The Benefit of Being Fair

A dozen years ago, before motherhood and after a calculated career change, I taught elementary school. Teaching consumed one hundred percent of my being. Working in a classroom with young people was all I cared to know.

For me, the first few days of the new school year were critical. They were my chance to set a tone with students and lay the foundation for an inclusive community. During the lead up to Back to School, I lost sleep mulling over Hi-lited lesson plans and rehashing ways to nip issues that come up with children in the bud.

One common cry in elementary school land was, “Not fair!” It was a catchy phrase that seemed to multiply when exposed to air. I liked to deal with the fairness struggle up front. And so, my week one repertoire included a story borrowed from a colleague about shoes.

A lot of times I hear students say, “It’s not fair!” So let’s talk about fairness. Say I was going to provide shoes for the entire class. Each person in the class wears a different size. If one student wears a size 10, I would get him a size 10. But I wouldn’t automatically get the others a size 10. I would make sure each child got the shoe size he needed.

My job as your teacher is to give you the pair of shoes with the best fit. Being fair is not about providing the same to all, it’s about giving each person what he needs so he can reach his personal best. In this class, I won’t always be equal – but I will always be fair.

I’m no longer teaching elementary school. Now, I’m on the receiving end of backpacks, homework folders and projects. My younger son, Skootch has academic needs which make him eligible for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). He is taught in a small group, modified setting for reading, writing and math, receives help with speech and language and works with therapists during the school day to strengthen his hands, stamina and core.

Because G-d took a hole punch to the memory files in Skootch’s brain, concepts take longer to stick than for a typical 2nd grader. At 8 ½ years old, he’s still learning how to read and writing is a beleaguered task.

But these challenges have never deterred his thinking, attention to detail and capacity to be curious. As soon as Skootch figured out how to say words, he didn’t stop talking, questioning and trying to understand the world even when no one could understand him.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when he came home from school eager to enter a play writing contest for grades K-2 organized by the local community theater. The contest was the culmination of a series of workshops taught by the teachers and theater’s educational staff. Selected scripts would be brought to life on the stage by real actors. Each winning playwright would even be awarded with a certificate from the mayor.

Before I had a chance to pull the entry form out of the folder, Skootch was fantasizing about giving the mayor his autograph. I didn’t want to discourage such enthusiasm, but I didn’t encourage it either.

I was worried for the guy.

For Skootch to endure the process of transferring ideas from his brain to the page after having worked seven hours at school and having tackled homework would be physically draining and emotionally demoralizing. I presumed these contests were for rock star students who read chapter books with ease, wrote fluent paragraphs AND have a hardy imagination. Skootch only checked off one of the boxes.

I was also worried for me.

What would the other parents think? Would they say Skootch cheated if I got involved? And although it’s never been my personal experience with the community, I couldn’t help but anticipate murmurs of disgust at school pick up. My child wrote a play without any help. All the kids should be held to the same standard. That’s not fair.

I folded up the flyer and approached the garbage. But there was Skootch standing in front of me, shaking his composition notebook. “Mom. Did you hear me? I want to write a play! I started it at school. It’s called The Robbers and the Security Guards.”

I took one look at his sunshine smile and remembered the shoes.

Screw it, I thought. He deserves to feel proud.

“Let me see.” Inside the notebook, I saw that a grown up’s handwriting had scribbled down his thoughts. “You have four days. You’ll have to work on it a little each day before or after homework. You tell me what to say and I’ll type. Okay?”

I sat down at the computer. Skootch bounced, skipped, tumbled and talked around the living room. He relayed character names, outlined the plot and explained the story arc. The boy had the whole thing planned in his head. He gave me the words. I typed, asked questions for clarification and typed some more. Every few sentences, he’d ask me to read back the lines.

For the rest of the week, when Skootch came home from school I asked, “What first? Homework or the play?”

Each time he responded, “My play.”

In the end, he submitted a 4 page, 5 act typed play to a slush pile 80 scripts deep. After a several week review process, the theater’s selection committee chose about 20 to perform. The Robbers and the Security Guards made the final cut!

Upon hearing the news, Skootch pretended to faint. The proud playwright counted his sleeps until opening night of The Vision and Voices Playwriting Festival. When the evening arrived, our boy marched his size 4 shoes the two block walk from our house to the theater with a smile wider than usual.

