Tag Archives: kids

What’s On Your Bookshelf…?

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.

~Charles W. Eliot

One book I consider a quiet and constant friend is a dictionary. There are several scattered throughout the house. When I recently acquired a tablet, a dictionary was the first “ap” I downloaded. I’m also quite enamored of my thesaurus. But dictionaries are important to me for another reason. For some years now I’ve coordinated Valley Grange’s “Words for Thirds” Program–part of a global effort (The Dictionary Project) with the objective of putting a dictionary into the hands of every third grader. We’re just finishing up this year’s distribution and the kids from one school sent thank you notes included in a folder with my caricature drawn on the outside. (Thanks to  Piscataquis Community Elementary School third grade teacher Mr. Arthers for sharing his skill–and for making me look younger!)

These notes are both rewarding and entertaining. I recall a thank you note from one third grader a few years ago explaining that her father had built her a bookshelf in her bedroom to hold her new dictionary. (Most people would be surprised at how excited kids are when they receive their dictionaries. Competing with technology is not as difficult as one might expect. One of the frequent questions we are asked when handing out the books is “How many words are in here?” The students are quite entranced over the possibility of learning over 30,000 words and we try to explain that the book is not only theirs, the words in it can be as well.)

One of the “misfortunes” of electronic publishing and is that in time we’ll probably see fewer actual libraries in homes and books will be hidden in e-readers. Historically, these home libraries have ranged from entire rooms to a bookshelf above a child’s bed. And those shelves can be telling for we are displaying our best friends, counselors, and teachers.

Obviously, our bookshelf changes as we change. I recall struggling with this in a very practical way when we moved to Maine. “Weeding out” the library was one of the more difficult tasks. Parting with a book is never easy for me, even when it has served its purpose.

A recent article in Brain Pickings included a review of the book My Ideal Bookshelf based on interviews with  dozens of leading cultural figures who share the titles of books that matter to them most. The books we decide to read and keep are certainly a good representation of who we are, how we think, and what we value. Reading this review caused me to reflect on how different my shelves have looked over the years and I’m intrigued at which books have made it through several purges.

Were I as artistic as Mr. Arthers, I might consider drawing a bookshelf with eight to ten books on it to represent my profile picture. I suspect such an image would be much more telling than the mug shot I currently use.

There’s Still Time!

The instructor stood before his time management class with some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the instructor picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The instructor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up even more space. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The instructor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the instructor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends, your favorite passions–things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

“The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else; the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented.

The instructor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers.”

Note: I think I first heard this story nearly 20 years ago–unfortunately, the original author’s identity has been long lost… it’s making the rounds on the Internet and definitely is worthy of consideration!

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.