Nature As Teacher

This past fall, my daughter, son-in-law, May and Eloise went on a camping trip to New Hampshire. As my daughter recounted their experiences, an image of myself as a young child, walking through the woods of upstate New York with my dad, came to mind. I vividly recalled those special moments when I had my dad all to myself, walking hand in hand, eating blueberries off bushes, creeping up to view unsuspecting deer, and picking wildflowers to bring back to my mother. As the youngest of six children, I relished time alone with my father, discovering and learning about nature’s bounty. Now, decades after his death, our times shared remain among my favorite memories.

In today’s culture, where so many programmed activities are a part of children’s lives, there seems to be less and less time to enjoy the spontaneity of being a child; hiking through the woods, roads, and/or parks that surround our lives, and discovering the gifts that nature offers. Why do bees buzz around flowers? Why do leaves turn to such magnificent colors in the fall and drop different kinds of seeds onto the ground? What do squirrels do with those acorns they gather? How many sounds can you hear when you pause to listen, really listen? Where do ferns hide their seeds? Expanding and developing children’s natural curiosity is the free gift nature has to offer.

Through Instagram, I was able to share in the joy that my grandchildren and their family friends experienced. Photos of children jumping into a lake, hands reaching out for the rarely-offered-at-home “junk food,” cooking over an open fire, and children standing in front of a pond with their arms wrapped around each other, smiling broadly at the camera, enabled me to experience a bit of their outings with a touch of a finger onto my cell phone..

One image in particular said all that words could  hope to convey. It was a photo of May’s eyes riveted upon a plastic recyclable cup with holes containing leaves and an insect. I could only imagine what she was thinking as she observed its movements. Nancy, my daughter, wrote the caption, “Nature’s YouTube.” As I read the caption, I thought that’s one way in which Mother Nature meets modern technology. In science, observations, and experimentation  lead to conclusions. Here sat May, applying the scientific method naturally, no textbooks or pre-programmed lessons.

As a teacher, I always believed that a child’s natural curiosity needs to be fed with constant opportunities for development. While after-school sports and planned activities are valuable, taking time to just be a kid, exploring the world around you and developing an understanding of the important relationship that exists between nature and humanity is invaluable for keeping the fires of curiosity burning.



When A Pet Dies

Anyone who has had a pet understands how that pet becomes more than an animal running about the house. They know their pet becomes an important member of the family; a member who like all members of the family requires care, love, food, regular doctor visits, and needs to abide by certain rules and expectations. In return, the pet freely gives unsolicited love, attention and comfort to the other members of the family. My granddaughters, May and Eloise learned this life lesson through their beloved pug, Mr. Woo. What they weren’t prepared for was the fact that one day Mr. Woo would leave their world, a fact they sadly faced this past autumn.

Mr. Woo was May’s and Eloise’s “big brother.” He was the fifth member of the family. He was there when May was born and three years later, happily greeted May’s younger sister, Eloise. May, Eloise, and big brother Mr.Woo; three close siblings, sharing good times and bad. The girls couldn’t imagine a world without him, yet that world was rapidly approaching.

My daughter and her husband tried to prepare the girls for Mr. Woo’s impending death, knowing that there was no way to ease the pain that was about to befall the entire family. The news should not have come as a shock. They had all witnessed Mr. Woo’s labored breathing, given him pills that they hoped would miraculously sustain his life and carried him up and down stairs in order to ease his pain of walking. It shouldn’t have come as a shock for with love comes hope, and their hope never waned.

During Mr. Woo’s final days, May and Eloise showered him with attention, treasuring every moment of his last days in the hopes that the time spent hugging, kissing and giving him unlimited treats, would somehow, miraculously cure his many ills, but to no avail. Last autumn, May and Eloise hugged Mr. Woo for the last time.

The death of a pet is a devastating experience for anyone, but most especially for children. Often, it is a child’s first experience with watching a loved one die. Throughout their developmental years, Mr. Woo was always available to offer comfort when needed, laughter at a moment’s notice, a warm body to cuddle, a happy greeting when the girls returned home after a hard day at school, a willing playmate whenever the need arose… The list of services offered by their funny, often smelly, little pug was unending. His departure left a deep chasm in the hearts of these two little girls.

People often say that it’s better to put sick pets out of their misery. While this may be true, it is easier said than done when you are the one making the decision. You doubt yourself every step of the way, wondering if your beloved pet’s pain is excruciating or if you’re prematurely ending her/his life. Once the decision is made, you live with it, often questioning your decision for years to come. I know. I write from experience.

As my daughter sobbed along with my granddaughters, my son-in-law was given the responsibility of taking Mr. Woo to the vet one last time He had to be the brave one, yet he loved Mr. Woo no less than any of the mourners left behind. He was the unsung hero who painfully watched his once-lively buddy take his last shallow breaths. The air was heavy with the weight of tears for this entire family.

As I sit at my computer, recalling Mr. Woo’s final days, I think about how difficult broaching the subject of death can be for young children. I marvel over how my daughter and son-in-law handled this painful time with sensitivity, love, and compassion. As a family they shared funny Mr. Woo stories, told Mr. Woo how much they were all going to miss him, showered Mr. Woo with unending hugs and a plethora of snacks, cradled him as they walked around the house, and cried rivers of tears into his soft fur. They outwardly expressed their sadness and had group hugs with their little ball of fur. They shared joy-filled days with Mr. Woo as a family and now, as a family, they shared in their grief.

I often wonder about the “best way” to prepare for a pet’s death. In my opinion, there is no way. It is a heart-wrenching experience; an experience that draws out and releases the gamut of emotions that make us human beings.  When a pet dies our feelings supersede words until such time when words can resurface as happy memories of times shared.


Times Are A-Changing, But Some Things Remain The Same

Whenever I work out at the gym, I take along my iPhone and listen to songs as I sweat my way through my routine. One of the songs that I tend to replay over and again is Bob Dylan’s, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” As I listen to the song, I think about how meaningful, ingenious, and ageless Dylan’s lyrics are. His song, written in the sixties, carries a message that is as poignant today as it was when it was first recorded over fifty years ago. As a grandmother of two young granddaughters, I often wonder if my attitudes, ideas, and interactions are current. What kind of affect am I having on my granddaughters? What memories of our time together will they carry with them into their futures? And how many of the activities and moments that I share with them will withstand the test of time?

There can be no doubt that today’s children experience a far different childhood from mine or that of my children. Life is indeed more complex. Technology has opened windows into areas that are far more sophisticated than I could have ever dreamed possible during my developmental years. However, with everything the Internet has to offer, some things do remain constant; children need human interactions in order to develop socially, physically and intellectually. A cyber buddy can never replace the lessons learned or the bonds formed through human contact.

Recently, I was playing Chutes and Ladders with my two granddaughters, ages seven and ten. Eloise, my younger granddaughter, got extremely frustrated each time she found herself lagging behind her sister and me. At one point, she took her game piece and put it at the finish space stating with aplomb, “I win.” Her action caused me to think back to when her sister was five years old and how I used to stack playing cards so that she would win in the game of “War.” My reason for doing so was because I wanted her to learn the game without putting the added dimension of losing into the hopper. In the case of Eloise, she already knew how to play the game so I believed that we could play by the rules. I was mistaken. While Eloise, needs to win, as do most young children, I believe, she also needs to learn how to handle losing, a skill in and of itself. I have come a long way in my thinking from five years ago.

During my teaching tenure, I often played games as a way to teach and reinforce academic skills. I also believed in their value as a means to develop interpersonal communication, a skill that is not fostered through the use of technological devises. One of my favorite games to play with my students was UNO a game requiring little skill, but lots of luck, a game suitable for all students.

There was one boy in my class who would join the UNO group whenever it was played, often losing to me, his teacher. Before long, his desire to win the game became a near obsession and, because of his enthusiasm, several classmates joined in his effort to “beat the teacher.” Laughter filled the room as did the lively conversation that usually accompanies any small-group game situation. Eventually he did win and it became one of his proudest moments, so much so that he wrote in his sixth grade yearbook that one of the highlights of his school experience was when he “beat Mrs. Scarlata at UNO.”

The lessons I have learned during my career of teaching young children served to prepare me for my role as a grandmother. Many of the activities and games that I shared with my students have successfully become a part of my granddaughters’ lives some many years after I left my profession. Game playing is timeless. Monopoly, to name one game, is as much fun to play today as it was when my daughters were little. It is a game for for the entire family to enjoy and is a wonderful vehicle for developing, an understanding of money, numbers, making wise decisions, and doling out responsibilities. May and Eloise enjoy playing it, even if Eloise has a tendency to quit the game once her limited attention span wanes.

Yes, the times are changing. Change has occurred since the beginnings of time and will continue to change in the future. It’s a natural progression. But, with changing times, there are some things in life that remain constant and much of what we value in life can be reinforced through interpersonal game playing. What better way to unwind, relax, and talk about your day by participating in a family game? Technology has its place, but its place needs parameters. Time to put technological devices to bed at a reasonable time and give games their wake-up call. Games will change with time, but their importance in developing good sportsmanship, camaraderie, communication skills, and family unity never diminishes.



A Wonder-Filled Moment

There is no doubt about it; grandchildren can be exhausting! The older we get, the more exhausting they seem to become. Fortunately, the energy they consume is far outweighed by the lasting images that fill our memory banks long after their departure.

When I close my eyes, one such image comes to mind. It is the image of a little girl, with her back to me, sitting in freshly grown grass, staring fixedly at the bird feeder that she and her younger sister had recently filled. “What is she thinking?” I thought as I observed her from afar. “What could cause this little bolt of energy to put herself on pause and stay fixed for such a long period of time?” For indeed, she had been sitting in one position for several minutes. No sound emanated from her lips. No movement from her little body. She was truly in a world all her own. As I watched her, I thought how intricate the workings of a child’s mind. Each day brings new images that serve to further develop a deeper awareness of nature and all its glory.

As grownups, involved in the complexities of daily life, we are often guilty of not taking the time to appreciate all the wonders that surround our lives. Seeing May lost in her thoughts as she watched birds flutter to take food from the bird feeder then fly off to let other birds have their turn, caused me to put myself on pause and see the wonders of nature with fresh eyes. In an age of extravagant birthday parties for young children, programmed activities to fill after-school time, spending large sums of money on toys, computer software, iPhone apps, and pre-packaged crafts to occupy children while at home, we sometimes lose sight of the importance of taking time to just sit and quietly absorb the sounds and sights of nature’s gifts.

Watching May momentarily lost in her world, brought me back to a time when I led my daughter and her friends on a birthday party nature walk. Equipped with decorated paper bags, we set off to find a variety of leaves, seeds, and flowers as we walked through our neighborhood park. Once back at home, we laid out our treasures, talked about the different kinds of leaves and seeds, and made collages on construction paper. I remember how happy the children were with their finished products and how happy I was to have been able to share my time and knowledge of botany with them. It was a simple party, no great fanfare, just a group of seven-year-olds enjoying a time of discovery and friendship outdoors. Sometimes simple is better.

Childhood is fleeting and our time to enjoy these magical years is even more fleeting as we age. My granddaughters have been inspirational in reawakening me to the benefits and importance of putting myself on pause. In today’s media-entrenched world, where we are immersed in reminders of the chaos surrounding our lives, children offer the elixir for unraveled nerves. We need only to stop and take a few moments to observe the world through their eyes. Thank you May and Eloise for reenergizing my brain to all the good that surrounds us.

Leave a comment

Helping Your School Child Meet With Success

One of my all time favorite songs is Bob Dylan’s, “The Times They Are A Changin’.” The message it carries is as profound today as it was more than fifty years ago. While I agree with the words in Mr. Dylan’s song, there are some things that have not changed for generations, among them is the key role that parents play in supporting their child’s academic and social success in school.

There can be no doubt that with today’s working parents and the myriad of after-school activities that fill a child’s day, trying to fit in additional support with homework, school projects, and responding to school notices can be an arduous task. However, there are a number of simple solutions that can be used to ease the burden of supporting the academic and social life of school.

