Tag Archives: reading

Mr. Boomsma Makes Mag!

SR Mag Clip“Mr. Boomsma” is the subject of a special article in the October Issue of Maine Seniors Magazine. The article was originally going to focus on the Grange, but as her research developed, writer Donna Halvorsen found a slightly different focus. She writes, “Each Grange can choose its own projects, reflecting local needs and interests. That’s how the Valley Grange, whose area stretches from Monson to Milo, came to focus so strongly on children. And how Boomsma—who talks with his hands and quotes Socrates—built a life around it.

I knew I quoted Socrates, but didn’t realize I talk with my hands. Although it makes sense because I happen to believe that a teacher can and should be his own greatest visual aid. I like to draw, too! (I didn’t say I was good at it… in fact I’ve been working on forming my letters correctly so I don’t embarrass myself in Kindergarten.)

One interesting side bar story… when the article was going through it’s final edits, Donna requested some pictures of me “working with kids.” Since I’m usually the photographer at school, I didn’t find very many so we decided to have a photo shoot. But who to invite?

I remembered how several years ago Kendall Kimball (then a second grader) announced to me she is going to be a “pop star” when she grows up. She also provided a detailed explanation of the difference between a “pop star” and a “rock star” and her determination has not waned. Needing a young model, it occurred to me that we might launch her career and establish her identity as a media darling. When you see the photo of us on page 35, I think you’ll agree–the camera loves her.

As for me… well, when the magazine hit Park Danforth–an assisted living center in Portland–my Aunt called to inform me that some of her girlfriends think I’m a real “hunk.” So I guess I’m popular with the eight year olds and the eighty-somethings.

Maine Seniors is a high quality magazine published right here in Maine and distributed throughout the state featuring “community icons” and “prime movers”— seniors who are making a difference in their communities and state. The article features some of Valley Grange’s initiatives such as Words for Thirds, Bookworming, and the GrowME project while telling some of my favorite stories about working with kids. But it also makes clear the fact that Mr. Boomsma believes it’s not about programs. The programs I like “are really just an excuse to do the real work.”

I would quickly add that it’s hard to think of something that’s this much fun as work. If  you  haven’t guessed what “the work” is, read the article.

A  complete digital copy is available on http://wboomsma.com. (Thanks to the publisher for generous reprint rights.) The entire issue will be accessible at http://meseniors.com before the month of October is over.

An outtake of the pop star and the hunk!
An outtake featuring the pop star and the hunk!

Mr. Boomsma, You Need To Focus!

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Picture a second grader with a scholarly look–glasses that tilt as kids’ often do; an appropriate lack of front teeth revealed by a smile reflecting a sense of accomplishment. We’d just finished reading a book together. She’d read flawlessly.

When we stood to return to her classroom, another class of young scholars entered the library. They were calling out greetings as they passed and this served as a distraction as I attempted to push my chair under the table. I didn’t notice that I wasn’t succeeding because the chair simply didn’t fit.

After watching me in frustration for a while, she placed her hands on either side of her face mimicking the blinders horses wear. “Mr. Boomsma, you need to focus!”

I chuckled at the maturity with which she attempted to resolve my problem and teach me a lesson. I thought I was busy. She rightly recognized I wasn’t  busy. I just wasn’t doing such a good job of handling multiple priorities-priorities that I had actually selected unconsciously.

It’s at least interesting that a seven-year old had that insight. Many people observing the situation would have thought I looked busy. But  had I focused on any one of the tasks at hand I would most certainly have succeeded. All I was really trying to do was push in my chair, keep track of my reader friend and acknowledge some other friends arriving on the scene. Like walking and chewing gum at the same time, these were manageable tasks.

It’s been several years since she taught me the lesson and I still use her gesture to remind myself I need to focus. Occasionally I use it with others. She is, after all, correct. Most people who complain about being busy just need to focus.

The flip side of this is the claim, “Be patient! I can only do one thing at a time.”

Really?

Let’s see. I’m usually doing lots of things at a time. I’m thinking, writing, breathing… My heart is pumping. I’m somewhat aware of some folks nearby talking… I didn’t really think about it, but I’m really quite busy. Fortunately I’m also fairly focused. If not, I could become very stressed over everything I am handling. What if I forget to breath? Now I need to sneeze. I’m so busy! I can’t take on another thing!

Having told on myself (and had some fun), I can perhaps reveal that I suspect a lot of people who complain about “busy” just aren’t focusing. Our wonderful brains do take care of a lot of this for us, but we also have the ability to manage our attention. When we don’t use that ability not only does our stress increase, but our “situational awareness” decreases.  I didn’t notice my chair didn’t fit because I was stressed. I was stressed because I wasn’t focused. It became about everything and that meant it was actually about nothing.

Note, however, there’s an opposite problem when we become too focused. I wouldn’t call it obsessive compulsive. I think it’s more about target fixation. During WW II pilots would sometimes become so focused on their target they’d forget to release the bomb and pull out of the dive. They’d lose perspective and crash into the target.

Somewhere between focusing and being aware of one’s surroundings there’s a sweet spot with a balance. But you don’t find it without looking. It might be under the table where the chair doesn’t fit!

Don’t Take A Vacation From Learning!

Summer Couple
“Let’s not learn anything today, ok?”

Summer Vacation for us is developing into a bit of a ritualistic trip to Lancaster County Pennsylvania–also known as “Amish Country.” There’s a lot to like about our trip–including the fact there’s usually plenty of things to write about and this year is no exception.

Every year we get a little better at leaving things behind and I’m not just referring to Harley Dog and Crash Cat. I mean the usual responsibilities and worries that accompany every day life. Even so, we never feel like we are running away. It’s really more a case of changing venue, experiencing some different things, and truly having quality think  and learning time.

That also means I usually return “ready to write” with a host of thoughts and observations triggered by traveling. However, my first post after vacation is about something else I experienced recently that’s pretty awesome. It starts with the observation posted by someone on Facebook that shortly after we returned there were (then) only forty seven days left until the first day of school. I didn’t need to know that.

I’ve always asked the kids I run into during the summer if they are ready to return to school. There’s nothing scientific about my survey, but as the summer progresses I seem to get more “yes” answers than “no” answers. Of course there are a lot of variables, including the weather.

Am I ready to go back? One thing that’s different for me this year is I’ll be starting my second year as an elementary substitute teacher.

Just yesterday a friend and colleague told me a story. She was visiting with a family from our school district and, as it happened, was having a similar conversation with the children. When she asked one young fellow what he liked about school, he mentioned a few things and included “Mr. Boomsma!” in the top two or three. Since there was no way he would have connected my friend and I, it was a genuine affirmation that he apparently enjoys having me as part of the school environment. (Confidentiality concerns prevent me from knowing who he is and what my connection with him has been.)

I confess I got a little lump in my throat, but after I digested the news I managed to tell my friend that she had made my day. No, she’d made my week… maybe even my summer.

Sure, it’s an ego boost. But there’s something more important about this. When I was considering substitute teaching, I agonized over the impact it would have on my relationship with the kids. After all, Mr. Boomsma was the nice guy who showed up to listen to the kids read, maybe join in some recess activities, and be a good listener to kids who want to talk. If he comes as a sub, things change. Now it’s really about learning and behaving and completing assignments, right? He’s got to be “meaner.”

Well, this little guy has shown me I was wrong. Creating and maintaining structure and discipline isn’t mean, really. Or at least it doesn’t have to be! In my world, one of the reasons kids say they are ready to go back to school is they are missing the joy of learning. There’s an Amish Proverb that suggests, “Learning is far more valuable than education.” And while I would not diminish the value of education, it’s really supposed to be about learning.

Now more than ever, we need to blur the line between learning and fun. I’ll tell you a little secret. I really don’t think that little guy likes me as much as he likes learning. We have that in common–it’s a pretty strong connection and bond.

And you don’t have to be a teacher to help a kid learn and summer is a great time to do that. Take an interest in him. Ask her questions. Get him talking. You just might learn something too!

Pre-publication Announcement

Coming in Spring 2013!

Small People; Big Brains – a collection of stories about simplicity, wonder and exploration by “Mr. Boomsma”… Sign up for an email announcement of the date this entertaining and inspiring book making the point that while we are trying to teach kids about life, they can show us how to live.

Registering creates no obligation–just an opportunity!

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Get A Kid Going!

Give to Public Schools in Need! - Go to DonorsChoose.orgWhat a great resource this is… for teachers, kids, and anyone who wants to help them! DonorsChoose has been around for over ten years and is all about making it easy for folks to help classrooms in need. Teachers post classroom requests which “range from pencils for poetry to microscopes for mitochondria.” Supporters can give as little as $1 in support of the project of choice. You can truly give to a specific classroom. Projects are vetted and there’s tons of transparency and accountability, providing assurance that any donation made is a good investment in our kids’ education.

The project is nation-wide, but potential donors can search by state, town, and school. When I looked this morning there were 115 open projects in Maine–the closest to me right in Dover Foxcroft where the teacher is looking for help with securing an “incubator and humidity control system will allow my young scientists to explore embryology, life cycles and reproduction.” Current donations total just about half what’s needed, so they are well on their way!

Let’s set aside politics and the fact that we all are paying too much in taxes to consider what’s happening here… we have some teachers with a true passion for teaching and a need for a tool that we can provide fairly painlessly–remember, you can donate as little as a dollar. Unlike taxes, any contribution goes right to the project and classroom you choose and you have assurance your dollar(s) is well spent. Teachers aren’t paid to do this sort of fundraising–they do it because they love your kids and want them to learn.

A teacher in Milo is looking for some help with a digital player and dock so she can reel in some “reluctant readers” with a simple but effective incentive program.

The biggest problem you’ll have when you visit DonorsChoose.org is selecting which kids and teachers you want to support. Even if you can’t support them all, you’ll leave the site with a deeper appreciation for what is happening in our schools and what some teachers are trying to do.

My personal theme for this year is: “It is easier to build strong children than to fix broken adults.” Here’s a way to do just that. Teachers can also help by getting your need posted on the site. Let’s work together to get some kids going!