Favorite Children’s Books

I vividly remember reading Guess How Much I Love You to my newborn son as he lay on my chest as I lay on the couch. It was the first children’s book that I ever read as a dad. It meant everything to me and probably nothing to him. After all, he was a just week old and could not interpret English yet, while I was 28 and desperately needed to embrace both the challenges and the rewards of fatherhood.

It was the summer of 1998, and my life was being turned upside down and inside out by just one tiny child. We were in process of preparing for a cross-country move, changing careers, selling a house, buying a house, all with and a colicky newborn. In no small way, that book helped me to put things in better perspective. Yes, my life was changing radically, but the “I love you to the moon and back” message of the book was a mantra that helped me to embrace a new lifestyle of sacrificial love.

Reading children’s books has been a daily activity in our home ever since then. Our 19-year-old daughter has intellectual disabilities and cannot read on her own, but she absolutely loves to read with others. Fortunately, her favorite books, like The Grumpy Monkey, are also our favorites. These books remind us of some of life’s most important lessons. They help us to process our emotions. They put things in better perspective. And they make us laugh. A lot. Which is often all we need. Sharing laughter with a child is sacred, priceless, and healing.

A good children’s book, read together in close physical contact, is a powerful tool for instilling the secure attachment that children desperately need. A good story. A good laugh. A good hug. This combination is 10,000 times better than letting a child play with an iPad. It is the antidote to the electronic walls of isolation that so many of our children are growing up within.

Reading with children is the foundation of a healthy childhood

Here are some all-time favorite books for children of all ages (although they are written for very small children). Please buy them for the parents, children, and school teachers you know.

The Grumpy Monkey

Guess How Much I Love You

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings

You Are My Heart

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Hey! Wake Up!

Tickle Monster

A, You’re Adorable

Curious George’s First Day of School

The Runaway Bunny

The Wide-Mouthed Frog: A Pop-up Book

Frog and Toad Are Friends

Give Me Back My Dad!

I Like It When…

The Ox-Cart Man

Little Owl

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus

The Jesus Storybook Bible

When We’re Together

Pajama Time!

Bedtime for Little Bears!

I Love You. Goodnight.

Snuggle Up, Sleepy Ones

I Love You, Sleepyhead

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)

In the previous post, we looked at how young people today are growing up in a culture which encourages extreme individuality. This individualistic lifestyle discourages healthy family life and social life, and it ultimately generates deep-down detachment and loneliness. This eventually creates chronic anxiety and / or depression. In response, the culture encourages the use of coping behaviors that help the individual feel better immediately but ultimately just yields more anxiety and depression. The cycle fulfills itself. The lonely get lonelier, in spite of all the attempts to cope. Because this cycle is self-consumptive, we neglect each other, which weakens our communities further. Eventually, the social norms devolve into creating a generation of young narcissists who can only demand instant gratification. In time, the whole culture, including the elders, becomes self-absorbed, addicted, and sick. It is a sad story. But it is not hopeless.

While the culture is toxic, our young people are not slaves. They can rise up against their oppressors and live a free life. But they will need some help. Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)”

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)

In the late 1990s, author J.K. Rowling invented the term “muggle” as a derogative term for the normal people of modern Britain. Muggles are all the ordinary human beings in Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter book series. Muggles do not have any magical powers or awareness of anything magical. They live for comfort, they conform to society, and they have petty concerns. They are boring and bland, at best – miserable and mean, at worst.

In the context of this very ordinary world of muggles, Rowling created a parallel universe of magic. At the center is Hogwarts, the school for youngsters who wish to pursue magic, a better way of life. Rowling knew that children wanted more than what the modern world was giving them and that they would identify with the struggle against muggles, scoundrels, monsters, and villains.

Young readers happily entered the Harry Potter universe in droves. Reading among adolescents exploded worldwide, as hundreds of millions of children read 600-page book after 600-page book. Even adults joined in. Rowling struck a chord. People want more magic, less muggle. And a whole generation, now known as the millennials, identifies with the Harry Potter, the boy who struggles to live with more magic and less muggle.

