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Monday, September 15, 2014

How Do You Raise Creative Kids?

Lessons Learned

Creative Kids

How do you raise creative kids? In our highly structured, overly scheduled, and incessantly measured world, the answer to the creative kids question is one that most would rather not hear for it requires a brave leap off the lock-step treadmill upon which we and all of the Joneses ceaselessly, exhaustedly, and occasionally resentfully race each day. The dial of popular thought and status quo sets our pace, and we run and our children run because everyone runs.  We do because they do. We run because they run. We sign up because they all sign up.  Don’t  misunderstand here, though, activity is important, involvement is good, and engagement is meaningful, but we all know if we look honestly at ourselves, that we completely tend toward extremes and a distinct compulsion in the direction of obsession. Too much. Too, too, too much.  Too fast. Too much, too fast to have time to breathe, to enjoy, to think, to savor, to relax, to imagine, to play, to create is unequivocally our collective MO.  To raise creative kids, you need to give them time, margin in their schedules, to creatively play. Just as calisthenics are exercises for the body, so is play the exercise for creativity.  And play that nurtures creativity does not mean TV and movies, hand-held devices and all other screens; play that nurtures creativity means paper plates, sticks, blocks, paper, crayons, brown paper bags, wood, paint, duct tape, sugar cubes, glue, recycled materials, and an endless stream of ordinary items that undoubtedly lead to extraordinary ideas and creations with the added and very illusive ingredient of time.  The sandbox and a hose are brilliant for imaginative adventures. Blankets over chairs and end tables are brilliant for imaginative adventures. Brown paper bags for wreaths, cowboy vests, pirate hats, stuffed with newspaper for large bricks, woven for placemats, and on and on as far as an imagination can travel, these are the quintessential imagination enhancers and play exercisers. How do you raise creative, imaginative, innovative-thinking kids? Let them play. Put away the schedule for a while, and let them play.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

That Day, September 11, 2001.

Lessons Learned


It was a Tuesday morning and, at our Lutheran Elementary School, we were in chapel preparing our hearts for a precious time of worship. I was at the piano filling the sanctuary with familiar music, drawing us together. There was a calmness. A stillness. A blessed peace. The moment was unexpectedly punctuated by a teacher hurriedly striding up the center aisle toward the piano. His face reflected grave concern and his words to me just then scalded my heart and evoked deep, incredulous, and pained shock. The Twin Towers had been attacked. Attacked! His announcement at chapel was a call to prayer for our country, for families and children, and all involved and affected by this horrific tragedy.  We prayed and prayed and prayed and wept together and alone. The air in chapel was thick with fear, anxiety, disbelief, uncertainty, anger, sadness, and questions.  It was a very vulnerable and raw time with emotions fully exposed. Pilot parents. Flight attendant parents. NY family members. Traveling family members. Friends. Neighbors…. No one was untouched. No one was unscathed by the fires of this senseless, merciless, cowardly act of terrorism. We prayed some more, much more. Together we sought refuge and comfort and peace and hope under the mighty wings of the Almighty. Our Rock. Our Redeemer.  Our shelter in the storm. When life doesn’t make sense, He makes sense. When life’s promises are broken, His promises remain.  He is faithful. Our chapel that day was unlike any other chapel, for we truly, honestly needed to lay our very real, very gripping fears at the foot of the cross of the One who understands pain and will walk with us, carry us through life’s deepest darkest valleys. The chapel became even more that ever a haven of peace and comfort during the next several weeks as whole classes and individuals would come to be still and pray. 911 changed us all.  The why’s of it we will never understand. The heroism demonstrated we will never ever forget. The images of the moment will be indelibly etched into our hearts and souls. It was the day our nation wept as one.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Do You Learn To Be A Teacher? By Witnessing Excellence.

Lessons Learned

Maybeth: A Life of Serving Others

In retirement, one is compelled to reflect on a career, on life, and on moments that shaped, defined, and solidified the commitment to and affirmation of a particular path or life trajectory. One is compelled to consider opportunities, open doors, and answered prayers that brought great confidence and great hope to each faith-filled step forward through the years. One is compelled to recall with excellent fondness the beautiful individuals whose gifted, gracious lives indelibly touched and deeply inspired one’s own  dreams and subsequently one’s own work. One such individual for me was Maybeth.  Maybeth was a member of the church I grew up in. She was a teacher whose amazing life tremendously influenced and inspired my teaching.  Maybeth was born in the late 1800’s. Her sharp, inquisitive mind and fierce commitment to learning propelled her to the top of her class each year in school. She went off to college where she studied to be a teacher. In college she met the love of her life and they were married soon after graduating. With great hopes and dreams and nothing but brilliant promise before them, they set out to share their gifts and touch the world. Within a year or two, however, her sweetheart and soul mate unexpectedly passed away. Devastation seared her heart ,and her shattered dreams lay shrouded in the black agony of deep excruciating loss.  How do you forge ahead, so young, alone? Maybeth chose to pour herself completely into her teaching, her students, and service to others around her.  She became the life-changing teacher that students never forgot. During the summers, Maybeth would travel to Taiwan and teach English to children in an orphanage. Every summer throughout her teaching career and then beyond. The children loved her and she loved them. When ultimately the day came that she could no longer make the trip to Taiwan, she chose to use her sewing machine to make clothes for the children at the orphanage. Every summer, she sent many large boxes of beautiful home-made clothing  stitched and packed with the greatest of love to the precious children who held her heart. She gave all she had to do all that she could and in so doing she brought infinite blessing to countless others, which in turn filled her heart with wonderful and immeasurable joy.  The inspiration of her passion has rippled for generations. Her life lived for others taught me.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Guest Blogger- Grandpa A: Life In The Wisconsin Northwoods Beginning 1927

Lessons Learned: Guest Blogger- Grandpa A.

The One Room Schoolhouse

A journal is a daily record of events and observations that occur. My journal should have begun sometime around September 1, 1932 when I started first grade and I learned how to write or print.  My first grade teacher, Miss Carlson, at the Carl Von Linnea School, would not be pleased with the progress I made in writing if she were to read my writing today. That first year was a learning experience for me and my other 13 classmates. Most of the country school teachers had two years of college education, and in many cases, the teachers were not much older than some of the eighth grade students. I recall there were five in my first grade class. Four of the five graduated from college and one became an MD. The teacher taught all grades and all classes, taught music, drama, phy ed, supervised the cleaning, the heating, and was in charge of discipline. I don’t recall my problem, but I remember spending a good deal of time standing in the corner in the front of the classroom. We lived over three miles from school. One of the parents, Enoch Johnson, converted his car to a bus and transported those of us from the Minnesuing area to school.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An Excruciating Recess

Lessons Learned

The Broken Arm

It was broken, of that there was no doubt. The bones in the lower arm were out of place and the pain of that must have been beyond excruciating.  Five minutes earlier, the first graders were all joyously and energetically swinging across the monkey-bars, laughing and cheering one another on. It was really a happy, sunny, very typical noon recess. Until the fall. Just a simple slip of the hand caused the fall onto a grassy spot, and it wasn’t even particularly high, but the landing was just right, or perhaps just wrong, to create the break. An audible collective gasp by the bystanding students, pierced by a heart-wrenching scream, followed by a low steady moan which was shrouded by an eerie playground silence, all occurred within seconds of time and perpetrated the evacuation of the playground, the call to 911, and a small circle of very focused and very concerned staff caregivers  positioned around the very brave first grader. “My brother,” the first grader whispered.  Within moments his big brother was delivered to the child’s side. Smiles, through the pain, were exchanged, and then began a faithful brotherly vigil that brought peace, comfort, security, and strength. A remarkable, beautiful demonstration of the power of family love.  Their eyes remained locked, the moaning ceased, and together they would fight through this. Very few, if any, words were shared. The peace was in the presence; the very familiar presence. Right there, right then, in the noontime breeze, on the playground grass, through intense and agonizing pain, a little but very brave first grader drew great, almost unimaginable strength and courage from the presence of his big brother, as together quite lost to the rest of us they awaited the sound of the siren and the arrival of the paramedics. The healing had begun.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

No "If Only's" Here.

