Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections and Resolutions

Breath eight:

As the holiday season comes to an end, I thought I might put down my thoughts on a final blog of the 2012 year.  I hope your holidays were as joyous as ours.  We spent the season visiting with family and friends, crafting creative gifts (this was mostly Jane and I, although Lee and Frederick joined in occasionally), and lazily enjoying one another’s company.  We created a new family tradition of attending the Nutcracker that our very own Bon-bon, Jane participated in.  We renewed old friendships, caroled to our neighbors and friends, baked goodies, took drives admiring Christmas lights, decorated like crazy, built snow forts, went sledding, and wrote and visited Santa.  Yes, we do have the Christmas spirit! This list seems long as I write it, but the hustle and bustle of the season adds to our anticipation and joy of Christmas.  These memories and traditions we create draw us closer together and remind us to celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas.
2012 was a great year.  Here are just a couple of the year’s highlights. (Maybe more of a quick overview really, simply imagine yourself jetting over in an airplane watching a year of our life.)  The kids grew a year older, Lee is now 9, Jane is 7, and Frederick is 4.  They continue to astound me (in a good way!) and make me so proud, I can well-up with emotions at any time (this is not surprising to those who know me well).  They are such big hearted children who exude cheerfulness and joy.  Jason continued to work hard teaching this year.  A job that he often grows weary of, but one he does well, and is vitally important. History education in both of our opinions is a subject which, little respect is given in our society.  This is such a travesty.  For we have much to learn from our past, that can impact our response to the future.  My sister and I went on two road trip adventures with my kids.  We traveled down south to visit relatives and we traveled north to explore Minneapolis. Jane and Lee continued to kick- it on the soccer field this year, while Frederick began preschool and soccer.  My baby is growing, right before my very eyes.  I began an adventure of babysitting busy boy this school year.  James fits right in with our wild and fun family.  And finally, I began to write again.    

13 Resolutions for 2013

With 2013, comes New Year’s resolutions, to be honest something I don’t usually do.  However, I thought I would make some resolutions this year, with you all as my witnesses.  These are listed in no particular order or importance. 

1. Get my crafty on and start a collage journal
2.  Complete reading all the rest of Jane Austen’s books (I’ve read four so far)
3. Organize, organize, organize, and purge (this is a rather large challenge for me)
4. Make family game night a weekly thing
5. Go on walks with my neighborhood pals and take my dog too (it is very therapeutic)
6. Read the Bible regularly
7.  Play with my kids more, both all together, and individually
8. Date Jason more
9. Develop relationships with true friends and, not worrying so much about casual acquaintances
10. Respond to others with kindness, yet honesty
11. Lose my temper less
12. Cook from scratch more, including using food from our garden in the menu
13.  Be more strategic in how I am reusing, reducing, recycling and conserving our planet resources

Both big and small, I promise to try to do them all.  Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

To Be Held

Breath seven:
I need to take a breath.  I wasn't going to post anything on last Friday’s horrific event in Connecticut.  I am fantastic at avoidance.  I assured myself that my time was better spent simply praying for the families of the victims. When my mom brought up the subject at our school concert, I told her, “I don’t want to talk about it.”  That day I briefly skimmed over a news article, began to tear up and stopped reading.  While I did pray, I ignored a deep sadness and heaviness that I felt.  I was more preoccupied about how to talk to my children about how 20 children and 8 educators were shot in their school, before someone else told them.   Instead of dealing with what happened, I chose to focus on how to address the tragedy.  I am a Christian, a mother, an educator, and a human being, this should not have been my response to injustice and evil.  I should not have simple answers for my children or anyone, as Tony Campolo's words reminded me.   You may find his blog post and the scriptures he sites helpful as well.
I have had few personal tragedies in my life.  I lost three of my grandparents, whom I miss, and I had a miscarriage.  Each event affected me differently and left me with a hurt that never goes away.  Death is horrible and leaves us forever changed.  After my miscarriage I heard a song by Natalie Grant song that comforted me.  I hope that it comforts you too. 
We live in a broken world filled with sin, evil, and tragedy.  Until Jesus returns, I know he will feel each heart break with us.  I pray that all families hurt by unimaginable tragedies know what it is to, “be held” by Jesus when the sacred is torn from their lives and somehow they survive.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Music of Life

