S’now Fun?

Schools canceling. Parents working from home.  If you’re counting on plenty of babysitting via TV or video games to keep your children busy, stop! That “s’now” fun.  Read on for 10 ideas for real snow day fun and learning.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  1. Read.Snuggle with a book and read with a family member. Talk about the book together as you go. Find new places in which to read, like the bathtub.
  2. Bake. Reinforce math by doubling or halving a recipe. Make something to share with a neighbor or friend.
  3. Fall. Backwards, that is, into snow. Make snow angels and decorate them with paint.
  4. Build. Dress for outdoors and build snow families and snow forts.
  5. Knock. Check on your neighbors, especially senior citizens. Bring them a treat you made.IMG_3579
  6. Shovel. Help move the stuff around. If you don’t have a shovel, use a broom.
  7. Imagine. Encourage open-ended play. Dolls, cars, models, Legos, anything with small people or animals work well. When a child uses anything to pretend or make up stories, that’ open-ended play.
  8. Measure. Find all measuring tapes, rulers, yardsticks, even a dressmaker’s measuring tape if you have one. Estimate the measurement of things around the house, then check using one of the tools.
  9. Draw. Can you draw a map of your house? Your neighborhood, town, state, the world? Copy one if you need to.
  10. Write. Compose a valentine poem or a card message for Valentine’s Day.

Print and post this list for your children to use.  Join them for some of these so snow days become memory-making days.

Outdoors With Paints

“Were you painting outside?” asked my husband. He knew the answer. IMG_3571And it wasn’t that one of our resident woodchucks had awakened and marched outside dragging paints and a brush.

A rediscovered, unused set of acrylic paints had awakened me. I gathered a handful of brushed and dashed outside to my canvas: the snow.

Flicks of red, arcs of green, drops of blue, inclusive of animal tracks. The brushes were too small to get the effects I wanted. My hands froze without gloves. But it wasn’t the final product that mattered, it was the desire to try something new and enjoy the fun of self-expression.

Most children feel this way, too. They like to enjoy the freedom to express themselves in new ways.IMG_3577
If they paint in the snow, let them see how their art changes with lower temperatures.

Teachers, lead your children to fling around some paint today. Parents or grandparents?  You come, too.*



*Phrase borrowed from The Pasture by Robert Frost (c. 1915)


Empathy and Kindness, Pet-Style

A few days ago, our family lost our beloved 17-year-old mini poodle, Muffy.Muffy Aug 2012  Saddled with a girl’s name, Muffy lived a pretty healthy life. Though he endured infirmities as a senior, we accommodated him by finding snuggly blankets, adjusting his water bowl to a comfortable height, and carrying him in and out.

In his younger days, I brought Muffy to school and the students made him an instant celebrity.  He’d never had so many stories read to him in one day.  The students showed empathy and kindness, something we now have entire curricula to teach.

I admire teachers who keep pets in the classroom because they seem to have a special insight into children. Their focus tends to be less about teaching children responsibility and more about what each of us learns from animals. I know educators who bring their dogs to school and I’ve seen how stroking them helps evoke a kind of mellow grace in students. Especially in older students.

Other colleagues of mine have created ingenious roles for animals in schools.  One kept an aquarium with a student desk and chair parked in front of it. She’d read that watching fish could help children self-regulate, and she had a couple of students in mind.  The rest of the class wanted to use the aquarium for quiet thinking, too.  Soon she had to post a sign-up sheet.

Another teacher kept a rabbit hopping around freely.  You might think that would distract first graders, but not at all. The children easily integrated the rabbit into their routines and learned to step carefully around him.  The rabbit used a litter box, too.

In one urban school, a teacher kept two guinea pigs in a huge cage on legs. She made it into a writing center.  Children drew their chairs around all four sides, some propping up their feet on its edge.  The guinea pigs went on with their lives as students watched them and worked on writing projects.  Each child who wanted to hold one knew the procedure for letting out the guinea pigs, always putting the animal’s needs first.

