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Congrats to Grad’s Parents

He wore his blue mortar board and blue gown with pride.  When his name was called, he held his head high and grinned ear-to-ear as the school’s headmaster placed a diploma in his hand.  Like all graduates, he’d successfully completed the course of study, but no one needed to ask what his plans were after graduation.  When the next school year begins in August, Micah will be in first grade.

            As parents and grandparents took pictures, I thought of my longtime friend who questioned why schools held graduation ceremonies for young children.  In fact, she hardly recognized her children’s high school graduations because they were expected to graduate from universities and then complete masters’ degrees, and preferably, doctorates.  After that, the family would celebrate. 

            Thirty years ago, I understood my friend’s reasoning, but now I’m glad to celebrate each and every successful step of education.  I applauded my Grand as he graduated from kindergarten and his big sister who graduated from 8th grade.

            Across our county many graduation ceremonies, ranging from preschool through doctorate degrees,have been held recently.  Children can graduate many times, depending on the exit grade of their schools: preschool, kindergarten, 4th grade, 8th grade, high school, Tennessee Tech University.

            During graduation ceremonies, speakers congratulate, challenge, inspire, and encourage the graduates.  But who does the same for the parents?  Why isn’t there a graduation speech for parents?

            Congratulations, parents!  Enjoy the moment.  Breathe deeply.  Relax. You did your part. Take a few days off and gloat.  Pat yourself and your new graduates on the back.  Your children’s successes are your successes. 

            You fed, clothed, transported, and bought books, paper, pencils, and poster board.  You helped your children with school work at home and patiently watched, or did your own work nearby, while they finally figured out how to solve the last math equation. 

            You wiped tears and hugged. You heard about teachers who gave too much homework and teachers who didn’t grade fairly and friends who weren’t really friends. 

             Now, challenge your children to continue learning.  Show them, by your example that in real life, outside a classroom, there are opportunities to learn. Challenge them to learn something new every day, even though it won’t be on a test. 

            Read. Read. Read. Read aloud.  Read silently. Read together. Read signs and books and newspapers (printed and online) and the back of a cereal box and Lego directions. 

            Show children that learning is fun.  Play games. There’s a fine line between letting children win and squashing children’s confidence by always losing.  Let them experience victory and defeat.  

            Encourage children to try. The quote I kept on my classroom wall read, “It’s okay to try and fail, and try and fail again.  But it’s not okay to try and fail, and fail to try again.”  Share your successes and failures.

            Parents, no matter the age of your graduates, they will always be your children.  And they’ll always want you to celebrate with them.  So, celebrate all graduations.  You’re making happy memories.

I’m a Can-Do Kid

            “Gran, number 1!” my six-year-old Grand called from the backseat of my van.  So, I pushed the 1 on the CD player and hear the words I’ve heard a gazillion times:  I’m a Can-Do Kid written by David Plummet and John Archambault, illustrated by Lisa Guida.  “Will you skip to the song?” Micah asked because he wanted to skip the reading of the book and hear the song.

In 2008, when our oldest Grand was three years old, our neighbor Joan Tansil gave me a book and CD entitled I’m a Can-Do Kid.  The CD is a four-minute reading and a three and one-half minute song. Every Grand who has ridden with me has listened to it, over and over and over. And I used this book as a prompt when I had an opportunity to do writing activities with kindergarten through third grade students. All kids have a story to tell using pictures or words, or both, of what they can do. 

            The story begins with simple lyrics.  “I can see the sunshine.  I can smell a rose.  I can tie my shoes.  I can wiggle my toes.”  Another stanza includes seasons: “I can build a snowman with a funny nose.  I can plant a seed and watch it grow.”  The book invites conversation about handicaps: “I’m a wheelchair wonder with wishes and dreams.  I can do wheelies and be on teams.” 

            All kids like the stanza about music: “I can play kazoo, bang a garbage can, scrub-a-dub a washboard, clang a frying pan.”  Most kids know what a kazoo is and many have beat a metal pan with a wooden spoon, but most don’t know about metal garbage cans and metal washboards. 

