To Die or Not to Die?
That is the question.
“We become angels when we die.”
Do we ever really die?
That is the real question.
The moment we walked in the door questioning eyes were on us: “Who are you?” my coaches asked my brother in law and father figure as he questioned them as to why I wasn’t getting any playtime on the basketball team. My brother is black and I am white based on societal descriptions. He always stood up for me and had my back. From elementary through high school. We would get side way kinds of stares by people who weren’t exposed to different kinds of families.
My mother died when I was turning 10. My (I think biological father) was incarcerated off and on. I was raised by my sister and my brother in law. We were rare and uniquely different. Looking back and reflecting on my upbringing, I realize just how thankful I am. I was exposed to what children normally are not exposed to and as a result I am an eclectic kind of person. I watched and listened to shows, movies and music such as The Sopranos, Poetic Justice and The Streets is Watching. However, I always had someone present and there telling me someone made it or it was directed by someone. Someone made it up from their brain and it was inspired by real life events. I always had someone like my sister or brother in law telling me to cover my eyes during the racy parts.
I have so many memories from playing ball, driving around pretending to be on MTV Cribs to witnessing drug raids to people dying. This was my reality. So, I understand many walks of life. I was and am blessed to be surrounded by real, authentic type love. A rare kind of love that you cannot find. They never had to buy love or material possessions. Getting Chinese takeout, laughing, yelling and crying a lot, playing monopoly and playing ball was enough. It was my foundation of what a family is all about. Not perfect but perfect if you know what I mean.
As a grownup, I am working towards planting seeds where children will make a better life and ultimately a better world by reaching mutual understanding across cultures and perspectives. A world where people will know who each other is the moment they walk in the door. Questioning eyes will fade. The who are you will turn into I know who you are. A place where different families exist and it’s cool and unquestioned. People will stop and stare for how beautifully dynamic and powerful differences are. A place where it’s cool and dope to be different aesthetically, creatively and intellectually.
While sharing who we were during a writing class I teach during the evening, one of my grown up students who is a Dad mentioned his three year old daughter Shelly, who is having a not so good time in school. He said, “In fact, I am having a better time than Shelly and recognize the importance of hands on [non-sedentary] learning even as an adult.” Shelly’s teachers keep pushing her to write her name and to read. Shelly does not want to go to “school”. My student said he doesn’t care if she can spell her name or not. However, a lot of the families in the school’s culture have unrealistic expectations of their children and want them to spell and read by the magic number of 5. Where does this number come from?
Where do we get our ideas from? Why are we pushing our thoughts and our desires of what children should be able to do? We keep pushing for “readiness”. We keep comparing and contrasting children. We even compare and contrast ourselves. Mediocrity. Ludicrous.
Why? I hear it and listen to the uncertainty as a families voice and tone will tremble as they ask: “Should I be worried that my child is not drawing and writing like the kid who is?”
No, we have nothing to worry about. Play the song Don’t Worry About a Thing and channel Bob Marley folks. Each and every child (and you know this especially if you have siblings!) learn and progress at different stages during a lifespan. We need to let that happen and not force or push children when the interest may not be there. We only project our fears onto them. I model my evening class after our preschool class pushing the model of a Reggio and creative inspired way of learning and being for my grown up students too. They love it. People love to think. People love creativity and challenges NOT busy work. I’m not on this Earth to waste anyone’s time including my own. Even when people don’t think they like thinking: they do. We ask questions, work together, draw, make mistakes, go into the community and most of all think creatively. The box doesn’t even exist in our classroom. From preschool through death as educators, families, communities we need to destroy the box and rebuild something better together. One major take away from this blog is destroy the box.
More than ever before we are driven by data. Data kept in boxes. Unfortunately, it gives a fragmented and skewed view of our children’s abilities but is tied to…funding. Children who do not have a voice are left behind and so are amazing educators, families and communities. We are all connected. What happens in a classroom, community and family is immeasurable. Intuitively, we want what is best. Somehow we got lost in the sauce wanting our child to be the best as opposed to doing their best. This is not the purpose of life long learning. Making mistakes is what makes us. Failure and learning from it. Accidents happen. This is our purpose, truly. Why are we pushing children to read by the age of five when we know these skills take time from birth through third grade to develop? Anybody out there listening please this is an SOS! Help our children, families, educators and communities get this. Why are our politicians pushing jargon and buzz words without reading it for themselves?
Don’t knock at my door and ask for my vote and say, “I want every child to read by the age of five because I did”. This is ludicrous. Why are we saying how math and reading are so important but we are not reading about reading and math and HOW TO MAKE IT DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE for children. Here’s a buzz word that is misunderstood so read about it. It’s called PLAY. Playing to learn. We need to learn to play again grown ups. Check out www.naeyc.org. For Pete’s sake, just google the word play. I don’t want our children to read to read, I want them to read to understand. I want them to love and care about writing, drawing and reading and then the rest will handle itself.
