Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shhhh... Don't Say A Word!

It seems that today most people spend their time running, doing, hurrying. It’s a fast-paced world. Conversations are filled with descriptions of errands to be run, tasks to be completed and places to go.

Several months ago, I read a quote related to listening, and it struck a chord. Although I don’t recall the exact words, the essence was that to increase what we learn, we must increase the time we spend listening.

As I paid attention to my own actions, and observed the actions of others, I found that there is very little time spent listening. We listen while we are doing other things. We are not really focused on listening. I am very guilty of typing at the computer, and telling my daughters, “Keep talking. I’m listening.” Type, type, type... “I can listen while I’m cooking dinner. Oh, now, I spilled something. Give me that dishcloth. Keep talking. No, not that dishcloth. I’m listening.” That is what passes for listening in many homes. And we do hear much of what is said, but we also, miss a lot.

When we are in a conversation and someone says something to which we can relate, we often wish the other person would hurry so that we could tell them our experience. I know that I am guilty of this. What I have to say usually relates to what the other person just mentioned, but often I notice, too late, that my comment or experience shifted the direction of the conversation, and the other person may have had more that they wanted to say. Now, it’s difficult, if not impossible for them to return to the point where they stopped.

I once heard someone say that there is no such thing as a conversation these days, only long monologues told by different people who happen to be facing each other. Is that the way it should be? I don’t think so. I am resolving to become a better listener. I, actually, love to listen to what other people tell me, I just become overeager to share my own stories. If I can stifle that need to talk, and instead, just listen, I think I will learn some very interesting things.

“Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf.” ~Native American Indian Proverb

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk.” ~Doug Larson

Photo Credit: "you're not listening" by kalandrakas.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Change of Space

A little over a month ago, my oldest daughter began working for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. She owns her own Avon business, and loves it, but it really didn't take all her time, so she had been looking for something different and fun to do, and she found it. She is a people person, and the number and variety of people who ride this historic train through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park fulfills her need for personal contact and inspiring conversation.

We are a one car family, and that means I need to take her to work every morning. Our van is an older model, and I'm trying to baby it and make it last as long as possible, because it is such a wonderful vehicle. Taking my daughter to work, and then returning at the end of the day to pick her up puts more miles on the van than I like. I decided to cut down on those miles, by spending the day, a few times a week, in a small town near the train station. As a writer, I have some flexibility.

I usually start the day at Panera's, one of the few places to be open early in the morning. With a cup of coffee and a bagel, I set up shop in a small booth, and get to work. After a few hours there, I move to the local library, just a few blocks away. I have noticed that since I began following this routine, I am accomplishing more than I do when I work from my home office. At first I was perplexed, then I realized that, although there are distractions at Panera's and at the library, they are different than the distractions I have at home.

At my home office, I begin to work, and then notice a library book on the table. Is it due today? Are there other books that need to be returned. I stop working to check the status of the books. I gather the ones that are due and put them in a bag to take with me later in the day. As long as I have stopped, I might as well make some coffee. I go back to work.

Is the coffee ready? As I go to pour a cup, I see that there are dishes in the sink. Since I'm in the kitchen, I will just wash those quickly. I take my coffee and go back to work.

I give my eyes a break from staring at the computer screen by glancing around the room. Oh no! There are three pairs of dirty socks in the living room. I'll just throw those in the laundry basket. As long as I'm up, I'll just grab a quick bowl of cereal, since I haven't had anything to eat. When I get the bowl, I notice the dishes I washed are now dry. Might as well put them away while I'm here.

Ahhh! So this is why I am so much more productive when I am away from my office. A change of space can be a very good thing!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Bounty of Nine!

