Tagged: Discovery

Wait, What The What?

A quote from the 3-year-old – “Wait, what the what?”

This kid says lots of interesting things.  I get it, he’s spent much of this life observing three older siblings, a mom and a dad, and the world around him, quietly, patiently, and with a curious, reflective look on his face.  

Each of our kids have just under a two year gap between them and the next, so they seem to relate on many levels.  They play together well.  They argue, fuss, and fight well.  They share solid and deep love and a bunch of joyful moments with one another. Well.

This one, though, is just young enough that he does a bit more watching than the others.  The others are usually entangled.  He’s in the mix much of the time, but sometimes he’s not.  My wife and I speculate that “out of the mix” watching has given him a unique perspective on things.  We speculate further that it could be at least a part of the foundation of his fascinating, uniquely articulate ways. 

Quiet, thoughtful observation might just lead to joyful learning and growth.  Who knew?

Anyway, as I mentioned, the big fella’s new phrase is, “Wait, what the what?”

He says it when he’s looking to dig deeper.  It’s an exploration catalyst.  

“That cloud looks like a cantaloupe.”

“Wait, what the what?”

“The daddy seahorse has the babies.”

“Wait, what the what?”

“Looks like some ripe, red tomatoes are ready to be picked in the garden!”

“Wait, what the what?”

You get it.  He utters this signature phrase and comes running to question, explore, examine, celebrate, and marvel in the wonders of the world as they unfold before and around him.  It’s build in.  It seems to be built in to all of them.

The 9-year-old is an explorer as well.  He’s an explorer of the world in a bit of a different way.  His explorations fold almost seamlessly into his imagination.

Sometimes he seems lost in thought.  I’ll ask how he’s doing.  He’ll tell me he’s fine, and that he’s imagining that dinosaurs exist.  It’s fun for me to see him lost in the world of his imagination.  I’m a dreamer, too.

I was at his curriculum night this week.  Each kid posted a display of places they had been during the summer.  They labeled sticky notes with a location and drew landscapes on a grid under the sticky notes.  Each sticky note could be lifted up to reveal the landscape.  There were about ten spaces in the grid.  Most of his were current, existing places.  He listed Mackinac Island, Kalahrai, The Adventure Park, The Sleeping Bear Dunes, etc.  

Then, I came across the sticky note that read, “Pangea.”  I lifted it.  Dinosaurs. He drew and colored a likeness of his exploration of a place in which dinosaurs exist.  He did so as a representation of a place he’d visited this summer.  Dreamer.

Imaginative envisioning of the world might just lead to joyful learning and growth.  Who knew?

Quiet, thoughtful observation.  Imaginative envisioning of the world.  Kids are well equipped to learn.  As parents and educators it’s critical that we give them space, time, support, and encouragement.  They are each unique.  It’s critically important that we celebrate that uniqueness.  It’s critically important that we get to know them well, and that we facilitate a process by which they can safely explore and be proud the pathways they envision for themselves, which are sometimes not exactly the ones we envision for them.  It’s critically important.

When I met the 9-year-old’s teacher this week she greeted me with her arms tucked in and her hands wiggling around.  She told me she was practicing her T-Rex arms so that she could communicate with my kid.  She only just met him.  I almost cried.  He is going to spend this school year learning and growing with a teacher who’s genuinely interested in knowing him and supporting his unique pathway.  He’s spending his days with a person who’s excited that he’s a dreamer.  She seems like one, too.  My heart is filled with gratitude.

After one week we are reminded in no uncertain terms that educating children is a fast-paced, challenging, and often stressful charge.  However, even in our exhaustion we are also reminded in no uncertain terms that it’s infinitely joyful and unimaginably rewarding as well.

Let’s find the balance.  Let’s go with the flow.  Let’s always remember the joy.  Let’s rely on one another to accept every challenge as a chance on behalf of our students we serve.