Speaking of play don’t forget the 10th Annual Play Day: http://letsplayamerica.org/upcoming-events/
And speaking of reading awesome books by amazing authors go to: https://www.loc.gov/bookfest/ to check out when the National Book Festival is to meet your favorite and your children’s favorite authors!
Written with love. Lots of it!
Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford
While they say you can tell a lot about a country by how it treats it’s prisoners. I believe the same can be said for how it treats it’s children. How are our children learning? What is our investment in education? Where is the money going? What is our ROI on our current rate of investment? Students often hear: “Stand single file. Be quiet. Shh. Criss Cross Applesauce. Don’t talk. Listen and Speak. Look at me when I talk to you. You are detained in detention, suspended or expelled for not being in uniform or for saying the word fuck.” (Meanwhile, they heard it from somewhere and you know just how language incites us!)
Twenty five to life. Counting up the years it takes to complete both school or jail just as business people are counting up the seats of illiterate students in a third grade classroom to determine whether or not to put up another jail in the community. Thats right some use illiteracy rates to build and justify a jail. Jail versus school? Can you tell the difference between the two? We need to end the school to prison pipeline once and for all. I can throw statistic after statistic. I can get the latest data. I can show you the books. I can show you that expulsion and suspension DOES NOT WORK. Removing a student does not fix a problem a student made. Suspension and expulsion also does not give students a way to fix or redeem themselves. Moreover, why are we expelling and suspending anyway? What are the reasons? Rules or power struggles? What really works is mutual understanding or working to understand. It’s time to stop researching our children. It’s time to put action where our words are. It’s time to use gifts God gave us to work with our children not against them.
Intuitively, socially and emotionally we are letting our youth down. The Animal School Fable shows the unrealistic expectations we place on our students. And what can actually occur when we focus on our strengths. Curious about some of the lessons from the fable? http://www.leadgrowdevelop.com/lessons-learned-animal-school-fable-strengths-weaknesses-5minmotivation/
I was also reading a classic entitled The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and there is a part that got me deeply thinking about our approach and how children learn and respond to us.
Here are some tips to be your child’s champion #ECEwins and advocate for their learning style:
- Write a letter to your child’s new teacher/school describing who your child is and how they learn. Email or comment below for a sample letter.
- Show up and observe in the classroom
- Tour the schools and take your child with you
- Partner and work together
- If you don’t get into the place of choice then advocate for ideas not solely based on how you were raised or what “worked” for you but based on DAP (acronym for Developmentally Appropriate Practice) and research of what works for children
- Remember and repeat you were once a child too
- Children show us what they need so, let’s listen and respond accordingly
- Wake up and treat others how you want to be treated: be a role model
Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford
While there are many stories from preschool that resonate with me, none affect me more than being in the middle of our own classroom stories. The poem by Robert Fulghum illustrates it best:
All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.
These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
I learned these life lessons shared by Robert Fulghum even before Kindergarten. I learned these little life lessons in Head start where I started preschool. These are the same lessons that I now pass on in words and action almost two decades later in a preschool classroom and playground.
I work at being the kind of grown up I needed as I a child. Families do their best with what they know each and every generation. By walking, working and moving together we create a reciprocal relationship where the best kind of learning takes place: from one another.
Best of all, children rise up and pass it on. I was a child who rose up. Preschool changes trajectories. Preschool definitely changed mine. A group of people worked together with or without knowing the power of the early childhood education profession. Not to mention the power of tuning into Fred Rogers. http://www.fredrogerscenter.org/
However, that is for a whole other post. In the meantime, here are some of the lessons from Robert’s poem in real life action:
We share. We come up with questions and solutions. “When can I play with it?”, “Is there another one?” or “I’ll play, read or create something awesome in the meantime.”
We often play fair and when it doesn’t feel fair we talk about it. Racing faster than cheetahs teaches us a lot on the playground. “Is it fair to run before finishing the sentence: “Ready steady, go” or “On your marks, get set, go!”
A game of tag teaches us gentle touches without having to say, “Don’t hit.” When frustrated we verbalize it. When we can’t we rip paper, pound and squeeze play dough, paint, hit a pillow, yell among so many more strategies.
When it comes to saying sorry, we go a bit deeper. We work to fix what we did and help our friends to feel better. We get to the root of the problem. “What happened?”, “Why”, “What can I do?” and “how?”
Our hands are very dry. You know why we keep lotion on standby.
We flush. When we don’t, we still flush. It’s called a courtesy flush. Because, we all forget sometimes.