After a long school day, children are often resistant to sitting down to do homework. They need time to relax, move about and have a snack. I realize that as children progress in school, the amount of homework increases accordingly, but regardless of the grade they are in, children like to have a chance to unwind. A snack before starting homework is a great way for parents and children to share events of the day. In my experience asking children about what they learned in school is a sure conversation stopper. Instead asking with whom they played or shared lunch is a conversation opener that will often help raise parental awareness of their child’s social well-being, an important element for success in school.

Establishing a quiet, well lit, place where children are able to concentrate on the task at hand is key to establishing good work habits. The space should have a calendar where children have a visual reminder of due dates for projects, book reports, and all school-related events, thereby enabling them to structure their time. A plastic bin with dividers for pencils, rulers, markers and crayons is a great way to keep school supplies handy and its compact nature enables parents to periodically check on and update its contents.

After homework and dinner are finished, engage in a family game. Games provide an excellent venue for lively conversation, as well as developing good sportsmanship. They also provide an opportunity for relaxing family time after a structured school day.

Bedtime has always been that special time set aside for reading. It is that magical time when parents breathe a few relaxing, child-centered, moments to expressively read aloud their favorite books to their children. It is also an opportune time for children to read a chapter of the book about which they will be writing a school-related book report. Pre-reading a child’s book selection and asking questions as he/she reads through chapters, serve to lay the groundwork for writing a well-developed book report.

Responsibility is a learned character trait. If we want children to be responsible, teach responsibility by putting them in charge of their school items. By emptying the contents of their bags upon their arrival home (putting aside important notices where their parents will see them), and packing their homework into their bags at night, children take charge of their belongings and help ease the mad rush out the door in the morning.

Education is a partnership and open communication between the home and school is an important ingredient for a child’s academic and social success. If there is something that a teacher should know about meeting the needs of your child, contact the teacher. Classroom teachers always appreciate feedback from the home. A note at the start of the school year informing the classroom teacher of your concerns for your child, both academic and social, starts an early dialogue for a parent to teacher connection.

Success breeds success and failure is but one small bump on the road to success. Cooperation between school and home is key to easing those bumps.

Happy start of the school year to all!


1 Comment

What A Difference A Dad Makes


I admit it! I am an observer of any kind of interaction where children are involved. Perhaps my voyeurism stems from my teaching days, when much could be learned observing interaction among children with children as well as children with their parents. Social situations provided the grist for helping me determine my approach to meeting the needs of the children I taught. Observations without interference, keeping a lid on making judgments, can be difficult, but it can provide a deep understanding of a child’s level of self-confidence.

As a grandmother of two young granddaughters, I have enjoyed writing about my interactive experiences with May and Eloise. Having grandchildren is truly a gift. Much as I enjoy planning activities and excursions for them, May and Eloise reward me with countless pleasurable experiences in return. I define it as the “law of increasing returns.” Both my husband and I are fortunate that we are a part of their lives. When we are with them, they provide us with memories to treasure during their absence.

As I sit at my computer, one of those treasured memories runs through my mind. During our granddaughters’ recent visit, I mentioned to May how proud I was of her varied interests, especially skiing. May enthusiastically responded that she really enjoys skiing and is looking forward to her return home when she and her father would once again hit the slopes.  As we spoke of her many varied interests, May suddenly interjected,  “I would probably be sitting around all of the time if it wasn’t for dad making me try new things.” May’s simply  stated sentence, illustrated the profound affect Jeremy has upon her growth.

May’s acknowledgement and appreciation of her father’s care, is a supreme compliment to Jeremy. Through his gentle, yet firm, approach to skill development, May now skateboards, surfs, expertly rides a bicycle, swims, skis, and feels comfortable trying new sports. No doubt about it, Jeremy reaps the benefits of May’s prowess as well. He has groomed a partner to share in the many sports that he loves. May and Jeremy have become a cohesive team, sharing in tomorrow’s memories through their cycling and skiing moments today. As Eloise matures, her turn with dad is rapidly approaching.

