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A Love of Learning

‘Canceling’ the Pandemic Learning Gap

As I entered the third video call of the day, I was greeted by the teacher and 14 little faces, with adults sitting at each student’s side. As the principal, I would periodically visit these virtual classrooms to experience the chaos that had now become education. As I prepared to read the class a story, nothing in my 30 years of experience had prepared me for a virtual Kindergarten class. Just imagine 14 little 5-year-olds on a virtual call—and yes, it is as energetic as you can imagine and as educationally humorous as it sounds.

Parents, let’s face it. It has been a hard year. Many of you have been thrust into the role of educator, child sitter, and parent, all at the same time. Daily, you joined one Zoom call after another, desperately trying to do your job remotely as you sat beside your child, trying to bring order to chaos, ensuring “Johnny” was paying attention (which is no small accomplishment for the parent of a young student). Daily, you multitasked between saying the alphabet and leading a conference for your office—praying that something did not happen in the background that would be broadcast to your child’s class or embarrass you with your coworkers.

Nothing could prepare any of us for the experience of virtual learning, and in most cases, we had no choice. As teachers worked to reinvent and relearn their trade, parents became more than spectators; and truly, day in and day out, they became partners and co-teachers in their child’s daily education—both groups working desperately to ensure that no matter what, each child, each student, continued to learn and grow.

Yet with every change, and every new path, there are hiccups. Each time something new is tried, some things work, while others do not. This year was “trial and error” as we all worked to keep our children learning and growing. Impacting these results were technological issues, political battles, student attention (or lack thereof), learning curves, and the unique new world and form education had taken.

For some, this change was easy and ideal; for some, it was hard; for others, it became impossible. No matter the response though, research is showing that learning gaps occurred. In studies, news reports, and even anecdotal stories, we see more and more students struggling to meet the learning goals needed to continue to grow and advance in school—all due to this learning loss.

This is not an indictment of educators or parents or students. In most cases, each one worked very hard to ensure that learning continued. Each poured in everything possible to help these children on their educational journeys, and each should be praised for these efforts to so quickly change absolutely everything about the educational process. This gap is merely a byproduct of being forced to try to do new things—some of which worked, and some of which did not.

This gap is also the byproduct of different resources being available to different groups. In some areas, technological and other resources abounded; yet in other areas, these were in short supply. How do you remotely teach a student who has neither a computer nor wireless access? How do you remotely teach a student who does not have a parent to assist him or her? How do you remotely teach a student when you, as a teacher, have never been trained for this? How do you remotely teach a student who does not even have the resources for basic necessities? These are the very real struggles that parents and teachers faced, and worked to overcome, each day during this pandemic.

As we finished last year and began this new school year, educational gaps became more evident. As high school and graduating students attended recovery classes to reclaim credits previously failed, as students received grade reports showing these deficiencies, and as teachers and parents saw student progress stalled, these gaps became more pronounced.

The point of education involves facing new challenges and learning new ways, not only to educate, but to overcome these challenges. This “new challenge” in education is not hopeless, but it is yet a new opportunity to help our children succeed and grow. Every generation has faced challenges in education, and this happens to be ours.

At the start, these opportunities can seem overwhelming, but they are not insurmountable. If we all work together, we can—to borrow a popular term—“cancel” this learning gap and help our children succeed. By taking some basic steps, we can mitigate this challenge and begin to erase these deficiencies. Here are 10 goals:

  1. Strengthen the partnership. Remember, we are a team, working together for these children. The more we can strengthen and make this a partnership, the better it will be for our kids. Remember, it is not us against them.
  2. Research current expectations. Take time to know what your child needs to know. First, check with your child’s school for a list of skills he or she should have. Next, you can find many online resources to help with this, such as Verywell Family, GreatSchools, BabyCenter, Time4Learning, and many other sites. In this case, Google can be your best friend.
  3. Honestly evaluate where your child is educationally. This can be scary for parents but admitting there is a deficiency is not the end of the world. Ask your child’s teachers what they are seeing, and/or evaluate this yourself. You cannot begin to fix the problem until you know and understand what the problem is.
  4. List key educational needs. Believe it or not, not everything children learn is as important as everything else. Work with the teachers and schools to develop a list of what is most critical and focus on that. If you try to tackle everything at once, it will only overwhelm you, the teacher, and most importantly, your child.
  5. Together, develop a plan to address and strengthen learning. This is not the time for a “Lone Ranger” approach. Only together can this be accomplished. Parents and teachers absolutely must develop a plan that accomplishes the goals in the most logical and beneficial way possible. Don’t be afraid to also draw on extra help and services.
  6. Implement strategies and activities to close the gaps. Begin, step by step, to implement the plan needed for success. Don’t get overwhelmed: simply take it one day, one step, at a time. If needed, again, bring in extra help and services—maybe a tutor or family friend—to help the learning process along. If you do this, little by little, your goals will be accomplished.
  7. Make it fun, not punitive or stressful. If you are stressed, your child will be too. Find fun ways to accomplish these goals (there are literally hundreds of sites and apps that will help reinforce these skills). Don’t make your child feel like he or she is being punished. Make it something everyone can enjoy.
  8. Give your child an incentive and something to work toward. No, this is not bribing. It is simply helping him or her work toward a goal. Don’t we all like to be rewarded or have a benefit for the work we do? Why should it be any different for your child? Have your child work toward a reward, incentive, or even payment (just like a paycheck), and reward him or her for hard work. In reality, your child will be the one working for it.
  9. Become an active partner and advocate for your child. Parents, you cannot sit on the sidelines and expect your child and teacher to do it all. Education is our responsibility as parents, and we cannot afford not to be involved. Constructively advocate and be involved—these are not bad words and should be the norm.
  10. Regularly reassess and adjust learning goals, plans, and needs as necessary. Regularly, with the teacher, assess progress, and if necessary, redevelop and rework the plan. Do this to ensure that the most pressing needs continue to be met.

Remember, it took us over a year to get to this point; and it will not be, and does not need to be, corrected overnight. Patiently and diligently work together with your child and his or her teacher, as a team, to accomplish these goals. If you do, before you know it, these goals will be accomplished, and this learning gap can be “canceled.” If nothing else, this can be a new model for how we, as parents, can better work with and support our children, their teachers, and their schools—and once again be on the same side of this battle. When we do, it will no longer be us against them, and the true winners will be our children.

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A Love of Learning Lifelong Learning The Classics

The Teaching of Citizenship

“Every man is called upon to be a statesman seeing that every man and woman, too, has a share in the government of the country; but statesmanship requires imaginative conceptions, formed upon pretty wide reading and some familiarity with historical precedents.”

Thus wrote Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-20th-century British educator, in her seminal work, “Towards a Philosophy of Education.” What truth these words still contain for us today!

As American citizens, we must understand that with rights come responsibilities, and we personally have a role to play in the proper functioning of our society. In the United States, some of our specific obligations include understanding how our system of government works, as well as educating ourselves during elections to vote for people we believe will best uphold the principles that our nation was founded upon and the system of government that our Founding Fathers established.

We must have respect and gratitude for the wisdom of the past, which in today’s culture can serve as an important tonic against the all too prevalent idea that we are the first enlightened people to populate the earth. C.S. Lewis refers to this as “chronological snobbery,” and it is endemic in America today. This attitude tends to destroy and erase the past, rather than to learn and grow from it.

One aspect of citizenship is to conduct an honest assessment of what has gone before us, and to learn from it. How do we impress this upon today’s youth? A study of Plutarch fits the bill. By presenting the virtues and vices of men, and holding them up for you to see and to judge, Plutarch encourages us to continue the same process, and to learn from history, so as not to make the same mistakes.

Our Founding Fathers were so strongly influenced by Plutarch, and so well-acquainted with his “Lives,” that they wanted sets of this work to be bought and placed in every library in our new nation! They knew that the noble ideas and heroic actions contained within the pages of Plutarch’s “Lives” were mind-fodder for our citizenry, and they wanted us to keep these models at the forefront of our minds. But you ask, is Plutarch still relevant today? Why, yes. Yes, he is.

But first, who was Plutarch? Born in A.D. 50 in the Greek region of Boetia, at a time of great decadence in Greece, as well as military despotism in Rome, he was a philosopher most famous for his work, “Parallel Lives.” Written in pairs of one Greek and one Roman life, this work includes details of the greatest men of these two great nations.

Plutarch is referred to as the “prince of biographers,” and was also an educationalist, with many thoughts on the responsibilities of parents and the training of children—in particular, character formation and citizenship. He wrote to warn his contemporaries what would result if the culture continued to decline morally, and that this “loss of moral sanity must sooner or later cause national decay.” This objective remains relevant in today’s cultural moment, does it not?

