Category Archives: Rituals

Flag Day’s Star-Spangled Banner

What do you remember about Flag Day celebrations (June 14) when you were in school?  You probably participated in a ceremony at the school flagpole.  Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts wore their uniforms on that day, and the Boy Scouts usually performed the honor of raising the flag.  This ceremony often included singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

If Flag Day fell on a weekend one of my grandfathers, a WWI veteran, made a solemn ceremony of putting out his flag.  During this task his attitude receded into silence and duty, which impressed me. We’d climb the stairs to the landing just before the third floor, where he’d lean out the window to attach the flag to the pulley.  The sound of the metal flag grommets clanking against the pole made a memorable sound to me.

In addition to Flag Day ceremonies, we school kids were drilled in the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner.  I’m not an educator who favors drilling to learn, but memorization has its place.

When you and your child put out your flag on Flag Day, see if you both know the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, written in 1814 by Washington, D.C., attorney and poet Francis Scott Key.

Thanks to the Maryland Historical Society Collection, all four verses of our national anthem are here.

3 Reading Tips For Parents

Do you read every day?  Even when I worked crazy, long hours as a principal, everyone in our family read every night.  We ended up cutting down on TV when our children’s schedules got busy.

VG.Book.BranchAs your child’s first and most important teacher, you’re a role model. If you expect your child to do her 20 minutes of reading a night, you should, too.

Let me add  that I believe the 20 minutes a night that most schools prescribe is far too low. It’s also misleading.  Readers grow through practice and talking about what they read, but learning to sustain their attention over time is just as important.

Here are 3 tips to increase your reading:

  1.  Make reading time child and parent snuggling and comfort time.
  2. If you read exclusively on a mobile device, show your child that you enjoy reading books, magazines, newspapers or other print material that is in your home, too.
  3. Is your family in a routine of regular trips to the library?  Library books are essential in the home.  Bring your child to the children’s room and ask the children’s librarian to help him find books.

Part of helping kids learn to read is helping them to do it every day.

 

 

Oldest Marathon in the World

Today over thirty thousand runners run the 120th Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious marathon. It’s also the 50th official year that women have been running. If you live in Massachusetts, you might have watched along the route some years for hours as you screamed support, urged runners on, shouted encouragement, and yelled “Keep going! You can do it! You’re almost there!”

The first American winner today was Tatyana McFadden, a racer in the women’s wheelchair division. I’m listening to our national anthem played now in her honor.

My father began taking me to watch the Boston Marathon when I was very young, so young that he had to squat down to be at my level. We’d stand across from Tasty Treat in Ashland on Route 135, and he’d tell me which runners to watch for.

Attending large sporting events is fun and teaches us lessons.  At the very least, we reflect on our own achievements and reinforce the goals we hope to reach.

How to Discipline Kids: Giving Lip, Part I

There isn’t a child on earth who hasn’t given lip. Or back talked and made nasty remarks at you, their parent.

Developmentally speaking, children mostly use this language (or the accompanying tone of voice) as part of their separation from you.VanGogh_Bedroom_Arles1 At the time, they have a strong reaction to something, or feel peevish or mean–and punching a pillow isn’t going to make them feel better. They lash out at someone close to them and usually it’s someone they trust.

It’s important to understand as much as possible about your child’s context when she gives lip. However, effective discipline means that you must follow through every single time.

Imagine that your fifth grader daughter talks back when you ask her to help with something:

“No! That’s stupid. You can’t make me! I hate you!” Her nasty sneer gives way to angry belligerence.

What do you say and do? Don’t let it pass. Drop everything and address it calmly whether you’re in public or private.

“That talk and tone is unacceptable in our family. You know that. Leave your [phone or electronic device] on the table here and go to your room.” Let her stomp away and slam her door.

Addressing lip in this concrete way does several things:

  1. You address it immediately and calmly. There are no exceptions.
  2. You take away something of value immediately, like electronic devices. This is better than “no TV for a week,” or ”You’re not going with your friends to…” because you are dealing with it right away, and moving on.
  3. You direct her to a place where she can cool down and so you can calm down. Let her stomp and slam to get some of the anger out.

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.

VanGogh.Oranges

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.

van-gogh-yellow-books-c-1887

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?

 

 

Classroom Environments: Compost or Clutter?