Warm cookies are delicious especially when we followed the recipe but sometimes we go overboard with the amounts we shake in. We just can’t control our excitement for making these cookies right now! (Side note: Doesn’t have to even be cookies could be anything: play dough, Oobleck or just putting it together to see what happens as we wonder what will happen as we test out our theories). If children getting excited about mixing flour and water doesn’t remind you to appreciate and marvel at the little things, I don’t know what will.
Robert covers living a balanced life in the poem itself. If you don’t see living a balanced life in action at your child’s school or at your work then it’s time to find a new one. Living a balanced life looks like the bolded words below and STILL applies to grown ups.
“Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.”
We take our naps. We sprinkle magical sleeping sprinkle dust after reading a few stories and making some up from our brains. It works…every time.
Most of all, we sing each and everyday.
When walking up the sidewalk, we sing. We sing: “Stick together like peanut butter jelly.”We think about what else could be as sticky. We change the words to gum, play dough, tape, duct tape, hummus, yogurt, glue and the list of words never end. We hold hands. We look out for one another. We stick together. Not only do we watch out for traffic, we watch out for each other.
Jill Telford is an American artist, author, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found:
You hear this on the playground by a child. “My mom told me if they hit me I could hit them back!” When our children and youth are told this kind of advice: “If they hit you then hit them back” they are learning an eye for an eye. In the late great Rita Pierson’s voice: Can we hit someone back at work? If we hit someone at our job we will expect repercussions leading to termination. The advice children are given is confusing.
Children are in a process of becoming. Children are learning. Their brains are still growing and often they use the lower part of it. As adults we at times have a difficult time controlling our emotions in our brain. So, imagine this piece of advice in the hands of a 3 or 4 year old. Imagine it in the hands of an 8 or 9 year old. Imagine it in the hands of a 13-14 and so on year old. If we don’t use this advice then why are we teaching it to our children?
When we give this kind of advice then we are teaching children not to solve problems and work it out with one another. We are doing the extreme opposite and teaching them to solve problems with violence. Meet violence with more violence. This is the bottom layer of this piece of advice as you scratch away the multiple layers of it.
The best advice is to not hit someone back but to use phrases such as “Stop!” as a child raises one hand up. Modeling a non violent reaction is vital so that a child will not become a victim (or abuser) and empowered to stand up for their rights. Our voices are powerful. Words are powerful.
Educators, families and communities have the power to empower the voices of children so they stand up for their rights and wellbeing. Ultimately, this teaches children to advocate for themselves in non-violent ways in order to get their points across.
With the results of the election, holidays and inauguration looming I am feeling tension and unlike myself lately.
I chalked it up to the full moon and it’s power of making waves. In fact, there has been a cataclysm of events making waves. Lately, I have been hanging on to hope and resiliency. I stare at a photo of 6 year old Ruby Bridges who endured and triumphed standing as a metaphor and reminder that “what doesn’t kill you does in fact make you stronger”. At 6, Ruby Bridges showed a courage that resonates today. I had the opportunity of listening to Ruby Bridges speak in 2015 at the annual NAEYC conference. The kind of courage and poise she personifies and how it connects with us, children, families and educators will be written about in a later blog.
Holidays are hard for many. For a lot of my own life, holidays were often off for me and awkward. There are empty chairs of those we miss and love. You feel the infinite loss and ache of missing loved ones. It is easier to send a gift and/or photo of smiling faces saying Happy Holidays. It is the thought that counts but what do we do for those who feel alone? How do we help others cope during grief or a sense of loss? What gifts can you give to the broken-hearted?
Here are gifts to give:
- Gift of Memory: Take a moment to remember and honor the memory of a loved one by a hug, card or phone call. Although there is an empty chair at the table fill it with memories and honor their memory.
- Gift of hope: We experience both sadness and joy. It’s deeply triggered by the holidays. Show up and offer to help those you care about. From the daily routines to collaging and scrap booking memories.
- Gift of Love: Be in the moment with those who are still living. Show them you love them. If you are the one feeling sad tell them it is hard but stay hopeful.
- Gift of friendship: Invite and include those who feel sad even if they may cancel or decline from shopping to having dinner.
- Gift of Surprise and Spontaneity: Encourage doing something unusual such as a road trip or a flight to visit loved ones still here. Follow through.
- Give the gift of time: Its about time well spent with those you love so spend it wisely. Spend some time whether over coffee, a movie, a stop by visit or something special to do together
- Give the gift of food for the soul whether baked goods or a home cooked meal to enjoy together
- The gift of listening: remember, it’s not not knowing what to say but listening and being there.
Looking for more gift ideas? Visit Sympathy Solutions at:
Most of all, ensure to reach out, don’t expect someone who feels alone to reach out to you.
There are many reasons why we do or say things the way we do. The truth makes some of us uncomfortable. It is said “truth hurts”. However, it is always better for us to be 100% real with each other than to pretend. That is if we want to form long lasting relationships built on trust.
On the other hand, think about your day-to-day life. How often do you lie? How often do you think you are lied to? Call it lying or being untruthful, both are the same. A lie is a lie is a lie.
One of the biggest lessons to learn is to protect your heart. Share it but protect it. Deception and betrayal are real.
When you catch someone in the act of lying how do you feel? It’s easy and natural to feel betrayed, hurt, and/or angry. How about when a child lies to you? The feelings echo the same sentiments. But want the honest truth? It’s normal and typical to lie.
Everyone lies at some point; however, we do have the choice to be truthful. When you want to get off the phone you may say something like: “I have to take this other call, it’s urgent” or “I have a meeting in five minutes”. How about minimizing something such as running a red light as you are pulled over for it. Why do we do this? In the depths of our being, we are hoping to get out of paying the ticket. Most of all, when we lie we want to get out of or away with something.
It all comes down to solving our problems realistically even if it hurts. Hurting is good if it is equivalent to growing pains. We need to teach and guide children to face the problem and solve it, not find a way to get out of problems or find excuses for them.
We wonder why children lie. The answer is the same as why adults lie in general.
- To avoid hurting someone else’s feelings- white lie
- To avoid getting caught or getting in trouble- not so white lie
- To get attention- white or not depends on the situation
- To get out of doing something that we do not want to- white lie?
- To lead separate lives- not white at all
- To establish self identity or pretend identity- not white at all
When addressing lying with children, don’t make things complicated. Understand the underlying cause and address the root cause of it.
- Be specific about the situation (Don’t beat around the bush)
- Be simple, clear and direct
- Assure them that honesty is valued and lying has more negative consequences than the mistakes themselves.
- Don’t close up, always be open
- Do not argue
- Give a consequence if a natural one did not present itself
- If you give a consequence, ensure it connects to what happened (for example, if she lied about doing her homework and instead played video games, state you will not be able to play your video games especially not until homework is complete)
We all have values. Many people talk about honesty but the reality is that many people lie. It’s a problem that can be solved by modeling honesty and integrity in every way of being. It is about walking the walk. Action speaks louder than words.
In the meantime, we can teach and coach our children to show others who they really are with courage and integrity. We can teach them to own their mistakes and learn from them instead of covering them up or running away from them. This is the way we can make a change. Now and in the future.
When you were born what did you wear? Even before you were born what kinds of colors do you think were chosen for you? What did you play with? How did you play? Where did you play? Who did you play with? When did it change or not? Why? I looked at pictures when I was born. My very first photograph I was screaming in it inside of a pretty pink dress. Our gender and identity are chosen before we are even conceptualized.
I was inspired over a YouTube video I watched of a little girl who basically stood in a karate outfit before the camera in a clothing store as she started pointing out the differences between boy and girl clothing. She stated and showed the unfairness of gender bias and identity through clothes. She said, “Look at that on boy’s clothes it says think outside of the box, an adventure awaits and hero and now look at girl’s clothing it says Hey!, I’m fabulous and beautiful. She said boys are encouraged to go on adventures and think outside the box while girls are just meant to be pretty.
The little girl had a big idea, which got me thinking. She went on to move the boy clothes to the girl side. From birth to death our gender roles and identity exist.
Thinking about that picture and as I turned the pages of photo albums I watched as I grew into jeans and sweatshirts. I also saw how I wore prom dresses and heels I would not say pressured to but expected to wear at proms. However, I was comfortable in jeans and sneakers. I never liked playing with dolls or Barbies. I liked taking things apart and going on adventures. I also really liked the ninja turtles. Even what I chose to be for Halloween was not your average princess and fairy. I was a power ranger and I even went as death. Death and dead things fascinated me.
Both genders should be expected to be themselves. Their best selves.
When you see boys playing and caring for baby dolls don’t call him a girl or ask, “Why are you acting like a girl?” The little boy will grow into a father, uncle…a man who needs to know how to treat and care for babies. If a little boy cries do not tell him he is acting like a girl or a crybaby. Boys and girls are human beings with…feelings. Most importantly do not work to “toughen” a boy up. What does this even mean? Toughen him up for what? Unless he is going to be a fighter or boxer what does he have to be so tough about?
For boys and girls teach them that it is ok to be them selves. It is ok to cry. It is ok to have interests that may not be inside the box. It is ok to think and feel differently. It is ok to play with both genders. It is ok to wear any color you want. In fact wear your favorites.
By doing this you are teaching that it is ok to be different and that it is ok to be yourself. Here’s to being our best selves.