I remember checking out videos from the library and after finishing them removing the video from the VCR and putting them in the rewinder. To this day, I can't hear, "Be kind" without thinking rewind. Today is World Kindness Day according to the Facebook posts and my morning greeting from Alexa. I am tempted to research how long World Kindness Day has been a thing, who started it, and who is celebrating it, but instead, I’m going to refrain from that extraneous research and go with it.
On my recent trip to Seneca Falls, New York, I learned a great deal about kindness and the great impact ordinary individuals can have on the world around them. We arrived in Seneca Falls after sunset. The small downtown area was decorated for Christmas, a gentle snow was falling, and the church bells were ringing out “How Firm a Foundation.” I told my sister that I was reminded of Bedford Falls, the town from It’s a Wonderful Life and she immediately agreed. As we were checking in, the hotel clerk gave us a list of area attractions including the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. He explained that Seneca Falls is the town that Bedford Falls is based on.
Our days there included a visit to the Women’s Rights Historical Park, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton’s home, William Seward’s home, and Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. In each of these places, we noted the influence of major figures like Anthony, Stanton, Seward, and Tubman, but we also noticed the courage, conviction, and compassion of those whose names will most likely never be included in a national park or museum.
There were countless women who stood up for the rights of others. As I previously wrote, the subject of women’s rights can be controversial, but here we are talking about rights such as property ownership and the right to remove themselves and their children from a dangerous and abusive husband. Women who were not destitute or in danger took upon them the fight that the others in those situations didn’t have the ability to fight.
William Seward was a remarkable man who served with Lincoln as Secretary of State but was responsible for doing so much more. One act stood out as particularly significant during our visit. He sold land to Harriet Tubman including a home that she and her parents lived in after their escape from enslavement. This was after the Fugitive Slave Act and before the Emancipation Proclamation so his action was in direct defiance of federal law, but he believed that it was the right thing to do.
Harriet Tubman’s life was full of her kindness to others despite being enslaved and mistreated. Often the word kindness invokes a soft-spoken, gentle manner, but Harriet was kind in a powerful way. She went back into the South thirteen times to rescue her people, ignoring her own safety. She also led troops into combat and freed 750 men, women, and children during a US military action. Retirement was anything but restful. She opened a home for the elderly on her land because the other home for the elderly in Auburn was for whites only. Her home was for everyone. Harriet Tubman exemplified kindness in action.
Our last stop during the trip was at the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. There we learned the beautiful story behind the movie. Frank Capra stopped in the town after reading the short story which would become the movie. There, while receiving a hair cut from an Italian immigrant, he heard the story of Antonio Varacalli. In 1917, Antonio was a young man working to save up money to bring his family over from war-torn Italy. He watched a woman jump off the bridge in an attempt to commit suicide and jumped in to save her. He succeeded in saving her but lost his life in the process. The town rallied together and collected enough to bring his family to the area. Capra changed the ending of the movie to include the town rallying around George and set the movie in a place that looked like Antonio’s town.
Acts of kindness can be small or large. They can be quiet or they can be bold. This “World Kindness Day” rewind your thoughts to some of the people who have influenced your life. How has their influence changed you? As Clarence observed, “Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?” Today, don’t leave a hole. Get in there and influence someone. Maybe a child, maybe the person behind you in line at Starbucks, maybe a future generation.
Capra modeled the bridge in the movie after this bridge in Seneca Falls.
I’m a huge fan of Far Side by Gary Larson. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a syndicated comic that was usually one pannel. The figures are distorted and the humor is quirky. One that has stuck with me was titled “Classic Conversation Stoppers.” The panel is divided into four squares and depicts four men talking to guests. Each of the men is saying something that is guaranteed to end a conversation. My favorite is the guy saying, “‘Contagious? Contagious?’ I asked my doctor. ‘Realy contagious,’ he tells me.” Insert awkward pause. Have you ever experienced something like this? You say something and people respond with awkward silence.
Last year I created a presentation about World War I to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the war. After completing that I decided to work on a presentation commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which grants women the right to vote. I thought World War I had been tricky to investigate, but nothing could have prepared me for the mess that I’ve found during my study of the women’s suffrage movement.
