Tag Archives: kids

Won’t You Guide…?

For readers who do not know, I’ve worked with elementary kids on a volunteer basis for quite a few years… this year (at age 65) I’ve embarked a new “career” as an elementary substitute teacher.

When I got the call last Monday that I’d be needed at school, I was momentarily struck with the reality that going “to work” included the distinct possibly of not coming home. Like many, I’d been mourning the huge loss we experienced in Connecticut. As a society we’ve trusted teachers with our children’s education for a long time. The Newtown tragedy has demonstrated that we also trust those teachers and staff with our children’s very lives.

While I in no way want to diminish the loss of those children and adults, as time has passed I think we might consider that we are also mourning the loss of safe havens for children to learn. The grief that we are feeling calls out for answers and brings with it a rush to prevent this type of tragedy. We want to bring back those safe places.

One of the most meaningful things I learned about “classroom management” while preparing to become a substitute was the observation that “the only behavior you can truly control in your classroom is your own.”

boy_girl_flying_on_pencil_150_clr_186One day this week I was working with first graders on an art project. I’d been warned to keep them busy or “they will make your life miserable.” We’d been doing quite well, actually, when I suddenly lost control of the classroom. Amid the coloring and cutting and pasting and cries of “Mr. B, can you help me with this?” very suddenly and spontaneously one child started singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Within seconds fifteen little voices chimed in and I was left to stand and watch the unfolding of what might be described as a “Normal Rockwell Moment.”  For at least six renditions of the song (the part they remembered) my life was anything but miserable.

But it was not because of anything I did.

Every sane person wants to prevent the type of tragedy we experienced on December 14. As we work through the grief, I believe we need to remember that six year old who decided to sing. To be sure, somebody taught him to sing. But he decided it was time to sing. If we don’t remember him and his choice, we are in danger of deluding ourselves into thinking we can fix this by controlling things (guns, videos, the media, etc.) and perhaps even people.

I’ve asked myself what I might do to prevent this type of tragedy and believe the long look answer lies in another truth:  “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” While we cannot ignore those broken adults, we (collectively, not just teachers) are “breaking” children every day by missing opportunities, failing to provide structure, and in too many cases engaging in outright abuse and neglect. The same newspaper that headlined the Newtown events also carried a story of an eight year old girl who was raped. These tragedies deserve equal outrage.

Anyone who spends any time working in schools has met them–the kids we are breaking. A kid who is constantly angry for reasons we don’t yet understand–copes by screaming and pushing his way around. The loner who is always seen off by herself during recess…

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.

Just this week a nine year old confessed to being tired first thing in the morning explaining that her dad goes to work at 3 AM and she’s required to get up to care for her younger brother. She’s a real good kid and I think will grow up to be a responsible adult. I’m not indicting her Dad, because it’s likely an economic necessity. But she’s carrying a lot of weight on her young shoulders–can we be sure whether it will make or break her?

What happens to us shapes us, but we decide who we are. Those of us who are fortunate enough to work with kids have a key–we need to focus on building strong children who learn the skills–including the skill of self-control–that will allow them make good decisions about what they will do and who they will become.

Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you’ll go down in history!

What Would Happen If…

christmas_tree_lights_flickering_150_clr_4360Our local elementary school has a seasonal “giving tree” in the hall where students can leave donations for the local food cupboard. A second grader and I were walking past it when my young friend asked, “Mr. Boomsma, what do you suppose would happen if every kid brought something for the tree every day from now until Christmas?”

Many will recognize this as a “teachable moment.” My adult brain considered whether we might explore the concept of sharing or take advantage of the opportunity to do some math. Her young brain didn’t wait. She asked a follow-up question.

“Do you think the school would explode?”

In a paranoid universe, we’d consider that language destructive–I’m quite sure if she and I had this conversation walking through an airport, we’d have found ourselves detained by airport security. And now, several weeks later, most of us are hurt, angry, and frustrated over a tragedy that reminds us–confronts us–with the reality that our imperfect world is a dangerous place that doesn’t always function in ways that make sense or suit us. Sometimes evil appears to triumph and it is easy to feel powerless in this world of uncertainty.

She might not know it, but I think my young friend understands power in ways that adults sometimes forget. She reminds us of the positive possibilities, even in the face of pain and sorrow. Let’s think about it. What would happen if each student brought one food item to school every day? I still haven’t done the math, but I do know that one can per student per day would mean a pretty big pile.  And with what I know about kids, I’d be willing to bet that it would become competitive–some kids would bring two cans and challenge their friends. Hopefully, the school wouldn’t explode, literally. But it might be in danger of collapse under the weight of that generosity and sharing.  All things considered, I’m not sure that would be destructive.

So in this time of sorrow and this season of giving, my friend has given us something to consider:

What would happen if everyone did one conscious, simple act of kindness and generosity every day?

Resource Recommendation

Strange coincidences… I actually lived in Coventry RI for one month (thirty six years ago!). Today one of my very best friends (and high school English teacher) lives there! And now, I’ve discovered a great resource there! The Coventry School District has developed a series of “tips for parents” that are awesome! I would deem them not just for parents, but for anyone who “works” with kids… the article on “Motivating Learning in Young Children” is a must read! I’ve added this link to the site permanently:

http://www.coventryschools.net/tipsforparents.htm

so you can always come back and find it! (For those seeking more indepth resources, many of these tips are based on information available at the National Association of School Psychologists website.)

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!