SheirandShim invite you to Circle Round the audio hearth
April 16, 2020
Perhaps your child is like my son? Favorite things: French toast /pancakes/ waffles, in no particular order. Second favorite thing: Matchbox set.
Least favorite thing: being forced to sit still. Compelling my male child to sit down and read is about as pleasant as a full opera of nails on chalkboards, and about as healthy for our mental equilibrium.
But a useful fact about my son has been reinforced these past four (Only four? Not twenty-eight?) weeks. His distaste for reading alone while sitting quiet and still does not translate to a distaste for learning. He likes listening to new things. He likes listening to history, for instance, so we read The Story of the World together. He and his sisters are still fascinated with the Titanic, so this morning he listened to an Epic audio book about the discovery of the ship’s remains.
And luckily for kids like my son and perhaps your child, there are dozens and dozens of podcasts made for children. I will not list them all here, because I promised I wouldn’t be that person.
But here are a few in the science and technology category:
- Wow in the World, from National Public Radio.
- Brains On, from American Public Media
- But why? From Vermont Public Radio,
- Tumble, which is done by a husband and wife team in Spain.
Many of these have done episodes recently that break down the Coronavirus, and explain what a virus is, and why we have to wash our hands.
All of the above suggestions come via the Sheir half of SheirandShim, a West Stockbridge podcasting husband and wife duo, Rebecca Sheir and Eric Shimelonis, who together produce a weekly podcast of folktales, called Circle Round. Rebecca carefully curates stories, released weekly on Tuesdays, that she researches from cultures and traditions all over the globe, and her musician husband creates a soundtrack to accompany the recast story.
I spoke to her recently about Circle Round and some other storytelling podcasts.
SC: How do storytelling podcasts and Circle Round in particular approach podcasting?
RS: Some feature a calming narrator reading the story. Some, like us, do it like a radio play. Story Pirates is a high-energy podcast that takes submissions from kids around the world. They are improvisation masters! They are great at turning material into something great for the ear.
In Circle Round, we find folktales from around the world, and adapt them as radio plays. We add sounds effects and original music and cast actors to play the roles. We always have a celebrity guest, and then a bunch of actors to play the supporting roles from around the Berkshires and Boston and Washington, friends who have access to a recording studio.
SC: What’s your favorite episode?
RS: It’s like picking your favorite child. Our kid has listened to “Stella and The Dragon” fifteen times, one of our early episodes, that stars Kathryn Hahn.
A recent episode that was a lot of fun was called “The Fire on the Other Side of the World,” based on a Cherokee myth. Before there were humans, animals ruled. There was no heat, no fire. Then the raven discovered fire on the other side of the world. Yeardley Smith, [the voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons] played the spider who, even though she is small and scrawny, comes up with an ingenious plan to get the fire.
Moral of the story: Sometimes small is best of all. Without hitting people over the head, all the stories have a moral message, like how to be a bigger bolder person in the world. Every episode says, “Now it’s your turn!” We ask them to do an activity to integrate the story into their real lives.
We’ve been bulking up the activities at the end of the stories, and making the activities more hands-on, so kids can spend some real time to do creative things afterwards. We are also shuffling around the order of the stories for this season, to choose episodes that will resonate now. Recently we released one about the importance of community coming together in times of crisis.
We release something fifty-two weeks of the year, but only thirty-five original stories, to coincide with the school year.
SC: Who pays the bills?
RS: We are sponsored and distributed by WBUR. They are the ones who get it on Apple Podcasts, etc., and they handle public relations and marketing. We are the producers, and they write the checks. We’re also working with Storey Publishing on a series of books.
The idea is to take four episodes and adapt them into picture book format, with perhaps a different illustrator for every book.
SC: Do you take stories from listeners?
RS: We do hear from listeners but I am knee deep in research, constantly ordering books from the library. I probably take out 20 books a week, usually, looking for the ideal story. Then once I find one version, I don’t stop. I keep trying to find as many versions as I can, so my own version is well informed.
We did a Wampanoag (a band of several Native American tribes now based on Martha’s Vineyard) story and we heard from a child of Wampanoag descent. He wanted us to know how much he appreciated hearing his culture, and that it was a story he knew.
SC: What would you say to parents who haven’t tried podcasts with their kids?
RS: I’d ask parents to give them a try. You do need tech, but the screen can go away once it’s downloaded. The children can go into their own minds. It’s like when families used to huddle around the radio. It helps them become more imaginative people.
We play kids’ voice memos we’ve received from around the world. We get downloads from 180 countries. Each month we get nearly 1,000,000 downloads. We’ve seen a boon lately, and we’ve had a bunch of press.
Our listeners asked us for more episodes, please, so we released a bonus episode, called “A Cup of Poi,” from Hawaii.
Message from Sheela Clary: If you have ideas or resources that have worked with your kids or kids you know, share them with your community. That means us! Email me at: email@example.com
It’s crisis schooling, not homeschooling! Learn from my mistakes.
April 6, 2020
Good morning, community!
In light of the fact that our local school districts are rolling out remote learning for K-12 students this week, I thought it would be timely today to zero in what remote learning is and isn’t. First of all, it is not homeschooling, as any homeschooling family will tell you. Homeschoolers, for the most part, incorporate in-person classes, activities and/or social gatherings into their schedules. I found this helpful definition of the distinction between homeschooling and what one veteran homeschooling mom calls “crisis schooling,” the “mission nearly-impossible” some of us have set up for ourselves now. (Her post also contains some wonderful reading recommendations.)
I’ve been “crisis schooling” my three kids for the past three weeks, and so I have some mistakes and some smart moves to share with you.
Mistake 1: On day one, double up on coffee, roll up your sleeves and turn one corner of your house into your dream school at home. Transfer all books in the house there, onto two sets of shelves and designate the corner as “our homeschool library.” Organize the available shelf space with reference books on top, games at the bottom, and reading books sectioned off in three areas for each child by interest and grade level, all the while wistfully anticipating the hours your children will spend poring over their own curated section steeped in gratitude for their thoughtful caregiver.
To be fair, my older daughter did once take “Telestrations” (great game! not a mistake!) off the top shelf, and the “Atlas of the World” was put to use one rainy day holding down a corner of a blanket fort, but other than that, no one –- including me– has touched “our” homeschool library.
Mistake 2: Make assumptions about what your child should know. If your son, like mine, is under the impression that New York state is the capital of New Jersey, do not roll your eyes and mutter, “Seriously?” Show him a map of the United States that emphasizes state capitals with a big star, and let him find Trenton for himself. (He’s decided he likes the sound of the word, so now he shows off his New Jersey knowledge as often as possible. Win! Where and how that information will ever come in handy? Who knows! But I’ll take it!)
Mistake 3, extension of Mistake 2: Ask questions that begin with: “What the hell do you think you ———-“ These do not end well. A better choice, which a more patient caregiver might have chosen, could be: “I’m interested in what you ——-” I’ve never tried that. Let me know how it goes.
Better yet, when you see, for instance, that your young child has not, in fact, spent the past hour engaged in completing math equations, as you’d thought, but in poking holes in the shape of a house along the margins of his math worksheet, walk away. Take a deep breath in, deep breath out. Hum a few bars of “Let It Go.” Let me know how that goes, too.
Mistake 4: To pay any heed whatsoever to that obnoxious perfectionist’s voice in your head that tells you whatever you’re doing is all wrong. Big mistake. Huge. Tell that voice to STFU at least until May 4th, and probably, if we’re being realistic, through June. Actually, just delete her phone number entirely. I hereby release you from the burden of feeling you’re doing things wrong.
Our primary roles in regard to children used to be chauffeur, first aid provider and cook. As for me, on a good day, I drove well enough not to draw police attention, mustered adequate sympathy and band aids for accidents, and fed everyone. Winning!