Today is September 9, 2009... 9-9-09! Although I could probably list 999 great things in my life, I thought I would limit this post to the top nine:

  1. I have two lovely, thoughtful and caring daughters. They encourage me when there are challenges, and make me laugh when I feel sad. When we have experienced difficult times, they have never complained. They see that we are rich, no matter how much or how little money we have.
  2. Although my parents are both deceased, the lessons they taught me and the love they gave me lives on, encouraging me in so many ways. There is not a day that goes by that I don't remember their words, their actions and their caring.
  3. I love my crazy, kind and funny family... brothers, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins. So many caring, loving people, most of whom live life with a twinkle in their eyes and a smile on their face. The sense of humor I learned from my family has carried me through every difficulty.
  4. I earn a living doing things I love to do! I teach enrichment classes to wonderful, caring children and teens who are interested in learning. I help families find resources to enrich their learning experiences. I write and publish a newsletter filled with ideas and events that inspire learning. And on the weekends, I am surrounded by beautiful sights and wonderful people, when I work at Elements Gallery, which is owned by my friends, Steve and Debra Bures, and located in the quaint village of Peninsula, Ohio, in the middle of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park! What could be better!
  5. My friends are my second family! They are supportive, encouraging, loving, caring, kind, understanding, thoughtful and FUN! Without them, I may never have started my learning resources business, and I definitely would not have experienced the success I have enjoyed.
  6. I amazed by the number of wise and wonderful teachers I've encountered. Some teachers I met in school; others I met at sports events, workshops and churches. Some of my greatest teachers were past supervisors or co-workers, and many were people I just happened to meet. People from all walks of life have shared their insights, their understanding and their passions with me. They have enriched my life!
  7. When I was in college, I thought every person I met had a fascinating major. As a result, I changed majors frequently. At one time, I was embarrassed by my inability to "just choose one." Now I see that my indecision was actually perfect for my current vocation. Students and parents seeking resources for learning and careers, ask me how I know about so many things. It's because I thought everything was fascinating. My "lack of focus" was perfect for what I now do. I can teach classes in many subject areas, and I'm told they're usually fun and interesting. I'm sure the reason is because I think all these subjects are "fun and interesting."
  8. And where would I be without the powerful writers whose works have influenced me in so many ways. Their writings have inspired me to cry, laugh, shout and grow. Newspapers, magazines, books, blogs and tweets... so many wise and wonderful writers!
  9. The ninth thing? September! In Ohio, September is a time of clear blue skies, crisp fall air and breathtakingly beautiful fall foliage. It is the busy season of harvest. In this ninth month of the year, I consider what I planted earlier this year, how I cultivated what was planted, and what harvest I am reaping. Did some of my plantings need more care, a longer growing season, a more hospitable climate? I can't change what I have done in the past, but I can apply what I learned to the future, so that the next growing season will be even better. I am enjoying the bountiful harvest of those plantings that flourished.

And I can be grateful for all of these things!

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The number nine is the center of attention at the Joyful Jubilant Learning Community this month. Stop by and read the wonderful postings on this intriguing number.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thinking Inside the Box

Recently I wrote about the challenges that too many choices can present. Ken Robert, at Mildly Creative, recently addressed this issue, from a creativity standpoint. I think you will find his ideas interesting and helpful.

Read his article here: Thinking Inside the Box - An Exercise in Limits

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

12 Things Really Educated People Know

A wonderful and insightful list by John Taylor Gatto, one of the true leaders of education reform. Worth reading!
12 Things Really Educated People Know

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Too Many Opportunities

I often hear parents say, "Kids today are so lucky! They have so many opportunities that I never had when I was growing up. So many choices for careers, college, travel." At the workshops I present for teens, I mention the many opportunities available to them. I have noticed that when I speak about these opportunities, a few teens seem excited and happy, but many appear stressed.

After talking to many of these teens privately, I realized that they are overwhelmed by the number of choices before them. They don't see opportunities. They see a gigantic array of possibilities and in their minds, those possibilities all hold the threat of being "the wrong choice."

They are on the verge of adulthood, and they want to choose something they will enjoy, but they recognize that their interests have changed over the years, and they see the strong possibility that their interests will continue to change and grow. They don't want to waste time and money on a college education, only to discover that by graduation time, or after a few years in their chosen career, they no longer enjoy it. Everyone has told them all through their middle school and high school years, that they should find a great career doing something they love. This advice is often given by people who are not doing something they love. They want a better life for their children. They don't realize that this loving advice, carries with it, the burden of making "the right choice."

Some teens see only one choice after they complete high school... college. Despite society's pressure to get a degree, college is not for everyone. I have talked with so many teens who have gone to college without any real direction in mind. They only went because they were supposed to go. I am saddened by the number of college juniors with whom I have spoken, who told me, "Yeah. I decided to major in psychology (or business or history or _____) because I have quite a few credits in that, and it's not real difficult." When I ask them what they will do with their degree when they graduate, I nearly always get the answer, "I don't know."

I think that as teens progress through their middle school and high school years, they should be encouraged to talk to every person they meet. There are so many opportunities to learn about education, careers and life. They should ask questions. "What is the best thing you've ever done? Do you like your job? Why or why not? What do you wish you had done when you were younger? What was your college experience like?" And people who are asked should share what they know and what they've done, what they've enjoyed and what they've hated. Will the questioner have the same reaction to similar experiences? Maybe. Maybe not. But they will learn something from every person they meet.

All of us have much we can learn from others, and so very much we can teach others. All we have to do is be willing to ask, to share and to listen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Joy of Reading

Recently, one of the guests on a local morning talk show was a reading specialist. The host was commenting about how difficult it was to get her child to read during the summer months. The reading specialist nodded, and asked if the school had provided the students with a summer reading list of recommended books. The host explained that they had the list, but her daughter wasn't very excited about reading the books.

"Reading a book each week is very important," explained the specialist. "Help your child choose a book each week, and then tell your child that they will need to read the book, AND write a report on the book. You will want to be sure that they are actually reading the book you helped them choose. Children often want to read other books that they think are more interesting, but it is important that they understand that we don't just read books for fun."

To me, that is the basic problem in education today. Reading and learning have become our children's jobs, not something that could and should be a joy for a lifetime. It is a task to be completed, so that another task can be started. Education has become a "daily grind." For so many bright young scholars, there is little, if any, joy in learning.

This summer, take your children to the library, and let them choose fun and interesting books. Pick up a few yourself. Pack a picnic lunch, and spend some time reading together. Read aloud to your children, even if they are old enough to read for themselves. Read exciting books, funny books, amazing books and let your imagination soar!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What Works for You?

At a homeschooling high school conference, at which I participated as a speaker and panelist, another panel member began a statement with the words, "all homeschoolers want..." and although, I have heard this stated in the past, it still bothers me. One of the most important things I have learned on our family's homeschooling journey, is that each family is unique. And within each family, each learner is unique. There is no one method that is appropriate or best for all.

I consult with families to assist them in finding a learning plan that will work well for them. When I talk to them, one of the points I emphasize is that no matter what plan we develop together, they need to be open to change. Learning styles and interests change constantly. Schools don't have the option to change course in midstream, or to tailor a unique curriculum to meet each student's needs, but homeschoolers do.

As children grow, their interests grow and change. By providing materials and experiences that nurture and encourage these interests, their learning will be vibrant and meaningful. Some interests will last only a few minutes; some will last a lifetime.

Pay attention to your child(ren)'s interests. Feed those interests as long as they are present. You may be surprised to discover how much math, art, science and history can be learned by simply pursuing topics that your children find fascinating.

One of my favorite examples is a young man I know named Ben. Ben has a passion for metal detecting. His mother lamented to me one day that Ben loves metal detecting but she was worried that he really wasn't learning math, as she felt he should.

I spent some time chatting with Ben about his metal detecting hobby. He lives near a beach, and loves to go there to search for valuables. I asked him how he decides where to search. He explained to me that when he arrives at the beach, he lays out his plan, like a grid, in his mind. In that grid, each square is equal to about 1 square yard. Ben explained that he usually limits his search to an area that is about 20 yards X 20 yards. On average, he finds something in about every third square, and of those squares where he finds something, about 1 in 5 is something of value, like a silver dime or a ring. He then continued to translate those figures to percentages. He, also, shared the current values of gold, silver and platinum. I was trying to keep up with the numbers he was explaining to me, as he continued to explain the history of the values of the precious metals, such as when they had hit their highest values (and why) and when they had been very low.

I began to see that because this information was valuable to Ben, because it pertained so significantly to his hobby, it came easily to him. It had meaning.

Over the years, I have had many conversations with Ben about his hobby. He never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge of history, art, science, math, investing, and more, all gained through the active and enthusiastic pursuit of his hobby. He has even turned his hobby into a business, finding lost items, locating surveyors' pins, and even locating dropped screws and nails from beneath a recently constructed tree house.

A large logging firm asked Ben to scan some very old trees that were going to be cut. They wanted to know if there were any metal objects, like large eye-screws used to hold a clothesline, that might be embedded in the trunk. These metallic items could damage a saw blade. The scan didn't reveal any eye-screws, but Ben was thrilled to discover several very old bullets and a few "large cents." He took to the bullets to a historian, who told him they were from the Civil War era and of a type used by Union soldiers. No battles were known to have taken place in that area, so Ben said that the historian thought it might have once been a training ground for Union soldiers. The "large cents" were pennies that were made long ago, that are larger in size than today's pennies. Ben said that it was "really cool" to find large cents that didn't have holes punched in them. Apparently, due to the lack of pockets in most pioneer clothing,(or to holes in pockets that were in some clothing), pioneers often punched holes in their coins and wore them on a string around their neck to keep them safe.

Each find that Ben makes with his metal detector leads him on a scavenger hunt for information, and as he finds that information, it leads him to search for more.

I'm so glad that Ben's mom didn't give him a "fits-all" curriculum. Make the most of your option to create a plan that works for your family. Each member of your family has unique interests, abilities and dreams. Nurture them!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Peaceful Sigh

My daughter, Kylia, has a wonderful friend, Megan. Megan loves horses! She doesn't have a horse of her own, so when she was about 13 years old, she began volunteering at a local therapeutic riding center.

Each morning, her mom would take Megan to the farm. When they arrived at the barn, Megan would open the door of the van, and inhale deeply. Then with a dreamy expression on her face, she would sigh, "Ahhhhh... Doesn't that smell wonderful?" Megan's younger brothers, who were still in the van, would grimace, hold their noses and pull their sweatshirt hoods over their faces, while saying loudly, "Eeewwww! Close the door!"

Recently I read an article about a man who had attended a busy convention. One afternoon, everyone was given a few hours to unwind after a particularly hectic meeting. Most went to the pool, or to the golf course for a quick 9 holes. This gentleman decided to take a walk. His walk led him to the nearby stables. He had the same reaction that Megan did... a peaceful sigh. His mind was flooded with memories of growing up on his parents' farm. He remembered the feeling of the horses' soft noses nuzzling his hand to get a lump of sugar. He remembered quiet afternoons under a big oak tree, where he heard only the whooshing of the horses' tails as they chased those pesky flies. He remembered brushing the horses, and the gentle rhythm of their gait, when he rode. He returned to the convention in a far more relaxed state than most of the other attendees.

All of us have things that bring that feeling of peace and contentment. I love to sit near the ocean or the lake, or near a waterfall, and hear the water crashing on the shore or the rocks. Ahhhhh...

Maybe you love to rest your cheek against the downy softness of a newborn's hair, or to climb to the top of a mountain and drink in the beauty that surrounds you. Maybe the aroma of homemade bread baking in the oven brings that blissful smile to your face.

It doesn't always have to be something quiet or soft. I remember many days of sighing deeply as I crested a hill near Lexington, Ohio, to hear the roar of the racecars at Mid-Ohio Race Car Course. And the smell of those fumes..... Ahhhhh... OK, not everyone will agree with that one, but, for me, it was wonderful!

When you have one of those days, or weeks, or months of madness and mayhem, take the time to find one of the things that you love to do, or see, or hear, or smell, or taste, or touch, and savor it! Ahhhhhh...

Now don't you feel better?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Are You Too Helpful?

A few years ago, I taught an enrichment class, called "Creative Math." There were about 15 boys in the class. Some of them loved math, and some were in the class because their parents made them take it.

This class did not include much arithmetic. It focused on math found in more creative endeavors, like design, music, and art. One activity involved making tangrams... those geometric shapes that can be placed in various patterns to create swans, ships, houses, teapots, dogs, etc. I gave each student a square of heavy construction paper, and then told them step by step, how to fold and cut that sheet of paper into the 7 tangram shapes. They listened carefully, and did a beautiful job of folding and cutting.

When they each had the 7 shapes on the table in front of them, I explained that their new task was to put the shapes back together so that it would look like it did before we began folding and cutting. In other words, put it back into the original square shape. Easy! "Wait... how did we do that?" Hmmm. "Did I lose a piece?" "Is this a trick?" Minutes ticked by, and some of the boys began working in teams. Others, with wrinkled brows, fervently moved this piece and that piece, trying to remember all the steps involved in creating the tangrams. The room hummed with creative thinking.

In the meantime, a dad, who had been watching the whole process, leaned over the shoulders of a team of three boys who were eagerly trying one approach after another. Reaching past them and sliding pieces around he said, "Try putting this piece here, and that piece over there." I suddenly heard a sad, "Oh...." The three boys said, "We got it." But there was no enthusiasm in their voices. I told them that was great work, and they answered dejectedly, "but we had help." I will never forgot the sad looks on the faces of those three boys, now sitting slumped back in their chairs.

Other boys in the room now looked at the solved puzzle and moved their pieces into the same configuration. What had been an excited and involved class, suddenly became a very sullen group. The dad explained, "I just saw them all struggling, and I thought if I could just give them a little hint, it would make it easier."

I think there are many times in our lives when it is really important for us to find our own solutions to problems. We need to dig for information, on our own. We need to brainstorm, on our own. We need to make mistakes, on our own. When we work hard to find a solution, and we succeed, the elation we feel for that hard-won success will carry us through many more situations in our lives. Because we solved that problem, we know we are capable of solving other problems in the future. It helps us gain confidence. What we learned from solving that one problem, can be applied to future problems. We become better creative and logical thinkers. Our abilities expand exponentially.

It does seem to be in our nature to try to help someone who is struggling. We want them to see the answer so that they can move on, but when they haven't invested themselves in discovering that answer, it becomes far less meaningful to them. They haven't seen the pieces fitting together one by one. They haven't experienced that "aha moment" when the way becomes clear. Instead of an excited "YES!" they may instead simply say, "oh."

There will be many times in your life, when your help will be welcomed and appreciated, and there will be many times, when you will be so happy NOT to have helped. As your child shares with you, the excitement of discovery, you will both shout, "YES!"

By the way, if you ever need help... just ask.

"In order to succeed you must fail, so that you know what not to do the next time." ~Anthony J. D'Angelo

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Young children never seem to run out of questions... Why are there birds in so many different colors? Where does the gas go after you put it in the car? Why are toes shorter than fingers? How do fish breathe underwater? Why do people have hair? Where does the wind come from? Some questions make parents smile. Other questions make them squirm. Many questions leave parents scratching their heads.

There are parents, and teachers, who think children ask too many questions. Questions can interrupt other tasks. They can cause embarrassment, if the wrong questions are asked at the wrong time, or in the wrong place. Sometimes there are questions that seem so nonsensical that they don't deserve an answer.

When my children were young, a flood of questions would begin the moment they opened their eyes each morning. I answered the questions I could, and helped them find the answers to those questions that had me stumped. Sometimes I would give them hints to help them discover the answers on their own.

Many children stop asking questions as they grow older. Some stop because they are told that it is annoying when they ask too many questions. Others stop because their questions are met with laughter, or because they hear comments about the silliness of their questions. Many stop because they worry that everyone will think they are ignorant if they ask. That's sad, because questions are one of the greatest learning tools we have.

I have discovered that when children find answers to their questions, in many cases, it leads to more questions. If you are looking for a way to inspire learning in your child, and in yourself, be grateful for those questions. Let your children know that you are glad they asked.

Today, take time to listen to your children's questions and help them find the answers. And, while you're at it, ask a few questions yourself! Asking questions and discovering answers can lead to a lifetime learning adventure!

Friday, March 20, 2009


In one of the enrichment classes I teach, I asked the students if they had a career in mind. Most of them are teens and have been thinking about their futures. One young man stated, with firm conviction, that he wants to be a Disney Imagineer. He said that his dad thinks that it is a child's dream, and not a true career choice.

This same young man is in a book discussion group that my daughters and I attend. The teens in the group nominate books for future discussions, and they are chosen by popular vote of the group. The future Imagineer nominated the book, How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life by Pat Williams and Jim Denney. He not only nominated the book; he enthusiastically reviewed it for the group, and explained many of the reasons he thought everyone should read it.

Often when I am making a point in my classes, this teen tells me how Disney relates to what I am explaining. He sees the magic there, and the work behind the magic. I can see him not only becoming an Imagineer, but excelling in his work. He is passionate about it!

At this time, his passion seems strong enough to withstand any criticism or ridicule he may face. Time will tell. He has many who support him in his dream, which makes me very happy. Dreams are so important,

There have been times I thought someone's dream seemed impossible, but it was not my job to tell them that. I could have been totally incorrect. If a dream seems beyond reach, I try to focus on listening more intently to what the dreamer tells me. Often there are many things for me to learn from this, and sometimes, the dreamer discovers information through the telling, that enables them to revise or clarify their thinking.

When I sense strong passion behind a dream, I try to find ways to nurture that dream, to provide contacts that will help the dreamer turn the dream into reality.

When someone shares their dream with you, listen. Encourage them. You may discover that it is as much fun to help someone else reach their goal, as it is to accomplish your own. Dreams are important and they do come true!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Something Good is Coming!

Do you pay attention to your intuition? Sometimes I do, and sometimes my logical mind rushes in to dissuade me from following a feeling.

For the past month, a hint of "rosiness" has been coloring my vision. Something within is filling me with optimism. I have tried to pinpoint the cause of this optimistic sensation, but so far it remains vague.

Reality has been less than positive lately, but it has not diminished that inner sense of coming good. I have decided not to give too much weight to logical assessment of this feeling, but instead, I will wait to see what happens next... I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Getting Organized...

My daughters and I moved from a three bedroom house to a large 2 bedroom apartment about 6 years ago. Two years ago, a friend offered us a great deal on a 2 bedroom apartment in a wonderful neighborhood. We jumped at the chance to leave a large apartment complex for the more homey feel of a duplex. Plus the duplex had a basement, a backyard and a garage. Wow!

The apartment appeared to be similar in size to the one we were leaving, plus we would have storage space in the basement and in the garage. It seemed perfect...

After two years of sorting and purging, we are still bursting at the seams. The duplex apartment is much smaller than our previous place. I highly recommend measuring, and not just eyeballing rooms, when you are considering a move.

My oldest daughter has finally been able to arrange her room into a neat, but crowded, livable space. My youngest seems to have decided it's pointless to try.

I continue sorting and rearranging, trying to find a way to make all this "stuff" look neat. With my consulting and teaching business, I have accumulated an abundance of books, files, learning materials and supplies. I have sold, traded, donated and trashed everything that was not absolutely necessary.

Maybe someone will offer us a deal on a bigger place. In the meantime, I'll just throw some slipcovers and tablecloths over the boxes...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

International Year of Astronomy - 2009

One of my favorite ways to relax is to look at the sky. So many changing colors and patterns. That's probably why one of my favorite websites is Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Through that site, I learned this this year is the International Year of Astronomy. This year, 2009, marks the 400th anniversary of the first time Galileo looked through a telescope and saw sights that amazed him, such as Saturn's rings, the moon's craters and Jupiter's moons.

Astronomers from around the globe plan to find as many opportunities as possible this year to introduce people to the incredible sights in the skies. They will be bringing their telescopes to front yards, parks, science centers and beaches, and inviting everyone to look at the spectacular view that many may have never seen.

Why not take a moment right now to sit back, relax and enjoy the beauty of the skies! Watch this wonderful time-lapse video, The Sky in Motion.

túrána hott kurdís by hasta la otra méxico! from Till Credner on Vimeo.