Our children are special gifts…Every child brings something unique to her [his] family. –Lovina Johnson
Being a parent is tough. I’m convinced that being a mom is tougher. We carry everything our children are in our hearts—the good, the bad, and everything between. It takes an insane amount of patience to step back and allow them to become, an extreme amount of self-training to work against our natural tendency to mold them into our ideal of perfect little beings who refine all the imperfections in us.
As moms we look forward (with bittersweetness) to our children’s increasing independence as they grow up and away from us and into their own adulthood.
Because of a brief exchange I had with a “special needs mom,” as she describes herself, I’ve been thinking about what this means for parents of “differently abled” children–children who are always set against strict societal definitions of normal and perfect and genius. How do these moms feel when societal standards are “out of reach” or “impossible” or “unattainable” for their children? When independence is a long, long way from now, if at all?
One of my dearest friends, Lovina, reminded me through a YouTube video that today is World Down Syndrome Day, and she answered “in brief” the question.
It warmed my heart to hear her share the story about her beautiful daughter Nya. One of my favorite people in the whole world was my mom’s youngest sister, Patricia. Trish, as we called her, had Down Syndrome. She lived to the age of 42 though she was not expected to even reach double digits. She was one of the sweetest souls and I vividly remember childhood and adulthood moments with her.
Today, I’m thinking about Trish and Nya. Today, I’m thinking about Lovina and all the moms and dads who learn that though their kid is not perfectly “crafted” by the world’s standards, they are beautifully perfect in their own skin.
To learn more about Down Syndrome and find out what’s going on around the world today, follow the links below:
I appreciate Lovina’s words–every child is a precious gift. Celebrate that today.
I’m having another super busy Monday, but it’s been weighing heavily on my heart to share the powerful message about children and homelessness my sister-friend Takiyah Franklin (Tk) recently recorded.
In sharing why she recorded the song, Tk writes:
The homeless crisis is getting worse . . . and while I want to see more action from [our] city [and state] officials, we the people have to act as well. I definitely don’t have the solution to the housing crisis, but I know I’m not so far removed from the realities of poverty to not care. Music is one way to raise awareness, so I choose to lift my voice as a tool for social justice.
In speaking specifically about the situation in Oakland, California, Tk reminds:
It is our duty to protect the most vulnerable in our society. It is our duty to hold local and state officials accountable for working with the community and the corporations taking over to find solutions to homelessness and poverty.
The song, called “Homeless Children,” is the result of the collaboration between Dan Zemelman (pianist and co-writer), Albert Greenberg (co-writer), Alberto Hernandez (engineer), Julie Wolf (producer), and Tk (vocal artist).
Click the image to listen to the song:
For more information about childhood homelessness and to find ways you can help, see the following:
- Stand Up for Kids
- What Can I Do to Help a Homeless Child?
- Horizons for Homeless Children
- Housing Families
- Four Ways to Help the Homeless in Your Community
Be sure to check out local missions and programs to help with the the homeless crisis in your area.
It is my hope that homeless children–indeed all homeless people–will get the assistance they need to improve their circumstances on this side of heaven.
Today was the “first day of school”–the international holiday (of varied dates) for parents everywhere. I laughed at how my son was so excited for this day that he could hardly get to sleep last night. I chuckled over the number of times this morning I had to dodge a preteen in hot pursuit of a sorely missed friend.
I was further tickled by how each group had its own personality: Elementary students super excited and not afraid to show it. The whole body of Middle School cautious, uncertain of the “appropriate” public response–not too little, not too much. High Schoolers, too cool to show any enthusiasm or interest in any of the morning exercises. Student Council openly enjoying their dual role as ambassadors and spirit squad.
Almost everyone was thrilled on the “first day” to see peers, to get back into a regular routine of study and learning, school sports, and so much more.
What amuses me most is that on the “first day,” it seems every child was running toward the school building, buzzing with energy, ready to tackle the year ahead. But by the last day…
These same children will be running in the opposite direction–arms flying in the air–away from school and friends, drunk on the possibility of two and a half months of freedom. From school.
K-12. A funny little bunch.
School ends in a few days and Mrs. Crarey, my favorite second grade teacher, is retiring. I’m sad for all the children who will miss the opportunity of learning under such an amazing person, but I’m happy for her. She’s earned her retirement and she will certainly make deep impressions wherever she goes.
Mrs. Crarey is simply awesome. Even with a classroom full of many different personalities and learning styles, she has a way of dealing with her students as individuals and stimulating their intellectual curiosity. I love her not only because she is awesome but because she just loves my son, and even today–three years after he finished second grade–she is a friend of his heart.
I will always be grateful for the way she kept his curiosity piqued and gave him more challenging work when he surpassed benchmarks. She used his love for reading, robots, science, animals, Star Wars, and mystery to keep him engaged. That meant a lot to this mom who was uncomfortable in a newish environment with a kid who was pining for home (New Orleans) and still adjusting to a school day structure and approach to teaching and learning that were very different from the Montessori curriculum of his previous experience.
When I blogged about the fifth grade African masks a few months ago, I mentioned there was so much more art to see–much more than I can cover in a couple of blog posts. But in honor of Mrs. Crarey’s retirement and the tremendous gift she has been to the school, this post focuses on her group’s art fair exhibit.
Mrs. Crarey approaches art purposefully. She typically has her students complete art projects that connect to a lesson. When my son was in her class, the students drew and learned about owls, West African-style dwellings, jewelry, and women’s attire, geckos, dinosaurs, which I blogged about three and a half years ago, Dr. Seuss, and so much more. I’m going to miss taking a walk down to her classroom and taking a peek at her students’ masterpieces.
In addition to other art pieces, the class created quilt blocks. After reading Bettye Stroud’s The Patchwork Quilt: A Quilt Map to Freedom, reading about the Underground Railroad, viewing and studying maps of the “slave states” and “free states,” students selected a quilt pattern to draw and color.
According to some studies, the quilts played an important role in helping enslaved persons make their way to freedom. Each quilt piece held significant meaning and provided directions and warnings. Although there have been verbal statements from descendants of enslaved persons regarding the quilt code, there has been no physical proof.
Take a look at the children’s quilt pieces [click an image for a closer look]:
Follow the link to find out what each of the patterns mean: Freedom Quilt Codes.
Farewell, Mrs. Crarey…We’re not sure how we’ll survive the coming years without running into you for our quick chats, but we wish you well on your journey. Thank you for the fond memories, for your generous spirit, and your heart of gold.
A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.
Right around the time the season changed from summer to autumn last year, I stumbled upon a haiku collection while perusing a colleague’s bookshelf. I hadn’t read haiku in years! I borrowed her book and enjoyed the haiku for a few days before giving in and ordering my own copy of the book. The book is entitled The Essential Haiku: the Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, edited and translated by Robert Hass.
The haiku masters offered the perfect moments to sip tea and reflect on changes in the natural world as the seasons transform from one to another. They served as a welcome substitute for time that would have been spent outdoors (and perhaps with my camera) because the weather was often icky last autumn and winter.
After I had my fill of the haiku masters, I moved on to Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku, a book I must blog about at another time.
As you can guess, I was pretty haiku obsessed. I read them to my son. I tried to get him to write haiku with me. He ran in the opposite direction–screaming, arms flailing (slight exaggeration). Aha! But eventually I found a way to “capture” him (along with his 15 classmates).
Last April–building on the lessons on metaphor, simile, and image I’d taught the children in second and third grade–I taught a brief lesson on the haiku form, read a few to the (then) fourth graders, and allowed my son to transform a longer poem he wrote for National Poetry Month last year into a haiku to demonstrate for the class how a three-line poem can tell the same story and present the same image as a much longer poem.
The children were tasked with writing about something in nature, the change of seasons or an animal. They “mastered” the form easily and loved writing their haiku. Since nine-year-olds are still eager to please, they vied for my attention to read their haiku. They didn’t have time to read their poems to the class, but I took their poems, typed them, and created a display for the university library. (FYI–The school is situated on the university campus). In May, during the last week of school, the entire class gathered in the library with their teacher, Mrs. Johnson, and a few other parents and had a poetry reading followed by a class picnic at “Unity Pond” on campus.
Many months after I’d intended, I’m sharing their haiku. [Click an image for a closer look]
The lesson and writing took about 30 minutes. They did a great job. Don’t you think?
Even though haiku is a lot more complex than it seems, it is a good form to teach to children. They won’t catch all the subtle nuances of language and imagery, but they get the basics in terms of the traditional structure and themes of haiku. I am looking forward to my next adventure with my son’s class. I don’t know how or when, but I’m sure we’ll have some literary adventures this school year!
I really, really don’t have time to write a blog post, but I must interrupt my unplanned blogging hiatus to share with you how I thoroughly enjoyed the brief time I had with a group of fourth graders earlier today (my little one’s class). We talked about and played with some of the things that bring me joy–writing, list journaling, stickers, and washi tape!
The kids must have been as excited as I was: One of the parents sent me a text message thanking me for taking time out to do something special with and for the kids. I joked that the kids are really my captive audience–since very few of my adult friends want to play with stickers and make lists just for the fun of it.
I spoke with the kids about list journaling, showed them a “100 Things That Give Me Joy” list I wrote a little over a year ago, and challenged them as a class to write 100 things that make them happy. I figured, if everyone worked toward writing 10 each, maybe, we’d get to 100 collectively.
They had a blast selecting stickers and washi tape and decorating their new journals. In fact, some of them spent a lot more time on decorating than they did on writing!
If you’ve ever wondered what makes kids happy, here’s a list–in their own words:
- L.A.R.P.ing (If you guessed that my child wrote this one, you are absolutely right! Just in case you don’t know, LARP is an acronym for “Live Action Role Play”)
- Tigers (and bears, oh my!–I added that part for dramatic effect. Did it work?)
- The Philippine eagle (very specific!)
- A great view
- Drawing smiling faces
- Singing happy songs
- Watching television
- Physical Education (PE)
- Dressing up
- Doing hair
- Sleep (Yes!)
- Going to restaurants
- Reading the Bible
- Love (Hugs for this one)
- Mom (Of course!)
- Ice cream (Surprisingly, I saw this only on one list)
- My pet
- This journal (Aww…)
- My toys
- When people play with me
- When my parents buy things for me
- Taking care of animals
- Watching the flags outside the school
- Swimming during the hot summer
- Working out at the gym near home (This child is inspiring! How many nine-year-olds work out?)
- Watching stars in the sky
- Superman movies
- The color pink
We fell a bit short of the 100-mark, but most of the kids wrote at least 10 things. It just so happens that many of the same things make them happy. As a whole, they seem to value and find joy in things that really matter–God, family, and friends were on almost every list. I like that they take pleasure in participating instead of passively watching.
Their lists did not reflect the materialism that is so much a part of our cultures.They proved the point that no matter how much they whine, beg, and “barter,” electronics, clothes, and the latest “things” don’t really make kids happy.
We ended our short time together with their making a commitment to continue working on the lists and writing in their journals. That was the goal–to get them writing for pleasure on a regular basis.
Thank you, Mrs. Johnson, for sharing your class time with me!
Just in case you have no idea what I mean by “list journaling,” it is simply journaling via list, usually based on a prompt. Although it is an easier way to approach journaling, it is amazing how much we can learn about ourselves through listing.
If you’re interested, there are many wonderful list journal “communities.” My favorites are:
- The Reset Girl’s #ListersGottaList–provides monthly list journaling prompts for adults and children
- Kam and Amy’s 30 Days of List–provides journal prompts for three months out the year. A small fee is required.
You can go all the way out and embellish your journal with stickers, stamps, washi tape, art, etc. or you can keep it simple and just make lists. It’s all up to you!
That’s it for now. Be sure to “tune in” again soon. I plan to share with you artwork by the same group of fourth graders! Children’s art–one of the things that give me joy!