Breath six:
This time of year, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is playing nonstop on the radio, in stores, and in my home.  In fact, this evening our family sang it as a finale to our evening Christmas carols in the living room.  While we love to sing at Christmas time, music really fills our daily lives, like a daily dose of medicine. 
Don’t you love to see people rockin’ out to music in the car?  Yep, I am singing in that car. Jason is too.  Perhaps you heard him turn down our street?   Sometimes I’m singing to children’s music and sometimes I’m belting out my own selection.   Music can make me cry, get up and dance, reminisce on days gone by, and bring me peace.  As a child, we listened to records during dinner, sang songs at bedtime, and Dad always turned up the volume in the car.  My parents took us to concerts of their favorite artists, signed us up for piano lessons, violin lessons, encouraged me to participate in orchestra, choir, and attended endless concerts of their budding musicians.  Bless their hearts!  We all know what those concerts sound like with the squeaky violins off key.  My parents, however, also utilized music as a teaching tool.  They chose music to teach us lessons on behavior- my favorite childhood song to pass down to my children is a song called, “Be Patient.”  Music helps to teach of Jesus’ forever love for me.  My sister and I even learned our address through a song.  I sang in the shower, in church, in choir, at my grandpa’s and grandma’s funeral with my sister and cousins, and on long road trips to Missouri and Oklahoma.  Music has, and continues, to inspire me. 
I miss playing the violin, and singing in choirs; however, I still get to sing daily to my children and of course for my own pleasure.  Many of us even develop musical identities.  We connect with our friends over music and singing iconic lyrics together.  In our own family we now continue the musical tradition.  Jason, also a lover of music, is often found singing in the living room, the kitchen, and definitely in the car.  We have had conversations about children’s delicate ear drums at times.   He shares songs with me on Youtube and downloads songs to his iPod constantly.  He has introduced me to completely new genres of music.  In our home, we sing bedtime songs, we sing bath time songs, we sing at each meal and snack time, we sing as we play and as we go places.  We sing walking to school, groove to dance parties in the kitchen and living room, and race to and grab instruments for marching band parades.   When Lee is strumming the air guitar, Jane singing, and Frederick beating on the drum, they are developing a life-long love and connection to music and our family memories.   These are the moments I want to create for our children, and also for Jason and me.  I personally use music to calm me when I am stressed out with children screaming.  Yep, I turn it up and tune them out.  I use music to lift me up when I feel depressed, and I use music to help celebrate, and set the mood.  I recently started watching a one year old little boy who now demands and expects music every time he is in the high chair.  He even invented baby sign of swaying to music to remind me when I forget to turn on the music.   Music is like daily nutrition for our children.  Music arms our children for school and success.
 Here are some ways music positively impacts our children:
 1.  Music can introduce new and rich vocabulary to our children.  Be careful what vocabulary you teach though.
2.  Music can teach and introduce topics for further discussion.   We love the science album by They Might Be Giants, Veggie Tales, and World Playground/Folk Playground/Animal Playground CD’s to name just a few.
3.  Music introduces rhythm to children and is a building block for math.  For example, we sing fast and slow tempos.  We thump on drums and shake rattles and egg shakers to the beat.  We sing number songs, counting songs forwards and backwards, and we sing at various pitches, both high and low for variations.
4.  Music introduces rhymes and can be a building block to reading.  While we sing simplistic nursery songs, I also make up rhymes and songs for tasks around the house or rhymes with their names. 
5.  Music develops fluency.  The flow of language from music provides opportunity for children to hear and develop natural fluency.
6. Music encourages movement and dance, essential to children’s growth and development.  Our kitchen and living room get the most dance action.
7.  Music can relax, and energize children.  Singing songs and listening to music on the way to school pumps my kids up.  While our bedtime lullabies promptly create sleepy children on a good night.  
8. Music creates pleasure and shared memories with family and friends- concerts, musicals, sing-a-longs, and more.     
9. Music lights up neurons in the brain, encouraging brain cells to connect and neural networks to form (see the following article). 
10. Music creates community and a sense of belonging, whether it is in a classroom, or in your home.  You create traditions and the unique culture of your family through music. 

So, turn it up. Let loose for a moment- it’s good for you and your children! 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Homework Debate

Breath Five:
This post is dedicated to my former editors, my parents and my current editor, Jason. 
Our last PTO meeting initiated an interesting discussion on children and their homework.  Our school adopted a no-homework policy expect for nightly reading.   The homework debate continued on Facebook.  Some posed that homework developed work and study habits, while others took the stance that homework is usually useless busy work.  Further perspectives were presented in conversation on the playground, as parents chatted at pick-up. 
This homework topic has been a passionate topic of mine personally and professionally.  Jason and I have held many conversations on the usefulness of homework and whether it is helpful or harmful.  His perspective as a high school history teacher and mine as an English Language Learner teacher in an elementary school have often landed us on opposite sides of the discussion.  Furthermore, our personal experiences with homework have influenced our thinking.  Jason is and always has been a very intelligent and book-smart guy.  Once he applies himself to an academic task, he breezes through it.  He reads at remarkable rates, and his memory astonishes me.  He excelled in school. 
I, on the other hand, worked for hours on homework only to receive C’s and B’s. I remember my parents working tirelessly with flash cards while the pile of missed math facts and vocabulary words never grew smaller.  I recall working in my bedroom on homework as my younger sister completed hers in record time. I would read and reread science texts and math sheets, realizing that I could not remember what I had just read.  Somehow I fumbled my way through the education system, with determination, resilience, and the help of my parents who egged me on, helping me with projects and studying even as I continued to failed quizzes and tests throughout high school.  Believe me, I did my homework.  Throughout my educational experience I felt as though I was scrambling to keep up.  With grit and determination I eventually developed personal strategies that worked for me.  Unfortunately, I might have developed more efficient strategies, had teachers understood me as a learner.  Had I been taught with individualized instruction methods now implemented in our schools to teach math and reading, I could have had success.  Had teachers recognized that a quiet hard worker does not equal comprehension, I could have been a confident student.  Had teachers recognized a learning disability before high school, I might have tasted more success. I waffled my way through quizzes, tests, and more traditional methods of education employed at that time; however, my curiosity, love of reading, and writing enabled me small victories.   Teachers are now trained to recognize learning disabilities, and utilize strategies to meet the needs of diverse learners in their classrooms.  They now teach to the individual student and not to the whole class.  I simply did not need to complete hours of homework that I could not remember.  I did not need repetitive flashcards where numbers changed before my eyes. I did not need comprehension handouts and worksheets.  Those homework assignments did not assist me in my eventual success in the education system.  In fact, I believe that despite the countless hours of trivial homework assignment, I retained and learned very little, they solidified feelings of self-doubt.  Even now, I occasionally feel as if I hoodwinked the system. I obtained my first set of straight A’s in college, received my diploma and a license to teach.  However, my insecurities still surface from time to time.  Did homework help me?  No, friends, it did not. 
The following are a few thoughts against homework:
1.) Homework results in a loss of time to do other enriching activities, such as the arts, sports, family adventures/events, and hobbies.
2.) The struggle between parents and children creates added stress to the relationship, whether it’s motivating students to do their homework, or difficulty understanding assignments by both sides. The level of parents’ education, language spoken at home, time that parents have to help adds additional stress as well.
3.) Most homework is not individualized.  It is often in the form of a handout that the whole class receives, leaving some children behind because it is too hard, or for others entirely too easy.   
4.) Children work for most of the day; therefore, they should not devote their time to working at home. Isn’t this what adults do?  Children are not mini-adults. Children need a childhood.
5.) The studies that show how homework affects our children’s learning is based on how children are performing on standardized tests.  Do we value those tests?  Do those tests truly show what a child has learned?  My answer is no.  Does society value those results and tests?  Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  Think about No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top as examples. 
6.)   Children are overloaded with homework in some districts and grade levels.  They are so overloaded and stressed that they develop anxiety and other issues. 
7. Studies show that homework is not beneficial to student learning.   See the following for more information.

Obviously, my own educational experience proved to be powerful, yet I never lost my thirst to learn.  It shaped me, inspired me to become a teacher.  I want children to persevere.  I want to ensure children are encouraged, not discouraged.  My educational experiences influence how I parent, and my stance on how I allow homework to impact my family.  While our school currently has a policy of reading-only homework, I know this will not always be the case.  I want to support my children’s school and teachers while also honoring our family and my children.  I went to school to be a teacher, but I want to be a mother first.  I struggle with balancing structured time, homework, activities, and with free-play.  After school my children are exhausted. They have had to work hard for the entire day focusing, following rules, sharing space with children, dealing with conflicts independently away from their safety net called home.  Most days Lee does not want to sit down and do writing, handouts, or flash cards. Thankfully, he is fine with reading.   So how can I create and implement a balance of structure and play with regards to homework, when I don’t even believe in homework?   I do not want my children to struggle the way that I did. 
I know that children learn through play so here are some ideas to play and learn with your children:
1.) Sight word practice: Sticky post-it notes hidden through-out the house as a word scavenger hunt
2.)  Spelling and math fact practice: play horse with a basketball outside.  This can also be done with soccer and shooting at the goal or simply passing the ball back and forth.
3.)  Math story problems: pull from real life and create problems that you have in your home with sorting toys or sharing with siblings, snack, army guys etc.  Have your child create their own story problem to solve.  Children love to tell stories.
4.)  Math card games: Salute, Top-it, Memory, dice games, board games too.
5.) Instead of timing children by counting by one’s, choose to count by two’s, three’s, five’s etc.
6.)  Reading homework: Read every other page together.  Choose to read in silly voices, for example in a whisper voice. I do this when my children start to get distracted. 
7.) Writing homework:  Write notes back and forth to one another about the day, start a story and have your child continue it and then pass it back and forth. Get a special notebook for writing.  We have large, small, and tiny. 
8.) Change the homework location.  We sometimes do math facts or story problems on the wall in the bathtub or in the car. 
9.) I don’t call it homework, I call it brain exercises and I let them know that only children who are interested in growing their brain should participate.  I also make missions with messages, codes to uncover. 
10.) I don’t usually force them to do an activity.  If they are upset because they don’t get a math story problem we use manipulative, draw pictures, talk about it and say let’s try tomorrow.  Lee, who has had more homework than Jane, has been so discouraged by spelling that he has cried when he did not know how to spell a word.  We have conversations about not to let a letter of the alphabet get us upset.  (I did enough crying for the both of us.) 

Finally, I am not against promoting reading, writing, or engaging projects at home.  We actively model this in our home.  We read nightly, write frequently, and Jason has projects galore.  That is the culture of our home.  We call that living and learning, not homework.  But with regards to assigned homework, I say…
it’s okay if your dog ate your homework; let it, and go play.