Example Rules

Al Sharpton
Al Sharpton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was remembering one of my first triumphs at school. It was an aptitude test on English grammar. In second grade, we were asked to choose the correct form of a word to plug into a sentence. Since we had no formal grammatical training before the test, I was very pleased to “ace” it.
Why did I have those skills at age eight? Simply because proper grammar was spoken in my home.
The English language has rules… not the kind meant to restrict our behavior, but those which apply in order to keep us on “the same page” and in the “same game”.
When I consider the modern distaste for rules, in general, and the emphasis on diversity, I realize many young parents are throwing an obstacle into their children’s education (and success) when they refuse to use proper grammar.
I understand that bilingual households are at a disadvantage automatically. All the more reason, in my opinion, for parents to school themselves in proper English.
Language has little to do with culture, so the clinging to slang and the blocking of the kids’ understanding of the rules of English grammar in the home, make no sense.
Al Sharpton is an intelligent man…Yet, he talks in a “street” dialect that, I assume, is an attempt to be “common” and endearing to the African American community. He “ain’t” helping anyone by confusing folks about English enunciation and grammar. Especially those people who have never lived in an environment where the rules of English were followed. Leading by example would be more helpful and honorable, in my opinion. Breaking other rules may gain a person attention and bravado but the rules of English language, once ignored, are terribly difficult to reclaim.
So, when parents consider helping their children’s efforts for a good education, the most important edge they can offer is the example of good grammar spoken at home.

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Artists come from Copycats

There is much to be learned from children.

Thankfully, I have grandchildren who will “keep it fresh” when I retire from providing day care. I’ve watched kids for the better part of my life. One thing I have  attempted, is to reevaluate my preconceived notions of how they learn on a frequent basis. Remembering moments of inspiration, from my own childhood, have proven of extra value.

When I draw flowers, there’s my flashback moment to a time I had seen a fellow middle school student draw a lovely daisy. It was not face-front with even petals (the childhood normal) but “danced” on a crooked stem and drooped to one side. That moment changed my view of flower drawings forever. In fact, it was a moment of artistic maturing that improved how I would approach all future drawings.

The old saying, “Don’t be a copycat.” is total bunk in my modern approach. I’ve found this especially true from watching the children’s visual arts evolve. I spent many years with a policy that I should not draw around the kids. I believed that my skills might discourage them or take away the purity of being original. Luckily, I just couldn’t help joining in at “art time” because, gosh, it’s fun. It became clear to me that many of my kids became happier artists from following my lead.

My most recent example happened last week. I was tired of my blank dry erase board so I created a Springtime scene as I bopped around my kitchen cooking supper. The kids noticed it the next day and studied it often. My 7-year-old granddaughter asked if she might add to the board. I said sure and handed her the markers. When she asked me to see what she had done, I had expected my drawing to have been replaced with a messier version according to her skills. Below is  the amended piece.

Katherine added two flowers and one lady bug. I rest my case.

art

Schools-what do we learn?

homeschooling afternoon
homeschooling afternoon (Photo credit: hbakkh)

There is an urban myth that public schooling is the best method by which we can teach children social skills. In fact, that is the primary argument against home-schooling. I beg to differ.

There’s a growing concern that public schools are failing our kids in a BIG way. There are many dedicated teachers, who do an excellent job, but the teachers’ unions protect not only the good teachers but the bad ones too.

When we are faced with the expensive and ,I believe, better alternative of home-schooling, there is the concern about the proper “socialization” of these kids.

We don’t do “sex education” before we feel a child is mature enough but we send kids off to school, at a tender age, for their first exposure to bullies, ridicule and peer pressure. They will be measured by grades and learning styles and will be kept in the classroom for the great majority of their learning experience. Hopefully, this classroom will have an orderly atmosphere and a small group but that is not guaranteed. Actually, it’s a “crap shoot” that your child’s classmates will be a “good” group. Sometimes, there is a larger number of “mis-behavers” and that is simply up to chance and timing. Teachers are not to blame,at all, but ask them and they will volunteer, readily, their memories of “good groups”.

A home-schooled child can visit real-life situations (grocery stores, parks, libraries etc.), as often as, Mom or Dad deems necessary. A “busy” child can be offered hands-on experiences and more breaks, as often as, he/she needs and the parent can correct bad manners as they present themselves in those real life situations.

There are youth sports and music organizations, available to the public, for the lessons needed in cooperation, and the taking of instruction from authority figures other than parents. The education is ongoing, year round, when the “teachers” are always present and fully aware of the curriculum.

It is so very sad that most parents haven’t the option of home-schooling. I do expect a growing trend of home-schooling, though. Families may re-evaluate the need and budget in a way to make it happen. Actually, the current stress on incomes causing grandparents to become household members, may offer them as home-school teachers or helpers with the family budget, affording parents the chance to teach.

The whole idea of home-schooling being a poor option is simply, not true, and cannot be supported by urban legends.

Those who have the ability and means to do it, have my thumbs up.

Art Awakenings

37506_441327983827_530328827_5763961_6087928_nIt was from listening to the school-aged kids talking among themselves, that I came to this “train of thought”. They were discussing their favorite subjects and had the same ones that I had always enjoyed…Art, Music and Gym class.

As my mind considered a profound post requesting the incorporation of all early childhood subjects into the “fave three”, I realized it is already done in the better schools (including home schools).

Another impetus to this post, was last night’s longing to dabble with art again. I’m no professional but have sold a few pieces and enjoy the act of visual art creation, very much. The computer has allowed my creative juices to be released in writing to the extent of overlooking a “lost love”. It is easier to sit down to a computer than to drag out art supplies in the company of children. An art studio would fulfill many dreams, indeed, but isn’t happening in the near future.

Then I began a mental journey. Just when, where, why and how did I become an artist? I realized that there was one moment that gave me a “sight” that would give me pleasure for the rest of my life.

First, I have always wanted to be art artful. I have guided many preschoolers in their elementary art. Some kids, just aren’t interested. But, offering them the “sight” is what I’m really after.

What is the “sight”? It is the ability to disengage our minds from what we are looking at. Remember when kids draw their first pictures of pets? They put two eyes on one side of the animal’s head and the legs always count to four even when they are not really visible. They have yet to learn to “see” only what is there, not what they know is there.

I was lousy at art. I can still see the red-letter “C-” on a fourth grade diagram of a house fly. Then in sixth grade, and amazingly with a not yet dead interest , our class was given a science/art project on behalf of animal conservation. It is amazing that my Art classes had been devoid of Art learning to this point. In those days, it was all about producing a picture suitable for sending home, more than an education in the Arts.

I chose to reproduce a poster of a squirrel. As I struggled with the seemingly enormous task, my science teacher recommended that I turn the poster upside-down and try to draw the lines as I saw them. Eureka! That is where, when, why and how I learned to “see” the whole world differently.

I can attribute the ember of art desire, that I still had, directly to seeing country artists on hillsides with pads and paints. I specifically recall pressing my face to the car window and admiring them while thinking, “I want to do that.” Makes me wonder how they learned to “see”?

You want to hear something really cool? When I have spent a day drawing or painting, I see things especially clearly. Another world opens up! If I ride along in my car, everything becomes color and lines beyond notice to the average “eye”. Having experienced this, enlightens me to one reason why the “masters” wanted to stay inside that “world”.

I’d like everyone to have the opportunity to see the world just like that, now and then. I offer this to my kids and hope they are able to use their eyes separate from their minds. Heck, we already know kids use their mouths, that way, all the time. 😉

Subliminal Messages: What we really are telling kids.

Jenn & John 108

Why do we adults avoid telling kids the truth?

I’m not talking about the “birds and the bees” at an inappropriate age. I’m thinking more about just telling them why things, that they don’t like, are good for them. I do it too. The little song and dance for vegetables. The demand that homework be done first, before play….”because I said so.”

Well, I have started telling the kids the “whys” and “why nots” more often. If they don’t, at first, understand my reasons…I’m going to keep at it until they do. Like eating vegetables, the plain truth can taste bad but we keep offering the vegetables, why not keep explaining?

My daughter, Ellen, surprised and pleased me yesterday. (BTW-She does it often.) Her daughter, Katherine, came home, from her first grade class, with valentines. One large red heart from the teacher was a “get-out-of 1 homework assignment” coupon.

Ellen grimaced. “I don’t like this.”

She was, in my opinion, exactly correct. What that coupon did was counteract the message that we’d worked to convey to Katherine. Homework is necessary. It helps you practice and remember your lessons and is the perfect gauge that measures if you really understood what is going on.

Instead, the message of homework as an optional drudgery, rang “clear as a bell”.

Ellen’s, advice to her daughter, was,”Let’s save this. You may be sick one day but I think, not using it , will bring you a reward. We’ll talk about the reward.”

We adults convey subliminal messages to kids with our reactions. I catch myself frequently and attempt not to do this.

I had remembered advice given by a dentist, who’d seen very many frightened kids coming for their first visits. He advised parents to never treat the dentist visit as “evil” with phrases like, “Sorry, but you have to go.” or “If you are very brave, we’ll get a treat after.” That stuck with me and I use that advice when I talk to kids about any subject. I listen to myself from the viewpoint of a child. Takes practice, and isn’t fool-proof, but advice worthy of sharing with all of you.

Searching for Clues: Short Stories

The Oxford Book of English Short Stories
The Oxford Book of English Short Stories (Photo credit: dalcrose)

A well-written short story is ripe with clues.

In one of my more recent blog posts, (In Defense of BIG kids…) I make a point about how often people can overlook keywords and how it can be responsible for misunderstandings.

Today, I added a blog post to my category Random Word Stories. These are short stories that I create using random words. The fun part is that I create the stories as an exercise. I limit my writing to “one sitting” which has never gone on for more than an hour. When I polish my ideas for posting, I find the adding of details, as clues, to be the deciding factor between just a story and a good story.

It occurred to me, shortly after my exercise, how valuable short stories are when training young readers to recognize clues. This would translate very well to the greater purpose of kids learning to discriminate among clues and keywords they deal with elsewhere.

http://wp.me/pTYEI-1RM

I’ve provided a link, above, to my newest story.

There are poignant questions that could be asked about the story.

  • What may have clouded Mia’s judgement in selecting a roommate?
  • Did her occupation affect her judgement?
  • What might she have done differently?
  • What may have been warning signs of Holt’s problems?
  • The story ends on a humorous note…what may she have asked on the questionnaire?
  • What did bubblegum have to do with anything?

Certainly, there seems to be much material for discussion in such a short piece. Short stories make great homework assignments too. Their weight is not encumbering when it comes to time spent.

Perhaps I have stumbled upon a marketable use for my better stories? My new project will be to make them age and subject appropriate, of course.  🙂

Readers are Created not Born

There’s a wonderful public school initiative that asks children to read for 30 minutes a day. I think it’s a good start but the “art” of reading is not in the “time spent” but about comprehension.

I say this with some hands-on experience in my day care situation. One of my charges is a fourth grader who asks me to keep track of his after school reading period. The sad part is his reading is done with one eye on the clock. I ask him about what he’s read. Occasionally, he has an answer but most often, he doesn’t have a clue.

A few days ago, I asked him to read his book out loud to me. He’d chosen a book about the American Revolution which, by the sparkle in his eyes, was a topic of interest. As he read, there was stumbling on unknown words. Many of these words were critical to his understanding. I pronounced the words and gave him the definitions. Light bulbs of understanding and interest were coming to light like I had not ever seen with him before.

In addition to listening, I was reacting with excitement to the content. “Wow! The colonists were really out numbered!” …” Of course the king would be angry. He wanted their money and obedience to continue, don’t you think?”

Well, the 30 minutes turned into almost an hour without one glance at the clock. He clutched the book like a newly discovered treasure when he packed to go home too. My friend went from reading to reader without even realizing it. I told him to look for a book about Valley Forge if he wanted to know more about the trials of war. (I cannot wait to see if he does.)

So, there is a difference between minutes spent reading and the sharing that makes a kid into a reader.

Curious fun fact~ The very first entire book that I read, in one sitting, was in sixth grade and was Washington at Valley Forge.

Washington at Valley Forge
Washington at Valley Forge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)