Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Compassion for Kids

My internet friend, Nicole Weaver, recently sent me a pdf of her book, My Birthday is September Eleven and other short stories. It is about children who must deal with serious problems like natural disasters and prejudice and some of their stories are heart wrenching. While the book is fiction, I know a lot of it is based on things the author and people close to her have actually experienced.
But every story has a positive ending and the book will inspire readers to reach out and help others, as characters in the stories did.
While some children may find the stories disturbing, that's not necessarily a bad thing because it will help them develop compassion for others. There is a "bad word" in one story but it's included because it shows what the main character must deal with.
People anywhere from grade school through adulthood who read this book are likely to be inspired to make a difference in the world.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sibling Rivalry Help

When my daughter was young I had a family daycare home, which I operated like a small preschool. But once I had a neighbor who was in the Navy and only got two weeks of maternity leave, but the base childcare wouldn't accept babies younger than three months. Because she was desperate I agreed to care for the baby.
To my surprise, the other kids were all jealous of the baby, although they had never seemed jealous of each other. When I asked them about it they said I loved the baby more than I loved them. I assured them I didn't and asked what made them think so.
They couldn't answer.
Finally one articulate little boy said I loved the baby more than I loved them because I hugged it all the time. All the others agreed.
I explained that when I held the baby in my arms I wasn't hugging it. Since the baby couldn't walk or crawl it couldn't get from one place to another without being carried and because it couldn't eat or drink by itself I had to hold it to give it a bottle.
All the kids relaxed immediately and there was never another sign that they were jealous of the baby.
Whenever there's a new baby in a family maybe parents should explain the same thing to their other little ones. Although some sibling rivalry is inevitable, that might help keep it to a minimum.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


My grandfather, born in San Francisco in the 1870s, really thought minstrel shows gave accurate depictions of African Americans since those were the only "black" people he'd ever seen.
Now that so many people are watching or reading The Help the topic of prejudice often comes up in conversations. Back in the 1960s many of us fought to eliminate prejudice against racial minorities and it became unacceptable to make fun of people who had long been the subject of humor.
For some reason a lot of what is considered funny in our culture involves ridiculing people, so when the entertainment industry couldn't joke about Jewish people being stingy, black people being stupid, or any of the other ethnic stereotypes they'd used for years what could they do?
They began making fun of the majority and have continued doing so for nearly 40 years. For example, Protestants are often portrayed by the media as ignorant rednecks and Catholics as members of the Mafia.
Just as many people in the past had their ideas about people different from themselves shaped by comedy, I'm afraid that is happening again in our time.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What Goes Around Comes Around

In the olden days when my grandmothers were young, women wore long dresses with full skirts, long sleeves, and corsets to make their waists as small as possible. (And how did they stand cooking over fires on hot days dressed like that?) Men usually wore suits and ties unless they were doing physical work, and most had beards and mustaches.
In the 1920s the 'modern' generation wore dresses with shorter skirts and no waistlines. Men became clean shaven and women cut their hair short and got permanent waves. That was my mother's generation.
When I was a kid we went back to full skirts with petticoats and wide belts. While our fashionable clothes weren't as long and restrictive as those in our grandparents' day, we valued the old fashioned look. Things worn in the previous century like cowboy gear and coonskin hats also became popular. For a while, some boys even wore Mohawk hairdos, though most had crew cuts and lots of girls still got perms.
Then came the hippie generation with men growing long hair and facial hair again. For the first time (probably because of mini skirts) women and girls could wear pants to work and school. Some styles imitated things from other cultures.
Today the grunge look is in, and my grandparents would be horrified to see the body parts freely displayed in public by both sexes.
But all things change and I'm guessing that the new generation will swing the other way.
While spiked hair is not uncommon and I've seen a few young teens wearing wide belts and full skirts, that doesn't mean they'll go back to clothes like we had in the 1950s. I doubt that women will ever return to wearing skirts and dresses all the time, but perhaps the kind worn in the middle ages will become popular when they want to dress nicely. Maybe clothing will imitate a sci-fi or fantasy world. Or perhaps togas, sarongs or kimonos will become the norm.
It will be interesting to see what's in style ten or 15 years from now, but it's certain to be different from what young people wear today..