It is no different in America today. The typical American is a muggle. Isn’t it the norm to seek comfort and conformity? Isn’t it normal for us to be a little bit foolish, a little petty, and sometimes mean? Doesn’t social media illustrate these things pretty clearly? We are muggles, more often than not.  If we are honest and will peer around our blinds spots for a moment, we can see the muggle inside us and all around us. Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)”

Taking Control of Your Digital Life

Part 3 in the series on becoming “tech-wise”

The first two posts in this series laid down a philosophical framework for why we need to take control of our digital devices. Now, let’s dig into the nitty-gritty details. The following is a list of strategies, tools, and thoughts to consider as you use your electronic devices. Try some of these things this week and see what works for you. Then try some more.

Physical Environment

  1. Reduce the number of devices that you use daily and have a philosophy of use for each one. Put certain apps on each device, and intentionally delete (or at least hide) all the extras.
  2. Don’t keep your phone on your body all day long. Give yourself some physical space for extended periods of time.
  3. Reduce the number of TVs and computers in your places, and don’t make them the focal point of any room where you spend a lot of time. Hide the screens as much as you can.
  4. Use paper and pen more. A paperless life is not an ideal life.
  5. Make sure you have tech-free zones and times in your home, in your office, and in your car.
  6. Put your tech to bed early. Put your phone, tablet, laptop in the kitchen every night for charging. Don’t bring it into the bedroom. Parents may need to keep children’s devices in their bedroom, since some kids will sneak their phone at night.
  7. Practice sabbaths from technology use: weekly, daily, hourly. Give your brain a break from the screens regularly. There should be a rhythm to our interaction with technology. There should be a rhythm of work, rest, and play to each day, week, and year.

Continue reading “Taking Control of Your Digital Life”

Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use

Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use (Part 2 in series)

Technology continues to improve, but is our use of technology improving? Not if we use all our high-tech devices and apps with their default settings. Not if we use them in whatever way feels right at the moment. Not if we go along with what everyone else is doing. Nothing will improve unless we personally change the ways we use technology during our days.

As parents, teachers, and coaches of young people, we see the current struggles that they are having with technology, and we would like to do something about it. But we have little idea about what to do to be helpful.

The answer begins with us. We need to attempt to gain control of our own digital lives, as we also try to help young people gain control of their digital lives. We should put high-tech tools to use in their proper places, and that includes putting them away at times. We need to become tech-wise, not just tech-savvy. We need to lead by example, and teach from our experiences.

Continue reading “Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use”

Why Technology Worries Us So Much

Since 2010, human behavior has changed. In these last 7 years, we have experienced the complete integration of smartphones, the holy grail of gadgetry, into our everyday lifestyle. In that same time frame, we have experienced the proliferation of tablets among children at play, students at school, and even in the daily life of older adults who quickly took over Facebook. The teenagers quickly fled to other forms of social media, namely Instagram and Snapchat, both of which have become youth culture phenomena. So much has changed in just 7 years, as we have all come to realize that for almost everything “there is an app for that.

We use our devices so much because they work so well at so many things, and they make life more fun, more efficient, and more… everything. Both the allure and the utility are undeniable. Just look around at all the people in any public space. At any given time, most of them are on their phones, which is a truly remarkable fact. What else garners that much attention?

There is no question about our reliance on our glowing rectangles: small, medium, and large. In fact, a reasonable argument can be made that many of us are now, at least to some extent, cyborgs. Continue reading “Why Technology Worries Us So Much”

The Social Combat of Being 13

A New World Order for Young Teens

tired stressed girl7th and 8th grade is when the social life of a child amps up in three ways: importance, intensity, and consequences.

At 13, a child’s social standing becomes extremely important to them, as it has become more important to all the other 13 year olds. For some, it is the most important aspect of life itself. Most teens would rather go without food and shelter than suffer any sort of social trouble.

