Do We Have to Wear a Mask? A Poem

As told to me by children.

“Do We Have to Wear a Mask?”

“Do we have to wear a mask when we go back to school?”

“The world is filled with germs”.

“Stay home!”

“If we go outside we will die.”

“You can’t see the germs with a magnifying glass!”

“You can’t see it with a microscope or even a telescope either.”

“How will we eat our lunch if we have masks on?! That’s so silly!”

“Do you want to see my mask?”

“I had to put it on when people came too close!”

“Our president is trying to kill us! He told us to drink chemicals.”

“When the germs go away you can come to my house for a playdate!”

“When the germs are gone you can come to my house, too.”

Moment of silence.

“Wait, will the germs ever go away?”

The germs have always been here. Good and bad ones. Like humans.

“You can can wear a mask and stay far away from me!”

“You can’t wear my mask and I can’t wear your mask.”

Moment of silence. 

Yes, we have to wear a mask.

We’re really good at this.

We always caught our coughs and our sneezes in our elbows disguised as capes.

Catch it in your cape don’t let it escape.

We always washed our hands and sang Happy Birthday simultaneously.

Now, we have another accessory of our superhero way of being.

A mask. It goes well with our capes everyone.

What Does Your Happiness Look Like?

Carpe Diem, friends. Recently, my college students wrote about a Ted Talk and also chose an article that casts doubt on it. A student chose one about happiness.

After the presentation I asked them, “What does your happiness look like?” My student from Catalonia asked me what mine looks like and told me that I should have a blog all about life especially social revolutions and happiness. I thought of John Lennon and then it got me thinking about my happiness and the moments when I’m really happy.

So what does my happiness look like? 

I told my students: “Mine looks like a plastic chair, really any chair or even the ground anywhere in the sunshine, lounging with a pile of books at my feet.”

Then I remembered when I visited my hometown after many years, I pulled out a plastic chair and books, sat in the sun and I saw my neighbor Frank.

When he saw me in my sister’s backyard doing that, he smiled and said, “I haven’t seen you since high school! And, you still love that. “It’s true and another fun fact is that I also love-love-love the little things like watching ants and wondering if a raindrop can be smaller than a mouse’s fingertips? Shout out to the poet ee cummings.

Another source where my happiness grows from is the kind of happiness working, growing and learning with children as they remind us of the small things. Each and every single day. They remind me to Live Life to the Fullest. To be in the moment. To remember that it is a process. We are all in a process of becoming. When we think we know, we have no idea.

When I was around 8 years old, my father gave me a book after he got out jail entitled: Live Each Day to the Fullest featured here in the image and that is exactly what I plan on and am doing.

The Art of Saying Goodbye

Would you give your most precious belongings to a stranger?

I’m not sure what you care about but think about it. Think about something you care a lot about and wonder whether or not you would give it away freely or with hesitation. Would you give a stranger your mother’s ring? Would you give your car? Would you give your cellphone?

Now imagine what that may feel like for a family when they arrive to a classroom or school for the first time where their child will be going. 
It’s not easy. Our families need hugs the most. During the day, when our children say they miss their loved ones we often remind our children that no matter what they are always in their hearts. I used to say no matter what they will always be back but a part of me feels like that is a lie. Because I remember when my mother didn’t come back. I remember the day my mother died.

Now I say, no matter what they are always in your heart. No matter what. It’s never really a goodbye. And, a great educator and now friend from Nigeria said, “We meet to part and part to meet.” It’s never really a goodbye. She had a finesse and way of saying goodbye without ever saying bye. In that moment, she spoke to and educated not my head but my heart and spirit. I pay that kind of thing forward. With love+light+hugs.

Lots of them.

This Chair is Just Right

2016. In the words of Sister Souljah: It was the Coldest Winter Ever. It was around Christmas time. And, in the words of the character Goldilocks in The Three Bears, the Chair featured in the image, was and still is just right.

