May 28, 2011

Typewriter Man

A few months ago in Satellite Coffee in Nob Hill in Albuquerque, I saw an old man typing on a typewriter surrounded by a sea of MacBooks and PCs. His story has been mulling around in my head for quite some time. Today it got out. 

Grizzled beard but
Knowing eyes lean over the obsolete keys
Wrinkled hands poking
Out of elbow-patched sleeves
Gather the run-away thoughts
Into phrases and clauses
Each pound of a letter
Results in a clickety slap
Followed by an ink smattering
Reminiscent of a literary era
Now bartered for in antique stores
Before the delete key existed
When you had to be sure of each word
Typing now is so haphazard
But he is deliberate
He clinches the past just as
He grips the edge of the machine
So it won't slide off his corduroy pants
And the gurgle of the cappuccino maker
Drowns out the sound of the
Collegiate debate all full of hubris
But the striking of the teeth-like keys
Smacking the linen paper
Echo louder than everything else
As if to say you are too
Let's forget time and forget
Our to-do lists
Come revel with me in the
Perfect collection of words
that do not defiantly glow back
I control them, not the other way around
And typewriter man silently, staunchly proclaims
There by the barrel of coffee beans
That he will sip life and savor it.

March 2, 2011

Reading Readiness

This information comes from a talk I prepared for my local MOMS Club a few months ago. For over ten years now I have taught high school English. Every year I get students at age 15 or 16 who are reluctant readers, and I have parents who don't understand why. They want a quick fix.  "Help my student rock the SAT and get a scholarship to Harvard," they ask.  Unfortunately, a love of reading (and writing for that matter) and proficiency in reading requires intervention from the earliest stages of life. 

There are differing theories as to which methods of teaching reading are the best.  What I’m writing here comes from my findings and research as a teacher of students who were reluctant readers and also students who are reading way above grade level and headed to our nation’s ivy leave universities.

Let’s start by talking about you.  You are your child’s first and most influential teacher. You and the culture you create in your home are a strong indicator of your child’s future academic success.

Have some books around. A recent study surveyed 70,000 participants in many different countries at different socio-economic levels found that children growing up in homes with 500 or more books stayed in school an average three years longer than children from largely bookless homes.  Now obviously the number of books is not the reason for the increased interest in education, but the researchers suggest that these parents created a scholarly culture in their homes.  

Be a reader yourself. When children see the adults around them using reading and writing in their everyday lives, they're more likely to become readers and writers themselves. Simply having a bookshelf full of books, reading the local newspaper, and reading alongside your child as he does his homework shows your child that reading and writing serve valuable everyday purposes.

Read out loud to your child every day.  Often times I find that parents want some easy fix or special program, but the importance of reading aloud to children from infancy cannot be understated.  Numerous research studies tell us that struggling readers read less than successful readers.  It’s just that simple. 

The sit down quiet time of reading teaches time-on-task at an early age.  It helps kids learn to sit still, which, of course, is needed for school.

Also, being read to offers a number of opportunities for learning including vocabulary, grammar, syntax, knowledge of the world and so on.  An entire wealth of information can be available to your child by just cracking the covers of a book.

Try to make the reading aloud experience special.  Make it warm and inviting.  Give the characters voices. Read with emotion. Treat reading aloud as a performance for your all-important audience—your kiddos!

Treat books as treats.  Give them as special prizes or rewards.  Make them a hot commodity in your home.

When reading aloud, help kids make connections to their own world.  Didn’t that story remind you of when Daddy did such-and-such?  Or when we traveled to see Grandma? Or whatever!

Talk about a book when you finish it.  Help your child respond.  What was your favorite part?  What was the funniest part?  Who is your favorite character?

Read books that are fun to listen to . . . try poetry and rhyming books.  Rhyming is a pre-reading skill. Once they can spell “pot,” they’ll get “tot” and “cot” more easily.

Treat reading (and education) as a privilege.  Nate has had the opportunity to travel to other countries where kids don’t have books and their most eager desire is to go to school. We remind Micah often that going to school is a privilege that not everyone gets.

Don’t stop reading aloud when your children learn to read by themselves. When I taught in a physical classroom, as opposed to the virtual one I teach in now, I still read aloud to high school students and they loved it.  Choose a book to read together and discuss or write a journal back and forth.

Seriously limit media consumption. Even the best most riveting books cannot compare to TV, movies, and video games. Show your kids that while media is fun, it’s not what our family considers most important. Time is your currency. Your kids will value the things you allow them to devote their time to. You wouldn’t allow you child to eat whatever he wanted, so don’t allow them to consume whatever they want into their brains either.

Choose books carefully. Consult lists. Consider old books. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with some of the new series, if your child’s whole diet of literature is “candy” type books, he’ll get used to them and won’t be able to take on the rigors of more complex vocabulary and plot structure.

Introduce classic storylines early.  There are age appropriate children’s versions of mythology and King Arthur so kids will have scaffolding once they reach these difficult texts in high school or beyond. 

Frequent the library. Make it a place they love!

So what can you do when your kids are very young? Don’t stress out!  I’ve had two young moms talk with me recently who have two-year-olds.  They’re doing all of the above things, but think they aren’t doing enough.  They’re doing great. They should keep at it and not grow weary.  When children show interest, teach them letters and letter sounds.  Make it fun though.  Make it part of everyday play. I caution against early baby reading programs.  Those babies you see on TV aren’t really reading.  They’re recognizing pictures. The shapes of the letters form pictures in their minds, so they learn to recognize the word.  This is called sight reading.  I know some studies say these babies are ahead of their peers academically; however, the gap closes by age 6.  And if a parent is spending a large amount of time teaching a baby to read, what might that baby be missing out on?  Unstructured time, make believe play, and self-regulation are incredibly important cognitive building skills.  These things build executive function, which apparently is a greater indicator of success in school than IQ.  Old-fashioned play is indicative of future academic achievement, but that's a post for another time.

While I value and try to implement everything above, I also have to remember to put education in its place. As important as reading is, knowledge does not equal wisdom.

February 25, 2011

When I Grow Up . . .

 Micah was star of the week at school. He got to make a poster all about himself and bring in a show-and-tell toy. This may be the epitome of kindergarten.
One of the things he put on the poster is so dear, I needed to save it here for posterity.

The poster announces, "When I grow up, I want to be a soldier, a chef, a church planter, and a dad."

Don't those four dreams say so much about a little man?

Soldier: Micah was born with the fight in him. Most little boys are. No one has to teach them to use a weapon. If you don't buy them a play sword, they'll make one out of a stick or a pretzel. God plants in them the heart of a warrior to fight for his kingdom.

Chef: Mommy watches too much Food Network.

Church planter and dad: The little boy wants to be just like his own dad, which means his dad must be one to look up to.

Childlike Faith

Oops. I haven't posted since September. Consistency has never been my strong suit. I get achy pretty often with words scratching and pressing to get out. I guess today the ache burst open.

You see, lately my youngest has been wiggling to shed his toddler skin. I have a hundred stories of his most recent discoveries and antics and thoughts come aloud.

Just this morning he was frustrated because he couldn't see his own head. And when I went to cut up the strawberries for breakfast, there were three with bites out of them. Oh, this one!

But my delight in my little one, and in his Creator, crescendoed this weekend reminding me that it is not because of me, but in spite of me, that Corban's view of the unseen is developing along with his little body. 

He played in the bounce house, sang the song, ate gobbled the cake, watched as the presents were opened, and went home a very contented young man with his orange helium balloon. But the desert spring winds are kicking up early this year, and a big gust yanked the string from Corban's little grasp, and we all watched as the prized balloon danced into the atmosphere. 

Immediately tears fell from his expressive brown eyes. "My balloon, my balloon!" I tried to help him see the poetry in a balloon frolicking free in the breeze, but I was of no comfort. Older brother was maybe a little more consoling.

"Corban," said wise big brother, "Just imagine your balloon is a gift to God. You can give it to God as a present to tell him thank you." Corban's tears abated, but the whole ride home I could hear an occasional sob from the back seat.

Corban prayed before dinner that evening. "Dear God, Thank you for Mommy and Daddy and Micah and the ketchup. Please send my orange balloon back to me. Amen."

Then it was my turn for tears. This was his first true request from the Almighty, his first honest expression of his own two-year-old faith. I think his previous prayers had been copies or promptings. But here he was revealing his own heart-felt longings to the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Oh, Lord, may this be the first in a long line of precious and candid conversations with you. 

His faith is big though. He hasn't grown jaded by vague perceptions of unanswered prayers or untruthful ideas that God doesn't really care.  Colossians 4:2 instructs us, "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."

And Corban was watchful. Driving to the grocery store two days later, he spied an orange balloon floating high over the grand opening of a dry cleaner. "My balloon!," he squealed, "God sent it back to me!" And he smiled, blissfully admiring his orange balloon as I pushed the grocery cart inside as slowly as possible.

"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." -Jesus in Luke 18:17

September 16, 2010

The Purpose in All This Book Learnin'

I admit I was a huge dork of a student.  Gold stars were my language, and A's were my ultimate in satisfaction.  I can remember stinging tears of shame and a sinking feeling of disappointment when papers came back to me with a less than perfect score.

And guess who is just like his mom?  One of the first things about school Micah told me is the paper apple each student has hanging on a bulletin board.  If they are well-behaved and complete their work, they get a scratch-and-sniff sticker on the apple, and when they've accumulated enough stickers that waft root beer and cotton candy, they get to choose a prize from the treasure box.  You would have thought Micah had climbed Mount Everest that first time he got to dig his little hand into the treasure chest of toys from Taiwan.

I now see that lust for gold stars was pride.  I wanted to be better than everyone else, and I was seeking approval from others through my school work.  Rather than finding my identity in Jesus, I found it in being a straight-A student.  And the cycle could continue if I let it.  I could be so intent on the destination of being the best mom or the best teacher or the best wife or the best leader that I lose sight of the journey.  And what happens when I get a D- in parenting on Wednesday?  I don't just have a bad day; I lose myself.  So I must guard against allowing my roles to become me.

And how do I protect my little boys from falling into the performance trap?  I continually consider the end game.  What is the purpose of education?  Haven't all teachers and parents had students ask them indignantly, "Why do I have to learn algebra or grammar or chemistry?  I'm not going to be a mathematician or a grammarian or a chemist."  You're totally right.  I want to say.  Diagramming sentences is completely impractical.  You will never diagram in the real world.

But this is where we as a society of educators and institutions have sadly fallen short.  We've told our students the purpose of education is to get a good job someday.  So we do well in school so we can get into a good college so we can get a good job so we can make lots of money so we can send our own children to the best schools so they can do well so they can get into a good college so they can get a good job.  And the cycle becomes one of endless futility.  Is the purpose of education to turn children into greedy workaholics?  Is having a good job wrong?  No, of course not.  But there has to be more than money on the line for the seventeen years (or more) of eight-hour days we all sit in a desk with a number 2 pencil in our hands.

John Milton said, "The end of learning is to repair the ruin of our first parents."  As an educator first to my own children and then to other students placed under my care, I must remember that the intellect shares a space with the soul.  I cannot feed one without affecting the other.  The goal of education in our home is wisdom.  Proverbs tells us wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing we desire can compare with it.  Reason can only be acquired through wisdom.  And reason is what our souls use to perceive reality.  The knowledge a student gains seeps into their souls to perfect their ability reason.  And, of course, the beginning of wisdom is respect for the Lord, so Nate and I train our children from a very young age to honor God.

Micah attends a university-model school which means he learns at home for two days a week.  I must keep the end goal in mind on the days when lessons don't go exactly as planned or on the days when he gets prideful because he does so well.  Why are we here?  Why do we sit at this table sounding out words, singing songs in a dead language, and memorizing the continents?  We do this because the end goal is wisdom.          

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,  and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. Proverbs 3:13-14

Post script: A special thanks to my dear husband Nate and my fellow educators at The Potter's School, HEED, and Oak Grove Classical Academy for much of the above content.  

September 3, 2010

For the Love of a City

Milestones have a way of making me nostalgic.  One year ago today a red Dogde Caravan filled with a visionary pastor and his hopeful wife, two wiggly boys, an overwrought cat, bulging suitcases, an heirloom kitchen table, and way too many fast food wrappers passed through a canyon and rounded a bend in I 40 from behind the Sandia Mountains.

