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