At 13, a child’s feelings of insecurity, awkwardness, and fear are at an all-time high. The hormones are raging, the insecurities are constant, and the emotional swings are intense. The biggest concern of every day is how to get through that whole day without any public embarrassment. Their fears are fueled by the intense anxieties of their peers. It’s a sea of fears as far as the adolescent eye can see. Continue reading “The Social Combat of Being 13”

Take Your Kids Outdoors

Kids spend well over 40 HOURS per week in front of electronic screens, but less than 40 MINUTES per week in nature. Screens are ruling teens.

Delayed Gratification

A major component of growing up is learning to deal with long waits and unexpected delays, yet nearly everything is now available in an instant. If we are going to prepare our kids for the best things in life, we need to teach them to wait and reward them for being patient. Kids need opportunities to practice patience that are followed by rewards for sticking with it to the end—whether it’s a 500-piece puzzle or a friendship with a neighbor that takes a long time to develop.

Once again, the push-button culture is working against kids. They are constantly given immediate, customized, positive feedback from their cell phones, iPods, video games, YouTube, and Facebook. These are places where they can hit pause, fast-forward, or reset any time they like with no consequences. But in real life, and especially in the natural world, there are no fast-forward or reset buttons. In order to experience a sunset, you have to watch for a while. A computer cannot simulate that experience.

The Need for Nature

boy fishingRichard Louv, author of the best-selling book Last Child in the Woods, understands this problem more than anyone, and loves children enough to cry out for them, “Let the children play outdoors!” His books and lectures have inspired a national movement that wants to leave no child inside. He encourages all families to embrace the nature that is in their local community. “For children,” he writes, “nature comes in many forms. A pet that lives and dies; a worn path through the woods; a fort nested in stinging nettles—whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Nature offers healing for a child.”1

Louv explains how our children’s generation is suffering from what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” a preventable ailment of the body, mind, and soul. Kids just don’t go outdoors anymore. Continue reading “Take Your Kids Outdoors”

Managing Social Media (Part 2)

Dealing With Annoying Social Media Posts (Part 2)

After writing my last post on how to respond to all those annoying tweets, pins, or Facebook posts, I quickly realized that I am a hypocrite in this area.

Therefore, I confess that I need to be more gracious online. Just ask my sisters. They get the brunt end of my sarcasm and general snarkiness constantly on Facebook. Sometimes it’s witty and funny, and sometimes notsomuch. I have a few other friends who hear it from me, and I’m probably guilty of being a jerk at times with them. 

So, I am adding another key to managing social media, and it is the way to make the virtual world a better place.

# 6 – Practice Grace.

Continue reading “Managing Social Media (Part 2)”

Five Ways to Manage Your Social Media

Social media, like just about everything, can be a blessing or a curse. It’s usually both. It’s a #lovehaterelationship, right?

When we log on, we see a picture of true beauty, like someone’s adorable daughter jumping in the swimming pool with floaties for the first time, and we are so glad that she shared it.

Then we scroll down, and it’s ten straight posts of people sharing and oversharing about the most annoying things.

But what can you do about it? Continue reading “Five Ways to Manage Your Social Media”

The Connected Family

2014 is the first year in American history in which everybody has a mobile device. We are at the saturation point with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and TVs. They are in our pockets, purses, cars, backpacks, and bedrooms. We all have screens with us throughout our days, and some of us are never without a screen.

Now we are considering how to live well with the screens. Most of us are not yet comfortable with where and when and how to use our devices in a healthy way.

Digital family

Today, I received an email from AT&T about how to become better connected. This is their vision of the ideal family connection.

At first glance, it looks great. Happy parents. Kids sitting content nearby. Well dressed. Clean home. No worries.

But on further review, how ideal is this? Continue reading “The Connected Family”

High-Tech Tools in Schools

Too Much Tech at School?