Empathy, kindness, care, grace, sharing, patience–that’s a short list of what students learn from school pets. How lucky the world is when children carry those forward.





Columbus’s Mermaids

January doesn’t usually remind us about Christopher Columbus, but on January 9, 1493, he described seeing mermaids swim near the Dominican Republic. (See the History Channel’s “On this Day in History.”)

Photo courtesy of Broward.org

Photo courtesy of Broward.org

However, Columbus was mistaken. What he saw were not mermaids swimming, but manatees. These animals are exceptionally lovely. Large and slow-moving mammals, manatees eat plants and swim in shallow water. Their faces hold a kind sweetness. It’s easy to see why Columbus thought they were mermaids.

Teacher reflection had a whole new meaning for me after I met my first manatee.

Introduce your students to manatees.  Not everything we teach our students has to be a huge curriculum unit. Give your students access to pictures, maps, and reading about manatees. Begin conversations about them during quiet moments. A good place for information is at National Geographic, where students can listen to the repertoire of manatee sounds.

And after your students learn about manatees, ask them to think up reasons why Columbus mistook them for mermaids.


Gifts to Self

Are you a teacher or parentIMG_3246 scrambling to make the most of every second before the holiday break? Have you had enough of malls and stores?  Sounds like you need an Education Spring-style restorative gift.
Two kindred blogs, Musing off the Mat and Jenny’s Lark, inspired me to adapt their idea.

Relax comfortably. Allow your mind to wander over the array of happy experiences you’ve had this year. Write them down and number as you go.

Widen your spectrum to include peaceful decisions and happy coincidences. Keep going as long as you want. It didn’t take me long to reach 76 .

Add richness by including moments of all sizes. While writing my list, I found small moments that were IMG_3249easily overlooked. It was simple to add a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Inside that large moment, though, was a smaller one in the inner courtyard.

When we list the gifts we’ve given to ourselves, several things happen. We see our blessings in black and white. We recognize what we have cultivated in our world.IMG_3250

And we realize that by noticing our gifts to self that we’ve been good enough teachers and good enough parents.

Family Storytellers and StoryCorps

Who’s the storyteller in your family?  I’ll bet your children know who it is. Here’s a chance to prompt them with questions and listen while recording them for posterity.StoryCorps

This Friday, November, 21, 2014, is the National Day of Listening sponsored by StoryCorps and is a perfect time to start. Continue it on Thanksgiving and you’ll gather an even bigger trove of treasure.

My grandmother’s stories were like a song catalogue.  And she took requests. Someone would ask, “Grammy, tell the one about…” She’d glance around, and smack her lips into a wide O-shaped smile.

Grammy used a firm “Well” in place of Once upon a time. Soon we’d hear the one about crawling on her hands and knees up the long hill to get home (at age seventy-five) after a hair appointment.  Grammy’s inimitable style was part of the storytelling and included succinct descriptions with perfect timing.

The only time anyone recorded her was the day she lay down on the floor at a big family party, a tour de force for someone in their eighties.  The word passed like wildfire: Clare’s on the floor! Guests produced video cameras to record the event. While it was hilarious to see, it was her voice and style that gave it unforgettable flavor.

StoryCorps reminds us that all families have storytellers like Grammy. You can choose your questions to suit your storyteller or the conversation.  It’s vital to record their stories—using audio or video–because nothing speaks across generations than hearing the stories we love told again and again.

Educating Silantoi

I face the sun, which we share. It warms the familiar brown envelope in my hands, which contains news of Silantoi, who lives half a world away.Silantoi and friend

A small photo shows her beautiful, round face beaming a huge smile. Not only is she taller, but her posture conveys confidence. A friend peeps over her shoulder and laughs as a photographer snaps the picture. Both girls stand in front of a rough wall at their Rombo boarding school in the wondrous Rift Valley in Kenya.

I read  Silantoi’s letter next. She likes science and wants to go to university to become a doctor. “I want to complete [high school] with good grades which will take me to a university around America…that is my dream.”

