This year has somehow slipped right into November while I was still adjusting to the fact summer was truly over. Although the dry, warmer months of summer are what my body most craves, the foggy, darker days of fall resonate with my spirit in ways that almost make up for the rain-soaked months ahead. Everyone seems a bit more introspective this time of year, right before the frenetic pace of the Holiday season really kicks into high gear. Wouldn’t it be nice to take the quiet right through the season of hubbub? Every year I try not to get caught up in it all. One year I focused on only buying from local retailers or independent artists and artisans (all hail etsy!) and another year I tried to reduce the gift exchanges all together. It’s hard though~ especially with kids. If anyone has words of wisdom, please share! In the meantime, here’s a glimpse of autumn in my little corner of the world.~
I hope everyone had a lovely Halloween without too many food intolerance issues. Relax and enjoy a week or two of quiet before planning Thanksgiving’s menu. I made this recipe last night and I still wish it could be our Thanksgiving main course, but some of the eaters here prefer the more traditional foods. It was terribly good with guacamole all over it though… I guess it’ll just have to be a normal weeknight meal forevermore.
That two word phrase keeps popping up in my mind now that the first week of school is underway, because schools are such a great place to view a community’s cultural norms. The first thing that is blatantly apparent is the fact that walking or biking to school is not a norm in this community, or maybe this generation. I’m not sure how widespread it is but I do think this greater Seattle area in general has an overzealous relationship with cars. When I read Elizabeth Gilbert‘s book Eat, Pray, Love and she talked about how each city has one word that defines it, I thought that this area’s word would be ‘drive’. Not only for the literal drive a car meaning, although that is certainly part of it, but also the drive that means pushing people to work harder, longer hours than ever before, driving kids to start sports at an earlier age or else lose out on it as well as other extracurricular activities~ music, dance, chess, stem-activities, the list is endless. Not that being ‘driven’ as an innate trait is bad, of course it’s good to be focused and hardworking, and there’s plenty of that around here too, but mostly it seems like a rather overly driven culture here and the actual driving exemplifies the mental and emotional aspects. My older son is in middle school which does not have bus services for the kids that live within a mile or maybe a mile and a half, and they say it’s because those kids can easily walk or bike to school. OK, I absolutely agree that they can indeed walk or bike that far, my earlier posts attest to that here and here, but the thing is, no one actually lets their kid do that. Everyone drives their child to school and the traffic could rival a boy band concert at an all girls’ high school, and yet parents still prefer to put up with the frustration of sitting in traffic, and planning their mornings and afternoons around drop off and pick-up times that take a ridiculous amount of time rather than have their kid walk or bike. It just isn’t done. So, how do you turn around a cultural norm like that? Or should the school accept the fact that they could get a handle on their traffic mess, and it is a problem about which we get regular emails so it’s definitely an issue, by adding another bus or two and picking up most of the car riders? Or should they fight the cultural norm with setting up groups so kids can walk or bike together, perhaps get parent volunteers to escort the kids for the first week until they are used to it, somehow reward the students who show up on bike or by walking, or I don’t know….do something. Because the problem with just adding another bus or two is that we are branding that cultural norm into kids’ heads~ one does not walk or bike to a place that is less than a mile away. One takes a vehicle. Is that really what we want kids learning? Is that remotely healthy for any single person much less the earth as a whole? I don’t think so.
Another cultural norm on display at schools is the food. Oh dear. The cafeteria at my son’s middle school is packed with a dazzling array of junk food they can buy day in and day out~ donuts, chips as diverse as the languages spoken in the hallways, candy of all stripes, and sugar wrapped in a thousand disguises. The main offerings are mediocre at best (nutritionally, visually, taste-wise) and the salad bar offers unappetizing raw veggies which are probably as nutrient dense as the composition notebooks found in the kids’ backpacks. Again, is this how we want kids to learn to eat? What they expect from mealtimes is absolutely going to be influenced by the meals they have five days a week, even if the other mealtimes are different, they are still learning that the norm is to eat junk food. My friend from Israel was so surprised to find that here in the U.S. sandwiches routinely come with chips or fries. In her country sandwiches came with salad or a vegetable, or nothing. We don’t have to accept these norms just because they exist around us~ I often think of the Jane Austens and E.M.Forsters out there that have always written about the ridiculousness of their own cultural norms and eventually those norms did change. We can imprint our kids with healthy habits on a cultural level, or not. It just needs to be enough people’s priority I guess. It starts with recognizing the daily habits they we all partake in, sometimes mindlessly, sometimes joyfully, but all the time repetitively.
First of all I must say there are people way more experienced in this than I am. Teachers, librarians, tutors and specialists for example all are eager and able to help kids become better readers, or help them learn to read at all. I happen to have tutored in AmeriCorps for a year in the America Reads program, taught ESL to both children and adults for several years, and have had measurable success with both my own sons, so I thought I’d write this in case these tips help anyone else out. When my oldest was a baby and toddler he did not have the usual interest in books that most young children show. His attitude was, if he couldn’t rip it apart, what good was it? This frustrated me and I would not let it go, (did I mention I was an English major?) so, I started getting every book on vehicles that our library had, and then ordered them online through our library system, KCLS, which totally rocks by the way. His biggest interest was vehicles, and those books were at least holding him captivated for a few minutes at a time. As the library ran out of vehicle book options, I widened the search to anything construction, tool related, or worker-man related. His attention and interests grew. I was then able to get animal books, silly stories of all sorts, and anything with a superhero theme and he loved them. Soon, he would look at books, without tearing them to pieces, for as long as I would let him. He never was able to sit through a library story time, but a love for books was good enough for me. After learning to read he really resisted chapter books, so I started getting easy chapter books on CD for the car. Their favorite series at that time was The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne, and sure enough after listening to the books on CD they were the first chapter books my oldest picked out on his own to read at school, because they were familiar, and also because the books have some pictures in them which he found fascinating after hearing the CD versions and creating his own pictures in his head. From then on, he has been an avid reader and generally has several books going at once~ something I never could do myself but he seems to manage it fine. My younger son struggled a bit with learning to read in Kindergarten, much to my surprise because he started memorizing books at a very young age, which is the first sign of learning to read. Over the summer before first grade I dedicated time every day to teach him to read myself, and it worked. He started off first grade as a very good reader and has continued to improve. Here’s how I did it which is how we were taught to do it in AmeriCorps when I worked in a struggling school: First, let them read a short book that is easy for them. If they don’t know how to read at all, then this will be a book with one or two words per page with pictures to help. Next they read a slightly challenging book for them. This whole process should be around 20 minutes, and it should be fun. When they are finished you can give them a sticker or whatever motivates them. It is best to do this with a series that gets progressively more difficult, like BOB books or something like that. For example if they have already read books 1-5 of a series, and book 6 will be the ‘challenge’ book of the day, the student can pick any book, 1-5, to read as the ‘easy’ book for that day, then they read book 6 as the challenging book. This helps in memorizing words, which might sound funny b/c reading is often all about phonics when learning, but memorization is what makes fluent reading. You aren’t sounding out every s-i-n-g-l–e word of this, for example, I hope. Guessing is also a valid technique that one should not discourage. If the picture shows a dog going through a door and the child reads dog as door, that’s a good mistake, not something to freak out about (which I’ve seen a fair number of well-intentioned people do~ “Your just guessing! Don’t guess!”) because we have a lot of weird words in the English language and guessing is something that helps figure out some of those crazy words, like night, laugh, have and cough to name but a few. We continue to listen to books on CD in the car, and one reason is that it focuses the kids’ attention on something other than each other, which if you have more than one child you know exactly what I mean. (Poke, poke, he’s on my side! etc.) A friend got in the car the other day while we were listening to something and she remarked, “It’s so quiet!” and I promise you that is not a statement often heard around my kids. The books on CD do serve another purpose besides peace-keeping though, and that is to introduce harder books to the boys than they would normally pick out on their own. We have listened to the whole Harry Potter series (as my older son also read them) and also classics like the Narnia books and Treasure Island. This continues to be a good way for the boys to feel out a book or an author and decide if they want to then read the same book, the next in the series, or maybe not at all. That goes for the books I read at night to them also. Often my older son will continue to read the same author after I have finished a book, while my younger son still tends to pick short chapter books that can be read in one sitting. Lastly, I get them all kinds of books from the library that I think they might like, even if they aren’t exactly something that is great literature. It’s more important they like reading in my opinion, so I get them books to make them laugh or are interesting to them, and I get the good literature in them by reading aloud or books on CD. So, those are my reading tips~ what are yours?