Category: Stories from Southside

Advice on How to Teach Your Child

Nine year old Brittan approached his dad and asked him to teach him some techniques that would improve his running speed.  Recalling some unsuccessful experiences trying to coach Brittan on the piano, his dad responded that he knew some good techniques, but wasn’t sure that he knew how to teach Brittan.

Brittan responded, “No problem.  I’ll teach you how to teach me.  First, you get my attention.  Like you tell me about something I’m interested in like something about fish.  After you tell me a few things and you have my interest, then you say, “Hey!  You want me to show you some running techniques?”  You show me a few things, and when you can see that I’m not paying attention anymore, you do what my teacher does.  You say something funny to get my attention back and then you go on with the lesson.”

Apparently True for All Ages

I read a book, MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, which does a good job of illuminating one’s perceptions of the communication obstacles between men and women.  At least, I thought they meant men and women, so you can imagine my surprise when I encountered two six year olds engaged in similar communication difficulties.

A group of children were sitting in a circle, playing a game whereby balls are rolled into the center of the circle with the intent of making contact with one of several children in the circle.  One of those, “You’re out!” kind of games.

Suddenly, Andrea was sobbing.  No other child seemed to be aware of a problem.  I approached her and asked what was wrong.  Through her sobs, she communicated that Michael had been the recipient of the ball twice and had not given it to her for a turn.  Failing to see a problem with this, I asked Michael to come over and talk with us.  Andrea, still sobbing, repeated her perception of the problem.  Michael responded kindly, “Well, just cause the ball comes to me more than once doesn’t mean that I have to give it to you.”  Andrea was not appeased.  His apparent logic seemed to distress her even more.  I decided to clarify rules with them, pointing out that there was no set number of turns that an individual could have, but also adding that if Michael wanted to give Andrea a turn, that would be very thoughtful.  Andrea’s emotional expressions continued.  Clearly our attempts at communication did not do the trick.  Finally, I said, “Michael, I think Andrea understands the rules and all, but I think she would like us to acknowledge that her feelings were hurt when you did not think to give her the ball.”

Andrea nodded, her tears subsided.  Michael looked at her blankly.  This was one of those “I don’t get it, but ok” looks.  Michael said, “I’m sorry that you felt badly, Andrea.”  Andrea said, “Thank you,” her tears dried instantly, and she smiled simultaneously.  When Michael turned and walked away, it was clear that he was confused.  He shook his head and quietly muttered, “I just don’t get it.”

Audio Version of Mental Chatter

Our annual week long camping and hiking trip was always met with a lot of anticipation and excitement.  For some it was a first time away from home.  For others it was a first time away from screens.

On our first hike, everyone was observant of the life in the desert habitat.  They tingled with delight as a lizard scampered across the hot rocks.  They discovered a den of pack rats.  They found tracks and scat.  They were caught up in the thrill of adventure.

That is, all except one little girl.

I began to tune into the voice belonging to the child bringing up the rear.  She was talking softly to herself.  Michelle’s monotone conversation went like this:

“This is a wonderful educational opportunity.  We’re lucky that our parents support our growth and allow us to come on this trip.  Here we are in the desert.  We can learn a lot about animal life in the desert.  We can teach our families about animal life in the desert.  We are lucky to be here.  We are lucky that our teachers are willing to bring us here.  And if we’re really lucky, we’ll get to stop and eat our trail mix soon.”

Close Your Eyes and Hope for Magic

Some of the best pointers I ever got in life came from children.  You can learn a tremendous amount from them.  They can remind you of the coping skills you might have used decades ago but may have deleted from your memory in adulthood in order to create space for the grocery list or your family’s birthday dates.

This was pointed out to me when I was helping a group of 8 year olds with their written work assignment.  The assignment was to write a story with both rough and final drafts between Monday and Friday.  Several children didn’t meet the deadline.  A discussion followed.  How could they be successful with next week’s deadline?  What could they do differently?  Individuals made suggestions such as come up with the story idea over the weekend, start the assignment on Monday and begin the final draft on Thursday.

Next I asked how it felt as the deadline neared and they knew that weren’t going to make it.  “I felt sick to my stomach.”  “My body felt jittery.”  “I really wished that I had started earlier.”  I turned to one student who hadn’t said anything.  “Blake, what do you do when you find yourself in this situation?”  ‘Oh,” she responded slowly and calmly.  “I just close my eyes and hope for magic.”

Columbo Approach in the Classroom

A herd of children gathered around the tarantula habitat.  Something outrageous had happened.  “I went to feed the tarantula,” stated one child, “and now there are two!”

Someone broke into our classroom last night and left us a black tarantula!”

“Why would someone do that?”

“That’s vandalizing!” said another.

“No vandalizing is when you damage something.  It’s not robbing, either,  cause that’s when someone takes something.  I don’t know what you call this!” exclaimed another child.

The crowd turned to me.  “Do you think that the janitor put a tarantula in the classroom last night?” someone asked.

“I don’t think that he’d do that without telling us.”

“Then someone broke in!”  they chorused.

“Hmmm.  Think so?”  I asked.  “Are you sure that there was a break in?  Could it have been a break out?”  I amused myself with my Columbo approach.  I could sense some wheels beginning to turn in a few minds.

“What do you know about tarantulas?” I asked.

They began to regurgitate tarantula facts.  Suddenly, a light went on in the attic of one mind.  “They shed their skin when they grow!” exclaimed one child.

“My point!” I said with a smile.  “I think you discovered a break out, not a break in!”

Cultural Differences

A college student from Bulgaria was attending the local university.  He came to give a lesson to the elementary students. After a slide show, he showed various objects from his homeland.  Next, he proceeded to demonstrate a dance that is performed at weddings.  He explained that the handkerchief used in the dance is sewn by the man’s bride.

Two hands shot up from the crowd of American children.

“What if she can’t sew?” one asked in all sincerity.

“What if the man isn’t married?” asked a child of a single parent.

“Welcome to America,” I thought.

Directed Choice or Manipulation?

Arwen approached me with the question, “What does manipulate mean?”

We got out the dictionary.  One definition stated:  “To influence or manage shrewdly or deviously.”

“Oh, I get it.  It’s like when you say to a child, ‘Do you want to do some math or some reading?’”

“Think so?” I retorted. “I like to call that a directed choice!”

Elementary Logic

As a younger child unknowingly stepped between Erik and his view of a museum display, Erik nudged the child aside.  Having witnessed this action, I spoke to Erik.  “Talk with your mouth, Erik, not with your hands.”

“If I do that,” he said, “come winter time I’ll have to wear mittens on my mouth.”

Good Reason for the Rule

The rule in the classroom is to check with the teacher before bringing living creatures to school.

Colin looked up from his work as I was passing by.  “Oh, by the way, can I bring my snake to school tomorrow for sharing?”

“Sure,” I said without much thought.

A few minutes later, Colin came over to me. “Um, my mom said that I had to tell you that it’s a boa constrictor.”

“Ok,” I responded and got back to my lesson at hand.

A few minutes later I felt a tap on my shoulder.  “My mom says that I have to tell you that it is eight feet long.”

Now I got the picture.  Thank goodness for moms.  “You can bring your boa constrictor on one condition.  Make sure it’s been well fed!”

History Rewritten

Upon hearing of the burning of the White House in 1814, Kimberly was very concerned about the contents of the house.  “What about the art work?” she wondered.  She did a little research on her own.  Was she relieved to find out that some of the art work was carried out by Dolly Madison before the flames reached them.

She came to the group gathering at the circle.  Her hand went up.  “I found out more about the fire at the White House,” she said.  “The art work was saved from the fire by Dolly Parton.”