Sunday, October 30, 2011


Every year at this time I find myself thinking back to when my children were young and filled with the delicious spooky anticipation of Halloween. One early memory was of a nearby haunted house created by neighborhood children, and located in an abandoned, dilapidated garage. Converted for one night into an authentic spooky shack, it was the perfect venue; and thirty-five years later the garage yet stands, in even greater disrepair, still bearing a sign reading DANGER in red on an old wooden plank.

One vivid memory was of my five year old son who pleaded with us to take him inside, then buried his head in his dad’s shoulder the entire time, too afraid to look at the headless creatures, spooks, witches, and ghouls playacting inside.

It was also during this time that he learned a song in pre-school about a “lippy chilly” and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what a lippy chilly was. With mounting frustration he tried to make me understand but I just didn’t get it. Imagine my surprise when, years later, as an elementary school teacher, I heard the children singing a song in music class called The Ghost of John.”

Have you seen the ghost of John?
Long white bones with the skin all gone.
Oooh Oooh Ooh.
Wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?

One Lippy Chilly became “Wouldn’t it be chilly”, and it all now made sense. By this time my son was grown and we had a good laugh over his perspective and articulation of the lyrics. The song lives on, and Youtube has many examples. Enjoy this particular rendition of The Ghost of John”.

Somehow Halloween seemed less contrived back in the day. Costumes were homemade and simple, and the night was mainly for kids. Now adults have gotten into the act, holding onto their childhood with ghoulish fervor, as they enjoy elaborate costume parties and dressing up for work. Even the checkers at our local supermarket are decked out. Downtown Edmonds is cordoned off and children come away with bags of candy and treats, as they go from one store to another. Mega haunted houses sponsored by various organizations, and commanding a healthy entrance fee, abound. They make that little old garage look insignificant by comparison, but no one will ever convince my children that theirs was anything but the best spooky experience ever. Hopefully one thing will live on for generations to come and that's the "lippy chilly" in "The Ghost of John"

For now, a happy Halloween to you all. May your treats be many, your tricks be few, and your costumes be adding to our economy during these financially strapped times.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I just read an article in the NY Times this morning entitled “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute”. I feel driven to respond.

My credentials: I’m a public school teacher. The bulk of my career was in an inner city elementary school whose student population was predominantly African American. Over 80% were on free or reduced lunches, and many came from single parent households. My own children went through the Mercer Island public school system, and received good educations. Much of that time I was a single parent myself with all the financial constraints that implies.

The article states that employees of several major Silicon Valley high tech firms send their children to the Waldorf school in Los Altos, largely because of its century-old method of experiential learning, creative thinking, human interaction, movement and the teaching tools from yesteryear. Tools include blackboards, colored chalk, encyclopedias, wooden desks, workbooks, and number 2 pencils. Tools do NOT include computers, ipads or smart phones. In fact, they are not allowed in the classrooms, and students are even discouraged from using them at home. The article claimed that a study between 1994 and 2004 showed that a remarkable 95% of Waldorf graduates attended college.

For those enamoured with the Waldorf teaching approach, engagement of the students in the process seems to be the key to learning. Use of technology is seen as distracting from that engagement. One student talked about how frustrating it was to hang out with his cousins who were all wired into their various gadgets. They were not paying attention to each other or to him. It was technology vs. socializing with socializing the loser.

The picture painted in the article is compelling, but disquieting.

With an annual tuition ranging from $17,750 to $24,400, I think it is clear that unless there is a scholarship involved, most students come from high achieving families who value education. These families have undoubtedly read to their children, taken them on trips and exposed them to all kinds of cultural experiences which contribute to their knowledge base. They were probably dandled on their parents' laps, in front of a computer, from an early age.

Compare them with students of low income homes, many with single parents just eking out a living, who find that TV, with its seductive programming, is their stepparent. Often their real parents have no time, desire or energy to fully parent their children to be competitive in the school or workplace.

In this article, students come from homes where the family’s financial success is tied to one of several technology companies located in the Silicon Valley. Many of these parents want their children to have experiential learning and look for schools that will provide it. They are not concerned with Waldorf’s ban against technology as they undoubtedly provide for that within their own homes.

