Portland Jewish Academy is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and is proud of our partnership with them in strengthening our local Jewish community as well as the global community.
Portland Jewish Academy and Schnitzer Family Campus partner Mittleman Jewish Community Center are proud partners with the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland to bring the Harold Grinspoon Foundation's PJ Library program to Jewish children in Portland.
PJA Director of General Studies and School Counselor, Betsy Bailey, is a tremendous resource for the school regarding children's education, interpersonal issues, and learning among other things.
Luckily, she is also a fantastic writer and agreed to share her thoughts with our community through her PJA blog.
About twenty years ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in a summer institute led by Harvard professor of education Howard Gardner. Gardner had just published Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences and was leading us, a group of educators, to an examination of what has now become a widespread understanding in educational psychology, that intelligence is not a single general ability. At the time, Gardner sounded radical when he postulated that a child who immediately and concisely answers the question “how are an apple and orange alike?” is not – in general -- more intelligent than a child who fails to articulate that both are fruit . Today, as a result of Gardner’s pioneering work, psychologists and educators ask not “is the child intelligent?” but rather, “which intelligences best characterize the child?”
At the essence of the theory of multiple intelligences is an understanding that there are several different kinds of cognitive ability and that intelligence in one area is not necessarily associated with intelligence in any other. In Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence, Gardner identified and defined seven intelligences: linguistic (verbal ability and facility learning languages), logical-mathematical (facility with numbers and ability to develop a logical argument), bodily-kinesthetic (physical dexterity and strong memory for movement), spatial (the ability to visualize with the mind's eye and make meaning from images), musical (facility with sounds and rhythms and strong auditory attention and memory), naturalistic (deep understanding and awareness of other living beings and natural surroundings), interpersonal (skillful in interactions with others and sensitivity to their feelings and needs), and intrapersonal (strong ability to reflect).
When I visit PJA classrooms, I always note how well our teachers incorporate an understanding of the different intelligences and corresponding learning styles of their students. Information is never presented in just one way, directed to just one kind of intelligence or learner. Teachers understand that a student with strong musical intelligence is most likely an auditory learner who will remember the information she or he hears, and that a child who has strong bodily-kinesthetic intelligence will learn by manipulating or constructing objects. Working together, those two students might create a song and dance to share what they have learned with others. Similarly, teachers recognize that a student with strong linguistic intelligence will dive right into reading a new book, while a classmate with strong spatial intelligence will more likely begin to make meaning from that book by examining the illustrations or diagrams. Given choices about how to summarize the information in that book, the first child might write a poem, while the second might create a comic strip.
I was struck when reading the recent set of report cards how well PJA teachers know each child and acknowledge his/her particular intelligences. A teacher, writing about a lower school child, noted her linguistic and interpersonal intelligence, “Articulate and possessing an advanced vocabulary, her good communication skills allow her opportunities to mediate between classmates when conflict arises.” A kindergarten teacher described a student who is logically-mathematically gifted. “He seems always to be thinking about numbers and can manipulate them mentally. He brings his great insight to our group work developing problem solving strategies.” Another teacher noted about a student with deep naturalistic intelligence, “She was in her element during our outdoor field school studies. Her keen observations and enthusiasm helped others notice and appreciate even the smallest forms of life.”
Despite over 20 years of research about multiple intelligences, the notion that there is one kind of intelligence persists. This misunderstanding often leads students who are stymied by a particularly challenging academic situation to conclude, “I’m just not smart enough.” In talking with those students and their parents, I often refer to Howard Gardner. I describe the different kinds of intelligences in terms the student can understand and ask which ways they think they have “super intelligence.” Allowing a student to acknowledge his or her areas of strength, and using the word “intelligence” to name those strengths, often helps place the challenge in perspective and can be an important step in finding success.
It’s my absolutely favorite picture. Josh has just turned five and is propped up against a couple of cushions on the old blue sofa. He’s wearing a Dodgers pajama top and green pajama shorts. His face is shining and his hair is still wet from the bath he just took. His older brother Matt is standing beside the sofa, all clean and shiny and pajama-clad too. One hand is on a cushion, right beside Josh. Both boys’ eyes are focused on the book in Josh’s hands.
