6 Gorgeous Picture Books Capturing Magical, Independent Childhoods #TeacherMom

One of my all-time favorite childhood books is Gyo Fujikawa’s “Oh, What A Busy Day!” What I found most magical about it as a child was observing all the ideas those kids pursued — without a single supervising adult.

As recently shared on the LetGrow site,

“Once upon a time, kids were part of the world. They were allowed to go places, do things, meet people. They were active.

For “active” now substitute “activities.” Kids participate in activities created for them, not by them. We take them, show them, teach them, protect them in a way that most of us — given the choice — would have rejected in favor of adventure.”

To me, this comes down to a major break-down of trust and community. Driven by our fears of all that might happen if we don’t do what is described above, we teach our kids that no one — not even our kids themselves — are worthy of trust.

That’s why I adore the following picture books. May they inspire you and your children to cultivate greater trust & recapture the magic of childhoods filled with healthy independence & adventure.

#1: Oh, What A Busy Day! by Gyo Fujikawa

Published in 1976, this picture book was ahead of its time with regards to diversity. It takes children through the possibilities of every facet of childhood, from make-believe, to fighting with friends, to enjoying the different seasons. I literally spent years trying to recall the author or title before I finally stumbled across our original beloved copy at my parents’ house — I immediately bought a reprint. Her own words describing how she felt about her audience sum up her beautiful work:

“In illustrating for children, what I relish most is trying to satisfy the constant question in the back of my mind–will this picture capture a child’s imagination? What can I do to enhance it further? Does it help to tell a story? I am far from being successful (whatever that means), but I am ever so grateful to small readers who find ‘something’ in any book of mine.”

#2: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes

This lovely read came from Colby Sharp’s recommendation. I loved it so much that I bought it for my daughter’s birthday book as it reminded me of her sense of adventure & creativity. Kids are shown the many dreamy ways they can enjoy treehouse goodness — even if they are still waiting on a tree.

#3: Windows by Julia Denos & E.B. Goodale

Go for an evening walk with a young boy as he learns about his neighborhood through his own quiet observations. I love the way this captures how much kids can notice about their communities when given the chance.

#4: Bertolt  by Jacques Goldstyn

A book that will speak to the introvert’s soul. A child loves spending time with his tree, Bertolt, more than anything else in the world. His quiet observations and problem-solving will win over the hearts of all that love to get some alone-time.

#5: Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran & Barbara Cooney

My friend Faige Meller first introduced me to Roxaboxen, and it has been a family favorite ever since! The Goodreads reviews are packed with nostalgia, but I think it’s important to note that kids haven’t stopped being capable of creating such a retreat. We as adults need to just get out of their way more often to let them make it happen. “Roxaboxen is always waiting. Roxaboxen is always there.”

#6: Raft by Jim LaMarche

A story filled with appreciation and self-discovery. Kids will love following Nicky through the woods as he comes to love a summer of solitude at his grandmother’s house.

What about you? What are your favorite reads that promote the independent and magical childhoods we are all nostalgic for (and that we can again support)!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Can We Talk About Rationing Screen Time? #TeacherMom

First, let me be clear. I am not in favor of kids spending excessive amounts of time on their devices. The addiction factor, sleep issues, and even growing risk of depression/suicide are all well-known issues for me.

7th grade teacher Pernille Ripp has even recently gone #phonefree in her classroom for these last couple of months, a move her students seem to love as it allows them to more comfortably share vulnerable learning processes.

What I want to discuss is the impact of rationing screen time for our kids. I’m talking about bargaining for behavior, tallying minutes, and otherwise keeping such a tight grip on the amount of time our kids spend on screens that they begin to fixate on it.

It reminds me of what happens when we focus so thoroughly on “forbidden foods” that we end up binge-eating.

What if, instead…

…we regularly discussed the importance of balance?

…we explicitly taught even our young kids that tech can be a tool for empowerment, rather than just an device for entertainment?

 

…we created reasonable default screen time allowances our kids can count on so they don’t have to spend their days worrying when they will next be allowed to watch a movie or play a video game?

…we talked honestly with our kids about our screen time habits — both how we use it for practical and/or positive purposes, and how we are trying to improve not-so-positive habits?

…we set up rules and limitations in a shared manner, learning together about what helps us achieve balance and healthy lifestyle?

Our kids have been born into an remarkable and unprecedented age of technology. Let’s find ways to work alongside them as they work to develop healthy, positive, and balanced habits.

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In Which The 7 Year-Old’s Blog Post Gets More Comments Than Mine #TeacherMom

Last week, my daughter came home commenting about a new bathroom rule at her school: all girls now have to use the restroom 2 at a time due to the fact that girls keep writing on the bathroom walls. As a teacher, I understand why the rule was implemented. As a parent, I understand why she feels frustrated.

Since she just recently asked me to help her set up her own “real blog” (ie, can be read by a real audience), I asked her how she would feel about blogging on the subject. She took to that idea right away — especially once we figured out the speech-to-text feature so she didn’t have to keep fretting about spelling (teacher note: I really like the way speech-to-text requires the kids to pause & reflect to figure out exactly how they will verbalize each sentence).

Once she had her post written, “Fair School,” I, of course, went ahead and shared it with my PLN.

She was amazed to watch the comments pour in, and even took action on a couple of their ideas. She has since shared the post with her teacher, and she plans to try and see if she can meet and then introduce her classmates to their custodian(s) to create more empathy (Thanks, Abe, and everyone else!!)

This has also led to a lot of discussion about how we can inspire people to do good things rather than just try to get them to stop doing bad things. Not an easy task for anyone, that’s for sure, but a very rewarding approach!

Once again, I have found this whole experience to positively reinforce the concepts of digital citizenship, flattened classroom walls, and #StudentVoice. When we provide opportunities for students to share their authentic voices on things that matter to them, powerful learning happens.

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Anti-Bullying Resilience Skills: A Work In Progress #TeacherMom

My almost 8-year old recently came home sharing how she has been struggling with another kid in school that has been teasing her. She described the embarrassment she feels when he does this, and the way it often embarrasses and upsets her classmates as well.

After listening, I asked her if she’d like to watch a video about how we might respond to bullies. She agreed, so we watched this one by Brooks Gibbs that I’ve shared here before:

Our favorite part was when Brooks responded to “You’re ugly!” with, “You have the face of an angel, sweet-cheeks” (it’s now an inside-joke we share, quoting it pretty much daily).

We talked about everything Brooks explained: power, not playing the game, resilience, not caring what others think. It all seemed straightforward enough.

But as much as my daughter enjoyed and seemed to understand the video, she still had some hang-ups on all those concepts. Responding that way seemed too embarrassing. And how could she really just not care about what other kids think?

And it hit me. Even with all the love and support my daughter receives, this still gets really complicated for our kids when it comes to the actual process of building resilience skills. It takes a lot more than the occasional fun pep talk and advice. Building resilience skills is hard, messy work.

So here’s what our process looked like:

First, we discussed weighing the embarrassment. “Would you rather respond in a way that might make you feel a little hesitant or embarrassed now, but that will get the bully to stop in the long-run, OR would you rather just keep feeling humiliated and embarrassed again and again and again as the bully decides he/she can get to you?”

Second, we rehearsed some role play, as advised by Josh Shipp. It actually surprised me how tricky this was in practice, which is probably why Josh describes the kinds of responses we shoot for as counter-intuitive. So, we went with the baseline bully insult, “You’re gross!”

Response idea #1: A casual, “Hm. I don’t think so.” But we realized that the bully might take that response as an argument and feed off it (“Well, I think so because I KNOW so!”)

Response idea #2: A passive, “Ok.” But then we realized that the bully could still possibly take that as, “Oh, she doesn’t know what to say? Let’s do it AGAIN!”

Response idea #3: With a smile, “Yeah, sometimes I do do gross things.” We knew we were on the right track there, because it shows the bully she’s not bothered by the insult. Of course, we continue to joke about adding, “You have the face of an angel, sweet-cheeks.” 

Best part was when she came back and told me she has been training all her friends at school on these concepts! She specifically told them that when they respond with, “Stop, you’re hurting my feelings,” that bullies love that (Brooks’ hilarious bully voice: “That’s the point, stupid“). They even practiced role-playing together!

I know this is the first of many resilience skills-building sessions we’ll need to have. But I’m grateful to understand now the way we need to go deeper and work through a messy but worthwhile process!

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On Baby Gates and Boundaries #TeacherMom

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Why do I return to this concept so often as an educator, a parent, and a human being?

The latest, more tangible, example consists of our baby gate:

We had taken it down when risks for falls became minimal for our youngest. But I recently realized that I needed it to return. I needed blanket forts and stuffed animals and cars and teacups to be contained to just one part of the house at a time.

Which made me start to wonder…

…do boundaries infringe on agency?

…where’s the balance in cultivating self-care as the grown-up & in cultivating ownership and agency in children?

…can creating boundaries be an authentically collaborative effort with the very people they’ll limit? If not, does it need to be more of a two-way effort in order to be truly collaborative?

After the gate was up for a few days, I began to find some answers.

One answer resonated with another portion of Angela Watson’s comments during the season 4 episode 2 of #IMMOOC I referenced in “When We’re Tired of Coming Up with It All Ourselves.” She stated:

“The overwhelm…comes from trying to do everything and trying to do it perfectly…We need to take that overwhelm seriously because it leads to burnout.”

Quite simply: it’s ok to establish boundaries that allow us to function to serve our kids.

I’m better able to care for my family when my sanity hasn’t been shattered with worry that my kids are climbing onto the counter, scattering (and/or eating) dog food, flooding a sink, and emptying the contents of every drawer, all while I’m rotating a load of laundry upstairs.

Of course, I’m also working on helping them comprehend why all the above behaviors are problematic, but meanwhile we’ll make very little headway if I’m perpetually exhausted.

This has classroom applications as well, of course. Establishing boundaries that allow us to be more useful as teachers is best done as an ongoing conversation with our students so they understand your needs as a teacher/human being. It also works when you’ve worked to cultivate mutual respect on a consistent basis.

But two words of caution:

1. Keep channels of communication open to allow kids to give feedback when they have outgrown certain boundaries. They will let you know if you seek and value their voices!

2. Beware taking this notion too far, as it can quickly devolve to something quite ugly. (see The Price of Putting What’s Best for Teachers over What’s Best for Students). Again. leaning on students’ voices helps here.

My very small students may not be able to yet fully understand why I need some containment. But I know that as I keep sharing what I’m feeling, and give them opportunities to do the same, we’ll set the groundwork for mutual respect and the eventual removal of that baby gate.

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When the Internet Brings Us Something Amazing, Do We Share with our Kids? #TeacherMom

What kinds of conversations do you think OK Go music videos would generate with a 7 and 3 year old?

How about relative size of instruments to produce different sound? “What are they hitting to make music?”

The concept of sponsorship & investment. “Why are are they making such a big mess in that airplane?!”

The idea of stop motion.

(Be sure to check out their behind the scenes of the Upside Down & Inside Out music video. I especially loved the line: “The whole song is sort of around the idea of letting the unfamiliar feelings guide you rather than trying to figure everything out all the time.”)

When the Internet brings us that which truly inspires, do we share with our students? When we do, our roles evolve from consumers to creators as we co-construct wonder with kids. Who knows how the story of the mom who built a house via YouTube videos, or the boy who invented a device to help kids trapped in hot cars, influence the paths our kids take?

Access to one another’s stories is perhaps the most defining feature this technological era. Let’s leverage those stories to inspire and embolden our kids to the ever-greater possibilities of our day.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

10 Ways for Partnering With Parents #TeacherMom

A friend in my PLN, Aviva Dunsinger, recently wrote about the re-framing of her thinking regarding student vacations during the school year.

“…I think that we have a choice here: we can focus on what children lose due to their absence, or we can look at what they might gain. My thinking is that the stronger the home/school connection, the better the chance that educators, parents, and children can work together to get the most fzrom this away time.”

Her suggestions for offering resources to parents as they take their children on vacation included ideas like offering prompts to elicit discussions. What I appreciate most about these kinds of suggestions is that it sets aside the tone that we know what’s best for their children.

Particularly when we’re facing hostility, this can be an especially difficult task — after all, we are the professionals here. But when we work to view parents through a lens of partnership (and work to walk the talk), we actually preempt those power struggles we fear.

Here are some ideas that might help!

1. Harness social media (that your students’ parents use). Instagram, class Facebook accounts, Twitter — these can all give parents a window into your classroom, which will boost trust via transparency.

2. Share reminders via text to keep parents in the loop on events. Remind is a quality app for this purpose, sending group texts without exchanging actual phone numbers.

3. Seek their input on homework. Taryn Bond-Clegg wrote some time ago about how her approach to homework shifted:

“This year I was planning on having a zero homework policy. Then I realized that it doesn’t have to be an either or… it can be a both and. If I as the teacher mandate homework for all my students, I am neglecting the perspectives of the families who value their time after school for other activities and wish not to have homework. If I as the teacher outlaw homework I am neglecting the perspectives of the families who value extended practice of the academic skills we explore in class.”

Check out the inquiry her class conducted with regards to ascertaining their homework needs.

4. Leverage their expertise. Invite them into the classroom as experts. Assign students to collect data based on parent experiences for various units.

5. Consider getting rid of reading logs. I remember a conversation with a parent of a bookworm student. She asked if she could just pre-sign all their reading logs on the year because her child definitely exceeded the daily minute requirement. Today, I can’t help but wonder if it’s really necessary to put parents (and their children) through this kind of hoop-jumping. It also seems like a good opportunity to build trust, even as we continue to encourage at-home reading. (see Thinking about Those Reading Minutes & Logs)

6. Stay curious. We may have “seen it all.” But families continue to be incredibly diverse with varying needs. Is there one assumption we can drop in favor of asking what resources we might help provide? For instance, we may love our tech-savvy homework assignment, but if you have families that are quite worried about excessive screen time, how might you use it as an opportunity to meet needs?

7. Catch ’em being good. Work to ensure that you communicate more regularly about what their children are doing well than what they are struggling with. This starts by emailing early in the school year if at all possible.

8. Write positive notes to their children. Conveying to their children that we see and appreciate them as individuals is one of the best ways to build relationships with their parents.

9. Organize volunteering. My child’s teacher has a handy sheet-protected class list with boxes you can check as we come in to read with the children. Simple yet efficient way to maximize the time I spend in the classroom.

10. Try to attend the occasional extracurricular event. If anyone understands time constraints, I sure do! But I can attest that when it comes to particularly tricky relationships, attending that game or performance outside of school can do wonders for your rapport.

Yes, we’re professionals. But we’re more likely to have parents respect our expertise when we demonstrate that we respect theirs as their children’s first and longest teachers.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto