Category Archives: Relationships

“Little Ears:” The 2016 Election Results

Never do I recall teachers calming frightened students after an election. But that is what happened all day today in many, many schools.

Teachers reassured students from all kinds of families—some immigrants, some children of immigrants, their friends, their classmates, all while handling their own shock. In urban schools, administrators sent home letters and read announcements in many languages so everyone understood that their classrooms were places to feel safe and the adults would help keep it that way. american-flag

The harm and danger children feel is not just about racism and anti-immigration policies that have been made explicit for more than a year.

It’s also about how we adults behave and how we talk to each other. Attacking, bullying, blaming others, vicious name calling, derogatory chants, lying, verbal abuse, rampant misogyny, and deeply trenched xenophobia abound.

Under the guise of eliminating anything “politically correct”, children now see that speaking without a filter, without consideration for hurting others, gets a huge reward!

Years ago during adult conversations, my grandmother would sing in a whisper, “Little ears!” She knew, correctly, that I was sitting on the stairs listening to grownups talk. “Little ears!” was a warning to the adults to monitor one’s tone or words.

What steps can you take in your life to speak more kindly and discuss important topics more respectfully?  As I see it, that’s the only path forward.

Stargazing, Jupiter, Parents and Kids

Gazing at the night sky is one of the pleasures of summer. The best place to view it is somewhere away from city lights or the yellow-y glow from shopping centers. The darker and clearer the sky, the better.

Toward the end of this month, you’ll see five planets in the sky, including Jupiter, where the exploratory spacecraft Juno, after its five-year journey, is gathering information we’ve never had before.  Here’s a video from NASA that explains Juno and Jupiter:

It’s difficult for most of us to comprehend Juno’s 540,000,000 mile trip to Juniper, or even a five-year journey in a vehicle. Our journey to explore the universe is a marvel of humankind’s collective curiosity and imagination.

The important thing to do, though, is to revel in the wonder of space, to let your imagination tumble around ideas and questions. When you talk with your child about big ideas, no answers are right or wrong. It’s the open exchange of ideas–and growing closer–that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Was X in Your Family?

On the day I received my bachelor’s degree in music, my father told me that I was the first person in his family to graduate from college.  It was a fact I’d never known.

Years later, while digging into genealogy, I learned that my paternal grandparents–the generation that emigrated to Boston–received only a few years of schooling. Some of my great- and great-great grandparents had no education and used X to sign their names.

VG.PotatoDiggers.

This didn’t surprise me.  My family lived in western Ireland, the area hardest hit by potato famine. Somehow they suffered through severe poverty, cold, starvation, and disease.  Their lives were about survival, not adult and child literacy.  X spoke volumes to me.

My story is not unique. Most immigrants share a similar tale of escaping poverty and disease in search of a better life and education for their family.  Look back a few generations in your ancestry and you’ll discover where your X is.

 

The Art of Tinkering Teaches Thinking

It’s Saturday morning and you have a list of chores to complete.  One of them is to fix part of the backyard fence.  The wear of winter snow tore away some lengths of  wire from the wooden posts, which are somewhat rotted.VG.Blue.Fence

Your child tags along.  You talk to her out loud as you poke around in your workbench drawers.  Which would work best, nails or staples?  Should you try one first? Staple gun or hammer? Bungee cords? A tape measure? A shovel or not? A wheelbarrow? When your work apron and hers are full of supplies, out you go to fix the fence.

This scenario is the beginning of learning to tinker, to fix, to mess around, to try out an idea and then adapt it until it works.  It’s the foundation of problem solving and visualizing and talking back and forth about what might work and why.

When children use real tools to solve real problems, it creates an opportunity for a parent to help show that tinkering around is real life problem solving.  Find ways to involve your child in tinkering.  You’ll be well on your way to building a good, solid, parent and child bond.

 

 

How to Discipline Kids: Moving ON, Part III

In the last post, I gave you a good framework to use when addressing back talk with your child.  The last step to take is moving on, bringing her back into the family’s tasks and rhythms.

Of course, neither you nor your daughter may feel like falling into each other’s arms at this point.

That’s okay.  By moving on, you demonstrate a powerful love and respect for her. I know you will do better the next time.  I love you and will stick by you no matter what. I am here to help you even when the going’s tough.

A child’s development is rarely linear.  There are not neat stages through which children pass, with infallible instructions for each. Growth is arduous and messy, trial and error, and many times the path is bumpy and rough.

Be proud of how you are raising your children to be thoughtful, thinkers in our world.

 

How to Discipline Kids: Managing Lip, Part II

Your child is in her room, device free, cooling off during a time out.

Choose a reasonable amount of time to leave her alone. Don’t make it too long. You want to make a point without ruining the whole day.VG.two-women-crossing-the-fields

The biggest lesson you’re about to show her is that in your family, you recognize bad behavior, address it, and then move on.