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

The End Of Beginnings

We visited lake Huron this past weekend.  It was a really cool place on Michigan’s east coast called Sturgeon Point.  There’s a one room school house, a lighthouse, and an awesome, rocky beach.  We’ve been all over the mitten this summer.  Sturgeon Point is quite different from the more tourist-populated, built-up destinations we spent most of our time at on the west side of the state.  That said it was among my favorites.  

The rocks were smooth and colorful.  Many fossils for the kids to discover and collect.  The wind was blowing perfectly. Not to hard but steady enough for each blade of dune grass to stand a bit slanted and wiggling in unison with each of the others.  The waves capped off in white foam as they crawled toward the shoreline.  

The kids’ kites lifted up out of their hands to dance above us with such little effort. On that day, and in those moments, they were all world class kite pilots; youngest to oldest.  The cheap wood and plastic apparatuses were dipping, weaving, diving and soaring at their will. Our three dollar kites would have thrilled even the Wright Brothers with their grace and utility.

I was in the waves.  It’s one of my favorite places to be.  A Michigan kid all the way.  The water was warm so a few of the others took the plunge with me, body surfing and horsing around a bit.  

When they finished I still wanted to play, so I jogged through the whitecaps to the shore where the nine-year-old was fastidiously selecting rocks for his bucket.  I asked if he wanted to take a break and splash around for a bit.  He replied, “Do I have to?”

“No,” I said, “not if you don’t want to.”

He smiled and said, “Maybe another time,” before dutifully returning to his task.

Ouch.  Maybe another time.  Ok.  I had no option but to grab the seven-year-old from a few yards away toss him back in the water.  Unlike his big brother, he had to.

I wondered about the line.  When does a kid change from someone who appreciates being forcibly (and lovingly) tossed into the lake to someone who doesn’t.  Different for each I suppose.  

Regardless, in that moment it struck me that this kid could be experiencing the end of a beginning.  He’s certainly not done being a kid.  He’s not at the end of the end of it.  I hope he’s not at the end of the middle of it, or even the middle of the middle.  Just maybe at the end of the beginning.

For a moment I had succumb to a whirlwind of reflective thinking about this seemingly horrible prospect.  If this ridiculous thing is happening to the nine-year-old what might be happening to his siblings?  

Earlier in the day I told the three-year-old that we were going to go on a glass bottom boat, only to be confronted with, “Is it a secure glass bottom boat?”  Three-year-olds don’t ask that.  Is he at the end of the beginning of tiny tot-ness?  

The seven-year-old is stretching out.  There’s no more meat on his bones at all.  Where did it go?  All of his pajama bottoms are floods.  I could swear they fit him last weekend.  Is he at the end of the beginning of little kidish-ness.

The five-year-old doesn’t give me a hug and kiss anymore when I drop her off to play with friends.  Instead, she extends her tiny hand and insist, “Just go, Daddy!”  Doesn’t even look back.  I know because I do.  A lot. What beginning could she she be at the end of?

I don’t know what kind of fortitude I’m supposed to have, but thinking about all these ends of beginnings was really starting to get tough on me.  The previously enjoyable waves of Sturgeon Point, once calmly lapping at our beautiful rocky lighthouse shore had transformed into pulsating waves of mocking, taunting laughter that almost had me holding on for dear life.  “Time waits for no man!” They laughed.  “Your grip is slipping!” They provoked. 

Until it hit me.  Things came a into focus and I quickly settle back into the great joy of my lot.

I’m a husband, a parent, and an educator.  It’s not for me to want for stillness, but rather revel in the movement that drives all I’m supposed to be doing.  I’m supposed to appreciate growth.  I’m supposed to look on independence with gratitude and find the courage to step ever-back as they move ever-forward and even away.  I’m supposed to find the strength to continue showering those I love with that love while I loosen my grip on their hands.  

Sigh.  Joy.  Sigh.

There are ends to my beginnings too.  Good ones.  Headed into my fifth year as the principal of a warm and welcoming school community in a progressive, cohesive district I feel that a beginning may be at its end for me.  To be clear, I have light years to go in my capacity for service and in my leadership practice.  It’s just that I know a bit more than I did before.  I have a bit more skill on the foundation of a few more mistakes I’ve been gifted to make in the bit more time I’ve had to practice my job, craft, my art.

As we think about moving into another energized and exciting school year I say we consider intentionally relishing the end of beginnings as it comes to us, to each other, and to the kids we serve.

We’re built for growth.  We’re made for movement.  Even when it’s tough, which it is sometimes, we should find strength to celebrate the end of beginnings in the same fashion we would celebrate our most triumphant moments.  Then, we should breath deeply, reflect clearly, smile and move along.  

Cherished memories in our minds and our hearts and the conviction that our collective learning will guide us ever-closer to wherever it is we’re going…we should smile and move along.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

A Chance For Her to Learn

We were at the Detroit Historical Museum.  It’s nestled between the DIA, the Michigan Science Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the Detroit Public Library.  Given its proximity to these gems we often skip it in favor of some combination of the others when we’re in Midtown (who am I kidding, the Science Center is our haunt 99% of the time at this stage of the game:).  Every time we do end up at the Historical Museum I remember why skipping it is a mistake.  

It was me and the four (two bigs and two littles).  If you haven’t been I highly recommend it.  If you have, I highly recommend a return trip.  So engaging, so relevant to young Michiganders, so much fun for all!  From the massive train set in the “Streets of Detroit” exhibit on the lower level to the life size assembly line display and the Kid Rock History of Music in Detroit showcase on level one, the kids loved it all!  

If your kids are ready for the content and you’re ready for processing with them, there’s also an moving and meaningful Underground Railroad exhibit on the top floor.  Be ready for a deep, reflective, and emotional experience.  My little ones are too little, but soon enough.

One of the stops upstairs is a simulation of the invention of Vernors, a Detroit-based ginger ale brand created in 1866 by the pharmacist James Vernor.  The kids get to put ingredients together and submit their bubbly invention to a digital Mr. Vernor for tase testing.  He either likes it or he doesn’t, and then he gives a critique…too bitter, not bubbly enough, etc.  Our 9-year-old acted as advisor to his 5-year-old sister for her turn. The concoction she made ended up being too bitter.  She was furious!

With red cheeks and clinched fists she turned to me and said, “He made me lose on purpose!”

Surprisingly, he admitted it.

“Dad,” he exclaimed in earnest, “it was a chance for her to learn!”

We spend so much time wanting them to get things “right.”  We hope for it, we wish for it, sometimes we even make it happen by manipulating situations that are beyond their ability to navigate.

Once again I have a kid to thank for reminding me of the backward nature of some of the adult-ish stuff we do!

Parents and educators, let’s let them fail.  Let’s embrace it.  Let’s let them fight through frustration and into learning and growth.  Let’s let it be a paradigm we live in during all the moments we’re gifted as the stewards of their development, from their youngest days on into their adult lives.  

If we’re going to manufacture moment, let’s consider manufacturing moments for mistake making.  They’ve got to get to know how it feels on both ends and all the way through the making of mistakes, the processing of frustrations, the pulling oneself up by bootstraps, and the learning toward “back to the old drawing board” grit, determination, faith, hope, and persistence.

Big brothers.  Great parenting resources!  Thanks, Bud!

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. 

The Doing…Possibly Even Better Than The Done!

People periodically ask me when I’ll be done with my PhD. I suppose it’s a reasonable question. Even so, I have no answer.

I’m relatively confident that there’s a chance I might defend my dissertation sometime in the vicinity of between two and twenty two years from now. It’s a really difficult thing to pin down at this point.

Are you ready for a bit of what might seem like complaining?

I wake up really early in the morning. I’m no spring chicken, so I have to swim for a bit before I go to work. It get’s my blood flowing and makes me able to move in the ways I think I was intended to be able to move. Specifically in the ways I’m not able to do when I roll out of bed. Ever pull a muscle adjusting a pillow? No spring chicken.          After swimming I head to work.

I have a wonderful job. I really can’t imagine a more joyful way to spend my workdays than doing the things I’m charged with doing as an elementary school principal. Sure, some of it’s more fun and some of it’s less fun, but whose job doesn’t have ups and downs, challenges and triumphs?

Actually, some of the more challenging moments end up being some of the ones that offer some of the best growth opportunities.

Regardless, there’s lot’s going on. Occasionally, even the most well-planned days slip away without the well-planned plans unfolding, and when I say occasionally what I mean is frequently. Lots of meaningful and productive things typically happen, just sometime not the things I intended.

After work I either continue to work until I no longer can, or I do something like take my kids to swim lessons, piano, soccer, pillow polo, etc. To be clear, my wife is usually in on the taking of kids to places. Sometimes, if my wife has a meeting or some other commitment in the evening I head home to play with, feed, bath, read to, and put the kids to bed. Our kids are 8, 6, 4, and 3 years old. Evening routines are wonderfully loud and energized with lots of wonderful noise and remarkable motion. Tiring. Did I mention I’m no spring chicken?

Weekends are half work and half play unless certain ones require more of either.

Again, I know the previous couple of paragraphs might sound like a complaining rant. Thank you for your tolerance. The truth is I have no complaints. I sincerely enjoy all of that stuff. I’m a very lucky guy, blessed in so many ways. The point is not that I have too much to do. Don’t we all? The point is that I very infrequently find myself done with much of anything.

I am a bit of a Self Determination Theory wonk, and I lean toward believing that the three basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are a relatively important foundation of well-being. All of the stuff listed above sometimes leaves me feeling behind, and if I let it, that feeling can dig into the competence part of my basic psychological needs. It sometimes feels like a whole lot of “doing” and not a whole lot of “done.”

I imagine it’s that way for many of us.

Parents and educators are constantly running, pouring everything we have into every moment, getting it “right” occasionally and getting it “wrong” a good bit too, feeling exhausted much of the time, pushing through, caring deeply, moving quickly, and regularly being told (by others and by ourselves) that we’re off the mark in one way or another.

Good news, I found a solution! It’s not an easy one to implement, but those often turn out to be the best ones, with the most meaningful outcomes.

Here it is: appreciate, celebrate, and focus on the doing rather than the done. After all, are we really ever “done” with anything? Should we be? Done is darn final.

Done is dull.

Done is uninteresting.

Done is kind of bleak.

Doing is exciting!

Doing is mysterious!

Doing is electrifying!

I officially have no clue about when I’ll be done with my PhD. No clue. Officially. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. However, I’m quite certain that when I am done I won’t be doing it anymore, and doing it is really meaningful. Maybe I should intentionally never be done (my dissertation chair probably got heart burn just as I wrote that. Sorry).

Friends, I assure you, I’m doing the best I can, which includes learning and doing better each day, and I still simply ain’t getting it all done.

So, in an effort to honor my well-being I’m going all in on this “doing” thing. I’m going to appreciate and celebrate “the doing” and see how that goes.

Actually, I’m doing it right this moment and it feels good, which is good. When we feel food we’re better for ourselves and for those we serve. The doing. It’s good, and it’s a really easy thing to focus on. After all, you’re doing it anyway.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Why Not Now?

I was walking to the library with the kids. Lorelei was out, so it was just the five of us. It was a cold but sunny day. A fusion of snow and ice covered the ground with some glazed over, shiny grass peeking through.

Our eight-year-old led the way. They marched like the seven dwarfs, jolly hopping and jumping intermittently interrupted by some bumping and pushing. Laughing and talking mixed with whining, crying, and shouting.

It was a heck of a day for a walk and we were all enjoying getting out of the house after several bitterly cold days in a row.

Instead of going inside when we arrived, the crew set up shop outside the library in the frozen garden area where they had many sticks to crack ice with, some sculptures to climb on, a couple of snow banks to kick, a tree to push, and some rocks to smash and throw.

They found a painted rock. They took turns suggesting places to hide it, just within view of the next passers-by, so that they could find it too.