Charlotte Mason incorporated the study of Plutarch into her schools, but not under the category of history; rather, students studied Plutarch under the banner of citizenship. This does not imply that children merely studied what it meant to be a citizen of their nation (although they also did that). Instead, a study of citizenship fostered the ability to discriminate between a man’s actions as right or wrong, and it inspired ideas of what makes a person a valuable citizen.

In Plutarch’s day, history was written in the form of biography. Plutarch himself, in his “Life of Alexander,” writes:

“For it is not Histories that I am writing, but Lives; and in the most illustrious deeds there is not always a manifestation of virtue or vice, nay, a slight thing like a phrase or a jest often makes a greater revelation of character than battles where thousands fall, or the greatest armaments, or sieges of cities.”

Good character is the foundation of citizenship, and highlighting this makes Plutarch ideal for modern study. Plutarch provides the fodder by which our children’s minds begin to clearly differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil. It inspires children to emulate the valor they find in the readings, while avoiding the poor decisions made by men in the past. Plutarch’s “Lives” furnishes our children’s minds with real-life examples of the formation of character that remains the great desire of parents for their children today.

What is it about Plutarch that makes him such a good choice for this subject? “Parallel Lives” inspires our moral imagination by placing before us the life of a real man who made decisions, good or bad, which had consequences, for better or worse. Reading about the repercussions of these choices encourages our students to ask questions: Should he have done that? Was it right or wrong? What would I have done in this situation? Plutarch is masterful in his ability to bring out character strengths and flaws, without moralizing or pointing to the message he wants you to take from your reading. Thus, he is excellent food for our modern scholars’ minds.

We must all be serious students of history in order to understand the influence of the past upon our lives today. At a time when the concept of personal responsibility has been abandoned for a culture of passing the buck, Plutarch can fill the gap by offering an education in civic virtue. His “Lives” is replete with ideas, such as that of individual responsibility and the consequences of ideas. It inspires us to patriotism and provides living examples of honor and valor.

Turn to the wisdom of the past to successfully navigate the present. You will find yourself surprised by how relevant the words of this ancient biographer prove to be.

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Homeschooling A Love of Learning

Hybrid Homeschooling—Families Seeking Better Alternatives

A combination of at-home and at-school learning is a hot trend in America today. Recent data from the Census Bureau reveals that 11.1 percent of K–12 students are now independent homeschoolers. Families choosing to homeschool have been fortunate enough to have alternative learning options available. One such educational model fills in most, if not all, of the gaps in a hybrid arrangement that combines the best of all educational worlds.

Step inside a hybrid homeschool academy and, from a physical appearance, it resembles a traditional brick-and-mortar educational institution. Parents drop their uniformed students at the beginning of the day where well-trained teachers are ready to instruct eager students in academic subjects deemed educationally appropriate, influenced by the school’s ideological mission.

At closer look, this is the future educational model trending all over the country lately. In hybrid academies, children learn half of the time at home and the other half at an institution. This combination provides parents and students the flexibility of receiving instruction two or three days each week but continuing studies in their homes on non-instructional days.

Not to be confused with casual homeschool cooperatives which meet one or two days per week with parents volunteering at all levels, hybrid schools are more formal. Children wear uniforms ranging from logo-inspired shirts to full ties and blazers. The pedagogy leans liberal arts with a classical approach. The teaching staff are often experts in their field of study, helping students explore critical thought from the great minds of the past. Likewise, students follow pre-planned lessons with access to grading and transcript services—common necessities homeschool parents need and appreciate. Even though parents still remain the main influencers in the lives of their children, parents support administrators who, in turn, promise to uphold common traditional family values and ideologies.

Permissionless Innovation

In a commitment to academic and societal excellence, the hybrid homeschooling option solves many problems parents have about public and private education. In fact, it is often parents who bring solutions to the expanding market.

“The idea of these schools are great examples of permissionless innovation,” says Dr. Eric Wearne, author of “Defining Hybrid Homeschools in America: Little Platoons.”

“Civil society comes together to solve very local problems.”

Wearne believes small hybrid homeschools offer flexibility, freedom, and unity in a focused mission. They attract families because of the mission clarity in identity and because they seek to serve their community members’ desires faithfully, unlike comprehensive traditional institutions which often push conformity to cultural movements which may or may not align with family values and traditions.

Homeschool families essentially lay the groundwork for community learning in their own communities and find the support necessary to help the hybrid model come to fruition.

According to Wearne: “Families are not waiting around for state or local school district permission, and they’re not hoping for a $10 million benefactor either. Everything is just lining up to help this [hybrid] model grow even more because these families are finding solutions and just doing it.”

This is true for the tight-knit community of parents involved in Sacred Heart Academy’s educational model overhaul. Today’s robust enrollment registrations and a long waiting list are the fruits of Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s leadership. The diocesan academy, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, completely reenvisioned its future in 2015.

At the time, this was considered a financially risky move. And its support came from mostly homeschooling parents who actively participated and supported this new hybrid academy. Charitable donations kept Sacred Heart Academy afloat, allowing middle-class families access to a quality education without culture wars. And the results continue to attract families who never considered homeschooling, which has helped bolster enrollment figures, especially over the last couple of years.

An Extension of the Home

“Our culture is very enticing to families,” said school advisory board member Angela VanHaitsma. As a homeschool mother of 6, VanHaitsma originally homeschooled full-time prior to trying out the academy’s 2-day enrichment program for her eldest child. Her children have attended the diocesan academy in both full-time and part-time capacities over the years.

She says that families are drawn to its traditional Catholic environment where classrooms are extensions of the home.

“The hybrid’s philosophies are rooted in a strong Christian mission, and the flexibility of full-time or part-time options truly accommodate the needs of our homeschool families.”

And according to the school’s philosophy, the hybrid exists as an independent institution eschewing secular influences while utilizing the best of pedagogical methods. This means very little to no technology usage for enrolled students. And this also means the hybrid operates independently of state and federal funding, relying instead on private foundations and donations every year to serve the big homeschool community of three Catholic parishes in the Michigan diocese.

Parents today are empowered by the innovation of hybrid homeschooling. It isn’t taboo to homeschool now, unlike 20 to 30 years ago. In fact, the pandemic encouraged families to think more deeply about alternatives to public and private schools.

(Courtesy of Sacred Heart Academy)

“The community was aligning to what we believed as a family,” VanHaitsma said. “There’s no question that my children will not be exposed to ideas contrary to our faith. They meet like-minded friends, receive instruction in robust courses, and still spend most of their time at home.”

Findings from Dr. Wearne’s research reveal why the hybrid schooling model appeals to Americans across the country: more family time, flexible schedules, and greater control over the educational environment and curriculum. The outcome is clear. Homeschooling strengthens American family values, even for families who choose to learn in small community-oriented hybrid models.

“Many parents are anxious about taking on the responsibility of full-time homeschooling,” he said. “Hybrid schools allow parents to find an environment that is more amenable to them, culturally and academically, but also provides some level of structure and support for their homeschooling efforts.”

The author says hybrids may have to sacrifice some of the benefits that larger public and private institutions offer. But operating in smaller facilities doesn’t compromise learning well.

“Large public and private schools have tended to try and be all things to all families,” he said. “Ten years or so ago, probably the bulk of hybrid homeschool families had previously been full-time homeschoolers. Now there seems to be more of a mix, with people coming to hybrids from homeschooling and full-time public and private schools.

“It’s important to remember that these hybrid homeschool parents are also still buying into an institution and allowing it to have some influence on their kids—it’s just a different sort of institution than they may have used in the past. But many hybrid homeschools explicitly state that one of their main reasons for existence is to support families—the schools themselves often argue that families are supposed to be children’s “primary sphere of influence,” with some community support from the school.”

(Courtesy of Sacred Heart Academy)

A Different Type of Institution 

In Thompsons Station, Tennessee, the very essence of hybrid homeschooling is based on the collegiate education model at Ironwood Academy. Executive Director Terry Morris says the students successfully learn to navigate academic coursework through time management through synchronous and asynchronous learning. On non-instruction days, students work through assignments—extensions of concepts taught in class on Tuesdays and Thursdays from professional teachers who are experts in their field.

“Think of our hybrid like a 2 1/2 day private school. Students receive stellar instruction from highly qualified teachers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays, we open our campus to students to complete assignments, receive tutoring, and participate in special elective courses,” she said.

Housed in a professional office building, the hybrid academy welcomes students to light, airy, and uncluttered spaces. And although only 70 are enrolled in grades 1 through 12, the projected growth of Ironwood Academy will max out at 180 students. Students are taught core subjects of math, science, history, and English—plus electives. This year’s emphasis is servant leadership with mastery in critical thinking with Dr. David A. Tretler. The former dean of Faculty and Academic Programs at the National War College in Washington, D.C., presents an examination of global current events. Such electives provide students with a broad exposure to topics from inspiring instructors.

Partnerships with organizations help enrolled students but are also open to the greater homeschool community. Students thrive in electives ranging from personal finance, woodworking, health and wellness, to photography, theater, and robotics.

She believes Ironwood Academy has figured out the “best of both worlds.” Their hybrid, which costs an average of $8,000 per year, is equipped with highly qualified teachers who are well paid and small class sizes that never exceed 12 students. There are no worksheets, and they don’t “teach to the test.” When children arrive at class, limited technology is the rule. There are no laptops. Students literally place their phones in a hanging shoe bag at the beginning of the day.

Her take on today’s educational model is that institutions base success solely on academics. “We know that happy people find balance with work [or study] and hobbies. We teach our students to look for the breadcrumbs that God gives us about our uniqueness.”

Finding and developing and pursuing interests will help them find their God-given profession or vocation, she said. “But God created us to be relational. We have to have time to wonder about God, to be bored, to meditate, to be exposed to a smorgasbord of electives—try one and find your gift!” she said. “We teach these children to explore, to think critically, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

What also sets this hybrid apart from others is its emphasis on emotional intelligence. Developed by Dr. Joshua Straub, the EQ Curriculum is the first of its kind in the nation to be incorporated in a school-type setting. The program guides students through self-awareness techniques to increase empathy for others in order to create and sustain an emotionally safe learning environment.

“We have students who come to our hybrid to get away from the anxiety and rat race of traditional public and private schools, but you still find rigorous academics here without the added pressure,” Morris said.

“This is not a shame-based environment,” she said. “Our kids are not afraid to ask questions. We teach from the Socratic Method, which is dialogue-based learning. It’s true, we have noisy classrooms for a reason.”

Options like Ironwood Academy and Sacred Heart Academy are offering parents the ability to make better choices against failing public school institutions. Whether community-based and/or ideology-based, families seek to educate their children in a way that honors the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty. This sentimentality seems to be at the heart of the hybrid homeschooling movement sweeping the nation.

Dr. Wearne’s findings point to growth that occurred prior to the pandemic.

“When every school shut down, people became more interested in a variety of different school models,” he stated. “Hybrids were already around, and really weathered the past year relatively well. Just the fact that they mostly stayed open, like many private schools did, is noticeable. Parents see that success … [they] see that tuition is comparatively low (usually in the ballpark of $5,000), and become interested. Combine the fact that this model provides a lot of support and community, and the fact that more and more people are able to work from home—everything is just lining up to help this model grow even more.”

“Every family is different and that is the beauty of having more options available,” he said. With the growing acceptance of hybrids, families are further empowered “to try out hybrids which offer clearly-defined and amenable world views.”

What Makes a Hybrid Homeschool Unique?

  • A split learning model combines a traditional brick-and-mortar location with supplemental learning in the home
  • Parents can take on a more active role according to the needs and development of the program
  • Offers flexibility and freedom along with the structure, scheduling, and testing typical of a traditional school
  • Because it is set up by the community and parents, the program becomes an extension of the home
  • The ability to more easily enrich students with a variety of elective programs

Krista Thomas is an independent writer, public speaker, and business marketing communications consultant. She serves TAN Academy as an academic homeschool coach. Contact her at krista@tanbooks.com

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A Love of Learning

Lessons Learned at the Dinner Table

Walking bleary-eyed into his kitchen one early morning, our son-in-law met with a beautiful sight: my toddler granddaughter waiting at the kitchen table. “Daddy, I made you a party,” she announced, smiling proudly.

She had indeed! There were flowers on the table; each person’s place had been set with a kiddie plate, napkin, graham crackers, and applesauce cup. The breakfast table was her natural choice to honor her Daddy at this family party. Even at the tender age of 3, she understood the family table to be a place of celebration, honor, and delight. But how did she learn that?

As an infant, she had often fallen asleep in my arms at the dining room table while her parents and we, her grandparents, played round after round of Yahtzee. Early in life, she would insist on participating by holding the Yahtzee cup when it would come around to me—I imagine she thought we were all taking turns shaking a rattle instead of rolling dice.

We ate, played, talked, and worked at that table, all in her presence. When she became old enough to enjoy her very own place, the high chair, though she couldn’t yet speak, she began observing a pattern: one person would talk, and others would listen. Soon she would utter out loud just like everyone else and later learn to wait for her turn. Holiday dinners, family celebrations, and even her first birthday party were held there. Good memories were accumulating in her young mind.

“When asked what my now-grown children remember most about living at home, all of them, without hesitation, answered, ‘Time at the table,’” says great-grandmother Nancy Campbell, speaker on family topics and founder of a now 35-year-old publication supporting family. “It turns out that above all of the things we did as a homeschooling family, our family dinners together had the biggest and most lasting impact.”

Both born in New Zealand, she and her husband, Colin, took a work assignment in Australia where they began their family traditions. An original farm-to-table family, the Campbells approached the making of dinner as a team sport; some would gather and wash the vegetables, while others would prepare and serve them at a table set by yet other siblings. The family members had their own regular spot at the table where they would nightly take their time eating and catching up with each other, and then later cooperate to clean up. In the early 1990s, the family immigrated to the United States where they still gather regularly on their farm for multi-generational meals in which one generation serves the other, and where a larger family bond is formed.

The American College of Pediatrics reports that family time at the dinner table has declined by more than 30 percent over the past three decades, which is a problem because family meals greatly affect child development and well-being. Children who come from families who sit down to eat dinner together 5 to 7 times per week show a 40 percent trend toward higher grades in school, earning more A’s and B’s than children from families who eat together only 3 or 4 times per week. In addition, drug abuse is also considerably less present in children whose families sit down to dinner together frequently and regularly.

The family table is an integral part of the lives of most homeschooling families. Much more than eating goes on there—it’s also the heart of the schoolroom.

“Real education isn’t necessarily in the books,” says respected Tennessee home-education mentor, Holland Kinney. “We have fun with it. If we’re eating fish and chips, we listen to English or Irish music; or if we are eating Italian, we listen to Italian music, and so forth. There’s always a candle at the table for atmosphere. We’ve created a music playlist for our Saturday morning breakfasts, featuring all of our favorite music. Also, the children create seasonal displays on their kiddie table and enjoy making centerpieces.

When they learned about Johnny Appleseed and were reading the “Little House on the Prairie” series, they baked cloved apples and other historic apple recipes. “It helped the stories come to life for the children while providing a nice family dessert,” says Holland.

Most afternoons, the Kinney students enjoy tea and poetry at the table where they’ve developed enough appreciation to memorize and recite it—which led to their eldest child, a rising first-grader, reciting publicly for an audience at an open-mic night.

The Kinney family has also found table time to be conducive to art appreciation. Famous paintings and biographies of the artists’ lives are featured each week. A copy of the work is displayed, and each child produces her own rendition of the work using varying art materials. This led to another surprising accomplishment.

“Most recently, we enjoyed writing and illustrating a book together about Pops, their grandfather, who loves to chase and tickle and play. The ideas and art came from the children, while the structure came from the adults.”

Utah psychiatrist Dr. B. Todd Thatcher advocates for family time. “Families that spend dinner together have all sorts of lower rates of bad things that can happen to their kids. It has to do with taking that time to show interest in your kids’ lives.

“Children need the adults that are in their lives. They need their teaching, guidance, love, acceptance.”

A Cigna study from the American Journal of Health Promotion indicated that excessive social media use is one of the biggest risk factors for loneliness.

“Spending family time improves mental health … helps children perform better academically … and lowers the risk of behavioral issues. … If a child feels comfortable bringing problems to you, they will be better equipped to cope with problems and make better choices.”

Emily Elliott, a former Kentucky public school teacher currently home-educating her children, says that she draws inspiration from Sally Clarkson, a prolific author on child-rearing.

Emily speaks about the impact Sally Clarkson has had on her family life. “I have always considered the kitchen to be one of my primary domains. I’ve worked hard to develop and refine my abilities to manage and cultivate my kitchen well. As the years have passed and children have been added to our sweet family, I’ve had to prayerfully consider ways to approach my table that supply me with renewed vision and energy.

