Reading, like riding a bike, takes practice

This column first appeared in The Nevada Appeal, February 19, 2003 while I was still working as a literacy specialist at an elementary school.

#teaching #readtoyourbabies #children

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How is learning to read like learning to ride a bike? Recently my fellow literacy coaches and I pondered that question at a class on the importance of motivation in learning to read. I took lots of notes as my colleagues talked about what they know best: children and reading.

First, learning to read and learning to ride a bike can both be a little wobbly at first. You make mistakes; you lose your balance. You don’t go very fast. You stop and start a lot. There is a certain level of physical readiness and integration of systems necessary—eyes and ears and other body parts must work together. You must pay attention to things like left and right, forward and backward, up and down. Many actions are going on at once and none of them is automatic yet. Not every child learns to ride a bike (or read a book) at the same age. Some learn as early as five, some at ten. Or later.

Training wheels are necessary. Having a grown-up there to catch you really helps. Training wheels for young readers are things like repetitive patterns, rhymes and pictures that support the text and carry meaning. Or someone whispering in your ear as you point to the words.

Riding and reading are also cultural. There are probably neighborhoods or families where bicycles (or books) are rare. Perhaps you only ride a bike (or read) at your grandma’s house twice a year. If so, it may take you longer to learn. Consistent practice is important.

Nevertheless, one thing is for certain, when someone thinks it is time for you to ride a bike, he or she does not start out by giving you one piece at a time, a wheel, a seat, or flashcards naming the parts of the bike. They give you a whole bike and put your seat on the seat, your feet on the pedals, and your hands on the handlebars. And as you start off, they hold on to you, and give you little instructions and words of encouragement. Maybe they even give you a little push. Nevertheless, you are riding the bike. Likewise, beginning readers need to have their hands on books.

Understanding the physics of motion and balance is not critical to riding proficiently. After all, whether it’s balancing on two little wheels or making those little squiggles on a page tell stories, the whole idea is pretty incredible. Some things you learn by feel. You take them on faith.

In both reading and riding, you learn the rules of the road. You slow down or speed up depending on the conditions of the road or the purposes for reading. You watch for traffic, stop signs, bumps in the road. When the going gets tough, you slow down and concentrate. Good readers watch for punctuation, bold print, illustrations, and captions.

Riding a bike and reading can take you places. They give you freedom to investigate new places and new ideas. Some of them are off the main highway; they might even be dangerous. We all take a wrong turn now and then. We stop, look around and start again.

Furthermore, there is a wide range in our ability to, and our interest in, riding a bike. Most of us learn to ride a bike, but few of us ride like Lance Armstrong. We ride to the market or to work. Maybe we ride to be with friends. Some of us love the exertion of powering up a mountain trail and the thrill of roaring down the other side. Some of us only ride on level, paved streets. And some of us haven’t ridden in years. Similarly, we choose to read what we enjoy or what we find useful.

But what keeps you practicing? What makes you try again, even after skinned knees and stitches? Perhaps it is because—if you were lucky—someone gave you a ride when you were little, maybe on a baby seat behind a bicycling parent. Or you’ve seen your older brothers or sisters pedaling like the wind, laughing. You want to be like the other kids, wheeling around, having fun, escaping boundaries, exploring the world. Yes, it’s hard at first, but you keep at it. You know you can do this. The faster you go, the smoother the ride and the more pleasurable. It gets easier.

Finally, both reading and riding are best learned when you are young and once you’ve learned you never forget. Both stay with you forever.

So, how about a ride? Don’t forget to bring the kids.

Scrapbooks turn the pages of our lives

This column appeared in The Nevada Appeal in 2002, when I was DEEP into scrapbooking. I am no longer. While I still have the huge kit of supplies, I haven’t made a book since the one documenting our granddaughter’s first year. She’s almost ten. I have pretty much decided to scan all the remaining photos. Then I’ll organize them into those lovely little photo books I can assemble from the computer and without the huge mess that actual scrapbooking entails. 

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“Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left of you.”  ~Simon & Garfunkel

My name is Lorie and I am a scrap-aholic. I admit my scrapbook hobby may be getting out of control. I’m also something of a pack-rat, although that’s another, oddly related topic.

