Category Archives: Speaking and listening

Parent Talk: Natural Catastrophes

Today I awoke to news of continuing devastation by several Atlantic hurricanes, a deadly 8.2 earthquake in Mexico, and tsunami warnings for the Pacific coast of Central America.

Forces of nature like these transfix children.  Their natural curiosity makes them eager to know and understand more. We parents, however, need to monitor the ceaseless stream of media that bombards our children through radio headlines, television reports, cell phone alerts, and internet streaming.

The best way to strike a balance between satisfying a child’s curiosity and navigating media is through you.  At any age, your child watches and learns by your example.  Your influence, whether you are a parent, grandparent, or caregiver, is always the most important one.

For example, it matters how you explain and interpret natural disasters for your children.  Whether you are experiencing the disaster firsthand or live far away, I think that the late Fred Rogers’ wise approach works best.

To build on “always look for the helpers” talk with your child about what kind of helpers live in your community. Encourage your child to draw pictures and write stories about what they see and read, because the arts provide a unique resource for expressing thought and understanding.

Your older children may decide to collect money and send a donation to areas struggling to cope. Ask an older child to explain to a younger one why money can be a better way to help, rather than sending clothing or blankets.

When you invest time in teaching your children social-emotional skills like empathy and understanding, you are helping to create a better world.  It always begins at home with you.

 

 

 

 

“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.

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.

Living History

Today we’re living history.  We have the first woman with enough votes to become a nominee for president of the United States.

It doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is, or if you support Secretary Hillary Clinton or not.  What matters is that you talk with your children about the significance of this achievement, because they are living history, too.

wavy-american-flagWe stand on the shoulders of giants in this moment.  Sarah Grimké, Angelina Grimké,  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and many others who fought–and took plenty of abuse for it–so women could vote, get birth control, own property, and keep their last names.

Today these things might seem quaint, even distant or irrelevant.  But until we see 51% of top management jobs are held by women, that 51% of board positions are held by women, and that women earn equal pay for equal work, we need to recognize the huge achievement of Hillary Clinton. It’s another step forward.

And if she makes it to the White House, she’ll be making the same salary as the previous two men, $400,000 a year.

 

 

 

 

A Robin in the Wreath

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According to AllAboutBirds.org, only 40% of nests successfully produce young.

Sometimes, you just have to take a breath and look at the world. Or, out your front door and onto a wreath, where a robin built a perfect nest.

For at least the last three weeks, I’ve been hosting a new family of robins.  It was pure magic to see the mother twist the last pieces of grass in place.  When she sat, I began a log.  After she laid her fourth and final egg, I began counting the days.  On day 12, the eggs hatched.

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Now we are two.

Along the way, I invited my friend, Eric, over for a look. As his father lifted him up, Eric looked at the eggs and said, “Wooooowww!” as only a four-year-old can.

Every guest or family member who visited expressed the same wonder.

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The quartet, eyes still closed.

No one rushed to Google “robin” on their phones. Instead, there were conversations about the nest, the occupants, their growth, the male and female robins. Our front porch became off limits to the usual foot traffic. Even the drop-off dry cleaning man got into the spirit, and suggested another place to hang his deliveries.

Looking like teenagers--a little gawky, very hungry, here and there a flap of the wings.

Looking like teenagers–a little gawky, very hungry, here and there a flap of the wings.

It’s learning opportunities like this one for which we parents need to keep watch. Teaching kids of all ages to respond to the natural world is extra special when a parent models that behavior. Also, learning at home never requires a workbook.  Birds’ nests are wonderful parent resources for wonder and curiosity.

Finally, I’m reminded that some of our youngest children are never afraid of wondering. To quote four-year-old Eric, “Wooooowww!

 

 

Parents and Backyard Science

When I visit my father, I like to tell him about the wildlife I’ve seen in our yard. “Heard the coyotes last night,”  and he smiles upon hearing this. “This is a picture of the robin’s nest on our front door wreath” makes him shake his head in wonder.  “A little snake ran over my bare feet” prompts him to ask, “What did you do?” “Nothing–it was exciting!” I said.

