Monday, October 24, 2016

Storytelling: The Next Generation

Last May, I made the decision to stop running storytelling.

It was a difficult choice for me, but I had led it since my oldest started college, and her siblings had no desire to take it on. Their friends had moved on to other activities, and the children coming had gotten younger. I also didn't seem to have any takers from the next generation of storytellers who were attending the workshops I ran. It's easy to do these things when your own kids are a part of them, but when they are no longer interested, it simply adds to your list. When I started working (at a different library) it became even harder. It was time to reach out.

It's always hard to pass the torch. I had run storytelling for 15 years, led it for four. but I was running out of steam. Last May I asked if anyone wanted to lead for the month and no one did. I tried again in June. Two children stepped up. I came to offer moral support. It was a bit chaotic--no one had any stories to share, so it broke down into a conversation--but it was a start.

This month I talked with the group leader about what she would like to tell or read. I ended up pulling an easy reader of short stories from the shelf called "In a Dark, Dark Room." I had no idea whether it would end up being the only story, but I figured it was a start.

The group did not disappoint. My leader could not find the title story, so she ended up reading the first story in the book. She asked if anyone else would like to read the next story, and the book began passing around. It reminded me why I liked having the children lead in the first place. When you give them choices, they step up. This new group was not ready to move away from the page, as my veteran storytellers did. But with the stories in front of them they were willing to speak and share. It reminded me of the very beginning of our storytelling days.

I'll still come to storytelling to offer support and guidance, but it's nice to be in the background again. I love what kids can come up with when you let them be in charge!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Advice for Homeschoolers who Attend Programs

Letters of intent are filed. Groups are meeting again. Online communities are abuzz. Homeschooling has definitely started for the autumn. As many programs are now being organized and beginning, and as someone who has attended and run many a program, I would like to offer some advice for homeschoolers who attend programs.
  • Don't assume the instructor is being paid. I faced this with my own storytelling group. There were many parents who assumed the library was paying me, so they didn't take it seriously. If an instructor is giving you the benefit of their knowledge and experience, be grateful and supportive. How? Keep reading...
  • Get to the program on time. This seems like a no-brainer, but it needs to be said. If you are late, you are cheating families who arrived on time. You also set a bad precedent if the instructor decides to wait for latecomers. Why come on time if the program is going to start ten minutes late to accommodate late arrivals? Even if the program starts on time, any late arrival is a disruption to the group. It's very easy to lose attention and time is wasted getting everyone refocused. If you are chronically late, perhaps it is best to rethink whether this is an ideal program for your family. 
  • Pay for programs on time. I don't run many paid programs for homeschoolers anymore because I hate dealing with money issues. I have seen programs get cancelled because too many people were late paying for their family. I have also had to make up the difference to pay an instructor when someone in the group didn't pay on time. 
  • Make sure your child is paying attention. Remove them if they are disruptive. 
  • Model good behavior. I understand the need to socialize with other adults, but the instructor is not there to babysit your child. If you need to talk with your friends, take it away from the group (preferably in another room.) If you are asked to prepare your child for the program in any way, do so. I can't express how hard it is to run a class on storytelling when no one has any stories to tell. If you do the extra work the instructor requests, it makes for a much more rewarding and enriching experience.
Have anything to add? Please leave a message in the comments!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Life in the Slow Lane

When I say that life is a journey, I should clarify. One person's journey is different from another. You can see this by watching people drive. Some people live in the fast lane. They are goal-oriented, always focusing on the destination. They need to get from point A to point B and nothing that happens along the road will distract from that goal. 

There are also the cautious drivers. They might enjoy parts of the journey, but they won't deviate from the route. They drive the speed limit. They stay in the center lane until it is time to exit and even though they may enjoy the view, they don't see as much as they might have because they will never look away from the road. Cautious drivers don't risk getting lost or traveling off the established route.

To truly enjoy the journey, you need to be able to experience it. You need to set aside the map from time to time and trust that you'll find your way. Slow down. Let other cars go in front of you. Look up at the clouds. Notice the hawk sitting on the lamppost or the deer grazing along the side of the road. Turn on the radio and sing along. Go off the main road and see what sights there are to explore. Find the back roads. Get lost. Experience the unexpected. Have adventures.

The journey is not a straight path that takes you to a destination. Life is full of twists and turns, dead ends, and forks in the road. You don't even have to drive. The journey is each step you take and how you choose to place your feet. Any blisters will let you know how far you have come.

Author's note: In case it is unclear, I am speaking metaphorically about driving. Please drive safely. Buckle up and watch out for your fellow travelers.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Raising Readers with Comic Books

Reading was not easy for me. It isn't that I couldn't do it. I simply wasn't interested in it. I preferred drawing and daydreaming. The first book I remember reading was a mystery involving a talking cat. That was in third or fourth grade. I don't remember any others until sixth grade, when I read The Chronicles of Narnia. Other than that, the only reading I remembered doing was required for school.

    That changed in seventh grade when I noticed one of my brother's X-Men comics. The issue had a picture of a teenage girl named Kitty Pryde. She had a suitcase in hand and was about to enter Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Students. I read the comic with interest. That was the beginning.

    I started noticing that the newsstand I passed on my way home from school sold comics. I started buying X-Men regularly, eager to see how Kitty was doing. When my brother saw my interest, he gave me a pile of back issues of the X-Men, and so I became well-read on the mythology of these mutant superheroes. I must have read thousands of pages of comics!  I learned about the different countries they came from, and a few words in the various languages they spoke. The stories ranged from terrifying multi-issue save-the-world epics to light, funny, day-in-the-life single issues. I couldn't get enough. In hindsight, this doesn't surprise me.  Our family has an artistic background. Reading seemed more accessible when there were pictures to help move the story along.

    I've seen my share of people who turn their noses up at my love of comics, but the stories in the X-Men taught me so much about different cultures, issues of the day like drug abuse and homelessness, responsibility to your community, and civil disobedience, and philosophical and moral issues of right and wrong,and what makes a person good or evil. It also offered some very strong female characters: Ororo, who controlled the elements; Phoenix, whose super-strong telepathic abilities would take her on a hero's journey into darkness and back out into redemption; Moira MacTaggert, who had no super-abilities but was a doctor and scientist; and of course Kitty, who was a teenage girl like me that had very teenage girl problems but could also phase through objects and eventually had her own pet dragon. How cool is that?

    I don't get to read comics as much as I used to, but my love of comics opened up a world of literature to me by showing me that a good story can come in many forms. I was also not afraid to use comics when teaching my own kids because I knew how useful they can be. Reading what interests you is one of the best ways I know to build a confident reader.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hang Out with the 20 Year Olds

Saw this on Facebook. I copied the link from Pinterest because it got me thinking...

I like hanging out with 20 year olds. Two of my favorite people are 20 somethings. I wonder why we insist on continuing to stick with others of our age when there is a world of fascinating people of all ages. I enjoy spending time with people older than me and younger than me. Sometimes I even enjoy being with someone my own age.  I enjoy hearing about what interests other people. I never want to end up trapped in time, trying to relive my youth and complaining about how different everything is. You never know what you can learn until you stop and listen to what excites another person. Here's a secret: continuing to learn is what keeps us feeling young.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Routine Time Together

There is one chipmunk who is always first to our feeders. I often find him sitting on the side stoop as I come around the house to put out seed. He's become braver over the past few months. He used to run when I looked at him. Now I have to avoid stepping on him because he will rush over before I finish filling the last feeder. I started tossing peanuts to him.

I call him Spot because of that little mark on his nose. (Note: Spot might be a girl, I can't tell)

Just like the blue jays that call to each other when I come out of the house with my cup full of seeds, Spot has figured out how to get first crack at the food. He watches and learns. 

Other animals have also learned. I didn't get a photo, but yesterday a squirrel climbed up to our window to peer in. I was late bringing out food. I never put food on the sill or anywhere near it, but the squirrel figured out that I usually go in this place. Maybe it saw me inside, eating breakfast, and wanted to make sure I knew there was no seed.

Whether I have adapted to their habits or they have adapted to mine, or somewhere in between, these animals and I have learned from being around each other. Life has a rhythm in our daily routines and we follow that rhythm.

I look at the routines of our family life. They can be more chaotic now. We have a jumble of clashing schedules and summer schedules are worse. As children become young adults, it gets difficult to find those moments of routine, of coziness together, of play. They become so much more important because they are rarer. So we adapt. For us, time together includes occasional evenings watching cartoons or a movie, Sundays at church, possibly followed by a visit to the bookstore with grandparents, and even those fleeting moments when we are all in the car together, discussing something we heard or saw.  There is a rhythm to life in our time together. These moments are the greatest opportunity for growth and learning. We learn a great deal from simply being with each other.

Monday, August 8, 2016

I've Been Outside...

The backyard has been alive with life this summer, and I'm taking advantage of my new camera. Here is a sample of my visitors:
(click to enlarge)



Female Hummingbird


Song Sparrow

Peck's Skipper

Gray Squirrel
Male Pileated Woodpecker

Monarch Butterfly

Bumblebee on Virginia Sweetspire
I hope you are all enjoying the outdoors as much as I am!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Poem for our Silver Day

Scenes of our Love

Tickets to the Renaissance
Eyes meet across the table
Conversation in the Balcony
And it begins.

Escort to dark subways
Lessons in passing
Hands touch, drawing closer
A call about Starlight
And so it grows.

Two left-handed, third of threes
Fairy tale number
For a magical life.

Time passes quickly
Performances as partners
Bears in fancy dress
Then One, Two, Three
We count our blessings

Anniversary of silver
The promise engraved in gold
As you wish
Ever after.

Author's note: There is only one person who will understand every line. I hope. I'm the one with the better memory.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Celebrating 25

This week my husband and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary.  It doesn't really seem like it should be that long. I still remember first meeting him after juggling club. I remember so many days walking around the city together. I remember him escorting me home after dates, even though the subway commute was at least an hour and a half if not longer. I once asked him if it was too hard to date me and he told me "I'd commute for you. Helen of Troy, if the Greeks had to take the train to get to her, they would have given up right there. But I'd commute for you!"

Our first quarter century of marriage has been spent raising our children, moving into a house, and working, scrimping, saving to keep our financial heads above water. We share our life: the joy, the frustration, the triumphs, the tears, the laughter. We spoil each other from time to time, with presents we know the other will love. My husband couldn't wait, so he gave me my present early, a new camera. A good camera. He knew I wanted one for years, but I always felt there were other expenses that needed to come first. My own gift for him seems like it's not enough now. I'll have to add to it.

I don't think anyone has a perfect marriage, but I think when your spouse is your best friend you can get through any rough patch. A good sense of humor helps too.

No one knows how many years they are given, so I'm grateful for the years we've had together, for the love we share. I pray we are able to spend many more together.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Respecting Our Children's Interests

My oldest has been playing Pokemon Go. She has the only device that is new enough to handle it, so she shares it with her brother and sister. The library we work at has two Pokemon gyms and a Pokemon stop, so a lot of what she's collected came from there. She learned she walks about 3km (1.86miles) whenever she's at work. Library employees spend a lot of time on their feet.

It's been frustrating for me to hear so much negativity associated with this game. The NYC police commissioner, while reporting on incidents involving the game, complained, "That craze is one of the stupidest ones that I've seen. Don't understand it, don't intend to understand it. Has no appeal to me." That seems to sum up the problem. Adults who have no interest in the game are passing judgment without trying to understand what it is about. For years, I have heard so many parents lament that their kids aren't getting out/getting enough exercise. The creators of Pokemon have been trying to get kids outside for years, and now they hit on something that actually works. Even before the problems with luring players into unsafe areas and thefts of devices, Pokemon Go had a message on its app to remember to play safely. I know this because I asked my kids about it. I asked them to explain the game to me. Talking to kids seems to be the biggest problem for adults. Mocking a game that our children enjoy only makes them less likely to share their interests with us.

The people who are running into trouble playing the game are the ones who are not following common sense safety. If I'm doing something I love, like photography,  I get distracted too, so I try to remember the basics: Try not to go out alone. Be aware of your surroundings. Secure your valuables (in this case, personal info on your device). Keep off of private property. Don't play while driving. We have heard all of this advice before when texting was the big thing, when smartphones became popular, even when we were wandering around plugged into Walkmans when I was a teen back in the stone age (battery age?) of technology. There are probably examples before that, but that was the craze I grew up with.

My point is that safety is not an exclusive issue to this craze. We need to remember that the things we consider trivial might be very important to our kids.  If you want to build a relationship with them, be involved. Go with them on their Pokemon hunts. Walk with them. I think it's great that this is exciting kids (and older). They are getting outside. They are getting exercise. And some might even benefit from stealth learning as they find Pokemon near historic sites and monuments.
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