Now, each weekday morning I get out of bed, spin around and turn into WonderMother, whose costume is a black yoga ensemble (no change there, actually) and superpower is ownership of a MacBook pro. She’s a quick-thinking IT professional/ Person Who Can Explain How to Carry Numbers In A Subdued Voice / officer well-versed in the art of psychological warfare against those who would eat ice cream for breakfast and think they can get away with skimming two pages of a graphic novel and calling it “reading.”
I am WonderMothering, of course, while the entire globe suffers through an extreme experience the likes of which none of us has seen before, at a time when what used to be a half hour trip to the grocery store is now a terrifying minefield of do’s and don’ts, and a pack of toilet paper sitting on a shelf makes me cry with joy.
Of course parents are tearing their hair out trying to get their kids to do school at home. You can’t do school at home. With ambition enough, and if you have a very high threshold for family conflict, you can approximate the school setting at home, but you cannot replicate the school relationships.
School at home requires a reworking of the caregiver to child relationship that you’ve spent four or eight or ten or fourteen years cultivating. It demands that everyone instantly adapt to a whole new set of relationship rules. It isn’t possible. In the best of circumstances.
So what should we do? I’ve figured out a few things (well, two) that worked.
If you have a perspective, idea or resource that’s worth sharing, please do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Smart move 1: ART
I find myself more and more drawn to art. My kids are more and more drawn to art. I’ve decided that artwork is schoolwork. It’s spring, so I’m finding myself drawn to the art of the woods, the curve of a maple tree branch that looks like my son flexing his “guns”, to branches that make arches over the path (I’ve started a painting of the aquaduct in Nimes, France to practice making arches.)
In my useful resource for today, here’s an invite to join a webinar on April 9th, by Trillium Montessori, on how to combat stress with art, April 9th webinar for parents and teachers.
Smart Move #2: Give everyone a break
In a prior installment, Julie Haagenson pointed out that middle schoolers (like all of us) are going through a grieving process now. We’ve lost the connections that we took for granted just a few weeks ago. Our social world has evaporated, at a time when people are much more scared than they usually have reason to be. This awareness needs to be incorporated into whatever work we expect children to be doing.
If my son spends an hour poking holes in his math workbook, if my middle daughter decides that videos of fast food production are “educational” and if I know that my older daughter is doing any work at all only because her classmate’s mom texts me questions about it, it’s ok. It really is ok. They are ok. They are eating. They are eating crap, but they’re eating. They are sleeping, albeit with nightmares about the Titanic and being woken up by witches.
When this is over, I want to be able to say that I loved them well during this very hard time, and we all learned a lot about each other.
Welcome to April! Caring for very young children
April 2, 2020
Hello community, it’s April, so congratulations on making it past April Fools Day intact. My only rule this year for pranks was no saran wrapping the toilet seats. Last year I failed to set this rule. I regretted that failure.
I have a couple of very cool things to share with you today before I get to my featured wisdom-sharer, Berkshire Waldorf teacher Somer Serpe, who’s speaking specifically to caregivers of very young children.
FIrst, thank you to Peter Michael Smith, who shared this story on Facebook, via Leo Petrick, who shared it some years ago. This one is for all you parents, caregivers and teachers — like me — who have been trained to think of intelligence and ability in stark, narrow, unforgiving terms.
An elderly Chinese man had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the man bringing home only one and a half pots of water.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the man one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”
The old man smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?
“That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.
“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”
Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.
I just love that. As a student, I was a fast, fluent reader and writer, and so always thought of myself as the full pot. It’s not a useful mindset, I now understand.
Secondly, I so wish I had younger children so I could take advantage of this. Starting tonight, Dolly Parton will be reading bedtime stories every week on Thursday at 7 p.m. EST! The first story is “The Little Engine That Could.”
A reminder, that you are all invited to be in touch with me with ideas, resources or names of smart people I should talk to for this series. email@example.com. I want to share as wide a variety of things as possible, so pitch me something!
And now……more about Somer Serpe.
The only thing we can control is how we show up for each other every day.
Somer Serpe is the parent-child garden teacher at the Berkshire Waldorf School. She works with infants through age three and a half, holding smaller versions of a nursery classroom that includes both children and parents. Their daily activities include a puppet show, circle time and movement games. Children take out the compost and feed goats, sheep and cows. Somer has been an early childhood teacher at the school for 15 years, and also helped start the Apple Blossom Family Center in Wilton, Connecticut.
