And there…in its utter simplicity…was the beauty of my mother’s wisdom. I, myself, created something to do, because no one and nothing else provided it for me.
Reading books, working puzzles, making doll clothes, coloring and painting, playing pretend games, and the always popular pillow-and-blanket fort were regular choices and took up hours and hours of time with my sister, or a neighbor, or some stuffed bears and rabbits from my bedroom. But just as often, my entertainment would be found lying on my bed looking up at the ceiling fan, sitting in the backyard listening to the traffic, or watching my dog try to scratch herself without her feet slipping on the kitchen floor. I still remember the day that I discovered that one strip of the brightly colored, geometric wallpaper on my bedroom walls (a la 1974) had been hung upside down…and you had to look really hard to tell! Across my childhood I had the opportunity to sample a variety of clubs and teams and classes after school and in the summers, but they were always balanced with an ample amount of time to entertain myself or to just sit and think and relax and get bored.
There are clear educational and social benefits to providing children with rich experiences and opportunities. Travel, museums, camp, play dates, games, toys, classes, and teams all offer learning, fun, and skill development that will contribute to a child’s long term development, socially, cognitively, or physically. Yet, there are also clear advantages to allowing children time to do nothing: to explore the world of their own thoughts and ideas; to experience life slowly and reflectively; to delve into their imagination and create worlds of their own. These are the times in which children imagine themselves…
…encountering a huge challenge and having the ingenuity to overcome it;
…discovering an unknown treasure and having the courage to excavate it;
…inventing a magical machine and having the creativity to explore the universe in it;
…meeting a space alien and having the compassion to bring it home for dinner.
By exploring these self-concepts in the safety and security of their own mind, children develop the sense of self and personal awareness that grows into self-confidence, insight, and emotional intelligence that strengthens them throughout life. Self-reliance may be the greatest benefit of these bouts of boredom, as children discover that life is just as interesting as they choose to make it.
Social and cultural variations in child rearing come with every generation. Children today have opportunities and benefits that children of my generation did not, and the reverse is also true. However, a tendency to move more quickly through childhood into an earlier adolescence or young adulthood has been growing in American culture for many decades. Child Development expert and author, David Elkind wrote his national bestseller, The Hurried Child, in 1981. In it, he warns parents about rushing children with busy schedules and overly structured activities even 37 years ago. Family structures, work schedules, and educational expectations have demanded some changes. But our sincere appreciation of the value of childhood also demands that we treat this short period of life with the respect that it deserves.
So what does this mean for today’s parent? The answers are never simple, but I believe the best advice is always to look for balance. For every weekend with a fun event or activity, dedicate a weekend soon after to doing nothing at all. Look at your child’s weekly routine. Are there approximately as many days with after-school activities as there are days of after-school relaxation? And of course, listen to your child…and that is harder than it sounds. I don’t mean listen to every request of, “May I…”, or “Can we…” or “Pllleeeaassse!!!” but really listen to the way your child responds to life. When asked to put away the Legos and climb into the car for another outing, does your child ask for more time? “Wait…not yet…can we stay home…I’m not finished…do we have to go…I don’t want to.” Sometimes these statements are indicators that what your child is really asking for is a little less to do, more time for nothing at all, and the opportunity to just get bored.
When my son was in Kindergarten some unexpected family circumstances allowed my sister to come and live in our home for a year. She is likely the most gifted reader I have ever encountered, and across that year she read aloud, not just to my son, but to me as well, almost every night. It was our introduction to the magical world of Harry Potter and, to this day, when I read one of the books or see a movie I still hear the particular accents she gave the characters or remember my son’s rapt attention during the ‘edge of the seat’ moments.
When we started, I truly believed that these stories were too advanced for him. But he remembered the details and characters far better than I ever did and as he got older he raced through every new book in the series the day it was released! The power of those read-aloud experiences with his aunt and his mother have stayed with him for years.
