its edge.  The guinea pigs went on with their lives as students watched them and worked on writing projects.  Each child who wanted to hold one knew the procedure for letting out the guinea pigs, always putting the animal’s needs first.

Empathy, kindness, care, grace, sharing, patience–that’s a short list of what students learn from school pets. How lucky the world is when children carry those forward.





Columbus’s Mermaids

January doesn’t usually remind us about Christopher Columbus, but on January 9, 1493, he described seeing mermaids swim near the Dominican Republic. (See the History Channel’s “On this Day in History.”)

Photo courtesy of Broward.org

Photo courtesy of Broward.org

However, Columbus was mistaken. What he saw were not mermaids swimming, but manatees. These animals are exceptionally lovely. Large and slow-moving mammals, manatees eat plants and swim in shallow water. Their faces hold a kind sweetness. It’s easy to see why Columbus thought they were mermaids.

Teacher reflection had a whole new meaning for me after I met my first manatee.

Introduce your students to manatees.  Not everything we teach our students has to be a huge curriculum unit. Give your students access to pictures, maps, and reading about manatees. Begin conversations about them during quiet moments. A good place for information is at National Geographic, where students can listen to the repertoire of manatee sounds.

And after your students learn about manatees, ask them to think up reasons why Columbus mistook them for mermaids.


Gifts to Self

Are you a teacher or parentIMG_3246 scrambling to make the most of every second before the holiday break? Have you had enough of malls and stores?  Sounds like you need an Education Spring-style restorative gift.
Two kindred blogs, Musing off the Mat and Jenny’s Lark, inspired me to adapt their idea.

Relax comfortably. Allow your mind to wander over the array of happy experiences you’ve had this year. Write them down and number as you go.

Widen your spectrum to include peaceful decisions and happy coincidences. Keep going as long as you want. It didn’t take me long to reach 76 .

Add richness by including moments of all sizes. While writing my list, I found small moments that were IMG_3249easily overlooked. It was simple to add a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Inside that large moment, though, was a smaller one in the inner courtyard.

When we list the gifts we’ve given to ourselves, several things happen. We see our blessings in black and white. We recognize what we have cultivated in our world.IMG_3250

And we realize that by noticing our gifts to self that we’ve been good enough teachers and good enough parents.