Inspiration and Perspiration

I’m reminded of inventor Thomas Edison’s words:

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.*

For some time, educators have discussed how students need to develop “grit,” that quality of tenacity, stick-to-it-tive-ness, and “perspiration.” VG.StarryNight The term has a particular edge to it that means to encourage students to work through difficulties–say, in following through with a big project, or puzzling out a complex math problem.

Grit is good.  But what about inspiration? I think there’s more to inspiration than one percent.

When you surround your family with music, art, books, travel, being outdoors, and opportunities to play, you help inspire children.  For example, if you watch and listen when children play dress up or Legos, you might hear bits of stories and experiences woven in to their play.  Those bits are inspiration that feed your child’s creative imagination.

Some children become so inspired to continue this kind of play that they stick to it until they feel finished.  That’s grit or perspiration.  And it always begins with inspiration.




Bartlett, J. (1968). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 14th Edition. Boston: Little, Brown.


Haydn for Happiness

Introduce a little classical music that washes your children with happiness. One piece from Franz Joseph Haydn’s  “Surprise Symphony” (No. 94 in G) may sound familiar to you and your children, which makes listening to it even more fun.

Part of the happiness comes from Haydn’s surprise sounds written in this piece. Some of it is that music from the classical era, which includes Haydn, Mozart, and some Beethoven, is easy listening.  Its symmetrical structure feels comfortable, the harmonies agree with the ear, and the rhythm feels as regular as a pulse.

Symmetrical, harmony, rhythmic–all good elements for happy parents and children.



Geography for Kids

One April, my class of adult learners discussed the work of cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget.  When I mentioned he was Swiss, the students’ blank looks jolted me.

I pulled down a wall map.  “Who can show us where Switzerland is?”  There were no takers, until one of the younger members of the class offered to identify the country.

 Show your child how to find Paris on a map

“I think it’s up around here,” he said, his index finger traveling from Norway to Sweden. “At least, it used to be.”

This wasn’t funny, it was shocking.  As an educator teaching students who wanted to be teachers, it was my responsibility to address this. We spent the remaining classes of the semester using maps and globes , learning geography–states, countries, continents, landforms, oceans, latitude, longitude, and more.

How much geography does your child know? Geography for kids is basic knowledge, but with crowded curriculum today, teachers are lucky to squeeze it in.

This topic begins in early childhood and builds throughout elementary school.  By grades 3 or 4, children should know the basics. Next time you visit your child’s classroom find out if they have maps and globes.  Some schools that are squeezed for resources don’t have these.

When you support the learning of geography at home, do these 4 simple things:

  1. Hang a large world map in your home, at child height.
  2. Talk about maps, use them, play games with them, use your finger to identify places and landforms.
  3. Get a globe and handle it often.  Amazon has fun inflatable ones.
  4. Don’t rely on smartphones or computers as geography teaching tools. Students need to touch, feel, trace with fingers, and manipulate tangible objects to learn well.

I prefer to use maps from National Geographic because of their quality.  Some issues include wonderful regional maps that you can examine with your child–another kind of reading.



Folk Wisdom

Part of enjoying your kids’ childhood is talking and making friends with their parents at school, games, or parties. You’re all in the same stage of parenting, so it’s a fun network to be in. VG.first stepsYour kids belong and are happy, parents connect, and it doesn’t take long to realize there are many shared beliefs and suppositions that most everyone agrees with.

Educational and cultural psychologist Jerome Bruner used the term folk wisdom to define these beliefs. Some folk wisdom is harmless. Other folk wisdom is just plain wrong. Why would we want to raise our children with inaccurate science?

Here are two examples:

If you go outside in cold weather without a jacket, you’ll get sick.

  • Scientists state that people get sick from viruses, not because they didn’t wear a jacket.

If you give kids too much candy, they get hyperactive.

  • No science confirms this. In fact, study after study has disproved this belief.

There are always parents–and even teachers–who claim that for their child / class, they’ve personally witnessed it. That’s all the proof they need to stick to their folk wisdom. But why promulgate something inaccurate?

When we teach our children to look at science, they learn to question, examine, think, and draw conclusions.  Showing a child how to be a critical thinker is some of the best teaching parents can do.

Smart Phone Etiquette for Parents

You and your partner are out for dinner, waiting for the nachos to arrive.  At the next table sits a family with small children who are noisy and acting up.  Their parents busy themselves with their smart phones–emails, texts, Facebook, and so on.VG.CafeTerrace

At first you relate, sympathize, understand.  You’ve been there, too.  Must be a different parenting style. Maybe their babysitter cancelled.  As the noise escalates, the mother turns and scolds the kids, and they giggle through it. Desperate, the she hands one of the kids her smart phone.

What’s happening here? Is there one big problem or several problems?

Should you offer some positive parenting tips?  Send your nachos over to calm the kids so you can eat in peace? Give them the url of an etiquette site?

Tell me your opinion or experience with this scene.





Don’t Say This

Do you ever say to your child, “I wasn’t good at math, either,” followed by “I’m more of a English (or other topic) person.”

Pardon the caps while I write,  “STOP SAYING THAT!”PortraitCamilleRoulin Vincent_van_Gogh

I know you’re probably trying to show sympathy as your child puzzles through math homework. Or trying to be honest. Or sharing that they’re not alone. Or trying to show that you, an important adult in their life, confronted challenges just as they are doing.

Today, we know more about math learning and the kind of encouragement that helps children:

  • “I know you’re doing your best.”
  • “Did you call one of your friends (or five or six of them) for help?
  • “I’ll listen while you read the directions aloud.”
  • “What does Mrs.—want you to do when you’re stuck?”

Also, if you are able to take apart a problem and help your child understand it, by all means do so. That can be a great strategy if you are able to teach them, not tell them.

Finally, tell your child to ask the teacher what to do the next time they need help with math homework. We parents want our children to feel confident about asking for help whenever they need it.



Cooking up Math


Did you know that you have a math lab in your home?  It’s called the kitchen and is a perfect place for you to practice estimation and measurement with kids.

Start early with your toddler and have them count everything. Older kids can estimate the number of sections in each orange.

Whether you are a cook who uses exact measurements, or one who uses handfuls and pinches, help them to learn.

A bag of salad feeds about how many people?  How many gallons, half gallons, pints, or cups of milk do you drink in a day?  Monitor the grams of protein in food and estimate how many you eat.

More specifically, how many teaspoons in a tablespoon?  How many tablespoons of butter in a half cup?  You get the idea.

I know when families get home after a long day and dinner needs to get on the table fast, it seems impossible to let children help.  Especially when you can do chicken nuggets, a salad, and couscous in seconds!  But when you’re aware of the possibilities present, you can take advantage of them.

In math, learning measurement and estimation needs practice right through childhood–and perhaps beyond.  That’s because in many schools, there simply isn’t enough time to find, collect and use all the tools necessary for the hands-on learning that kids need.  Parents need to backfill learning math at home.

What are some other places at home to practice learning math?






Books in Your Home

Studies show that the number of books in your home library directly correlates to your child’s achievement.  This isn’t surprising, because children who see books in the home, read books in the home, and are read to at home become better and more fluent readers. It’s reading practice.


Our home library is extensive.  My professional books about teaching and learning fill an entire wall.  Biographies, which I love to read, take up about six shelves of their own. There is a special bookcase holding books by and about E.B.White.  Same with cookbooks.  My husband’s library of program and project management, woodworking, and homebuilding books is significant, too.  Our children’s books remain in the hundreds, although we’ve given many away.

Our children grew up surrounded by books, with everyone reading, going to bookstores, having weekly trips to the library, and stories every night before bedtime.  Our family was immersed in reading practice.

When parents ask me how to improve their child’s reading, I encouraged them to:

  • Consider themselves a critical part of teaching kids to read.
  • Go to the public library and take out books your child finds interesting.  (Take advantage of your tax dollars!) Let the librarian help find books at the proper reading level for independent reading.
  • Read aloud together every day.  Children’s picture books often have challenging vocabulary, so talk about the words as you go.
  • Teach children the pleasure of browsing in a bookstore.
  • Sign up for the classroom teacher’s book club–Scholastic or another one.  This is an inexpensive way to build a home library with fun books your child chooses.
  • Model reading at home every day:  newspapers, magazines, books, Kindle, audio books.   There’s something for every reader.

Your home library matters.  How can you expand it to help your child today?



Advice: How to Be a Good Parent

These Van Gogh sunflowers amaze me.  Every one looks different and is in a varied state of growth. They’re pointing every which way, too, which is part of their charm.


To me, they look like a group of children, no two exactly the same.  Each sunflower-child looks different because of some genetic variation mixed with its growing environment.  This is created by the child’s parents, who want the best for their child’s education every day.

What makes public schools and classrooms work is complex and can be difficult for parents to understand.  When you want your child to get a top-notch education, you hope to get clear answers from the school and teacher. When you don’t, it feels extremely stressful.

My experiences as a teacher, school principal, and parent have taught me quite a bit about what good parents do.  It’s not about being perfect, either.

I’ve noticed that good parents often:

  • Are lifelong learners
  • Become effective advocates for their child
  • Listen well to their child
  • Support their child’s learning experiences at home and school
  • Want to balance electronic devices in their child’s life

I’ll write about more of these themes during this month’s A-Z Blogging Challenge.  I hope to hear your questions and comments.









Je Suis Bruxelles: How to Talk With Children About the News

je-suis-bruxellesHow do you talk to your child about the terrorist attacks in Belgium? It doesn’t have to be as tricky as it seems.

First, make sure your child feels safe and secure in your love as he grows up. Hugs, preparing a meal together, special time cuddling with a book—all of these routines help create the groundwork for a child to develop into a confident, resilient adult.

Second, limit exposure to the news, violent images, and sounds of explosions, screaming, and sirens. Far from being overly protective, this shows good sense and respect for your child.

Talk to your child about the news, find out what he knows, and then discuss it.  You don’t have to provide perfect answers, either. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know” and “You are safe here with me.”

Find positive images to show your child and talk about images of the slogan Je suis Bruxelles. Does he know what it means? Also show the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate lit up to show solidarity and support. Can your child find Brussels, Belgium; Paris, France; and Berlin, Germany on the map?   Use a globe and your finger to trace the distance from your home to each of these places.

When we talk to children about the news in honest and healthy ways, we help them understand possibilities, change, and that there is more good in the world than bad. Appropriate communication surrounded by love always works.