I’m astonished at Silantoi’s perseverance. Rote learning, no technology, a library consisting of old test booklets shoved on a shelf. I began sponsoring Silantoi’s education when I met the founder of BEADS for Education, Debby Rooney, in a  Newburyport, MA, bookstore. Now Debby has opened Tembea High School to give more girls a quality education.

Silantoi graduated 8th grade with high enough test scores to continue on to the Rombo high school, if she chose to—and she did! The significance of this is hard to overstate. Many girls in Kenya don’t go to school, severely limiting their options. When I sent Silantoi a modest watch for a graduation present, she replied, “I really treasure the watch and take care of it…it is really helping me to keep time while studying.”

Education for social justice often begins one child at a time. The gift for me is watching Silantoi grow and reveal her gifts and talents to the world.

A Letter, Victory, and Peace

Peg’s arm reached into the mailbox and pulled out this letter.


The return address reads:

Headquarters                                                                                                          Far East Air Forces                                                                                                  Office of the Commanding General

Her 21-year-old son Morgan was in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was not allowed to reveal his location. The letter could only mean that he had been killed. In the image above, you can see that Peg tore it open.

“November 20, 1945

“Dear Mrs. Molloy:

“Recently your son, Staff Sergeant Morgan P. Molloy, was decorated with the   Air Medal…[for] courageous service…meritorious achievement…hostile contact…combat operations…bombing missions.

“His has been a very real contribution to victory and peace.

“How proud I am to have your son in my command…young Americans of such courage and resourcefulness…the deciding factor in our country’s overwhelming victory…

“You, Mrs. Molloy, have every reason to share that pride and gratification.”

George C. Kenney                                                                                                                  General, United States Army                                                                                  Commanding

Fifty years later, my mother took it out of his drawer, framed it and hung it on the family room wall.  I asked my father, now 90, if he felt courageous as a B-25 tail gunner, especially during the ferocious Battle of Okinawa.

[Before every mission] I was scared. But you did what you were told, no matter what. Maybe you felt courage afterwards.

Courage and resourcefulness in the face of danger or death.  In this way, my father and other  war veterans have made “a very real contribution to victory and peace.”  That’s why we  celebrate Veteran’s Day–for the gifts of victory and peace.

Talk with your children about how to honor our veterans in 2014.

Why We Can Vote

It was parade of about eight thousand marchers. Onlookers, several hundred thousand of them, jammed the sidewalks.

Soon the marchers were mobbed, shoved, tripped, beaten, even burned by cigars by some onlookers. Police refused to interfere. Army troops were summoned to help. Hundreds of marchers were injured. One hundred of them ended up in the hospital.

Could you tolerate this treatment in order to vote?

The marchers, who were suffragettes, did. This 1913 parade in Washington, D.C. was another event in the fight for women’s right to vote. They won the fight in 1920, after over sixty years of struggle.

On Election Day this year, please exercise your right to vote. Teachers, parents, and grandparents, tell your children why you vote and why voting is important.

Our foremothers and forefathers fought long and hard so we could do so.

Art and Empathy

Look at this fantastic work, The Sower, by Van Gogh, painted in 1888. Give your eyes time to move and rest on details. As you do this, pay attention to your reactions to what you see. Note the thoughts, emotions and feelings that arise inside you.

The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

Are you startled by the richness of the sun or do your fingers itch to trace its grooves? Does your mind imagine hearing the sower’s feet pressing into the earth? Who is the sower and what is his story?

When we tune in to an experience with art like this one, we learn a new way to talk with children about empathy. I think that one of the best reasons to use art is to build understanding and strong connections to humankind.  Learning to see and experience through new eyes—or the eyes of another—challenges our minds to grow.

Education philosopher Maxine Greene urges us to realize that understanding  art through experience is an essential part of every child’s education.  I agree.  Whenever I think about the history of human civilization, art and empathy appear together as the deepest elements of our story, as deep as the grooves on Van Gogh’s radiant sun.