Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Wondering why so many people are wearing eye patches today? Or have parrots on their shoulders?  Or have taken to growling Arrrgh! at unusual moments?

It’s because today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Did you find his buried treasure?

Drag out your old copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and read it aloud to your children.  Point out the author’s phrases that stand the test of time–“Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!”—is one that comes to mind.

My older daughter Jessica loved playing with Legos when she was young and her favorite was the Lego pirate ship.  Too pricey for our budget, we discovered her friend Alex owned it.  Their play dates became pirate ship dates that were never long enough for them to finish a story.

Pirate toys and stories spark a child’s imagination.  When you see children play with a pirate ship toy, you’ll hear them spin unbelievable stories, some which have recurring themes, particular characters, and amazing plots.  This is the sound of brain development!

Forget the “put away the toys” and let them leave the Lego or shoebox pirate ship out. Children return to continue their imaginative play when their creations are out and ready to go.

I read both of my daughters and all of my students plenty of gory, bloody, scary stories.  They thrill children and sharpen listening skills, critical thinking, the creative imagination, and the development of self-regulation skills.  (Watching scary, bloody, gory TV or playing video games loaded with violence do not do any of that.)

When you pick your children up at day care today or meet them after sports practice, give them an “Arrrgh!” to have fun and to celebrate the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

A Guide to Back to School Night

A magnificent teacher and a stimulating classroom–that’s what all parents want for their child and what all students deserve.

Yet when you go to Back to School Night, how do you look for evidence of these things?  It’s not as simple as the teacher smiles, is friendly, and the walls are decorated nicely. colored-pencils Here, I share several tips you can use for looking more deeply during that important gathering. They are things that matter to me as a parent, a teacher, and a principal.

First,  listen well, write notes, and take the handouts home.  These are the highlights and you’ll want to refer to them later.  Ask questions, too. Sounds basic, but it’s a busy, crowded night and you have a lot to take in.

Second, find out how often your child will have science.  Do you see a science center? Is it hands-on science?  Science is no longer a frill, it’s a foundation. It’s where children learn to problem solve and think scientifically.

Finally, what is the teacher’s homework philosophy? If there are nightly assignments, how and how much should you help? Ideally, there should be no homework–no worksheets, no busy work, no drills.  You and your child should read a substantial amount every single night.

Teachers carefully plan their classroom instruction.  The more you understand it, the more you can help your child to succeed and thrive this year.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Sloppy Copy” That Changed History

School kids learn that the first draft of writing is considered the “sloppy copy.” Rereading and revision is the writing process they are taught to use and it’s a good one. This summer you may see it, especially if a piece of writing is due on the first day of school.

This Fourth of July, tell your child about how thirty-three year old Thomas Jefferson authored the “sloppy copy” of the Declaration of Independence.  It was only after John Adams and Benjamin Franklin suggested revisions that one of our founding documents was ready to change the course of history.

Here’s one view of the Declaration of Independence in it’s “sloppy” form.

DEC. OF INDEP. 1

DEC. OF INDEP. 1

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, loc.gov

Parenting Teens and Saying “No”

The summer my fifteen-year-old daughter started her first camp job, she stepped into a fun, cohesive social scene with other teens, college students, and twenty-somethings. The kids hung out after camp, sometimes walking to a nearby ice cream shop.

It wasn’t long before the older kids organized a Saturday night party. She was thrilled to be invited. I knew that parents wouldn’t be present, that kids would drink, do drugs, and a fifteen-year-old girl would be vulnerable.lights-party-dancing-music

Not that I suspected my daughter would drink, or worse. She was a strong, smart person, who made excellent decisions. But it was our job as parents to assure her safety and set boundaries appropriate for her age.

It’s easy to write a sentence about it.  It’s a gigantic job to carry out.

“Fifteen-year-olds do not belong at parties with kids in their twenties,” I said, explaining why.

My daughter emphatically disagreed. She didn’t care that there’d be other parties, she wanted this one.  We were rewarded with a few days of pleading, pushing, arguing, bargaining,  She wanted to belong, I know.

Setting boundaries with teens requires parental fortitude and consistency.  Although it’s easier to give in–after all, what’s the big deal about one party, she’ll be fine–teens need to know we’re on their side, even when it’s not what they want to hear. It’s our job to teach them and not give up.

I think that saying “no” as a parent is very hard.  Many times while parenting teenagers, it’s hard to know what to do.  Teenagers are separating, growing brains and bodies, and their development is supercharged and fast paced.

That’s why teenagers aren’t always accurate in predicting safety.  We parents need to step up and do the tough work of “no,” even when it’s easier to give in, and hope for the best.

 

 

 

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!