It was part of our evening routine that after their baths, the boys would pick out bedtime books while I finished the dishes. Usually I heard them chatting – sometimes arguing – while I wiped down the kitchen counter and put the pots and pans away. But for the past few evenings, it had been only Josh’s voice I heard. It sounded like he was reading to Matt.
As far as I knew, Josh did not know how to read. He loved books and pointing out some words he recognized, like “up” and “down” in our apartment building elevator. He enjoyed guessing a rhyming word to finish a sentence in the books I read him. But he hadn’t yet started kindergarten, and the preschool he went to did not “teach” reading.
Yet, from the kitchen, over the sound of running water, I thought I heard him reading. The first night, I turned off the water. Then, certain that it was the middle of The Cat in the Hat, in Josh’s voice, I came out of the kitchen. The reading stopped. I went back in the kitchen, resumed my duties, and the sounds of reading began again. I came back out. It stopped.
As the three of us cuddled up for the bedtime books, as casually as I could, I mentioned that while I was in the kitchen, it sounded like Josh was reading. “Oh no!” they both exclaimed in the exaggerated voices they used when trying to get away with something, “We were just looking at books.”
The next morning, Matt took me aside. “Josh can read,” he reported. “But he only reads to me. And,” he continued, with a distinct tone of a warning, “you can’t tell him I told you.”
For several nights it continued. Always a different book; always the small but confident voice. And always the abrupt stop when I came out of the kitchen. So, on the fifth night, I was ready. I brought the camera into the kitchen earlier in the day. I turned on the water, waited a moment, and just as I heard Josh’s voice begin, I positioned myself in the corner where they couldn’t see me, and I took a quick shot.
In those days, before digital cameras, it was several weeks before I finished the role of film and developed the picture which beautifully captures a moment in time and a bond between two brothers who love books. In the interim, I had uncovered the reason for all their subterfuge.
The boys had believed that if I knew they both could read, I would stop reading to them. I was stunned. Not so much by the fact that Josh had hidden a skill he had no doubt spent a long time developing. Rather, I couldn’t believe that they thought I would or could stop reading to them.
I don’t remember the last time the three of us snuggled up in Josh’s lower bunk bed to read to a picture book, but it was many years later. Reading to children, sharing a book that has a great story and beautiful pictures is not something to give up when they are able to read themselves. It’s not about helping them develop “pre-reading” or other academic skills (although, of course, we do know that children who are read to from an early age are better prepared for school). It is a way of sharing the world and opening up new ones, something we are never too old to do. Picture books remind us that anything is possible. An elephant can go shopping in a French department store, and a Little Bear and a little girl named Sal can go blueberry picking together. Answers are found to seemingly unanswerable questions like where do lost mittens go? And while our children’s imaginations grow, we can pick up some much needed parent wisdom from a mother cow who recognizes that it is ok that her son prefers smelling flowers to butting heads like the other little bulls do, and from badger parents who wait it out until their finicky little girl outgrows her desire to eat nothing but bread and jam.
I hope you and your children have a wonderful winter break, with plenty of time to cozy up together with both new and old favorite picture books. And if you are didn’t recognize the classics I’ve referenced above, I hope this is the vacation you discover Babar the King, Blueberries for Sal, The Mitten, Ferdinand the Bull, and Bread and Jam for Frances. Happy reading!
on Wednesday December 12, 2012 at 08:53AM
Matt always complained about the Weed Wallow. “Everyone hates the Weed Wallow,” he’d tell me in the days leading up to it. Then came his follow up question, “Do I really have to go?” Yes. He did have to go.
The Weed Wallow was an annual event organized by my children’s school in conjunction with Clearwater, an organization founded by Pete Seeger with the goal of protecting the Hudson River and surrounding wetlands. Many Clearwater educational programs take place on a beautiful sailing vessel, also called the Clearwater, and since 1966, before everyone knew what it meant to be “green,” Clearwater has held an annual music and environmental festival.
The Weed Wallow was one of many projects that represented my children’s school’s mission which, like PJA’s mission, values “learning by doing” and helping children find ways to effect positive change in the world. On the day of the Weed Wallow, the children wore old clothes and boarded a train that would head north along the Hudson River to where they’d meet the Clearwater. Most years Pete Seeger, whose brother John had once been the school’s principal, was there to greet them. Children too young to participate saw the train off, waving and singing folk songs. Teachers brought guitars and banjos and led more singing on the train. Once they arrived at their destination, the children would tour the ship, learning more about the river and talking about what they and their families could do to protect the environment. Then they’d spend a few hours pulling invasive weeds out of the Hudson. There were more songs, some about being a steward of the environment, others celebrating the results of hard work. Some years it rained. And in those days, before tevas or other river shoes, the children wore old tennis shoes that quickly became soaked and full of the weeds they were attempting to eradicate.
“You have no idea how slimy it is,” Matt would begin his campaign to skip the Weed Wallow. “It’s a waste,” he’d tell me. “All we do is get wet, and there are still weeds everywhere when we leave.” When I was unmoved by that argument, he’d add, “all the weeds we pull, plus a lot more, will be back next year.”
It’s been a long time since the Weed Wallow has come up in conversation about those terrible things your parents make you do. Throughout high school and college, Matt embraced many service learning opportunities, albeit none of which got him too wet or slimy. As an adult, Matt has become much more willing to endure uncomfortable conditions for a good cause. He spent a winter in Iowa, canvassing door to door in sub-zero temperature to garner support for his candidate in the presidential caucuses. He spent another extended leave from work in hot, humid New Orleans, rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Among his fellow Weed Wallow complainers are many other men and women whose lives are characterized by a commitment to social, political and environmental change.
There are many reasons we make our children do things that they’d rather not do because they are a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s easy to explain why, as parents, we are insistent. Other times, when their arguments are, on the face of it, reasonable, it’s harder to explain. I don’t know that Matt would not have become the mensch he is today if I had let him skip the Weed Wallow. But I do know how shaped he was by a attending a school that, like PJA, consciously and consistently seeks opportunities to help children recognize that doing good is not always easy, but is always right.
on Monday November 5, 2012 at 04:00PM
I’ve written before about my grown sons, Matt and Josh, best friends who regularly go to ballgames and concerts together and meet weekly for after work dinner dates. It wasn’t always this way. They had designated “sides” of their shared bedroom. We used a timer to allow each “alone time” in that room, and all kinds of systems and rules about how to handle shared toys and books. By the time I moved out of their childhood home, those days had long passed, and they easily divided up the baseball cards and other childhood possessions they had left behind when they moved on to homes of their own. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to who took what, but in the years since, I have been delighted and somewhat intrigued by the items from their childhood I have found in each man’s home.
Most recently, I saw The Carrot Seed on one of the many bookcases in Josh’s Brooklyn apartment. At just 101 words, The Carrot Seed, written by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Crockett Johnson, was one of the shortest picture book texts when it was published in 1945. It’s been in continuous print since then so clearly classifies as a classic. The book opens with the words: "A little boy planted a carrot seed. His mother said, 'I'm afraid it won't come up.’” Despite the skepticism of his parents and, particularly, his older brother who tells him, “it won’t come up,” the little boy “pulled up the weeds around it every day and sprinkled the ground with water." For a few pages, the boy looks at the bare ground where “nothing came up.”
The book concludes simply, "And then, one day, a carrot came up just as the little boy had known it would."
I must have read that book hundreds of times. Josh could recite the words with me and always giggled at the final picture in the book, a carrot so huge that it fills a wheelbarrow.
What does it mean, I wondered, that Josh was not only so drawn to that book as a 3 year old, but also had kept it for the 25 years since? Was it, for him, a story of a little brother who proves an insistent older brother wrong? Did this tale of persistence, of laboring at something, without the help of others or any immediate evidence of success lead Josh to become the novelist he is today? Did The Carrot Seed introduce my apartment dwelling city child to an unknown world where children have gardens and wheelbarrows and can go outside by themselves? Josh wasn’t sure. What he did remember, he said, was how much he loved sitting on my lap when we read it and how I would pause so he could say the words with me. And he liked that the little boy is wearing overalls just like he always wore. But mostly, my writer son told me, it’s just a perfect book about someone who defies the odds, worthy of its spot on the same shelf as two of his other favorite books, Don Quixote and Moby Dick.
on Monday October 15, 2012 at 02:55PM
As adults, most of us have fond memories of spending long summer days outside. Many of us can recall the summer we discovered a new author, garnered the courage to jump off the high diving board, or built a tree house. While most PJA students list activities like those as what they look forward to as the school year winds down, many tell us that summer vacation also means more time to surf the Web, watch TV, download iTunes, go to the movies and play video games. And, if, as one student told me, summer vacation means “parents can’t use that ‘after you finish your homework’ line,” how do we help children balance media exposure with other activities? How much media consumption is too much? What media choices are best?
Two organizations – Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) and The Parents Choice Foundation (www.parents-choice.org) – offer valuable resources to help parents navigate the fast-moving media world. Both provide reviews of “hot” video games and current movies, as well current research about the impact of media usage. While no website or research study can answer each parent’s questions about what is right and best for individual families and children, experts do agree on these general guidelines:
Set family rules and stick to them. "It's just like anything else in parenting," says Peter Katz of Common Sense Media. "You've got to set guidelines." While those guidelines can vary from family to family (and might change for the summer) children need to know you will follow them. Consistency through the years is also important, Katz adds. "If you are a permissive parent for the first six years, it makes it harder to switch that off later on."
Limit screen time. In setting your family rules, keep in mind that most experts recommend no more than one to two hours of 'screen time' (TV, DVDs, computers and video games) per day. It's important to consider that it's not just TV but all forms of media that need to be considered when setting guidelines.
Be conscious of age-appropriateness. "What's OK for 8 isn't OK for 4," says Claire Green, president of the Parent’s Choice Foundation. Use your judgment and consult media reviews. Be aware that although several companies are marketing videos for babies and toddlers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children under the age of 2. Learn not just what the different TV, movie and video games ratings mean, but why a particular show or game was given its rating. As you consider ratings, give equal consideration to your own values and child’s development and temperament. Remember that a PG-13 rating on a movie doesn't necessarily mean that all 13-year-olds are ready to see it or that a younger child shouldn't see it. If your child is prone to nightmares, he or she may not be ready for a “scary” G movie.
Use media together. Whenever you can, watch, play, listen and surf with your child and talk about the content. Have regular family movie nights and use them as opportunities to watch together and discuss. Be on the alert for “teachable moments”. Pose questions like “Why do you think the characters are being mean to each other?” or “what would really happen if a person did what that video game character is doing?” When your child expresses interest in a particular topic, visit relevant Internet sites together and use that as an opportunity to help them assess the usefulness and biases of particular sites. Show children where they're allowed to go, not just where they're not.
Finally, be a role model! Remember that children attend more to what we do than to what we say! If your children see you spending hours as a couch potato or tethered to your iPhone, you will undermine your message of moderation. Share your fondest summer activity memories with your children. Get their opinions about the books you loved the summer after you were in third grade, jump off the diving board with them, or go build something together! Have a wonderful summer!!
on Tuesday June 12, 2012 at 01:27PM
I was in the full day Ganon classroom last week as the students excitedly completed preparations for their Mother’s Day Tea. “This is my VERY best work,” one girl proudly told me as she showed off the flower-adorned hat she had made for her mom. “My mommy is going to look so, so, so beautiful when she wears this,” one of the boys added. As I listened to their voices, and looked into their bright eyes, I saw my own two sons on Mother’s Days past. I recalled Matt’s broad smile, his teeth a little blue from the bite he had taken from the painted macaroni necklace he made me when he was 3. And I could hear Josh’s voice as he read to me from the card I carried until the paper literally shredded. In his very best “invented, guess-and-go spelling,” below a drawing of a trophy, he had written, “There otta be a hollafam for mothers.”
It has been so many years since I received a handmade mother’s day gift (unless you count the mimosas Matt made a few years ago before taking me out for brunch). I say this not nostalgically, but in disbelief. The cliché is true. While the days are long, the years go so quickly. The last picture in which I am taller than both my sons was taken 19 years ago. I long gave away my copy of Siblings Without Rivalry. The two boys who needed a timer so each could have “alone time” away from the other are now men who regularly meet for dinner after work.
Some of the “other mothers,” as the boys called them, the women I met when our children were in preschool, whose friendship and generosity I relied on for everything from pick-ups from Hebrew school to advice about packing for camp, are now grandmothers. Some are joyfully enmeshed in new empty nest careers, while others are blissfully retired. After all these years, when we see each other, we are still mothers who don’t know how we did it. But we did. We nursed our children through ear infections and strep throats. At night, when we finally got them to bed, and we were completely exhausted, we packed lunches, sewed costumes for school plays, and baked cupcakes for birthday parties. As mothers of teenagers, we waited up until they got home safely and grounded them when they got home late. And then, suddenly one day, we found ourselves helping them move into their first homes away from us.
We did it in the days before Facebook. During their elementary school years, there were no cell phones, e-mail, or internet. We had a few reliable parenting books, the pediatrician, and each other. And still, we spent hours sorting through the conflicting advice. I remember us one morning, during those early pre-school years, sitting over coffee, sharing our latest mistakes. We promised from then on to tell each other whenever we blew a child-rearing decision. We said each mother’s mistake would be learning experiences for the rest of us. That way, we concluded, no one would repeat the mistake, things would all even out, and our children would be fine. And then some of us had a second child, or a third, and we realized that what was a mistake with one child, even one of our own, was just what another child needed.
Looking back, I laugh at most of the mistakes, and cringe at others. But if there is one mistake I made that I wish I could help other mothers avoid it is this: I did not live in the moment enough.
Earlier this year, while preparing a memory book for my own mother’s birthday, I looked through hundreds of old family pictures. There was one I could not put down. It was taken at what we called the “regular playground,” on what must have been an unseasonably warm winter afternoon. There is snow on the edges of the swing set, but the boys, probably ages 5 and 8, are dressed in sweatshirts. Although the sun is almost down, and the boys are shrouded in shadow, the smiles on their faces are radiant. Josh is on his knee, holding a football for Matt to kick. I wish I could remember what else we had done that day. What did they talk about on our way to the playground? Did we buy snacks at the deli and eat it on a park bench? When we got home, did they remember to wash their hands? I hope that on that rare beautiful afternoon, I didn’t rush them, didn’t lose patience if Josh kicked a pebble all the way home or Matt asked questions I was too tired to thoughtfully answer. I wish I could remember their voices at that age, the smell of their freshly shampooed hair, and just how they looked when they slept. I wish I had not been in such a hurry each day to check off my “to do” lists and had not been such a slave to the routine: homework, dinner, bath, story, bed. I wish I had treasured just “being” a little more, and fretted about “getting it done” a lot less.
And for those of you not practiced in the decoding of new writer’s spelling, Josh was telling me that “there ought to be a hall of fame for mothers.” He’s right. I wish all of you a very happy Mother’s Day.
on Thursday May 10, 2012 at 08:49AM
Last month, the NY Times “Motherlode” blogger KJ Dell’Antonia asked, “Who sold you your last batch of Thin Mints?” She described experiences that many of you will recognize. “You’re sitting at your desk, or pushing your cart through the grocery store, thinking about spring, when a sheepish parent sidles up — and he’s not even wearing a Girl Scout uniform. The next thing you know, you’ve agreed to take delivery of three boxes of Trefoils.”
Ms. Dell’Antonia’s complaint that, ‘I can’t remember the last time either I or my husband was asked to buy a box of cookies by an actual Girl Scout,” reminded me of a science fair I visited at a school many years ago. As students wandered the gymnasium perimeter, parents talked to each other about displays that looked more trade show than an elementary school. There were all kinds of things that lit up and blew up, and there were posters that explained, in beautiful calligraphy, the life cycles of plants and insects that I had never heard of. And everywhere, there were parents proudly, and in great detail, answering the question, “How did you do that?”
While most of us would agree that the parents at that science fair went too far, most of us also have had times when we have found the line between helping our child and doing her work for her to be blurry.
In conversations about “how much help is too much,” I recommend parents begin by asking their child or her teacher about the goals of the particular assignment. When we understand the purpose of an assignment, we can then ask ourselves the following: Will the assistance I’m contemplating support that goal? Or, will my involvement deprive my child of the intended learning experience?
