Meditating with Pattern-Making

photo 1 (3)Meditating and me, we just don’t click.  I can remember lying in bed as a child, struggling to fall asleep, and trying to count sheep.  I never even made it to ten before I’d be off track, imagining a wolf hiding behind a fence, waiting for his lunch, thinking about what I myself had had for lunch, and would there be any mango left over for lunch tomorrow, and thinking about how Soandso had sat with Whojimmywhatsit again, and my mind would be off racing.

Fast forward to adulthood, and I have the same problem of extreme distractibility as soon as I am supposed to immerse myself in concentrating on nothing.  I’ve tried and failed to empty my mind so many times, and as much as I love a challenge, I do not like repeated failure.

This past summer, though, as I was hunting for how-to books for making art with my kids, I stumbled upon a series of books about pattern-making called Zentangle.

The Zentangle Method is a way to create images by drawing structured patterns. It was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, who found that she entered a meditative state as she drew her tangle patterns.  According to their web site, Zentangle began when Maria described “her feelings of timelessness, freedom and well-being and complete focus on what she was doing with no thought or worry about anything else.”

And it really is an all-absorbing, relaxing and fulfilling way to focus on something while thinking of nothing.

Carol told me recently about a tip someone had given her about how to occupy herself while sitting keeping her kids on task doing homework.  You know how sometimes, when you are sitting with your kids while they are doing homework and you get the urge to stick a hot poker in your eye just so that you can have something else to think about other than how much you’d like to escape?  Grab knitting needles instead.  It is more productive and less likely to end in bloodshed.  Knitting, once you are past the absolute beginner stage, is a brainless and soothing way to keep your hands busy when your mind has to be occupied.  Knitting also has the enormous value of giving you something in return for your effort, and at the end of the homework session, you will both have accomplished something other than screaming.  Drawing patterns has become that something for me.

Productivity is part of why I fail so spectacularly at meditation.  Believe me, I do get the irony of wanting meditation to be productive, but let’s face it, it’s not like I have lots of time to devote to getting it right.  I struggle and struggle and in the end I feel that I have wasted my time and energy and emerged with nothing, but not the nothing I was supposed to be aiming for.

Doodling patterns gets me into that totally focussed state of mind, gives me a feeling of well-being, and at the end of a doodling session, I have an image to show for it.  That is enormously satisfying.  I am working my way through doodling the letters of the alphabet.  This is what I made while the kids did math:

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If you’d like a quick tutorial on how to make one of the Zentangle designs, grab any old sheet of paper and something to draw with and follow along:

 

 

The Leslie Street Spit: A Man-Made, Nature-Filled Wonder

220px-OHEHOpenStreetMapThe Leslie Street Spit is a man-made headland that extends five kilometers south into Lake Ontario from the bottom of Leslie Street.  Since the 1960s, the site has been used for dumping all of the rubble and dirt from excavations from new building construction.  What came out of the ground with excavators got dumped down here until it had grown to its current size.  What the city did not anticipate was that this man-made land would be so quickly colonized by plant and bird life, and what began as a dumping ground has become a bird sanctuary and a haven for city-dwellers looking for a long and car-free walk by the lake.

The site is now a park, but because it is still an active dumping zone, the park is only open on weekends. Parking at the gates to the park is a bit haphazard, and while there is a lone hot dog stand at the end of the route, you will keep your little campers happy if you come well stocked with snacks and drinks.

I have walked and biked the 10 kilometers round trip from the street to the lighthouse at the tip of the spit with the kids many times, and there is always something new to discover.  One year, students from Guelph University were there tagging monarch butterflies; the spit has become a stop on the butterflies’ migration route.  There are 45 species of birds that breed on the headland, and more than 300 species have been spotted there.  Budding bird-watchers will find a lot to spot.  There are marshes and woods and bridges and bright sky and a lake wind.  There are cormorants perching on wooden pilings and butterflies to chase.  The entire route is paved, with makes biking, roller blading and walking with a stroller all equally easy.  You may see one city pick up truck, but the route is closed to cars.  It is amazing to walk here and see how much work nature has done to make this space its own in such a short time.  It teems with life.  It’s a place to go on a wide-open day, when you have no pressing business elsewhere, to meet with the wide open sky and the lake.  Wide open days are precious enough, but when you can say that you have walked among the cottonwood trees or seen the lake’s whitecaps at your leisure, I think the day has been truly well spent.

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Facts and map from Wikipedia.

 

 

Halloween Reads Giveaway

For the past few years, we have done a modified version of an advent calendar for Halloween.  (Read more about it here.)  In the two weeks leading up to the big day, we read one spooky tale a night from our box of Halloween books.  This year, we are happy to offer your littlest readers a trio of Halloween picture books.  Please leave us a comment, and we will draw for a winner on Friday, October 17th.  Canadian and American readers only, please.  Thanks to Sourcebooks for the bookish goodness!
 
Happy Halloween! By Lillian Jaine

It’s Halloween night, and Count von Count is dozing off in front of his fireplace. Suddenly, he hears someone knocking at his castle door, but when he opens the door, nobody’s there! Could it be a spooky Halloween spirit playing a trick on him, or is it something less sinister? Join Count, Elmo, and all of the Sesame friends as they celebrate Halloween!

 

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A Halloween Scare by Eric James

It’s Halloween night, and creatures and critters from near and far are starting to gather outside the front door. And now here comes a whole army of monsters, on broomsticks, buses, and bikes, all clamoring in the darkness. What is it they want? Are they coming for you?

This humorous, creative story is the perfect Halloween adventure for children and parents to share.

 

 

 

Pumpkin Time! by Erzsi Deák

The day the cows strolled down Main Street in fancy hats…Evy didn’t notice.

What was Evy doing?

Evy is so focused on watching her garden grow that she misses all the silliness going on around her—pigs DANCING, donkeys FLYING, and sheep HAVING A PICNIC.

But after Evy’s spent all year taking care of her garden, everyone’s invited to pumpkin time!

 

Fall Comfort Food

One thing for which I am so grateful on a daily basis is the inspiration from other bloggers and from cookbook authors to make quick, healthy, filling meals for the boys with hollow legs who populate this house.  Left to my own devices, I’d probably just eat toast for dinner most nights, but you cannot grow healthy kids on toast alone, tempting though it might be.  I know, though, that if I spend a minute flipping through my cookbooks, or my bookmarked blogs, I will rise above my lethargy and get inspired to try something new.

Such was the case one cold night recently, and I made a stew that I knew would be my perfect comfort food.  The catch: I was fairly sure it would be a flop with the kids.  WRONG.  Youngest ate three bowls of this Chick Pea and Sweet Potato Stew, and then he asked for it in his lunchbox for the next day.  It was a lesson for all of us: do not be afraid to stray from the tried and true.

Sweet Potato Chickpea Stew

Here is the recipe, reprinted with permission, from Michael Smith’s Family Meals:

Sweet Potato Chickpea Stew

Serves 4 to 6

 2 tablespoons (30mL) of vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, sliced

2 tablespoons (30mL) of curry powder

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes

A 19-ounce (540mL) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 cups (1L) of water

1 teaspoon (5mL) of salt

A 14-ounce (400mL) can coconut milk

2 cups (500mL) of fresh or frozen green peas

1 pint (500mL) of cherry tomatoes, halved

½ teaspoon (2mL) of your favorite hot sauce

The zest and juice of 1 lime

A handful of fresh cilantro sprigs

Splash the vegetable oil into a large pot over medium-high heat. Toss in the onions and garlic and cook, stirring as the onions soften, 5 minutes or so. Sprinkle in the curry and stir for a few moments to brighten its flavor. Toss in the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, water and salt. Bring to a slow, steady simmer, then simmer long enough for the sweet potato to soften, 20 minutes or so.

Pour in the coconut milk, peas and tomatoes. Continue cooking just long enough to heat everything through. Season with the hot sauce and lime zest and juice. Serve and share with the cilantro sprinkled over every bowl.

 

Is it no reflection on the quality of this recipe that one boy got up from the table after eating a bowl full of this for dinner to make himself a sandwich.  See above re: hollow legs.

We also had great success recently with an apple galette, inspired by Kitchen Counter Chronicles.  Jen’s recipe is ever so kid-friendly, and the kids really loved getting involved in making dessert.

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10626648_10154651485075014_1125483120492747965_n

p_238_274_238And if you do not have the time or energy to make your own baked goods, either for dinner or for the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities, give thanks for the brilliant concept that is ShopBake, an on-line baked goods store with treats from over 50 Toronto bakeries.  They sent us a sample pack of some of their goodies, and I have to tell you that everything I tasted was delicious.  Best of all, because there are so many vendors, you can really narrow down your parameters: gluten-free, nut-free no problem!

Shop Bake sent us samples of their goodies, and Penguin sent us a copy of Michael Smith’s Family Meals.  Thank you for spreading the goodness!

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Grateful for Canadian Women Writers

We are transitioning this week from our September theme of the return to school, to gratitude, our theme for the month of Thanksgiving.

After running around like a madwoman all September, I am ready to sit down and create some space for myself and to reflect on what has kept me sane for the past month.  What keeps me sane is my bulging bookshelf of books to be read.  More than sane.  It delights me.  What I am most grateful for in this month of Thanksgiving is the incredible talent of the Canadian women whose work has made my down time such a joy.

In spite of the insanity of the blur that was September, I still managed to read a lovely pile of books.  I recommend one and all and hope that you, too, will find something to love and to be grateful for.

9781770894327Girl Runner

Carrie Snyder

Toronto: Anansi, 2014.

I have reviewed Carrie’s work here before.  Her Juliet Stories are a favourite of mine, and I could not wait to read her latest.  Girl Runner is everything I had hoped it would be.  It is crisp and smart and lyrical.  It is a page-turner.  Last, but not least, there is a gorgeous illustrated map at the beginning of the book.  It reminded me of Ernest Shepard’s map of the Hundred Acre Wood.  It has beautiful little houses, neat rows of crops and trees, and a lighthouse in the middle of farmland; a mystery in the middle of a rural landscape.  It is preparation for the mystery at the heart of the story of the novel’s protagonist, 104-year-old Aganetha Smart.  Olympic runner.  Nursing home inmate.

The book begins on the day that Aganetha is sprung from her nursing home by two strangers claiming to know her.  The novel then progresses with flashbacks of Aggie’s life as they take her home to the farm where she grew up.  Aggie’s girlhood on the farm, her working life in the city, her training as a competitive runner and her winning Olympic gold for Canada in the 1928 Olympics, her friendships, work and ambition.

What I most loved about the book is the description of Aganetha’s ambition.  I don’t think there are enough stories about female ambition.  Snyder describes ambition not as something hard or calculating, but as if it is something organic, born and not made by the goal-setting cheers of the chorus of life coaches that seem so loud in the 21st century.

Aganetha reflects that

Somehow it never went out of me–the desire to compete, to line up against others, win or lose, part of a rhythm larger than myself.  One turning wheel in a crowd of effort.

That image of gears could stand equally well as a metaphor for how the book is constructed, with successive gears setting each other in motion, and when you arrive, breathless, at the end, the final gear clicks into place and the whole story makes a different and piercing kind of sense.

ellenEllen in Pieces

Caroline Adderson

Toronto: Harper Collins, 2014.

When Caroline Adderson set out to write this book, she did so with a particular goal in mind: to write a book that walked and talked like a novel but that could be taken apart into standalone stories.  Ellen in Pieces.  Ellen.  In Pieces.  She knocked it out of the park.

The cover art is especially apt because not only can the novel’s structure withstand being fractured, the book looks at the fragments of a woman’s life and at how romance, motherhood, friendship and a sense of self can all survive being shattered.  And it has to be said, there is shattering.  There is also humour, sex, and some damn fine writing about the frustrations and difficulties of being a single mother:

She met the American novelist in the restaurant of the Hyatt to review his schedule.  Interviews, bookstore signings, then the grand finale, the Reading.  He asked straight out, “Did you love my book?”

“I did,” Ellen said.  She’d only read the beginning and the end and some of the middle bits.  “It’s brilliant.”  It was middling, actually, but you don’t feed two children on honesty.

Ellen is not an entirely likeable character.  This also has to be said.  But I really enjoyed seeing how Adderson made her character succeed in spite of her faults.  She is feisty and often selfish, but she is loved, and her friends are loyal, and I found it a marvel to watch how they rally around her.

interInterference

Michelle Berry

Toronto: ECW Press, 2014.

Interference, another novel in stories, takes its title from the rules of hockey: a penalty is called if an opponent impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal, obscures too aggressively his line of sight.  Sight, obscured and predatory and sinister, is what this book is all about.  How do we see?  How are we seen?  Who is watching?  The book is a collection of short stories about the inhabitants of a small Canadian town: the members of the Senior Ladies Leisure Hockey League, local teens, a mysterious man with a disfiguring scar.  The stories are interspersed with written ephemera: letters to parents from the school principal,  a list of myths about cancer, emails and legal Cease and Desist letters.  Sometimes, though, these bits of information raise more questions than they answer.  I absolutely loved how the book kicks off with a letter from the principal:

Dear Parents and Guardians,

This morning we became aware of an incident that occurred at another school this week.  We are forwarding this information to you, because we know you need to be aware of what is going on and we need to have an open dialogue between staff and parents.  We have found that if we don’t have this kind of discussion some of our parents get very upset.  Last year’s incident with the ice cream and the hermit crabs was just such an example of this.

In effect, “Parents, we are watching you.  We don’t like how you gossip.  This is the one true version of events.  Everything is under control.”  The letter goes on to describe an incident of a possible attempted abduction, and the threat of a pedophile lurking around haunts the rest of the book.  Everything is decidedly not under control, and disquiet hovers.  But, damn, all I wanted to know on page 1 was what happened with the ice cream and the hermit crabs!

brokenAll the Broken Things

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Toronto: Random House, 2014.

All the broken things includes my heart.  This novel tells the story of Bo, a refugee from Vietnam, his mother Rose, and his sister, who is severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange.  It tells the story of Teacher, who tries desperately to do the right thing for Bo and his family, having sponsored them through her church, but failing utterly to understand how hard it is for Bo to accept her goodwill because he feels proud and alien and 14, for Pete’s sake.  It is about Emily, Bo’s schoolmate and neighbour, who has an otherworldly wisdom and an ability to connect with his hidden sister.  It is about getting swept up in putting on a school play, the story of Orpheus, and it is, improbably and perfectly reasonably, about a Vietnamese boy finding a home in Canada by performing in the theater of the circus: bear wrestling.  He is given his own cub to raise, and like the great writhing mass of his emotions, he has to keep her hidden from sight.

The story broke my heart because Bo has too much responsibility and wrestles with too much loss for one so young.  He is swept up in so much turmoil, and while the pathos is never gratuitous, I found it so very moving to read about a boy still so adrift after making landfall in Canada.  When Teacher invites Rose to help make the costumes for the play, Bo chafes at seeing his mother at school:

He wasn’t embarrassed.  He was ashamed.  And he wasn’t ashamed of Rose.  It was something deeper.  It was the shame Teacher conveyed, by trying to fix things.  He wanted to shout that these things were just broken.  He wanted her to understand about the pride of broken things.

That Bo is simultaneously so wise and so lost is the story’s best and, yes, most heartbreaking, tension.

Please share the book love!  Tell us what you’re reading and what we should read, too.

Guest Post: Jennifer Cypher on Why Boys Tune Out

photo (12)I’m sitting in one of those plastic chairs designed for kids. My son’s kindergarten teacher is saying things I don’t understand. “Your child doesn’t participate at circle time. He doesn’t do art, or like to draw. He does not respect his classmates.” Is she talking about my child? Because I’m getting 6 drawings a day coming home in his backpack. But then she hands me his report card, with his name on the top. This is my child at school?

I take a breath. I ask about the 6 drawings that come home daily. Those aren’t “art” because he doesn’t colour them (true, they are all in pencil) and he doesn’t like to colour and doesn’t colour in the lines. Why doesn’t he participate at circle time? She explains that he can’t sit still so she removes him from the circle, ergo he can’t participate. Disrespect? He blurts out answers and doesn’t give other students a chance. Oh, and another thing, he talks to the adults in the room too much, and follows their adult conversations. This is not appropriate.

I take another breath. Our time is almost up, so I ask about his reading. He came into kindergarten reading. “Is he reading a lot,” I ask. “Reading to others, reading in French (this is French Immersion)?” “There’s nothing special for him, that’s not a focus for us.” So, no enrichment for him, and you aren’t even using his skill to help other students? Oh. I suggest that he may be bored. This does not go over well.

I hear on the playground, that this teacher “doesn’t like boys” so all of his normal behaviours (not sitting still, needing to move, needing to get his words out, needing to draw freely, not caring about where the lines are) are “problems” that stem from being a boy. Two months into school he becomes his behaviour: disruptive, mouthy, disrespectful.

Every year since then it has been some version of this. There are no attempts to harness this energy, or to accommodate it, or allow it to just be. The suggestions his father and I give to “deal with” him are met with incredulity. Let him work standing up, I say. Not an option. Give him more responsibility, we suggest. It might make him feel included, and give him some skin in the game. Responsibility must be earned, we are told. Through compliance, we surmise. I literally tell a teacher that if she won’t accommodate him as he is it’s her funeral.

Why are we still doing it this way? No wonder I spend half of my energy as a university professor trying to get 20-year-olds to stop colouring in the lines and show a spark of something other than lumpen lack of enthusiasm and total compliance, or the appearance of compliance. Sometimes I make fun of them for how well they comply, not to be a jerk but to drive home how weird it is. But after years and years of molding themselves into the school system’s image, they don’t think it’s weird at all. This is not what I want for my son, more importantly it isn’t what he wants, nor does it honour who he is or what he is capable of.

When my kid does his homework, he is slow to start. He’s working on cursive right now, and doing pretty well with it. I can’t help much, he’s a lefty and I am profoundly right-handed. He stands up, writes a line or two, then does a sprint: diningroomlibrarycouchjumpstanduplibrarydiningroomkitchenfloorslide. Back to the table for another couple of lines, repeat. I know this would be difficult to accommodate in a classroom, but surely not impossible. It would be nice if anyone, just one teacher, tried.

This year, it might be different. He has a teacher who is trying different strategies, and who sees him as a human being, not a bundle of behaviours to be managed. It’s early days yet, but we’ll see. I can only be partly hopeful about this, because this is one teacher in a larger system that isn’t geared for kids like him, which means they are probably not responding to perhaps 48% of the people they are supposed to serve. I might be hopeful for my child, this year, but in the face of the larger picture I’m not hopeful at all, and I can see clearly why boys tune out. Mine is certainly on the verge, and that makes me angry and afraid.

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Jennifer Cypher is an academic, community activist, parent, and late-bloomer hockey player. She has a PhD in Environmental Studies from York University, where she teaches part-time.

 

 

Is There a Crisis in Boys’ Education?

I feel as though I spend a great deal of my parenting energy fighting boy behaviour.  While I’ve given up entirely on stopping my three boys from making guns out of whatever material comes to hand, I feel I wage a constant battle to put a stop to other undesirable boy behaviour: taming their tendency towards violent play, stopping rough-housing before it gets out of hand, keeping the noise levels tolerable, taking their dinner chairs away and making them stand if I have to ask them too many times to just sit down and eat for the love of god, discouraging loud burps and farts.  I do not look at my battle as a war on boyhood.  I look at it as a civilizing mission.  I’m not telling them that what they are and how they want to play is bad; I’m making sure that their choices are consistent with civility and with a mission to do no harm, to self or to society.  If I surrendered to my instincts, I’d stay in bed all day with a book.  Neither that nor running screaming through the streets, as Youngest is wont to do, is going to do anyone any good if it’s the norm rather than the exception.

elementI agree that the model of education in most schools is guilty of a similar suppression of a lot of boy energy, and  I applaud teachers who are keen to get their students up and moving and using all their different kinds of intelligence.   Inspired by Sarah Easterbrook’s interview last week, I watched all the You Tube videos I could find of Ken Robinson, then I read his book, The Element.  He is wonderful about teaching us about the outliers who do not fit the mold, and who shine when they are able to be their true selves.  But there is still a time when bums have to be in seats and lips zipped.  We have to hold kids accountable to that, too.  We have to be clear that we have expectations, and we have to encourage our boys to meet them.

I was saddened to read in the first article in the Globe and Mail series from 2010 that

Nearly 70 per cent of parents said they expected their 15-year-old daughters would complete a university degree. Yet only 60 per cent had the same expectation of their 15-year-old sons.

“I think too many of us accept the failure of boys, we say, ‘Well, that’s just the way boys are,’ there’s a social impulse in that direction, that even our expectations are lower,” Dr. Cappon said. “We don’t pay nearly enough attention to their needs and aspirations, take seriously their interests, and what motivates them, whether it’s reading comics or science fiction. It isn’t at all clear that schools have taken account of that.”

But if part of the problem is having lower expectations of boys, then isn’t part of the solution to have high expectations of all students?

I spent a year teaching literacy to adults, teaching men who went from functional illiteracy to Grade 9 or Grade 12 equivalency.  My students were all men, injured at work and having to go back to school to get new jobs through a government re-training programme.  They had all dropped out or been kicked out of school; they were able to find work that suited them better.  Until they could no longer do that work, I don’t think any of them would have gone back to school, and believe me when I tell you that some of them very much resented having to go back to what was obviously something they thought they’d left behind.  They all earned 80% or higher on all of their work.  (For the Americans in the audience, that’s an A- in Canada.)  We had high expectations of this group of students: 80% was our passing mark, and they all did it.  It took injury and many hours of intensive teaching and studying, but they graduated with marks that I’m sure their younger selves would never have expected.  I could not have been more different from those men, but I hope we shared the same degree of pride at their success.

If I am perfectly honest, I know that it was that job that taught me how to punctuate a sentence properly, and not my own experience of Grade 9 to Grade 12.  I could not have recited the rule for semi-colon use before that job, nor could I recite the six occasions on which it is appropriate to use a comma; now I can.  I got through graduate school without the command of grammar that I am convinced can only come from having to teach it.  I persuade myself every day that Eldest will eventually learn to write in full sentences by default and that Middlest will remember to put a period at the end of every sentence.  One day, it will, finally, sink in.

I do worry a little about the boys’ reading and writing.  They were all late readers, and they are not great writers.  I view that as a need for more training, not a lack of ability, and we supplement school with writing instruction to help bring them up to speed.  I aim to read to them for an hour a day, and I pick the books.  (They can read whatever they want to when they get their own time with books.  Who am I to dictate taste?  As long as I don’t have to read a Lego Ninjago book, I’m good.)  I don’t manage it every day, and sometimes we have to surrender reading to rink time or the almighty clock, but I work really, really hard to make sure that more often than not, we end the day with an hour of books that we all enjoy.  Is this to make up for a boy deficit in language?  No.  It’s because it’s a passion and the boys experience it as one.  They will grow up knowing that books are precious, that time to read is made and not found, and, for now, that is more important than their punctuating perfectly or beating the girls’ average in English class.

And the boys do all have girls in their classes.  I do not think that an all-boys’ school is the answer to boys’ educational needs.  They need to see girls and women as leaders, colleagues and competitors.

Eldest is thrilled to have a male teacher this year.  Why?  Because he does not believe in homework.  That’s not gender-specific.  Of course, I’m happy that my boys are happy when they have male teachers.  I’m not worried that there are too few; I’m worried that we undervalue teaching as a profession.  I’m not surprised that more men are not attracted to the profession.  We do not respect or reward our teachers nearly enough.  One proposal from an advocate for getting more men into teaching is to have

A marketing campaign, similar to billboards used to attract women to apprenticeship programs, … with images of men working with young children, so society can see men that way, and men can see themselves that way.

I’d rather see those dollars go towards a pay raise, for male and female teachers.  We value them too little.

Again, it’s part of my civilizing mission to make sure that my kids do respect the adult at the front of the class, male or female.  I do not advocate blind adherence to authority, but I insist on respect for the person whose job it is to take care of you: babysitter, teacher, coach, grandparent or parent.  My message is always the same: work hard, have fun, but don’t make it anyone else’s job to manage your behaviour.

Is there a crisis in boys’ education?  I don’t think it’s productive or necessary to ring alarm bells.  Men still earn more than women.  Men still outnumber women in positions of power and prestige.   But we do all need to work hard to keep all of our kids engaged and living up to their potential.

At Issue: Teaching Boys

As you know, we are all mothers of boys.  We face the daily challenge of keeping the fridge stocked, the socks off the floor and the noise levels to something below ear-splitting.

But what about being mothers to boys in school?  What are the challenges of parenting boys through their academic development?  This week, 4Mothers will be discussing the challenges of teaching boys.

In a 6-part series in 2010, The Globe and Mail investigated a perceived crisis in the education of boys.  In the introductory article, Carolyn Abraham notes that

Boys have been recast as the underdogs of academics. It’s a controversial shift – fuelling a complex battle of the sexes – but these days boys are the ones making news, for falling behind and flunking out, from the U.S. to China, from the U.K. to the Philippines, from New Zealand to Canada.

Subsequent articles in the series looked at the endangered male teacherover-medicating boys, misunderstanding boys, and a call to action to even the balance.

In this article from April 2014, Erin Andersson reports on a study that shows that boys’ poor performance is actually nothing new: boys have been lagging behind girls for the past 100 years:

Boys aren’t falling behind in school. More accurately, they were never ahead.

A new international peer-reviewed study by Canadian researchers has found that over the last 100 years, girls have always done better than boys when it comes to school grades. And not just in language studies, though the gender gap in those subjects is wider: Their findings also hold true in math and science. In those stereotypically “male” subjects, girls have either performed just as well as boys, or do better. These results were not only stable over time, but across nationalities and race. And while boys do make up some ground in math and science in high school, girls still do better than them.

How does our experience measure up to these alarm calls?  Is there a crisis in our own boys’ education?  Stay tuned for our perspectives on teaching boys.

Community Success

photo 3My proudest time as a teacher was taking a group of students to South Africa on exchange.

In 2007, I took eleven Nelson Mandela Park Public School students (from grades five to twelve) to Cape Town, South Africa, for a month.

For close to two years, the school and the Regent Park community worked together and supported the exchange in every way (financially, emotionally, physically) through fundraising, learning about South Africa and Nelson Mandela, and through communicating with Battswood, our sister school in South Africa.

Prior to our trip, in December of 2006, the Regent Park community hosted a group of teachers, parents and students from our sister school in their homes and classrooms for a month.

The community aspect, both here in Canada and there in South Africa, was amazing.

It was a lot of hard work, but at the same time it was easy because we knew that other people were supporting  the project.

What was most remarkable about this whole experience was the level of trust from the school, the community, and the families that these children could be successful in doing the unexpected.

I was privileged to be a part of this life changing experience.

(Recounting this story brought tears to Sherri’s eyes).

 

What do you learn from your students?

photo (10)Being a teacher and spending my days with young children has taught me to embrace living in an imperfect world. The lives of children are often messy and complicated, but that messiness is usually short-lived and turns into joy and exuberance more quickly than we adults anticipate. I am always amazed watching children make mistakes as they are learning or as they are navigating the social world of the playground because I am also witnessing them build resilience and their inner strength, which I know they will carry into their adult lives.  Watching them build their resiliency or come to accept when their ideas don’t work out as planned makes me remember it’s okay to exist in a place that isn’t always neat and tidy, where it’s okay to fail because we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.