Friday, December 30, 2011

How to Talk so Kids Can Learn

Just read an amazing book, which is actually a sequel to another, I'm assuming, equally amazing book:

This book has potential to change how my classroom functions. I feel like I already do some of the things these two ladies talk about, such as:

- acknowldeging the child's feelings with a word or sound, i.e. "I see" or "mmm-hm."

- criticizing without wounding, praising without demeaning (or, describe what you observed instead of judging it, and allow the individual to evaulate.)

But there are many things that were, let's say, "common-sensical", and easy to apply, that I have never thought of. And I love these ideas! It is all about acknowledging the child as a person equal in dignity to teachers/parents/adults, even if they are not equal in experience or knowledge.

Now...some of you might be like I am, more of a "children need to know their place, this society gives children an inflated sense of worth" kind of deal (wow, that sounds sort of harsh when I write it out...I hope you know from this blog how much I treasure my children...) But, as parents and even as community, we have a responsibility to our children to raise them with a sense of respect, a sense of how to treat people, and a sense of humanity in relating to their fellow creatures. Where do they learn that from? From how the people they look up to treat them. For the most part, our previous generation talked to us in orders and requests for such-and-such activity, not giving much importance to our feelings in the matter. Whether said feelings hindered or encouraged our part in said activity was no concern to them, so long as they could force us to get things done.

Fast forward to our generation now teaching the new generation of children, and we inately fall back on the techniques when things aren't going well - sarcasm, belittlement, dismissing the child's feelings, threatening, prophecying (you'll never become a hard worker by...(fill in the blank)). This book suggests giving credence to the child's feelings, you open up communication and create relationship with the child to allow for better and fuller instruction.

In essence, what I gleaned from the book is: Love one another.

Yep...create relationship with the children you teach, the children you mother/father, any children you have some sort of influence on. You need to do more than teach them, order them around, show them the way. The way to help them grow best is by showing them how to be the best person they can be, and this is accomplished through acceptance of their innermost selves as valid. Give them their dignity. Allow them to question, complain, laugh, discover. Allow them to show us what they actually think and what they are actually struggling with that fogs their minds and hinders their focus on school or whatever the task at hand is. Just as adults have a hard time leaving our troubles at the door, children have an even harder time, as they don't have years of experience behind them of this learned behavior.

If you are a parent or teacher or someone who deals with children regularly, I highly recommend reading this book. It's prequel "How to Talk so Kids will Listen and How to Listen so Kids Will Talk" was a bestseller, and is one that I am going to read very soon. I found "How to Talk so Kids Will Learn" refreshing and an easy read, as well as a good reminder of how to treat even "the least of these."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All is merry and bright

Merry (late) Christmas to you all!

Happy (early) New Year to you all!

We have had a good vacation so far as our little family...getting to spend Christmas with Jon's mom and gram, who brought their 10 year old chocolate lab, Dakota, to spend some time with us as well.

This dog...I remember this dog from before Jon and I were dating and he was a chubby rambunctious puppy...I remember this dog as bullheaded and lovable and pushy about getting into Jon's/anyone's lap even when he weighed close to 90 pounds. I remember this dog as being difficult to control. And now - now he is old and has arthritis in his hips and loves on my babies and is still hairy and stinky and farts in our living room way more often than I think should ever happen...but I don't mind having him around. As long as he behaves himself. :)

Dakota, you smelly mutt.
Why must I smell what's in your butt?
It's a malodorous form of what went in your gut.
I must say that you should cut.

Anyway. Ode to Dakota over.

The kids did remarkably well with Christmas and all it's gluttonous presentry. I was a little (ok, a lot) nervous for Jeremiah, as he gets overwhelmed easy and has actually been on the brink of nervous little panic attacks for a week now, chewing on his shirts and jumping uncontrollably when we're talking to him.

aside: I think the way our culture builds up the excitement at Christmastime can create such crazed, foaming-at-the-mouth for Santa little creatures that it becomes too much for them. More than once at my school did I have students break down in tears over a misplaced pencil/careless word from a friend/you name the inane thing here. My 2nd grade piano student was so overtired during her lesson, she could barely function. It was 4:00 in the afternoon. Jeremiah has had bags under his eyes for weeks.

But, he did very well with all the new items, and seemed to take it all in well. Isaac still took his naps and ate on schedule. We had cinnamon buns from a can for breakfast and roasted pork loin from scratch for lunch. We traveled to my Nana's for more merrymaking, and then went home and I got to watch 3 episodes of Parenthood.

And I cried. About 3 times that day. Only twice during Parenthood episodes.

So, yes, that means that i cried once on Christmas this year. I could blame it on hormones. I could blame it on being overwhelmed. I could blame it on any number of things. But, I've decided to not blame tears on something, but instead accept them as a needed and healthy expression of my emotions.

I cry when I'm sad.
I cry when I'm happy.
I cry when I sing in church.
I cry when I'm angry.
I cry when I pray.
I even cry when i'm excited!

I cry so much, it's ridiculous. I fight being embarrased about it, but it's no use. It's how I operate. That particular day, I was crying for a couple things:

1. One of my first Christmases away from my family. (mom, dad, brother)
2. My first Christmas being "in charge" of everything...and I really didn't want to be. For me, that's no way to really relax.

I have written several times on this blog recently how life is so blessed, so good right now. And ironically, while feeling really blessed, I also feel incredibly inadequate and overwhelmed and unsure of how to handle it all. I have been slowly figuring out what I can take off my plate over the last month, and have succeeded in removing some big things, some small things. All will help with helping me do this job - the homemaking/family job - actually happen, and maybe even happen well. My kids are two very different ages, two very different stages, and need me. I am lucky to have an amazing, caring husband in Jon who is devoted to our family and takes an active part in raising the children and caring for them. But, I realized this month that there are still things that only I can be for Jeremiah. There are still things that only I can be for Isaac. And, there are still things that only I can be for Jon. And it is not fair to them to take those things away, or even lessen my energy towards those things because I am splitting myself between too many hats. Right now, being a wife to Jon, being a mom to Jeremiah, and a mom to Isaac takes up all my time, mostly because I not satisfied with those relationships being on the "to do" list...they need to be active and growing and beautiful representations of Christ and the church. It is not easy but it is good.

And exhausting.

And good.

The only other thing I cannot give up right now is my job. Which, I don't want to give up, really, so that works out. But, boy is it hard to do the teacher thing and the family thing right now. I feel for a while that I have not been doing either very well...simply doing them ok and getting by.

If you are a friend or family member, I humbly ask for your prayers. There is nothing wrong, but I am feeling unpeaceful and plagued by worry and exhaustion. With that comes the desire to despair and give up, even if just for a minute, or a day. I need grace. I need relationship with God more than ever. I know it's a little weird asking for prayer on such a public forum, but I know not many people read this, and I need all the prayer I can get right now!

Hear, O Lord, and answer, I am poor and needy.
Guard my life for I am devoted to you.

May this Holiday season find you all happy and rested. I am getting there, and love and miss you all.

p.s. - sorry for my awful poem about the dog. this is what happens! please pray for me! :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

sometimes looking at my boys at night...

...when the little one wakes up with his pathetic little cry for mom's milk...

...when the older one stirs and makes noise in his bed and cries because he's gone into our room and we're not there yet...

...and I am amazed at my ability to forget the frustration of the mundane day-to-day work schedule...

...forget the helpless nature of "not-enough-time"...

...forget the hardness of the day...

...and see only my little ones, vulnerable and needy...

...growing so fast like the ever rising sun...

...and I pray the hopeless prayer that they will never leave me...

...that they will remain in this pure form forever...

...tiny feet, grasping hands, hugging arms, and innocent minds...

...and I hope to God that He gives me the ability to not screw it up.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude in the gifts of my children and husband. I could never be enough, and yet, am here purposefully in God's will at this moment with them. Thank God that He is enough. May I strive to remember only that. If I keep my eyes on Jesus, whom He graciously sent to us here on earth - only then will I be at peace.

Thursday, December 08, 2011


I realized the other day that I am able to make a living off of doing what I love.

Not everyone can say that.

I love music. More specifically, I love singing and lines in instrumentation that sing and how much expression the human voice can convey.

So much of what I do day-to-day in my "jobs" includes, even requires that talent/gift/ability. I am so thankful that I get to be a voice in God's kingdom. I know I am other things as well sometimes, like hands and feet, but that's not where I'm most comfortable. Where I can deliver grace and truth and love is in singing it out.

Music is the way I worship - has been since I was a teeny tiny little girl and staying up way too late singing all the praise songs I learned at children's choir that day until my mom came in with a gentle "that's enough, now it's time to sleep."

Music is the way I process. When I am in a mood - whether it be an excited mood, a mellow mood, frustrated, humbled, scared, or can help me process what's going on and pull it out of me so I can move on. Just today, I was feeling a bit sad over some recent frustations in another job, and turned onto one of my favorite blogs to hear the music she has alongside her amazing writings. It immediately put my heart at ease remembering that God is in control. Not sure why, but it helped to release the tension I had been carrying around with me for a few days now. Usually, just hearing a few notes of a well-loved song will cause me to break down and remember to choose life and forget the high drama of whatever moment is upon me.

Music is my income. From teaching elementary school to teaching private voice and piano, I am able to make a living (and a pretty decent one at that) by helping others learn the joy of music-making. I get the comment from other teachers and parents all the time, "Oh, you're a music teacher! That must be so fun." And, trust me, it really is. But, I don't love all aspects of music. And I don't love all aspects of students. But, I love that I am teaching something I love (therefore it is conveyed to the children) and I love that I love teaching children. (this was not a discovery I made until after college). So, it makes any troubles, as they say, worth it.

(on a side note, one of the benefits of teaching elementary school is silly scenarios like this: I have a faux painting of the Mona Lisa holding an electric guitar by Karen Cannon in my room. A kindergartener recently looked at it, got all excited, then asked if that was me and could I teach him to play electric guitar. Ah, I love that I can be compared to the Mona Lisa in my job...ha!)

Music is my pasttime...well, sortof. I am in a choir...which, really, I don't like choir music, but I love singing, so this works. And, if you're gonna be in a choir, Lyricora is a pretty sweet deal...amazing musicians, great literature to sing, and fantastic it. I also, as this blog chronicles, audition for various opera companies from time to time when I find that my life is becoming a bit calm in any way. (that's a lie...that never happens, I just can't stay away from auditioning. It keeps me on my toes and I love that I can occassionally do something that is just for me. Well, and the audience. You know what I mean.) I probably get to do anywhere from 2-5 different performance opportunities a year that are beyond my line of work. That's not much by performer standards, but plenty for a working momma like myself.

I also love playing piano selections, which can help my moodiness...this was something I did so often in high school...if I was frustrated, it was Chopin's Waltz in E Minor. If I was happy and reflective, it was my hymn arrangments passed on to me from our old church organist. If I was anxious, it was anything I could pound out to get the tenseness out of my body. Nowadays, I don't get to play as much as I would like to...or maybe I just don't remember it as a helpful thing to be doing. But, it makes my boys happy to hear me play, though Jeremiah often requests I sing too, so that makes it doubly hard. But I digress.

So, I am happy. I really didn't have many dreams for what my life would look like when I was older, (except I wanted to be on stage), but I think if I had had more domestic desires early on, this life would have been somewhat ideal. I hope that I can stay on top of my craft and stay sharp for a while to keep music the biggest way I make money and enjoy life. I am so thankful for this life God has given me. I never did an official Thanksgiving post, but everything I am and have is from Him. I could never praise or give thanks to Him enough. I am honored to be used by God through His gifts to me.

Friday, December 02, 2011

it's not every day...

that you get a chance to see what kind of a difference you make to your students.

Today, which, oddly, was a day (was that too many commas? I think it might be) when I have been doubting my abilities as a competent music teacher for a whole variety of reasons, I receive this email to my public school account:

"Hi Mrs. ______,

Thank you very much for making music class so enjoyable. Francesca and Christopher both talk a lot about music and all of the fun and interesting things that you do. We often play the "beat" game at home. (I think that's what you call it.)

Francesca just this morning said how you are always smiling. And Christopher told me that you are the one adult adult at the school who he trusts to confide in, if something were to happen to him. (I hope that wasn't supposed to be confidential.) When my extremely perceptive, shy son feels that way about an adult, it tells me a lot about the person.

Thank you for your kind interactions. Your style is very significant to my sensitive children.

Thank you,

S. W."

These kids are both super shy, it's pulling teeth to get them to smile sometimes. I am so glad that I can be a bright spot in their day and hopefully create memories of music being a freeing experience.

It's nice to get encouragement when you least expect it. :)