One of my friends, like me, is clutter-challenged. We’re simpatico not only because we’re teachers, but also because we tend to store clutter in “organized” piles or tote bags.

“Oh, I’m so glad you called,” she begins. “I just got through emptying 3 tote bags and you wouldn’t believe what I found!”

Then we’re off into a chat about the ephemera she discovered, its significance, and its relationship to people or events in past/present/future. It’s always a satisfying and wonderful conversation.

That’s what I mean by compost. Items unearthed give off the rich flavor of memories and experiences. But I can get frustrated in a classroom well before the tote-bag-compost-stage, when clutter appears strewn everywhere.

If clutter is in neat piles, does it count? Believe it or not, each pile has a theme.

If clutter is in neat piles, does it count? Believe it or not, each pile has a theme.

Therefore, I invented a game called “Twenty Things” for my students. Busy and creative classrooms are cluttered, and at the end of the day, my classroom floor was covered with paper clips, scraps, marker caps, glue sticks, and so on.

To play, each child had to pick up 20 things and put them away or throw them out. The 20 could be small objects, like popping a green pen back into its cup, or larger ones like books. It took five minutes because the kids raced through it. On their own, they expanded it into organizing bookcases and cleaning stuff out of the closet.

Afterwards, they worked out the mathematical results of Twenty Things:

25 kids x 20 things = 500 items

Five hundred pieces of clutter resolved! The game Twenty Things improves the classroom environment and delivers fantastic results. Why not let your kids try it at home, too?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Night Sounds

Right now, I’m sitting near an open window and listening to a nighttime chorus of katydids and crickets in huge numbers. Want to listen, too?

How many night insect sounds can you identify? Besides being relaxing music from nature, children find it incredibly interesting to learn about insects and how they create their songs.

Make learning about summer night sounds a memorable experience in your family.  Click here for plenty of insect identification info on a great site.

Wandering Adventure in a Bookstore

Wandering around a local bookstore is a travel adventure to me. Naturally, that was part of my plan when my daughters and I visited a friend in Provincetown.

Talk about the illustrations as you read aloud.

Talk about the illustrations as you read aloud. This is “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Illustrations by Graham Rust.

My 7-year old went one way. My 4-year old whined in agony.

“Mom, I’m not like everybody else in the family.” She threw herself on the floor. “I hate bookstores!”

News to me. We went to bookstores as often as the playground. Snuggling at night with a read-aloud, talking about the story as we read, and keeping piles of library books around the house was part of family life.

Listen to audio books read aloud by the author.

Listen to audio books read aloud by the author.

I led her to the children’s section and encouraged her to pick out a book. A few feet away, I sank into the nonfiction.

Soon, a little voice began. It was my 4-year-old, reading a book aloud. By herself. I held my breath. When had she begun reading? I asked her nonchalantly.

“Just now,” she said.

Look through travel books together.

Look through travel books together.

It’s one thing to be a teacher and witness the light bulb moment when children learn to read. When it’s your child, it’s a thrill. But it is not magic.

These are two simple ways to help your child be a good reader:

  1. Keep all kinds of books, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, and e-readers around the house. Kids need to be immersed in print to become good readers.

    Kids love to read other kids' books.

    Kids love to read other kids’ books.

  2. Kids need to see their family members reading. Read aloud to kids and read alone. (Even if reading isn’t your favorite activity.)

When you help a reader grow, you’re helping to build a better world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Wandering

On a weekend trip to Québec City, we visited sites recommended by a travel book— Montmorency Falls, the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupré, the farmer’s market, art galleries and cafés, all lovely and worth experiencing.IMG_3997

Sometimes, though, an itinerary needs to breathe.

My husband and I set off one evening to roam the cobblestone streets that overlook the great St. Lawrence River. Wandering of any kind invites the unexpected, and that’s what happened.

A wisp of song curled down a hill. The melody drew us up a narrow street and around the corner of an ancient stone building. There, in the shadow of Louis XIV, a quartet of singers sang opera.

One beautiful piece after another rippled forth in the sun. There was something for everyone, sort of an opera’s-greatest-hits program. And I melted right into it, shoulders and all. My imagination relaxed and soared.

Here’s a lovely wander for your imagination, the Intermezzo from the opera “Cavalleria rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni.