Tag Archives: Children

Unpacking the Greatest Gift - Comparatively Speaking

Unpacking the greatest gift — comparatively speaking

Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge - greatest gift

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it were a question, or show what it could be. Go where the prompt leads you!

 

 

 

 

As usual, my mind jumps all over the place trying to find somewhere solid to land.

For example:

Do you remember learning the comparative and superlative at school?

great                    greater                 greatest

But what could be described as the greatest, indeed the greatest gift?

Muhammad Ali had no trouble in declaring that he was the greatest.

And ever since reading Charli’s post, I haven’t been able to get Whitney Houston out of my head.

According to liveaboutdotcom, Whitney Houston“has been cited by the Guinness Book of Records as the most awarded female performer of all time.” It appears that those awards were not enough. Perhaps had she been able to find that love, it would have been her greatest gift

Then there’s a chant I used to hear in the playground. A group of girls would gather and one would call out, “I am the greatest”. Others would respond, “No you’re not.” Then everyone would do a handstand. And so, it would repeat. I think whoever held the handstand the longest was entitled to call, “I am the greatest.” If only it were that easy.

I am the greatest - playground game

If one was to be the greatest at anything, would that be the greatest gift?

I’ve often said that a love of reading is one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child.

the love of reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child

It is one of the greatest gifts not only for the joy that reading can give, but even more because the ability to read is empowering. It enables one to fully participate in what societies have to offer, to navigate one’s way through our complex environments and seek knowledge for oneself.

If it is but one of the greatest gifts, what are the others, and is there one that is greatest of them all? Is it the gift of life? Of unconditional love? Of being accepted as you are? The most expensive car? The biggest house? The largest inheritance?

Was winning the World Heavyweight Championship the greatest gift for Muhammad Ali? The greatest number of awards wasn’t the greatest gift for Whitney Houston.

I think it’s too difficult to intellectualise. I’ve gone back to the concrete thinking of six-year-olds for my answer.

The Greatest Gift

The class was aflame with a mix of sadness and excitement.

“She’s is leaving.”

“She’s gunna have a baby.”

“I’m gunna bring her a gift.”

“I am too.”

On her final day, the children jostled to give first, hopeful she’d love their gift the best.

“Mine’s bigger than yours.”

“Mine’s better.”

“Mine’s the greatest.”

The children gloated and nudged each other as the teacher opened the gifts.

“How perfect.”

“This is great.”

“Thank you, everyone.”

Finally, Tommy edged forward. His hands were empty. He looked shyly into his teacher’s eyes and whispered, “I’ll miss you, Miss. You’re the best.”

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Kathy Hoopman on teaching children with ASD in the classroom

readilearn: Teaching children with ASD — ideas for the classroom- with guest author Kathy Hoopmann

Do you have children with Asperger Syndrome in your classroom and wonder how best to cater to their needs? Do you have friends with Asperger Syndrome, or maybe have it yourself? This week’s guest Kathy Hoopmann has a wealth of suggestions to help you understand, appreciate and enjoy the complex syndrome that is known as ASD.

Combining her knowledge of Asperger Syndrome with her teaching background, Kathy has written over twenty books for children and adults.  She is best known for her photo-illustrated books that deal with Asperger Syndrome, ADHD and anxiety.  The simplicity, charm and insight of these books has made them must-haves for children and adults around the world.

Kathy has won and been shortlisted for many literary awards including the Children’s Book Council of Australia Award, and she has four times been awarded a silver Nautilus Award (US).  Her books have been translated into thirteen languages and sell widely in Australia, the UK, the US and the Middle East.

The books help children and adults with ASD recognise that they are not alone and provide support to carers, teachers and other professionals working with people with ASD.  In any home, school or classroom library Kathy’s books would help everyone learn to understand and support each other.

Welcome to readilearn, Kathy. Over to you.

The boy crawled under a table, his cap pulled low.  All eyes were on me to watch what I would do.  I was the relief teacher, or ‘light relief’ and the class was eager for a good show.  But I had been a relief teacher for too long to take the bait.  Besides, I recognised the behavior.  The boy displayed many characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder and frankly under the table was the very best place he could be, for his sake and mine. 

‘Miss?’ a child ventured, ‘Billy’s under the table and he’s wearing a hat indoors.’

