Saturday, April 30, 2011

Shahrazad and her Arabian Night tales made me a lover of story with her “…and then what happened?” And C.P. Cavafy made me a lover of poetry.

I mark the last day of April as poetry month with one of my most favorite poems. I love journeys and the poem, Ithaka, written by the Greek poet, Constantine Peter Cavafy captures for me what a journey can be—one filled with passions, adventures, and awakenings. Let the poem transport you as the best of poetry does.  An interesting note —Cavafy,was born on April 29, 1863 and died on the same date in 1933 in Alexandria (Egypt).
Ithaka, by Constantine Peter Cavafy

Hope your journey is long,
Full of adventure, full of awakening.
Do not fear the monsters of the old
You will not meet them in your travels
If your thoughts are exalted and remain high'
If authentic passions stirs your mind, body and spirit.
You will not encounter fearful monsters ,
If you don't carry them within your soul,
If your soul doesn't set them up in front of you..

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Monday, April 25, 2011

“Only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.”

Walter de la Mare (4/25/1873-1956) was an English poet, short story writer and novelist, probably best remembered for his works for children and "The Listeners". His children's book A Penny a Day won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1962. But I think of him as the person who taught me something very valuable when it comes to children and books—he said,  “Only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.”

Babytalk Magazine interviews Diane Frankenstein, award winning author of Reading Together

Diane offers advice on the importance of reading to young babies—what are the benefits and she offers some of her favorite books

Friday, April 22, 2011

Best practice for Literacy Volunteer: READ & TALK

An excerpt from a program I recently did for Literacy Volunteers:

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a team of parents, educators, volunteers and caregivers, working together to make sure children acquire the early literacy skill they need to enter school and be successful learners. Children are made readers on the laps of their parents but when this is not the case, often the efforts of a literacy volunteer saves the day.  

Children who come to school with well-developed skills in finding meaning from books are clearly at an advantage. Someone in the home read to the children, answered their questions, and encouraged them to read and write. The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2000) says parents and other regular caregivers in childrens lives are the active ingredients of environmental influence on childrens development.  However sad the case, many children dont get the support they need at home and the role of a literacy volunteer is the bright and shinning ray of hope for those children.

We know that A child’s desire to learn to read comes from being read to and the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. BUT being read to does not automatically lead to literacy. The real link seems to lie in the verbal interaction that occurs between adult and child during story reading. Talking with children had an even stronger effect on literacy learning than reading aloud to them. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Unplug…your kids and yourself!

Screen Free Week, (formally TV Turn off, April 18-24, 2011) is the annual national celebration where children, families, schools, and communities turn off TV, video games, computers, and hand-held devices and turn on life.  Instead of relying on screens for entertainment, they play, read, daydream, explore nature, and enjoy spending time with family and friends.  

Children spend far too much time with screens: an astonishing average of 32 hours a week for preschoolers and even more for older children.  Time with screens is linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, attention issues and other health and social problems.

Some information to inform your choices of how much screen time is good for children:
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
• The average child watches 3 hours of TV a day -- 2 hours of quality programming is the maximum recommended by the Academy.
• Active play time is needed to develop mental, physical and social skills.
 •Children who watch violence on TV are more likely to display aggressive behavior.
• Young children don't know the difference between programs and commercials.
A thought to ponder~
Geena Davis, an advocate for gender equality in children’s entertainment recently stated in the The WSJ “ A Blueprint for Change” “The more hours of television a girl watches, the fewer options she believes she has in life. And the more hours a boy watches, the more sexist his views become.”

I hope that your mini vacation from all those gadgets, like the best of vacations, present some different and new habits. A suggestion for a new habit—add the element of TALK with your children about the TV programs or videos etc they watch.   Here are some conversation starters.

~ Did you learn anything new?
~ What character would you like to be your friend? Why?
~ Is there a character you dislike?
~ How would “the story” be different if…?
~ What would you do in this situation?
~ What are you curious about at the end of “the story?”


Friday, April 15, 2011

Lets hear it for poetry that is easy, and I do not mean simple, to understand and invites pleasure.

In anticipation of April being poetry month I signed up to receive a poem a day, delivered to my email.  Anticipating great delight, I quickly, and not so happily, became disenchanted. I have not understood or liked any of the poems until today when I received The Things by Donald Hall.

Lets hear it for poetry that is easy, and I do not mean simple, to understand and invites pleasure. I don’t think anyone loves to look for the hidden meaning, that needle in the haystack. 

When I walk in my house I see pictures,

bought long ago, framed and hanging

—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore
that I've cherished and stared at for years,

yet my eyes keep returning to the masters 

of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round, 

tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell, 

a broken great-grandmother's rocker,

a dead dog's toy—valueless, unforgettable 

detritus that my children will throw away

as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips 

with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens, 

and bundles of cards from her mother Kate
~ Donald Hall

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Children (and adults) benefit from someone handing them a book that speaks to their interests.

They say advice is worth what you paid for but here is a lovely story about how a piece of advice played out. Recently I was doing a program and a librarian and mother of two sons lamented how one of her sons is a reluctant reader. I asked her what are his interests and I suggested she find him some books, biography, nonfiction, or fiction that touch on those subjects. The following are the results of her following my advice:  “I took to heart your recommendation to find a book about soccer or track for my younger son.  Found a graphic novel and a non-fiction training book.   He read the novel last night and started on the second one right before bed.  Your advice worked!”
Children often say they don’t like to read because they can’t find books they want to read. All children need and benefit from someone handing them a book that speaks to their interests. Be the person who hands a child their home run books! 

Sixty Second Parent's blog highlights the merits of Reading Together: Everything You Need To Know To Raise a Child Who Loves To Read

“30 Days to Make a Lifetime Reader” Recommends Reading Together  read more>>

Ramping up the pleasure principle in reading and love of story helps prevent the well-documented summer slide in academics, most notably in reading. The key is to find a balance between school time reading and summer time reading. “30 Days to Make a Lifetime Reader” offers some valuable and easy to follow advice about children and reading.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

“Poetry is emotion recorded in tranquility.” Wordsworth

It is no surprise that William Wordsworth, (4.7.1770) born in the midst of spring, wrote enduring words about daffodils— one of the happiest flowers I know. I don’t gaze upon them without recalling his words—“Fluttering and dancing in the breeze, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.” Choose your own favorite line or two, a "souvenir" from his Daffodil poem. Below is the full dose of his musings about how they make him feel. And when you look upon a daffodil, how do they make you feel? I sometimes wonder if I am more in love with poetry or how poets describe poetry. You decide which you prefer—
“Poetry is emotion recorded in tranquility.” Wordsworth
I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch’d in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils

Monday, April 4, 2011

“Others might tell stories to put you to sleep, but I tell stories to wake you up!”

Born April 4, Reb Nachman would be 239 years old today.
As a brilliant teacher, and considered to be the first Jewish storyteller, he succeeded in creating  stories which will endure forever. Reb Nachman understood the power of stories to transmit a people’s values and way of life and put into practice the adage:  Thou shalt not lasts a moment. Once upon a time lasts forever. 
Two of my favorite Nachman story collections are:
The Seven Beggars & Other Kabalistic Tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Translator &

The Empty Chair: Finding Hope & Joy- Timeless Wisdom from a Hasidic Master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Two memorable souvenirs from his writings are:
“Others might tell stories to put you to sleep, but I tell stories to wake you up!”

“If you won't be better tomorrow than you were today, then what do you need tomorrow for?”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Children & Poetry- a match made in heaven!

I am delighted that the Academy of American Poets inaugurated in 1996 National Poetry Month, which is now held every April. Taking poetry “off the mantle”— saving it for meaningful occasions—and putting a little bit into our everyday lives is a good thing.  I think of a poem as a vitamin for the spirit.

Having said that I never understood the wisdom of having a 6-week unit of poetry. I remember well those 6-week units and by the end, I had enough poetry to last me a lifetime and I didn’t want to hear, once again, the ubiquitous question “What is the meaning of the poem?” In my way of thinking a better question is to ask: “What is the mood that is deposited after you read the poem—how does the poem make you feel?” I want children meeting poems that elicit a wide range of emotions—happy, sad, cheerful, reflective, humorous, soulful, heartfelt and others.

In our hurried lives, poetry offers the opportunity to get lost in a picture of words and feeling and reminds us to slow down and savor the everyday.  Robert Frost’s poem,
A Time To Talk captures that sentiment.

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still land look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, “What is it?”
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.