“In her book ‘The Life Giving Table,’ Sally says, ‘The table is a vehicle for spiritual influence, godly mentoring, and true connection of hearts and minds,’” Emily says. “Small plans took root, and I started planning activities to do with my children at breakfast and at dinner. It started with teaching them a hymn and how to pray at the breakfast table, and morphed into playing games of “pits and cherries” at dinner with dad. When my 6-year-old shares something that hurts her feelings (her pit), my husband and I are able to share her sadness and comfort her with life-giving words. Sally Clarkson helped me see that opportunity at the table.

“When I listen to my 3-year-old sing ‘My Hope is Built on Nothing Less’ over his bowl of steaming oatmeal glistening with a kiss of brown sugar, I feel the sense that it’s worth the trouble—waking up early to watch over a simmering bowl of oats while I groggily sip my morning coffee.”

At a time when American family dinners have—due to pandemic shutdowns—re-emerged from the separation that busyness brings, this thought from Sally Clarkson’s book rings truth: “One of the greatest strengths of a family table comes from the knowledge that no matter what we do, no matter how we fail, we have a place to belong, a place where we will be forgiven, and a place where we will still be loved and welcomed.”

Boston University Journalism graduate Evelyn Glover has traveled the world with her college-sweetheart husband of 34 years. They homeschooled their two children and currently reside near their grandchildren in Franklin, Tennessee, where they pursue and teach many varied arts: writing, cooking, painting, needlework, piano, and (lately) cello.

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A Love of Learning

Finding Her Voice

A student—nervous, unsure, overwhelmed. She entered the classroom without a word. Not only was a new school year beginning, but this was a new school. It was orientation day—her first time meeting her new teacher. What would her new teacher be like? Would she understand? Would this year be any different?

A teacher, having spent the last few weeks carefully planning and preparing for the new year, now eagerly awaited the arrival of the families and students who would join her class for this upcoming year. What would they be like? What impact would she have? What would this year hold?

Both approached the year with excitement and questions, yet neither knew or understood all that would happen and the impact this year would have on them both.

As the family arrived in the classroom, the teacher greeted them warmly, but the young lady never said a word. Her parents quickly jumped in to explain that their daughter had “Selective Mutism”—she would not speak in public; only her family had ever heard her voice.

How was this going to work? What would class participation look like? How would learning take place? How would the other children react? The parents, student, and even the teacher had no idea how this was going to work, but after talking, they knew that this was the place their daughter needed to be.

As the teacher left the meeting, what was she to do? How would she teach, let alone help, this student and ensure her needs were met? She left that conversation determined to find a plan to ensure this student’s success.

As she worked with this young lady, she would speak to her, but as you can guess, no response ever came. Sometimes there would be gestures or looks, but nothing was said. After talking with others, she began simply writing notes, and before she knew it, the student was writing notes back. With the lines of communication open, she encouraged the same from students in the class. Over time, she would notice them sitting together, and while she still said not a word, she would laugh with them.

Slowly but surely, she was becoming a part of this little community. The students accepted her and didn’t shy away from her silence because of the tone and example that this teacher set. The year came and went, and even though she still had not spoken, she had thrived and excelled in a way she hadn’t before. Her parents couldn’t have been more thrilled and thanked this teacher for her patience and hard work.

The next year she returned to our school and continued to thrive. One night, the teacher’s phone rang, and a small quiet voice introduced herself to the teacher, “Mrs. Mickles, it’s me.” On the other end of the phone was the quiet little girl, sharing for the first time a simple message, “Thank you!” This teacher was the first person outside of the family she had ever spoken to, and she wanted that first person to be the person who had helped her and welcomed her that first, uncertain year at a new school.

They spoke for a few short moments, and as she hung up the phone, she could not help but be touched, and grateful for the opportunity to be a special part of this young lady’s life. The care she had shown to this student would forever impact her future.

Without this understanding and care, what would have happened? This teacher knew and understood many things that we can all learn from when shepherding our children. She understood that each child has individual needs, and no one way works for everyone. When we understand that, we can begin to meet the needs of these children and impact them in unique and special ways, just as this teacher did with this child.

As I wrote this story, I was reminded of the very special lessons that I saw watching this teacher. She understood, as we each must understand, that:

1. Each child needs acceptance. We need to accept our children for who they are, not what we want them to be. This love will help them grow and flourish.

2. Each child needs understanding. We need to seek to understand what they’re walking through and provide avenues and support to help them overcome.

3. Each child needs to know we care. Only when our children know this can we truly reach and impact them and help them grow.

4. Each child needs patience. This takes time and isn’t always easy. When we’re tempted to be frustrated, remember this and remember the patience the adults in your life showed with you—or didn’t show—and let it impact this relationship.

5. Each child needs something special. Each child needs something special from you that only you can give—never forget that. Find out what it is and give it to them.

6. Each child needs an environment that will allow them to grow. When they feel love, care, acceptance, security, and understanding, this will open doors to strengthen your impact and allow them to grow and develop as young men and women.

As parents and teachers, we all have this opportunity. The question is, will we see and recognize it when it is before us, and will we take the time to do what’s needed to make this difference and impact? Each and every day, the choice is ours, and when we choose to take it, the possibilities are endless.

As time went by, this young lady grew more and more comfortable speaking to others. She continued to excel as a student, and on the eve of her high school graduation, she stood before the gathered crowd and delivered a very touching and moving speech. One could not help but be excited and proud. Just think, it all started in a small classroom in which a creative and caring teacher saw and cared for this student in a special way, allowing her the safety, security, understanding, care, time, and space to simply find her voice.

Charles Mickles is an educational consultant with over 25 years in education. As a speaker and author, he has published three books including “Mine’s Parkinson’s, What’s Yours?,” and written numerous articles featured on The Mighty, Yahoo Lifestyles, and MSN. You can follow his story and read more at MinesParkinsons.com

Categories
A Love of Learning

Busy Hands

During the past two years, I’ve handstitched three thousand little bits of fabric together into what has become a king-sized whole which I’m now hand quilting.

My mom thinks I’m crazy.

Friends have volunteered to buy me a sewing machine.

For me, the fun of the process is the handwork. The soft feel of the material, the rocking of the needle, and the low whooshing sound as thread pulls through layers of fabric.

In a world where complex systems are valued and hectic zeal is prized, hand quilting’s simple methodology has a powerful pull. The progress I make each time I hand quilt reinforces steady, even-paced productivity. Creating beautiful patterns fulfills my need to be creative. The rhythm of nice, regular stitching quiets my mind.

Quilting by hand is like slipping back in time, a way of connecting with the people who developed and practiced this enduring, traditional craft generations ago.

A Traditional Craft

Though quilting might date back as far as the ancient Egyptians, one of the world’s oldest surviving quilts, the Tristan Quilt, was made in Sicily during the 13th century. This roughly corresponds to the first time the word “quilt” appeared in Middle English.

By the late 1500s, the English word “quilt” (noun) referred to three distinct layers—two pieces of fabric with a softer batting in between, and the word “quilt” (verb) referred to the activity of stitching those three layers together using a needle and thread. Late 1700s lexicons first saw the phrase “quilting bee,” to mean a gathering where women worked together to jump-start or complete a large project.

Historical quilts are such an integral part of a culture’s history, there are museums dedicated to their preservation, including the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, and a large section of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

(Courtesy of GIna Prosch)

A Stitch in Time

Gathering together in groups is a hallmark of the quilting tradition. Quilt tops bring together fabrics with different colors and designs to create beautiful overall patterns, and the activity of quilting itself brings people together, too.

Author, quilter, and appliqué artist Barbara Burnham recalls getting her start sewing by hand when she was 6 years old, embroidering penny squares with her grandmother. After seeing a friend’s “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” quilt, she was inspired to take her first quilting class. She has since developed her skills to the extent that she teaches quilting and appliqué classes while also designing patterns. Burnham’s popular book “Baltimore Garden Quilt” delves into the history, development, and application of the popular and intricate 1840s pattern—a bucket list project for many hand quilters.

My own quilting story begins in much the same way as Burnham’s. As a child, I played with toys on the floor while my grandmothers and their friends gathered for their weekly quilting bee. Gradually, I moved up in the world (literally, from the floor to a chair!), and my grandmothers taught me how to hold a needle, do cross-stitch embroidery, and quilt. Every time I quilt, I feel a connection with them.

A PhD in Quilting

Quilters always seem to have more projects than there is time to make them. They joke about having multiple PhDs in quilting (Projects half Done) and UFOs (UnFinished Objects) hiding in their closets. Sometimes those PhDs and UFOs are tangible connections to the past.

When quilters see unfinished quilt tops and blocks at estate sales and antique shops, they often rescue them in order to complete some long ago quilter’s dream. Finishing what someone else started is simply another part of the quilting tradition.

Jeanmarie Nielsen, a quilter from Oklahoma, finished a quilt started at her grandmother’s bridal shower in the 1920s. All the guests signed muslin squares of fabric, and her grandmother traced the names with outline stitch embroidery and set the squares with sashing … and put it in a trunk. When the quilt top finally saw the light of day, Jeanmarie hand quilted it, bound it with prairie points, and gifted it to her grandmother.

My favorite quilt is a five-generation quilt I inherited from my maternal grandmother. Looking at the underside of the quilt top, the hands of time were visible, and I saw my family’s history stitched together in nine-patch blocks. My grandmother pieced the top together using a modern machine stitch. The nine-patch blocks pieced by machine were my great-grandmother’s. But the majority of the nine-patches were hand-pieced by my great-great-grandmother. My mom sewed the backing fabric together before I hand quilted it. It literally took five women and almost 150 years to finish this quilt.

Unplug … Literally!

Today, while quilters may have an arsenal of fancy, computerized tools at their disposal, for the majority of its history, quilting required no electricity or complicated tools.

Barbara Burnham says, “The ability to create beautiful, soft, and comforting things that are useful is very rewarding. You don’t need a machine, and you can sew anywhere with very simple tools.” Hand piecing and hand appliqué are easily portable and require nothing more than needles, thread, and scissors. (Quick tip: A pizza roller works great to press seams!)

(Courtesy of GIna Prosch)

Even the fabric used in quilting is simple 100 percent cotton. Because material was (and still is) expensive, traditional quilts were often made from scraps salvaged after making clothing.

Scraps of fabric too small to make anything else are still large enough to be quilt pieces.

Jeanmarie Nielsen recalls making her first quilt when she and her husband were cash-strapped newlyweds. A close friend was expecting a baby, and she wanted to give them a special gift. “I had a box of fabric scraps and cast-off clothing. Made from a dress, a top, a man’s shirt, the quilt was simple squares, set in a symmetrical pattern, determined by how many squares I was able to cut. I hand quilted it in my lap.”

Love in the Stitches

Today’s hand quilters are part of a long line of quilters stretching back through the ages.

And in fact, part of the draw is simplicity and connection with the past. Ann Kolpin has spent many Minnesota winters doing handwork. She says: “Hand appliqué has given me the ability to choose a specific technique for a given project. I’ve done the same with hand quilting. My desire was to create quilts in the same manner as our ancestors did years ago. Doing things by hand makes projects quite portable, and there’s no need for a sewing machine or electricity. I’m in no rush to complete a quilt. For me … it’s the joy of the process.”

The next time you see a quilt made by hand, whether it’s something new, maybe gifted to you, or something vintage found in an antique shop, take a moment to appreciate the long tradition of hand quilting and the love that went into every stitch.

Gina Prosch is a writer, home educator, life coach, and parent located in mid-Missouri. She is the author of “This Day’s Joy” and “Finding This Day’s Joy,” both of which are available at Amazon. Find her online at GinaProsch.com or TheHomeschoolWay.com. She also co-hosts The OnlySchoolers Podcast (OnlySchoolers.com). 

Categories
A Love of Learning

A Hands-On Approach to Science

One morning, in my 2nd grade classroom, my students observed the miracle of metamorphosis. We had been studying firsthand the life cycle of the silkworm moth, from the egg stage to adulthood. I had purchased silkworm eggs from a science supplier. Once the eggs had hatched and the worms were a half-inch in size, they started living in box-shaped paper habitats the students built. I gave four worms to each pair of students, and every morning, girls and boys grabbed mulberry leaves to place in the habitats. I scheduled feeding and observation time every day so students could marvel at the worms’ voracious appetites and even listen to them chewing the leaves! I taught them how to gently hold the worms once they were about a half an inch long. One of the highlights of this project happened on a typical Monday morning: A student suddenly burst into gleeful laughter as she observed a silkworm eating away its cocoon shell and emerging as a moth! Needless to say, all the students gathered around to watch, and they went home that day with a big story to tell their families.

(Courtesy of Poppy Richie)

Science education has been and is an increasingly important subject for students. In 1993, I participated in a pilot project for preschool science education: Teachers gathered on several weekends to practice how to teach preschool-age children using hands-on learning activities, including creating habitats and animals out of paper and acting out their behaviors.

I’ve used the guides published by The Lawrence Hall of Science in my classroom, as well as at summer camps where I volunteered as the science teacher. If you’re interested, as a teacher or homeschooling parent, they are available at a reasonable price and can be ordered at their website: Store.LawrenceHallOfScience.org/Category/Gems. I attributed my students’ overwhelming enthusiasm for science class to the hands-on learning activities in these guides. There are so many stories to tell, and one of my favorites is when I used the guide “Buzzing a Hive,” which teaches about the life of bees. One of the favorite activities was when students acted out nectar gathering by using a little straw as a proboscis to sip honey from a cup. Afterward, they walked around the flower garden, dipping their straws close to daffodils and roses.

(Courtesy of Poppy Richie)

Many schools and homes these days have gardens. One of the guides, “Terrarium Habitats,” has content about earthworms, crickets, and sow bugs. I referred to it every spring when my class created a garden of vegetables, which we grew and then ate when they were mature. The garden project always began with digging to oxygenate the soil. What kid doesn’t like to dig in the dirt? The most exciting part of this phase was finding earthworms. Students carefully collected a few of them for observation in the classroom. They learned how worms are essential because they aerate the soil and provide nutrients that help plants grow. When we finished our observations, using the chapter on earthworms to guide our engaging activities, students gently returned most of the worms to the garden, and we prepared a plan for planting. The rest of the worms became inhabitants of an in-class worm farm. They were fed banana peels and other appropriate organic waste from students’ lunches.

(Courtesy of Poppy Richie)

I believe that adults need to be aggressively active in leading the next generation into an appreciation for the earth and the living things of which it comprises. The science curriculum I created for my 2nd grade students included monthly field trips to local parks. Crab Cove, in Alameda, California, was one such destination. It seemed like nature always cooperated and put on a show when we went down to the rocky beach there. My students inevitably got a surprise when they lifted fist-sized rocks and found tiny crabs scuttling around in the sand. Needless to say, it made my day, every time!

National, regional, and city parks such as Crab Cove provide parents and teachers with docent-guided tours and instruction, especially helpful if your expertise isn’t in science. Every Kid Outdoors is a federal program created to bring children in touch with nature. Their website is EveryKidOutdoors.gov. If you have a 4th grader in your home, your whole family is qualified to get a free pass to America’s parks, lands, and waters for an entire year! If you’re a 4th grade teacher, you can download passes and activities for your entire class. Families can purchase affordable regional park passes and discover the local outdoor plants, animals, land formations, and waterways. The Creation is longing to interact with us, and vice versa; I see it every time in the curiosity, smiles, and astonishment on the faces of children who are lucky enough to get outside!

(Courtesy of Poppy Richie)

In fact, for those of us who are looking for ways to help our children understand and connect with God as our Creator, conversations about the natural world provide wonderful opportunities for spiritual education. I emphasize and encourage this in my role as a teacher, parent, and grandparent whenever possible. I have written curricula for companies that use a secular approach to science education, but I’ve also had many opportunities to bring God into the exploration of the amazing earth that is our home.

How does one start a discussion about the spiritual aspect of science? A parent or teacher can ask leading questions for children to ponder, such as, “Why do you think God created bees or worms?” Questions of cause and effect, such as what makes rain, and why do you come down to earth when you jump up, can stimulate a child’s imagination. We can encourage them to think of God as the ultimate cause, and this universe as the display of a Divine personality who can be known through examining the Creation. These kinds of discussions that link science to religion can help strengthen a child’s belief in a Creator, and hopefully, as children learn to love and respect the natural world, this can increase our ability as a human race to honor the miracle of this gift we often take for granted.

Poppy Richie is a freelance writer and former teacher and administrator at the Principled Academy in the San Francisco Bay Area. She coauthored a K–12 character education curriculum, “Discovering the Real Me,” and contributed to online elementary-level science education curricula for various companies.

Categories
A Love of Learning

Building Trust Through Meaningful Conversations

As the primary educators and role models for their children, parents are naturally concerned about promoting healthy decision-making, effective goal-setting, and problem-solving opportunities in the family. This is especially true today, when it’s harder to protect kids from troublesome and potentially dangerous influences in the online world and on social media.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic created an additional challenge for families. Many parents struggled with the mental and emotional impact of this crisis on their children. Normal routines were disrupted when students couldn’t go to school. They felt isolated and disconnected, and many were unable to keep up academically.

Most of us would agree that parenting in 2021 has become more complicated and difficult. As schools open up again, concerns remain. Is the education that our children receive helping them learn how to deal with the challenges they face? Daniel Goleman, in his groundbreaking book, “Emotional Intelligence,” remarks that “as a society we have not bothered to make sure every child is taught the essentials of handling anger or resolving conflicts positively.”

Smart families know that schools and peer groups will not necessarily provide enough facts, or the support needed, to empower their kids to make the right choices. Smart parents get informed and stay proactively involved in the everyday world their children inhabit. They talk with their kids. Family discussions about what goes on at school are especially important today, when there is a lot of pressure on schools to include liberal, rather than traditional, content in the classroom. Parents need to be very alert to new changes in curricula that don’t necessarily match their values.

Just how do families create a safe place for honest and open conversations? When parents and children talk about what’s really going on, in a friendly and safe way, problems can be discussed, and support given. Those children who are fortunate to experience this can more effectively manage social pressures and emotional ups and downs, and they are less likely to experiment with risky behavior. In the most ideal sense, families can be like a school of love, providing a safe and caring environment that promotes the practice of emotional intelligence within the family and beyond. If your family is already like this, congratulations! If not, you may be wondering how to move in that direction.

Parents may not be aware of the problems their children face, because a lot has changed since they were kids. Young people today struggle with an assortment of challenges that can become chronic problems. Test-taking anxiety, shyness, hormonal changes, low self-esteem, anger issues, boredom, and relationship frustrations are only some of the emotional dilemmas they experience.

When a child has social anxiety, parents can help by role-playing and practicing what to say and do in different situations. Parents can also teach their child stress relieving techniques, like deep breathing, meditation, and muscle relaxation. A child might also need help with assertive communication, which is different from being either too passive or too aggressive. We can give them lots of realistic and regular positive feedback by pointing out their strengths, and at the same time, provide support when they have difficult feelings. Parents can help their children find appropriate ways to express their emotions, give them space to feel upset, and at the same time, encourage them not to give up on the problem. The key point here is that parents have an essential role in helping their children find healthy ways to deal with life’s challenges.

But what if our kids don’t want to talk about what’s going on? My parents never encouraged us to talk about our feelings, so my brothers and I stuffed them inside, and felt alone and misunderstood. When it was my turn to be a parent, I resolved to change that into open and honest communication within my family. Easier said than done—and we weren’t very good at it.

However, some things we tried did work out: like a family tradition on New Year’s Eve. After a special dinner with a dessert everyone liked, our family gathered around the fireplace with pencil and paper. We each divided our paper in half, and on one side, wrote what we were sorry for in the past year. On the other side, we listed our goals for the new year. We took turns sharing out loud at least one item from both lists. Then the papers were cut down the middle, and the repentance portion was thrown into the fire, with a prayer of both regret for what we did in the previous year and the hope we had to accomplish our goals in the new year.

The next part of the tradition dealt with healing family wounds. Each of us had a paper with our name on it. This was passed around so that the other family members could write both what they appreciated about that person and, using respectful words, what they wished he or she would change.

I saved the papers from one New Year’s Eve because they revealed so much about our family dynamics. The suggestions about what mom and dad needed to change were written in a very respectful and brief manner. I learned two important things from my children that night: I was sometimes annoyingly forgetful, and I needed to become a better listener. That surprised me because I thought I was a good listener. Needless to say, I worked on it and made some improvements.

The appreciations were memorable: the children thanked me for letting them have sleepovers and driving them without complaining. At least I was doing something right! What did all this accomplish? Parents in my faith tradition, who practiced this with their children, shared that they felt it improved relationships within the family. It opened up a safe space for more transparency and trust in their relationships.

I wish we had taken more time to have these kinds of family gatherings on a weekly basis. No doubt, our parenting approach would have been more informed, and there might have been deeper bonding during those formative years. Family meetings can provide opportunity for conversations about both pleasant and difficult topics. They can be very informal, and should be fun, interesting, educational, and above all, safe. Simple discussions can become more meaningful with practice.

When mom and dad freely talk about what they do when faced with a roller coaster of feelings, kids understand that adults have similar challenges when it comes to dealing with emotions. We get angry, frustrated, anxious, disappointed, and sad, too; and when we share our own experiences of getting through tough times in a healthy way, this builds trust and connection with our children. We want to show our kids that it’s OK to be honest and to share their feelings and experiences, positive and negative, no matter what they are. Children need to feel confident that whatever they say, mom and dad will always love and accept them.

I depended on many resources when I was teaching and raising our children. “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, was one of them. I learned that conversations between the generations can improve when adults are able to apply some basic guidelines that help engage kids. When adults can accept and acknowledge children’s feelings, while providing appropriate discipline, this encourages cooperation and works better than punishing.
Most families with more than one child will appreciate the advice in “Siblings Without Rivalry,” also by Faber and Mazlish. Dr. James Dobson’s “The Strong-Willed Child” describes strategies for getting through to a child with a tendency to resist authority. The Focus on the Family website has many great podcasts, advice columns, and general information about raising children.

Many of us will agree that in the 21st century, the onslaught of non-traditional cultural influences makes it harder than ever for parents who want to raise their children with Judeo-Christian values. If we are to morally empower the next generation, it is essential for families to aggressively take charge of the education of their children’s character. As parents get more involved in conversations that build trust and understanding within the family, this will hopefully make a positive impact on our entire culture.

 

Categories
A Love of Learning

The Warrior’s Circle

Just east of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in the nation’s capital, surrounded by a few stalwart trees on well-manicured grounds, stands a new memorial. The Warrior’s Circle of Honor, or the National Native American Veterans Memorial, represents those hailing from tribal nations who have served in all military branches.

Although the monument technically debuted in November 2020 with a virtual celebration, its unveiling welcomed only a few visitors. The monument’s designer, Harvey Pratt, was one of them. But most would not have noticed him. The Vietnam veteran appeared at a slight distance, humble and silent, in observance of such a memorable moment. Nothing was lost at this virtual event. Pratt’s design pays tribute to the heroic contributions of some 574 federally recognized Native American tribes to the defense of America, at home or on foreign soil.

“I think there are many heroes in the history of America, both Native and non-Native,” reflected Pratt, an American Indian of the Southern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribe. “We can choose heroes for the occasion and reason, as there are many famous and not-so-famous.”

Native American veteran and artist, Harvey Pratt today. This is the “Man Behind the Monument.” (Courtesy of Harvey Pratt)

Pratt’s design creates a sacred space for all Americans but would ultimately resonate with and for all 574 tribal nations. His architectural piece, chosen by the Smithsonian Institute out of 413 applications, pays tribute to the American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian veterans. The man behind the monument, though humble, captured what the Smithsonian Institution had hoped for.

According to the project curator for this new shrine, Rebecca Head Trautmann, Pratt is a kind, thoughtful, talented artist, whose own experience as a veteran and American Indian provided a rich perspective of Native culture to this once-in-a-lifetime project. Twenty-eight Native American veterans, whose service ranged from Korea to the present day, were selected to work through design goals. Their input would help Americans understand the compelling story of Native veterans’ long history of service to our country.

“Our conversations with Native veterans, families, and community members were essential to getting a sense of what they wanted to see in the memorial, the values it must embody, and what the experience of visiting the memorial should be,” stated Trautmann. Pratt believes people need hope and inspiration, conveyed through the preservation of the culture, especially in authentic storytelling through art. And his interior desire is to educate non-Natives in ways that create open dialogue to better understand the patriotic contributions of Natives to America.

“We (Natives) are all related—the same, but different,” he said. “We connect through traditions and ceremonies. I hope it inspires people to ask questions. It provides a place for Natives to honor past, present, and future people of our heritage in the act of service to the United States of America.”

According to the designer, Natives are a people of circles. As such, the Warrior’s Circle of Honor presents sacred space as timeless and unified. Circles represent the cycles of life, from the unborn to the passing of this life, similar to the passing of seasons. The drum, as if beating to the spirit of all indigenous people, gathers all to remember and connect to a greater life experience in the sacred acts of prayer, cleansing, and reflection, as the water flows gently over the drum.

Connecting the universal elements of water, fire, earth, and air, the artist’s design beckons visitors from the outer circular walkway, the Path of Life, into a secondary, inner circular sanctuary that represents the harmonizing of all elements with humankind. Here, a large, vertical, stainless-steel circle, shaped like a hollow ring, appears to hover over a stone drum and a basin of water. Pratt explains that this circle presents an opportunity to reach Heaven, where the Creator lives and lovingly sends gifts back down to us. With sacred colors, the memorial embodies red to represent where the Creator lives, white for purification and the start of the new day, yellow for Mother Earth, and black for ancestors who passed on hallowed teachings.

In Native culture, paying attention helps people draw upon significant life events. Pratt’s entrance into the world in 1941 was one such event. His was a veiled birth, where the amniotic sac clings to the infant’s face. His mother’s aunts, who were attending the birth at home, saw the veiling and exclaimed, “He wants to be a chief!” They aptly named him “Vehunchkiss”—the one who wants to be chief.

In his youth, the passing of seasons for Pratt took place in El Reno, Oklahoma, where he was taught in a public-school agency. The artist attributes his artistic success to those heroes who encouraged his natural gifts, promoting his work throughout his learning years. He believes today’s education crushes creativity, as education is put in a box with little exploration for the imagination. “They did so much for me, and they allowed me to be creative,” he said. “Mrs. Jones, especially, in first grade, complimented me on my art drawings.”

And yet other heroes impacted his life. His mother’s little brother was his hero, too. His uncle shared stories of his experiences in the Marine Corps, and inspired Pratt to join the Marines. One of his high school instructors, an ex-Marine, even asked about his concerns regarding Vietnam. Pratt replied with two: not leaving his body in the forest, hoping his bones could come home for a proper Native burial; and regrets for having never known a deep love for a woman.

Harvey Pratt in uniform serving the US Marine Corp like his uncle had. (Courtesy of Harvey Pratt)

Like many Native Americans before him, Pratt served well. His mission with the Charlie Company, in the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, was to protect the Da Nang Air Base, recovering disabled aircraft, equipment, and personnel.

“It was a great experience, and I feel very proud to be a Marine,” declared Pratt, who served from 1962 to 1965. “Thinking back, I was probably the first Native American in South Vietnam with a Marine combat platoon in 1963. We were not supposed to have ground combat Marines there in 1963.”

Although he admitted to not having a special story about his time in Vietnam, Pratt served with honor and respect. “I didn’t want to let down those who I served with. I felt good when I heard, ‘Let the Indian do it! They are good at it.’ And it made me want to be a good Marine.”

Following his service, Pratt used his artistic abilities as a forensics artist in a distinguished career in law enforcement that spanned 50 years. Even his tribe has recognized his outstanding contributions and awarded him with the nation’s highest honor as a traditional Cheyenne Peace Chief.

“American people recognize their veterans. Native people are recognized at the raising of the flag and at all pow wows, with the flag song sung first. Then the veterans’ song and the honor song follow. Some tribal members will not even step on the shadow of a veteran,” he added.

Even though the history of Natives and their service is not well known, the memorial will be one way to accommodate and honor America’s Native warriors. Funds from taxpayers were not used in its construction; in fact, every cent of the $17 million was raised through donations. The Warrior’s Circle of Honor will officially be unveiled with a public procession scheduled for November 11, 2022.

When visitors make a point to visit Pratt’s epic winning monument, they will be encouraged to meditate and remember. Many have and will leave offerings, like bits of tobacco or prayer cloths, tying them to nearby trees or to the four lances designed with eagle feathers and battle ribbons. Pratt also left a ceremonial feather stick at the unofficial unveiling, silently striking the memorial four times before leaving it in the ground nearby.

Ceremonial feather stick left by Pratt. (Matailong Du for National Museum of the American Indian)

Honorably, the NMAI retrieved Pratt’s offering to save for the archives. Trautmann pointed out how the museum handles offerings. “The NMAI does not keep or acquire any offerings left at the memorial. Offerings left are disposed of respectfully in an appropriate manner, including Native American cultural practices for organic offerings.”

With Pratt’s vision realized, this new memorial will become a place of healing for all human beings to experience. “Natives have all the same wants and needs,” he said. Achieving these goals is accomplished “through hard work and following our spiritual beliefs and the recognition of all our gifts: plants, animals, the Earth, and the Creator who gave us our beliefs—though different, but the same.”

Krista Thomas is an independent writer, public speaker, business consultant, and academic educational coach for TAN Academy. Contact her at catholicaggie91@gmail.com

Categories
A Love of Learning

Honoring the Fallen

The sky was overcast and there was a light rain as we stepped out of our vehicle on December 14, 2019. We fell in line behind dozens of others en route to Arlington National Cemetery, passing the iconic Iwo Jima monument along the way. Our minds were being primed for the task for which we had come: to remember and to honor.

We entered the cemetery alongside hundreds of volunteers for the Wreaths Across America event. We walked in relative silence, which was not the usual behavior for our sons (then 9 and 12 years old), the atmosphere understandably somber and respectful. My husband, an active-duty soldier who served in Iraq in two separate wars, set the tone as we gazed upon endless rows of grave markers on the hallowed ground across which we trod.

(Jason and Bonnie Grover/Shutterstock)

For what did we come? To honor the fallen who lay at Arlington. To express gratitude to the brave service members who are interred there, and to join in sympathy with family members who grieve their absence. To remember the sacrifices others have made for our great nation through their selfless service, and to honor their memory. To thank God for their lives, and to lift their souls up in prayer. Not least of all was to instill awe in our sons as we held up a model of citizenship and love of country by which to measure themselves in the future.

Citizenship. Service. Love of Country. What are they, and how do we teach them to our children? You can attempt to define them, or read about them in a textbook. But will this help children understand what it truly means to be a citizen of a nation with the duties, rights, and privileges that entails? To live a life of service? To love their country? There is a better way. Make your lessons come alive by engaging the imagination, and your children will know the true meaning of these things.

(Courtesy of Dawn Duran)

How? You can reflect on lessons of service by sharing family stories, such as your father’s harrowing experience with a water cooler during a suspected raid while serving in Korea during the Vietnam War. Or share a picture of your Grandpa in uniform, and tell how he often had to manually open the doors to drop bombs from a B-29 when the controls failed during one of his 30 missions over the Pacific. Or Dad can paint a picture for them of the landscape rife with burning oil fields as he trekked across Kuwait during the first Gulf War.

If no one in your family has been in the Armed Forces, then seek out veterans of past wars, and talk to them about their experiences. It will be a blessing to your family as well as to the veteran, creating an opportunity to share that might not otherwise exist.

Poetry and stories are also excellent ways through which your children can learn about patriotism and service. Who can read such poems as Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” or Browning’s “Incident of The French Camp” without being awed by pictures of discipline and courage? In “Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution,” Natalie Bober writes about John Quincy Adams observing his mother melt their pewter spoons to be used to make bullets. Sixty-eight years later, John Quincy would say, “Do you wonder that a boy of seven who witnessed this scene should be a patriot?” Even “Miss Rumphius,” a picture book by Barbara Cooney, is a lesson in service that will inspire your children with Miss Rumphius’ desire to spread beauty to the world around her.

Finally, you can bring lessons to life, making them tangible and real, by participating in events such as Wreaths Across America at your local cemetery.

(Orhan Cam/Sutterstock)

Wreaths Across America is an organization whose mission is “to Remember, Honor, and Teach” by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 2,100 cemeteries across the United States and abroad.

Our 2019 experience was unforgettable. As volunteers began to clog the roads of the cemetery, they were joined by dozens of 18-wheelers, each containing hundreds of fresh pine wreaths decorated with a single red bow. Our mission was to decorate each grave with a wreath as a symbol of gratitude and a means of remembrance.

As we carried each wreath, we taught our sons to say the name engraved upon each headstone aloud in tribute to the deceased before laying the wreath against the stone. We knew that, in a world that shows increasing confusion about freedom and justice, we were honoring true heroes. Their sense of duty to country and selfless service in laying down their lives to preserve our freedoms are staggering.

(Courtesy of Dawn Duran)

My heart’s desire is for my sons to become steadfast defenders of freedom and liberty in the spirit of the Founding Fathers, who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor as true servant-leaders. The military members who lie in rest at Arlington National Cemetery exemplify such service. We honor and remember them with our sons in hopes that our boys will not become what C.S. Lewis describes as “men without chests,” but that they will embrace virtues of strength, boldness, discipline, and courage that once defined what it meant to be a man in America.

It was an honor to participate in the Wreaths Across America event, and we look forward to doing so again this year. We felt blessed to recognize these true heroes and their families. I pray that my sons will understand what valor and honor look like, and participating in Wreaths Across America made those intangible qualities come to life. They are embodied in the fallen men and women in Arlington and other cemeteries across the nation. Let us never forget the price they paid and never dishonor their sacrifices for our liberty.

Dawn Duran is the wife of a soldier and mother of two sons who has grounded their family homeschool in the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason. Dawn leads classes in Plutarch and Shakespeare for young scholars in the Charlotte Mason Maryland community.

 

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A Love of Learning Features Giving Back Kindness in Action Reading

‘I Am Here for a Purpose’—Exonerated After 27 Years, John Bunn Gives Back Through Literacy

John Bunn (Samira Bouaou)

Wrongly convicted and incarcerated at the age of 14, John Bunn has endured many struggles from a young age. Born and raised in Brownsville, New York City, to a single mother of three, Bunn had to learn to fend for himself without much guidance. Having lost his father before he was born, he spent the majority of his teenage life without the support of any male figures.

“In the environment I grew up in, the males would come around to exploit, not to come around with love and affection,” he said. 

‘I Grew Up in Prison’

Bunn was forced to spend 17 years of his life behind bars, in an environment devoid of sympathy.

“It was predator-prey. If they [prisoners] felt you got a weakness, they took advantage of you,” he said.

He spent a further 10 years on parole, fighting for his innocence.

Before he was arrested and taken into prison, Bunn struggled with illiteracy; which only escalated while he was incarcerated.

“When they had me on trial, they told me to write down any questions I had. I couldn’t write down anything. I didn’t know how to express myself. That was the most trapped and embarrassing feeling you can ever imagine,” he said, breaking into a sob. 

With the help of teachers, he finally learned how to read and write by the age of 16. It changed the course of his life. 

“It made me stronger. It made me feel like I could fight for my life,” he said. Learning how to read and write is what drove Bunn to later go on to become a facilitator of an anger management program while in prison. From there, he met many other young men struggling with the challenges of illiteracy. “And I would talk to them about my illiteracy issues. And I told them that this was not something to be ashamed of,” he said.

The Unheard

Today, Bunn is the founder of AVoice4TheUnheard.org and helps bring positivity into communities, schools, houses, and prisons of New York City.

Meeting other young men struggling with illiteracy was the driving point that led him to found his literacy program after being exonerated.

In 2017, it initially started as a book drive aimed at refurbishing the libraries at Rikers Island and providing under-resourced communities with educational literature, according to the program website.

Today, the program also offers roleplaying activities to at-risk youth where they’re tasked with group interactions. “We put individuals in real-life scenarios and give them the option to put themselves in other people’s shoes. We try to make them think before making decisions. This is what we call consequential thinking,” Bunn said.

Finding His Passion

The program began during Bunn’s nearly 12 years on parole.

“It [parole] put my life in a limbo state. I knew I was innocent. Everybody knew I was innocent. And that’s what I was fighting for,” he said. While still waiting for a final decision to be made on his conviction, Bunn channeled that restlessness into something positive.

“I needed to put my energy into something more progressive,” he said. “A voice for the unheardI don’t even know when it became the whole phrase, but it always represented me and what I felt inside my spirit.” 

After suffering many setbacks and losing out on the prime years of his life while stuck in prison, Bunn refocused his attention on helping others who may be at risk of getting ensnared in the prison system.

“Where I come from,” Bunn said, “we don’t have too many role models. So my message is, if you don’t have anybody to show you the way, you make your own way. Don’t let that be the reason to discourage you from going forward. And that’s what I stand for. And that’s what we stand for.”

John Bunn visiting a school in NYC. (Samira Bouaou)

Making Positivity Cool for Kids

Part of Bunn’s mission is passing his positivity on to others. “The greatest champions have to go through adversities for them to have the empathy to deal with the world from a different perspective,” Bunn said.

“Our main message is about making positivity cool,” he tells me about his organization. He said that in today’s world, children are vulnerable to absorbing harmful messages from the media they consume. A lot of music nowadays romanticizes being tough, drugs, skipping school, and gang culture. But “that’s not real life,” Bunn says. His organization advocates for changing this narrative so that kids begin associating positivity with coolness. 

A Voice 4 the Unheard not only provides prisons and schools with an abundance of literature but also offers numerous resources and networking opportunities to young people and children from underprivileged backgrounds.

“There’s a lack of resources in these communities, and we want to open them up to other resources that they may not know we have available today,” Bunn said. One of the ways the organization is working to bring resources closer to disadvantaged students is by building a network with other nonprofits and educational groups. 

George Garber, who works alongside Bunn as one of the core members of the organization, says, “We’re working on creating a student portal on our website where kids could go and connect with other local nonprofits to fulfill their passions, whether that would be music, poetry, art, or the environment.” 

The team has many future projects in mind, such as building a kids’ center to provide students with a safe physical location to study and access certain educational materials that may not be readily available in their immediate communities.

“A safe place where they can feel like it’s cool to learn at,” Bunn said. 

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A Love of Learning Features

Praise the American Heritage Girls

Why curse the darkness when you can light a candle,” is something that Patti’s father always said. It inspired Patti Garibay as she founded the faith-based interdenominational alternative to the Girl Scouts in 1995. The inspiration for such an alternative came from growing up with four siblings and her disabled father who lived with multiple sclerosis for forty years before his death in 2004.

It was his attitude of why curse the darkness when you can light a candle,” that inspired Patti to found her faith-based program and the publication of her book with this quote as the title.

Patti was an active leader and volunteer for Girl Scouts U.S.A. (GSUSA) for over 12 years. In West Chester, Ohio, she was highly influential in sharing the gospel with her troop.

It was in 1993 when a change occurred within the Girl Scouts that Patti disagreed with. She said that the Girl Scoutsoath didnt involve God as much and it bothered her.

This to me sounded like a politically correct way at the time,” she said. She also believed that if you were to change God, what would that mean for morals? I wanted to make a positive change and tried to do it through Girl Scouts. However, it did not work.”

With these changes, Patti decided to utilize public pressure by speaking up. She remembered all the doors being shut during this process and something needed to be done. Patti was determined to make the right change to better serve the needs of girls around the world if she could help it.

Starting from the Beginning in 1995

It was in 1995, that a group of parents (including Patti) founded a faith-based, scout-type, character development program for their daughters. American Heritage Girls was born that year and was dedicated to the mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community, and country.

American Heritage Girls is participating in badge programs, service projects, leadership opportunities, and outdoor experiences across the nation and the globe, all with an emphasis on Christian values and family involvement. 

Patti wanted this organization to start for her third daughter, as her other two were already past the age for these kinds of groups (AHG is for ages 5-18). I wanted to stand true in society,” she recalls thinking about that moment back in 1995.

Since that moment, Patti has been leading girls and women to help them live with integrity. She helps thousands of girls discover their true identity and purpose in Christ through AHGs transformative programming. 

What The Program Offers 

American Heritage Girl is for girls between the ages 5-18 who meet together as a troop of 35-40 girls. These troops give girls the important experience of making and interacting with new friends and mentors. Members also learn leadership skills within a group setting. There are dedicated adult volunteers that lead the troops while also incorporating the valuable input of the girls.

AHG troops are located in communities across the nation. If one doesn’t already exist in the area, families have the option to bring the AHG program to their own area. An AHG troop development coach is available to answer questions and provide helpful resources to potential charter organizations and families in order to form a new troop.

What American Heritage Girls is Like Today

Today, there are over 52,000 members globally, with troops in all 50 states and 15 countries.

There are thousands of volunteer members across the country helping girls grow in their faith, cultivate a heart for service, enjoy the great outdoors, and have more fun than they can imagine.  Girls can join a troop at any time and if there is not a troop available nearby, they can become a Trailblazer and enjoy the AHG program alongside their parent. There are a variety of Christian denominations that are also represented as Charter Organizations for troops.

How the Past Year Has Affected AHG

The past year tested the fortitude, courage, patience, and strength of everyone around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has created feelings of hopelessness and helplessness in men, women, and children. Social and physical distancing has also been detrimental to their mental state and their relationships.

How can fear become debilitating? It manifests itself into a variety of unhealthy behaviors. One such behavior, worry, is a negative focus on the future,” said Patti. Speculating what might occur under potential circumstances can provide each of us hundreds of sleepless nights.”

With American Heritage Girls, this program can help young girls get through some of the most difficult moments in their lives. 

What I wanted to do with AHG is to stand true to society and make a positive change in the community,” said Patti.