However, the low income student might have no opportunity to learn computer skills unless it is at school. At the same time, those of us in the public school arena know that there isn’t nearly enough quality computer instruction, computers are often not working properly, and technicians to repair them are not readily available. The result is a widening group of technology “haves and have nots.”

Sadder yet is that realization that with so much stress on academic accountability, public school teachers often are forced to sacrifice what little experiential learning they can offer to the all important test scores.

Personally I love experiential learning. I liked teaching about Ancient Egypt by turning my classroom into a pyramid, finding artifacts in an archeological dig made with cat litter, piecing together bits of broken pottery, designing a sarcophagus, making scarab necklaces, AND to visit a hieroglyphics translator site on the internet in order to transform our names.

I would not want a classroom devoid of computers and the internet. There is so much information to be learned and no one teacher can know it all. It is how teachers use the technology that makes the difference. I am happy if a computer free classroom works for the Waldorf students, but I was thrilled that the world was but a click away for mine.


The following is an experience based lesson plan I designed for use in my various primary classrooms. This plan includes using the internet for activities and research. When the students have completed their learning, they put on teacher hats and invite students from other classrooms into their room for an armchair field trip.

LESSON PLAN: Ancient Egyptian Holiday

Objective: The students will learn about an ancient culture through “hands on” experiences relating to that culture. These experiences will expose the learners to a deep understanding of the concepts taught and a rich vocabulary pertaining to the concepts.

Method used: Teaching and Learning Through Multiple Intelligences

Room 103 first graders (junior archeologists) will pass on their own learning and understanding of an ancient Egyptian culture to kindergarten through second graders (junior archeologists-in- training) via classroom centers. Egyptian music will be played. Student teachers (junior archeologists) will be wearing appropriate costumes.

Vocabulary: archeologist, a dig, map, Africa, Egypt, Nile River, Pharaoh, pyramid, tomb, cartouche, papyrus, picture writing, hieroglyphics, scarab, mummy, sarcophagus, burial box, burial jar, sun god, tomb,


1. Archeological Dig (kinesthetic) Find artifacts such as jewels and broken dishes buried in sand,

understand their importance, and attempt to reconstruct them.

2. Map Work and Pyramid Making (logical-mathematical) Find Egypt on a map of Africa. Locate and trace the Nile River. Build a paper pyramid to place on the map.

3. Make a cartouche with hieroglyphics (Verbal-Linguistic) and (Intrapersonal) Students will learn how to make their own names in hieroglyphics and find out how to check for accuracy on a special computer site.

4. Make a Scarab Necklace (visual-spatial) Learn what a scarab is and its significance. Be able to make a necklace with a scarab and several beads to show artistic balance.

5. Learn about the ancient belief that for a pharaoh to pass to his next life he wants the same body and his belongings. Learn the importance of the mummy process. Learn about the ornate coffin called a sarcophacus. (Interpersonal)

Note: Authentic background music will provide the musical intelligence.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Today was beautiful in the way that a Pacific Northwest day in October can be picture perfect. Crisp, brilliant sun taking away the chill, the smell of wood smoke on the air, a last chance to be strolling outdoors without a coat.

"It's too beautiful to work indoors," my husband said, "What do you want to do today?" He suggested a walk on the beach followed by a game of cribbage and an early dinner. "How about a Sunday drive?" I asked, fully aware that he would know exactly what I had in mind. Ever up for any good idea, he acquiesced, and we set forth in my little red Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder.

For our generation, Sunday drives were frequent weekend outings, with everyone piled in the car, and no particular destination in mind. Just a chance to be together, scoping out other houses, yards, people and lifestyles. Cheap entertainment in those days, with gas at $.29 per gallon. My mom would throw together a lunch usually consisting of fried chicken, potato salad, rolls, pickles, chocolate cake, and any other tasty addition for an impromptu picnic at an exciting location like Birch Bay, Mount Baker, Wiser Lake or Donavan Park. While our parents gossiped, gawked and oohed over the scenery we played invented games in the back seat. Games like twenty questions, counting silos, and checking out the license plates of passing cars. The latter was particularly exciting if a car bore a California plate or some other faraway state - almost as if seeing the car meant we somehow had a connection to that distant land.