Around this time, I ended a 13 year relationship with someone who I thought was the love of my life. It felt like someone died. I experienced death before. My mom. My god mother. My dad. That kind of pain never goes away.

I was going through it. I was healing and having epiphones and growing stronger mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually: all of me. 

I got a call from my sister. She said, “I have a surprise for you.” I was planning to go home for the holidays and sleep over my sisters. It was awhile since I did that. When I arrived to her house that winter, it was cold outside and inside myself. I was really sad and depleted. I felt empty. I felt cold. And, no one even noticed.

She said, “I was going to wait until Christmas but do you want your surprise now?” We are so similar when it comes to surprises, I thought. I can’t wait either to give someone their surprise or gift. I said, “Yes!” She left to get the surprise. 

She walked back into the room with a painted chair. She had an artist paint a chair for me. It said: “Ms. Jill” and it was soooooo incredible and colorful that I couldn’t speak. It even had a rainbow. A symbol as a promise for me. This meant the world to me. I swallowed. I stared at her table.

I looked more closely at her table and the empty chairs around it. I cried. I noticed that a chair was missing from it. I noticed how the chair she had painted for me was from her table. She had 3 out of 4 chairs left. 

I took a d e e p breath. I was full of gratitude that I have someone like this in my life. We talk about who sits at our tables, who no longer fills the empty chairs and spaces, who breaks our chairs like in that Three Bears Story but what about when a person takes a chair from their own table and gives it away. It is a reminder of who was standing with you all along. Chair or no chair. Table or no table. 

I am full of gratitude. Of light. Of love. Of all of the above. None of these material possessions we can take with us when we pass on from this physical realm. But that kind of thing, most of all, that kind of love lives on even when we die

Image result for poem rumi guest

The Only Thing We Should Scream Into the World Is Love

It’s true. Yelling or dwelling on something you have no control over is wreckless and at best, pointless. We do not have control over anything really. What we do have control over is how we respond. Start each day asking: “How do I want others to feel?” Then act accordingly.

Love. Scream it. Live it. Be it. Love, love.

Happy Valentines Day! xo With love, lots of it.

Don’t Draw on the Table and Don’t Draw on the Walls

A child said, “Look, she’s drawing on the table!” I noticed she was in fact drawing on the table. I also noticed she was not drawing on the table in a destructive way but she was drawing on the table in a figuring something out kind of way. She drew the colors of the rainbow on one side out of order and on the other in order. 

I looked. I peered over. I knelt down and asked her why. She said, “I’m trying to figure out the pattern of the rainbow. The order of it.” I smiled. I said, “Artists do that. Some need to visually see it and play around with the color. Next time use scraps of paper to experiment with color. I handed her some paper and she started drawing and drawing lines and lines as she sorted out and ordered the colors of the rainbow line by line. All on her own initiative.

After she drew arches and created each part of the rainbow from red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. 

She smiled. She took out tape and hung up her rainbow. 

The process was amazing. I was a fly on the wall for a moment. 

Look at what happens when we simply don’t say “Don’t draw on the table!” Look what happens when we ask higher level thinking questions and wonder with children. Amazing work and “play” happens creatively, constructively coming from the child’s own being. 

Beautiful. In the words of Langston Hughes “It’s beautiful and ugly too.” The process. When we give space, time and a lot of understanding — a lot of magic happens.

What’s the Magic Word?

You know how usually when we want children to say please and thank you, we may say something like, “What’s the magic word?”

Well, this open ended question was recently responded with “Abracadabra”. We have been reading stories about magic so this response definitely makes sense. It made me smile.

While thinking deeply, I was super proud of our child in that moment. You know the stories entitled: Abiyoyo, Cinderella and Winnie the Witch? We have been exploring magic. Well in Winnie the Witch, Winnie the Witch says the magical words “Abracadabra!” to turn her cat many different colors and it disappears. And, her spell works. Every. Single. Time. So why wouldn’t my student (when asked the magic word) respond with abracadabra?! haha

The connections, synapses in the brain, schema and all of that building (and literal sense meaning making) shown in that one phrase!

Preschoolers make so many connections way more than in a lifetime. Let’s listen, really listen for it. Here are the facts: The little grey cells making up your mind are mostly neurons. There are 100 billion right now in your head! With over a 1,000 TRILLION connections aka synapse, in your brain, there are more transmission pathways in your head than there are atoms in the universe! Think about this: The number of synapses peaks in early childhood, so the average three year old has ten times as many as the average adult.

Later in the week, as I observed some children “Boiling eggs” while playing family,  I saw a child’s face go perplexed for a moment and he said, “My blood is boiling!” He smiled and said, “You know that means? I’m really angry!” He played with the words as he said it. Then he said, “But it’s not my blood but my eggs are boiling!” Next time I’m angry I’m going to say: my eggs are boiling!!” haha Some tips for observing and engaging with children as they build (and we build and make meaning of our world) reciprocally together.

How to engage with children…

1. Listen

2. Be present

3. Be playful

4. Be yourself…your best self

5. Throw whatever you thought you knew out the window…children have a way of proving theories and what we thought we knew wrong. When we think we know, we have no idea! Remember that.

Hence, why theorists are theorists. They are theories. Theories for a reason, a season and a moment until someone else comes along and proves it wrong.

We evolve and we change. Just like the seasons.

Most of all, just like our children, we learn so much about ourselves. When we listen ; they show and share what they need.

During this process, we also learn what we need for ourselves. That’s where the real magic happens. The biggest gift we give is of ourselves.

P.s. Thank you Lao Tzu and Picasso.

We All Die or Do We?

To Die or Not to Die?

That is the question.

“We all die and go to Heaven.”

“We become angels when we die.”

“No we don’t.”
“Yes we do.”
“No we don’t.”
“Yes, we do.”
“All of us die. We turn into angels. And, we go to Heaven!”
A metal pail is thrown.
“We DON’T DIE.” 
“Yes, we do!”
“My Mom said we do. We all die and go to Heaven.”
We are born and we die. 
Or do we?
Our preschool classroom has me question everything about our life and spiritual existence.
Life is death and death is life.
C’est le vie. C’est la mort.

Do we ever really die?

That is the real question.

Moving Canvas

I love a good story.
During my breaks from teaching I travel around the country and I make up stories from my brain. I do this free of charge because I love a good story. When I arrive at the schools ranging from PreK-3rd grade without any books, children stare in disbelief because they are thinking “story time” will be with “books”. I mean right, shouldn’t it be? Duh. But no, I look at them and say, “You won’t believe this, I came all the way here and I forgot my booksBut I started thinking about where books come from?”
Then we talk about our theories of where books come from and answers range widely from an amazon box left on their front porch to a library. We narrow our theories and thinking all the way down to a computer and even further to paper. I ask, “Where do books come from before the paper?” Everyone stares. I point to my brain aka my nugget and mention “our brain”. I tell them I have a backup plan and I’m actually going to make up stories from my brain.
I make up several freestyle ones and some memorized. After, children are invited to make up their very own and/or illustrate my stories (or their own).
I am driven with this crazy idea that I want children to think and to create. I want our children to be inspired and see themselves as authors and illustrators. I also want them to see themselves represented in the story lines.  I want them to draw their characters too. Most often it represents who they are and what they care about.
When children care about the story, the rest handles itself.
*Author’s note: I purposely moved the words to the opposite side.* 


Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. @jill.telford

Calling on Harold and His Purple Crayon

“Every line means something.”— Basquiat

Every child. Every human being is different. Each of us mean something just like every line does that Basquait was referring to. To draw a line in the sand due to these differences is indeed unfortunate. We are all a genius.  Genius in Latin literally means to give birth to. If we are all born a genius then how do we remain one as we grow over a human life span?

It’s really simple. It is all about tapping into who we are meant to be at our core. Being exposed to an open ended process way of being and becoming is as much vital for productivity as it is for the soul. How do we do this? How do we focus on the process and not the resulting product? Especially when we are saturated in a product driven world.

The following is what I’ve asked the universe for. And, I’m not going to ask for it again or repeat myself because I believe my deepest desire will manifest. I am already receiving and visualizing it into existence. Here is my vision:

*We take lessons right out of the playbook from a real life practicing developmentally appropriate preschool class room (school) and push it up as a model for our learners from birth through death. Early Childhood Education is from 0 to 8 — and birth through death when you deeply think about it. Learning in itself is for a lifetime. “Life-long learning” isn’t called that for nothing. Just google Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist and see how she rebuilt her brain with the help of her mother who was a former preschool teacher. You can also check out her TED talk here:

This leads me to ask: How are our children learning? How are adults learning? How is our elderly learning? What is our quality of life looking like?

For those who know me — they know I do NOT play Bingo so if they see me in a care home 60–70 years from now and I am there playing Bingo as a recreational activity (unless I grew to love Bingo somehow over the next 60 years)— I know on a soul level they would know that I’d much rather be jamming out to an old school R&B 90’s album or Motown (shout-out to the Temptations)preferably while also being outside in nature. With technology — that can happen. Golly, at least open a window!

When I visited a dear friend in a nursing home who had early onset dementia, he was unresponsive and disconnected. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to use the lower level of my brain and fight for his rights or flee and cry. But I did the only thing I knew how to do. I put early childhood education into practice as I met him right where he was to help him. I played some Motown and gospel songs from my phone. I knew he used to listen to that and rightfully should still be jamming out to it. He smiled. He bobbed. A tear rolled down his face. I got chills.

The next visit, I brought baby dolls, stress balls, scented play-dough. He rocked the baby. He squeezed the play-dough. He squeezed the stress-ball. He didn’t want to let any of these items go. He held the baby as though it were real and he started  rocking and humming a song. It reaffirmed that we are so connected to real life experiences. It’s the little things. — He is a father. His children are my age now but his connection to being a father and how he cared for them revealed themselves in the most intimate ways through intentional play. So yes boys and men hold baby dolls!

I also see this manifest itself in the college class I teach in the evening as well. Humans are craving something real and three dimensional. Students care about activities ranging from meaningful field trips, bringing in a meaningful object to write and talk about, having class outside to asking how are we feeling and even breathing together. Slowing down to learn, really learn and care. They want something that they can apply to their real lives. I find that as a teacher and learner when you care — the rest handles itself.

I deeply ask and reflect on how we are being developmentally and appropriately challenged? What is our approach to education? How are we approaching life? How are we taking care of ourselves and each other? Are we doing things just to do it and check it off our list or are we tasting the process? Are we experiencing life and being present?

Are we focused on the product? Or are we enjoying it as Harold did with his purple crayon (I’m guessing purple is his favorite color?) What is your children’s favorite colors? Who are they? What is yours? Working with children and families I face myself and ask myself who I am and who I am becoming. I draw on experience and reflect deeply about our practice and approach. Speaking of “drawing” — a pun very much intended.

Children often draw lines. For example, something like a star and we wonder why it doesn’t look like how we’ve been drawing stars for the past 100 plus years — but that’s where the magic lies. See when you really look at and study a Star and think like an astronomer or the five year old in your classroom — you really gaze and observe the many kinds of stars.

We can never recreate a drawing a child draws. It is intuitive. It is real. It is courageous. I look at the sky and see so many stars dim ones, bright ones and “connected dots” constellations. Children help me to connect the dots of our lives. For that, I am thankful.

We must arrive, see, smell, hear, taste, draw, talk, act, walk, create, shine, dim, fall, feel and die — like a star. Color outside the lines — like Harold. Draw your own lines — I wouldn’t suggest on the walls or floors though — unless BIG paper is covering it.

“Every line means [truly and infinitely] something.” — Basquait. That meaningful line like Harold’s crayon connects every single one of us. Keep connecting those dots to make this world better than how we found it and even better when we leave it behind.

Happy drawing and creating — here’s to you and our world.