Writing in the Snow

Snow is blanketing the East Coast, burying the rulers of measuring reporters, blowing microphones and umbrellas out of people’s hands, stranding motorist on highways, passengers on buses, travelers en route.

And it is COLD.

Too many cars on streets made plows lag in coming. They are yet to transform some paths from the look of dusted by ruptured sacks of confectioners sugar … to gray mushy lines of hiding blacktop. There’s a hush outside. The world stunned by winter’s hold.

People walk gingerly–confectioners sugar it might look like, but up close underfoot this is mighty slippery stuff.

From my window, everyone is a walking story:
Here are the sturdy footers, placing one foot in front of the other in assured steps;
There come the triers, delicately placing one foot and then another, almost in a dance;
The best-spot-placers, scanning the sidewalk for less slippy spots before zigzagging their way along, concentration at the full;
The text-n-sliders, keeping half an eye on the sidewalk and the rest on the small screen;
The unprepared, stepping tentatively in not-quite-appropriate footwear and attempting to ignore physics–a body in flat shoes will sink in snow piles;
And the snow-welcomers, faces upturned to the wind against tugging-hands at their wrappings. Many grasshoppers-size with bookbags and lunch boxes, dismissed early from school, drunk on Snow-Day delight;
There are the careful-balancers, holding canes and walkers or clinging to shopping carts or someone else’s elbow, praying to not throw out backs or hips or knees or ankles, casting yearnful glances at the sure-steppers and grinners, nostalgic peeks at grasshopper magic, and a half-envious, half-knowing shake of head at the texting and unprepared, for their careless take-for-granted health.

From my window, everyone becomes walking story. Stories in the snow.

How do you write stories in the snow?

Your child hates books. Now what?

Photo Credit: S.L.

Photo Credit: S.L.

Many of the kids I see do not like reading. They find reading hard. They find it challenging. The words are too new or too many or too complicated. The letters transpose and the spelling’s tricky. They don’t like answering questions. Summaries give them stomach aches and rashes. They choose books not by topic but by least page number, thinnest spine, biggest font, and most page-gobbling illustrations. They become experts as word-counting and can pick the shortest paragraph in a glance. They often complain that they hate all books. That no genre speaks to them. For them, reading equals schoolwork, books are naught but tedious demand, and stories are equated with comprehension tests and loathsome reading responses.

Granted, the children who require Speech Therapy are often predisposed to some difficulty. They struggle with language/learning issues, they may have dyslexia, dysgraphia, learning disorders, language delay, word retrieval issues, auditory processing problems, hearing loss, attention deficit, difficulties with identifying, understanding and responding to social demands.

It would make sense that they would not like reading, concentrating as it often does all of those needed skills into a neatly typed package of condensed language. It would make sense that books would feel intimidating, crowded with small-font letters, complicated words and confusing expressions and metaphors.

All true. Yet truth remains that many children who are not language/learning disabled hate books. Maybe your child does, too. Maybe you have tried cajoling, bribing, promising, charting, stars, stickers, brownie points … and they still prefer cod liver oil to reading. Don’t despair–it does not have to be this way.

We can change that. You can change that. Here’s how:

All too often we confuse books and stories with reading. Teachers and parents clump together the child’s reading level with their interest level and language level, though those are not always compatible. Also, we stop reading TO the children and ask them to read aloud to us instead. It is good practice, we are told, we believe. It “counts” toward the 20-minutes-a-day requirement from school and catches two birds with one stone–story time and reading homework. Done. In addition, it makes us feel good to “keep tabs” on the child’s progress, and unwittingly, we make every page a test of skill, every story a piece of work. When the child resists, some parents are told to strike a compromise: “take turns reading,” they are told. It makes the book move faster, yes. It also pulls the child out of whatever listening and imagining the story they might otherwise manage, and thrusts them into the arduous task of deciphering and vocalizing. No wonder they become masters of paragraph word counting.

Children’s reading level may be far below that of the language they should and can enjoy listening to. This is true not only in First Grade, but through the elementary and middle school years. Focus on reading at the child’s reading level only, and the child is bored. Focus on reading age-appropriate books only, and the child is constantly failing to keep up as she struggles to decipher, loses track, loses interest, sees books as “too hard!”

Reading is a world onto itself. It is a skill, but also a place for wandering in a dream and conjuring up pictures from a story. It is where the association between book and pleasure can come in.

Have a child who is reading reluctant? First and foremost, divorce the reading task from the world of stories. Take upon yourself to read TO the child. Find a childhood book you loved or a story that is of interest for the child (and no, you don’t have to start with David Copperfield, the Iliad, or Huckleberry Finn…). Read it to them. This is for pleasure. Not for tallying pages for a log or counting down the minutes for homework. Not for testing, either. No demands from the child but to relax and listen. No turn taking. No asking questions to reassure yourself how much the child understood. No queries about vocabulary words you “think the child should know” unless the child stops you to ask. Let the child absorb whatever their heart lets in, even if they daydreamed half-way into the story–there is no test at the end of this one, no requirement to keep on track. You, too, relax into the book with them and read awhile. You are not wasting time but investing in the child’s internal imagery and listening. You are building book-love.

Stop before the child tires of listening. Even better, leave the reading at a cliff-hanger till the next evening. It works for TV episodes and a good mystery. It works for children, too. It gives a taste of ‘more’.

For the child’s own reading–offer books that are almost too easy but not quite. Don’t over-reach. Don’t urge them to “try something harder for a change”–one or two words that are difficult to read in every page are more than enough. Don’t push them to read “this book because I have read this and loved it when I was your age.” Don’t urge on them the book another child in class “already read a year ago.” Reading is not about just getting through the page. It is not about struggling so much to read each sentence that you must re-read it to know what it meant. Reading is about success and flow, words that string together into sentences with little effort and almost no breaks. More than the story itself, you want the child to have a sense of mastery over reading. A sense that they can read and are not exhausted by it. Make it fun. Be enthusiastic but not cloying (children have a super sensitive bull-detector for such stuff, as you know).

Keep at it. Especially keep at reading TO the child. Children who are read to through 8th Grade have bigger and more flexible vocabularies than children who are not being read to. Reading to children fosters richer imaginations and creativity. It helps with predicting and inferences, at understanding nuance, satire, metaphor, and humor. All that said–remember–the stories you read TO the child are not a platform for testing them for knowledge or comprehension. After all, when you pick up a bestseller or a favorite novel, you don’t have to write a narrative about it later … you are not made to answer formal questions about vocabulary, who did what to whom when why or where, or to find examples of simile and metaphor …

Keep at it. Soon enough you’d find yourself leaving the book (cliff hanger dangling) someplace within the child’s reach, and catch a little nose stuck in it when you aren’t looking. An insider’s hint: this works even better with a flashlight within reach and a off-handed story about how your aunt or uncle or second-cousin got into trouble reading under the covers after lights were officially to be out …

Have fun, and may the reading fairies smile.

Imagination is Everything

Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

How apt and true and whole encompassing. How delicious. How perfectly fun!

If you’ve seen a child submerged in play, you know that imagination is their dress rehearsal for all matters living. If you’ve seen an artist bubbled in their creative space, you know that imagination is the spring that feeds it. If you’ve heard a fairy-tale or folk story, fable, tall-tale, or a Bard imparting lore; you know that imagination is the fertile ground they grow on, what sustains them, where their seeds remain asleep, awaiting a creative dawn.

All that has ever been done, invented, manufactured, built, sewed, woven, Jerry-rigged, cobbled together; it had to pass through an imagination portal first.

We cannot create what we don’t see–if not with eyes or ears or hands or senses, then with our mind and heart and soul. Most true creations call on several of those to form the tapestry of thought to form.

Imagination creates. It is the foundation, the first step before the step is even taken. It is the heartbeat of all progress, in one’s own life as well as in the world galore. It is what makes impossible, possible; what makes the unimaginable, done. Humans are made to imagine. We are made to visit unseen shores within our mind and see vistas unfurl endless wavelets, seashells, cliffs and boulders, shores within a shore. We are made to dream upon an image, find a thread to follow and breathe imagination through it till a light-bulb sputters on.

Imagination “is the preview of life’s coming attractions”, Einstein said. It is the show before the show, the act before the acting, the plan before the blueprint, the background of a story before it knows the words. And it is limitless. The mind’s eye is unencumbered by space or time or speed; it is unfettered by procedures, flow charts, feasibility, or expectations. It is the infinite universe where old-soul-magic and deep-shared knowledge parent images till we find the courage to have them be born.

“Imagination is everything.”

Indeed it is, and in it lays its magic. In it strums the harmony that leaves us breathless, resonates our very soul, and holds us in the mesmerizing imaginary space where we are partially tethered to reality and partially swimming in the spheres of all-be-known.

Imagine, and you will forever be transformed.

Maybe Baby

A preschooler today, arriving with his mom. He already bargaining as they walk up the stairs:
“Mommy, can we have ice-cream after?”
“Maybe, Baby.”
“Mommy, can have a play date with Yanny?”
“Maybe, Baby.”
“Maybe, Baby.”
“Can I watch TV?”
“Maybe, Baby.”

The duo arrives, bags down, coats shed, sticky hands washed (there had to have been one ‘yes’ among the ‘maybe’s!).

The boy takes his seat. Eyes still on Mom.
“Can I have pizza for dinner?”
Mom, distracted with the phone, as she had to have been coming up the stairs–the tone remained unchanged:
“Maybe, Baby.”

The little man is miffed by then, but he’s a clever chap. He ponders, brightens, looks at me. I smile benignly back–I want to see what he’s got planned.
“Mommy, do you love Marie more than me?”
“Maybe, Baby.”

He got her. And I think he got the ice-cream and the play-date, too.

You said, what?!

You said, what?!

No way Mammal!

A girl, learning about Mongolia, coming across a fact about the “Horse People” drinking horse milk.
Girl: “No way! Horses don’t have milk!”
Me: “Actually, they do. They are mammals, and all mammals have milk for their young.”
Girl (eyeing me suspiciously): “Na-ah, only cows and goats have milk.”
Me: “The milk that we drink and use indeed comes from cows and goats and sheep, but all mammals have milk for their babies. Including horses.”
The girl, incredulous and rather alarmed. “No way! You are just saying this to trick me”
Me: “Nope. Not tricking you.”
Girl:”Yes you are, only cows have milk. And goats and stuff. Not horses. What are you going to say next, that zebras have milk, too?”
Me (smiling): “Yep, they do. And lions, and hippos, and giraffes, and mice…”
Girl (adamant): “Stop it! Mice are way to small to be mammals…”

And so it went. On whales, and elephants, bats and rabbits, gorillas and dogs (“No way!”)
She demanded an internet search to prove I was not pulling her leg but then refused to believe that, either.

We went back to animal groupings. Bird, Reptiles, Mammals…

After a while of this, glee rose in her eyes. She was sure she finally found the loophole to absolutely prove me wrong.
“So,” she said, victorious, “if you say that mammals have hair or fur and have teeth and have live babies and all that, then I KNOW you are wrong because then you’d have to tell me that we’re mammals, too!”

(imagination point for my reply and her resulting exclamation…)

Photo credit to I.A.

Photo credit to I.A.

The Wonder of Wondering

A mom of a client tried to find a day to reschedule a session that they were going to miss next week. She could not find ‘an opening’ in her five-year-old’s schedule in the next SEVERAL weeks.
“We may have more time in March,” she murmured, peering at her iPhone screen. “No, actually, that’s when his sports club changes, so I don’t know if he’ll have time then.”

Aside from speech-therapy, which he needed because of a small deformity in his mouth which affected the clarity of his speech; this five-year-old had baseball, soccer, drama, piano, chess, guitar lessons, and tutoring (for kindergarten preparation–the latest hit in urban upper class–this mom is actually behind the curve because she ‘only’ started him at age three, and not earlier…). He also had two playdates scheduled–in the several weeks ahead, there was no time for more–one to take place at a museum and the other at a movie theater followed by a pizza place.
Al of those were activities to fit after his preschool was done at 2pm each day or on weekends. Sunday was especially busy, apparently, with double tutoring, so he “not fall behind on no school days.”

“When does he play?” I wondered aloud.

The mom looked mildly surprised at the question. “Oh, he plays a lot. He plays soccer, baseball, chess…”

I smiled. “I meant when does he have time for unstructured play, to just be in his room with his toys and use his imagination and daydream and make up stories for himself?”

The mom nodded dismissively, “Oh, yeah, I know that’s good for his development, but he’s just too busy right now. He does read, though. He’s up to level 2 now. Every night he has to read his words before he goes to sleep.”


The wonderful power of wondering was completely lost on the mother, swept up as she was in the rush of demands an requirements, competition, check-marks, and achievement.

It made me wonder, too, about whether she herself knew how to just be, if she still remembered how to play.

Do you?

Do you set aside time for musing and refilling your tank of creativity and playfulness?

How much time does your child have for play? Does he lose himself in fantasy, imagination, and the wonder of wondering?

It is the job of childhood to be at play. To invent, experiment, inquire, speculate, dream with eyes wide open, animate toys, get slightly bored and think of nothing and everything, walk slowly outside and collect pieces of leaves, paper, dirt. It is the job of childhood to socialize, assign roles in joined mimicking of adult-roles and fantastic stories, negotiate with peers and make your own rules, unencumbered by adults who demand you follow the ‘rules-of-the-game’ instead.

Surely there is time a child should spend in listening, following directions, and learning. There is room for rules and consequences, routines and chores. However, losing the balance between adult-led and child-inspired, tilts childhood off its axis. How can a child who does not have the time to breathe and get a little bored, learn how to entertain himself, day-dream, imagine, be truly creative, be a child, play?

When is the last time you deeply reconnected with wonder? If you cannot say, then it is time to stop, watch a child getting lost in a bubble, let them be, and find your own path to some play.

Photo Credit to S.E.

Photo Credit to S.E.