Together with my husband and a packed house of young writers, moms, dads and teachers, we watched twenty children’s words come to life. Our son, who on paper, was never expected to realize such a Language Arts feat showed me what determination, hard work, talented teachers, a little faith and a side of help can achieve. As Skootch climbed on stage and smacked the mayor’s hand, I could tell he was very proud. We all were.

The festival was a magical reminder of how funny, thoughtful and astute very young children can be when given a forum and the freedom to express their voice. The experience was a reminder that under each surface, big ideas loom large. Imaginations are always racing, even when fingers and mouth muscles can’t keep up.

For us moms and teachers who share their lives with children who need a reassuring Yes you can, a typing hand or a custom shoe, don’t hesitate. After all, it’s only fair.

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THOM DUNN SAID WHAT?… What 8 Successful ADHDers Want You To Know About How They Get Stuff Done.

Courtesy-Upworthy

If you have ADHD or if like me, loves someone who does, Thom Dunn, a contributing writer for Upworthy shares 21 tips from successful ADHDers in this fun and engaging article for anyone who might be trying to “get stuff done.”

Mr. Dunn writes fiction, plays, comics and songs. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Whenever I’m working with my family, friends, or colleagues, they always ask me how I’m able to get so much done.

My answer: “I have ADHD.”

That might sound confusing, but realistically, people with ADHD don’t always have problems with attention — at least, not when we’re working on something that excites us. In fact, ADHD often means that we can hyperfocus on awesome things for hours on end, although sometimes that comes at the expense of all the less-thrilling things we’re supposed to be doing. (Why wash the dishes when you can build a rocket ship out of a cardboard box and a disassembled vacuum cleaner?)

Most people with ADHD have to work 10 times harder to achieve seemingly basic organizational and time management skills…

Continue to original

5 Tips for Conference Attendees

Creating art is often a self-indulgent, solitary craft.

So each spring, I make a point to attend a 300 person conference hosted by SCBWI, a trade organization serving the KidLit community. For two days, writers, illustrators, literary agents and editors who are committed to making books for children and young adults hole up in a hotel to teach and take workshops, socialize and share.

Making the emotional transition from a solo gig to an environment packed with peers and prospective partners requires a hefty dose of vulnerability, grit and guts.

I’d rather tackle burpees over a barbell than participate in an event where it behooves me to talk to strangers, explain projects or pitch ideas. But year after year, I close my eyes, swallow the medicine and go.

When it’s over, some leave the conference motivated and alive. I always left, after my writing had been criticized and critiqued, feeling demoralized, dejected and done. Tired of clammy skin, frayed nerves and a cracked ego, in 2016 I took a break.

But without a conference lined up, I let life – parenting, work, presidential elections and Russian investigations get in the way. I wrote less KidLit. The more the dust bunnies nested, the more I missed the craft and writing community.

When the 2017 conference registration appeared in my email, I decided to try again knowing the only way to recharge my batteries was to change my approach.

These 5 things helped me to keep this spring’s experience in perspective.

Lowered expectations

In the past, I wheeled my bags into the hotel lobby filled with a binder of manuscripts, a personal agenda packed with scheduled critiques, printed copies of my story’s first page for a public reading, an elevator pitch for any peer or professional willing to listen and the expectation that my work would catch the eye of an agent or editor before the closing speaker’s remarks.

My preoccupation with an end goal only created stress which in turn, made it tough to stay engaged with attendees, pay attention during workshops and feel happy for others’ successes.

This time around, I opted out of critiques, avoided forums where my stories were read aloud and didn’t pitch ideas unless someone asked me. I also left manuscripts home and replaced the binder with a paper clip and a notebook. To get my money’s worth, I interacted with faculty during meals, workshops and in my capacity as a formal volunteer.

Lower expectations improved my mood and preserved my ego.

Took a risk

I signed up for a workshop billed for visual thinkers. The class seemed like the right fit for the way my brain works.

Upon arrival, I took a corner seat in the back row and noticed I was the only non-illustrator in the room. The teacher explained we were going to draw in an effort to generate ideas. He demonstrated and then told us to get ready to doodle. The artists pulled out their tools. I stared down at my pen.

“Draw a line,” he said.

I can handle that, I thought.

“Now switch with someone and turn the line into a living creature.”

My fingers froze. I was about to sneak out when a lady handed me a paper. I transformed her line into the best living creature I could.

“Switch again,” the instructor announced. “Add accessories.”

Oh for the love. A new sheet with someone else’s beautiful living creature came my way. I took a deep breath and sketched.

This activity went on until we had a developed character. The class concluded with each person speed drawing the character we started out with in different scenarios.

After it was over, I smiled. I remembered how much I loved to draw and felt proud to have gone out of my comfort zone.

At dinner that evening, I happened to sit next to the teacher. “Thank you,” I told him. “Your workshop was the most fun I’ve had at a conference.”

Stayed positive about the little things

At an event where there’s lots of new people, it can be easier to bond with them over the negative: room temperature, food quality, elevator speed, noise in the common area.

During the weekend, I did my best to heed the advice of my CrossFit coach. “Complaining is like a rocking chair; gives you something to do and gets you nowhere.”

In an arena where there’s a solid chance my creative endeavors will be sliced to smithereens, it made sense to harness as much positive energy as possible.

Took mental breaks

Conference days are 12 hour marathons. Whenever burn out set in, I skipped a workshop, took a walk outside or passed on the post dinner festivities.

And when I wanted to move the conversation away from KidLit without jeopardizing a chance to network, I chose a lighter topic like the 2 senior proms and the wedding party who shared the hotel with us.

Listened More

In the past, my mission during community meals was to secure facetime with the person who had the power either to sign me as a client or buy my story. This year, I vowed instead to listen more and lobby less.

At lunch, there were two women of color at our table; one was an industry professional, the other a writer new to the conference. I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but somewhere between soup and the entree, an organic, honest conversation blossomed about white privilege in publishing and in life.

Each woman described the heaviness they felt any time they left the safe space of their home and entered an environment, like a conference knowing their skin color, accent and culture would be judged and on display.

They shared their experiences as children, women and parents. Neither sought sympathy; only the acknowledgement that white people, particularly white men are not burdened with daily inquiries as to why they pronounce their words “funny”, won’t be called “an angry black woman” after voicing a strong opinion and never have to fear their son might be hurt or harassed during his travels because of the way he looks.

The industry professional emphasized our need to do a better job of making room at the table while keeping everyone else there. As writers, illustrators, agents and editors, at the very least we owe this to the children for whom we write and for the ones we raise.

I’ve returned home to the quiet of my desk. As I type, the hum of talking heads in the background keeps me company. My outlook is fresh, creative process inspired and commitment to young people renewed.

Time to do a better job.

PLAYFUL LEARNING SAID WHAT?…5 Great Reasons To Read Graphic Novels

I like to keep my tween reading, but helping him find a welcomed book or series has its challenges. Because my son is a visual learner who also struggles with focusing, the traditional novel format can intimidate and confuse him.

Fortunately, he’s found graphic and illustrated novels.

The proprietor of our local bookstore often finds me perusing his inventory for options. During my most recent visit to his check-out counter, the owner shared an observation; some parents discourage children from buying such novels.

He wished they felt otherwise. The storytelling in graphic novels is often superb, he explained. The ability to marry words and art takes talent and might inspire readers to try it themselves. The format also builds a reluctant reader’s confidence. Enjoying a graphic novel version of a classic tale today might encourage a child to pick up the original in the future.

Unfortunately, the owner has been hesitant to speak up; he doesn’t want to tell customers how to parent.

Playful learning outlines 5 great reasons to read graphic novels for anyone who might like to learn more about the benefit of illustrated books for older children or is just shopping for new suggestions.

And here’s a link to the Red said what? Pinterest page, which highlights Bubbe’s recent, favorite graphic and illustrated novels: Children’s Books: Thumbs up from a Tween Boy.

Happy Reading!

2 Things We Thought About Before Redshirting Our Son

kindergarten


By the end of Bubbe’s second year in preschool, my husband Mac and I knew he wouldn’t be ready to start Kindergarten with the rest of his peers.

A sweet, quiet child with a sensitive disposition, our son struggled with skills that seemed to come naturally to many classmates.

Starting just shy of his 2nd birthday, for a few hours each week he worked with a helper teacher to learn how to play in an age-appropriate way during preschool and at home. He also strengthened his muscle tone, developed fine and gross motor skills and addressed sensitivity issues driven by sensory processing with a physical and occupational therapist as well as practiced communication pragmatics and articulation with a speech specialist.

Bubbe made fine progress over time, but mastery in one area was typically followed by a step back in another.

Even though he was tall for his age, had a birthday not particularly close to the school district’s cut off and knew his ABCs and 123s as well as he should, there were enough consistent inconsistencies in his development to explore the redshirting option.

Teachers and service providers agreed; giving our son time to “cook” for an additional school year, a total of 9 months was in his best interest long term.

For me, the decision to redshirt was a no brainer. Prior to becoming a parent, I had the good fortune of teaching elementary school. One professional lesson I learned was that regardless of knowledge, in order for a child to do the work, he first needed to be ready to learn.

Mac wrestled with the idea. He has a “late” birthday and went to Kindergarten on the younger side. Anytime we discussed Bubbe’s delays he’d say, “I hated school. Half the time I hardly knew what was going on. But life’s a struggle.”

“School’s hard enough,” I would argue. “Why make it worse for a child? If we push him through, what will his experience be like by the time he gets to middle school?”

After several iterations, Mac was able to take a step back and separate his experience from our son’s needs.

Since then, we have gone through the process of redshirting our younger son. I’ve also spent the last 10 of my 16 years in education working in early childhood programs. Whether I’m chatting with friends or sitting with parents of young children, the topic of Kindergarten readiness can elicit strong, mixed emotions particularly if the choice isn’t a no brainer.

With this in mind, here are the 2 things Mac and I considered during the process.

Question #1 – Is my child ready to learn?

Not, does Bubbe have the academic knowledge, but is he socially, emotionally AND cognitively ready to learn in a school setting?

At the time of our decision, our child needed consistent adult guidance to get in the mix with peers in both structured and non-structured environments. He didn’t understand how to play cooperatively. His low muscle tone and delayed motor skills made it tough for him to keep up on the playground; he often looked lost and preferred to be alone. Furthermore, Bubbe didn’t have the self-help skills for a child his age.  He couldn’t get dressed without assistance, put on his coat or use the potty.

While our son showed empathy and kindness toward others, his emotional sensitivity and shyness hindered his ability to advocate for himself, ask questions and navigate feelings. His discomfort in crowds as well as with noise and texture made it challenging for him to participate in groups scenarios like classroom station play and birthday celebrations.

We knew he was cognitively able. The “mechanisms of how one learns, remembers, problem-solves and pays attention” were present, but his struggle to move with the pack, manage time, attend long enough to listen to teacher directions and complete a task without help from a grown up emphasized the gap between his potential and performance.

Bubbe did have the academic knowledge. Testing showed he was “smart.” One helper teacher even suggested he might get bored once in elementary school if he waited the extra year.

But because Mac and I could not answer yes with confidence to all 3 components, we chose to wait.

Question #2 – What will happen as my child gets older?

The delay, albeit the right move was not a cure-all.

Despite his academic “smarts” going into Kindergarten, Bubbe didn’t learn to read with fluency until 2nd grade.

In 3rd grade, when the work became more sophisticated, some weaknesses he struggled with in preschool resurfaced. Bubbe ended up needing a little formal help from teachers again.

During our early debates, Mac and I wondered about middle school. How would Bubbe’s delays play out as a tween?

Well, the first year of middle school is half over and so far, the kid’s holding his own. Focus, organization, time management and interpreting complex situations continue to challenge and fuel anxiety. Fortunately, Bubbe is starting to understand his needs and take ownership of his learning thanks to consistent guidance from talented teachers, practice and maturity.

He’s told us being the oldest in the class is “kind of cool” especially to some of the girls. I’ve observed he is one of, but not the tallest boy in the grade as well as noticed some of the peers he started out with are still in his world through activities and family friendships.

Of course we get the occasional, “You left me back.”

When he digs in, the response is the same one Mac and I gave when we broke the news. “Some children start Kindergarten when they’re 4, some start when they’re 5 and some start when they’re 6 years old. Every child and family is different.”

The bottom line? School life would have been exponentially more difficult for our child had we not “left him back.” Bubbe is right where he belongs.

Redshirting isn’t for every child with a special need, late birthday or height difference. Our son has a grade level friend who’s 16 months younger. Even though the boy’s birthday is in the late fall, his mother felt his social, emotional and cognitive skills were on point. She sent him to elementary school when the district deemed him eligible. He too is thriving.

Kindergarten readiness is a stop on a long parenting journey. But I think if we keep perspective, stay objective, focus on learning readiness, advocate and most importantly, follow our gut, we’ll get the timing right.

JOHN PAVLOVITZ SAID WHAT?… To My Son’s Teacher, And All Those Ordinary Superheroes Saving Kids Today

superhero-picture

Each fall, our local elementary school hosts a Halloween parade. The children march around the playground led by teachers, administration and staff. Everyone wears a costume.

The teachers typically choose a theme and dress up by grade level. From the audience, I’ve spotted emojis, cowboys, royalty and fruit. After reading blogger and pastor, John Pavlovitz’s touching tribute to his child’s teacher, this year, I hope they all come as superheroes.

To my friends in education, current and former colleagues and my sons’ past and present teachers–this one’s for you.

Comic books have lied to all of us.
Heroism isn’t capes and costumes.
It doesn’t come from radioactive spider bites or metal suits or gamma rays or distant planets.
It isn’t tricked out all-terrain vehicles, gadget-laden utility belts, hammers from the heavens, or indestructible shields.
The real heroic stuff here on this planet is firmly seated in the chests of the ordinary people who embrace an extraordinary calling; those whose superhuman hearts beat quite differently than the rest of us mere mortals…

Continue to original…

America the Beautiful – The Women’s March on Washington

Bleary eyed passengers boarded a 3am bus
Smiling, as some passed out buttons and treats.

bus-picture_womens-march

By half-past six, the carrier greeted dozens more at a highway rest stop.
Together we drove south, through the morning fog.
Bus drivers helped navigate the parking lot labyrinth.
Multi-generational volunteers pointed the way.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words lined front yards, rainbows draped from poles and Stevie Wonder blared from a window
As seniors, families and pets came outside to wave “hello.”

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One neighbor gave out water bottles.
A guest thanked national guardsmen with a handshake and a candy bar.
When a commuter stopped at a light and called, “I’m with you in spirit!”
Strangers shouted back, “We’re here for you!”
Schools and places of worship opened doors offering coffee, bathrooms and a place to rest.
Faded chalk drawings left by little ones brightened the park’s cement:
Hearts, “kindness” and “love.”

congress_womens-march
Congressional aides bore witness from the balcony.
Cutters and cranks steered clear of snaking bathroom lines.
Waves of cheers cued the masses when the stage was nowhere in sight.
“Excuse me.”
“Please.”
“Thank you.”
“No problem.”

washington-monument_womens-march
A lady shared her box of Krispy Kremes.
A lanky fellow stood at a traffic light’s base to lift those in need of a boost.
A boy climbed the street lamp with his sign held high.

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The teen with the spiral curls led droves in “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Savoring each note, we sang to a flying flag.

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Ladies held their liberty torches high.
My voice rose above, “Run for office!”

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A grandma patted my friend’s back when she leaned over to stretch.
Hoards cleared a path for a man in a wheelchair
And moved aside for an ambulance too.
A napping infant snuggled against his father’s chest.
A pooch nuzzled close to her human.
Husbands showed off pink knitted hats.
Toddlers in strollers never seemed to fuss.

14th-street_womens-march
The police officer who answered endless questions suggested a shortcut so we could catch our ride.
The crossing guard who directed crowds that morning, accepted hugs come evening.
The minister who took notice. “You’ve been sitting on our steps a while. Can I help you inside?”
And the millennials who collected metro cards for the local homeless shelter.

Sore feet, hungry bellies and uplifted spirits hustled, shuffled and climbed aboard their bus home.
New friends exchanged photos until the cabin lights dimmed.
This rider, filled with hope and touched by humanity closed her eyes.

E pluribus unum
We the people
America the beautiful

“There is no sound more powerful than the marching feet of a determined people.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.