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Category: Teach Our Children Well

In Celebration of Earth Day

In Celebration of Earth Day

“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”  -Rachel Carson

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Sharing nature with children is one of my most deeply held inspired values as an early childhood educator. I believe that:

  • If children are to care about and want to protect the Earth, they need to have a personal relationship with it
  • The sense of wonder children experience early in life will remain with them and bring a greater depth of understanding to their later studies and explorations
  • Nature can enrich our lives as a source of inspiration, creativity, and strength.

Despite the recent, dramatic changes to the public school curriculum and the restricted freedom and time we now have for “enrichment,” I hold onto some goals that I strive to weave into my teaching however possible. They include:

  • Connecting children with the natural world through direct experiences and observations, stories, photographs, informational resources, and art projects
  • Putting children in contact with growing things to develop a greater awareness of the cycles of nature
  • Cultivating the child’s reverence and sense of wonder for the whole of creation (natural world)
  • Encouraging sensory awareness and mindfulness of nature
  • Sharing metaphors and cycles from nature that speak to the human experience
  • Using natural objects as manipulatives and play props.

To accomplish these goals, there are certain activities throughout the year that I will do everything in my power to keep in my kindergarten curriculum despite it all. For example, I would continue to have an indoor butterfly pavilion in my classroom for children to observe the monarch butterfly life cycle. Even if (hypothetically) we were not taking time to officially learn about it, at least my students could observe it, be in awe of it, and ask questions. We could take a few minutes at the beginning of recess to release the butterflies outdoors. This is an example of one of my personal “non-negotiables.” Another is growing plants from seed. Both of these activities cultivate caring.

I’ve thought long and hard about different ongoing activities and structures I can include in my classroom to support my goals of connecting children with nature no matter what. Here are some I came up with:

  • Having a seasonal “nature” table in the classroom
  • Naming each full moon based on what is happening in the natural world during that month
  • Celebrating each full moon by reading a story featuring the moon
  • Observing and discussing the weather and temperature on a regular basis
  • Pausing for a moment to honor and observe natural phenomena as they occur (i.e. leaves or snow falling, squirrels playing, wind gusting, butterfly hatching)
  • Setting up science investigation stations for free exploration
  • Offering magnifying glasses as tools for exploration during outdoor recess
  • Providing bags for children to pick up playground trash
  • Providing direct experiences when possible – and when not possible, alternatives include virtual experiences (on our SMART Board) and family “homework”
  • Taking monthly nature walks and focusing on sensory observations and signs of the season.
Seasonal nature tables
Science investigation stations

I have yet to implement “family homework,” but here are some ideas:

  • Feel the bark of different trees, and do a leaf rubbing with paper and crayons.
  • Collect and press a few fallen autumn leaves, and send to school to share, compare, and use in an art project.
  • Go outdoors after dark, and notice (and make a list of) different night sounds.
  • Look for bird nests after the leaves have fallen from the trees; inspect with a magnifying glass, and perhaps bring to school for our bird nest display case (empty fish tank).
  • Make a snowman or snow sculpture, and take a picture of it.
  • Make a bird chart, and keep track of the birds you see in your yard during winter (or spring).
  • Look at the night sky, and identify constellations, or make up constellations of your own.
  • Take a walk, and notice signs of spring (or fall).
  • Listen to the sounds of spring.
  • Put out materials for birds to use in making their nests (such as hair from a hairbrush).
  • Full Moon Club: Step outside when the moon is full each month, and make a list in a small notebook of what you notice (sights, sounds, smells, temperature, etc.); notice how the sensory impressions change from month to month.

Like delicate plants determined to push up through cracks in the pavement, there is always a way to facilitate children’s connection with the natural world. Sharing my nature and wildlife photography is one of my favorite ways to do this. It seems that my passion for what I have photographed and experienced on the river awakens something in my students. They engage and pay attention when I share my photos and anecdotes via the SMART Board, and it is among the highest quality, most insightful and observant discussion we have. I think that a teacher’s passion is infectious and ignites learners. I have a class website with a photo album in which families can upload pictures of nature and wildlife they observe outside of the classroom so children can do the same – a high tech version of show-and-tell.

I also make room for some read aloud stories pertaining to Earth Day. Some of my favorites are:

  • Why the Sky is Far Away: A Nigerian Folktale by Mary-Joan Gerson
  • The Gift: A Magical Story about Caring for the Earth by Isia Osuchowska (since I teach in a public school, I omit religious references)
  • Zinnia’s Flower Garden by Monica Wellington
  • Each Living Thing by Joanne Ryder
  • The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry


Each year, I like to create something in celebration of Earth Day. One year I made a book from a paper bag that showed, through photos and text, 20 different ways we care for the Earth in our classroom.


To raise awareness of what we already do – and to brainstorm more ideas – I included items like:

  • Sharpening crayons, using the shavings for art projects, and using the stubs for crayon rubbings and melting into block crayons (message: using all the parts instead of throwing them away)
  • Turning off the lights when we leave the classroom
  • Obtaining most of the books in our classroom library secondhand (message: buying used rather than new and passing things on to others after they have outlived their usefulness to us)
  • Having a system for reusing and recycling paper, and using both sides of paper for writing and drawing
  • Repurposing different kinds of food containers to make classroom materials (paint cups, pencil holders, mini greenhouses).

For the second year in a row, I have created a video in celebration of Earth Day. Last year, I wanted to share Louis Armstrong’s song “What a Wonderful World” and Tom Chapin’s “This Pretty Planet” with my students and thought it would be more powerful if I paired the songs with images. That is how the first video came into being. My students asked to see it repeatedly; I think it has a comforting effect. Since I didn’t have my blog going at that time, I’ll share last year’s video HERE. (Please be sure to watch it at the highest quality setting!)


 
This year, I created a video based on one of my favorite songs, “The Garden Song” by David Mallett, in memory of my friend, David, who passed on in February. David was a faithful gardener of both land and spirit, and my last visit with him ended with a walk around our yard looking at our gardens. One of his last pieces of advice was about how to keep cauliflower heads protected as they grow. He planted so many seeds during his lifetime, some of which have been growing in me for decades. In a nutshell, I think life is about growing and blooming where we are planted, and offering the world our highest expression – and then leaving seeds for the next generation to do the same. “The Garden Song” is full of metaphors, and it reminds me so much of David.

 
Email followers: Click HERE to play video.

I hope you will enjoy the videos and find some way to plant a seed in honor of Earth Day! 

With love and light,
Susan

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Time to Bloom!

Time to Bloom!

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

As usual, the flower parade has begun with the daffodils leading the way, to be followed closely by the tulips. Growing tired of winter, I was thrilled to notice the daffodil shoots pushing above ground outside my classroom during the last week of February – and I have been observing them with my students and photographing them ever since. They became a symbol of hope and spring, and I enjoyed watching the yellow tips mature and bulge.


Yesterday was the first day back from spring vacation, and I hoped they hadn’t bloomed in my absence. I was not disappointed! They were just about ready.


This morning, I arrived at school anticipating something wonderful – and here is what I found:


The sight filled me with joy.

I observed the daffodils obsessively throughout the day. And they couldn’t have picked a better day to bloom.

It so happened that our big book read-aloud story for the day (as per our language arts core curriculum) was Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. This is a story about a young tiger named Leo who couldn’t read, write, draw, or “eat neatly” like his friends. I introduced the story by talking about what it means to bloom – how flowers bloom and how people bloom, as well. I gave an example of my mother learning to play guitar in her mid-70s and talked about how beautiful it is to see someone bloom and how good it feels to bloom. I also mentioned that our daffodils were in the process of blooming today, and the children were eager to see for themselves since we’d been watching and waiting for so long.

But first we read the story. Young Leo wore a sad expression on his face throughout most of the book as he tried unsuccessfully to do what his friends were doing. His dad was worried, too, and told Leo’s mom that he’s afraid Leo is not a bloomer. His mom, however, had faith in Leo’s natural developmental rhythm and assured his dad that Leo will bloom in his own time. The dad tried not to worry, but as Leo continued not to bloom, he couldn’t help but worry. Again, the mom reassured him that Leo will bloom when he is ready. And at last…Leo bloomed! He was able to read, write, draw, and eat neatly. And he was so proud.

I love the message of this story. It saddens me that recent public education mandates have raised the academic bar so much higher for kindergartners, and as a result there is little tolerance for the natural developmental rhythms of diverse learners. I tell parents at the beginning of each school year that my primary goals for their children are for them to enjoy coming to school, to love learning, and to feel good about themselves. And yet, even in kindergarten, teachers are required to identify children who are not meeting grade level benchmarks and to provide them with intervention services designed to accelerate their learning so they will catch up and end the year where they are expected to be. Although I agree – and have seen for myself – that children are often capable of more than we may imagine – I worry that this approach may result in more young children feeling badly about themselves and feeling self-conscious about not measuring up. Some children are ready for the new, more demanding kindergarten curriculum, but others are not. I wish we had greater freedom to honor children’s developmental rhythms and to rely more on authentic assessment methods.

I really enjoyed reading and discussing Leo the Late Bloomer with the children. We talked about how poor Leo felt bad about himself and how his dad was worried about him – but also about how his mom had faith that he would bloom in his own time. I really stressed his mother’s attitude, hoping to get across the message that children bloom in their own time – and not to worry if something is very difficult for you because eventually it will get easier. Don’t worry or compare yourself to others. You will arrive in your own time. I have faith in you. Despite all the report card testing, benchmark testing, and progress monitoring, I have faith in you, and I know there is something each one of you does really well. It might not be something we assess in school, but it is important and valuable nonetheless.

After reading the story, we had snack time, and the children wanted to see the daffodils, so I took them outside one table group at a time. It was so beautiful to watch their faces light up when they saw the daffodils opening and beginning to bloom. 

We noticed that some of the daffodils were blooming more quickly than others. Each of them was growing and opening their petals at a slightly different pace. And each will become a beautiful, fully formed flower in its own time. 

We continued to observe the daffodils throughout the day, during recess and at dismissal.

We have observed the daffodils since we noticed the first shoots and talked about how people and flowers are alike in the way they bloom. And it seems my students have developed reverence for the daffodils in our little garden. They are protective of the flowers and remind children in other classes to be gentle and to keep a safe distance.


I hope that the ways in which our curriculum coincided with natural phenomena today deepened my students’ connection with the natural world. I hope they will grow to regard nature as a mirror of their own social, emotional, and spiritual selves and to find strength and hope in the metaphors offered so abundantly by the natural world.

The first of our daffodils will be in full bloom tomorrow.


And woe to any unsuspecting child who innocently attempts to pick one. I don’t think my students would stand for it!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Open Letter to the Children in My Life

An Open Letter to the Children in My Life

This past week was a school vacation week, and it’s been a powerful time to dwell in the Big Questions as various circumstances converged. Yesterday I wrote down a “letter in verse” that was drifting through the air when I was tuned to that channel. Although it probably could stand on its own, I thought I’d provide a little context.

This week I have reflected on my role in the lives of the children in my care and engaged in some deep and honest conversations with my teenagers. The teen years aren’t easy ones – so many questions about “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit in?” and how to manage the challenging circumstances and conflicts that arise, with self-esteem intact. As I wrote in a previous post, I was blessed with a mentor who guided me throughout my teen years and beyond and became a dear friend. He passed on a week and a half ago, and I was honored to participate in an incredible celebration of his life last weekend. Rereading the letters he wrote me throughout my late teens and twenties made me realize how much patience is required of parents and mentors before they finally have the satisfaction of seeing kids “turn out” (in his words). You have to be really patient with the process!

At the same time, my dad came home from a two-week hospital stay for open heart bypass surgery following an episode of cardiac arrest. There’s something interesting about open heart surgery. There’s a sense of appreciation for still being alive and a desire to “return” (in my dad’s words) the outpouring of love, concern, and support from so many people. The heart truly does open up, and you feel closer and more connected to the people in your life. And when this happens to someone else, you are better able to provide support, having experienced it yourself as either a patient or family member.

Finally, in the midst of a very challenging school year, I set the intention this week to reconnect with the passion and guiding values that led me to a career in education in the first place.

If the following words resonate with you, I invite you to share them as long as you cite me as the author, along with this blog address. Namaste!

*       *       *       *       *       *       *


An Open Letter to the Children in My Life


Dear Child:
 

The divinity in me
Sees the divinity in you
And from this perspective
Knows we are One,
Honors our differences
As expressions of the One;
We are brothers and sisters.

Our unique talents and gifts
Are to be celebrated
And cultivated to the fullest 
So that we may inspire and uplift
Others through our example
And experience the extraordinary
Flow of being in our element.
But, my darling, please take care
To avoid falling
Into the trap of shoulds
Or putting your gifts
On a pedestal above any others.
You must catch yourself
Again and again
For the ego is cunning.
You are special
And so is everyone else.
But this does not make you
Any less integral
To the symphony of Life.
Each of us has our note to play;
May we give it our fullest attention.
May we give it our all.
May the inspiration you find
Be a torch you pass to others:
The courage to be uniquely, authentically,
Fearlessly you.

My spiritual great-grandfather
Hazrat Inayat Khan advised:
Make your heart as soft as wax
To sympathize with others,
But make it hard as a rock
To bear the hard knocks of the world.
This, dear one, is why I must give you
Both love and limits
As you grow in the garden of my care.
Sunshine alone is not enough;
A garden must also be weeded
To fulfill its potential.
And know, too, that the rains of sorrow
Play an important role.
The water on our planet
Is always being recycled.
We drink the tears shed by others
And are never alone in our suffering.

Both warm-heartedness and resilience
Are necessary for this journey;
They go hand in hand
And I toil here in the dirt
So you may grow strong.
Do not doubt yourself
When things do not come easily
For it is good practice.
May you weave your heartache
Skillfully into the fabric
Of your life
And make the best of
Whatever life sets before you.

Sometimes the best way
To empower yourself
Is to take responsibility
For your own contribution
To any disharmony that exists
Between yourself and another.
This is a strength that allows you
To burst open the door of your cage,
For hatred and resentment
Imprison those who adopt them.
Let them go! Be free to fly!

Embrace each moment
With an inner YES
But do not fall
Into the dream of complacency.
Think for yourself:
How can I bring about positive change:
By transforming the situation
Or my attitude toward it? 
Never give away your power!
Let it glow close to your center.

Step away from the screen, dear child
And open your eyes
To the beauty and wonder all around!
Open your ears and all your senses!
You may be convinced there is nothing
To see or believe in,
But this is innocent ignorance.
May you awaken one day
To the miracles of life
With awe and delight
As you did when you were younger
And wonder what took you so long
To return!

How odd that we must
Experience such wanderlust
And leave in the first place
Wearing the dualistic glasses
The world fashions for us
Only to realize anew
The all-encompassing Oneness
Where all paradoxes are reconciled.
But somehow the journey is necessary;
It makes us strong and wise,
Turns us into better guides
For those who follow in our footsteps.

And yet, even as we are inspired
By the words and deeds of others,
We must do the work ourselves;
The responsibility is ours alone
Though others may cheer us onward.

Dear child, may you find your way back home
All the wiser and brimming with love
Thus leaving this world
A better place than you found it.
May you know this to be
The ultimate measure of success:
To have emerged from the chrysalis
Of your small, separate self and become
Love
Love
Love.

© Susan Meyer, 2013 
 


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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Diversity, Tolerance, and Snowflakes

Diversity, Tolerance, and Snowflakes

At some points in the school year, learning themes sync up so perfectly that the rich threads connecting them simply beg to be elucidated. This is the case right now as our study of snow overlaps with our Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. unit. Diversity and tolerance are the major themes that run through both units.

This week, I watched on DVD Wilson Bentley: Snowflakes in Motion, an hour-long movie about the life of Wilson Bentley, a Vermont farmer who became fascinated with snowflakes at a young age and was among the very first human beings ever to photograph a snow crystal, after years of trial and error. His passion for snowflake photomicrography made him a pioneer in the field. He took pictures of more than 5,000 snow crystals and asserted that no two snowflakes are alike; each one is unique. Wilson Bentley celebrated and shared the beauty and diversity of the thousands of snow crystals he photographed so the public could appreciate them – and so their brief existence did not go unnoticed. Here is a short video that shows several of the images he captured:

 
Email subscribers: Click HERE to view video.

After watching the Wilson Bentley video, I fell asleep thinking of the aesthetic and transcendent beauty of snowflakes and how each snow crystal is an exquisite mandala. I woke up in the morning excited to introduce the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to my students by exploring the diverse beauty (beautiful diversity?) of snowflakes. I couldn’t wait to show my students images of myriad, unique snow crystals, balanced with a discussion of the properties shared by all snow crystals. The next day, we would consider both how human beings are diverse and what we all have in common. I’ve never linked our January learning themes like this and couldn’t wait to give it a try. It brought to mind the following, previously shared quote from “Mister” (Fred) Rogers:

“As different as we are from one another, as unique as each one of us is, we are much more the same than we are different. That may be the most essential message of all, as we help our children grow toward being caring, compassionate, and charitable adults.”

Reconciling our uniqueness with an appreciation for the uniqueness of others is important work. This is described by some as “tolerance” and others as “acceptance.” It is about respecting our differences. Here is another quote from Mister Rogers that came to mind after being dazzled by the images of several dozens of snowflakes in the video – and impressed by the painstaking care with which Wilson Bentley photographed individual snowflakes so they could be seen by others:

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

Watching the Snowflakes in Motion video, I was struck by the idea of how much joy, fulfillment, and meaning Wilson Bentley’s dedication to snow crystal photography brought to his life. This passion stemmed from his love and appreciation of the natural world that began when he was a child. I related strongly to his discovery of tremendous beauty in dew drops, frost, and other evanescent natural phenomena that are so easily overlooked. When you do look and notice, you can’t help but wonder how you never noticed before! Beauty truly is everywhere if you keep your eyes open and slow down enough to perceive it. In Wilson Bentley’s own words:

“There is a need of a greater love for, and appreciation of such things, of the beautiful and wonderful in nature… There are oceans of enjoyment, soul satisfying pleasure to be had in Nature’s art and beauty, as shown freely to us in the common things all about us.”

Yes, yes, YES!

Yesterday, I was with my students on the playground and was drawn to a willow tree towering above us on the other side of the fence. Its slender, golden branches swayed gently against a vivid, blue sky. It looked like long hair blowing in the wind and was so beautiful. I felt the rhythm of my breathing become deeper and more relaxed as I tuned in to the here-and-now channel. Then I noticed some small evergreen branches that had fallen to the ground. I picked them up and inhaled their fragrance deeply. A few children noticed me holding and admiring the evergreen branches and came over to look at them. They noticed “baby pine cones” growing on the branches. And then they looked for evergreen branches on the ground and brought some inside for our nature table. Word of the “baby pine cones” spread, and there was a flurry of children around the nature table, trying to catch a glimpse of them. That was the most authentic and gratifying lesson I facilitated all day long.

Back to snowflakes…

My kindergarten students get so excited when snow is in the forecast and when they glimpse snowflakes falling from the sky. They also love magnifying glasses. To help them observe snowflakes, I plan to provide them with frozen swatches of dark cloth and magnifying glasses the next time we are outdoors when it snows. We also will cut paper snowflakes and notice how each child’s snowflake is different.

Similarly, we will learn about skin pigmentation and notice that nobody’s skin is actually white or black; we come in all different shades. In past years, I have had children mix paints to find their own skin tone, or compare their skin tone to paint cards and determine the closest match. We come up with descriptive names for our skin tones after getting ideas from picture books, such as The Colors of Us by Karen Katz, Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney, and Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly. Some years, we use “multicultural” skin toned paint, construction paper, or crayons to create self-portraits, using different colors and textures of yarn for hair.

We round out our discussion of human diversity by talking about how we all experience the same feelings; have hopes, dreams, and fears; and live our lives as passengers on “spaceship Earth.” The topic of snow is part of a larger study of the water cycle and the changes water goes through, and we learn that we all share the same water that gets recycled, over and over.

As a postscript, I would add that Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have another, very personal, common thread, and that is my grandmother, who was born on Dr. King’s birthday and raised on a Vermont farm. She has been gone for more than two years now and would have been 94 today (January 15th).

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Kindness: Pass It On!

Kindness: Pass It On!