In my research, I’ve studied Biblical anthropology - the study of humans as they relate to God, the history of women in the United States and Western Culture, and the philosophical foundations of the feminist movement. Phew! I’ve read about Upity Women of Medieval Times, Wild Women of Michigan, 12 Extraordinary Women of the Bible. I’ve read The Women’s Hour, Roses and Radicals, and (I truly loved this one) Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Relating to business I’m reading Lean In and, as a counterpoint, Lean Out. I’m intrigued and immensely enjoying this research, but all these viewpoints and counterpoints leave my brain a tangled mess. When my thoughts become tangled, I find the best method of unraveling them is talking. I’ve come up with some of my best party planning ideas when talking to the cashier while at the supermarket checkout. (Probably why I’m not interested in curbside pick up or grocery delivery.)
In the past few months, I’ve learned that the phrase, “I’m studying the history of women’s rights,” is a classic conversation stopper. People become uncomfortable and shift around looking for an out. One person abruptly stated they had to leave and ran away. I think most people are afraid of getting involved in a controversial conversation because of the tension in our current culture.
Viewpoints collide and emotions run deep, but I believe that this is a very important and vital study. I keep typing and deleting as I’m trying to explain further, but I’ll never be able to fit everything I want to say in this post. I’m going to state a few truths I’ve discovered, and leave it at that for now.
That’s all I’m going to say about this for now. I can already feel the discomfort and I can hear the, “Well, I don’t know what she means by that,” running through your mind. Feel free to comment below or message me if you want to talk more about this and look for future posts about women’s rights. Wait! Where are you going? I need someone to talk to about this!
Tomorrow my sister and I head out to visit the Women’s Rights National Monument. It is in Seneca Falls, New York and is the sight of the first Women’s Rights Convention where the suffrage issue (women voting) was first publically proposed. As I research this topic, I feel that visiting this monument will help me gain a deeper perspective on the issue and the time spent with my sister will help me unravel my thoughts. Follow along on my Instagram (@edy2207) story for an inside look at our adventure.
I recently had the amazing opportunity to present at a teacher's convention. This particular convention included Christian educators from all over the Great Lakes Region. I presented about World War I and about teaching history with a Biblical worldview. I think I'm supposed to be all calm and professional about it, but can I just say -- THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!! I got to talk to teachers and talk about nerdy history stuff and it was just the best! Okay, back to sounding like a calm adult. I would relish any other opportunities to speak to groups in the future should the opportunity arise.
Although my presentations weren't specifically about reading books, I had stacks of books to recommend at each. I see immense benefits in students reading across a broad spectrum of genres and topics. Reading allows students to take their education into their own hands and study what they are interested in. Because we all differ so much in personality, it is always difficult if not impossible to find books that please everyone. When teaching 6th-grade reading, I used a method that I learned from Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisper. I assigned a total of 36 books for my students to read throughout the school year. I know this sounds daunting, but here's how it worked.
I used this method for three years and saw immense success. Pitfalls could arise so it's important for each teacher using this program to consider the definition of success that best matches their goals. My goal was to encourage literacy and get students reading. I had some students that only managed to read 5 or 10 books. I saw this as a win. As long as they noted everything and turned it in they at least got a C grade. (By the way, a C is and is acceptable. I'll write about that another day.)
I also allowed and even encouraged students to read graphic novels. Nathan Hale writes fantastic graphic novels in the historical fiction genre. Some graphic novels, such as Snow White, have little to no words but tell a compelling story. I would talk with students and make sure they understood the symbolism and picked up on the literary devices the author employed in the illustrations. Learning to "read" pictures is a very powerful tool especially in this day when images are king.
For my class, success equaled books consumed. And did my students consume books! During the 2015-16 school year, I had 52 students and we read over 1,400 books. Below, you can see a picture of our book chain. So that's how I taught reading. I got to read and learn with the students and we all grew. Maybe it isn't for every classroom, but I can't imagine my life without this experience.
What was your classroom reading experience like as a middle school and high school student? Comment below and let me know.
Today's wonder word isn't unusual or rarely used like spanghew or defenestration, but it is one one of my favorite words so I'll get right to it.
Today's Words: Curious, Curiosity, Curiously
Curious: Three syllables. Pronounced [kyoor-ee-uhs] Adjective. Defined by the OAD as eager to know or learn something
Curiosity: Five syllables. Pronounced [kyoo r-ee-os-i-tee] Noun. Defined by the OAD as strong desire to know or learn something
Curiously: Four syllables. Pronounced [kyoo-ee-uhs-lee] Adverb. The adverb form of curious.
Curiosity is often associated with the young because children tend to ask a lot of questions. Sometimes parents bemoan this as a frustration because the timing of the questions can be frustrating. In our house, bedtime always seems to produce deep theological questions. Instead of looking at children's questions as frustrating, we should recognize that curiosity is a powerful thing. Albert Einstein said, "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." I would argue that he was particularly talented, but I think the point he was trying to make is the curiosity drives learning and growth and he had a lot of curiosity.
Why is curiosity so important? Well, without it we accept our life as it is. That is not to say that curiosity breeds discontentment. Curiosity asks questions and seeks answers about how the world works rather than lamenting over one's current state. Alice's curiosity is what leads her though Wonderland. Had she been scared or disinterested she might have curled up in a ball of terror instead of continuing to explore. Curiosity encourages contentment because it occupies the mind with thinking and removes boredom. I've noticed that people (kids and adults) who are easily bored are often not very curious individuals. Curiosity gives the mind a place to go when the body is stuck in one place. Why is grass green? Why are there so many people working in this restaurant's kitchen? Who buys all the Spam at the grocery store? Why do birds move like that?
Curiosity breeds wonder and wonder is a fantastic feeling. After reading Quackery, a book about the history of medicine, not only was I more curious about the history of medicine I was also left with a sense of wonder that any of us have survived to the year 2019. After reading Consider the Fork, I was left curious about the history of other household objects and in wonder of the simple innovations that make my life what it is. In How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that curiosity is a powerful motivator and an indicator of future success. High marks on report cards indicate an ability to follow directions (which is good) but a strong sense of curiosity is an indicator of future success (even better).
Experts in listening and conversation will state all kinds of ways to engage in stimulating conversation. They will tell you to mirror your counterpart's body language and nod to let them know you're listening and a bunch more things to remember, but really, if you're curious about what you're hearing and you are paying attention you will listen well without all the steps. (Here's a great TED Talk to that effect.)
So my challenge for you on this day is to live curiously. Live eager to know or learn something. In a conversation with someone who has strong opinions you disagree with? Find out WHY they hold those strong opinions. At a restaurant where your food taking too long to come up? Look at the restaurant design and try to understand the designers choices. On a long car ride? Ask questions about the lives of those you are with. A curious life is always growing and always moving forward.
One last book recommendation for today is A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman. Grazer makes the case that his successes in life have a great deal to do with his curiosity and passion to learn new things from interesting people.
Earlier today, I wrote a really frustrated sad article about how much I'm struggling with Logan and his school work which I never published and have since deleted. I'll spare you that rant and just leave it at - we're struggling. Some of it has to do with executive function disorder which deals with organization, working memory, and attention. I constantly feel like I'm behind in some way. Like I'm treading water wearing a weighted vest.
Something else I'm struggling to accept is that I can't do it all. This year I had grand dreams of learning French, reading a big stack of books, learning to play the piano, getting into shape, keeping my house clean, making crafts for a PTO event, and keeping on top of writing letters to family and friends on top of writing my blog, preparing two more historical presentations, and working on a side writing project. I tell myself that because I'm not working full time all this should be possible, but I'm so wrong. Instead, I find myself shriveling in, depressed by my lack of progress. I've been successful at getting into shape and am currently training for the Detroit half-marathon in October. Yay! But the time spent training has got to come from somewhere and my other efforts suffer. I'm slowly trying to accept that I can't do it all.
So my greatest struggle right now is being content. I've been trying to find contentment, but can't when I compare myself to other moms or chase unattainable goals. So how can I find contentment? What is the secret to finding contentment in the midst of turmoil? Fortunately, Paul told it to the Philippians in his letter to them. "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
This verse isn't about winning a sporting event or doing your best. It's about contentment in any and every situation. It's the secret, the key, the linchpin. So I can live contentedly in the situation God has placed me in and I can accomplish what he wants me to. Just so we're clear, this isn't easy though. I'm not quoting a quick verse then heading of to a perfect person soiree. The struggle is real, but at least I know the secret to success.
So tonight, I hope you find yourself in positive circumstances, but if not, I'll take this opportunity to share the secret with you. Christ gives strength.
As I write this I am sitting in front of what is known as the "Rosa Parks Bus." It is the bus that the famous incident involving Mrs. Parks refusing to give up her seat took place. In my research on the American Woman Parks' name has come up several times.
Let me back up. This week Logan and his buddy Derek are participating in Day Camp at the Henry Ford. The Henry Ford is like Disney World for history nerds and is a must see. The Henry Ford is made up of multiple institutions the main two being the Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village. When Henry Ford created them his goal was to tell history from the perspective of the average American. History is about presidents and important figures, but it's also about the innovations that impact our every day lives. Both the Village and Museum are dedicated to celebrating those innovations and honoring our nation's history.
So, back to the bus. In just the few minutes it's taken to type this, almost 50 people have climbed on and off the bus. A docent inside tells the story of that December day in Alabama and points out the seat that Parks refused to give up. The children inside excitedly vie to sit in the exact spot then skip off happy that they've experienced a part of history. There's even a Scandinavian tour group with professional film equipment filming about it. I have no idea what they are saying but it’s interesting to watch them explore the history of our country.
In my research about American women, I've come across Rosa Parks several times. Each time I've read that she is brave because she sat. When I read this it's felt like something has been missing. There were several people before Parks who were arrested for refusing to give up their seats which made me wonder what was different about their story. They sat. Why don't their names go down in history?
Oddly enough the answer came when I was reading the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. In the chapter referring to habits of societies, Duhigg explains that Parks was a unique individual because of her character and her community involvement. "Parks' many friendships and affiliations cut across the city's racial and economic lines. She was the secretary of the local NAACP chapter, attended the Methodist church, and helped oversee a youth organization at the Lutheran church near her home. She spent some weekends volunteering at a shelter, others with a botanical club, and on Wednesday nights often joined a group of women who knit blankets for a local hospital. She volunteered dressmaking services to poor families and provided last-minute gown alterations for wealthy white debutantes." He goes on to connect the facts and mentions that the previous riders who refused to move were arrested, but nothing came of it because they were unknowns, yet when Rosa Parks was arrested it caused a ripple through the community. She had invested her time in the community and that community came to her support.
But all that community doesn’t explain my discomfort with celebrating Rosa Parks for "sitting." Duhigg, after detailing Parks' community involvement, explained that the former leader of the Montgomery NAACP and a white lawyer named Clifford Durr bailed her out of jail. Community leaders had been looking for a case to challenge bus segregation and with Parks' sterling reputation they believed they had found a worthy cause to take to the courts. Parks' husband was initially opposed to the idea because he knew the danger she was putting herself in. Her husband's warning, "The white folks will kill you, Rosa," was not an empty worry. Threats of violence and death were common for those who dared to alter the status quo, but despite the possible danger, Parks allowed her case to be the rally point for the protests and the boycott. Both she and her husband lost their jobs and received multiple death threats. Yet, she didn't give in and she allowed her case to move through the courts. Eventually, they moved to Detroit hoping to start over after losing so much.
There! There it is! Now, I am beginning to understand what was so remarkable about her. She shouldn't be remembered as a woman who sat. She should be remembered for 1.) Her kindness and community involvement. 2.) Refusing to move despite knowing the possibility of arrest or physical violence. (I was told by the docent that the bus drivers often carried clubs or guns to enforce the rules.) 3.) Standing and allowing her arrest to be used in the court case that changed a city and became a major event in the Civil Rights Movement despite the costs. Too often we relegate people's stories to a paragraph and forget that their lives are as complicated and as deep as our own.
Rosa Parks' story is one of compassion, community, and courage. She didn't receive the notoriety she has today until much later in her life. In our culture of instant gratification, it is important to share that standing up for something and being remembered rarely happens for those who don't have a depth of character. We need to remember that standing for what you believe in is not easy and will likely not lead to fame and success, but doing something because you believe it is the right thing to do may just change the world.
Rosa Parks visited the Greenfield Village in 1992. These photos are of her at the Mattox House.
This post was suggested by Logan. I'm always talking about Friends Group, but have yet to write about this amazing group of people so here it goes.
Our church, Five Points Community Church in Auburn Hills, hosts a Wednesday night special needs ministry called Friends Group. The group has been around for decades, but I have only been attending Friends for the past two years. From what I understand many of the friends started attending as children and continue to come as adults.
I asked to be a part of the group to push myself outside my current comfort zone and to connect with others at church. Before joining I would walk by and hear them singing, "This Little Light of Mine," "Jesus Loves Me," and "The B-I-B-L-E." I love singing those songs with the children's church! They were also always clapping and cheering too. It seemed the group was always having so much fun and I wanted in.
As soon as I got there I noticed a few things. These friends LOVE Jesus. If we don't talk about Him right away they might get upset. These friends say, "I love you," freely and with absolute honesty to each other unless someone is upsetting them. Then they will say, "STOP! I don't like that." They are all a bit different, but aren't we all? They don't care how different you are you will be embraced. Never met you? That's okay. They will still greet you and maybe even invite you to their birthday party. I can't help but wish more people were so inclusive. They can sing "Amazing Grace" like nobody's business. Seriously, they belt it out and while they are singing, I can't help but tear up at their sincerity. They ask questions when they don't know the answer to something and don't feel embarrassed. A favorite memory was seeing a man with special needs standing outside the bathrooms looking a bit frantic. When he saw me he asked, "What do I do? I know I'm not a woman, but I'm not sure if I'm a man. I'm a boy. Where do I go?" I assured him him was safe to use the men's restroom and he went in.
Since first joining the group, I've had the privilege of leading singing and teaching the lesson a few times. The lessons are simple, but it reminds me that we have a simple faith. Yes, one can spend their entire life studying scripture and learning about God, but it comes down to believing, trusting, and following God. I'm constantly challenged by their pure love for Christ and the excitement they bring to learning. And their prayer requests! Each night we ask the friends what they want to pray about and many list not only family and friends, but first responders, soldiers, government officials, and others. Because they have to depend upon others to care for them, they don't struggle with the concept that they must depend upon God. They need help and know it.
So often our culture celebrates those with differences but sometimes this group of the most amazing people ever gets looked over because they are different in a different way. Disabled. Sometimes those differences are scary or leave us feeling uncomfortable. Individuals with special needs are unique and wonderfully made. I believe that God is good and that He is in control. How I treat those with special needs around me is a reflection of that. Do your actions toward those around you reflect your beliefs about God?
If your church has a special needs ministry I would encourage you to get involved however you can. Start by praying for the group and greeting them with a friendly greeting. Listen to them and minister in any way that you can to their care givers. If your church doesn't have a special needs group, maybe you should ask why and look for needs around you. If you live in Southeast Michigan you can help by supporting Dutton Farms where my friend, Kevin (pictured below) works. Tonight he was sporting two medals he earned at the Special Olympics. Dutton Farms is an organization committed to helping adults with disabilities by advocating on their behalf, educating individuals and helping them find their strengths, and helping them find meaningful employment. They are hosting an open house June 20, 2019. Come out and show your support! They sell handmade soaps, candles, bug spray, and much more.
So these are my friends. If you don't have friends who love you and love Jesus like this you should definitely get some!
The video below tells a little more about Dutton Farm and at the end features an interview with one of my favorite friends, Jimmy. He loves his job, but more importantly he loves the opportunity to contribute to society and earn wages in return.
Last week in my post about summer break, I emphasized that school does not have a monopoly on learning. Summer can be all about the best kind of learning. The kind of learning that expands the mind. The kind of learning that leads to interesting places and people. The kind of learning I hope Logan will continue with for the rest of his life.
There are two parts of our summer bucket list this year. I want to visit some interesting places and try some fun things with Logan, but I also want to work organizing some areas in the house, improving math skills, and strengthening language skills. When considering academic work over summer break, I like to think of it as bonus time. We had too much homework for me to add on more during the school year so summer is the perfect time to learn a few things that will help with next year. I also want to play some fun games that teach as we play such as the periodic table battleship and the Pringles ring.
The second part of the list is all about the go. I'm currently obsessed with my National Park Passport book and I want to collect several stamps available in our area. Detroit is part of the Motor Cities National Historic Area so several museums offer the National Park Passport stamp. On the list below, the areas with the available stamp have the green letters next to them identifying what they are. (Key below). Will we make it to all these places? Absolutely not, but we will have fun trying and often we get to them during days off school and weekends.
Without further ado, here is the Gies 2019 Summer Bucket List.
Visit Niagara Falls
Visit Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS
Take piano lessons
Visit Whiting Forest
Clean out guest room closet
Visit River Raisin NBP
Study Men and Women in the Word with She/He Reads Truth
Learn about the law of diminishing returns with ice cream
Visit Cranbrook Gardens
Go to a baseball game
Host a class party
Day camp at the Henry Ford
Visit Stahls Automotive Foundation NHA
Ride bikes to downtown Rochester
Family game night
Visit the Edsel Ford House and Gardens NHA
Play the license plate game
Visit Cambridge Junction Historic State Park NHA
Build an egg drop
Visit the Detroit Zoo
Read and complete Big Life Journal
Visit the Toledo Zoo with Fougeres
Family movie night
Memorize the definitions for the parts of speech
Visit Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes NL
Jackson Pollock Painting
Visit Yankee Air Museum NHA
Play periodic table battleship
Visit the GM Renaissance Center NHA
Build a LEGO fortress
Visit Meadowbrook Hall NHA
Visit Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society NHA
Make a Pringles Ring
Plant giant sunflowers
Read a biography of Bob Ross
Finish London puzzle
Visit the Detroit Historical Museum NHA
Finish toy puzzle
Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts NHA
Memorize times tables
Read Treasure Island
We're ready to grow and go!
NHA - National Historic Area, NBP - National Battlefield Park, NHS - National Historic Site, NL - National Lakeshore
Are you excited about summer break being right around the corner? I am. (Notice my excessive use of exclamation points.) I love summer. I'm not just talking about the season itself, although I do love that - I'm talking about the long break from school.
Summer is time to take a break from school. Summer is not the time to take a break from learning. Summer is the perfect time to learn without the pressure of tests and the responsibility of homework. It's the perfect time to visit museums and parks. These experiences are extremely important because by exploring and experiencing, children lay the groundwork for their classroom experience.
Here’s an example. At some point in their science education, your child will learn about the life cycle of a frog. I remember learning about this as a student, but I didn’t have to memorize it as a student. Why? Because there was a ditch in the front yard of the house I grew up in. Every year frogs would lay eggs. Once the tadpoles emerged we would scoop them into buckets and check their progress. It was play. Gloriously messy, sometimes muddy play. But then when I got to science class the life cycle was something I knew. I had watched. I had observed. The teacher had new information that I didn’t already know, but she had a shelf to place new information onto. My existing knowledge allowed my understanding to be deeper and more lasting than the student who had never seen a tadpole.
Often our school system becomes adversarial. Students work hard NOT to learn the information the teachers are tasked with the responsibility of forcing the materials into them. This push back doesn’t usually happen until middle and high school, but the mindset begins as early as elementary.
We make a critical mistake when we equate school with learning. Why? School does not have a monopoly on learning. It CANNOT have a monopoly on learning. This is NOT to say that students don't learn in school but when we limit learning to school we limit our children’s mindset and limit their growth. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit. Adults calling themselves a life long learner has become popular. Why can't we let kids embrace that too? Oddly enough when I say stuff like this is it is usually the adults who tell me that kids don't want to learn, NOT their kids. This disturbs me. Learning is awesome. It is fun. It is something that the mind embraces and takes pleasure in. The brain releases a dopamine response when a new fact snaps into place. (Imagine that feeling when a puzzle piece clicks into place.) When your brain has an “ah-ha” moment your brain releases pleasure hormones. When kids make a connection between something they learned in school and something they already know, their brain releases a “reward” for their effort.
Not interested in "teaching" your children this summer? Afraid that you will get stuck or not know what to say? Here’s an example of the type of learning and teaching I am talking about. Many kids have had the experience of trying to connect toy trains. Sometimes the trains won’t connect. They may get frustrated, but they usually figure out that the key to success is to turn the train around. It works! Cool now they can play. When they get to science class and learn that magnets have a north and south pole and connect it with their memory, their brain rewards them for that connection. Those students who have been trained to recognize the moment a connection happens can gain an even greater response. Training to recognize this is as simple as noting when it happens and cheering.
Older students who are interested in Greek Mythology will love making connections about their secular reading and the experience of Paul in the book of Acts. Read Acts 17:16-34 (Paul’s sermon from the Aeropagus.) Those Paul is speaking to believe in and worship the gods we read about in stories. In verses 24-25 Paul makes specific reference to the stories of mythology. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.” The Greek gods constantly needed help from heroes who were demi-gods. Without Heracles, Jason, and Theseus the gods would be in desperate straights. Paul is remarking that the one Creator God who is over ALL, not just the wind, seas, seasons, medicine, etc., doesn’t need human heroes to save him. He is omnipotent. When students connect these two things (the Bible and Greek mythology) they get very excited and the discussion is usually a lively one.
Even students who say they “hate” learning take pleasure in learning about things that they are interested in. Summer and other breaks from school are the perfect time to leisurely explore their own pursuits. I recommend exposure to a wide range of activities that will eventually coincide with their classroom learning. Some areas are richer in learning opportunities than others. I have been working on my Southeastern Michigan page and hope to add several more places this summer. Check it out and comment with places you would add. There is no way that you will be able to experience everything that your child is going to be learning about, but you can participate in a variety of things that will set them up for future success.
Next week I will release our full summer bucket list. We are planning on visiting several places that are recognized by the National Park Service as the Motor Cities National Heritage Area as well as River Raisin, a National Historic Battlefield. (All within an hour or so of our house.) Subscribe using the form below to follow our adventures and learn more about fun activities that will help your child's summer be both fun and constructive.
A Note About Video Games: Learning isn’t the only way to receive a dopamine response from the brain. Video games flood the brain with a dopamine response, but rarely are real skills gained and often the cost/benefit ratio is out of proportion. Alarmists love to report that kids are addicted and scare parents with statistics about the dangers of gaming. This sells stories and gets people to click, but it isn’t necessarily true. Video games aren’t all bad and can be a good way for families to have fun together (Wii) or kids to learn about the challenges of running a city (Sim City). Think of it this way - taking the family out for ice cream can be a fun way to bond and have fun. It’s a good thing. Eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is excessive and detrimental to your health.
If you have spent any time with me in the past six months, you will have heard me utter these words (teacher appreciation) at least 410,713 times. #sorrynotsorry I may have already told you this about me, but for the sake of clarification, I should explain that I am the head of my son's school's PTO. It's also the school I graduated from as well as the school I taught at. So I particularly enjoy serving in this capacity because it's exciting to serve the staff, some of whom were my teachers, those whom I attended to school with, and even those whom I taught.
This coming week (May 6-10) is national Teacher Appreciation Week and I want to explain what this week is all about. I served as a teacher of various subjects and ages for twelve years. Those years were some of the most rewarding yet exhausting of my entire life. Teaching isn't something I went into for the money or career potential. Teaching is a calling that I, along with many men and women find rewarding. Watching students experience that "ah ha" moment was the most exciting part of my job. I would spend countless nights creating lesson plans, buying supplies, and crafting a classroom dynamic which would all seem worth it when a student went, "Oh! I get it! That's so cool!"
Many teachers love their jobs and the "ah ha" moments are special, but all that work can lead to burn out. We are seeing significant burnout, particularly among new teachers. According to a 2014 study, 41% of teachers leave the profession after the first five years. Corporations run on billion dollar budgets while schools bicker over petty cash. In one preschool I worked in I had to defend my crayon usage to the director because of cost savings. Read that again. I had to defend my crayon usage. For three-year-olds. Who liked to color. Many teachers get tired of this nonsense and leave. Others can't provide for themselves on the salary offered due to student loans (all those increased needs for certification cost tens of thousands of dollars) and cost of living increases.
Also, teachers purchase many of their classroom supplies. Look around your child's classroom. Chances are that the posters hanging all over the walls, the fun, and fancy post-it-notes the students receive notes on, the colored dry-erase markers to help explain concepts, and the books in their classroom library have all been purchased by their teacher. The average spends $500 per year on school supplies.
Okay, those last couple of paragraphs were bleak. I apologize, but you must know the group you are talking about when I am making a case for really demonstrating appreciation. So how can you help? You can't fix the educational system by yourself, but you can help by celebrating the teachers around you. Search for "teacher appreciation ideas" on Pinterest and you will be overwhelmed with suggestions. Each teacher is different, but I would like to offer a few suggestions from a teacher's perspective on how to demonstrate thankfulness for your child's teachers. The following are some suggestions for things to do or gifts to give to teachers:
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."