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!

 

 

3 Survival Tips for Parents & School Projects

dreamstimefree_259944Your son Aaron has had a good year with Ms. Kelly. At the last conference, the only concern she repeated was that he needed to get his work done on time. This was not news to you. You’re always working on it with him and it’s excruciatingly painful.

Yet here you are at his soccer game and overhear someone complain about the science fair project due Friday. “Weren’t those directions confusing?” and “What is your kid doing her project on?”

In the car, you say, “Aaron, do you have a science project due this week?” Yes, he says, but he lost the directions. Or they’re in his desk at school, he thinks. You buzz over to the school and get the custodian to open the classroom. Aaron finds them and you read them. An experiment? Research? Poster board? Argh!

While dashing to Staples for the tri-fold board, you try not to explode. “Haven’t we talked about procrastination, Aaron? Letting us know ahead of time that you have a project due?” Aaron is nowhere near as stressed as you are. You try again. “How can you do your best science project at this late date?”

Some reassurance for you–we teachers have seen this happen hundreds of times. It’s how some kids learn. Here are three tips I can offer you:

  1. Let Aaron do the work. You create the environment and then let go. Teachers want to see Aaron’s work, not yours.  We can tell immediately if a parent did the work.
  2. Clear Aaron’s schedule, even it if means missing a sports practice.  If there are penalties, well, that’s another lesson learned.
  3. If his finished project is less than stellar, send it to school anyway.

Try to keep your tone matter-of-fact throughout the ordeal. All of this is very tough stuff to do because not helping sounds harsh.

But look closer and you’ll see that it’s showing love. By remembering this, you let Aaron grow and learn.

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.

 

 

Children and Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Don’t you love it when your child plays with others and uses her imagination and creativity to act out stories?VG.peasant-woman

Then you must read aloud one of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s excellent books. They mix fantasy, adventure, mystery, and magical thinking in a way that children respond to.

A person’s imagination is not an isolated ability.  It needs to be fed, stoked, and given time and space to develop.  When we do this with our children, we’re helping them learn problem solving, thinking, and social skills.

There are two of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s book that I recommend.  One is The Velvet Room–a girl explores an old, abandoned house and discovers a room full of books surrounded by velvet drapes that becomes a special space to her. When I read it, I remember the feeling of becoming the character and thinking about solving the problems.Book_egy_2007

The other is The Egypt Game, a Newbury Honor Book.  If your child likes to read about Egypt, or is drawn to Egyptian relics, this is the way to explore it.  The Egypt Game is used in lots of schools today to teach about Egypt through a child who discovers an artifact, and draws her friends into a magical game about Egypt.

In my next post, I’ll say more about how to bring special book experiences to your child.

 

 

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.