Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gardening With Kids

I'm not much of a gardener, though I'm learning. But even the simplest gardening can be fun and educational for children.
Once when I was helping in a Kindergarten class the students dug up carrots they had planted in the yard and cared for. They were absolutely amazed to see the results from the tiny seeds.
As a child I loved eating the peas from our garden and my grandson was proud to dig up potatoes from our yard and help pick zucchini from the vines.
Besides helping children learn about nature and science, letting them plant, care for and harvest vegetables can have another advantage. Sometimes picky eaters who don't like veggies are willing to eat those they've grown or helped to grow themselves.
Of course vegetables are not the only kind of plants in gardens. Watching seeds or bulbs develop into flowering plants can also be exciting for kids. And, to be honest, gardening can be a good excuse for children to play in the dirt.
In urban areas many people don't have yards, but container gardening on a deck or rooftop or even using flower pots can help children learn about how plants grow.
Where I live, in the Sierra foothills of northern California, it's pouring rain today and it won't be time to plant gardens for quite a while. But there are lots of areas where it actually feels like Spring.
Wherever you live, if you have children it's a good idea to let them experience the joys of watching plants develop.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wolf Hybrids

I understand many people are afraid of wolf hybrids, dogs that are half or even part wolf. Often shelters must euthanize them because nobody will adopt them.
But I once knew a wolf hybrid who was one of the sweetest and smartest dogs I've ever met. Her name was Sheba.
Back in the early 1970s when I worked at California School for the Deaf many of the children who lived in the dormitories never got to go home except when the school was closed for long breaks. For that reason it was decided that staff members would be allowed to bring their own dogs to work so the children could have experience with animals. Sheba was one of those dogs.
My puppy, Brenda, was another.
Brenda had been born in a Kansas puppy mill where she was kept in a small cage, then shipped to California. She was deaf. My husband and I got her from the SPCA when she was about six months old. They had rescued her after she was abused by her owner when she didn't obey spoken commands.
Brenda was smart, but had no idea how to be a dog until Sheba took her under her wing.
Every day when the two dogs were on the playground Sheba taught Brenda how a dog should behave. For example, she showed her how to fetch balls thrown by the students.
Before long Brenda acted like a normal dog and both she and Sheba loved playing with the deaf children and being petted.
Sheba proved to me that wolf hybrids can be excellent pets.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wonder Struck

A friend suggested I read WonderStruck by Brian Selznick because it involves deafness. Since I worked at California School for the Deaf, married a Sign Language interpreter and raised three Deaf foster kids that's a topic I care about. I loved Selznick's previous book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret so I was eager to read the newer one.
WonderStruck was every bit as good as I had hoped it would be. The creative combination of two kids' stories, one told in words and the other in pictures, worked amazingly well.
The boy, Ben, was deaf in one ear and lost his hearing in the other ear as the story progressed. The girl, Rose, was never able to hear, but that doesn't become obvious for a while. Selznick does a masterful job of letting readers know some of the challenges Deaf kids had to face, such as being institutionalized and forbidden to use Sign Language, in the past.
But that's only one aspect of this exciting book.
Both kids, who live fifty years apart, must deal with finding their ways in the world alone and both are drawn into the mysterious and amazing museum where their stories intertwine in a surprising way.
I wouldn't call this book a graphic novel because those are usually drawn more like cartoons and Selznick's illustrations are beautiful art, most of them taking an entire spread of two pages. They make the book thick, but it's a fairly quick read since only about half the pages are text.
Brian Selznick is obviously a multitalented, creative thinker and I recommend this book highly.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vernal Equinox

Unlike some divisions of time like hours, minutes, seconds, and weeks, the seasons are actually determined by nature. The Vernal Equinox is when the sun crosses the equator, making hours of day and night equal - at least in some parts of the world. I'm not sure that actually happens in places like Antarctica and at the North Pole.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the first day of Spring. This is the season when flowers are supposed to bloom, the sky should be blue, and birds and butterflies should be seen flying around. But where I live, in the Sierra foothills of Northern California, it seems that Winter has just arrived. We had the first real snowfall last week. But we know things will warm up.
Other parts of the planet have had different kinds of weather, but the movement of the sun controls the seasons for all of us.
Soon people in Australia and Brazil will be harvesting crops and preparing for cold weather while those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will be putting away our sweaters and coats and planting things in our gardens.
What's the weather like where you live?
There are pleasant and unpleasant things about every season. Which season do you like best?