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” – H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

In response to some recent headlines in the news, I have committed myself anew to the practice of kindness, including intentional, random acts of kindness. There has been a lot of discussion recently about mental health care, gun control, violence in the media, etc. Kindness is a form of activism that can go hand in hand with political activism.

A few days ago, I came across a video that really touched me and reminded me that you never know who you might inspire as you go about your day planting seeds of kindness – or who might inspire you if you keep your eyes open.

My favorite recent, local example of kindness is Lorenzo, who directed traffic through a road work site close to my school. His smiles, waves, and greetings – given to every single person who passed by him each day – uplifted so many people that he was made an honorary citizen and given the key to the village for sharing his gift of “unbridled joy.” He showed us the power that a smile and a few kind words can have on an entire community, which was a powerful lesson – one that inspired me to reflect on how I can channel more kindness and joy into my work and into the world at large. As an early childhood educator, I have an abundance of opportunities every day to offer a warm smile, a sincere compliment, and a listening heart. I remember how great it felt as a child to be noticed by and to connect with certain teachers. Simply running into them in the hallway and receiving a smile and a hello was such a treat!

That kind of warmheartedness comes naturally to most early childhood teachers. However, I’d also like to cultivate a random acts of kindness habit in the New Year that requires more intentionality.

The day before Christmas, I saw a picture online that made quite an impression on me. It was of a card a couple received on the windshield of their car when they came out of a hockey game. The card contained a $5 bill and a kind message and was given in loving memory of a certain child who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack. I had heard of the new “26 Acts of Kindness” movement to commit a kind deed in honor of each victim of the school shooting and had intended to accept this challenge. However, the picture motivated me into action; a new wave of kindness already had begun!

I decided to begin with a copycat act of kindness in our community with my son. I found a handmade card, wrote a kind message, and invited my son to select the child in whose memory we would perform this random act of kindness. His eyes widened in an urgent sort of way, and he said that there was a particular child who really stuck out in his mind. We looked at pictures of the 20 Sandy Hook students, and he found the child immediately. I wrote her name, age, and the name of her school on the card with tears welling in my eyes and slipped the money into the card. Focusing on that one child – learning her name and deciding to offer a kind deed in her memory – was a powerful, emotional experience. At the bottom of the card, I wrote, “Remembering this precious child through a random act of kindness that hopefully will make the world a better place. Please pass it on in some way.” We drove down the road to our town’s grocery store, selected a car, and left.

After returning home, I felt compelled to learn more about this little girl. I read about her interests and considered the idea of future acts of kindness being related to what each child loved or something unique about him/her. For instance, we might decorate a tree with treats for the birds in honor of a child who loved animals or donate a book to a library in honor of a child who loved to read.

Normally, I engage my kindergartners in a random acts of kindness project between Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Valentine’s Day. We create a paper quilt detailing 100 acts of kindness performed at home, school, or in the community. The children color heart designs, and their acts of kindness are written in the borders around each quilt square. I ask families to email me or send notes about kind deeds their children perform outside of school.

This year, I’m considering challenging each child/family to perform 20 acts of kindness – in honor of each of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We are focusing on the numbers 0-20 in math, and there would be no need for the children to understand the significance of the number 20. I just love the idea of responding to tragedy by flooding the world with kindness and light and the message that love is stronger than evil, hatred, and ignorance. Acts of kindness in the classroom also count.

Personally, I think I’d like to begin with the “26 Random Acts of Kindness” and then extend it by performing a kind deed every day during 2013.

Here is the link to an article about kindness research underway in Vancouver: Random Acts of Kindness Can Make Kids More Popular. I have to admit to fantasizing every now and then about moving to Vancouver to study with lead researcher, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, whose work I have been following for several years. (And I have some really awesome relatives in the Vancouver area…) But perhaps I can work to implement research-based practices related to kindness, empathy, and awareness in schools in my area.

There are a number of resources online with ideas for random acts of kindness, in case you are so inclined and would like some ideas. Here are a few links:

And here are a few picture books about kindness that I enjoy reading with children:

There is another book about kindness that I refer to quite extensively in my classroom but must recommend along with a suggestion. The book is called Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. The book explains that each of us carries around an invisible bucket that holds our feelings of happiness. When our bucket is full, we feel good, and when it is empty, we feel bad. We can fill other people’s buckets by being kind and helpful, and in the process of filling their buckets, we also fill our own. However, we also can dip from other people’s buckets by being insensitive or hurtful. But dipping from someone else’s bucket does not fill our own bucket. The ideas of bucket filling and bucket dipping are easy for young children to grasp; however, there is an important element missing from the story, which is learning how to put a lid on our bucket, to prevent others from dipping into our bucket in the first place. This piece involves resilience and personal empowerment and ensures that our happiness is not dependent on the actions of others. Although this idea does not appear in the book, I have seen it presented on the Bucket Fillers website and feel it is a critical piece.

Please let me know if you know of other good books about kindness!

And then there’s the movie, Pay It Forward, about a boy who started a kindness movement as a school assignment:

Whereas the various issues being debated in response to recent acts of violence will take some time to work out, kindness is something each of us can do today. It is a way to heal the world more immediately. May it spread like wildfire!

“Every kind act, no matter how small, is like a pebble tossed into the pond of human caring. The rings reach out far beyond the point of impact; the action of our kind deed acts more kindly toward the people around them, those people act more kindly toward the people around them, and so it goes, on and on.”   Author unknown 

 

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Dragonflies in December

Dragonflies in December

Lately, I have been reflecting on some of the images I captured on the river over the summer and remembering my plant and wildlife friends – especially water lilies and dragonflies, which I spent countless hours observing with awe and wonder.

Recently, tragedy struck the family of a child in my life, and in my search for stories to help grieving children, I came across a gem of a booklet called Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Strickland. I requested it through the library and was delighted to finally get my hands on it. The gist of the story is that a colony of water bugs wondered why every now and then one of their own would climb up a lily stalk and disappear, never to be seen again. They got together and came up with a plan: The next one who went up the lily stalk would come back and let the others know what happened. In time, another water bug found himself climbing up a lily stalk and turning into a dragonfly. After zipping about for a while, he landed on a lily pad and noticed his old water bug friends at the bottom of the pond. He wanted to go down to tell them what had happened to him, but since he was now a dragonfly, he wasn’t able to go below the surface of the water. And if they were to see him looking down at them, they wouldn’t recognize him in his new form. So he decided that he’d have to wait until his friends climbed up the lily stalk in their own time, and then they would understand for themselves.

I absolutely love the way the dragonfly life cycle can be used to explain death to children. I remember attending a hospice memorial service one December during my internship and hearing what must have been this very story – but I thought it was about caterpillars and butterflies. It was a powerful story that I loved immediately, although I must have misremembered the details over time.

After reading the little booklet, I recalled one afternoon this past summer when I paddled to the lily pads and arrived just in time to witness a newborn dragonfly fall out of its exoskeleton (which was still clinging to a reed) and onto a lily pad. It was pale and colorless and looked completely disoriented. It just lay there still, and I wondered if it would be okay, hoping the fall wasn’t too much for this tiny creature. (The little booklet mentioned such a fall, so it must be a normal part of the transition.)

 

I felt honored to have witnessed the dragonfly emerging from its nymph state; it felt like a Very Important event to observe despite it being a common occurrence in the natural world.

After seeing the newborn dragonfly resting on the lily pad, I noticed numerous shells, or exuviae, of dragonfly nymphs clinging to reeds and water lily stalks all around me. They were completely motionless and looked like they were sleeping or just resting there. All this time, I had mistaken them for living creatures.

Dragonfly (top) and two clinging exuviae (middle and bottom)

As I read about the dragonfly life cycle, I learned that the exuviae would continue to cling to the stalks. However, they were simply empty shells, ghosts of former selves. Something about this image felt profound to me, and I became fixated on photographing them.

I didn’t understand the power of this image until reading Water Bugs and Dragonflies with the child mentioned above in mind. I realized the exuviae piece could further explain to a child that the body of his/her deceased loved one is merely a shell, not to be confused with the living presence s/he had known and loved.

Although I did not feel it was my place to discuss the dragonfly allegory with the child in question, I passed the information along to someone who is in a better position to do so. The adults with whom I have shared this story since reading it myself were very touched by it, which is why I feel compelled to share it with you. My hope is that it will bring comfort to someone who is in need of it.

 

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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