Lessons Learned

Do What You Do.

If only I could do...  If only I could just be a bit more…  If only I was a little less… If only. If only. If only. These little whimsical pinings are harmless insofar as they are fleeting.  But often, these “if only’s” become rather more consuming and frequently crowd out the gratefulness and joy that should accompany our understanding of our own unique wiring and giftedness. No two individuals are, have ever been, or will ever be exactly alike. Each individual comes to this planet with a heart full of gifts, the combination of which is absolutely unique, hence priceless. Each individual is a true treasure. A gold mine.  A pearl of great price. A gift beyond measure.  As parents, teachers, coaches, directors, neighbors, friends, siblings, co-workers, do we acknowledge this? Do we celebrate this? Do we encourage one another down the path of pursuing one’s gifts, one’s passion, one’s heart? Or do we silence the song by exalting conformity and demanding its zeal-less lockstep? We’re simply not all meant to be the same. Is there room, is there time for us in our busy days, with our busy schedules, and our busy lives to discover the treasure that’s waiting to be shared in each and every precious heart? We must make time. We must. We absolutely must.  So that we will not one day look back with the heavy heart often associated with a retrospective glance, and lament, if only.
I set stories and feelings and academic content to music to help students learn, understand, and remember. It's what I do. It is my gift. It is my passion. And I am deeply thankful for every opportunity to share. What is your gift? Your passion? What stirs your soul with deep thankfulness every time you have an opportunity to share? Find this and you will find great treasure.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Yearning For Relational Strength And Balance In A Culture That Casts Us Apart

Lessons Learned

Make Time, Take Time For Each Other

Twenty four hours. This is an unchanging, unbending, unrecoverable daily allotment of time given to each of us as we awaken each day, and its expenditure is fully at the mercy of our choice-making.  Certain activities need to consume certain amounts of our time; eating, sleeping, attending school or going to work, walking the dog, brushing teeth, filling the car with gas, and so on, but there remains a good deal of negotiable time available for extraneous choices. How do you choose? Or is it easier not to choose, not to be deliberate, and instead allow the minutes and hours to fritter away, unapologetically in the daily complacency of extreme over-stimulation due to bombardment of busy-ness, infiltration of obsessive amounts of technology, and infinite choices? So we throw on our headphones and retreat to our screens where there is peace in isolation albeit unstoppable loneliness.  As a teacher, I hear a great deal about screen time as the time choice of choice.  My concern is that our children, our students, and we ourselves are abandoning our desperate longing for connection, relationship, and community in exchange for something much, much less.  We are too tired for the effort of connection, for it does require a sacrificial exertion of self to become engaged in any relational process.  And although we need it more than anything, we run from it because it demands and life simply already demands too much all day long.  Twenty four hours. It’s the same twenty four hours that our parents, and their parents, and generations upon generations upon generations of parents have had, because it never changes. The problem is, I am not sure that we are getting this right. We hurry and scurry frenetically  filling our minutes and hours with all they can possibly contain and then a bit more only to find ourselves in a puddle of ill-tempered exhaustion at the end of the day, preparing to buck up for tomorrow’s agenda of the same merry-go-round ride.  Jumping off the merry-go-round to enjoy a good book with your children in the shade of a backyard tree seems somehow robbed of its peace and pleasure by the burdensome guilt of jumping off what everyone else is managing to stay on. Somehow I know that we know the error of our ways with regards to our time and our choices, yet we remain willingly paralyzed and incompetent in our truthful effort to seek relational strength and balance with our time.  Our twenty four hours are, ever so graciously, new every day and in honor of this gift we must choose to be deliberate and teach our little ones to be deliberate, investing wisely in each other and experiencing the subsequent contentment. We desperately need to make time and take time for each other because we are wired to live connected to one another. We need each other.