Continue reading: readilearn: Teaching children with ASD — ideas for the classroom- with guest author Kathy Hoopmann – Readilearn

and be sure to check out the generous discount offered to readers during the month of July.

Peace in a pod

© Norah Colvin

Gardeners understand that effort is required to create a garden that provides the desired outcome. The same is true for raising children, with the adage “we reap what we sow” appropriate in both instances.

A school principal surmised once, after observing my interactions with children, that I must have a beautiful garden. But such was not so. The time that may have been spent nurturing plants, I turned instead to nurturing minds, including my own.

While the sowing is important, so too is the nurturing. Just as there is more to raising a seed than simply sowing one, there is more to raising a child than simply having one. The amount of care required depends on the stage of growth. How they are nurtured in the beginning stages sets the foundation for future growth and determines the harvest.

Susan Scott was thinking along similar lines when she wrote New Moon, Rosh Hoshanah and the Equinox for her Garden of Eden blog this week. She says,

“A good time to plant – seeds of whatever kind – love, patience, kindness, joy are a few that come to mind – anything that blossoms in receptive and fertile soil.”

The words resonate with me at any time, but especially this week when writing my response to the flash fiction prompt at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Charli Mills challenges writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest.

With the International Day of Peace and its 2017 theme Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All falling just a few days ago on 21 September, it all seems very timely.

Jennie Fitzkee, a remarkable early childhood teacher who blogs at A Teacher’s Reflections, shared her, and her students’, thoughts  about peace on the International Day of Peace. Jennie is a wonderful role model for peace and is passionate about nurturing young children.  She says,

“peace is about the heart, thinking and doing the right thing. The little things are the most important of all, because they’re the foundation for the big things.  By teaching children’s heart they come to understand peace.”

In a previous post Plant the seeds of literacy, I included this excerpt from Jackie French’s 2015 Senior Australian of the Year Valedictory Speech:

“You never know what seeds you plant will grow; if they will keep growing; who will take them and tend them. But there is one thing I have learned in my 62 years: keep planting seeds.

Never think: I am 62 and still have not achieved world peace, universal tolerance and justice, or even an Australia where every single child is given the chance to learn to read.

Change is never fast enough for any person of goodwill.

A rain drop is just a rain drop. But together we are a flood.  Together we have changed the world.”

She concludes her speech with these words:

“Let us give our children role models who do not, will not despair, no matter how long it takes to change the world. And let us never surrender, no matter how tired we are, or how long it takes. Because with these weapons we shape the future of our planet.”

I also employed the garden analogy in a post entitled  The classroom garden.  Responding to Charli’s prompt to write about “fruit”, I included the word “harvest”.  Rather than simply repeat that story, which would be pleasingly easy but teach me little, I’ve gone in a different direction this time.

In her post, Charli talks about harvesting peas; peas in a pod. It doesn’t take much imagination to turn this into “Peace in a pod.”

Wouldn’t that be wonderful, to plant a seed of peace with “respect, safety, and dignity for all”; “love, patience, kindness, joy”; and “universal tolerance and justice”; nurture it, watch it grow, and then harvest the bountiful rewards. It’s not only the role of teachers and parents, it’s the responsibility of society at large.

Here’s my story. I hope you like it:

Peace in a pod

“The Peace Prize goes to …”

The applause was deafening. It took minutes to realise it was their life’s work being recognised. Who’d have thought? Against a long-range solar-powered superstealth aircraft with adaptive camouflage, how would a peace capsule stand a chance? They stumbled to the stage, minds a-tumble with words, phrases, and blank spaces. In their years of preparation, of tweaking combinations of ingredients, they’d never prepared for this. The standing ovation relieved them of the necessity, drowning each word. Finally, peace pods were ready for harvest and distribution. With mass inoculation, peace was now a real possibility.

 

After writing the story, I realised that such a pill may not be the panacea I was initially contemplating. Any pill that controls the thoughts and behaviour of the masses could be just as easily used for evil as for good. I may have to send those two back to the lab for further tweaking.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

I love poems – Readilearn

I love poems. Children do too. Poetry is a great way of introducing children to the joy of language, as well as to features such as rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, similes and metaphors. What is taught through poetry can be as simple or as complex as required by the ages of the children or your teaching purpose.

One of the great benefits of teaching young children through poetry is the fun aspect. It’s enjoyable for teachers and students alike and, when children innovate on poems to create poems of their own, very motivating.