Saturday, March 17, 2012


My mother used to call me "little mother of all the world" because I was always kind to every kind of creature, including worms. I guess I still am.
If I see poor little earthworms stranded on a sidewalk or street after a rainstorm I usually stop and put them back in the nearest yard or flower bed. After all, they help enrich the soil and it isn't their fault they're slimy.
When a retired pastor I know found out I rescue worms he told me, "On the day of judgement all the worms will rise up and praise your name." (Thanks Rev. Earl.) Now that's an interesting image!
My newest book, Slime & All, even has a giant, talking worm as the main character.
Maybe I should become known as Worm Woman.
But am I really unusual to like earthworms? What about you? Do you like worms, hate them, or ignore them?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dream Family

When I was a kid, maybe in my early teens, sometimes I'd lay awake at night daydreaming about my life as an adult. I wanted to be a wife, a writer and a mother, all of which I did achieve, though none quite as I had imagined.
In my youthful dreams I also designed an ideal modern house, town and planned my perfect family to live there. I decided to have a son named Robert and three daughters who would be named Anastasia Joy, Christine Elizabeth and Evelyn Ruth.
Well, I do have a son-in-law named Robert, but none of the other plans even came close. My husband and I had one birth daughter and three foster sons with special needs and raised them in a Victorian house.
But my real life was undoubtably preferable to the one I had imagined.
Sometimes we're better off when our dreams don't come true. Are there any dreams you're glad didn't happen?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Traffic Lights

In this high-tech world I'm amazed at the number of people who don't know how to use the buttons on traffic lights when they want to cross a street.
Oh, yes, they push the buttons. Then they push them again, and again, and again. I've seen dozens of people do that and get more and more irritated when the "Walk" light didn't appear at their command.
Traffic lights are programmed to change at certain intervals, and pushing the button won't make vehicles stop for the convenience of a pedestrian. Instead, it will make the "Walk" light appear at the appropriate and safe time in the sequence, usually after the left-turn light finishes sending cars through the crosswalk and vehicles going the same direction as the pedestrian get the green light.
No matter when someone pushes the button, the signals will change when they're supposed to do so.
It's only necessary to push the button once.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


A few days ago I blogged about the wonders of becoming an excellent reader and getting carried away into a book. That's one way we use our imaginations.
A while back I mentioned the dangers limiting the freedom of today's kids. Unfortunately protecting children from danger can also stifle their imaginations.
Back when kids could go out and play with other children without adult supervision they often pretended to be various sorts of characters and acted out stories until they were well into their grammar school years. It wasn't unusual for fifth graders to join with other kids of all ages and interact as pirates, princesses, cowboys, dragons, or space explorers.
However now children are constantly with others about the same age and under adult supervision. With grownups always watching, most kids stop acting out stories they make up and pretending to be fictional characters by first grade. Instead they play organized games when they're outside together.
Modern devices like cellphone apps do allow them access to imaginary worlds, but the games and interactive videos allow only limited possibilities. At least if they discover the joys of reading and immerse themselves in fiction books they can still use their imaginations.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Excellent Reading

Imagine you're a kid sitting in the family room watching a movie on TV while your mother is cooking and chatting on the phone and the dog is poking your leg, wanting some attention. Your sister, who was texting while sitting next to you, asks about something she missed when the commercials come on. You enjoy the movie in spite of all the background activity, but you're always aware of what's going on around you at some level.
Now imagine you're the same kid watching a movie in a theater and everyone else is silently watching, too. You're so enhanced by the plot you hardly notice the smell of popcorn.
That's like the difference between being a good reader and an excellent one.
Kids may be able to comfortably read and understand everything required to get good grades in school, but if they don't read for pleasure they probably aren't excellent readers.
Excellent readers get carried away into fictional worlds and tune out everything going on around them.
Of course there are things like learning disabilities, learning to read in a second language, or vision problems that make reading difficult but lots of kids who could be excellent readers aren't because they've never experienced the joy of getting lost in a book. If other people in their family only read for information and the kids think of reading as a task they won't learn to love it.
It can help kids become excellent readers to read to them a lot when they're young, let them see their parents read for pleasure instead of watching TV, and have books they're likely to enjoy available. The reading levels of the books should neither be too difficult, nor easy enough to be boring.
Then when the kids have become good readers they should be encouraged, but not required, to read for an extended period without interruptions or background noise. That way they might experience what it's like to get carried into another world. If they experience it even once, the kids will probably want to do it again and again and they'll be excellent readers..