The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Education

It’s Schoolhouse Rocky,
that chip off the block
Of your favorite schoolhouse,
Schoolhouse Rock!

School House Rock

Learning comes in all forms. Some people are visual learners. Some auditory. Some need to get their hands in the thick of it to grasp concepts the best. I’m of the belief that regardless of what kind of ways you learn best, we retain the most concepts when we’re having fun with those concepts. Sometimes it’s a project in school that got you jazzed to be taking part in, or a teacher that made you laugh while you learned. The association with your enjoyment brings back and retains the knowledge you gained along with it. 

And I think that’s why Schoolhouse Rock! has been a reference point for so many of us from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and to my surprise, beyond.

In case you weren’t around during any of its original run or its encore, the Emmy award-winning Schoolhouse Rock was a series of short animation segments that aired in between various Saturday morning cartoons on ABC. With humor and catchy tunes, they taught elements of history, civics, grammar, science, math, and more. Its initial run lasted more than a decade, from 1973 to 1984, and came back with a mix of new and old episodes for a few years in the early 1990s. 

To my generation, they’re classics, but they’re the sort of thing I’ve always felt would end up being just a fond memory of our childhood when we look back on those halcyon days of Saturday morning lineups, a box of cereal, and toy commercials that flood through our nostalgia-soaked minds. So imagine my surprise when I recently walked into the living room to find all our children laughing along with the series, courtesy of Disney+!

Since the series was released on the streaming platform earlier this month, they’ve watched them over and over again, quickly weeding out their favorites, viewing them (and singing along) again and again.

There’s certainly no shortage of great entries in the Schoolhouse Rock series, but in no particular order, I present to you our kids’ top three Schoolhouse Rock installments to both educate and earworm!

 

I’m Just a Bill

The 1976 classic still gets a lot of play in our home, and its influence already has our 7 year old discussing the process of lawmaking in discussions. Spoofed dozens of times over the years, this one stands out as probably the most famous of School House Rock entries, with a walking, talking bill explaining to a small boy why he’s sitting on Capitol Hill, hoping he doesn’t die in committee, and can one day become a law. History rock that makes an impression – for any generation! 

 

Interjection!

Hey! Wow! Yeow! Hooray! They show emotion! They show excitement! Sometimes with an exclamation point or a comma if the feeling isn’t strong. A wonderful 1974 entry in the grammar themed segments, whether it’s a great grade on a report card, a shot in the bum by the doctor, or losing the big game, this drives home with various scenarios how much the words we use can express ourselves when used correctly. 

 

The Tale of Mr. Morton

One of the later entries into the series, this one comes from the early 90s but is no less catchy and fun.In the story of shy Mr Morton, the song teaches the grammar elements of subject and predicate. Our kids quote its small bits of dialogue all the time and I find myself walking around singing part of its chorus “Mr Morton is the subject of the sentence, and what the predicate says, he does.”


What about you? Were you a Schoolhouse Rock fan? Any favorites on your personal playists? Feel free to share them!


img_5420We certainly live in strange times.

Like much of the world as of this writing, America is dealing with the growing impact and spread of the COVID-19 virus. The numbers seem to grow at more rapid paces each day, and this week the big word has been “social distancing.”

In our area, like countless others, schools have been shut down, and health officials from the federal to the state and local levels are urging those who have the ability to work from home to do so and stay put.

Let me stop right here to acknowledge upfront my privilege, in that I am lucky to have a workplace that, in attempts to be proactive, has directed many of its employees to work from home during this time. My wife, an educator, has the same luxury.

So many are not as fortunate and I want to take a moment to recognize all you’re dealing with – physically, mentally, emotionally, and economically amid already heightened times.

My father, my brother, and other family and friends are among them.

I worry about my parents. I worry about whether my father (who has had 3-4 bouts with respiratory health issues this year) is coming into contact with individuals who could be carriers and not even know it, in a job that shows no sign of making changes to their daily business. I worry about my mother, who has her own share of health issues, who watches our children during the workday and whom I Skyped with for the very first time Sunday night.

It felt a little surreal. They weren’t in another state. They weren’t on vacation. They were their usually 20+ minute drive away. It’s surreal and weird, and I’m sure it unnerved them as well to be talking to a son and grandchildren they see practically every day through now only a screen, but it’s to do our best and protect them. Or at least as best we can.

We’re all just trying our best to watch out for one another. And keep each other safe. Our family. Our friends. Our communities.

In our household, these first few days we are setting our expectations low, but hoping to do our best managing the day to day office work while trying to maintain some type of routine or schedule for the kids when it comes to schoolwork and learning so they don’t fall behind. It will be rough, it will be messy, and it will require patience that I’m not convinced we have, but we’re going to do our best.

It’s an adjustment to a whole new way of living for a bit and acknowledging (and accepting) the interruption to the way of daily life you’re used to.

I have no doubt that, to many, these types of actions may seem overreactive. It’s hard to really feel a threat that you not only don’t see, but don’t see it’s effects immediately around you. But then, I guess that’s the point. If nothing happens, then that means it worked. And that’s good.

Sometimes doing what you feel is right is not always what’s popular.


Classic SesameCan you tell me how to get…how to get to Sesame Street?

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this world who can’t tell you where on dial (okay, even if there are no dials anymore) to find that famous neighborhood where sunny days sweep the clouds away.

I personally have a hard time thinking of any other children’s television program that has consistency come into the homes of families as long as Sesame Street has, talking directly to their audience and guiding them through the essentials of childhood learning, from ABCs and 123s, colors and patterns, and just plain being good people.

The show has left five decades worth of legacy behind as of this writing. Five decades. It is incredible to stop and think about how many childhoods that encompasses, that have been touched and impacted by this product of the Children’s Television Workshop, now known as Sesame Workshop.

So it was with great joy that our family gathered around the television a few weeks back to watch Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Special on PBS Kids. For us, it was a family event. I even made popcorn.

The look-back celebration didn’t disappoint. With songs and clips from throughout the shows storied history, it was a trip down nostalgia lane with Muppets last seen long ago reappearing in various cameos (looking at you, Amazing Mumford, Roosevelt Franklin, Sherlock Hemlock, Harvey Kneeslapper, and Guy Smiley, among so many others).

Even the Baker who famously dropped his plate of whatever it would be at the time, re-emerged, most of his face cleverly hidden by pies, but his voice still provided thanks to a recording from the late, great Jim Henson. “Ten…banana cream…pies!!!!” **tumble** **crash**

And much to my delight, even Kermit the Frog re-emerged for a visit back to Sesame Street, as let’s not forget Kermit was once a regular on the Street back in the day.

Sesame 50th - Susan and BobAnd the humans. Sigh. It just wouldn’t have been a Sesame Street anniversary without a check-in of the human cast members from days gone by. Maria, Gordon, Susan, Luis, Bob, even Linda were all back to join in the fun with a few lines and songs that would make even the most curmudgeonly viewers feel like a kid again. I beamed.

All that in itself would have been enough, but they did even better by having a few performers on the special’s back end to talk about what the show meant to them personally. I was especially touched by the words of Jason Schwartzman, who talked about what the introduction of the character Julia meant to his family.

I can’t think of Sesame Street without thinking of the episode that stayed with me my entire life. Sure, there were songs, and characters and skits that were memorable. And yes, long before I had been working in the world of journalism as a reporter, toddler-aged me used to sit in our apartment using a paper lunch bag to make a trench coat for my stuffed Kermit the Frog so he could be “Kermit the Frog, reporting live from Sesame Street.”

sesame - mr hooperBut what struck me the most throughout the years, no matter how old I got, was the episode that dealt with the death of actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper. The episode first aired in 1982, and my memory can’t distinguish if I had seen it then (I would have been 2 at the time) or as a rerun a year or so after that. But it’s the one that I’ll never forget. It was my first understanding of death, just like Big Bird, and an emotional impact that stays with me to this day.

Five decades of teaching. Five decades of helping. Five decades of giving kids from all backgrounds and all walks of life a chance to say “hey, that’s like me.” It’s what makes Sesame Street so darn special to so many people and has for so many years.

It’s part of why we all wish we could live on a street like Sesame.

Sesame 50th Group


Mr Rogers reflects“There is no person in this whole world who is a mistake, no matter how different that person may seem.

If you grew up watching beloved children’s television star Fred Rogers, you may already know that 1-4-3 was one of countless ways that he found to tell children how loved they were. 1-4-3 are the number of letters in each word of the phrase “I Love You.”

The world can always use some more love, and though Mr. Rogers is no longer here to remind us of that each morning or afternoon on television, hopefully his caring words left  inside the minds and hearts of each one of us as we grew has now taken root enough in ourselves so that we can continue his legacy and fill the world with positivity, caring, compassion, and love for one another and the world around us.

That’s why I think Pennsylvania has the right idea with Governor Tom Wolf’s recent declaration of 1-4-3 Day in the state, using May 23 (the 143rd day of the year) to honor and celebrate the kindness of Pennsylvania native Fred Rogers and the example he set for all of us.

“I’ve proclaimed today to be 1-4-3 Day, Pennsylvania’s first statewide day of kindness,” Wolf tweeted. “Join me in spreading love today and seeing just how far a little kindness can go.”

According to CBS News, the state’s website has also created a “kindness generator,” to help people come up with ideas to show their neighbors some extra care and kindness. The hashtag #143DayinPA helped people to share and track the kindness being shown in deed and word across the state via social media posts.

From new signs declaring areas as “Kindness Zones,” notes of kindness stuck to walls to remind people how very special they each are, to volunteering and helping those who may need an extra hand, the spirit of Fred Rogers definitely lives on.

Kindness can go a long way. And yes, every day should be a 1-4-3 Day, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a day to remind us of why it’s so important. It’s definitely a good place to start.

Well done, Pennsylvania.


mrrogerscrayonsMaybe it’s the calm feeling of the wax being poured into the molds, or the soothing narration as each yellow stick gets stacked, sorted, and place amid a rainbow of color sticks for boxing.

Whatever the timeless appeal is, every day for the past several weeks (no exaggeration. I mean every day), our three year old daughter wakes up, wanders out of her room, the lull of sleep still filling her eyes as they flutter in adjustment to the morning light and her little voice asking us “Can I watch the Mr Rogers where they learn to make crayons?”

Available now on the PBS Kids app for free on your streaming device or mobile device, by the way. Download it if you can…shameless plug from this PBS Kids family.

And so, every morning, for several weeks, mornings have started with that familiar chime of music through the model neighborhood, the friendly greeting of Fred Rogers, who takes some time to show us how to assemble a three legged stool (with leather seat delivered courtesy of Mr McFeeley, of course) and setting himself atop the stool in front of an easel, begins to color away on a large piece of paper. Then comes the piece de resistance! The tour of the crayon factory, the payoff that keeps her 3 year old eyes and mind glued without interruption. And I have to admit, as much as I had a memory of it from my own youth, I never realized how soothing it could be as an adult.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FszGkMqAF0c

There’s more to the episode beyond the tour of course, such as King Friday’s declaration of a coloring contest in the Neighborhood of Make Believe and Lady Elaine’s insistence that winning is everything and makes people like you. This provides the perfect opportunity, as trolley exits the neighborhood and heads back to Mr Rogers’ home for Fred to use Lady Elaine’s skewed perspective as a wonderful lesson to the viewers at home:

“Lady Elaine has just heard about the contest, and all she’s thinking about is winning. Not doing, but winning. It should be the fun of doing it that’s important.”

Mr Rogers at easelFrom there, as he so often does, Mr Rogers reminds us of our contributions to the world with his wonderful song of “You are Special” and lets us know as he exits that “You make each day a special day. You know how, by just your being you.”

She never seems to tire of hearing it, every single morning. And you know what? Neither do I.

Maybe in this crazy world, in the stress and hectic days of adulthood…maybe we could all stand to start our day out with a little lesson and a little affirmation from Mr. Rogers.


pinkalicious 5 minute storiesOur two and a half year old daughter has a book she adores called 5-Minute Pinkalicious Stories, filled with 12 different stories featuring her favorite animated counterpart, Pinkalicious. It was found in her Easter basket, a gift from that hippity hoppity Easter Bunny, and has become a staple of almost every evening storytime.

Twelve stories and adventures in imagination to choose from. Yet, of those twelve, we’ve probably read three. And of those three, two have been read only once. Instead, we’ve read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” several nights a week for the past two months. At times I feel like I could recite it in my sleep and tell you all about Pinkalicious getting chosen to be Principal for the Day before getting sick, or Principal Hart getting sick, or having pink tea with mommy while home from school. For a while I had tried to encourage, perhaps, any of the other stories inside the book collection as I grew slightly weary of this same tale over and over again, or our 5 ½ year old son growing impatient with the same story and losing focus, moving about the room with attention anywhere but the story he’s sat through as well for so many times.

I just couldn’t understand why we were doing this again, and again, and again, but I obliged and we read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” night after night upon her request. Then one night, I got it. It took some pointing out from Meg, but I got it.

One night, within the past week or two, our daughter insisted that she wanted to read the story to us. “Okay…” we said, agreeing but unsure of what we were in for, handing the book over to her excited little hands. “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day!” she happily shouted and then….began telling us the story. No, she wasn’t reading it, but she was telling it, following along on each page and illustration, giving us an abbreviated, but still accurate story, with complete sentences taken right off the page as had been read to her.

kid reading on couchShe was retaining, she was remembering, and she was comprehending it.

That was the power of repetition on her young mind.

A study out of the University of Sussex has shown not only the vocabulary benefits of children hearing the same stories over and over, but that they actually may receive more benefit from fewer stories on repeat than newer stories all the time.

“…each time a child hears the book they are picking up new information,” says Psychologist Dr Jessica Horst who led the study. “The first time it might just be the story, the second time they are noticing details of description, and so on. If the new word is introduced in a variety of contexts –  as happened with those who were read three different stories – children are less likely to focus on the new word.”

So, the next time she wants to hear about Pinkalicious’ Sick Day for the 79th time, or once again “read it” to us, I’m all ears, because I know she is too.


Made a stop at the post office this week and I’m hoping the bank and the water company appreciate the friendly face along with their check.


crayons-coloring-schoolAn open letter to our son…

Tomorrow, you start kindergarten.

The mornings of pure play have passed, and the lessons of preschool now behind us, you set forth on an amazing and new adventure.

I’ll never forget that time driving in the car, back from vacation, when mommy was pregnant with your sister, that you sang twinkle, twinkle little star in the backseat. It wasn’t surprising. We sang it a lot back then. But when we heard you say “how I wonder what you are” instead of the “how me wonder what you are” that we had heard those first two and a half years of your life, mommy and I looked at each other, realizing that change is inevitable. You were growing as you’re destined to do. At some point mama became mommy and dada became daddy. Letters became sounds and words.

You may not realize it as it happens, and there may be times when it feels as though you’re in school “forever,” but a day will come when you look back and smile at what are the most fun-filled, exploratory, and intriguing adventures of your life. Full days. Lunches in the cafeteria. Days on the playground. New friends, and new lessons to be had. It all awaits you as you step off the curb and into this brand new world tomorrow.

You know your ABCs. You can count past 100. You love to sing, to dance, to draw, to create, to fathom worlds of wonder that amaze me more each day, and teach me more about animals and space exploration than I ever learned back in school.

I hope you’ll always enjoy The Beatles and The Monkees as much as you do today, without fear of what’s not current, of what many around you may like or dislike – that the things you love, though they may change over time, are still rooted and attached to the giant heart that beats beneath your chest.

drawing heartPlease remember that not everyone has to like you, agree with you, and that’s okay. Don’t let optimism, the hope, and the bright light that pours out of you ever be dimmed by those who wish to tear others down. Fill the buckets of those around you, but never at the expense of someone else’s, or your own. Just be you. You’re great at it.

As I walk back to my car, I will smile, I will wave, but inside I’ll be juggling the anxiety of knowing we are “letting you go,” off to the next chapter of your life with the hope and confidence (and touch of anxiety, because it comes naturally) that we have given you what you need up to this point to stand tall, to stay strong, to never stop learning, to be kind, and to just be your unique self, no matter what or who you may encounter along the way.

Know that you are loved. That no matter where your path takes you, you will be loved, with all our hearts. Above all else, at this start of your journey and hereon in, please, if there’s one thing to remember, it’s to always be true to yourself. That is the greatest gift you can give to this world, and to yourself.

Just be you.

Love,

Daddy and Mommy


library-shelvesRepository of knowledge. Information Center. Bibliotecha. Whatever you call it, libraries are the bomb.

Do kids still say the bomb?

I absolutely love libraries and these days I’ve rekindled that romance after a shifting mindset with an emphasis on simplicity and purging. This summer, Meg and I made it a goal to sort through the numerous boxes in our basement and closets that have sat there since we moved, and some well before that sat dormant in the basement of our previous house. And while the amount of ‘stuff’ varied, one thing that we certainly had a lot of, was books. Books we’ve read, many books we hadn’t, books we’re likely to never, ever read that just looked nice on a bookshelf. But of those books we had read, they were rarely, if ever going to be read again.

First LIbrary Card Rev1And so this growing fire of simplification was inspiration to start using the public library system more for things that were only going to get one use. The best part of all – we brought the kids with us.

On our son’s fifth birthday, Meg took him to our local library where he excitedly signed up for his first library card and walked away with an armful of books to sift through at home (yes, even though mommy told him to limit it to three). The next week or so were filled with great new stories at bedtime and any random time. And the best part – when we were all done, we brought them back.

No finding shelf space or storage space, no added clutter around the house.

And the selection! So much to choose from, right at your fingertips! Whether some Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems for the kids, or a non-fiction or novel for mom and dad (or graphic novel, even!), we get to enjoy the pleasure of reading, enjoying, then returning and it’s wonderful.

Yes, at times it can be a bit of a struggle to pull the kids away from the fun of toys in the play area, or the cool games on computers or tablets set up for public use. But it’s just part of what the library has to offer folks and I can’t encourage patronizing your local library enough.

library booksLibraries are books, they are knowledge, they are information for the masses versus only those who can afford it. It is access to technology to complete homework, to apply for a job, or conduct important research. They’re more than stacks. They’re a community center.

I know. I know. This post reads as if I only just discovered the library.

On the contrary. I worked in a public library for a bit of time when I was in college and my wife is a school librarian. And we’ve both been visiting our local libraries since we were little, but I think in this modern, internet-commerce world, it becomes easy to hop online and drop a few bucks (or a lot of bucks) for a book we have a sudden urge to read, but might never read again.

Are we done with bookstores and online ordering? Gosh, no. But we’re just becoming pickier about what we want to have eating up space, about what we’re buying that we don’t need to. And visiting our local libraries has certainly helped.

Yes. I’m excited to talk about my love of the library because let’s just think about this for a minute. There is a place where anyone can go, find information on almost anything, or entertaining reading on almost anything, catch up on the newspaper, use resources we may not be able to afford on our own, and all for free, provided we return it or use it in certain parameters.

To me, that’s simply amazing.


Mr Rogers 1980sDid you watch PBS when you were a kid?

I did. I certainly can’t remember all of my viewing habits, but I can tell you unequivocally how comfortable, safe, and accepting it felt even as a toddler to be joined by furry friends on Sesame Street every afternoon. Or how I would run to grab my sneakers to tie and sweater to zip up when Mister Rogers would come walking through his door to open up windows to the world around us and remind us what it mean to be a kind, caring person throughout this thing called life.

I remember when Big Bird and I both needed clarity about Mr Hooper not being on Sesame Street anymore and how it’s okay to feel sad about someone leaving our lives, that grieving is a natural part of our emotions when someone dies. To this day I can’t see that scene where the grown-ups tell Big Bird that Mr Hooper isn’t coming back without feeling the same thing I did all those years ago. The handling of the topic, from producers to writers, to cast and crew, remains incredible.

sesame - mr hooper

Goodbye, Mr Hooper.

Beyond those shows, I can’t recall too much else that I watched. Maybe Romper Room, and when I was older a show called Square One, mostly because of a series within the series called Mathnet, a Dragnet spoof where math problems were used to solve mysteries.

And now 30+ years later, I can say with certainty that there’s never been a better time to be a PBS parent.

We still get new editions of classics like Sesame Street, going strong at almost 50 years old and still teaching not only basic skills like shapes, numbers, and letters that prepare a child for school, but lessons to hold onto our entire lives, such as kindness, acceptance, and staying true to yourself. And my wife can attest to the childlike glee I get when we see familiar faces like Bob or Gordon pop into even some of the newer episodes.

daniel tiger shoesLikewise, the values, compassion, and wisdom of Fred Rogers live on in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as the residents of the Neighborhood of Make Believe, previously known in puppet form on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, spring to life in full-color animation. From sharing, to helping, to dealing with feelings like sadness, jealousy or anger, the lessons of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood are essential not just to a child, but to all of us. Our daughter is only starting to speak, but one thing she’s almost guaranteed to utter is the musical tones that accompany the songs in Daniel Tiger when it’s on.

Of course, there’s so much new and exciting on PBS too. While my son enjoys the derring-do and superheroics, I laugh at all the hilarious situations and jokes as WordGirl tries to put villains, bad grammar and misused words to rest.

ready jet goReady, Jet, Go has not only kindled a fascination with space exploration in our son, but it has captured the attention and awe of our not quite two year old daughter as well. And, I for one, feel I’ve learned so much as an adult about our universe and the vast possibilities that await us beyond the stars thanks to Jet, his parents and friends, and Astronomer and Host Amy Mainzer.

Nature Cat revels in its silliness while showcasing how much fun can be had and how much can be learned simply by heading out to one’s own backyard, along with a little help from our imagination. It also features, I’m convinced, at least half of the cast of SNL.

Wild KrattsChris and Martin Kratt leap from live action exploration of the animal kingdom into an animated world that stresses the valuable balance of our ecosystem and the role that each animal plays within it. Along with that, of course, comes with the threats to that delicate ecosystem by human kind and those who wish to prey upon the animal and natural world for their own greedy gain. The Kratt Brothers have not only transformed our son into a walking animal encyclopedia of habits and interaction, but have made him aware at such a young age to think about his actions or the actions of others, affect the world around us.

odd-squad-full-castAnd of course, there’s my favorite, Odd Squad, which I’ve gushed over many a time before, about an agency run by kids that uses math skills to solve problems of oddness in the world. If it’s a man with a fireplace in his stomach, a person with a laugh track following them around, or dog-obsessed villain looking to take over the world, Odd Squad is on the case. With it’s clever writing, excellent acting, and delicious sense of humor, any adult should be watching this show, regardless if there’s a kid in the room with them.

Then, there’s PBS Kids Family Night, which, in our household at least, has become the modern day equivalent of The Wonderful World of Disney that my wife and I enjoyed watching each week as kids. Family-friendly specials, movies, or marathons every Friday night (and rerun Saturday and Sunday night if you miss it) on the 24/7 PBS Kids Channel that have become ritual viewing for us. I pull out the air popper I bought almost 15 years ago, make a bowl of popcorn and we all gather in the living room for anything from Tiger Family Trip to Odd Squad the Movie, or Wild Kratts: Hero’s Journey. Our kids are already chomping at the bit to see the upcoming Ready Jet Go: Return to Bortron 7 coming up on a Family Night edition soon.

We have basic cable, and when we downsized (long before we had kids), we never looked back, finding all we needed in our television viewing right there on that handful of stations. And when we did have kids, PBS (and now PBS Kids, their 24/7 accompanying channel) became the default for children’s programming.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PBS matters. It offers a gateway to the world for anyone with a television set. No premium channels and the associated pay along with it. Whether it’s arts and culture, or math, science, and reading – knowledge never goes out of style. It’s what allows us to understand one another, to find new ways to think, to move our world forward. And I can’t think of a greater way to use the power of broadcasting than to by empowering our children and future generations with the tools to keep our world, our society, ever moving.



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