In between games, as the world passed by outside our windows, we gained a sense of our community, an understanding of local geography, and a feeling of belonging as we participated in these family field trips. Unbeknownst to our parents, they were providing us with educational gifts. Our imaginations, observation and thinking skills were being honed, and they helped us pass the miles and hours, contributing to the nostalgia I feel when looking back.

I think few of today's children will have memories like mine as they listen to their ipods, focus on their game boys, or watch movies on a backseat television screen. It is unlikely they will see the pheasant startled from its hiding place, the deer in the woods, or the eagle soaring in the sky. Intent on their toys, they will probably miss the spectacular wild flowers growing alongside the road, or catch the scent of newly mown grass.

According to Wikipedia the Sunday drive came out of the 1920s and 30s, when the idea was put forth that the car was to be used for pleasure as well as commuting and errands. The practice continued through the 20th century and seems almost passe in these early years of the 21st century. Sadly, rising gas prices have dealt a death knell to this truly American pastime. That and the need to fill our children's lives with structured play, sports, and activities that do not promote learning about our surroundings, expand our powers of observation or promote family togetherness.

I find myself wondering what children fifty years from now will be remembering with nostalgia. They will undoubtedly know a lot about the world because of technology, but will they have taken time to smell the roses, guess the answer to "twenty questions", or sit in the back seat of the family car making memories that will last a lifetime? Without lower gas prices and serious effort on the part of parents, probably not. I, however, remain thankful that Sunday drives were part of my childhood. By the way, for those of you unfamiliar with farming lingo, silos are storage structures for storing livestock feed. Click on the word to learn more and see pictures of what we used to count.

With one foot in the past, and one in the future, I "surfed the net" and found a wonderful tune called "Sunday Drive" by Dean Brody. Enjoy his youtube offering about a wonderful experience that is now part of the good old days.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


For most older adults problems kids have are often "out of sight, out of mind" when one's own are grown and gone. We often forget how baffling, frustrating, and even guilt inducing parenting was, especially in the teenage years. Add the burden of single parenting and looking back is often just too painful.

Lately the world inhabited by children has been on my mind, probably because I am back to subbing in the afternoons. It forces me to view them differently, and to think about all the "woulda-coulda-shouldas" and "if onlys" in my own parenting. Since I became a teacher long after I became a parent, one of the big ones was If only I had children after I had taught for a while I would have made better parenting decisons. When my husband left our young family, with little warning, there were dozens of "if onlys".

Instead of allowing grief to consume me, if only I had insisted that we work together with chores and daily routines, we would have learned to cooperate and care more about each other, which in turn would have lessened our shared sorrow.

If only I hadn't allowed my creative juices to be squelched because of my own heartache we would have gotten through our family crisis with a modicum of ease and even fun.

If only I hadn't stopped at McDonalds many times each week because I was too tired to cook (fast food that was often eaten while watching TV) my children would have learned more about each other, as well as better table manners.

If only I had taught my kids to plan menus, shop carefully for groceries, and take turns cooking, my children would have learned lifelong culinary and household skills.

Kids love to help out from their youngest years. If only I had made chores fun, my children would have learned the importance of and taken pride in cleaning their rooms, setting the table, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, taken out the trash, help with yard work. These are important skills that parents need to teach their children in order that they become responsible, effective adults and good future mates. I have since realized children can find chores to be rewarding and fulfilling, allowing a chance to grow.

Instead of wallowing in my own grief, if only I had paid attention to and taken to heart the lyrics of Johnny Nash's song "I Can See Clearly Now" I would have faced our family's crisis differently, and my children would have come through the rain with greater confidence, self esteem, and happier memories.

Now, in every classroom in which I substitute I see examples of suffering children whose parents are going through their own rainy days. If only I could reach out in some meaningful way to each of them, then possibly they would be able to feel a little better, and know that a bright sunshiny day will come their way.

Yes, looking back if only I knew then what I know now, my own children would have had a happier and easier life. But the problem with if onlys is that they're in the past and nothing can be done to change them. If we want to make a difference we must do it NOW. And now that is my commitment to children with whom I come in contact, in my family, in the classroom, and in the world at large.

So, last week, for the little Somalian boy who wanted to show how high he could kick in class, I made time to watch him on the playground at recess. He really could kick high. His beaming face was thanks enough. I gave a child who was told "no" by a classroom teacher, when he wanted to look more closely at a read-aloud book, an opportunity to read the book later during silent reading time. When a child was sharply rebuked by a recess supervisor, I took a minute to crouch down by the young offender to determine what had happened. Once his side of the story came out, and he felt heard, he went off happily to play.

These are small but important differences we can make in the lives of kids whose parents are too consumed by their own pain to think about the hurts of their children. For the coming week, why don't you see how many obstacles you can help people overcome, even if it's only listening with empathy. Help them to realize that tomorrow CAN be a bright, bright, sun-shiny day

Lyrics for "I Can See Clearly Now" as sung by Johnny Nash

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin?for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there’s nothin?but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin?but blue skies

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


First Kindle, then I-Pad, now Kindle Fire reader tablets. What is happening to good old fashioned books? And what do futurists say about books and book stores? Scary as it sounds, some predict the end of book stores as we know them and that e-books are the wave of the future. Already cozy little bookstores run by "mom and pop" are biting the economic dust. Big ones too, if you count Borders.

This phenomena has even invaded my own home as my husband, at first resistant, has joined the Kindle cheer leading team. A victim of beginning cataracts he loves the ease of reading his tablet, not to mention that buying a new book is but a few clicks away. Hey! He knows intellectually that he should be walking down to our little local book store to support it and get a dose of daily exercise, but the pull of instant gratification and a tad bit of laziness play into his love affair with his electronic tablet.

I am a hold out, and hope to remain that way for as long as possible. My love of books began before grade school even started. Later, as a proud member of the top Brownie reading group in my first grade class I was filled with awe as I followed the antics of Dick, Jane, and Spot, followed by Grimm's Fairy Tales, Nancy Drew, Nurse Cheryl Ames, and every Zane Grey western novel written. As a farm girl I sat perched high in a cedar tree, lost for hours in one story or another, with the Bookmobile my weekly supplier of new adventures. The school library was my favorite room at school, replaced only by the Bellingham city library when I was older.

I loved all the trappings of the classroom, the smell of crayons, the colorful posters, finger painting, and the three R's. Well, maybe not 'rithmetic. But everything else. And above all , books and reading. Even at night, after the lights were supposed to be out and I was tucked in my bed, I would sneak a book and a flashlight under the covers in order to read a little bit more. And I was not alone. Many of us at my small country school found escape in reading, then play acting out the stories at recess. I still remember the deliciously suspenseful story of Blue Beard and the locked room that no one could enter. Books were a window on a world filled with fantasy, realism and dreams. They helped to shape what we became and promoted human interaction as well.

Now, as an elementary school teacher, I watch children still finding joy in reading the old fashioned way and discussing their favorite stories. The book mobile is gone, but the virtual classroom is not a reality yet, thank goodness. I hope the futurists have it wrong, and that books will be there for future generations.

Yes, technology is changing how we read, but even more how we relate to each other. Besides ordering books from our homes, we can shop, bank, buy food, play games, talk to others all over the world, even have intimate conversations with total strangers. With telecommuting some folks don't even have to leave the comfort of their homes during any given day. Even going to church becomes a passive experience. I believe that creativity is one of our national strengths, but I fear it will be harmed without the excitement of sharing ideas with one another face to face.

And while I am mourning the change in our nation's reading habits, let me also mourn the gradual passing away of the newspaper world. Luckily I can still sit with my now skinny Seattle Times and a cup of coffee while I read about the day's events. But I can see the handwriting creeping slowly up the wall. Classifieds tell the sad story. Want to rent an apartment, get a job or find a garage sale? Forget the Times and go to Craig's List. It's free and comprehensive. I know I'm guilty of having advertised a rental home there, and what's more, I got results quickly and for free. FREE. Sadly, newspapers can't compete with that. As the romantic and slower paced day of horses and buggies have passed into history, so too may newspapers, books and book stores. Will I soon be reading about the good old days on a Kindle Fire? In this crazy world, probably.

I guess I just have to accept a future with technology invading every aspect of my daily life. Let's face it. I love my computer, my cell phone, looking up stuff on the internet, and yes, I confess it, texting. I just want the world to slow down a bit so that little kids in the future can climb trees with books and not worry about the battery dying.