Having taught in the early elementary years throughout my career, I have noticed that sometimes reading routines at home shift and change as children become independent readers. As parents, we want to support our children’s emerging reading skills by giving them opportunities to read back to us or to read silently to themselves. Of course, these activities have benefits and should be encouraged. But I don’t believe these new skills and activities should replace the family experience of reading aloud to children.
Listening to stories is an experience that enhances the child’s literacy skills just as much as independent reading. Both directly and indirectly, children draw from these read-aloud experiences some of the most valuable lessons imaginable. And the possibilities get even richer as the literature you can read to them becomes more advanced.
Among the many benefits, read-aloud experiences are opportunities to communicate with your child your own values, interests, interpretations, and life experiences that might otherwise not come up in daily conversations. All too often, I would stop mid-sentence and say to my son, “Oh my gosh, that reminds me of…” and tell him about something from his early years, or my own life that I had never shared with him before. Other times, I would see a look of surprise on his face and we would both say together, “I did NOT expect that to happen!” And routinely, I would get to the end of the chapter and say, “Time to stop,” and receive back a resounding chorus of “NOOOOOO!!!! One more chapter, PLEEEAAASSE!”
I will share with you a few of the lessons I learned both as a parent and an educator from years of reading aloud to children. I hope that these contribute to making your read aloud times at home long lasting and enjoyable!
“All school-age children who are individuals with disabilities as defined by Section 504 and IDEA are entitled to free, appropriate public education.”
Every single one. Including everyone.
Not some. Not many. Not the ones with a good advocate fighting for them.
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”
Every single one. Without exception.
Not this group or that group; not the powerful; not the ones in the majority.
When all is said and done…
But too often it is only said. It is not done.
All are not included. All are not valued equally.
All in good time…
Now is a good time. It has always been a good time.
We cannot wait for a 'good time' when lifetimes are passing by.
“Love all, …do wrong to none.”
William Shakespeare, published in 1623.
Nearly 400 years ago.
Do wrong to none.
My son came to visit a couple weeks ago. The same son who, 17 years ago this month, walked nervously into his first day of Kindergarten in a charter school, came with me to visit Citizens of the World Charter School Kansas City. This time, Nathan strolled in next to me – taller than me, with four years of college behind him – calm and collected, showing no nerves at all.
Since about the 5th grade, Nathan has lived with psoriasis. Some of the time, it’s just an annoyance. But periodically, it becomes a painful, itchy burden. At times during middle and high school, it was debilitating – from the combination of physical pain and social discomfort. It is virtually impossible to treat, as it develops it’s own resistance to anything that is, at first, effective. And it appears as disfiguring patches of skin all over the body. I remember a time at the beach during his adolescence when Nathan realized a child was pointing and staring while his mother nervously tried to hush him. I remember the day he came out to breakfast and said, “Please, can I just stay home from school? I can’t stand the idea of another person looking at me and trying not to look at me.”
Today, he handles it. The outbreaks and appearance don’t overwhelm him - - but he’s still aware of the looks. He still has to take regular injections to minimize the discomfort. He still faces a future in which it may turn into debilitating psoriatic arthritis.
On the day of his visit to CWCKC, he chose to spend an hour helping out in 1st grade. He played tag out on the playground; he helped to teach about food groups; he talked with first graders; and he shared his surprise with Ms. Glass at how truly ‘exhausting’ it is to be with a group of six-year-olds, even for just an hour!
As we drove away I asked him what he thought of the school. “I had forgotten,” he shared, “how easy it is for kids to just say what they think. They just look at you and say, “What’s wrong with your skin?”
Yep. There’s a lot of that in the primary grades.
“I also forgot,” he added, “how quickly kids decide they like you.”
Just a few days later I found myself reading a powerful article. Produced by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society out of UC Berkeley, the article was called, “The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging.1”
“Othering” is defined “as a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities. Dimensions of othering include, but are not limited to, religion, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status (class), disability, sexual orientation, and skin tone. (p.17)”
It is a powerful read – and I recommend it highly. It speaks to historical patterns of othering; political uses of inciting othering to gain power; and myriad occurrences of othering societally – either purposefully or without awareness. It goes on to share that many approaches to addressing othering, no matter how well intended, have fallen short – or in some cases amplified the problem; segregation, secessionism, assimilation.