He and I have broadened our conversations to include other wildlife.  Bluebirds. Bald eagles.  Red-shouldered hawks. A Cooper’s hawk holding its prey. Today I plan to tell him about the latest bobcat visit to our yard, and that the robin has laid two eggs.

As you can see, backyard science is for every generation.

When our children were young, I showed them how to listen for peepers in the early spring.  (If you live in the central or eastern United States and Canada, you know this magical sound that rings in spring.)  They learned to ask questions and find answers, used their imagination to think up answers, and discovered the peepers’ habitats.  Soon this became an annual home science experiment.

All of this noticing connects directly to what a child learns in school. Observing, listening, wondering, and critical thinking are some of the greatest skills you can help your child develop in relaxed, natural, disconnected-to-a-device ways.

One of the best parenting tips I know is to show your child how to notice things in the natural world.  Even if you’ve never done it yourself, it’s a beautiful and rewarding experience to share.

 

 

Venus in Music and Art

Your child read the book, did the research, wrote the report, and made the model of the planet now exhibited in the hallway.  What’s missing?

The art and music that the planet inspired, of course! And it’s not limited to the composer Gustav Holst, whose composition The Planets consists of familiar melodies to many people. You can listen to the section “Venus, The Bringer of Peace” starting at 8:11 in this video.

Vincent Van Gogh created more than one painting that included Venus, including this one, The White House at Night.VG.White House Nigh.  Venus is so bright here that it illuminates the landscape as if it were day.

It’s one thing for your child to learn facts and gain knowledge.  But how do you know when your child really gets its?

It happens when you  deepen your child’s understanding by looking for links to music and art.  There isn’t a subject too dry or too complex that hasn’t been brought to life through an artist’s or composer’s eyes.

 

Understanding “Politically Correct”

In our homes, what we say and how we say it matters. Children hear everything and understand more than we think they do. We’re the ones who help explain the world for them as they grow. And there is plenty to help them understand  during this election season.VG.Country.Rd.Prov

In school, your child learns to understand today’s politics by thinking, reading, writing, and discussion.  We teachers guide students toward carefully considered, informed opinions expressed with appropriate vocabulary.  Most teachers do this without inserting their opinions to sway a student’s mind.

This year, though, parents are needed more than ever.  The accepted–even admired–communication style consists of rudeness laced with vulgarity and crudeness, with the disclaimer, “This isn’t politically correct, but…”

Our language and its phrases change over time. Not long ago, being politically correct referred to the act of being sensitive to expressions that disparaged people or ridiculed groups.  But now, thanks to the media, we’re able to hear these vicious statements blared over and over and around the clock.

When you get your child thinking about politics, I urge you to teach him that being politically correct is not wrong. Teach him to understand that respectful disagreement is fine, healthy, and sheds better light on ideas.

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.

 

 

“Hi guys!” as Salutation

“Hi guys!” said the teacher to her class.

I have strong views on the subject of using “hi guys,” and “you guys” to address children.  I believe it is an inappropriate and unprofessional term to use when addressing two or more people.

How many guys are seated at the table?

How many guys are seated at the table?

Perhaps I learned this as I came of age during the women’s movement of the 1970s and women could not even get a credit card in their own name. Only the “guys” could.

Whether I’m their principal or their college supervisor, I point it out to teachers when they say hi-, you-, or bye- guys.” They’re invariably shocked to realize they use it at all, because it is incorrect to address a group of boys and girls in that manner.  Guys are boys, girls are not.

“Hello friends” or “Hi everyone” are better and inclusive.

For parents, I think it’s a bit more complicated.  Some parents use it as a salutation to greet or shepherd their children out the door.  Other parents feel it is relaxed, informal, friendly, even affectionate.

But using the word “guys” when addressing a group of boys and girls perpetuates the myth that the day of women’s liberation is over.  It is not. We have all kinds of male referenced slang in our language and plenty of phrases in our speech from men’s sports.

Use salutations for your sons and daughters that are inclusive and appropriate.