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a popular trend sweeping schools this year. Schools with BYOD policies will be asking students to bring an Internet-Connected Mobile Device (smartphones, tablets, laptops) to school each day. Many educators believe that in the very-near future most books for school (textbooks, novels, workbooks) will be stored on a digital device instead of stuffed in a locker or backpack. This new movement is being met with some excitement, some trepidation, and lots of questions.

As with all new high-tech devices, there is an awkward break-in period, in which developers rapidly create new applications and accessories, users experiment excitedly with various functions, and society struggles to manage the consequences. It takes at least a decade for the dust to settle. Just think of the cell phone. It’s been around for twenty years, and people are still struggling with how to use it in a productive but healthy way. We still lack a standard set of “rules of the road” for cell phones. Since BYOD is just beginning, I would like to offer my own set of questions and concerns.

I own a MacBook and an iPad, and they are tremendous tools for me as a teacher and a writer. I use them daily, and they serve me well. They are not evil inventions. Far from it. As with every bit of technology, they are not immoral. The devil is in the details of their usage.

Whether it’s an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, it is a multi-functional devices that is not a simple educational tool. It is a video camera, a Facebook device, a YouTube player, a video game console, an email station, a texting device, a music and video player, among countless other fun applications.

Michael Simon, in his new book titled The Approximate Parent, says “Digital media is ever-present and incredibly attractive to teen brains — especially teen brains that register novelty, risk-taking and the feeling of connection as highly pleasurable. The Internet, gaming, and use of social media are addicting.” We need to realize that these devices are not just another tool in a line of educational tools, the way the VHS followed the film strip projector.

There is an age-appropriate time and place for these digital devices, and I believe it is our task as parents and educators to make those decisions for the young people in our care. This is no small task. In fact, Continue reading “High-Tech Tools in Schools”

Parenting Digital Kids

Life Beyond the Screens

If you ask most teens what item is their most prized, important possession, they will say it’s their smartphone. In fact, I’ve heard teens say that if they could only take one thing on a deserted island it would be their smartphone, in spite of the fact that it would be useless once the battery dies. A lot of kids use their phones constantly and are addicted to the internet. They sleep with them and answer text messages in the middle of the night. They absolutely panic when they can’t find it or when someone takes it from them for even a second. They are quite open about it too; they admit that it’s a vital part of their existence.

 

The concern about technology’s impact upon the social, emotional, and spiritual development of our boys and girls is growing. “The average amount of time a preteen spends in front of a “screen” (including TV, DVD, video player, pre-recorded programming, video game, computer, etc.) is approximately 37 hours per week. This reality is in sharp contrast to the 7-14 hours per week recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.” (tweenparent.com)

Continue reading “Parenting Digital Kids”

Introducing Kids to Nature

How to Turn Kids On To Nature

I can’t tell you how many times one of my middle school students has melted down because he or she could not find his or her cell phone. They just come unglued.

Most kids are hooked on their screens. In fact, many of them are better named “screenagers,” addicted to digital images and text. They bounce from their cell phone screen to their television screen to their computer screen to their iPad screen, and in many cases their screens are all on at the same time. It’s quite an exciting existence to the average teenager. They can’t think of anything more interesting than laying on a comfortable couch in front of a satellite-connected high-definition TV, with their smartphone and X-Box controller on the coffee table, their iPad on the lap, and the computer nearby (just in case). If you think I am exaggerating, just ask a teenager if they think that sounds like a nice way to spend a summer day.

These screens are more like screen-doors or screen-windows than windows to the real world. You can see and hear things to some extent, but the clarity and depth perception is inferior. You are not fully in the world, even though you can hear and see and maybe even feel some of what’s happening out there. These digital doorways are virtual experiences at best.

The best way we can unhook them is not to take away all their screen time and tell them to go read a book. The answer is to get them hooked on something even more interactive and real than what’s on their screen. And what better antidote for digital addiction than fishing, hiking, or hunting?