I can remember catching that first glimpse of Albuquerque.  I had seen it before from an airplane, but that visit was different.  Then it wasn't our city.  Now it was ours.  It was our mission field, where we had been sent.  Our purpose lay inside those miniature doll houses and drove in those toy cars and walked by the side of that ribbon of water meandering through the metropolis.  I knew no one, but I was already in love.

If you've been pregnant, you know.  You've felt the love of something not yet actualized.  I was in love with a church that didn't yet exist, and I had dreams for people whom I had never met.  My heart was breaking, and still does, for people who are marginalized and hurting in this city.  Every day I drive down Paseo del Norte and get a view of the whole city and still get choked up for the masses who might feel lonely, who might need hope.  Especially when I see the whole city a night, I can't help but think that behind each twinkling light is a story, a soul.  Each person behind each lamp will be somewhere in a million years.

I didn't know it was possible to feel so at home in one year.  I think God has a way of showing you where you're supposed to be.  New Mexico has become my home.  I have embraced her beauty and her eccentricity, and she has enchanted me.  In honor of our one year anniversary I've compiled this list of 52 things, one for every week we've been here, I love about this place.

1. New City Christian Church 
2. Magnificent city vistas
3. Brilliant sunsets that turn the mountain pink
4. Hiking in the Sandias
5. Wildflowers
6. Hiking the volcanos
7. Walking in the Bosque
8. Seasons
9. Green chile
10. Red chile
11. The smoky, spicy smell of roasted chile in the fall outside every supermarket
12. Nob Hill
13. Chile ristas
14. A short drive and you can be in the middle of nowhere
15. Farmer's markets
16. Junk shops on 4th Street
17. Our bustling house
18. Camping
19. Good neighbors
20. The mesa behind our house
21. The drive down Paseo
22. Oak Grove Classical Academy
23. MOMS Club Ventana Ranch Central
24. Hippies
25. The Rio Grande
26. Leaves that turn yellow
27. The ABQ Zoo
28. The ABQ Botanic Gardens
29. Explora
30. Tumbleweeds
31. Farm animals in the middle of the city
32. The Frontier Restaurant
33. The Lobos
34. Roadrunners on my back wall
35. Desert rain storms
36. Turquoise jewelry
37. Cowboy boots
38. Cottonwood fairies
39. Wide sidewalks in Ventana Ranch
40. Lavender in the summer
41. Good friends for my boys
42. Sophia's Place
43. The Petroglyphs
44. El Pinto
45. Enormous blue sky
46. Snow on the mountain in the winter
47. Balloon fiesta
48. Dry air, which equals great hair!
49. Turquoise Trail
50. Madrid
51. The diversity
52. A big city that feels like a small town

September 2, 2010

Ordinary Moments of Grandeur

Me: Make sure you remember what happens at school today so you can tell me what happens when you get home.  

Micah: Ok, Mom.  I'll write everything down in my mind. 

And so he does.  He gives details about what he played at recess, who he sat next to at lunch, and what book his teacher read aloud.

I want to write the moments down in my mind, not so I can dwell in the past, but so I can realize the glory of the extraordinary in the everyday.  Remembering the miracles will comfort when the load gets heavy and weight seems like too much to bear.  And the miracles don't necessarily arrive on momentous occasions or special days, but they happen in the monotonous wanderings of our every day.

So we left the dishes unwashed, and even though everything for Sunday was not quite ready, we hiked a trail expecting those miracles in the commonplace around every zig zag.  And we were not disappointed.

Fields of black-eyed susans

Juicy raspberries right off thorny limbs

Sweet mouths stained red

Cool mountain breezes that erase the desert heat

Aspen leaves fluttering their hello

Little boys with sword sticks fighting enemy trees

Majestic bucks surprised by our presence

Fading purple flowers announcing summer's end

Holding hands like young lovers

So the pictures are on my camera, which I can't find right now, so I'm writing these ordinary moments of grandeur in my mind.

"I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands."  Psalm 143:5