A More Beautiful Question Revisited

Almost a decade after reading  Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, I decided to re-read it, since it is such a thought-provoking book. I’m reading it in little pieces now, savoring each idea!  One nugget I read this week was about the amount of questions children ask.  Young children begin asking “WHY?” and they don’t stop!  Why is the sky blue?  Why can you see the moon during the day? Why do rabbits’ teeth keep growing?  The world is a large place, and little children want to know all about it.  That’s why I became an early childhood teacher 42 years ago.  That’s what I love about visiting the early childhood and elementary classrooms: children keep asking questions, more and more questions.! Of course, that can be exhausting, and you may run out of patience, but that process of asking questions is what separates us from all other species on Earth!  And you know what happens as children get older?  Yes – you are right – they stop asking questions!  

Berger noted that questioning “falls off a cliff” as kids become older.  A Gallup Poll revealed that as students’ progress through the grades, their questioning plummets (76% in elementary school to 44% in high school).  Instead of wondering, older students are busy gathering information and spitting it back in a rote manner.  This leads to massive disengagement from learning.  I was not very surprised by this information, but it did lead me to think and question the classroom practices  I observe each week:  

  • How do we use student questions to spark interest in a topic?  
  • Can the “parking lot” technique be used to display student questions and be a springboard for discussion?  
  • Can we have students generate questions from our essential questions?  
  • Do adults feel like they need to know the answers to all student questions?  
  • What do teachers do when they don’t know the answer?
  • How comfortable are we as adults to ask questions?  

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  

By honoring students’ questions, teachers facilitate learning, which  is relevant and motivates students to question further and seek out possibilities pertaining to any subject.  To be curious and to question is intrinsic to learning. Berger quotes research scientist, John Seely Brown who explains that “…if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things – then change is something that becomes an adventure.  And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running.”

This adventurous spirit reminds me of a time when one of my young three-year-old students was outside playing. He suddenly looked up at the sky and was enthralled by the presence of the moon.  He could not take his eyes off the moon and wondered why it was out in the daytime.  In his experience, the moon only came out at night, and now all that he had come to know was in question.  That was an important moment for him as a learner, and it was an important moment for me as a young teacher.  I could have patted his head, given him a cursory answer, and brought his attention back to something tangible like the sandbox.  Instead, I listened and encouraged his questions and helped him to better understand the workings of the universe.  Indeed, this young boy’s curiosity sparked weeks of learning about the nature of the sky for all his classmates. We read countless books about the moon, created a moon surface, made a mural of the phases of the moon, and even built our own lunar explorer.

Teaching is at its most effective when it promotes risk-taking and relentless experimentation, which is the true heart of constructivist teaching. When teachers and students start asking open-ended questions such as: What do we want to learn?  Why do we want to learn it? How will we go about learning it?  How will we show what we’ve learned? – They are constructing curiosity, which will become a lifelong process.  This approach affords multiple avenues for learning, giving teachers and students freedom to learn in a personal, creative, and active way.

Did I piqued your curiosity? Do you ave more questions?  You might want to read and investigate a little further.

Books by Warren Berger

A More Beautiful Question

Beautiful Questions in the Classroom

The Book of Beautiful Questions

Visit Warren’s Blog:

Want to inspire more curiosity and inquiry in kids?

Celebration in the Wonder Studio: Lunar New Year

A dozen girls gather at recess time to work in the Wonder Studio.  They are in the midst of painting, decorating, and constructing projects of their choice.  This week, I added a box in the shape of a dragon’s head to celebrate Lunar New year.  I quickly cut the box to look like a dragon with a wide pointed-tooth grin.  The girls collected some found objects to make the dragon’s eyes, nostrils, and teeth.  Then we all took turns collaging bright colored tissue paper all over the head in layers upon layers.  Once completed, the dragon would be hung right outside their classrooms to celebrate Lunar New Year.

I have done this dragon project with countless students over several decades.  I love this tradition because it always sparks children’s imaginations and makes the classroom atmosphere festive.  I think the best way for young children to learn about other cultures is through celebrations (food, storytelling, and art). These are powerful ways in which to hold memories.  When I was a classroom teacher, this art project would be the anchor for deep research into the holiday and the Asian culture.  We read widely and began to understand these cultures and traditions more organically.

These days, I’ve noticed that with more and more emphasis on curricular initiatives there seems to be less and less time to celebrate, less and less time for conversations, and less time for connection. The classrooms are a rush of activity, one lesson after the next – go, go, go.  Don’t stop. Don’t think.  Don’t feel the struggle and joy in learning.

I’m glad I can eke out some time for kids to converse and create; some time to experiment and play; some time to celebrate the small things.  They need to know the joy of taking a risk – of taking a cardboard box and transforming into something whimsical.  There is magic held within that simple box, and I want children to experience that creative power.

As they worked, they began asking questions about Lunar New Year.  They began talking to each other naturally.  Some of them knew quite a bit about the holiday and supplied lots of information with facts and personal experiences. Questions grew and so did the students’ understanding.  They wanted to know more.  They wanted to become part of the celebration.

Books About Lunar New Year

Stirring the Senses – Part 2

Last week, I planned a winter sensory poetry lesson for out 2nd graders.  I decided to start with a slideshow of winter photographs and then brainstorm words that they might use in their poems. My goal was to quickly set them off to write so they’d have plenty of time to compose their poems and share them.

This week, I executed my plan.  As I presented the slideshow, the girls looked intently at the photographs, which were a mix of nature scenes and people and animals in the snow. After watching silently, they shared their ideas as I wrote them down.  We were collecting sensory words from what we had seen in the photos.  The words would act as a jumping off point to create images for their poems.

Before they began to write, they asked some questions.  One girl asked if she could use rhymes and I nodded my head.  She sparked an idea in my head because I don’t normally compose rhyming poems.  Since I always write when the children write, I decided to challenge myself and write a rhyming sensory poem. I think it is an important part of the writing process for children to see adults writing alongside children.  I made sure the girls were all actively thinking and writing, and then I sat down with my own ideas. One student came over to see what I was writing, but I quickly redirected her to her own writing and told her that I would share at the end of class.

As the children wrote, I circled the room looking at their poetry and making observations that I thought would nudge their writing further.

  • That’s an interesting idea! You’re making an acrostic.
  • Wow! You are using such strong verbs.
  • Oh, you are including lots of sound words.
  • Like each child, like each snowflake, each poem was different, exquisite in its creation.  They took their experiences of snow and thought about how it looked, smelled, sounded, tasted, and felt. They thought hard, they experimented with words, and they formed meaning to share with others.  This time to play is necessary and important for writers. It connected what they have been reading, to what they have experienced, to what they have learned about composing a poem.

Inspiration and Handiwork

Over the years, bloggers have blessed me with new ideas, book suggestions, encouragement, beautiful artwork and photographs, and myriad moments of inspiration.  I have learned so much from strangers, and I am so grateful for their knowledge and generosity.

My latest spark of inspiration comes from Adam Zucker who blogs at Artfully Learning. Last week, Adam wrote about Black Mountain College in North Carolina and its founders, teachers, and alumni.  He wrote about the life and art of Ruth Asawa. I had never heard of her, but I had read and studied the work of her teacher, Josef Albers.  As I looked at the work of Ruth Asawa, I had a tingling “Aha” moment. I had such a strong visceral reaction to her sculptures. They were curved and intricate biomorphic shapes. Her organic wire sculptures reminded me of some macramé sculpture I created in graduate school as part of my Master’s thesis in Creative Arts Education forty-three years ago. I carried those sculptures around for years and gave a few away to friends.  I had forgotten about them until I saw Ruth’s sculptures.  I said aloud to myself, “Oh! I wish I had known about Ruth Asawa forty-three years ago.  Her work would have greatly influenced my art and pushed me forward.”  I never thought of weaving with wire and stayed with more common materials such as paper, fabric, yarn, jute, and hemp.

I made twelve sculptures with accompanying poems. Two sculptures I remember very well.  My work was centered around the women who influenced my life.  The first sculpture was a rectangular wall hanging in a natural jute tied onto wooden branches on the top and bottom.  The knots were predominantly Josephine knots in honor of my maternal grandmother, Josephine, who I never met.  She died at the age of forty-six from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Family members always told me that I looked like her.  I never believed them until I came across a photo of her at the age of sixteen.  My heart skipped a beat when I looked at her eyes and smile. Yes, indeed, I look a lot like my grandmother.  I wanted to create a sculpture that would reflect my connection to her.

Another sculpture was a replica of a head of long chestnut hair.  My childhood friend, Roxanne, had the most gorgeous long, straight, thick hair. My hair was short, fine, dark brown, and curly.  I coveted Roxanne’s hair.  I craved long thick tresses that I could toss, braid, and put in in an elegant bun.  I found a wire-framed oval, and I tied long strands of wool year in multi-shades of brown.  Then I created different kinds of intricate braids down the length of the sculpture.  To add interest, I woven in some gold engraved barrel beads.  This is the hair I would have wanted.  This is the hair of my amazing dear friend.  After the exhibition,  I packed Roxanne’s hair in a box and sent it to her in Boston with a note expressing how much her friendship meant to me.

As years went by,  I turned to watercolor and collage for artistic expression.  And my time was spent more and more teaching children.  In my teaching, I always shared the connection of art to literature, and exposed my young students to various artists, genres, and materials.  I knew it was important for children to explore the world of art and use their imaginations to create their own work. This free expression is crucial for building identity, self-esteem, and for nurturing creative minds.

With a little research, I found a picture book A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa by Andrea D’Aquino.  She recounts Ruth’s childhood on a California farm, her interest in nature, and her studies in art.  She was influenced by choreographer, Merce Cunningham, the visionary designer, Buckminster Fuller, and the abstract artist, Josef Albers.  As Ruth developed as an artist, a trip to Mexico introduced her to write weaving.  When she returned home to San Francisco, she began to tach art and create beautiful nature-inspired wire sculptures.

I cannot wait to try my hand at wire sculptures.  After all, I have been waiting for forty-three years!  Maybe I can combine wire and fiber.  I am looking forward to playing and creating with this new-found idea. 

Josephine Knots in Copper Wire

Crafting Kindness

Kindness Deficit

I have been working with children for over four decades.  During that time, I have witnessed a slow erosion of kindness and amicability.  With the onset of COVID, political division, and lack of public safety, these last few years have produced an atmosphere of intolerance. Everyone is in a rush to get to the finish line, but we are not stopping to see that our friend, neighbor or peer may need our help.  An air of distrust permeates our society. As a result, children are greatly affected by what they see, hear, and feel, even if they cannot yet completely understand it. Instead of fostering a sense of calm collaboration, children are being raised in an era of tension, intolerance, and uncertainty.  As schools keep focused on academic excellence, we are losing sight of general civility.  Teachers often say that they don’t have time for the social-emotional side of learning. However, if we don’t put in the time, if we don’t slow down and focus on how we communicate and treat each other, then all learning suffers. Children need a strong, clear foundation of kindness and consideration, so they can appreciate other points of view and become fully functional, productive citizens. Slowing down, listening to students’ needs and concerns, and building in time for communication can make classrooms a model for a civil society.

Kindness Connection

In the rush to teach more and more content, to cover all the necessary skills, teachers sometimes have difficulty connecting with their students.  They forget to ask, “Who are this unique learners in front of me?” and “What does they need to grow?”  A perceptive teacher not only asks, “What content should I teach them?,” but also, “What do they need for their social-emotional development?”  When teachers show interest in students’ family lives, activities and hobbies, and their unique personalities, a bond is made which helps teachers foster their students’ growth, especially when the student faces an obstacle or setback.  Teacher-student connection is the key to a child’s social-emotional well-being, and in the end, it is this important connection that keeps the child motivated and engaged.  If a student knows her teacher cares, then she will want to do her best and try just a little harder. She is not afraid to take risks, and she sees her teacher as a partner in her success.  They have developed a transactional relationship, and she has become invested in her own learning.

Kindling Kindness

There are many ways to kindle kindness, to make students feel safe and honored.  The techniques used in the Responsive Classroom method are proven and give students the confidence they require to fully participate as active classroom citizens.  Instead of rushing into the day, Responsive Classroom teachers, begin the day with connection. They emphasize both teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships.  From the start, this type of community building, fostered each and every day, affords students a stable base in which to exchange ideas in an open and accepting setting.  From this foundation, children can grow confidently and flourish.  They learn to build strong and trusting friendships. They develop the tools with which to be independent and compassionate community members.  This circle of friendship is recursive; it becomes stronger and stronger with each cycle.  Trust replaces skepticism, cooperation replaces competition, and altruism replaces selfishness.

Friendship Circle Poem & Craft

As often happens, my classroom reflections become an impetus for poetry.  I recently crafted this poem and art project and hope to share them with some of my young learners.

Books about Kindness and Friendship

Websites for Teachers:

Books for Teachers:

Picture Books:

Chapter Books:

Early Chapter Books (ages 6-9):

Chapter Books  (ages 9-12)

Halloween Magical Read Alouds

This is one of my favorite times of year.  The leaves burst into flaming colors, and the air has just a hint of chill in it.  It is time for sweaters, warm drinks, apples, pumpkins, and Halloween.  I love  preparing for Halloween: selecting pumpkins – round and fat, tall and thin, white, green, and all shades of orange.  I love the goopy-wonderfulness of carving pumpkins, especially to the sound of the squeals of children as wee scoop out piles and piles of pulp and seeds.  We separate the seeds, wash them thoroughly, salt them and pop them in the oven until they are roasted perfection.  We bake all kinds of pumpkin recipes: breads, puddings, cakes, and cookies.  Everything smells like cinnamon and sugar.

Learning along-side children gives me the opportunity to celebrate this season in style.  I can decorate to my heart’s content, and if anyone gives me a side-ways glance, I quickly explain, “I’m a teacher.” They smile and nod their heads.  But the real reason I celebrate is to experience holidays through the eyes of the children.  They still believe in magic, and by being with them, I can capture some of that magic for my own.  We hang orange and black chains across the classroom, we make tons and tons of paper pumpkins, we sing Halloween songs, recite Halloween poems, and get into the spirit of Halloween.

One of my favorite books to read aloud is The Witch’s Child by Arthur Yorkins and illustrated by Jos. A. Smith.   It is such the right amount of scary with a satisfying ending.  The author begins, “Once there lived a witch in the woods… a mean, horrible witch.  She was wicked and cruel, and absolutely heartless and her name was Rosina.”  As I read aloud, I asked the students to listen closely. In front of them was a sheet with questions which I would ask them to respond to as I read. Periodically I would stop reading and ask them to jot down their answers.  Having a place to respond helped the children focus their attention and added to their engagement.  After the story was over, the children were brim-full of ideas that they wanted to share.  This story certainly grabbed their attention and many of them asked if they could borrow it to read it again, which is just what my teacher ears wanted to hear.

The Witch’s Child Questions to consider:

I made my questions short and to the point and wanted them to flow with the pacing of the story.  This was just the right amount of questioning to keep the children engaged without taking away from the action of the story.

1. What are 3 of Rosina’s powers?

3. What did Lina doe when she met Rosalie? What would you have done?

2. What was Rosina’s child made from?

4. What do you think will happen next?

After this story, I taught the children a game I learned when I was a young teacher.  It is still fun thirty plus years later! However, it is harder to be the running witch, so I quickly have students take over the role, which they adore.

Old Mother Witch Game

“Old Mother Witch fell in a ditch. Picked up a penny and thought she was rich.” (Sung to the tune of Peas Porridge Hot)

  1. Players get in a long line, holding onto each other shoulders or waists. 
  2. Old Mother Witch is the first in line. 
  3. Players sing the song over and over again until…
  4. Old Mother Witch turns around and all children must stop.  Old Mother Witch points a finger to one player after another asking, “Are you my child?’.
  5. The players can say no.  But when a player says yes, Old Mother Witch runs after the one who said yes or any other child she can catch. 
  6. When Old Mother Witch catches a child, she puts her in a cooking pot (a chalk outlined circle).  
  7. The children line up again and sing the song until the witch asks her question again. 
  8. Old Mother Witch keeps collecting children, but children who have not been caught can free children from the cooking pot.
  9. When Old Mother Witch has caught all the children or when she gets too tired, another witch can take her place.

13 Magical Halloween Read Alouds:

1. Arthur’s Halloween Costume by Lillian Hoban

2. Boris and Bella by Carolyn Crimi

3. Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds

4. Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex

5. Ghost’s Hour, Spooks Hour by Eve Bunting

6. Pumpkin, Pumpkin by Jean Tihterington

7. Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

8. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

9. The Fox went out on a Chilly Night by Peter Spirer

10.  The Little Old Lady Who was not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

11.  The Pumpkinville Mystery by Bruce Cole

12.  The Roll Away Pumpkin by Junia Wonders

13.  Very Brave Witch by Alison McGhee

Reading in Wildness

I took this photo while on vacation in Maine.  I was walking by a favorite lily pond and happened upon this mother-daughter reading team lounging in a nearby meadow. The mother was reading with much gusto, taking on the voices of each character.  I don’t know what book it was that she was reading, but her young daughter was totally entranced by the story.  “Surely,” I thought to myself, “this child will grow up to be a fearless, wild reader.”  They brought a smile to my face and joy to my old teacher heart.

As a child, reading was difficult for me. I painstakingly sounded out each letter and then tried my hardest to blend the sounds into a word. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it didn’t, and the whole process left me exhausted. However, I loved stories.  I listened to epic poems that my father would recite and fantasy classics that my mother would read to me.  I found stories to be mesmerizing.  It took me a long time to say that I loved reading. Reading was slow work, and I was a fast kid. I did not like to sit still.  I wanted the words to come fast and furious, but my mind kept me at a slow and steady pace.  I was labeled a “slow reader.”  I wasn’t dyslexic, just slow.  One of the reasons for this, I think as I look back, is that I was in love with words, so I would dawdle over passages and wonder how the author constructed such a scene.  If the author left some things to the readers’ imagination, then I would float off creating whole other scenarios in my head.  Slowly, I would land back to the book and continue where I had left off.  This certainly was not efficient, purposeful reading, but it did afford me the ability to read like a writer.  I was not a spectator as I read, I was a participant.  I took in all the words to use them again in a different way in a story of my own. Eventually, I learned to savor the slow and to know that the kind of reading I was doing was helping me become a better writer.

Recently, I found Hudson Talbott’s A Walk in Words.  Talbott was also a slow reader and in this book he explains his reading journey.  It is through drawing that Talbott came to love reading and writing.  He found that his love of drawing lead him into stories, and he began to think of reading as “word painting.” As he grew, Talbott’s curiosity won, and he was able to read at his own pace. At the end of the book, he created a Slow Reader Hall of Fame including: William Shakespeare, Joan of Arc, Babe Ruth, Sojourner Truth, Alexander Graham Bell, to name a few. Thankfully, Talbott became a picture book writer. He said that he mined books for words to use in his stories and that the ability to lose himself in books helped to spark his imagination.

When I think of it, many of the book I adored as a child were based in the wild. The book that taught me that I loved reading was the classic, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry and after that was Jean Craighead George’s masterpiece, My Side of the Mountain.  Those books helped me see past myself and to envision the kind of reader who takes chances and doesn’t give up. I slowly picked my way through the words and in the process found lifelong friends and exciting adventures.

Reading in Wildness Suggestions:

Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller

Picture Books:

A Walk in Forest by Maria Dek

Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner

Slow Down: 50 Mindful Moments in Nature by Rachel Williams

The Hike by Alison Farrell

Tiny, Perfect Things by M.H. Clark

Wild by Emily Hughes

Chapter Books:

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha lai

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Wanderer by Sharon Creech

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Forest Bathing

I have taken some time off to be in Vermont.  It is a place my husband and I  have gone for the last thirty years. I need this time to relax, heal, and ease my pain.  I am so grateful for this place.  As soon as I see the Green Mountains in the distance, I breathe deeply and feel something release inside of me.  This may be due to the wide expanse of greenery, the clouds sitting gently on the mountain tops, or the roadside laced with an assortment of wildflowers.  There are acres and acres of distance between neighbors and people still put their wash up on clotheslines.  This is a slow and peaceful place.  My eyes tell my body that I am safe; I can rest now.

I have been reading about a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing. The idea is the connect with nature by walking in the woods.  By bringing all your senses to that place and being mindful, your body begins to heal itself and you feel restored.  I am practicing forest bathing every day while in Vermont.  My body is beginning to ache a little less and my mind is certainly in a better place.  I so needed this respite, and I am grateful that there is such a beautiful place nestled in the mountains.

Power in our Words

Summer has come, and this is the time I normally take to reflect on my past year’s teaching experience.  I have filled two roles for the past two and a half years: first, as an ELA Curriculum Coordinator and then as a Learning Support Coordinator. I didn’t realize how much doing both roles would require of me. I love the creativity of curricular development and also enjoy working one-on-one with struggling students.  I like the challenge of finding the right strategies to support each learner.  Next school year, I will be solely engaged in learning support, and I have found myself feeling ebullient at the prospect. Though I will miss providing reading and writing curricular support, the whole reason I went into teaching forty-three years ago was to help kids who found school difficult.  I love working with kids to find pathways to learning, to make reading and writing playful, to make school meaningful and fun again.

As I shift my attention solely to learning support, I keep thinking about how teacher language supports student engagement and growth.  There have been many studies about this idea. Also, I know this to be true from my own experiences as a student.  There were teachers who shut me down and who believed more in my limitations than in my possibilities.  They could be dismissive, sarcastic, and sometimes downright mean.  I vowed never to be like those teachers.  When I was unfortunate enough to have that type of teacher, I learned to keep my head down, be quiet, and not to bring any attention to myself.  In those years, I did not learn as much as I could have, and my self-esteem suffered.  I am grateful that I only had two such years in my long career as a student.  Most years, I had teachers who saw my potential, who encouraged me, and who showed they cared about my ideas.  In the presence of those teachers, I flourished.  I felt good about myself.  I took more and more risks, my voice became stronger, and I had the motivation to learn.  Their support fed my curiosity and creativity.  I began to read widely and teach myself.  I was empowered by my teachers’ positive attitude towards me.

The past two and a half years has been difficult for teachers.  They have spent less time teaching and more time on administrative minutia.  The stress of masks, social distancing, hybrid learning, and virtual technology has taken its toll.  Workshops on mindfulness and self-care can only do so much.  Since my job is to support learning, I spend most of my days inside classrooms observing teaching and learning.  I have witnessed some wonderful, creative, and engaging lessons.  However, I have also witnessed some disengagement, frustration, and negative, unproductive talk from teachers.  As I reflect on how I can become a positive voice in my school community,  I have been reading Paula Denton’s book, The Power of Our Words.  The book is part of the Responsive Classroom series and gives concrete advice to teachers on how to reflect on how they speak to their students and how to shift negative talk into talk that is uplifting and supportive – talk that will make students feel valued and talk that will encourage them to become involved in their own learning.  I plan to think of ways to speak to my faculty about the importance of teacher talk and to make teacher talk integral to the learning profiles I create for each struggling student.

I hope in this way, not only our students with learning differences, but also all students will benefit.  Paul Denton’s words ring true: “…teachers can use language to help students imagine themselves behaving and achieving in ways that go beyond but connect to their current reality.  Helping students form and own a vision of themselves achieving success is a fundamental job of teachers, and language is a key tool for doing this.”

Now, more than ever it is important for teachers to become mindful of their talk and to think about the words we use to provide optimal engagement and lead children to see learning as a way to attain their goals.  Teachers have that power, and it is important for them to think deeply before they speak.

Books that Promote Positive Talk:

How to Talk So Kids Can Learn: At Home and In School by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 by Joanna Faber and Julie King

How to Talk so Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Positive Teacher Talk for Better Classroom Management by Deborah Diffly

Say What You See for Parents and Teachers by Sandra R. BlackardThe Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton

Alone by the Sea

It’s June.  I live in New Jersey.  It’s time to “go down the shore,” as we Garden State residents say.  It’s beach time!  The last three weeks, I have trekked to the Atlantic, which is only an hour and. Half away.  The past two weeks have been crowded: throngs of people in the water, on the beach, on the boardwalks, and lining up at restaurants.  That was not the beach escape I was craving.  I am in much need of ocean meeting sky, of a blue expanse, and a summer of possibilities.

I have been fortunate in my life to have had a career that allowed me to have my summers free.  Of course, I do not count the twenty or so summers that I taught remedial English or directed summer camp.  Instead, I count the twenty summers that I had the whole twelve weeks free to explore, gather, and breathe.  I traveled, read, wrote, and met with friends. The twenty summers seem like a bright blue blur.  I’m not sure I will get the gift of twenty more summers.  This summer, I want to remember keenly: what I am thinking, what I am reading, and what changes I made happen. I know this sixty-sixth summer is important for me.

This weekend, I came to the beach on an overcast day.  The sand was wet with recent rain. Just stalwarts were laying out on bright blankets.  But there was the sea and quiet and a space for thinking.  I just finished reading Katherine May’s memoir about walking Britain’s southeast coast path, The Electricity of Every Living Thing: A Women’s Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home. I love her writing.  Much of what she expresses, I feel so deeply.  She wrote about the “value of being in places you love and knowing them and coming back to them.”  I have always loved the Atlantic coast (on the American side).  I have lived close by all my life. This place I know well. Some of the surroundings have changed but the sea remains the same: the salty smell, the sounds of the waves, the glint of light on the ocean. The Atlantic is where I feel most at home.  It is comforting and makes me feel connected to something larger than myself.

Alone by the Sea

It is my turn 
to walk alone
Along the boardwalk.
I am here to collect images,
To put together
My life story.
The day is quiet and clear.
After a recent rain,
The sand is dark and wet.
Some beach goers remain
On their bright blankets.
Lifeguards jog together,
Racing and playing tag 
with the waves.

I slow my steps,
Pay careful attention.
A redwing blackbird perches
above the beach roses
And sings loudly.
I bid him good-day
And continue on,
Past the reed-covered dunes,
Past the mother and young daughter
Sharing a picnic together,
Feet dangling over the boardwalk,
Holding triangles of pizza in their hands
As it drips with cheese
Into their happy mouths.

I remember moments like these.
My mother, sister, and I 
at our beach bungalow -
Sand, sun, surf.
Sinatra playing in the background
Mingled with the laughter of children.
Sailboats gliding across the bay,
Fresh laundry flapping on the line,
Lazy summer days,
Spread ahead of us 
And we took them in,
Soaked them up,
Were grateful for them,
Knew they were precious.

I look out to the Atlantic
Try to see to the end,
Where ocean meets the sky.
The horizon is dotted with clouds.
Below, there is a thin azure line.
I imagine heaven to be
in this precise place,
Somewhere out there,
Just beyond reach for now
And I am content,
Truly content.
All I need is sand, sky, sea
And an overcast day
In serene solitude.