Some rules of thumb I offer are, “Help, don’t do,” “provide guidance, not answers,” and, when it comes to his homework, “never work harder than your child.” Some of the best ways to support a child’s school work don’t involve the school work itself. Among the most helpful things you can do are to set up a designated work space for your child with the supplies he will need and, knowing his rhythms and activity schedule, help him find the right time to do daily homework and develop a schedule for completing bigger projects. And then, less is more. Doing homework independently is a way for children to be alone with their work in a way that they can’t be in the classroom.
I remind parents that the old adage that “we learn from our mistakes” particularly applies to school work. Let your child make mistakes and then, with his teacher’s guidance, learn from them. Praise his efforts, willingness to take risks, and growing independence. If he asks for help, ask guiding questions, suggest resources that might be useful, and give some feedback. But don’t pick up a pencil or touch the keyboard. And, given that the temptation to “just fix one little thing” can often be too much to resist, I suggest making a practice of not looking at your children’s projects out of their presence. Don’t “rescue” a child who has put off a major assignment until the last minute. Instead, consider the responsibility that grows from learning that there are natural consequences for not meeting expectations and the importance for teachers to see when a student needs help with time management skills.
I remember my own Girl Scout days and the conversation my troop leader had with us after one girl announced that she’d sell a “million boxes” because her dad worked at a very big company and her mom has friends over for card games while she is at school. Our troop leader very kindly said how wonderful it is that her parents knew so many people who might like cookies. Then she asked all of us to think about how that girl could sell the cookies “all by herself” to her parents’ colleagues and friends. She praised our suggestions and then said she wondered if the that girl might want to invite one or two of us to go with her to her dad’s workplace to practice our “people skills” which, she reminded us, was one of the most important things we could learn by selling cookies. She also suggested that some other troop members might go to her house if her mom had a card game during a school vacation day. That way, we could help add up the cost of multiple cookie boxes and help her make change, since another important reason girl scouts sell cookies is to learn “money skills.” She didn’t have to tell us that these are skills that we couldn’t learn if our parents sold the cookies for us, just like my parents didn’t tell me they were worried that with my then very quiet voice and floundering math skills, I might run into trouble as a cookie salesperson. What I do remember is how proud I felt when, for the first time, I knocked on a neighbor’s door, looked her in the eye, told her about the different cookie options, and, after she bought 3 boxes, counted out the change. All by myself.
on Tuesday April 17, 2012 at 10:17AM
A few weeks ago, at the height of “Lin-sanity” (the explosion of international media coverage of Jeremy Lin, the unlikely hero of the New York Knicks basketball team), I had a conversation with a Middle School student who knows my lifelong devotion to the Knicks. After exchanging favorite Lin exploits from the past couple of games, our conversation turned to a review of the path that brought Lin to the Knicks and national attention.
Most of you have probably heard it many times already. Even though the Palo Alto High School team Lin captained had a 32–1 record and upset a nationally ranked team to win a state title, Lin received no athletic scholarship offers out of high school. He went to Harvard, where one of his coaches described Lin during his freshman year as the physically weakest player on the team. While he didn’t play much that year, as a senior, Lin led the team to one of their best seasons ever, and he received some national attention for his performance in a NCAA tournament game that Harvard lost. In June, he entered the NBA draft, but was not picked by any team. In December, he was hired first by the Golden State Warriors and then by the Houston Rockets. Both teams let him go. Then he went to the Knicks where, unexpectedly, over a two week period in February, he had one electrifying, game defining play after another.
My middle school friend knew all these facts about Jeremy Lin. So do many of our younger students. Like news reporters across the country, they are intrigued by the fairy tale aspects of his story. As we recounted the highs and lows of Lin’s career, the focus of our conversation shifted. How, the student wondered, did Jeremy Lin feel when scouts didn’t show up to watch him play? What did he say to himself when no team deemed him talented enough? We speculated about why he didn’t give up on basketball and how he kept his commitment after two teams cut him. In short, we considered what made Jeremy Lin resilient. What, the student asked, makes some of us – adults and children – more resilient than others? And how can we become more resilient?
A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings, is a new book by pediatrician Kenneth Ginsberg who looks at the complex combination of factors that build resiliency. Dr. Ginsberg believes that children need to realistically recognize their abilities and have experiences (including disappointments and defeats) to develop their inner resources. He identifies “seven ‘C’s” that help children mature into self-reliant, resilient adults: competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control; and he offers advice about how to support children’s growth in each area.
Children who feel competent effectively handle new and “trying” situations. Teachers and parents can foster the development of competence by helping children focus on their individual strengths and by pointing out specific mistakes, and turning the correction of those errors into growing experiences.
Confidence grows from competence. Therefore, Dr. Ginsberg reminds us to focus praise on activities and accomplishments that take real effort, and to let children know when we see them demonstrate qualities such as fairness, integrity, persistence, and kindness. He suggests that we avoid generalized praise; children perceive it as unearned and, as such, it does not help them recognize their unique strengths, and the particular qualities and skills they possess that help them grow and rebound from disappointment.
Jeremy Lin has identified his strong family and religious upbringing as sources of strength, and Dr. Ginsberg concurs that these are key factors in building resiliency. He calls “connection” the “third C,” and writes that developing close ties to family and community creates a solid sense of security that helps children face challenges. Close to “connection” are Dr. Ginsberg’s “fourth and fifth”C’s”: character and contribution. “Children,” he writes, “need to develop a solid set of morals and values to determine right from wrong and to demonstrate a caring attitude toward others.” Adults, he believes, should teach children to see how their behavior affects others. Taking a strong stand against racist or hateful statements or stereotypes, he states, helps children assume responsibility, rather than looking to blame others, when things do not go as they wish. Showing children the value of contributing to the general good, and creating experiences that allow them to do so, likewise, put disappointments in perspective and help children move on from unhappy times.
Dr. Ginsberg’s final two “C’s,” “coping” and “control,” go hand in hand. Children who realize that they have some control over the outcomes of their decisions are more likely to realize that they have the ability to bounce back. And children who cope effectively with stress are better prepared to overcome life’s challenges. It is important for children to see specifically how actions have consequences (good and bad) and for their parents to consistently model and support positive coping strategies. Resist the effort to soothe hurt feelings with gifts, food or other treats. Rather, follow a warm hug and a comment such as, “I’m so sorry things turned out that way,” with conversation about what they might have done differently and a consideration of possible “next steps.” Don’t try to “fix” things for your children, but rather recognize how much they will grow by “owning” their experiences.
At the time of this writing, the Knicks have fallen six games below 500, and while Jeremy Lin is still playing solidly, we are seeing less of the public’s “Lin-fatuation” and fewer “thrill-LIN” headlines (and puns). I hope, however, that the example of Lin’s perseverance and resiliency will continue to be fodder for conversation.
on Wednesday March 14, 2012 at 12:26PM
I recently got an e-mail regarding a former student. I first met Rachel when she was “a new girl” in the New York City high school where I was dean of students. Her parents were worried that although she knew some of her new classmates from summer camp and a few others from their synagogue, it would be hard for her to “break in” socially in a school where the majority of students had been together since kindergarten. It turned out they had nothing to worry about. Rachel joined the field hockey team and choir. She had a wide range of interests and knew how to make small talk before class began with whoever was seated next to her. And most importantly, Rachel was a naturally kind young woman who was genuinely interested in others. Making friends seemed effortless for Rachel, and when she graduated four years later, Rachel was one of the few students about whom I could honestly say, “she is friends with everyone.”
Thus the subject of the e-mail about Rachel came as a surprise. Rachel, now 30 years old, has just published a memoir about her first year living in Chicago. Brought there by her husband’s job, Rachel found herself in the situation her parents had worried about all those years ago: she had no friends and needed to learn how to make new ones.
As an adult, Rachel discovered what most children experience at various times throughout their school years. Making new friends, and getting along with established ones, is rarely the seemingly effortless experience that Rachel had in high school. Most children need help negotiating the complex set of interpersonal skills involved in making and keeping friends. Therefore, friendship is a central part of the PJA curriculum.
In Kindergarten, we read picture books about old friends and new friends, books about friends who help each other be their “best selves” and friends who get “too silly” and need a break from one another. We read books about the loneliness of being without a friend and the joy of making a new one. We look at pictures of children who are left out of social situations and think about how we can invite them in, and at pictures of children in social conflict and explore solutions. We “study” both the values associated with being a friend – including respect for our friend’s differences and wishes, consideration for their needs, and forgiveness when they act thoughtlessly – and the skills of being a friend – including listening carefully to a friend’s words and “reading” their body language, expressing one’s feelings in ways others can understand, exploring various solutions to social problems, working towards compromise, and wording an honest apology. We revisit these themes each year, through the literature we read, in class meetings, and in conversations with individual and small groups of students.
It is not realistic to expect that every child can make friends as readily as Rachel did her first year of high school. But it is a goal that all of our children will recognize when a classmate needs a friendly hello and will invite the “left out child” to join them in an activity. Each of our students has practiced “I messages” and offering and accepting sincere apologies. And each of our students knows that each of us understand that they may not feel close friendship with every classmate, but that they are expected always to act friendly, with consideration and respect.
on Monday December 12, 2011 at 03:03PM
“Mr. Plumbean lived on a street where all the houses were the same. He liked it that way. So did everyone else on Mr. Plumbean’s street.”
So begins “The Big Orange Splot,” a picture book by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. Children typically nod knowingly when hearing about the neighbors who like being alike. Conformity seems to reassure them. From an early age, children identify a best friend as “someone who likes the same things I do” and want to wear the same clothes their friends do. Parents and teachers often report feeling powerless in the face of the pressure children and young adults feel to conform to the interests and behaviors of their peers.
I often refer them to Mr. Plumbean for empowerment.
The story continues. “One day, a seagull flew over Mr. Plumbean’s house. He was carrying a can of bright orange paint. (No one knows why.) And he dropped the can (no one knows why) right over Mr. Plumbean’s house.” And in doing so, the seagull sets off a chain of events that offers one of the great lessons for children – and for us – about how to turn peer pressure around.
Mr. Plumbean, who had previously joined his neighbors in proudly proclaiming that theirs “is a neat street,” spent a lot of time looking at the big orange splot that the seagull’s errant can of bright orange paint left on his roof. His neighbors grew impatient and told him, “Mr. Plumbean, we wish you’d get around to painting your house.”
Eventually, Mr. Plumbean did paint his house. But when he did, it did not look like all the other houses on his street. Rather, “Mr. Plumbean’s house was like a rainbow. It was like a jungle. It was like an explosion.” Mr. Plumbean’s neighbors were not pleased by the addition of more orange splots, brightly colored stripes, and pictures of elephants, lions, and steamshovels. They said, “Plumbean has popped his cork, flipped his wig, blown his stack and dropped his stopper.”
Undaunted, Mr. Plumbean continued the transformation of his house, and his life. With each change, his neighbors became more agitated. They shouted at him, ignored him, and finally asked his neighbor to go have a talk with him. “Tell him that we all liked it here before he changed his house. Tell him that his house has to be the same as ours so we can have a neat street.”
The neighbor went to see Mr. Plumbean, and the two ended up “drinking lemonade and talking all night long.” The neighbors, who expected that peer pressure would return Mr. Plumbean to their way of thinking, were shocked the next morning to discover that the man who lived next to Mr. Plumbean had rebuilt his house to look like a red and yellow ship.
The furious neighbors accused the man of being “just like Plumbean” and having “bees in his bonnet.” But then, the author tells us, “one by one, they went to see Mr. Plumbean, late at night. They would sit under the palm trees and drink lemonade and talk about their dreams – and whenever anybody visited Mr. Plumbean’s house, the very next day that person would set about changing his own house to fit his dreams.”
The following pages contain no text – just colorful, detailed pictures of each neighbor’s uniquely redesigned house.
When I read “The Big Orange Splot,” the youngest students can’t help but shout out which house they like best. And, when they realize they each have their own favorite, they don’t need me to point out the lesson of the story.
With older students, we sometimes role play what we think transpired during those evening talks under Mr. Plumbean’s palm trees. While students often begin by thinking what Mr. Plumbean said to convince his neighbors to stop being angry at him, they soon recognize that while they cannot make someone else like something they don’t like, they can helpsomeone figure out what he or she really cares about.
Helping our children “just say no” to peer pressure is a long process. It begins with lots of long, open-ended conversations and glasses of lemonade (or hot chocolate). It involves giving children opportunities to discover their own dreams. It also means, that as parents, we have to let go of our own expectation that our child’s dreams neatly conform to the dreams we might have.
on Wednesday October 19, 2011 at 08:43AM