With St Valentine’s Day not far away it is timely to read and write love poems. One of my favourite poems for writing with young children is based on the traditional camping song I love the mountains. I was taught the poem by the amazing literacy educator Bill Martin Jr at a reading conference in the 1980s, and used it with every group of children I taught thereafter. I have previously written about that on my other blog here.

The repetitive structure and easy melody invites children to join in and is easy for children to use in writing poems of their own, whether they are emergent, beginning, or advanced writers.  The poems can be completed using pictures or words.

This is one of my favourite versions of the song.

Continue reading: I love poems – Readilearn

On children and parents – more from the Contented Crafter

In a previous guest post Pauline King, The Contented Crafter shared her Reflections on living a contented life, teaching and school. The richness of the discussion that ensued, including additional clarifying comments from Pauline, made for interesting reading. One thing I have found consistent throughout life is that everyone has an opinion about education and schools. However, there is great diversity in the opinions held. I love to hear them all for the opportunity they provide for clarifying my own thinking.

In this second guest post Pauline shares some of her wisdom about children and parenting. Pauline and I share much of the same philosophy and background knowledge and are aware that some statements may require clarification out of that shared context. We therefore welcome your responses and look forward to the discussion that these thoughts may instigate.

What do you think is the most important thing for parents to understand about their children? What advice would you love to give every new parent?

I seriously think every parent should read and study Khalil Gibran’s chapter about Children in his poem ‘The Prophet’.  Children are not just short adults; they are not there to fulfil a parents dreams [though they may]. 

Kahlil Gibran Children(Note: This is just a short extract of Gibran’s words about children. You can read them in full here)

Children need to be allowed to enjoy their childhood, let them play, let them dream, let them imagine.  Very little ones learn through imitation and play so be careful what you model for them. 

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Send them into formal learning when they reach their seventh year.  But let that learning proceed through imagination, through practical practise and first-hand experience.  Let the education content grow and deepen as the child matures.  Don’t just stuff stuff into their heads because you think it’s a good idea or something awful has happened in the world. 

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Don’t discuss adult issues with young children.  Keep them safe and secure while their bodies and brains mature.  Give them time to grow up. 

Parents study your child and all other children.  Raising children is not a competition.  It is not a case of keeping your child safe and clean and out of your way while you are busy.  Think more of ‘The Waltons’ and let each child have a task to perform to help the family.  Teach them all how to help prepare meals, set tables, make beds and other chores that need to be done. 

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Start to think less about how clever [or not] your child is, but what talents and attributes your child is exhibiting.  Don’t stream, let them all do everything and let everyone have something they are good at and see there is something that someone else is better at – because that is the way of the world and we all have contribution to make and our lessons to learn.  Understand that just as your child is special, all children are special. Understanding this is the first step in making a wholesome community.

Don’t be fearful of your child hurting themselves.  As a wise man recently said ‘the purpose of our lives is not to arrive safely at our death!’ 

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My personal opinion is that the increase in a society that reveres ‘health and safety’ has been responsible for the rise of lost teenagers, those aimless, disinterested kids who suffer from low self-esteem, drinking and drug taking and mindless vandalism.  Take your older kids camping, hiking, abseiling.  Do it with them and have lots of fun.  Give them physical challenges and the ability and skills to succeed in them.  It really is true that the family who plays together, stays together.

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But mostly love and respect your child.  Keep them safe when they are small and slowly teach and release them as they grow older.  Feed them good food, positivity and encouragement and watch them blossom into the people they were born to be.

Give them time and lots of your time.  They don’t need stuff and they don’t need to keep up with the Joneses.  They just need you.

In responding to a previous post you said that you could write a post-length comment about the wisdom of children. Could you share a few ideas about that here. We might come back to that longer post in the future, if you are willing.

Observe your children, listen to them, know they are their own little being and as such bring their own personality and gifts into the world.  Watch how they approach life and activities and you will see they have come with a wisdom about themselves and their purpose that we, the adults, may not be privy to.  This is the wisdom of childhood and we, as parents and teachers, are really beholden to respect this and not try to ‘change’ the child to suit us, society or anything else. 

Most teachers know that most children reach similar developmental points at around the same time.  There is a great wisdom in this and when we become aware of it, it can help us understand what they are ready for in terms of learning, activities and life in general. 

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All of this Norah, is part and parcel of the training of a Steiner Teacher – understanding child development is the open secret that drives the curriculum. 

Wow! Thank you, Pauline, for sharing your wisdom. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is one of my favourite books and his passage about children is never far from my mind. Your words in this post reflect very much the words and intent of his. You have given us much to think upon, and I appreciate it, as I’m sure the readers do too.

Connect with Pauline on Twitter or on her blog The Contented Crafter where you can also check out her delightful Gift Shop

 Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

Life — A “choose your own” adventure?

This morning Hub mentioned a book he had read about and asked if I had heard of the author Wayne Dyer. “Of course,” I replied and proceeded to explain that I had read many of Dyer’s books, had gone to a seminar to hear him speak and had been swept off my feet by accompanying speaker Deepak Chopra. I mentioned that a favourite book of his was marked now by a gap on my shelves, a phenomena recently mentioned by both Caroline Lodge, who blogs at book word and talked about missing books, and Anne Goodwin, who blogs at annethology and talked about the dilemma of lending books.

Wayne Dyer

I think there may be more than one missing from my self!

Deepak Chopra

I think. looking at these titles, its time for some re-reading!

This favourite book, read and lent many times, What Do You Really Want for Your Children? was very influential in shaping the way I parented and taught. It is one of a few books that I read and re-read with a highlighter and sticky notes. There was much in it for me to get my head around. While I am unable to now refer to it for its wisdom, one of the things that I remember most was a hypothetical letter from a child thanking parents for the way they had parented. I considered it a letter any parent would love to receive, personalised of course.

As often happens, Hub got the long (love) story as it tumbled out in a torrent of reminiscences and of joys in discovering inspiring minds. When I paused long enough to take a breath, I remembered to ask about the book to which he referred. He said it was about the recollections of past lives as told by young children, of children choosing their parents and of being in heaven.  Later research informs me that the book is Memories of Heaven, subtitledChildren’s astounding recollections of the time before they came to Earth.

I had previously, many years ago, heard the suggestion that children choose their parents. I like to think (though don’t believe) that my children chose me, and often thank them for doing so. They have taught me a lot about life. I am a strong believer in the wisdom of young children: if we are attentive and take the time to observe and listen, we can learn much from them. Sometimes it seems they enter the world with wisdom but “we” do our best to obliterate it as quickly as we can.

As it is wont to do, my thinking followed a circuitous path with if, buts, maybes and questions. Children choosing parents may be a nice idea; but what of the children living in poverty, with famine, and in war-torn areas? Why would anyone choose those conditions?

That question led me through my basic understanding of the Buddhist philosophy in relation to karma and rebirth. I have read a few books on the subject but don’t profess to have any real knowledge. I don’t like to think that these situations may be endured as the result of bad karma from a previous life, and am not even sure if they would be viewed that way in Buddhist thinking. Perhaps these situations could be an improvement on the previous, a step to the next? Maybe that’s not so unpleasant a thought.

Dalai LamaTibetan book of living and dying

I like the idea of improvement, of always learning, of striving for perfection and enlightenment. It is probably one of the reasons that the “yet” thinking of a growth mindset fits nicely into my philosophy. It explains why one of my favourite books (I almost wrote “of all time” – what would that say about me and my past lives?) is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, who dedicated the book “To the real Jonathan Seagull, who lives within us all”.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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I had always thought that being a bird would be pretty amazing with the freedom to fly above the world and look down upon its beauty. Maybe this is one reason Jonathan’s story appealed to me. Perhaps it explains the analogy of flight in my poem about education. Maybe it’s why I love to sit at an airplane’s window and marvel at the scenes below.

education-is-2

And so my thoughts meandered, drifting through clouds and pockets of time, until they were suddenly interrupted by the voice of the child next door singing, “Let it go”.

I think those three words “Let it go” may be the only ones that anyone sings along with, but the message of the song is powerful: to let go of insecurities and realise the potential within; don’t care “what they’re going to say” and acknowledge that “It’s time to see what I can do”.

Slide1

The message is not unlike that of Jonathan Seagull: to stretch beyond the limits imposed by others and their labels and to attain self-realisation. It is a journey undertaken by most thinking people, as demonstrated by the identity crisis that has befallen Sarah Brentyn who blogs at Lemon Shark. What is that if not a call for release from chains that may bind to enable the freedom for flight?

The end of a year is generally a time for reflecting on what has been achieved and what is yet to be. Perhaps it is also a time for letting go in preparation for what lies ahead.

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I hope that, as you reflect, you are happy with what you have achieved, with where you are, and with the path that lies ahead. I wish you a safe, fun and fruitful journey along the “road to find out”.

I have enjoyed your company this year and appreciate your feedback. The conversations are what keep me going, growing and learning. Thank you. I look forward to the journey continuing.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

The comfort zone

John Hattie

Creating a positive classroom environment in which students feel welcome, accepted and respected is probably high on the agenda for most teachers. It certainly was for me during all my years of classroom practice.

Students require an environment in which they feel comfortable and supported, as well as encouraged and challenged to stretch beyond current levels of skills and knowledge, to step beyond their current comfort zones with confidence in the knowledge that, while learning anything new can be a risky business, they will be supported in the process.

But this does not just come from a “feel good” place in teachers’ dreams and imaginations. Research provides evidence that it is true. Professor John Hattie, a researcher in education, undertook a very ambitious project, synthesising data from over 800 studies involving more than 80 million students. He published his findings in two books called Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers.

Hattie says that

“It is teachers who have created positive teacher student relationships that are more likely to have the above average effects on student achievement”.

Thank you to my wonderful students, and their lovely Mum who made this for me!

Thank you to my wonderful students, and their lovely Mum who made this for me!

This article, which summaries some of Hattie’s findings about teacher-student relationships, states that

“the quality and nature of the relationships you have with your students has a larger effect on their results than socio-economic status, professional development or Reading Recovery programs. It is not that these things don’t matter, but rather that your relationships with students matter more.”

It is wonderful to find that what I have always believed and practiced is now firmly backed up with research.

I have written before about my use of affirmation songs and of connecting literacy learning to children’s lives and interests. In this post I will share just a few of the physical attributes of the classroom that contributed to that overall positive and supportive environment I worked so hard to establish.

Readilearn bookmark

From the very first day of any school year I ensured that children not only felt welcome in the classroom but knew that it was their classroom, that they had part ownership of the space and its environment.

I would prepare a large welcome chart for the door with my name and photograph and the words: “Welcome to grade one.” Children’s names and photographs would be added by the close of the day.

Welcome to year one

In our school each child was allocated an individual desk with a tidy tray underneath for storing belongings. I would arrange the initial seating of children in groups based on what I knew of their friendship groups from the previous year. For each child I would place on the allocated desk:

  • A desk name (to identify the desk, to use as a model for writing, to assist children in learning to read each other’s names)
  • A welcome letter
  • A name badge (to identify them and their class at break time)
  • A small gift e.g. a pencil or keyring
Welcome pack

Welcome pack

During the day I would photograph each child and print two of each.

One of each child’s photographs would be added to the welcome chart  with the child’s name. (see above)

The other would be added to a self-portrait and displayed on a classroom wall.

I am Michael

I usually asked the children to complete these during the first session so that I could have them on display when the children returned to class after first break.

This was just the start. Throughout the year my classroom was a constantly changing display of children’s work. Children love to see their work displayed. It gives them an immediate sense of belonging, of being valued, and of ownership. Parents love to see it too, as this (unsolicited) letter written by a parent to the principal at the end of a school year testifies.

Marianne's letter

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a place of comfort that is a refuge.

My classroom welcomed everyone: children, parents, volunteers, aides and administrators. It was a comfortable place to be. Fortunately it was not often required to be a refuge in the true sense of the word, though allowing me to experience over and over the joys of being six certainly shielded me from many less pleasant situations that may have been met elsewhere.

While Marnie of my stories is a fictional character, sadly there are many children suffering as much as or more than I portray for her. It is for children like her that a warm, caring relationship with a special teacher can be empowering and life-changing, the one bright spot in an otherwise difficult life. I wish for all children a loving place of safety, acceptance, trust and respect. Marnie found it in a special teacher, Miss R.

Safety

Marnie loved art classes with Miss R. She loved art, but she loved Miss R. more. The days when art class was last were best; had been ever since that first time when she’d dallied, nervously, reluctant to leave, and Miss suggested she stay and “help”.

Miss R. understood Marnie and Marnie trusted Miss R. Sometimes they would tidy in silence. Other times they’d chatter lightly about distracting things like television, music or books. But sometimes, when dark clouds loomed, Miss R. would gently ask, “What would you like to tell me?” Today the clouds looked about to burst.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.