Because you are the adult, you must teach her how to do this. It is difficult but healthy, from both an educational and a developmental perspective. It demonstrates respect for your child and the consistency shows her that you love her and commit to helping her.

  1. Choose a reasonable amount of time to let her cool off. About twenty minutes is right for most children this age.
  2. Find a quiet corner and ask her to return and talk.
  3. Revisit the issue of lip and what it means to your family. Avoid arguing about what happened. Focus instead on the behavior–giving lip, back talk—and speak calmly.
  • Olivia, do you remember the rule about back talk we have in our family?
  • Why do we have that rule?
  •  You seemed angry about —-. Let her give a short explanation. There’s no need to argue over details.
  •  I know that you can think about a better way to handle your feelings.
  •  What will you do the next time you get angry?

4. End with a hug and move on.

I’ll write more about the importance of moving on in Part III.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Kindergarten Skills for Children

Did you know that today’s kindergartens look like yesterday’s first grades? A kinder garten is supposed to be a “child’s garden,” which means that a kindergarten curriculum centers on child development rather than gulping chunks of academics.  Education policy makers and politicians started pushing this change years ago, with the result that everything is now driven by standardized test scores.

The case is made that children must do more, earlier, and that we must get on with delivering content.Two Children by Van Gogh  In many districts, if your kindergarten child isn’t reading by October, you can expect your child to receive endless assessments until he learns to read.

I call for the return of kindergarten to the social, emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs of children, learned through play. Skills for children to develop should center on the following:

Learn to listen. Wait your turn. Be kind. Do your work. Help others. Share. Take turns. Don’t hurt people. Play well with others. Speak nicely to all.

Children with a solid grounding in these skills will help to make the world a better place, because these skills matter in life.  Can you think of any relationship or career that doesn’t benefit from these strengths?

 

 

 

Writing a Love Letter to a Child

Some time ago, my husband and I agreed to stop spending more than $2.00 on a card. Later on, we scratched even the $2.00 and resumed our note writing. I say “resumed” because back in college, we wrote love letters to each other every week for two years.

I saved every one of his. Forty years later, I discovered them bundled together in our cellar.

His handwriting hasn’t changed much. He used his own voice, wrote in his style, from his heart. His love sings clearly and he writes about specifics—what he’s thinking of me as he rushes off for work, how he feels as he drives home. The letters said things that were meant only for me. Above all, he took the time to send it in an envelope with a stamp, something rare today.IMG_4572

Believe it or not, there’s a parallel here to home and the classroom. We educators are taught to give specific praise to a child. “You chose an excellent synonym for ‘yellow’” helps the child more than the generic “Good job!” Not that “good job!” is wrong, but it can mean anything to anyone.

It’s the same thing with Valentine’s Day cards. Why purchase generic messages? Write a handwritten love letter to your child, full of specific things that only you know and notice.

Also, remember that the best love letters are personal.  In forty years, your child might even have a bundle of them, in their own cellar, to rediscover.

National Teacher Appreciation Week

Forego the mugs, the trinkets, the gift certificates. I speak for many teachers when I say, “If you must give me something for Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d love a handwritten thank-you note.”

Start with these two  words. (K.Nollet, 2015)

Start with these two words. (K.Nollet, 2015)

It’s the soul of teaching that matters to us teachers. Who could stick to such a difficult profession if there weren’t more than a marginal salary to it? We’re devoted to your children. We know we shape the world. We love the career that chose us. To us, it’s a calling.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t tough. One of my students, an Army vet learning to teach middle school math, told me that she thought teaching was harder than basic training. Student difficulties, family problems, and student social-emotional-behavioral issues affected how her students learn (or if they learn) every day.

Above all, National Teacher Appreciation Week is not about what parents or the PTA think that they should give to teachers. Help shine a teacher’s soul by writing a personal thank-you note, an act that speaks volumes to a teacher.

Teenage Destiny

Many teacher movies are variations on a formula: difficult kids plus an understanding teacher equals transformed lives. Movies usually make it look far easier than this really is. But in To Sir, With Love, teacher Mark Thackeray, played by Sydney Poitier, resonates with lots of secondary teachers. His students are rude, incorrigible, and the boys challenge him to a boxing match. Every student presents individual challenges of poverty and miseducation.

Real teaching feels like this. No mattered how battered or exhausted we feel, our job is to educate children for a future we know nothing about. We help shape our students’ destiny and it’s tough work. Like parents, we do a difficult job day in and day out. We encourage, plead, threaten, laugh, fume, and stick by them because we see so much promise.

To Sir, With Love may appear dated, but it’s not. Mark Thackeray decided to leave teaching and take an engineering job offer. Take a look at the ending and enjoy Lulu’s singing.