Kids have an amazing capacity for finding joy in just about anything. If you can find joy in smashing rocks, kicking snow banks, pushing on trees, and climbing on sculptures you should never be bored. I pretty sure that’s a law of physics.

Anyway, our oldest got an idea. I knew it popped suddenly into his head with extreme force because his eye widened, his body shook, and he bounced around as if he was riding on Tigger’s tail.

“We could do a show!” He cried out. He was elated!

The little ones agreed. He immediately set in describing the first episode.

The show would be called, “Mini Missions.”

He would be the leader and the little ones would be the “Mini’s.”

Each episode would be a mix of funny and educational. They would go on adventures and teach about facts.

In this episode they would dig into ice for rocks. He would check out some library books about ice and rocks for the educational parts. They would get silly for the funny parts.

I interrupted his description to suggest that this was starting to sounds like a real TV show. I told him, “I won’t be surprised if you actually produce this show when you grow up!”

He schooled me by asking (without hesitation), “Why not now?”

Why not now?

I pulled out my phone, showed him how to open iMovie, gave him a few basic tips, and about four hours later episode one was born, complete with music and titles. Funny and educational.

It’s a great show! I can’t wait for episode two. He tells me it’s going to be about flowers.

Guess what, kids believe they can do anything.

Guess what else, when we support that belief and share some tools and strategies with them amazing stuff happens.

Why not now?

A good question for parents and educators to consider as we support the kids we serve in exploring their world.

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Something Not Of My Business

Just after dinner our four-year-old daughter walked into the living room where I was sitting, talking with my sister-in-law.

On Friday nights we eat at my mother’s house with as many aunts, uncles, and cousins who are around. It’s a wonderful weekly tradition and a loud one. There’s a lot going on.

Our kids are the youngest of the lot so they do a bit of showing out, as it were.

They get silly and wild, they demand attention for their stories and dances, and they run around with heightened energy and heightened emotions.

It’s nighttime too. Potential for eight, six, four, and three-year-old breakdowns is relatively high.

We manage, and I have to admit that they’re pretty cute even in heightened states, so we all enjoy the show to some extend. We feel fortunate, even through intermittent frustration.

A highlight for me is when one of the kids needs a break, a problem-solving partner, or a consolatory hug, and they come running to me for it. It’s good to be the go-to break spot, problem solving hugger.

Yesterday, something changed.

Did I mention she’s four?

This time, she ambled into the room as usual, shoulders slumped, arms dangling, lip curled and pouty, eyes upturned and half exposed just under her signature “one of my brothers wronged me” partly closed lids, and brow furrowed. I was ready for a full, fall into me with all thirty pounds hug and some extended comforting.

I opened my arms and offered my best sympathetic look as I queried, “What’s wrong baby?”

As she walked directly past me into the arms of her aunt, shifting her pout to a scowl for just a moment, she lifted her eyes and turned her head just enough to growl, “Something not of your business!” Harrumph.

Ouch, something not of my business.

Ladies and gentlemen, guess what, there are things in the minds, the hearts, and the lives of our children that are not of our business, even in the minds, the hearts, and the lives of our four-year-old daughters.

Also, I suspect the shift over time won’t be that more of it is some of my business.

The kid is teaching me that in order to be trusted in the ways I hope to be as she navigates the trials and tribulations of growing up (which evidently happens really quickly), I’ve got to respect and even appreciate that she’s an individual, categorically separate from me, with her own hopes, dreams, and feelings that I might actually not understand, who will sometimes need me to listen and sometimes need me to back off.

I’m genuinely working to be able to do both with grace.

That said…ouch.

I sure do love her.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Re-frame & Celebrate Your Competency

I’ve come across a thing called Self-Determination Theory (SDT) in my research. Basically, SDT suggests that people are best served when the have three basic needs fulfilled: autonomy, relatedness, and competency. It got me thinking about being a parent and an educator.

SDT is set on the foundation that any one of the basic needs unfulfilled has the power to turn out our lesser characters; bring up anxiety, anger, frustration; cause us to think and act in ways we would otherwise not, or rather not.