Jeremy and Nancy, understand that parenting is a partnership, a team effort.  Both bring to parenting their own areas of expertise. By exposing May and Eloise to new experiences outside of their comfort zones, Jeremy is building their confidence to take risks, an integral part of childhood development. As a seasoned teacher of young children, Nancy offers May and Eloise her knowledge of coping skills as they travel the bumpy road towards maturity.

When I think back on my own childhood, my most memorable moments are the moments I shared with my dad: walks through the woods behind our country house, pennies hidden by him in the sand on the beach in order to keep my brothers and me entertained, removing my fear of water by teaching me how to float, quietly creeping up to see deer grazing in a meadow, and countless other moments that continue to keep him alive in my mind’s eye. Now, as I watch May and Eloise interact with their dad I think about how they too will one day reflect upon these shared moments with deep love and affection.










When Far Away From Grandchildren

I have been away from my granddaughters for the past several weeks doing something that, in my younger years, I thought I would never do, spending the winters in Florida. It’s amazing how the cold and the snow can alter one’s opinion of being a “snowbird.” The very connotation of the word used to make me shudder. Now, here I am, happy my bones ache less in the warmth that surrounds me, but sorely missing my two ever-entertaining, fun-loving granddaughters. So, what do I do? I find ways keep them close until they come to visit.

I must have viewed past videos of the girls’ earlier years dozens of times since my arrival. There are videos of two-year-old May holding an umbrella over her head as she dances around her plastic kiddy pool; May rocking on her hobbyhorse, and jumping on a trampoline. Years seem to fly by and then there is May playing soccer; learning to ride a two-wheeler and shouting, “I did it;” and, as more time progresses, May skiing down slopes at ages six, seven, and now eight. As I sit watching the video of May going down hill balancing herself on a skateboard, I think how quickly the years are passing and how I yearn to hold onto each and every one.

Along with videos of May, I watch videos of Eloise tentatively taking early steps, and Eloise taking her “babies” for a walk in their stroller. There is one of Eloise dancing to the music of “Happy” on the couch at Orange Leaf and her riding her scooter to the bakery, all the while looking back to make sure that I was close behind. I continue to scroll until I stop at images of Eloise proudly running with her hand-made paper kite, and one of her blowing bubbles in our backyard. Someday soon, I think with a sigh, she too will be riding a two-wheeler, skateboarding, surfing, and skiing like her big sister. As I watch these moments, a mixed bag of pride and melancholy fill my being.

Happily, there is Face Time, a tool that definitely brings laughter to this grandmother. Face Time with my granddaughters consists of the girls grabbing the phone from each other to make funny faces and scanning the room to include their Pug, Mr. Woo. Face Time is turning the iPhone upside down thereby distorting the images, and giving stilted answers to the open-ended questions we grandparents often ask in order to engage in a conversation. I understand their reserve and silliness. As a visual connection, this approach has its merits when grandchildren are far away. It beats not seeing them at all. However, nothing can replace  the warm feeling that fills your core when a grandchild wraps her little arms around your neck and says, “I love you.”

Now that May and Eloise can read I look forward to staying connected to them through postcards and letters. Occasionally, a package with some small trinket will also find its way to them via the post office. It’s amazing how many other grandparents I meet doing the same thing for their grandchildren during my short sojourns to the local post office.

My husband and I are fortunate. We have many friends in Florida and manage to keep relatively busy.  During our absence from May and Eloise, they continue to be  a part of our daily interactions. Friends regale us over lunches and dinners with stories of their grandchildren, as we do ours. Trips to bookstores include a visit to the children’s section where we look for books that will appeal to their interests. Sugary treats find their way into our supermarket baskets to be set aside for when they visit. And when we see a random child at play, a big smile crosses our faces as we recall those special moments when we watched May and Eloise playing similar games.

Yes, our granddaughters are always with us, Distance does not affect the depth of love in our hearts. Memories of shared moments sustain us until the day when they get off the plane, come running into our arms, and give us that long-awaited hug. How fortunate we are to be grandparents!

%d bloggers like this: