Thursday, July 21, 2016

Reading Children's Books: Lessons Learned from Olivia

Summer burns away all too quickly, and this one has been a particularly bright one. With two kids under two, my pace has slowed and my desire to savor each moment has deepened. Besides taking walks and going to the park (which has become quite busy these past few weeks with Pokemon Go), my daughters and I find ourselves at the library multiple times a week. As a result, I have been thumbing through pages nonstop. Personally, this has been a summer of reading memoirs - often involving cancer, loss, and small children. Perfectly ideal for my current life stage, right? Always on the move, I have been turning speed-reading sessions squeezed in between excursions with the little ones and feeding into speech pieces. Dejected Dramatic Interpretations and melancholy Prose Readings have filled my "Cut Scripts" folder in Google Drive to the digital brim. Despite the emotional turmoil I have voluntarily forced myself to endure, I'm ready for another Speech season.

In addition to ugly crying my eyes out yet another story of a young family being torn apart by illness far too soon, I've been reading as many children's books as I can carry out the library doors with at least one child in my arms. As a family, we enjoy  (or rather my husband decided we should enjoy) The Bernstein Bears series, Dr. Seuss books, Chicka Chika Boom Boom - the classics. Thanks to a former student (named Olivia), we have also been reading the Olivia series. We laugh, we read and reread pages of text, and we discussion the lessons and themes that Olivia has taught. (Of course, these conversations are often one-sided - my oldest is not even two. Currently, our communication relies heavily upon tone and Daniel Tiger songs. I have faith that she's absorbing some empathy!)

Life lessons according to Olivia: 

5. "Just because it's called a veggie loaf, it doesn't mean it can't be something more exciting, like a veggie castle."

Sometimes, life is hard. Children cry. Cars break down. Illness happens. In spite of the challenges life presents, we have the opportunity to look at a difficult situation and create something exciting. Each experience, no matter the initial reaction, can lead to a great conversation, a sweet moment, or a strengthening of either oneself or relationships. Like Olivia notes, we choose to view what is presented to us as either something awful or we can choose to see what lies before us as a new possibility - one full of hope.

4. "I know this is hard to believe, but more of something isn't always better."

Slowing down is an amazing and freeing feeling. This summer, I've allowed myself to get lost in my thoughts. I take walks with my daughters, sat on swings, and gotten a little dirty. In a culture of busyness, I have adverted the trap this summer. Yes, I'm still running literally and figuratively a great deal. Nap time and my evening still allow me to return to activities in my cherished to-do list journal, but I'm allowing myself to leave items unchecked. There's always tomorrow. Today, I'll take time for my family.

3. "A little appreciation goes a long way."

Gratitude and thankfulness are often a topic I raise with my Speech Team students. Teaching students for showing gratitude, to write thank-you notes, and to appreciate what has been given to them is essential. These are life skills we all should implement. Demonstrating a bit of gratitude and appreciation for even the smallest of gestures and kindness shown to us can improve the world around us exponentially. A few words or even and a gracious smile can enhance our world.

2. "Sometimes you just have to use your big voice."

I teach and coach speech. I spend nearly every day of my life (even during the summer) engaging with my students, and yet, I still find myself exhibiting anxiety about speaking in front of groups at times. Personally, I fear discord and can be known to shy away from a debate, but I have attempted to take a note from Olivia and share my beliefs. I've been writing more, and I allow myself to be more vocal without over-worrying about piquing the thoughts of others.

Being able to communicate is essential to success in adulthood. We are always being asked to articulate our thoughts and ideas through writing, speaking, and listening. Finding one's voice is invaluable and must be cultivated in students today. I will continue to find opportunities to share my voice positively with others - not for me but for them. Actions speak volumes about who we are and what we value. Speaking up and speaking out positively can enhance our collective understanding of the world, which in turn, makes it a better place to be.

1. "When playing a cowbell, never underestimate the importance of enthusiasm."

Enthusiasm is a sign of passion. It is excitement with a focused directive. Enthusiasm feels like running down a hill, gaining momentum toward the finish line. Enthusiasm is powerful. Making noise and marching to the beat of her own drum, Olivia has reminded me this summer that I need to hit the reset button every once in a while and reflect on how I am living my life. A teacher's life is not measured in calendar years. It is marked by bells, and semesters, and holiday breaks. Maintaining joy and enthusiasm makes the tough days easier, the fun days more memorable, and the important days more meaningful.

Watching Harper run to the door of the library and turn sharply left toward the children's section brings me great joy. Fostering a love of learning and reading starts early. Books provide us with an opportunity to explore the world beyond ourselves. While sometimes the stories we discover and the paths we travel are filled with trepidation and loss, life can seem immediately more joyful when we take the time to view the world as a small child does - wonderful with each new page.

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