Jake Hindman, an agent with the Missouri Conservation Department and a true outdoorsman, speaks to adults around the state about how to get kids interested in the outdoors. Here is a summary of his 3-point sermon: Continue reading “Introducing Kids to Nature”

Mister Rogers

I’m a huge Fred Rogers fan, so I was skeptical when I heard about the video remix recently done about him. I expected something satirical and mean-spirited, so I watched with my guard up. Instead, we have this.

There are so many things to learn about in this world and so many people who can help us learn.” – Fred Rogers

Thank you, John D. Boswell, for making this video. And thank you, Fred Rogers, for being a great man, a great teacher, and for leaving behind a great body of work for children throughout the world. Rest in peace, Mister Rogers.

How Do We Live With Our Cell Phones?

We are all in the midst of a cultural revolution, and it’s in the palm of our hands.  We are trying to figure out how to use all these internet-connected mobile devices in a healthy way.  We are fumbling in the dark, as we attempt to use new, powerful tools to live better lives. And yet very few, if any, people are able to proclaim, “This is how you do it.”  In fact, it may be a decade before we establish a healthy set of public safety laws and social morays related to digital devices.

As parents and teachers, we wonder how to handle the iPad, the DVR, and the smartphone in ways that are healthy for our kids. Some are eschewing these digital devices outright, due to a host of fears or utter frustration. Others are welcoming everything that Apple spits out, trusting that Steve Jobs and his successors know what is best for us.  However, most of us are somewhere in the middle, looking around, wondering who has some wisdom.

We look to others for answers, as we consider our own values, and very few people seem to have it figured out.

Now that summer is here, I will be writing more on this topic in the months to come, and I welcome any suggestions, comments, and questions on the topic.

I’ll be considering this train of thought: “What technology makes easy is not always what nurtures the human spirit.” (Sherry Turkle)

For more on this, visit Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk

A Scholastic Tuneup

Many teachers will tell you that it’s the middle of the school year when most learning takes place. So, let’s take a quick look at some old and some new ideas for helping young students get the most of their education right now in the heart of the school year.

Some Basics

Rest: Get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  The more consistent, the better.

Eat a large healthy breakfast, like oatmeal and eggs. Don’t skip a meal. And don’t eat high-sugar foods during the day.

Focus: Use any spare class time to work on homework, rather than socializing. If needed, ask to sit away from a friend who can’t stop talking.

Friends: Use recess, passing times, lunch, and before/after school time for socializing.

Drink water throughout the day. Take a water bottle to class.

Move. Don’t skip recess or PE. Exercise helps academic concentration.

Homework: Setup a spot in the home that is quiet and supplied for schoolwork.

Time: Set aside time every night for homework and have an adult available to help if needed. A little exercise right after school is helpful.

Daily Planner: Use a planner to keep track of assignments, tests, quizzes, and project due dates.  Use it in every class, everyday.

Locker: Keep it organized and tidy. Organized students learn more and get better grades.

Something New

Young people will tell you that they think best when they have music on and when they can access their friends with their digital devices. Continue reading “A Scholastic Tuneup”

Creating Consumers or Citizens?

This article, “Reversing the Consumer Mindset” is well-worth reading.  More importantly, as a parent or grandparent, it is worth reflecting upon, since we shape the kids in our care in more ways than we care to admit.

Here is a sample… “I was taught to throw out broken items, rather than seek to repair them myself or do without them. I was taught that love is given through tangible gifts.”

Video Games

I grew up with the Atari 2600 video game system.  It was the cultural phenomenon of 1978, right along with Star Wars (I was a nut for both).  To go from the old Pong game system to Space Invaders, Pac Man, Pitfall, and Asteroids seemed like a giant leap for all mankind.  I had such fun playing those games, saving up my money to buy another cartridge, and swapping stories and games with my friends.  Perhaps I wasted some hours of life along the way, especially in the long days of summer, but all in all, it was good clean fun.

