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!

 

 

Life with a Yorkshire Terrier

If your children are lucky enough to enjoy life with a Yorkshire terrier, you’ll recognize our Teddy.IMG_4672

Happy. Self-confident. Highly intelligent. Persistent. Protective. Noisy. Wags a lot.

Barks at perceived intruders. Monitors the yard for mourning doves, squirrels, rabbits, or anything masquerading as such. Rages at roaming cats.

Loves car rides. Sits in his car seat for the sheer pleasure of it. Backseat driver. Announces trucks, motorcycles, scooters, baby carriages, runners, bicycles, and cars with other dogs.

Unafraid of any other animal. Bosses larger dogs with ease.

IMG_4686Follows directions that fit with his agenda. Chooses softest seating for himself.

Bounces back after day surgery. Turns neck doughnut into fashion statement.

Helped to raise our family with a sense of humor and unlimited tolerance for snuggling.

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.

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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.

 

William Shakespeare for Parents

I bet you’ve never thought of looking to William Shakespeare for parenting help, but I have.VG.Onions-and-drawing-table-1889

When one of my daughters was a teenager, she fell in love with Shakespearean sonnets. Sonnet 116 was one of her favorites:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
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Inside this sonnet, on line five, I found words that I clung to when the going got tough:
Love…is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
Those are true, supportive words we parents need to whisper to ourselves when we are overwhelmed and don’t know if we can handle one more conflict. They are also words that every teenager must hear from us, repeatedly.
No matter how we argue, fight, or disagree, I will love you no matter what.
William Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets.  Which one speaks to you?

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

How Parents Should Ask Schools Questions

When it comes to visiting school, we educators know that some parents bring with them their own mixed experiences–lots of them negative–about school.  In some cases, these feelings are so strong, they can cause a parent to avoid going to  concerts or attending spring conferences.

VG.PainterOnWaytoWorkI can help you with this, because schools have changed.  Today, there are no stupid questions you can ask about your child’s education.   No parent is expected to keep up with the latest trends and research–it’s hard enough for teachers, believe me. It is fine to bring along a list of questions you want to ask.

Here’s an example.  It’s spring, you’re at a parent conference, and the teacher is raving about the book report your child did on Susan B. Anthony. You think, a book report? What book report?  When did he read the book–I didn’t see that at home. And remind me who Susan B. Anthony is?—I’m working ten hours a day and am exhausted.

Go ahead and ask every question you have.  You won’t look stupid.  Your child’s teacher should easily answer every question without you feeling judged.  We school people need to find more and better ways to communicate with families, and this may be one area for improvement.

A final word of advice about your questions.  Sometimes the best or most important follow-up questions arise later on.  Also, you may realize you don’t understand or remember what the teacher said about something. Don’t hesitate to call or email to follow up.

We want parents to ask us questions about their child because it shows that the parents are committed to their child’s learning.

Playing Piano and the Brain

When I taught piano, I noticed something about my students’ learning.  The first two years were easy and a student got satisfaction quickly from playing recognizable melodies.

Year three, however, separated the long-term gain students from the others.Piano and the Brain Pieces are more difficult at this point and practice time is lengthier than 15 or 20 minutes a day. The student begins to learn more serious piano literature.  Practice sessions involve more technique with exercises to improve the fingers and the ear.

Most parents can tell the difference between their child suffering through learning an instrument they dislike, and one going through growing pains. If  you think it’s growing pains, encourage your child and help them to stick with it.  Here’s why.

A child engages both sides of the brain when they study piano. Both hands and all fingers learn to operate independently. They problem solve, they learn creative interpretation, they develop listening skills, and they learn tenacity.  Research reported in National Geographic calls piano study a “cognitive training program” that later on benefits aging brains.

After the year three difficulties, there’s smoother sailing, and your child learns that effort and stick-to-it-tive-ness pays off.