I blew past autonomy and relatedness for this reflection, and went straight for competency.

SDT proposes that if you don’t feel competent you don’t feel good.

When I read that, I thought about how frequently parents and educators have opportunities to feel not competent, they’re arguably unlimited!

There’s so much going on in every single moment. There are always forms to fill out, sandwiches to make & cut in triangles, baths to run, teeth to brush, homework to do (I mean help with), plans to make, papers to review, assessments to administer, data to process, progress to monitor, and so on.

Parents and educators have tons to do, and because we serve kids, we want to do every bit of it really well…we expect ourselves to. We expect ourselves to get it all right all of the time, and when we don’t get it all right we tend to be really hard on ourselves. The thing is, no one could get all that stuff all right, all of the time.

In the light of the really critical nature of our jobs and the fact that we have to move so incredibly quickly, it’s relatively easy for parents and educators to feel less then competent sometimes. Incompetent even, and if SDT holds, and feeling incompetent gets us cranky, maybe we should re-frame what competence looks like in the typhoon of child development.

Maybe it’s relative?

Maybe we’re doing an ok job after all?  Maybe even a good one?

Walking down the hall the other day a first-grader approached me and asked, “Mr. Berg, do you have a daughter?”

“I do, indeed,” I replied.

Her face scrunched up a bit, a tear squeezed our of her eye and slid slowly down her cheek, and in a bit of a shaky voice she followed up with, “Can you help me with my ponytail?”

I could, I did, and it went really well! Competent!

Then, yesterday, two of my four kids wanted to go on a bike ride to 7-Eleven to get a couple of Slurpees and some chips. This is actually one of my core competencies! It turned out awesome!

We stocked up at 7-Eleven and ate our bounty at the local skate park. We rode those bikes like professional BMX racers. We let the wind blow our hair back, we laughed, and we had a blast! Fun with my children, quality time, spoiling dinner with unnecessary treats, and smiles all around…check, check, check, and check! Competent!

My incredibly wise wife caught me overwhelmed recently, feeling like I was missing the mark in every direction, and so she reminded me that there’s lots of good happening all around me, all the time.

There’s so much positive progress to be found in the lives of the kids I serve at school and at home, and even with the bumps along the way, that’s holistically good. When I remember that, I smile.

When we take the time to remind ourselves of things that we’re doing well we give ourselves a boost of energy, one that might have otherwise been zapped, even if only temporarily, by the importance of what we do and the incredible pressure we tend to put on ourselves.

Parents and educators, next time you’re feeling stressed-out or frustrated, you might consider untangling a ponytail, or even a dinner-spoiling bike ride to 7-eleven, and if you do, you might also consider taking time to recognize and celebrate just how incredibly competent you are!

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Or We Could Just be Storks

We were talking about how babies are born, a parent’s favorite conversation. The consensus among my kids, who are still too young for the actual conversation, was that the doctor delivers the babies by taking them out of the Mamma’s belly. They agreed that becoming doctors could be fun, so that they could deliver babies all day long.

Then our clever four-year-old daughter matter-of-factly declared, “Or we could just be storks.”

One of the most wonderful things about our jobs as parents and educators is that we get to spend so much time experiencing the thoughts and ideas of the kids we serve. Kids’ thoughts and ideas are so unique, interesting, an inspirational!

Kids exist within an “anything is possible” paradigm and the connected “anything is possible” energy pours out of them in the things they say and do.

While working to perpetuate pathways of genuine learning and growth it’s important for us to remember that there are no silly questions, and there are no wrong OR right answers. I understand that storks don’t actually deliver babies, however, is it a bad thing that my four-year-old daughter thinks they do?

In this situation she used that thinking as part of a larger process, a problem solving session with her brothers, an extrapolation of considerations, and an envisioning of the future; all stuff that’s good for her to practice doing.

She was deeply engaged in a collaborative dialogue. She was interested. She was being thoughtful. She outlined a viable alternative course of action, a “kid-viable” alternative course of action, but a viable one none-the-less.

Sharing in imaginative dialogue and play with our kids is critical to their positive progress with regard to communication and problem solving. We should always remember to stay enthusiastically engaged while we encourage them to explore their every thought and idea.

We should provide innumerable opportunities for them to interact with one another and with us in inspired and imaginative ways. We should model and celebrate creative thinking around carving out pathways toward goals, and we should always employ and appreciate the language of possibilities. All things that are easy to do when we simply follow their lead.

Enthusiastically giving kids space and time to think and to dream gives them permission develop an inspired sense of self, and permission to take the world on through very real and reasonable lenses that we might have otherwise not even been able to imagine.

Besides, whose to say she can’t become a stork? If that’s her vision…certainly not me.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

I Might Not Love My Favorite Color!

We were in the car on our way to Sunday school. Our oldest asked where our youngest was. I reminded him that his little brother doesn’t go to Sunday school. He gets to stay home with his mommy (or his daddy – depending on the day). The big guy declared, “I wish I was him!”

It’s an interesting thing to wish you were someone else. We often forget, when wishing to be someone else, that if were the “someone else” we’re wishing to be, we would have to be all of them, and not just the desirable part that sounds groovy in the moment.

I told the big guy that if he were his two-year-old brother, not only would he get to stay home during Sunday school, but he would also not know how to read words yet. Instead of finishing the last chapter in his latest Minecraft book, he’d be back to doing “Elephant and Piggie” picture walks, which are fun and exciting, but not the same. His eyes scrunched up, one brow raised, and he gave it some thought.

I told him that if he were the little guy he’d still be scared to go in the basement playroom by himself, he couldn’t ride a two wheeler, he wouldn’t get to go on the water slide at the pool, and “The Lego Movie”…forget about it! Now the wheels were turning.

The three big sibs spiraled into a collective thinking rampage!

“If I were you I couldn’t….”

“If you were me you wouldn’t…”

“You don’t like…”

“She doesn’t think…”

Then, like a meteor crashing into the village square, our uniquely sophisticated four-year-old daughter announced, “Hold on, if I were someone else I might not love my favorite color…orange!

The pigment washed out of each of their little faces. A collective gasp resonated through the back seat of the truck cab. Shockwaves shuddered palpably through them.

Wide eyed and confused, they looked around at one another unable to conceive of a world in which this kid’s favorite color wasn’t orange. It would have completely changed her…to the core.

It wasn’t something any one of them could consider without extreme discomfort. Just the thought of it sent them into a bizarre, kid-world, communal grief state of being.

Slumped over and deflated from the impact of such an outlandish paradigm, our six year old sighed, “I’m sure glad you’re you.”

They all shook their heads in agreement before staring out the windows for a few moments of reflective thinking. It was pretty darn cute. I smiled, but held back the laughter so as not to ruin the moment.

So here it is though, and from the hearts, minds and mouths of babes, a pretty solid and simple truth:

We are each what we each are.

Moreover, that we are each solidly and simply what we each are, might very well be for the best thing, for each of us and for each other.

I’ve been told that genuine serenity results only from true fulfilledness in what we are and what we have, rather than wantfullness around that which we are not and that which we don’t have, and while I’m quite certain that neither “fullfilledness” or “wantfullness” are actual words, I agree with the premise.

How do we, as parents and educators, support the kids we serve in finding the type of serenity that comes from self-appreciation?

How do we refrain from pushing and shoving our kids into directions that their spirits don’t advocate for or enjoy?

How do we set a standard expectation for self-love while modeling humility, providing opportunities for interest and ability-driven growth, engaging in interactions that promote understanding, compassion, and kindness, while creating learning environments that afford our kids safe passage along the sometimes painful, but arguable natural and necessary, oscillating pathways of simultaneous progressive-exploration and static-being that are holistically unique to each of them, and do so in conjunction with rich the collective development needed to thrive in this world of diversity?

Frankly, it beats me…but it’s stuff I find worth some reflective consideration as I seek to serve them well.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to stay on course with some good old fashioned modeling. Given that if I were someone else I might not love my favorite color, I think I’ll simply continue being me.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Literacy Learning The “Fastway”

When we drive on the expressway my children close their windows. It’s been a longstanding guideline in our family. The basis is a perception that rocks and other small objects have the potential of being scooped up by tires attached to the cars and trucks in front of us, and consequently that these rocks and other small objects have the additional potential of flying into our open windows, were they open.

Thankfully, due to this longstanding guideline, they’re not.

While it’s fun and even kind of exciting to watch flying rocks fly, none of us want to be hit on the nose by a scooped up one (or any other scooped up, flying object for that matter). We think that might hurt.

The kids take the initiative.

When they think there’s a chance we’re headed there, they ask, “Daddy, are we going on the expressway?”

If the answer is “yes” they roll the windows up.

Yesterday, on our way downtown, my six-year-old asked, “Are we going on the expressway?”

The answer was “yes.”

The window closed. Then something else happened.

He asked, “Why?”

He wasn’t asking why we were going on the expressway, of even why the window needed to be closed, but rather, he was asking about language. He was asking why this particular road is called the “expressway.”

I told him that the word “express” has the same meaning as the word “fast.” I told him that people drive on the expressway so that they can get to the pace they’re going faster than they otherwise could.

He thought for a minute, and then told me that is should be called the “fastway.” Decent point.

He suggested that more people are likely to know about the word “fast” than the word “express.” I suppose he’s right.

Regardless, his expression of curiosity and reasoning made me think. It made me think about language and about speed.

We (adults) might be using language that kids don’t completely understand. In fact, it’s likely we are. Part of what kids are doing all the time is learning (like us, but even faster). Part of what they’re learning about is language. It’s one aspect of literacy learning. One that is ever present, no books, worksheets, or multi-media presentations required.

When I talk about the expressway with my kids they understand that I’m talking about a road on which cars move faster than they do on other roads. Until now, however, this one didn’t get why it’s called that.

That’s ok. In fact, it’s natural. Kids don’t know as many words as we do. Ironically, this experience has me visualizing words like the rocks and other small object that have the potential to be scooped up and fly into open windows on the expressway. Words come at kids really fast, and they have to learn about them bit by bit, with intentionality.

If we’re genuinely attentive to language learning, and thoughtful about our communication with kids, we can give them cause to think carefully about language, and when people think carefully about language their communication tends to be enhanced.

If we pay attention to our interactions with kids around language, we can act as windows, keeping fast flying language from hitting kids in the nose while allowing it to be seen and considered by them as it leaps, dances, and even sometimes flies by them.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem terribly significant that kids know specific details about words that they get the general idea of. However, let’s consider the possibility that communication, and even literacy at its very core might be heightened with every layer of depth we add to their understanding.

My kid can now contemplate “express” lanes, “express” washes, and even explanations that are given “expressly.”

He can practice making connections with the word “express,” and making connections sometimes feels like solving puzzles, which is fun.

He can use the word “express” in the stories he writes or tells.

He can share his newfound knowledge and sophistication around language with his siblings and his friends.

When he reads the word “express,” a light bulb can go of over his head, he can shutter with excitement, and he can exclaim, “’Express’ means fast!”

He can take pride in being somewhat of a linguist.

Let’s not talk to the kids we serve about language because we want them to be able to use fancy words, but rather because we want them to enjoy, and be excited about words in general.

Let’s dig in with them and take time to fulfill their language curiosities because it’s fun and exciting.

Let’s take every opportunity as initiated by them, and let’s also provide opportunities by striking up dialogues and asking questions about language that we find interesting, or that we think might be interesting to them.

Let’s model curiosity and care around and about language.

Language doesn’t cost a thing and there’s plenty of it to go around.

Let’s make it as fun and exciting as it actually is to those who discover its innate influence on our lives, and let’s make sure that the kids we serve have every opportunity to maximize their potential to use it for good.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks!