It’s a Puzzle!

snake ef-e AmitaiAsif

Photo: Amitai Asif

 

“Can animals be naked?” he asked, his little forehead creased in perplexed concentration.

“Naked how?” I responded. “Animals don’t usually wear clothes. People may dress their dogs with coats or booties if its raining or snowing, but even that only sometimes.”

He waved me off. “I’m not talking about dogs, even.”

I smiled. The kindergartener’s contenance was a smaller version of adolescents’ exasperation at the ‘know-nothing-adults’ they are somehow expected to live with.

“Oh, okay.” I conceded, “I guess I misunderstood. What did you mean, then?”

“Other things. Like, um … snakes.”

“Snakes?!” I repeated.

“Yeah.” He moved his head up and down for emphasis. “Because I think maybe a snake took his clothes off and ran away and now he’s naked.”

Comprehension slithered in to lift my confusion. “Was this when you went to visit your grandma in Arizona?”

He nodded again. “It looked like a snake but it was only snake clothes.”

I grinned. “I think you saw a snake skin shed! How cool! But don’t worry, it still has skin on its body. You see, when a snake’s skin is too small for it, it grows new skin underneath and then it wriggles out of the old skin and sheds it inside out like a sock.”

The little boy narrowed his eyes and inspected my expression to see if I was perhaps pulling his leg. What he saw in my face must’ve reassured him.

“Good,” he said. “Because I didn’t want everyone to see his privates.”

 

 

For The Daily Post

Know Everything

 

child in water fountain

Photo: Atara Katz

 

 

“How did you learn how to know everything?” she asked.

“I don’t think anyone knows everything,” I responded, only half-attending. A siren from a fire-engine distracted me. The driver leaned on the horn. Someone must have not given the emergency vehicle the right of way.

“But how did you learn how to know everything?” she insisted.

The First Grader’s tone brought me back to full attention. She hung her big brown eyes on me.

“You mean, how do people work on knowing more and more?” I tried.

A shadow of a frown passed over the small visage, then the girl seemed to decide this not-at-all-what-I-asked-about-reframe is as comprehensive as this adult in front of her can probably muster at the moment. She nodded.

“Different people may have different ways of learning,” I replied, “but for me, I like finding out new things. So I observe and try to listen. I read a lot, and I ask plenty of questions …”

“… you do ask a lot of questions,” she interrupted. “But sometimes I think you already know the answers.”

I grinned. “Sometimes I do … And sometimes,” I teased, “I think you know the answers to your questions, too …”

 

 

For The Daily Post

Educate

alma in class

Photo: Osnat Halperin-Barlev

 

Any space

Will do

If you take time

To teach

Yourself

Your doll

Or anyone

Who will sit

Long enough

To listen …

But mostly

Yourself

Again,

Because what you

Choose

To replicate

Is what you teach

Today,

And what

Becomes

Your tomorrow.

 

 

 

For The Daily Post

City Symphony

NYC IngeVandormael

The Other NYC” ; Photo credit: Inge Vandormael

 

There is the hum of traffic in soft undertone. The contralto of people punctuated by the crescendo of a child who was refused a treat or dropped his toy. The bark of dogs weaves in: one low and deep, another yipping in the determination of the pocket-small. A truck lumbers over a rut in the road, a phone rings, a door slams. A bus beeps as it kneels for passengers, again when it rises up. An ambulance wails, its falsetto undulating in inverse proportions to distance and urgency. A firetruck follows in a fortissimo of horns. In the relative silence that ensues, a bird chirps and a pigeon coos response. Pianissimo. The city breathes. Then a traffic light changes, a motor revs, and a few notes of rap beat an open-window-escape. Another bus rolls to a stop, beep-kneels, sighs-up. More people’s voices modulate the presto of a toddler’s laugh. The rumbling of a motorcycle answers the low groan of a heavy truck. More dogs yip and bark. Someone inexplicably whistles Brahms.

City Symphony. An orchestra of urban life in virtuoso intervals.

 

For The Daily Post

It is Time!

Time is Now

 

It is time to be a listener.

It is time to look

And see.

It is time to know the difference

Between opinion

Fact or

Dream.

Yet it’s also time to tell some stories.

Time to let the mind roam free.

Time to open hearts

To conversation

To let imagination

Be.

And it is past all time

To hold compassion.

It is time for patience, too.

Time for kindness

For remembering

The essentiality

Of holding

You

As well as

Me.

 

 

For The Daily Post

 

 

Books and stories: a recipe for laughter and growth

From Pintrest

From Pintrest

Oh so true … that a child who reads will be an adult who thinks. Reading opens doors, windows, paths, and secret passages to all manner of worlds and imaginations, language and vocabulary, expression and understanding.

Reading matters.

A reading child is also preceded by a child who is being read to and is spoken to and with, and who experiences being part of conversations and experiences, narrative and the day to day stories of life lived and happenings that happen …

Because:

A child who is read to will be a child who listens, imagines, thinks, wonders, comprehends and symbolizes… A child more likely to read and enjoy reading …

A child who is talked to, who participates in conversation and discussion, is a child who knows to ask questions and answer queries, offer opinion and listen to that of others, be curious about others’ experience and tolerant of differences, ideas, and views… A child more likely to read and enjoy variety in what they read …

A child who is listened to–and is shown how to reciprocate and take one’s turn in listening–is a child who can relate and remember, reminisce and realize, teach and learn, listen, comprehend and think… A child more likely to read and find books a place for expanding understanding and relating …

So …

Did you open a book today? Did you tell a story? Make a story together? The story of going to the store, of cleaning up the room together, of salad making and laundry folding, of visiting the park and counting dogs with spots and kids in strollers, of the rainbow of colors in the produce aisle and the funny thing that silly dances do to your feet and heart and smile …

Go tell some stories. We’re never too old or too young!

Earth Talk

earth1
It is Earth Day.

An odd day to have, when we consider that realistically, every day is an Earth Day. We live it. We breathe it. We would not be. Literally. Without it.

And yet, there’s Earth Day. To remind us of what so many of us may be taking for granted, to counter what too many do not want to accept as Truth, to open our eyes to what we can do better or more of or less of.

For the Earth, yes. But if that is not incentive enough–for ourselves. For our children and their children and their children’s children.

People vary in how well they hear Earth–or how willing. Some prefer to not hear. Others spend life more attuned to Earth than others. Most children do.

Children often are attuned to Earth. You see it in their intense attention to a crawling ant or an undulating earthworm. You see it in the careful handling of leaf and pebble and that tattered bit of some insect’s wing that you really don’t want to find in their pocket when you do the laundry. You see it in their awe. In how hard it is for them to tear their eyes away from listening to do whatever you find so much more important in that moment, but they don’t–for they are listening to the Earth’s heart.

Children listen. They are naturally attuned to the rhythm of what birthed them. Till we teach them not to. Till we fill their world with too many competing sounds and none-too-subtle visuals that they tune-out the ripple of the earth-talk for the beeping of their videos and ever-busy-schedule-noise.

The Earth talks. Most days it speaks softly, slowly. Other days it shrieks and growls and thunders, matching winds and storms peak to peak. Earth speaks. It has always spoken. Native Peoples everywhere have listened, been tuned in, respected both the cycles of the earth and the sanctity of the sanctuary it provides us.

They have loved and feared the earth–because for all its perfect habitat for people and our fellow living beings, the Earth is not a subtle being. It blooms explosively. It raptures in shuddering volcanos. It sweeps down in tornados and hurricanes.

Native Peoples listened to the subtle: to the slow drawl of the summer and the fleeting flutter of the spring. To the deep rumble of the winter and the dried crinkle of the fall.  They heard those just as they heard the fury and eruptions. Most of us today listen only when the voice is loud enough … when Earth Talk drowns all other sound.

Even then, do we hear? Do we listen? What do we understand?

The Earth talks. All of it does.

Trees whisper. They bend and laugh and cry. They may do less of it these days, with less of them to pass a whispering along to, but talk they do. Their voice is not quite heard as it is felt, reverberating down their trunks and through their roots. In case you wondered, a small one states with certainty that Fairies often speak back or translate–you can see their lights flicker in response …

Oceans talk, as well. If only we would listen.

The fish, the whales, the jellyfish and sand-beings.

The growing grasses talk. The roses sigh and blush. The daisies sing and bow to bees for their gentle contribution.

Animals all carry their own voice. Individual and harmonizing. In body-language, pose and poise, hum and throaty purr, cries and song.

If we don’t hear it, it is not from lack of conversation abounding all about us, but from dulling of the senses and a denial that makes it easier to not know. For we would not be able to go on abusing Earth and its inhabitants if we did fully hear and know, if we maintained an open eye. If we let our heart know.

Those among us who fight to remain open hearted to the Earth are often achy-hearted. Frustrated, too, and yet immensely hopeful. Because we know it can be–should be, could be, oh-please-would-be birthed anew.

All living things have a voice.  The whole Earth hums. Abuzz with sound. Much of it unhappy now, these days … but it can turn back. It can remember better times and calibrate its tuning forks and old-sung centuries.

Let us listen. Let us recognize the tunes that whisper life and harmony. Let us work to dim those wounded melodies that rasp pain and pollution and hollowed out caverns where resources were all but stripped out.  Let us amplify the ones that celebrate renewal.

Earth talks. May we hear, and see, and listen, and understand. For the sake of all that is, for our children–let us truly, fully, take a stand.

 

How early? For how long?

book time

I’ve received a query from a parent: “I heard reading to children is good for them. Is it true that it helps language development? How early should I start reading to my baby and how long should I go on reading to her?–Parenting Neophyte…”

It is a good question and one I get often and love getting. It is always worthy of an answer.

Dear Parenting Neophyte,

The facts are clear: Reading to kids is great. Introducing children to books is important for language development, listening skills, later literacy, and general cognitive potential. Stories expand vocabulary, increase imagination, teach social skills, improve narrative. Reading to your children is good parenting and a good investment in their education and future.

As to how early one is supposed to start reading to children and how long one goes on doing that–the simple answer is: “as early as possible and for as long as kids would let you …”

The more detailed reply is that even newborns find interest in clear patterns and drawings, in contrasting colors, in faces (especially in faces), and pictures of familiar objects. They listen. They pay attention. They track. They make connections between sounds and experience. Unfold an accordion book when the baby is playing on the mat. In the stroller. In the playpen. Give them a soft-book to hold in the stroller or to reach for when they loll on the floor during some ‘tummy time’ (check for lead-free paints and non-toxic materials, of course–babies put everything in their mouth!). Certainly introduce picture books as part of every night routine. Talk about the pictures with your infant, point to familiar animals and items. It is not about testing how much they understand or what words they can say or point to. Rather, it is about having reading books become a link in the nightly ritual of cuddling and comfort, connection, familiarity, language, narrative, and stories.

Babies who are read to often gravitate toward books as playing objects, they leaf through, turn pages, pause, look, and ponder, even as they mouth the corners and tear out what they manage to … (all great motor and visual spatial skills, by the way). They also learn to point, to wait, and to associate pictures with words and sounds. They learn to anticipate the next picture, to predict what’s to come. They learn to trust their memory. They rarely tire of adoring the confirmation of seeing the same picture appear as it did the day prior.

For sure, the repetition can be tedious (you’ll know what I mean when your toddler asks for the same book in the two-thousandth time, and wants to read it “again” and “again” and “more time!”), but it is part of children’s normal development during infancy and toddlerhood to like things repeat. So take a deep breath and even as you introduce new books once in a while, and expand the child’s repertoire of stories, do cave in and read “goodnight moon” one more time …

As for the question of “how long to keep reading to children?” The answer truly is to do so for as long as possible. Many professionals recommend reading to children straight through middle school, and certainly throughout the elementary school years.

It tends to surprise parents when I recommend that. Very often they tell me that they’d stopped reading to the child when he or she learned how to read independently–sometimes during the first or second grade. They thought that the move to independent reading marked the end of “needing to be read to” and in fact often had reading time revert into the time of day when the child read to them … It was almost a rite of passage. A mark of moving into the reading world.

Granted, there’s still plenty of bonding potential in cuddling with your child and witnessing their reading progress. It certainly feels good to the parent to measure their child’s progress … and to a child to know their efforts are appreciated. However, being read to is a very different task than reading aloud as decoding practice. The two have very different goals and encompass very different language levels. The books children read are often matched with their decoding ability, rather than their language level. Also, even in later elementary grades, when reading skills allow children to decode most common words, books are chosen with the child’s comprehension level in mind, not necessarily their exposure to higher linguistic material.

Reading TO children is a whole other world of learning opportunity. It is primarily a listening task and allows the child to relax into the story and delve into language while losing oneself in it. Being read to opens space for a child to draw inferences about connections, context clues, idioms, character descriptions, sequence, cause and effect. It is a time for a child to consider possible outcomes, predict to himself what might happen next, check a hypothesis, internalize some of the story characters, discern who they like and who they don’t, who they may want to be, where, how, why. It opens an opportunity for discussion that is very different than the ‘reading comprehension testing’ that happens with school books or those the child reads independently. The books you read to your child become fodder for conversation and self-discovery: what did they like about the book? what did you? why did so and so do this or that? would you so the same? what is your favorite character? which is mine? how come?

Children who are read to through 8th grade, have larger vocabularies than children who are good readers but are not being read to (and we are talking vocabularies that are larger by tens of thousands of words–not just by a small margin!). As a group, they have better listening skills, better auditory processing and auditory memory skills. They have better narrative skills. They use a more varied lexicon in their own writing. They have bigger cache of idioms and expressions that they can infer meaning about. They can converse better and show wider world-knowledge.

Children who are read to tend to enjoy books better than kids who are not read to. They tend to love reading more. They choose a wider variety of books and have a wider foundation in classical literature (read: the books you read to them may not be books they’d otherwise pick up to read themselves … but having listened to them, they may get the ‘book bug’ to look for more classic literature on their own). Want another bonus? Reading to children improves connection with parents and allows children to feel comfortable talking to their parents more, and about more topics (not to mention that stories often bring up issues that they may otherwise not talk about …)

In some families, reading to each other continues as part of family time well into high-school, with teenagers taking turn in reading aloud. Sure, it may seem odd to consider teens today being gung ho about spending an hour “reading boring books aloud” and being commanded to have their thumbs idle (no music, no chat, no texting). However, for families who started early this is often a natural continuation. In families starting a little later (and it is never too late, actually), the benefits are real even if they are grudgingly (or perhaps never verbally) acknowledged. Having your undivided attention is a precious commodity (yes, you have to put down that phone, too …). Knowing you are listening is priceless. It opens yours even as you raise your child to have a more open mind.

Reading to your children builds your relationship with them while also building their relationship with themselves, their inner worlds, the world around them, and their academic and cognitive abilities. It is truly a ‘one size fits all’ intervention. There are no downsides, other than extra cuddle time, honest conversations, and the distinct possibility of difficult questions about life that literature inevitably brings up.

The only warning necessary is … that reading to your child can damage their ignorance …

reading

 

Listen

a voice

It is the voice of heart

The voice of care

Of here and then and everywhere.

Listen. It is there.

 

It is the voice that speaks the wind that rustles

Through the branches

From the smallest trees

Into the clouds.

Listen. Find its sound.

 

It is the voice of oceans ebbing surf

And twirling foam and shells

Onto changing sands

And sparkling sun.

Listen. All is one.

 

It is the voice of all that does not need

Explaining

And has no demand.

Listen. Understand.

 

It is the voice of who you’re meant to be

And are

And have never quite forgotten.

The voice that hears the broken places

It is the voice that heals.

Listen. Breathe it in, and feel.

 

It is the voice of calm

And nature

The voice of reason that does not hold cause

Or fault

Or worry

Just is.

Listen. Welcome ease.

 

It is the voice without words

That carries worlds within it

The voice of souls connected

Hope restored

The voice of light in flow

tenderly weaving earth and sky above.

Listen. It is the endless call of love.