Are You a Feminist?

For some people the word “feminist” is a loaded one, filled with images of bra burners, shrill voices, strident slogans, and the phrase “women’s lib.”

Woman_holding_Equal_Rights_Amendment_sign_in_Los_Angeles,_California,_with_two_men,_one_of_them_yawningBra burning myth aside, a feminist is simply a person who believes in equality between men and women. It’s taken over two hundred thirty years for the 51% majority to gain the right to own property, vote, and access birth control. We’re still not done and here’s one reason why.

Barriers exist to girls’ school achievement in math & science, industries that lead to some of the highest-paying jobs. I’ve seen what three of these barriers look math girllike during my visits to elementary and middle school classrooms:

  1. Girls called on 66% less often than boys during math and science.
  2. Boys receiving as much as 4 times more one-on-one help than girls in math and science.
  3. Boys encouraged to use counting materials twice as often than girls.

Each time I showed my data to teachers, they were horrified and assured me they had no idea what they were doing. I believe them. It’s the little things we don’t notice that add up to the big things, like a culture of low expectations, low confidence, and little support for girls.

The same holds true at home. Have you heard mothers (and fathers) say to their daughters, “I can’t do math, either.” Yikes! Although probably meant to reassure a daughter, it does the opposite. It lowers confidence and relieves them of high expectations.female_symbol

As our society continues to evolve, remind yourself that adding support for girls doesn’t negate support for boys. It simply makes the world a better place for everyone.

A more equal society, thanks to a feminist point of view.

Bicycle Emancipation

susan b anthony

“I think bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world…Women feel freedom and self-reliance…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

Susan B. Anthony spoke these words to famed journalist Nellie Bly in 1896.  She added she was delighted whenever she saw women bicycling.

More than horses ever could, bicycles gave women the freedom to go where they wanted, when they wanted.  Changes in women’s clothing took place, too.Bloomers Out with layers of starched petticoats and confinement by laced-up corsets, which damaged women’s anatomy.  In with shorter skirts, looser undergarments, bloomers, and culottes.

How are you helping to emancipate your daughters today?  Moms and Dads have an equal responsibility to open the world to women of all ages.  Even if your corner of the world seems equal, it really won’t be until women make more than $.77 cents for every $1.00 men make.

As an interesting side note, Susan B Anthony was the first woman whose image was struck on a circulating coin:  the $1.00 coin.


Women at 3%? Amelia Boynton Robinson

Amelia Boynton Robinson did not make it into Time’s 2013 list of the most significant people in history.

You saw an image of Amelia Boynton Robinson, aged 103, in the recent coverage of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. Now using a wheelchair, she wore blue and held President Obama’s left hand:

The photo of Mrs. Boynton Robinson beaten unconscious, with a blast of tear gas shoved down her throat, sent a shock wave around our nation–and the world– in 1965.

Teachers and families, watch this interview of Amelia. Boynton Robinson and talk about it with your students.  Everyone must know the contributions of this valiant woman.

We must do nothing less as partners in education and democracy.

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)