Tag Archives: kids

When Reading Is About Writing… and writing is about reading

Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. Simple as that.” That’s okay advice for people who want to write. Writing is definitely about reading. As one who loves to do both I could probably have a lot of fun with this–including wondering how many writers love to read what they have written.

Many folks know that I have worked with second and third graders on a volunteer basis for quite a few years. Much of that work is geared to encourage them to read–and, hopefully, to develop a love of learning. One of the little poems we share at the beginning of the year is:

The more you read, the more you know.
The more you know, the smarter you grow.
The smarter you grow, the stronger your voice.
When speaking your mind or making your choice.

After making some presentations to third graders in an assembly last year, I joked with a teacher about the need to offer some public speaking curriculum to third graders since none would give an acceptance speech. After thinking about it, maybe it’s not a joke. Afterall, we are trying to create an integrated education for our kids, right? And if reading makes you smart and being smarter makes your voice stronger, shouldn’t you be able to speak (and write) with greater confidence and skill–at any age?

Another interesting conversation I had recently was with a media and communications professional. We were sharing some thoughts about how much media has changed in the last decade and ended up discussing the need for “media relations” training for elementary school kids. These kids are, after all, at least social media darlings as young as babies when their parents post their photos on Facebook and other media. While this might be a topic unto itself, a reality is that a lot of kids are “stressed” over their image at increasingly young ages–partly because they haven’t learned how to manage that image.

It was bad enough when we had to worry about the Three R’s without these added challenges. But it’s also still arguable that a good foundation in “reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” would certainly help with the challenges and perhaps allow children to have stronger voices and make better choices.

I’m increasingly pleased and impressed at the numbers of kids who talk about reading at home with a parent or grandparent. (I have a great story to share about the nine year old reading the newspaper to his grandfather in the waiting room at my chiropractor’s office.) While the work of making shared reading the norm is certainly far from complete, what about the second “R” — writing?

The good news is adults (and kids) are “writing” more… the bad news is much of that writing is poor at best. And the worse news is the media doesn’t always encourage or reward traditional writing skills. (I admit–it’s interesting to consider what Mark Twain might have “tweeted.” It’s even more interesting to consider what he would have thought about the challenge of writing something meaningful using less than 140 characters or letters.)

So here’s the challenge… if you are reading with a kid, why not introduce the idea of writing? If it seems a bit more intimidating there’s a good resource for you. You can download a 17 page guide with lots of tips for how to help your kids improve their writing skills–and make the process more natural and fun. (I suspect you could use a few of them on yourself as well!) A better idea might be to contact his or her teacher since not all school systems use the exact same vocabulary and curriculum, but in general any stimulation and encouragement will be good.

I’ve always been grateful to one college professor–“Mr. Bailey.” He taught us to write for sure, but more importantly, he made us write. Every day.  One sentence was allowed, but by the end of the semester it was hard to stop with one. You can get better simply by doing things.

We’re not going to talk about ‘rithmetic.

Yet.

Back to School Rules

One day last year I arrived at school a little early to read with second graders. I slipped into the classroom quietly and sat on the edge of a desk, appreciating the opportunity to eavesdrop on the group who were gathered around the teacher considering guidelines for a project they were about to begin. One of the girls slipped away from the group to whisper in my ear. “Mr. Boomsma, you’re not supposed to sit on the desks.”

I thanked her profusely and immediately changed my seating arrangement. I’m always a little embarassed when I unintentionally break a classroom rule but I enjoy how the kids try to help me stay out of trouble.

Rules are good things. I recently happened to read “Ten Rules for Students, Teachers, and Life.” These rules have a somewhat uncertain beginning that appears to involve John Cage, Sister Corita Kent, and may even Bertram Russell. We do know that Sister Kent used them in for an art class she taught and they became the official art department rules for the college of LA’s Immaculate Heart Convent–her alma mater.  Since I know how difficult it can be to know and remember lots of rules, let me share just three.

  1. The duty of a student is to pull everything out of your teacher and your fellow students.
  2. The duty of a teacher is to pull everything out of your students.
  3. Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.

Imagine how much our classrooms and schools could change if we could follow them. We perhaps need to expound a bit on rule number three. Here we are talking about the learning environment and process. The ability to make mistakes is an important part of learning and we need to learn and allow that ability. The rule is, I think, leading us to the understanding that a mistake doesn’t equal a failure.

Of course I’m not proposing we allow students (or adults) to sit on desks. But a good place to start education in any form is to define the role of the teacher and students–and the fundamental way we will “make” learning.

Making Change and Not Making Changes

Chose both the road and how far down it you’ll travel

An important part of a recent vacation was spent in the Lancaster Pennsylvania area—also called “Amish Country.” When I lived closer, visits to the area were frequent and I developed a familiarity with the area. So this was an interesting opportunity to return after a decade of absence.There is much truth in the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” While there were some obvious changes to the area—it was equally obvious that many things have not changed. I have always avoided the heavily trafficked tourist areas and never shared the common perspective that Amish folks are a tourist attraction. I’ve always considered myself a guest among these special people.

One favorite back road farm stand had not changed much, although the attendant was now a nine year old Amish girl working alone indicating a new generation is now involved. She was pleasant and efficient, totaling up our purchases using a simple calculator. When I presented her with an unusual combination of bills and coin she pushed the calculator aside, took my offering, and counted back the correct change without hesitation. Watching her box our purchases cheerfully and carefully in the hundred degree heat was humbling.

I can’t help but contrast this with another experience several days prior. We ate at a restaurant where some of the servers were perhaps nearly twice my Amish friend’s age. Several of them actually couldn’t stop texting (or talking) on their smart cell phones while they were walking between the kitchen and their customers’ tables. They of course used computers to document our order and calculate our final bill. I did not test our waitress’s change making ability—credit cards eliminate that need anyway.

The Amish are also among one of the most misunderstood groups of people, often considered “backward” and “out of touch.” The point of this contrast is not to demonstrate that–the point is quite the contrary.

I would offer that the Amish are actually quite progressive. What makes them “different” is that they are selectively progressive. (Remember, my young friend did use a calculator for part of the transaction. Not long ago a brown paper bag and pencil would have been the tool of choice.) The important distinction between the Amish and society in general is that the Amish only embrace technology after careful and deliberate consideration of the impact it will have on individuals, families, and the community.

One of my frequent observations that might parallel this is “just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should do it.” We are inclined to want the latest and best. Technology offers lots of temptations. Why watch that old TV when you can have a wide screen? (The Amish question might be “why watch TV at all?”) Only a few months to go and I can upgrade my smart phone to one that’s even smarter! The possibilities are endless, really.

So while it would be possible and perhaps be nice to be able to order online from that farm stand in Pennsylvania (they make incredible pickles), I’m willing to concede that for this Amish family to embrace that technology would require some major changes in their lives. And for me it would mean that a visit a few years from now not only wouldn’t be necessary, but wouldn’t be possible.

Call me backward and out of touch, but I’m not ready to give those visits up.

Grab A Bucket…

The idea of having a bucket list (things you are committed to doing during your life) has become more than popular–it’s nearly viral. Traditionally follks haven’t thought seriously about their life accomplishments until their mortality becomes real. Now I hear young people and kids talking about their bucket list.

Well, here’s another bucket idea that I think is extremely adaptable, practical, and useful. The idea is geared for kids — they get all the good stuff — but once you get the fundamentals, you can see it working in organizations, families, companies… The bucket represents your mental and emotional self. You fill your bucket with words and actions that demonstrate you care about somebody.

One adaption of this was made successfully by the Livermore Maine School Committee with an elementary school program to encourage positive behavior and make it a habit. A feature of the program is a literal bucket–when teachers and staff see a student “being nice” to someone they write the child’s name on a slip of paper and place it in the bucket. A monthly drawing means students receive recognition in the form of extra recess time, books, etc.

Back in my corporate consulting days, we used a similar approach with “something extra” coupons. Every employee was allowed to award a coupon to another employee for positive behavior that “went beyond” the norm. While coupons could be redeemed for lunch discounts, etc. we found that most people didn’t redeem them and kept theirs as trophies!

There are some great kids books about bucket filling–for information and resources visit the Bucket Filler Website. Put on your creative hat and see how your family could have a bucket… or just make it a personal habit of making sure you do something every day to fill your own bucket!

This idea was also posted on New England City and Town News Notes–a great site for news and ideas from around New England!