And then it addresses belonging; the only approach viewed by the authors as a potential solution. “We believe that the only viable solution to the problem of othering is one involving inclusion and belongingness. The most important good we distribute to each other in society is membership. The right to belong is prior to all other distributive decisions since it is members who make those decisions. Belongingness entails an unwavering commitment to not simply tolerating and respecting difference but to ensuring that all people are welcome and feel that they belong in the society. We call this idea the “circle of human concern. (p. 32)”
Widening the circle of human concern. Reaching out. Sending messages that people are welcome. Giving voice to all people. The phrases are many – and every one of them is startlingly difficult. Difficult because we are so frequently blind to our own beliefs and behaviors. Difficult because we are frightened to admit our own mistakes and missteps. Difficult because we so rarely experience a truly inclusive environment and those among us who have, refuse to open our eyes to the reality that so many have not.
At Citizens of the World Kansas City we have set an audacious goal of delivering “an excellent public education focused on developing and demonstrating understanding while building connections within a diverse community.”
And a community of families – racially, culturally, economically diverse families – has come together in Kansas City with a belief in that goal. A community of educators comes together each day – a group diverse in age, gender, race, economics, sexual orientation, professional experiences – to support young children in widening the circle of their concern; in creating a place where each one experiences belonging; where everyone feels welcome.
Do we get it right every day? No, we do not. We’ve made mistakes. We will make more.
But we commit ourselves to asking the hard questions; having the tough conversations. We commit ourselves to continuing to try. We commit ourselves to reaching deep to find the honest answers. We commit ourselves to being authentic in the struggle. We make that commitment so that every child can have the experience of knowing how quickly kids decide they like you.
1) Othering and belonging: Expanding the circle of human concern, Issue 1, Summer 2016.
“The problem of othering: Towards inclusiveness and belonging.”
What a difference two years can make! I drove across country with my dog two years ago, in June 2015, leaving behind the school community I had known in Los Angeles for seven years; leaving the city of friends I had built for 27 years; leaving my son at college two time zones away. It was a huge change – a welcome change – I was ready to build a new future.
And when I arrived, I was greeted by a beautiful sign on my front door - hand drawn and decorated by the families – and clearly, the children – who were so excited to see Citizens of the World come to Kansas City. Its simplicity made it all the more powerful. It said, “We’re glad you’re here…and we’re here too…and together, we’re going to build a school.”
Since that time I have met and helped bring together a team of colleagues including a Board of Directors nine members strong; over 30 faculty and staff with backgrounds in education from early childhood through middle and high school; and families that live across more than 16 different neighborhoods of the Midtown KC area. We have formed professional partnerships in the areas of finance, law, construction, real estate, safety, philanthropy, and educational innovation. Not one of us has the knowledge or skills to do it all – but together, we have built a school.
As a school community we have formed even more partnerships with local organizations to support our students’ learning, our families’ needs, our faculty’s continuing growth, and to help insure we achieve our goals of bringing an excellent public education to a diverse community by building understanding and connections. We invite the community in to meet our students – librarians, police officers, veterans, weathermen, who share their experiences of helping the city function; and we take our students out to explore - - art museums, musical performances, the outdoor environment, walking through a labyrinth, picking vegetables at the farm, swimming and playing basketball at the community center. No single organization can provide all that is needed, but with partners and teamwork, working together, we are building a community that helps students grow.
And in a few short weeks, we open the doors again for Year 2 welcoming Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders. Diverse students from across Midtown, walking in with proud parents, some with big sisters and brothers who already know their way around; bringing their excitement, their worries, and their curiosity. They walk in wanting to learn; wanting to be ‘grown up’; wanting to understand; wanting to make friends. And they do, with their classmates, their community – because together, they will build a new future.