Here is an excerpt from an email she recently shared with her very young charges’ parents.
Having predictability in children’s days and weeks helps them to feel safe and held like a warm, cozy blanket. They find great comfort in routine and don’t react well to spontaneity, or hours of unending stimulation. They like to hear the same story over and over or walk the same way to the market or have the same sandwich day in and day out. Often if a young child insists on these habits with great force, he is actually letting us know that his world isn’t rhythmical enough and this is one way he can manifest it himself.
We spoke the other day in more detail about advice she’d share.
“One thing I tell parents of kids in this age group [toddlers to preschool] is to always be creating a purposeful and nourishing rhythm to the day. Kids thrive on knowing what comes next, and having things come at the same time each day, and same time each week, whether it unfolds naturally or you need to create a new rhythm.
“It is so easy to throw everything out the window and have a weekful of Sundays, but in the end that does not nourish the little child, and it causes stress for all of us. The adults need a rhythmical life too. It might be the only thing we can rely on, the only place we know our roles in the day. The most important things are meal times and bed times. Those should stay constant.
“I find that having boisterous, active times together outside followed by quiet indoor play or craft, or straightening up toys, is like breathing. Children find comfort to these moments, and transitions are easier between the two. If the children know what is coming next, and the same time is given to each type of activity every day, they flow from one to the next more easily. They don’t get upset because they know what to expect next. They feel safe and held when things are the same. There are fewer tantrums and need for discipline. It’s like a ship that carries us along. Once a rhythm is established we don’t have to do a lot of thinking about, ‘What am I going to do next?’
“Young children want to do what we’re doing. The more opportunities they have to join in our daily tasks, whether it’s folding laundry or sweeping the floor, the better, because they are connecting with us. Also, by doing tasks together, they get done and when kids are down for the nap or night we have more free time for ourselves. If you’re on the computer, you can have a little desk near you where the child can imitate what you’re doing. The child has some semblance of that work, maybe a basket of favorite toys or books. If there are play spaces near where the parent is working, and they can feel your presence, they don’t feel the need to pull your attention to what they are doing. It takes time, but the more rhythmical this can be, the more they do things on their own. Once they’ve had that connection, they can go off by themselves and create their own magic.
“The younger ones need more attention, and their ability to concentrate is limited. But if you have to work while the child is awake, make your time with them really present, so they can then move away. The littlest ones can accomplish this in smaller chunks of time. Typically a two year old could not do much more than 30 minutes independently. Three year olds could work closer to 45 minutes or an hour.
“If you do everything for a two-year-old, they can’t be left much on their own. But closer to three, they want to do things on their own. They have their own mini versions of things we have. The more opportunity we can give them to do things on their own, the better. Through struggling to put on their boots and jackets, the more willing they will be to struggle to create something on their own later. This depends on how often they’ve been allowed to do things on their own.
“When children are constantly entertained by their parents, they don’t develop those skills. Boredom is great because children are on the cusp of creating something new for themselves. Children who are left on their own don’t get bored. If they are allowed the chance to be without constant stimulation, they will have the capacity to let that happen.
“It’s hard for us to let that happen. Even babies can lay on a rug and play with their hands and toes for hours, but we don’t let them do that, because we want to pick them up and cuddle them. But they can be on their own. That’s the beginning of them spending time with themselves.
“We all want the best for our children and we want them to be able to do special things, especially if we didn’t have these things when we were young. We overcompensate. But I think we forget that children have an innate capacity for imaginative play, and if we provide the right environment and step back as adults, it is magical. And every child can do it. But if they are not allowed to, they lose the capacity to do it. They’re working things out, and if they don’t now, they won’t be able to when they are adults. This is building resilience and self-love. You can play in the woods and make your own rules and learn to listen to yourself and so navigate the world.
“Also, remember not everything has to have an end point. It is a process. There is no outcome. There is no, ‘Now, we’ve learned it.’ It is just a flowing through life, taking in everything, and integrating it into themselves, and allowing things to unfold in their play.
“In this anxious time, we are living through ‘now,’
“For the youngest children who are just learning to be in this world, if we are showing that it’s scary and we’re stressed, it is hard for them to go forth. I like to do a quick glimpse of news in the morning and not constantly check what’s going on throughout the day. It is hard to hide our emotions, but we have to let it out where the children aren’t around us, finding time to breathe and meditate and find the silver lining and the good things that are coming out of this. Stuck at home’s flip side is that we get to eat together, we can slow down.
“It has never been like this, where we press the pause button on the world. The only thing we can control is how we show up for each other every day. The really little ones don’t need to know all about this. They feel our gestures, our thoughts. They know. But the extra love and holding and cuddles, and joyful expressions, will go a long way to help them feel safe.
“We have to be gentle on ourselves and remember our children young and old love us no matter what. We don’t have to be perfect or efficient, especially efficient. Those two things are the worst things we can strive for right now with children this age. Even if we are not having the perfect day, they love us and we love them.”
A new installment to start the week: Kids finding their place in the home
March 30, 2020
Happy Monday! Do we all know what’s coming up this week? The Clary family finds that there’s nothing like a well-planned schedule to help get our week kick-started the right way and to establish expectations.
My 13-year-old, Cecelia, recently took over the scheduling task from her younger sister Fiona, taking it upon herself to clarify on the kitchen calendar what’s coming up. Her entry for Monday reads, “Fiona will be a jerk.” Tuesday’s: “Fiona will be mean,” and Wednesday’s, “Fiona will be an idiot.”
So that’s what we have going on at our house. How about at yours? We gotta laugh, right? (By the way, any family who has worked out an actual schedule and finds it useful, please share! Also, please make me a three dimensional copy of your brain.)
Today’s installment comes in the form of wise counsel from Cecelia’s teacher and my friend, Julie Haagenson.
Julie is director of the Adolescent Program at the Montessori School of the Berkshires. She also serves as an adjunct professor for The Institute of Educational Studies at Endicott College, an online Master’s in Education program in Integrative Learning for teachers around the world. She has been working with adolescents for over 20 years in wilderness, travel, counseling, and educational settings and is mom to twin teenage boys.
I asked her what parents and caregivers should be prioritizing for young teenagers right now.
“First of all, I look at mental health and well-being and the emotional impact of what’s happening. Students are experiencing a great deal of loss — loss of being able to go to their school, loss of activities and experiences that were scheduled, loss of face-to-face social interaction. For middle school students especially, their social world IS their world. It’s the way they form their social identity. It’s important to acknowledge that they are experiencing grief. What that looks like from an adolescent is acting out, or looking like they are lazy, anxious, hyper-focused on getting things done. It can come out in different ways.
There are certain things you can do to help teens manage this loss. The first is to set up the environment. They should pick out a workspace at home, set up their materials, carve out a space. The second, set up a daily routine. Consult with family on ways they can contribute the household as many parents may be shifting to working at home as well. These assignments relate to practical life skills and are not trying to fill up a school day with only academics like they are at school. They are not at school. It helps them learn how to establish a healthy routine that includes getting outside, exercise, connection, and, importantly, reflecting on the experience. It helps them feel a certain sense of control over what’s happening to them.
The two main projects we’ve assigned to our Montessori students are to create a documentary object of this time and to choose a personal challenge. The documentary project will be a book that includes artwork, collage, poetry assignments and journaling the details of their experience. We’ve sent them outside and asked them to collect artifacts to include. This is another part of acknowledging and working through the grief of lost social connection and daily life routines. It helps them move through feelings, be creative and have a place to put all of the uncertainty. They can process the experience and have a first-person account of this time in history.
The personal challenge assignment helps them learn to not wait to be told, but to answer for themselves: “What have you always wanted to learn about but didn’t have time?” A hobby or skill they want to improve. A personal goal they will pursue. It’s a chance to teach kids how to find reliable information and take advantage of all the free access to learning resources right now. What would you do with all the time in the world? Someone is writing an original song, others are learning a new language. Teaching them to find their resources is our work as information is changing so rapidly.
Montessori focuses on academic skills but also on life skills; to cook for themselves, clean up after themselves, create a heath and wellness routine. In high school they are getting ready to go into the world, and they will have to figure out how to manage all those things for themselves. This is an opportunity to practice those things in the home with their families’ guidance.
One of the things Maria Montessori wrote about is valorization, promoting a feeling of value for children. For middle school kids, it is important that they feel they are valued members of whatever community they are part of. When we allow them to cook, and care for themselves and others, we give them the opportunity to feel valuable to the family unit. In addition to the fact that it helps the family run smoother, they are learning how to be part of a social community.
In school, they get this value through clubs or sports or in class when they get the right answer. Right now they have lost that community. They’ve lost all those socialization activities that give them that sense of value. If we allow them the opportunities at home, it allows them to feel like they are capable, have value, and are taking care of themselves. We’re helping them find their place within a social context, which is the real work of the adolescent. It can be as easy as inviting your kids into the kitchen to watch you. Just observing to start, like you would with a toddler.
The family right now has to substitute for the social group as the kids are finding new ways to connect from a distance. It’s a lot of pressure on parents to perform. I just read an article about how the latchkey kid generation learned to make do for themselves. We got bored, and got curious; we made do with Chef Boyardee. This “make do” approach takes the pressure off.
We don’t know at this time how this work is going to “count” for schools. We’ve taken off the grading and loosened the due dates. These are invitations to explore and find some joy in learning. What I do know is that establishing routines, and time to be active, and time to pause and reflect, are skills that will help students manage the changes in their lives now and beyond. I am grateful for the opportunity to walk beside them through this process.
So, I vacillate between despair and gratitude. The kids are going through a grief process, whatever that looks like for a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old. They don’t have answers. Will this go longer? Will anyone in my family get sick? Those are real things. And adults are experiencing this, too. We can learn from one another.”
If you have a perspective, idea or resource that’s worth sharing, please do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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March 28, 2020
This is the first installment in what will be an ongoing series of posts that (we hope) will help keep your kids engaged and you sane while they are out of school. We will NOT bombard you with lists of websites. We will offer targeted, useful tips, resources and advice from educators and fellow parents that you can use today.
This effort will be led by me, frequent Edge contributor, South County native, long-time language teacher and mother of three Sheela Clary. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spoken to and read commentary by dozens of local parents. We are caring full-time and unexpectedly for babies and toddlers, kindergarteners and early graders, pre-teens and teens.
I’ve been struck by the degree to which we’re all struggling, though all our struggles are unique, and some of us are struggling with more challenges than others. Just at the time when we most need community, it’s not available. I hope this service will serve as a community substitute, where you can find comfort from, and perhaps provide comfort to, your neighbors.
To that end, we need your help! We are now crowdsourcing both the most pressing needs and best practices in parenting and educating children at home. Please send us your questions, ideas, requests and comments, at email@example.com (Sheela at The Edge) Please do not send me websites unless you’ve personally used them.
Today’s installment, just in time for the weekend: Free books!
Amazon, via Audible, is offering free audio versions of children’s and classic books. There are more than 250 titles to choose from, for the littlest listeners’ introduction to “Winnie the Pooh” and Beatrix Potter, to teens and adults who might take this opportunity to take on such classics as “The Call of the Wild” and “Paradise Lost.” I just finished the Audible version of “Moby-Dick.” Now I get what all the fuss is about! Not sure I would have gotten far if I’d tried to read the paper version.
Don’t get overwhelmed with titles, just pick one and listen! If your child doesn’t like it, choose another! It’s free! And if, like my son, your kid chooses a graphic novel about exploding toilets, celebrate your little reader for finding books that connect to his interests!
We hope you have a restful weekend, and please be in touch with your ideas, questions and suggestions. Remember: There’s no “I” in “quaran-team”.
If you have a perspective, idea or resource that’s worth sharing, please do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org