My Standards for My Childrens’ Education

My daughters are 8 months old, and I am expecting another baby in August. And yet, so many days, I spend worrying about how I will send them to school. They attend nursery school now (at Smart Start Academy in Grove Hall, Dorchester), and I love it. Their teachers know me, my family; they know my daughters’ interests, personalities; nothing is high stakes – YET.

High stakes education, the kind found in today’s public schools and charter schools, means testing, stress, and conformity are too often prioritized. This means that what most parents hold dear about their families – identity and values – may not be.

Today as I cleaned the house, I began to photograph objects (mostly books) that symbolize my hopes for my daughters’ education. I also thought deeply about my daughters’ emerging identities.

Why are parents often the missing voice in deciding WHAT we teach? Shouldn’t schooling reflect the values of families and communities or at least connections to the important learning that families and communities provide? I think so. I would really like to hear from parents (either as a comment, post on another blog, or via email: jenniferdines@gmail.com) about their hopes and dreams for the children’s educations. The education articles I read frequently discuss what parents are protesting or (in a majority of cases) do not discuss parents at all.  I am interested in what parents have to say. I would really like to write an article that features PARENTS’ VOICES.

My Children and Their Identities So Far

Francine

Francine is my “older” daughter; she is fourteen minutes older than her sister. She cannot stop moving. I think she would do well in a school that incorporates a lot of movement into the classroom or where the activities change frequently. I know she doesn’t have ADHD, but I worry that her future teachers might think so. She is very social, so, in that sense, I do not worry at all about her fitting into any social situation as she has a big personality. She does not sit with a book, but she likes to look at books, flip the pages, and climb up to stacks of books.

Mover FrancineFrancine climbs up to books

Sofia

Sofia is very quiet and observant. She will play with one toy or book for five to ten minutes and then she will move on to something else. She loves textures; for example, she loves to touch all different types of fabric, touch people’s hair, and pull on tags. I worry that she will be pushed to socialize, but I know she is content to play by herself for long stretches of time. I can see her excelling in art or science.

Sofia and BookSofia and Rattle

What I Want Francine and Sofia to Learn at School

1. Character: I want my children’s school to teach them right and wrong. I would like my children to attend a school that discusses social justice as well as good values. I also want the school to tell me straightforward when my children misbehave, so I can help them to correct their misdeeds.

whatdoyoustandfor

2. Love of Picture Books and Understanding of Life Around the World: I picked up this book right before the girls were born. I want my daughters to experience the beauty of having an adult present story time on the rug. I like this book Nasreen’s Secret School because it teaches children about the privilege of getting an education and how people have taken risks to gain that knowledge. Other good books on this topic are Running the Road to ABC and Through My Eyes: Ruby Bridges. My daughters are young for all these books, but they will know them in time.

picturebooks

3. Traditional Literature: There is a reason why people have told particular stories over hundreds and thousands of years. Universal messages and values are embedded in traditional literature. I don’t want my daughters to live in a here-and-now world. I want them to have an understanding of the societies who shaped the world as we know it. We have many books of traditional stories in the house, but these are a few of my favorites. It scares me that history is now minimized in school to make room for the tested subjects of Language Arts and Mathematics. Of course, all subjects are very important, but not just to take tests.

Traditional Literature

4. Arts History and Artistic Expression: I want my daughters to understand that reading and writing aren’t the only ways that humans capture history, ideas, and emotions. The arts allow us to tell our hidden stories – the ones that may be unsuited to words or the ones that need for us to transform into someone else in order to endure their telling.

art

instrument

5. How to Build and Repair Things: I so wish that I knew how to build and repair things. I am terrible at it, but yet it is such a practical skill – to change a tire on a car, to fix something that is broken instead of throwing it away. I have many former students who struggled with learning disabilities go on to be super successful in our school system’s vocational program in areas such as cosmetology, auto repair, and woodworking. But shouldn’t everyone know some of these skills? Imagine the stress it would save if we could all fix basic problems with our cars!

thewaythingswork

9. Español: Los latinos han llegado. Para preparar por el futuro en los EEUU, es esencial que todos conocen inglés y español.

Spanish

10. The Stories of MY Heroes: I don’t prioritize being rich and famous. I wouldn’t want my children looking up to Hollywood or the NFL. I want my children to learn about MY heroes: Mother Theresa, The Mirabal Sisters, Malala Yousafzai, and the many unsung heroes who are just normal people who stand for justice everyday.

womenaroundtheworld

BPL’s Bibliocycle: The Intersection of Produce and Picture Books

Growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore in the 80’s and 90’s, I visited the local farm stand plenty of times. It was a wooden shack on the side of the road with an awning, vegetables, and fruits. There was nothing there for kids specifically…I mean, yeah, you could get some strawberries or corn if you were into that as a kid (I was), but believe me, there was nothing special for kids to “do” there while adults bought their produce and maybe a jar of jelly.

Fast forward to my infant daughters’ lives here in Roslindale – City of Boston – in 2014. They are so lucky because the farmers’ market is not a farm stand…it’s an event! And plenty of it is for kids.

This past weekend, however, was particularly special because the Boston Public Library’s Bibliocycle came to the Roslindale Farmers’ Market.

bouncyhouse

The witch in Hansel and Gretel used a candy cottage to lure children to an oven. However, the Farmers’ Market  just uses a diabetic-friendly bouncy house to gently guide children towards the Bibliocycle.

funtimes

Cool books on comfortable mats – the perfect summer day for a young bookworm!

KidsBikeDay

The Bibliocycle was part of a special bike day at the Farmers’ Market.

tent

A sturdy tent protected the bookworms (and the books) from sunburn.

thebibliocycle2

The cycle is stocked with food-themed picture books – and my personal favorite is Dragons Love Tacos!

veggiebooks

A child-size table featured books about veggies.

 

Best of all, two friendly librarians greeted all those who visited the Bibliocycle. You could even check out books!

Best of all, two friendly librarians, Amanda Bressler (left) and  June Thammasnong (right), greeted all those who visited the Bibliocycle. They even helped patrons check out books with their library cards!

 

 

Reading from the Very Start: Establishing a Literacy Routine with Newborns

My daughters Sofia and Francine were born on June 1st, but their interactions with reading began from early in my pregnancy. Since I am a middle school literacy teacher,  the girls often heard me reading aloud to my students or heard my students reading aloud to me while still in utero. I noticed them kicking in reaction to read alouds during my second trimester. I remember when the librarian from the local library came to visit our sixth grade students, and I sat at my desk and felt the girls kicking me the whole time she read to the students. Also, I kept books in the car starting in the third trimester of my pregnancy, and I read aloud to the girls while their dad was driving.

It was much easier to keep up with reading to the girls when I was pregnant than it is now that they are actually here, but I am proud to say that I have found at least a few minutes every day to read to the girls. Below is an overview of the various reading materials I have tried in order to keep up with our reading routine.

Sing Along Books

I love the bilingual (Spanish and English) songbooks De Colores and Diez Deditos by Mexican-American educator Jose-Luis Orozco. The books are beautifully illustrated with colorful borders on each page, and background information as well as melodic notation are given for each song. I love the minimal arrangements of the music – mostly simple guitar accompaniment and vocals. Even if you don’t know much Spanish, these songs are so catchy that you will be singing along to them after only a few listens. Diez Deditos is especially fun for Sofia and Francine because I do the finger motions for each song on their bellies or arms when I sing along.

Sing Along Books by Mexican-American Author Jose Luis Orozco

Sing Along Books by Mexican-American Author Jose Luis Orozco

Audiobooks

I have found two electronic resources for free audiobooks that are great for when I am holding a baby and have only one hand free. Or when I am just completely exhausted but want the girls to have a few minutes of reading.

Librivox

Librivox is an amazing collection of over 15,000 audio books in the public domain. I have the LibriVox Audio Books app on my iPhone, and we are currently enjoying traditional tales by the Brothers Grimm and James Baldwin.

Reach Out and Read

The Reach Out and Read website is an unmissable resource for early childhood reading. I love the “Lola” audio books on their site because they are designed to get children excited about reading!

Children’s Chapter Books

My husband and I both enjoy reading chapter books to the girls. When I was still pregnant, I read The Little Prince to them just by having it in the car over a couple of days. We are currently about a third of the way through The Children’s Homer. The great thing about chapter books is that they really encourage me as a parent to keep reading to the girls because they hold my interest as well.  Also, they are easy to hold in one hand while holding a baby.

The Children's Homer: a chapter book for kids and adults as well

The Children’s Homer: a chapter book for kids and adults as well

Picture Books

Picture books are a little trickier to read alone with newborns because they are huge and not easy to hold in one hand. However, picture books are great when more than one adult is around or when the babies are in their bassinet or propped up on pillows.

Sofia and Francine received Take Two: A Celebration of Twins by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen as a gift from my friend Pat Harris. It is such an adorable collection of poems and pictures for twins!

Sofia and Francine received Take Two: A Celebration of Twins by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen as a gift from my friend Pat Harris. It is such an adorable collection of poems and pictures for twins!

 

Daddy Daughter Time: Reading a picture book after mealtime

Daddy Daughter Time: Reading a picture book after mealtime

Board Books

I enjoy reading board books with the girls when they are alert and awake (which is only for 20-3o minutes a few times per day), so they can look at the pictures. We usually will read 4 or 5 board books in one sitting.

Board books - all from my teacher friends

Board books – all from my teacher friends

 

Online Books

WeGiveBooks.org has a wide variety of short online books for ages 0-3. These books are great for when I am holding a baby in one arm. Our favorite so far is Skippyjon Jones Shape Up because Skippyjon does a lot of different movements, and I move the babies to match them as I read.

A Goodreads of Their Own

If you would like to check out what Sofia and Francine are reading, you can visit their Goodreads profile online. I am really enjoying keeping track of all the books we have read together, and I think they will enjoy looking at the list when they are older.

My goal is to create as many positive associations with reading as possible for my daughters and to show them that reading is a fun family activity and a great way to bond together.

 

Change Agency: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

On a snowy New England Sunday, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a 40,000 square foot monument to children’s literature, rests atop frosted grounds nestled inside the Pioneer Valley. The decade-old museum offers several galleries full of picture book art, a children’s library, a café, a bookstore, and a performing arts space. Additionally, the building hosts a packed schedule of arts and literature-based activities for children as well as professional development workshops for educators.

A Very Hungry Caterpillar Car is parked at the entrance.

A Very Hungry Caterpillar Car is parked at the entrance.


Galleries

As in a traditional art museum, curators have neatly mounted the featured pieces at eye level. However, the plaques displayed to the left of each illustration do not necessarily contain information about the artist. Rather, the plaques present a quotation from the text that the illustration elucidates. Benches in each gallery contain boxes of picture books connected to the displayed works, and many visitors go back and forth between looking at the walls of the gallery and browsing the picture books to locate the images in context.

A display of illustrations from a Caribbean retelling of Cinderella

A display of illustrations from a Caribbean retelling of Cinderella with text to the left and illustrations to the right.

Short blocks of text encourage close reading.

Short blocks of text encourage close reading.

Illustrations illuminate the language of the story.

Illustrations illuminate the language of the story.

Unfortunately, visitors are unable to take photos in the main galleries due to issues with the preservation of the artwork; the images above were displayed in the children’s library in a smaller exhibit that featured digital prints from variations of “Cinderella” and “The Three Little Pigs”.

Reading Library

An incredible library of picture books sits at the back of the museum. Tables feature selected display books and accompanying activities.

Library Book on Display: Pezzentino (Italian for "little piece") is a small orange cube that searches for his place in the world.

Library Book on Display: Pezzenttino (Italian for “little piece”) is a small orange cube that searches for his place in the world.

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Library Book on Display: Ganesha the Elephant breaks his tusk while chomping on candy, and he needs help from Vyasa the poet. An accompanying worksheet encourages the writing of an “epic” poem.

Printables from publisher’s websites accompanied both Pezzettino and Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth on the display table.

The Bookstore

Book lovers, leave your wallets at home! It’s a bibliophile’s heaven (or hell, if the bibliophile in question is low on funds).

A modern retelling of Strewwelpeter

A modern retelling of Strewwelpeter, a German cautionary tale

Illustration School series: step-by-step instructions on how to draw really cute things

A volume from the “illustration school” series: step-by-step instructional manuals on how to draw really cute things

The Hungry Caterpillar Bookshelf

This attractive display case featured seasonal books.

This attractive display case featured seasonal books.

Mission Accomplished!

The museum provides a space for "anyone interested in the art of the picture book".

The museum provides a space for anyone “interested in the art of the picture book”.