The roots of my problem go deep. In the late fifties my mother gave me a large maroon scrapbook with fleur-de-lis adorning the cover. I filled its now crumbling and yellowed pages with black and white class photos of smiling schoolchildren. The names and numbers of some of those children are still in my address book nearly fifty years later. That book lives in the cedar chest with my wedding dress.

In college I made another scrapbook. It includes a photograph of me sitting in on the lawn at Fullerton College, protesting the invasion of Cambodia. It was in that book that I began writing little stream of consciousness notes so that I wouldn’t forget the people and moments that were so important at the time.

Around 1970 I started another kind of scrapbook. I bought one of the first little blank books and began copying quotes from favorite authors, poets, and songwriters. Walt Whitman, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry David Thoreau, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon. That red book is filled with handwritten entries in bright Flare pen colors. I also began entering bad little angst-filled poems and other pieces I’d written. It wasn’t exactly “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but you get the idea. A diary or journal might have contained a complete chronicle of every thought, every feeling. A scrapbook allows some perspective and perhaps a little editing. Maybe even other voices.

Later I included the poem and Bible verse from our wedding and a letter I wrote to our unborn child when I was pregnant. Nearly twenty-five years later that letter opened the scrapbook I made for Joanna. I also recorded a few stories about each girl so that I wouldn’t forget what funny, wondrous, insightful little beings they were.

I guess that is the point of a scrapbook—remembering. But like most people my memory needs a catalyst, a phrase, an object, an image, a fragrance, or a song that sparks a long-dormant memory. That’s probably why I save all the things I do—that pack-rat thing I mentioned before.

Furthermore, significant events need to be framed with words for me. And while spoken words are gone in a flash, writing makes the moment permanent. I try to hold on to the moment, so I can revisit it or share it across time and distance.

Both happy and sad memories are important. One gives perspective to the other. All those experiences and choices brought me to this place. So, if I ever question who I am or how I got here, I have my own personal database.

Evidently millions of others have joined me in this scrapbook obsession. There are support groups meeting all over the country under the guise of scrapbook parties and workshops. There are entire stores dedicated to its products. I admit I own the enormous suitcase full of materials and tools, affectionately known as the “my husband’s going to kill me kit.”  If you’ve been to a scrapbook party, you know what I mean. The kit is filled with an album, extra pages, decorative paper, page protectors, pens, cutting and mounting tools, and way too many stickers. All archival quality, of course, and acid free.

In the last two years I have completed Joanna’s album and the two identical family histories that I gave my father and brother last Christmas. I also compiled a book about my trip to visit New York City after September 11.

Now that I’m working on Katie’s graduation album, I’ve gone back to the little blank book to remind me of her stories. I spent some time rereading and remembering. Look what I found:

“All my life I’ve been a collector of things—theater tickets, wedding napkins, notes passed hand-to-hand in seventh grade English class. Love letters written but never sent. The last flower to bloom in the weed field before it became a parking lot. Things are saved for a special reason and, if you are a collector, you know that you save many things even when you’ve grown away from the reason you saved them. Like old corsages that have become faded and brittle.” 

I told you that the roots of my problem go deep. That paragraph came directly from that old blank book. I wrote it in 1970.

 

 

 

Remembering the day the world changed

I wrote this column eighteen years ago. It was originally published in The Nevada Appeal on September 26, 2001


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My Own Battlefields in This New War

“It’s awful here.  BUT I’M ALIVE,” our older daughter finally wrote in response to one of my frantic emails.  She had moved to New York City just six days before the attack.  Phone calls, even cell-phones were useless as all the other worried mothers around the world tried to get through.  The entire morning I anxiously imagined her protected in large God-like hands.  All the while, she slumbered in the arms of Morpheus, asleep 150 blocks away from the World Trade Center.

Maybe I had neglected that piece of her training:  In case of national disaster, call your mother.  But what precedent did I have?  Who could have imagined this?

And a week later, as I listened to President Bush tell us about this new kind of war, to be fought on different kinds of battlefields, my imagination ran to the places where we might have to fight.  I know he meant military actions, but what battles will we here at home fight? Where will I, a middle-aged, married, teacher, and mother in Carson City, Nevada, be asked to fight?

I will fight to keep my awareness of world events and this war in its proper place, in balance with my real, everyday life.  While I want to learn as much as I can about the situation and the sacrifices being made, I don’t want to become so paralyzed by fear and worry that my real life can’t go on.  I’ll need to turn away from the TV now and then so that the images will not continue to flood my psyche, desensitizing—or re-sensitizing—me to the horror.  People on every continent have endured horrific acts of terrorism.  We can survive.  Our lives, although forever changed, will go on.  Must go on.

As citizens, I’m sure you’ll agree that we will struggle to focus on what is really important.  We have been jolted from our complacency and have learned that there are some things worth fighting for.  Right now, that thing is to make our world safe again.  What happened to us was a shameful act.  I hope that our response will not make us ashamed but will prove us worthy of our place in the world.

My larger battle however, will be to simply feel normal again.  I’ll go through the motions of whatever “normal” is, hoping that soon my feelings will catch up to my actions. I’ll attend meetings, make appointments, plan birthday celebrations, and go shopping for the perfect shade of lipstick.  I’ll admire the fall colors.  We’ll take that raft trip through the Grand Canyon next summer.  However, the first big test of my trying to be normal will be to travel to the reading conference in Las Vegas this weekend.

“Not on a plane!” My good friend in California seemed incredulous.

“Yes, a plane.”

“Can’t you drive?”

“Drive eight hours each way for a two day conference?  I don’t think so.  I’m not giving in to fear.  I’m flying.”  We’ll see how I brave this citizen-soldier feels tomorrow night as she boards the plane.

As a teacher, I will strive to keep focused on my goals and objectives as well as to use this teachable moment to explore geography, history, and tolerance.  I will also work to counteract the violence and fear my students may have seen on television or the hatred they may have heard expressed.  In addition, I must be vigilant and protect my young students from ignorant, misdirected anger and hatred.  I’ll do what I can to prevent that bit of collateral damage.

The battle with my emotions will be a small, very private struggle.  I merely want to be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” without the tears and without the catch in my throat.  That California friend says she hasn’t dared wear mascara since that awful day.  “What’s the use?”  I imagine her with those black streaks running down her sweet, sad face.  The vision makes me smile.  I’ll need to laugh again too, out loud, with my friends.

We will all need to prepare ourselves for our own private battles in this war.   We’ll all need to find ways to keep ourselves focused, grounded and sane.  But how do we do that?

We can begin by doing what soldiers throughout history have done before going into battle:  Count your blessings; remember you’re not alone; gather your loved ones close; tell them you love them.

And remember to call your mother.

 

 

Sadly, education testing is BIG business

This column for the Nevada Appeal is from five years ago when I saw school budgets erode when it came to things like class-size reduction, teacher salaries, counselors, and enrichment programs. At the same time, budgets grew (and grew!) for testing. Look around your state, your district, your school and tell me if anything has changed. Are we still spending more on testing than we are on teaching?

 

 

 

Are you a worrier?

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“If there is no solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it.” ~Dalai Lama.

This column appeared on New Year’s Eve a year ago in the Nevada Appeal. Click on over to read… Count your blessings

Make time to actually enjoy the holidays this year

This column for the Nevada Appeal was one of my first. It was published on December 1, 1999, before they started archiving the paper online. Some of the people mentioned here have passed away, the rest have merely grown older. I’m closing in on 70 myself. Our family’s video tapes are now on DVD and it’s not December 1st. But still, my little wish for you is the same.

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Well, it’s started—that temporary insanity known as “the holidays.” And like most people, I go a little nuts, a little overboard. I make lists in my planner, on my refrigerator, and while lying awake at three in the morning. Trying to get all the details right for a perfect holiday sure can take the edge off all the fun.
I keep at it because of the misguided notion that by some act of organization or will I can create a perfect Christmas. Let me tell you, those perfect Christmases don’t exist anywhere but at Martha Stewart’s house and in our dreams.

Come to think of it, even at the first Christmas—when God himself was in charge of arrangements—folks had to sleep in a barn. And the gifts didn’t arrive until January 6.

And those memorable Christmases of our childhood? I’m not convinced that they were perfect either. I think they exist as a composite, like “Christmas’s Greatest Hits” in our memory. A great meal. Snow on Christmas morning. The biggest tree. The best surprise. Everyone together. Laughing ‘til your face hurts. All those things didn’t happen in one year, and yet we can be easily overwhelmed by our efforts to recreate the fantasy.
So this year I’m giving myself a gift that I’ll share with you.
I’m making time for a few little celebrations, a few rituals that speak to the magic of a Christmas presence and rekindle my spirit. In addition to the shopping and cooking and decorating, I’ve made myself a special to-do list.
Here are 10 things I can do to ensure the last Christmas of the century is a good one.
1. Load the CD changer with an eclectic mix of my favorite Christmas music: Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Mannheim Steamroller, John Denver, Eartha Kitt, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Muppets. Turn up the volume. Repeat.
2. Drink eggnog. After all, it is loaded with calcium.christmasOrnamentDecorations
3. Pull out the familiar–but-tacky felt and Velcro Advent calendar. The Santa made from a Pringles can. The lace-and-ribbon-bedecked canning lid encircling the photograph of a little girl who used to live here. Each of these small treasures has a story attached and this yearly ritual of unpacking allows for a retelling and a reminder of how precious each moment is.
4. Look through photo albums and watch old home movies. My husband’s family watches the silent 8mm home movies form the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Even though they’ve been converted to video-tape now, there is still no sound. We have to add it ourselves, like Mystery Science Theater. The unwritten script and oft-repeated jokes still cause tears of laughter to run down our faces as we watch five children with goofy hair and flannel pajamas open year after year of presents. Some of those kids are grandparents now.
5. Call my parents and my brother several times, not just on Christmas Day. If we can’t be together, at least we can keep in touch.
6. Play cards or Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit and make at least one batch of cookies or peanut brittle or chicken tacos with everyone in the kitchen. And laugh.
7. Share what I have with others.
8. Watch two movies—“White Christmas” and “Meet Me in St. Louis”—with a bowl of popcorn and a box of Kleenex.
9. Go to church on Christmas Eve. Sing the songs, light the candles, remember a birthday.
10. Read Christmas stories to a child or to myself. My favorites are The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, A Wish for Wings that Work by Berkeley Breathed, The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, and Santa’s Book of Names by David McPhail. These are good for all ages. Berkeley Breathed’s Red Ranger Came Calling and Patricia Polacco’s Welcome Comfort are perfect for the slightly older, more skeptical set who may have begun to disbelieve. “Red Ranger” comes complete with photographic evidence of a “guaranteed true” Christmas miracle.
As a child, the boundaries between my imagination and reality were always a bit blurry. I’m sure I heard sleigh bells on the roof even when my age went in to double digits. I’m nearly 50 now and I still believe.
I believe in the power of faith. I believe in the capacity of the human heart. I believe in a Christmas presence.
I believe I’ll hit the repeat button the CD changer and pour that cup of eggnog.
At least I can check two things off my list today. Just eight to go and it’s only December 1. I’ve got plenty of time.

A message to that orange-haired monster

manzanar 1You know who I mean. The guy who thinks internment camps were a good idea. But you know what they say…

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana-1905

My column, Don’t repeat the Manzanar mistake, appeared in the Nevada Appeal on Christmas Day, 2007.  I believe it speaks for itself.

You should know that Manzanar is one of ten so-called “War Relocation Centers” to which over 100,000 West Coast Japanese Americans were sent after being given 48 hours to leave their homes, forcing them to sell or abandon belongings and property. Although it was called a “War Relocation Center,” military police armed with sub-machine guns in the eight guard towers, the searchlights and barbed wire told a different story. Manzanar was a prison camp.

 

Seeing failure as our teacher

martianResilience is a survival skill, something we need to cultivate in ourselves and our children. The Martian by Andy Weir served as inspiration for my latest Fresh Ideas column in the Nevada Appeal. It’s about Failure and how we can give our children the skills to overcome it. Click on over to read.