Flash forward 33 summers later.  My son just turned 12, and like all boys, loves to play video games on his X-Box.  As a matter of fact, right now he is playing a video hockey game with a friend.  They just finished playing soccer and wiffle ball outside, so it’s a great way to cool down indoors on this steamy July afternoon.

This is what I love about video games.  It can be a very social activity for boys and girls to play in between more active, creative activities. Sometimes, my son and I will play a game when we are wiped out from the other activities of the day, and we just want to chill out and have some fun.  We tease each other and laugh a lot, as we play a game that keeps us acting and reacting to each others’ onscreen moves.  Mostly, he wins, which makes him feel great, but most importantly, we enjoy the free-spirited competition —  the laughs, the taunts, the punches — much more than the game itself.

As with every good thing, there can be too much of it.  Here’s one of many articles about the negative effects of too much gaming. Certainly, moderation is paramount with video games. Continue reading “Video Games”

Texting vs. Talking

There is no doubt that text messaging can be, in the right situations, the most efficient, convenient form of communication ever invented.  It’s genius.

However, there is a tremendous amount of doubt about whether, on the whole, it actually improves human communication, especially among young people.  Many people feel that it is stunting the development of a variety of communication skills in teens.  And it’s not just the naysayers who don’t understand the technology who are skeptical about the long-term effects of heavy texting.  It’s the early adopters, the ones who have been text messaging a lot for a long time who are concerned.

NPR put together a nice report which succinctly describes the situation.  While it doesn’t offer solutions, it does provide a clear snapshot of where we are with this mostly youth-driven phenomenom.

Listen here to the 4 minute mp3 file NPR report on Texting Teens.

Here’s a few thoughts on texting etiquette for adults and teens (click here).

Other ideas (not all good for every situation):

  • Don’t give your preteen a texting cell phone.  Wait as long as possible.
  • Have a cell phone docking station (basket or box on a shelf) in the kitchen where kids dock their phones for meal time, family time, bed time, and any time that you want some text-free time.
  • Have an “electronic sabbath” as a family, in which everybody stays unplugged for a certain number of hours.  Try a whole day sometime.  Read more at the blog post “Do You Need a Digital Sabbath.”
  • Try to avoid multi-tasking so much.  Research is proving that it doesn’t work well, even though you think it does.  Encourage kids to mono-task: do one thing at a time well.
  • Have kids pay their own cell phone bill.  Or compromise: they pay for texts and data service.
  • Use texting as a tool of encouragement.  Make it a ministry of love — for birthdays especially.
  • Use texting to encourage others to vote on election day or to pray for  or do something for someone in great need.
  • Make a rule that you cannot text someone in the same room or house.
  • LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU HAVE ANOTHER IDEA.

The Reading Crisis

What and How Are Kids Reading?

Some recent observations have caused me to worry about what and how kids are reading, writing, and thinking:

1.    The English teachers at our school have been noticing a gradual loss of reading and writing skills in the last five years.  While the “above-average” students still exist in good numbers, there seems to be more students with “very-low” reading competency.

2.   My colleagues and I on the 7th grade team have noticed more students each year who are struggling with vocabulary and reading comprehension skills, so that even in math, they struggle with understanding the questions asked of them.

3.  Everywhere you look outside of the classroom, students are reading a lot, but it’s mostly text messages, instant messages, emails, teen-related blogs and websites. Teens are often seen viewing screens yet are very rarely seen reading a book. (Some are calling this generation of kids the “children of the screen.”)

Continue reading “The Reading Crisis”

Urgent Information of the Age

I cannot emphasize this enough.  If you are a parent, a teacher, a coach, or have any connection with a young person, you must see Frontline’s “Digital Nation”!

You will not regret it.  I have seen it twice and will see it again.  You need this.  Your kids need this.  Put it on your “to do” list, and make it happen.  Click here for the full 90-minute version online.

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