            My Grands and students repeated the chorus loudly. “I can. I can. I can. I can. I can.  I’m a can-do kid, yes I am. I’m a can-do kid, yes I am.”  As I copy these words from the book, I smile, just as children do when they say and sing, “I can.” 

            I just noticed there is not a single exclamation point in the book and in this time of short text messages and social media comments, exclamation points are common.  If there ever was a time to express joy and happiness, it’s while saying and singing, “I can!”

             All of us need a big dose of ‘can-do therapy.’  Youtube.com offers the song and pictures from the book; search for I’m a Can-do Kid.   Listen and watch.  You’ll be singing along with the chorus and those words will rattle around your head for a few days. 

            Last week, using FaceTime I read the book to Micah while he sat in his house across town.  When I got to the chorus, he sang, and when I read the last page, he asked, “Hey, Gran.  Can we hear it again?” 

            Of course, we can.  And then we’ll talk about all the things we can do.  That’s the best part of this book.

I’m a CAN-DO Kid

Let Children Play

A gravel path led to a fifteen-foot waterfall and a pool of water, only inches deep with big smooth rocks. My two Grands leaped from rock to rock and waded in the water to the falls.  They walked behind the falls, but didn’t get wet.

            They played follow the leader and created paths across the pool stepping only on rocks.  Then they explored: one following a path up a small grassy hill, the other cupped her hands under a six-inch water fall. 

            And then, using their hands, they both dug into the silt, made a ball, and put it at the top of the miniature waterfall.  When it quickly washed away, Lucy said, “Let’s make a bigger ball!” Annabel dug up two hands full of silt and squeezed the water from it.  Just as she started to put it on the rock ledge, Lucy shouted, “Wait! Let me do mine too.  We’ll see which one dissolves first.”

            Each girl gently placed a mud ball near the edge of this tiny waterfall and they counted, “Three, two, one!” and dropped the ball.  “Gran! Did you see how fast that mudball washed away?” Lucy asked.

            Standing a few feet away on the dry bank, I nodded and gave two thumbs up. “We’ll do it again! Watch!” Annabel said as she scooped her hands under the ankle-deep water. 

            I watched, applauded, and took in the moment.  These two Grands are 9 and 11, and I was so glad they like to play in mud.  They made big mud balls and little ones to compare how much faster little ones washed away.  They found slightly smaller and slower waterfalls, only two inches tall. 

            These Grands have always played in dirt.  When Annabel was six, I sat outside watching her and her two younger siblings play.  Annabel offered me a drink. “I’m making chocolate milk with soap and mud.  Do you want to taste it?” she asked.  I grimaced and shook my head.  “I did and it’s disgusting,” she said. “Now I’m going to make a pancake with chocolate sauce and it’ll be delicious!”   A flat rock covered with thick muddy water looked similar to a giant pancake and maple syrup.

            According to authorities, playing in mud is not just fun.  Science shows that today’s sanitized world can increase levels of childhood allergies, but exposure to dirt strengthens a child’s immune level to prevent allergies.

            Serotonin, an endorphin that regulates mood, is released for a calming, happy feeling.  And playing in mud provides a connection to nature, an appreciation for the environment.  Mud, cheap and always available, is nature’s play dough. 

           Thinking skills are improved while playing in dirt because unstructured outdoor play leads to critical thinking.  I listened as my Grands casually stated their hypothesis.  They tested, analyzed, compared, counted, and came up with conclusions. They created their own science lesson.          When Annabel, Lucy, and I visited City Lake Park, I just wanted some outside time, some calming time.  And we got that and more – all three of us.

Salute to Parents of Young Children

“One good thing about being retired and this age is that I’m not home with young children all the time,” my friend said.  We’d been talking about what we were doing during this stay-at-home time and how life is different for our children, the parents of young school-age children. 

            I agreed with my friend.  I’m content being home with just Husband and having in-town Grands and their parents come for supper occasionally.  When one Grand spends the night, I’m happy to play Uno and throw a ball and build Legos and do what this child wants to do.  I cook whatever is requested for breakfast:  pancakes or fried pies or bacon and eggs and biscuits.  And I’m just as happy to help Grands pack their bags to go home.  Happy to give them a good-bye kiss and hug.  A 24-hour visit is easy.

            But full-time parenting is difficult, and right now it’s not what parents usually experience.  When our children were six and eight, my mother told me that this time and the next few years were the best of years as a parent.  There was less physical responsibility because our kids dressed and bathed themselves and they could entertain themselves.  And our kids still liked us and didn’t feel peer pressure yet.

            Mom was right.  Those were good years and they were happy, busy times.  There were ball practices and dance classes and piano lessons and birthday parties and trips to the library and family vacations.  Most days, I took our children to school and helped with their homework.  

            That’s not how it’s been since mid-March for parents whose children are with them all the time.  Parents are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Three meals and two snacks a day.  Early morning awakening time to bedtime.  Parents who never wanted to teach have been expected to do more than check homework.  And some of those parents are working at home, trying to do the job they normally do in a quiet office and with co-workers. 

             Last week, I asked a mother of three children, ages five to nine, how things were going.  She took a deep breath and said, “I guess as well as can be expected – considering there are five people together all the time who usually aren’t and one is trying to work his job and three are always hungry and seem loud and there’s nowhere to go.  We play outside a lot, when it isn’t raining and cold and sometimes when it is.”

            So, if there ever was a time to salute parents of young children, it’s now.  We just celebrated Mother’s Day and will celebrate Father’s Day in June, but parents deserve more than a one-day recognition.  I don’t know how to do that except to say we grandparents appreciate you and know you are doing the best you can.

            My guess is that young children will have happy memories of spring 2020 when everyone was home and they played a lot, sometimes even outside in the cold rain.

School Recess is Needed Playtime

Last week I wrote about the need for children to play at home. But I’m still pondering the American Academy of Pediatrics report, ‘The Power of Play,’ because it also stresses the need for play at school. It encourages educators, pediatricians, and families to advocate for and protect unstructured playtime in preschools and schools. That’s a bandwagon I can jump on.

Elementary age school children watch the clock for recess time. When I taught 4th graders, some struggled to tell time on an analog clock, a round clock with hands that hung in every classroom. But all students knew exactly where the hour and minute hands pointed when it was time for recess and named that time as 1:40 or 20 minutes before 2. When I randomly asked how much longer until recess, students quickly counted forward, using the same skills that were so difficult during a math lesson to determine elapsed time.

Students ran to the playground. Ran. Just for fun and as if they hadn’t played on the swings and slide and merry-go-round and jungle gym the day before. And a pick-up ball game began quickly. Some children played four-square on the painted court on the blacktop. A few, especially girls, wandered off in small groups and walked and talked.

And students played in the dirt. Young children played house and pretended that large exposed tree roots created a home with rooms. Sticks became people and leaves were furniture. Those same roots were racetracks for Matchbox cars that boys brought from home.

Thinking back to the days I played on a school playground, my friends and I had an ongoing game of hopscotch. Using chalk from our classroom, we drew an eight-block court on the blacktop, pulled our best flat rocks out of our pockets, and continued the game from the day before. We also jumped rope. Does anyone else remember jump rope rhymes?   One began, “Cinderella, dressed in yellow,” and ended with all the girls counting aloud, screaming, the number of kisses Cinderella got from her fella.

During my teaching years, recess got a bad rap. The emphasis on standardized testing led some states to shorten or eliminate recess to allow more instruction time. An article defending recess in Time Magazine, October 2017, states, “There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores.” A 2016 study found that young boys who spent more time sitting and less time playing didn’t progress as quickly in reading and math. A 2009 study found that 8- and 9-year-old children who had at least one daily recess period of more than 15 minutes had better classroom behavior.

The Tennessee Board of Education recognizes the need for both teacher-led physical education classes and recess. Elementary students should have 130 minutes physical activity per week, including at least 15 minutes of daily recess. Putnam County teachers and administrators have assured me recess and physical education classes are part every student’s schedule.

Recess – time to exercise, to socialize, to break from work, to play. Children need it.

Let the Children Play

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 1.04.17 PMWhen I read a recent news story stating that doctors should prescribe ‘Play’ for children, I did a double take. Surely, everyone knows children need to play. Surely.

A report, “The Power of Play,” was endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Michael Yogman, lead author of the report, stated that play often gets a bad rap as being a waste of time. He said, “Play is really brain building because it has all kinds of effects on brain structure and function. Executive function skills, learning to persist on a task, learning to solve problems, learning to be flexible about how they are learning things. It’s how we learn, not what we learn.”

As a retired elementary school teacher and grandmother of eight, I agree. Children need time to play. Free play. Inside and outside. Time to explore and pretend. Playtime alone, with friends, with siblings, with parents.

I think of when I was a kid and played in the barn loft and struggled to move the heavy hay bales to make a house and a maze. I didn’t know I was learning to plan and carry out a task.

When my childhood friend Elizabeth and I squished mud to make mud pies, we had fun and we learned. How much water was needed to hold the mud together? Where would the mud pies dry fastest? How long did it take them to dry?

I hope every child climbs trees. Obviously, it’s good physical exercise, but it requires decision making and problem solving.   Which limbs are strong enough to climb and which limb can be reached next?

I was probably eight years old when I sat in the top of my family’s cherry tree and thought I couldn’t get down. I was scared. I was allowed to climb any tree, as high as I wanted, as long as I could get myself back on the ground. My hands trembled. I eased down much more slowly that I’d climbed up. No one watched, unless they watched from inside the house. When I finally jumped to the ground, I felt a sense of accomplishment and success. I didn’t know I was building self-confidence.

Last week, I watched 4 year-old Jesse line up about twenty-five matchbox and other small cars and trucks in order. Big to little. Three red cars together. My Grand was learning classification and organization. When Fisher Price little people (two-inch toys) were stuck inside a small plastic playhouse, he turned the house upside down and shook it, but the people didn’t fall out. Then he looked through a small opening to see the stuck people and pushed them with one finger. After several minutes, he got the people out. I resisted offering help. This was Jesse’s problem.

“We’re recommending that doctors write a prescription for play, because it’s so important,” said Dr. Yogman. And he stated that the most powerful way children learn isn’t only in classrooms or libraries, but rather on playgrounds and in playrooms. I agree.

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Lessons from Children

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 7.50.13 AMLast Friday, I was reminded of a lesson while celebrating Read Across America. This day isn’t on my calendar as it was when I was an elementary classroom teacher, but thankfully friends at Capshaw School invited me to read aloud. Although I often read with my Grands, sharing a book with a classroom of students is a different experience.

The calming atmosphere of the school where I taught for twenty years settled over me. I felt as if I were returning home, as a teacher in charge. The smells, the colors – all the same. The greeting, the smiles – different people, but the same.

Mrs. Rand introduced me and gave her second grade students a chance to ask questions. “What’s your favorite color?” Yellow, just like this questioner wore from head to toe. “Do you know my step-mom? She went to Capshaw.” I know step-mom’s parents. “What’s your favorite book?” Had this child been prompted to give me a lead-in to the book I’d brought to read?

These seven and eight year old students sat at my feet on the floor; I sat in a chair exactly like my former teacher desk chair.  I had practiced holding and reading a big picture book so that I could read sideways and upside down. “The book is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae,” I said and showed the cover picture of a bright yellow, orange-spotted giraffe turning a flip.

In the book, Gerald’s knees buckle when he tries to twirl at the Jungle Dance. The other animals cha-cha, waltz, rumba and laugh at Gerald. “Look at clumsy Gerald! Giraffes can’t dance, you silly fool,” they jeer. Sad and alone, Gerald creeps away. The song of a cricket and his encouraging words makes Gerald sway his body, shuffle his feet, and swish his tail. And then he throws his legs sideways and leaps into the air into a backward somersault. The other animals gather around and declared Gerald the best dancer ever.

As I read the last words of the book, the children leaned forward and a few clapped. “So what could be another title for this book?” I asked. The children’s answers told me they understood the story’s theme. Giraffes Can Dance! Giraffes Dance When They Hear Their Music. Gerald Had to Learn. Everybody was Wrong, Giraffes Dance.

And then one child said, “Everybody can do something. Giraffes don’t have to dance.” I wanted to hug him and I asked him to please say that again. “Everybody can do something,” he said.   I got my teacher fix: a reminder that children are teachers, too. We adults can listen to and watch children and learn from them.

Some people say, “I could never be a teacher.” If every minute of a teacher’s day was like the thirty minutes I spent with those young students, everybody could be a teacher and everybody would want to. But everybody doesn’t have to. Because everybody can do something. Different somethings.

What Children Believe

I read an article in Reader’s Digest about silly things people believed when they were kids and I knew my friends had such stories. Things they thought were true, but weren’t.

Mary Jo showed her three-year-old son a picture of her mother and explained that his grandmother was dead. Mary Jo asked if he knew what that meant. Her son responded, “Yes, it means the batteries ran down.”

Brenda believed the sun and the moon were the same because she never saw them in the sky together.

Amy was sure there really was a man in the moon. She was so afraid of him she wouldn’t look out a big living room window when the moon was full.

Elaine made sure her bedroom window blinds were down at night because she believed UFOs would get in her room if she didn’t.

Anita thought when it rained God was crying and storms meant that God was angry with folks who didn’t behave.

Jan believed that the only thing people did in Heaven was float on big clouds. She didn’t think that was interesting and couldn’t understand the hype she heard in Sunday school classes.

Dana believed a baby’s first clothes were made from threads the mother accidentally swallowed while sewing.   Babies were born wearing pretty rompers. She also thought all women were good seamstresses because those in her family were.

My son thought everyone’s mom had summers off work. “You, Aunt Brenda, Jan and Marilyn (neighbors) were off. I thought that’s just the way it was.” We were all public school teachers.

 

Seeing pictures of penguins in books and on television, Andrea thought penguins were huge, six feet tall. She was surprised when she saw a live one.

Julie was young when she found a cicada wing, a big see-through wing with black veins. She was sure it was a fairy wing and saved it, wrapped in cotton and inside a tiny box, for a long time.

Kae’s older sister, by 8 years, told her the police dropped her off for her family to take care of and if she ever told a lie, or even fibbed a little, the family was to call the police to come back and take her away. For several years, Kae believed her.

Sara’s dad, a doctor, delivered one of her male classmates on exactly the same day she was born. Sara’s older brother said the babies were switched so her family would have a girl. As elementary students, Sara and the boy had the same eye and hair color and the boy’s name was her father’s middle name. Sara believed.

Janna thought people in jail were in charge of changing the traffic lights.

Hearing a song on the radio, I thought the singer stood in the radio station building and sang into a microphone. My big brother laughed hard when I wondered how the singers travelled to different towns so fast.

These beliefs make me smile. Being naïve, the innocence of children.

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Freeze these Minutes

imagesWhen I give my Grand a block, he makes it a car, rolls it on the floor, and says, “Vrooooomm.” I watch Jess, two years old. He lays flat, stomach and head on the floor, and rolls the pretend car just inches from his nose.

After a few minutes, Jess throws the block onto the floor and gets two Hot Wheels cars from our toy shelf. Then back to prone position. Clutching a car in his right hand under his stomach, he rolls the other car with his left hand. Back and forth. “Vroom. Vroom. Vrooooomm,” he says.  I want to freeze these minutes when my Grand is totally engaged in a simple game.

Jess, the youngest of five, visits Husband and me and we relish that we can play with just him. And our Grand seems happy to play alone and have Pop and Gran all to himself.   When I say it’s time for a snack, he runs to the kitchen table, holding a Hot Wheels in each hand, climbs into a booster seat on a kitchen chair, and shouts, “Fruit!” His one-word sentences sometimes sound like demands. He swipes his hand across his chest, an attempt to move his hand in a circle, which signifies please in sign language.

Jess helps me peel a tangerine, remove the stringy white pith, and divide it into segments. His small fingers pick off every tiny white string before he plops a segment into his mouth. “More!” he says and swipes his chest.

Outside, Jess runs toward a rubber playground ball. He accidentally kicks it and it rolls away. He runs again. Picks up the ball and throws it and runs toward it. When I pick up the ball and suggest we roll it back and forth to each other, he grabs the ball and runs. “Mine!” he shouts. Yes, it’s all his and it’s his game until he’s tired and lays his head against my legs.

I give him a plastic spray bottle of water. He squirts the grass and then discovers water changes the color of our gray wooden fence. He giggles and then laughs out loud as water drips down the fence. Soon the bottle is empty and he runs back to me. “More. More. Now.”

Much too soon, it’s time to take Jess home. My fingers don’t manage the belt on his car seat well and my Grand sits patiently. He’s tired and I sing a silly song, “I’m fastening your seat belt, seat belt, seat belt.” Finally, he’s buckled in and Jess claps his hands, kicks his feet, and laughs.

When I tell him good-bye at his house, Jess responds, “Book. Read.” He grabs a book from his family’s children’s book basket and holds it toward me. Daughter, his mother, says, “It’s one of his favorites right now.” Jess and I settled on the couch and two of his older siblings sit close by. Jess makes the sounds to go with the pictures in the book. “Vroooooomm!”

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When Children Help

move_cartoon-florida-movingThere are have been some unexpected cherished times during this move to Husband’s and my new house. Although sorting, packing, hauling, unpacking, and ‘setting up’ house has almost done me a few times, I treasure some conversations with our children and Grands.

When Daughter-in-Law asked if we’d have room for all our furniture, I said, “We’ll probably sell a few things. Like the antique oak washstand. It’s not a family piece and it won’t go in our new kitchen.” Son muted the televised football game he was watching, and he tuned into our conversation. “Wait a minute,” he said. “What are you talking about? What’s a washstand?” I explained that it had always set in the kitchen by the bay window. “You mean the table where you put the little Christmas tree decorated with seashells?” Son asked. Yes, that’s a washstand.

He wrinkled his forward. “What do you mean it’s not a family piece?”

“It didn’t come down through your dad’s or my family,” I said. “We bought it a long time ago. Probably in the late 70s.”

Son leaned back in his reclining chair and tilted his head. “But it’s always been in your kitchen. It’s a family piece to me.” The washstand now has a place in a guest bedroom until Son wants to move it to his house.

Both Son and Daughter offered to help. Son said he’d fly across country to set up electronics and carry heavy boxes. We took a rain check on that. Daughter said, “Just tell me when to be there, Mom.” I thought she had enough to do homeschooling her children and her daily responsibilities as wife and mother. “I’ll come late afternoon or after supper,” she said. “And what about moving day? You’ll need your bed made and towels out and ready for a shower. I can do that.”

The tables have turned. Husband helped Son organize the garage in his new house last year. When Daughter was a college student, Husband and I helped her move into several dorm rooms and apartments and never left until the bed was made and the towels hung.

I recruited my 9 year-old Grand to help pack our playroom, a former bedroom filled with blocks, cars, dress-up clothes, Fisher-Price play sets, books, art supplies, and more. All saved from our children’s childhood and things I’ve bought because the Grands needed more toys. What to keep? What to cull? “Gran, keep the multi-colored, funny wig,” Lou said as she threw it in a packing box. “Get rid of this straw hat and these caps – nobody ever wears them. Keep these purses. The little girls (her younger sisters) like them.” Lou sorted quickly and she packed, placing things tightly, with no empty spaces. We finished an all-day task by lunchtime.

David, age 11, sat on the floor in the middle of our new garage. Papers with printed directions, metal shelves, screws, and bolts for Husband new workbench were scattered around my Grand. “Pop had some other things to do so I told him I’d do it,” David said. Two hours later he told me, “Some of pieces looked the same, but the directions were good, and I took my time.” Project completed.

One day only David and I were riding in my van and we’d talked about the official moving day. He asked, “Gran, are you happy about this move?” Yes, of course. “Aren’t you sad, too?” I nodded. “So are you more happy or more sad?”

I’m thankful for our children’s and Grands’ help. It’s made for a happy move.

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