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Changing Clothes

When I was a kid, way back in ancient history, people didn't have automatic washing machines. The electric ones available then took a long time to use and every item had to be put through the ringer by hand and hung on a line to dry. Some people took dirty clothes to a laundry, but it would take a week before they were clean and ready to be picked up. And, since fabrics like polyester hadn't been invented yet, everything had to be ironed before it was fit to be worn in public.
For that reason, kids usually wore their school clothes for at least two days.
Girls had to wear dresses or skirts to school, of course. After school we'd change to our play clothes, and those usually included jeans, slacks, or pedal pushers and a tee-shirt. Boys, too, would change out of their nice school clothes every afternoon and put on jeans for play. We'd wear the same set of play clothes all week.
We also had some nice clothes for dressy occasions like church, birthday parties, and holidays. Usually girls would have organdy dresses for warm weather and velveteen or taffeta ones for the colder months and boys would wear suits and white shirts. They also wore neckties, though the ones for kids were already tied and held on with elastic that went under the shirt collar.
Girls always wore slips with skirts or dresses and it was humiliating to have anyone see part of them. There were several code phrases like "It's snowing down south" to subtly let a friend know her slip was showing so she could rush to the bathroom and pull it up.
And if anybody saw our underwear we'd almost die of embarrassment because someone would be sure to call out, "I see London, I see France, I see somebody's underpants."
Now young people walk around with their underwear showing all the time on purpose.
I wonder what would happen if all us older folks were to shout that chant and point to them every time we saw those no longer private garments in public.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

More About Learning to Read

One of my books, Signs of Trouble, can be helpful in teaching kids to read. Although the text is at second grade reading level and the book is intended to be read aloud to younger kids, it contains some helpful activities at the end that can be used with very young children.
The story is about kids who get separated from their group on a field trip to a shopping mall where the class was supposed to recognize signs they had studied in school. My preschool classes went on field trips around the neighborhood to find familiar signs, and a special education class I worked with did the same thing so I know that method helps.
Besides being an exciting story and helping children understand others who have special needs, the activities in Signs of Trouble can help kids learn to read. And, since reading to children often is the most important thing they can do to help them become fluent readers, I hope lots of parents will read this book to their kids.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More On Teaching Reading

I once read about a study (wish I'd kept the reference) where scientists tried to determine what method of reading instruction worked best. They interviewed top-performing students from the most respected universities in America and, to their surprise, discovered the methods of teaching reading made no difference at all. The students had been taught by many different methods and still did well.
However there was one thing they all had in common. When they were little kids their parents had read to them a lot.
The single most important thing parents can do to help their children become good readers is to spend at least 20 minutes every day reading to them, starting when the kids are tiny tots. It helps to point to each word as it's spoken, but that isn't nearly as important as sharing the experience of the stories and books.
Of course there's no rule saying reading time must be exactly twenty minutes long. If there's only time to squeeze in ten minutes on some days, that's better than nothing. And if children keep begging for more and story time goes on for 40 minutes without conflicting with things like bedtime, that's fine, too. But parents should read to their kids every day until the children are able to read by themselves and no longer interested in being read to.
Some kids who read fluently still enjoy hearing their parents read to them and may like reading out loud to their parents.
And reading to kids should start as early as possible. Although they can't understand the words, most infants enjoy being held and hearing their parents' voices read out loud to them for a few minutes every day.
Even kids with learning disabilities may do better than they would have otherwise if they were read to by their parents when they were young.
Of course it also helps develop reading skills if teachers, older siblings, and child-care providers read to young children, but the parent-child bond is strengthened by sharing that special time and that emotional aspect helps motivate kids to learn to read.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Teaching Reading

As I mentioned in the last post, children are ready to read at different ages and trying to teach them too early does more harm than good. But here's a method I used that allowed many young children to start reading while not pressuring the others.
Each day when the preschoolers I taught lay down for naps I'd play a story tape followed by a phonics record that repeated the letter sounds. (Since I used tapes and records you can tell that was long ago.) Then I'd play quiet music as they drifted off to sleep.
Every morning at Circle Time I'd spend a few minutes showing them the letter of the day and telling them the the short vowel or hard consonant sound it made. Then I'd tell each child how their name would be pronounced if it started with that letter or had it in the first syllable. For example, if the letter of the day was F I might tell a kid named Dan, "If your name started with F it would be Fan." If the letter of the day was E I'd tell that child his name would be "Den."
I'd congratulate those who did have names starting with the letter of the day. That's all the actual reading instruction I'd give.
And, of course, I read to the kids a lot, sometimes using big books and tracing my finger beneath the words as I read. I'd also let the children choose books they wanted me to read to them.
Quite a few of my students started reading spontaneously when they were about four years old and a few did so earlier. I hope the method also helped the ones who weren't yet ready to learn reading in Preschool to do it when they got to 'big kid school.'