Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln


Many years ago, I enjoyed watching a program called I’ll Fly Away. The show depicted black southerners struggling for civil rights. In one episode the characters were debating Abraham Lincoln’s position on slavery. One commented that Lincoln didn’t do enough to end slavery, and it is true he made the statement,” If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Another person countered that it was his abolitionist position, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which later got him assassinated.

Lincoln’s quote on freeing slaves was made in a letter to Horace Greeley dated August 1862.  In fact, just a month later, he would announce his intent to issue a proclamation banning slavery- now this did not apply to the non seceding slaveholding states, indicating Lincoln was always aware of the political implications of his actions. But if you study his life, you will find that he was a man willing to change his views. He had had little personal experience with slavery, having spent much of his life in Indiana and Illinois, but he definitely became more sympathetic towards African Americans as his presidency evolved.

In fact, I think his views are best summarized in his second inaugural address which he gave just over a month prior to his assassination. When teaching history, I always read this speech to my students. One course ended with the Civil War so the 1864 election was covered. The other course began with reconstruction, but I spent the first day of class giving the background information to the reconstruction era, so I got to read Lincoln’s address to them also. In fact three years ago, I was substituting in a second grade classroom. I had my copy of the speech but was hesitant to share it with such young students. However, I told them what I was going to read, that they wouldn’t understand everything, but to listen as best they could. They listened intently, and even better were able to hold a discussion afterwards. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase, “with malice towards none,” but if you’ve never read the speech in its entirety, or it’s been a long time, then please go here:

There’s a wealth of scholarship on Lincoln; if you’re interested in learning about the influences on Lincoln as he prepared for his second inauguration, I recommend Donald C. White Jr.’s Lincoln’s Greatest Speech. A great biography of his life is David Donald’s Lincoln, and an excellent account of his presidency and political savvy is Doris Kearn’s Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.


Building Confidence in Your Child

samTwo year old Sam proudly spells his name with letter tiles.

When a child first comes to me for tutoring, often he is struggling to keep up in class. To him, his grades indicate everyone else understands the academic material, and he doesn’t. It doesn’t help for parents to tell their children that they too were no good at math or (insert other subject).  This can lead the child to believe he is fated to do poorly.

So how can you help your child succeed academically? Do you constantly tell him he’s smart, but he still puts himself down. Why doesn’t your child believe what you say? When working with one young student, I paid her a compliment on her singing (yes, sometimes there’s singing during our sessions). When she responded in a surprised tone, I asked, “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that before?” She said, “Yes, my parents, but they’re supposed to say that.”  Please don’t think your compliments are meaningless. You love your son or daughter unconditionally, and they need to hear words of confirmation. However, if you’re constantly saying he is special or smart,  it may lose its intended effect. This is a tricky one, because one child might need your reassurance more than his sibling. Notice the reaction you get, and if the your child shrugs it off, then you need to say less. However, it is better to err on the side of praising your children too often than not enough. As their parent, your words will always have a great impact.

Secondly, speak with sincerity. Look for those things they do well which they can also recognize. A child who is struggling with math may have very good handwriting. I point out to math students how important it is to be able to read the numbers and have them aligned correctly as they work. Any math teacher can tell you that there are points lost on tests due the teacher or the student not being able to read his script. If a child is struggling with reading, notice when they use context clues or recognize sounds within a word even if they fail to decode the entire word. Reassure them that they are making progress, and this will lead to their becoming fluent readers. If your child, who is listening to instruction and giving their best effort, brings home a bad grade, direct them to the fact that they got some answers correct. Sometimes it can be the toughest ones. Congratulate them on not giving up and reassure them that they will improve. You are not simply saying they are smart, but you’re acknowledging their intelligence which will encourage them to keep trying.

Thirdly, allow your child to struggle and to fail some. If you intervene too early or too often, the child will think you have no confidence in him. Believe me, this is a tough one because a little frustration is part of the process but too much frustration can be overwhelming. As a tutor, I’m always concerned with giving the right amount of help. When they ultimately succeed, point out how their perseverance paid off. There is always a greater sense of accomplishment when we solve a challenging problem rather than an easier one. When they fail, review the process, how well did they prepare? Can they manage their time better? Do they need more practice? Let the failure be a stimulus to try a different approach to the problem.

So believe in your children; be their biggest cheerleader. Continue to praise them for jobs well done. The good news is that with a few successes, they will begin to blossom, and today’s struggles will become a distant memory.

New Year’s Purge: 365 Items


While many people are putting away Christmas decorations on January 1, I’m ringing in the new year by ridding my home of 365 items. I’m making way for a new year by eliminating those possessions I no longer use which liberates me to focus on what’s really important in my life. I began this tradition a few years ago. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I was looking for a change. I came up with the idea of removing one item for each day of the year, and now it’s a challenge to meet this goal by going through rooms, closets, cabinets, drawers, files and even my pencil holders. It’s amazing how long I will hold onto dried out pens and markers – actually no longer than a year but still. My haul includes clothing no longer worn, the previous year’s calendar, books not perused in years, and those miscellaneous bread ties or plastic containers which at one time I thought would be useful.

Why do I think this decluttering is important, and what does it have to do with learning? Being organized does not come naturally to most of us. Several minutes of many tutoring sessions have been consumed as students search through different notebooks and piles of papers to locate the assignment with which they need help. When I taught history,  on the first day of class, I always gave a list of suggestions for doing well in the course. One suggestion was to be organized. The first step to organization is to eliminate those possessions we no longer use. For me, there is also a release of mental stress every time, I remove clutter from my life. The more relaxed I am, the better I learn. I believe the effect will be similar for you and your child.

Also letting go of physical things allows me to let go of guilt. A perfect example is an electronic keyboard which my mom gave me many Christmases ago. I had taken a few piano lessons and because I was moving from season to season looking for permanent work, the keyboard was a great gift. However, it turns out that I liked the idea of playing more than I actually liked to practice. So even though I would take it out every year or so, it sat in my closet in its original box for more years than I’ll admit here. I actually tried to sell it last year, but there were no takers. A few months ago, I offered it to the music teacher at a local elementary school. She seemed delighted to have it, and it no longer takes up space in my home or in my mind. Plus, I’m happy knowing the keyboard is now being put to good use.

An added benefit to this annual purging is that I’m more aware of what I now allow in my house. I make better purchases knowing which items will make my life better or bring me joy. I find it easier to live by the mantra, bring something in, take something out. When I recently purchased much needed sandals, I stopped at the trash can outside the store, pulled off the old sandals and threw them away, then continued with my errands wearing the new shoes.

So use this as an opportunity to clean out your home as well as bookbags and notebooks. Donate or recycle as much as possible. Here a partial list of stuff I’ve collected for 2019:

  • 38 books (I have already donated 19 to local friends of the library, the remainder are children’s books I’ll offer to a teacher, as well as other miscellaneous teaching supplies)
  • 1 unopened bottle of cough syrup (throw away, it expired three years ago)
  • 1 sewing machine (my niece wants this)
  • 1 mini food chopper, 1 Tupperware container, 1 VCR, 1 video cassette rewinder,1 DVD (to be donated to a charity thrift store)
  • 44 clothing items and counting (some are in bad condition, but the local Salvation Army collects used clothing for recycling)
What will be on your list?

Are You a Reader?

are you a reader

I recently read Breaking Night by Liz Murray, and her story compelled me to write this post. If anyone should have become a high school drop out statistic, it is she. Murray’s family lived in New York City in the 1980’s. Her parents became cocaine addicts while she was still a preschooler; their addiction caused them to neglect her and her sister by spending their income on drugs instead of food. They did not bathe the girls, nor did they get them ready for school in the mornings. After a night of shooting up, they could not even wake themselves. As a result, Murray skipped school more often than she went, and by using her wits, she successfully evaded truant officers. Despite the excessive absences, she managed to pass her year end exams and proceed to the next grade level until she went to high school. At that point, she quit and became homeless to avoid social service workers who would send her to a group home.

At seventeen, while still homeless, Murray made the incredible decision to return to school and get her high school diploma. How was she able to do this? In my opinion, Murray succeeded despite having scant formal education because she could read fluently and had educated herself. In her memoir, she described how her dad kept a book with him at all times. He acquired the books, which he kept, from the New York City public libraries. He managed to do this by acquiring library cards under different  names. Murray, who wanted to impress her dad, began reading his books even before she could comprehend the contents.

The internet is filled with plenty of advice to get your child to read, including this post, How Can I Motivate My Child to Read? which I wrote last year. While I have nothing new to add, I want to reiterate how important it is for children to observe their parents reading and to have readily available reading sources – notice, I didn’t say books.  Growing up, my mom belonged to the Double Day book club and read the latest novels. We were always excited to see which book she would get each month. My dad read Progress Farmer magazine as well as other farming publications. When I stayed overnight with my grandparents, I recall their morning routine of poring over the daily newspaper.

Many parents will say to me they don’t have time to read. My response is to decide how important reading is for your child. If it is important enough, then you should make it a priority to spend at least fifteen minutes reading each day, and encourage your child to do the same. You could read from a devotional book, a collection of short stories, or any publication which adds knowledge needed for job or career. The material doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you are reading. If you want to read for pleasure, but you think it’s an indulgence considering your many responsibilities, then I’m giving you permission to indulge – you’re doing this for your child(ren)’s sake. Secondly, provide material for your child. It can be magazines or books. While there are plentiful sites providing e-books for free, I prefer hard copies which are easier on the eyes.

So now you’re convinced to make reading a part of your daily routine, but you’re at a loss as to where to start. Let me recommend Breaking Night; I believe it will inspire you as much as it did me.

Christmas Break Activities


Now that all the presents have been unwrapped and the fervor of Christmas activities are over, your child may feel a little meh. However there are still plenty of fun projects to do. The children here in west Georgia have another week of break left before heading back to school in January. Here’s a list of my favorite things to do.

Take a winter nature walk: Jim and I actually did this yesterday. After attending church, we took a walk on the Greenbelt which runs behind it. This is a great time for getting outdoors. We feel better with the exercise. We’re breathing in clean fresh air. Also our vision is not hampered by  spring and summer foliage. Look for beautiful or unusual patterns in the barks of trees. Notice seed pods clinging to trees and bushes which serve as food for a variety of wildlife. Feel the moss growing on trees or on the ground. See how many bird’s or squirrel’s nests you can spot. Even on a cold day, you’ll warm quickly and can look forward to a cup of cocoa when you return.

Decorate a tree for the birds: The birds don’t know Christmas is over, plus it is only the second day of Christmas. String popcorn  and cranberries and slice some oranges. to put on a tree which can be viewed from inside. For my tree, I plan to attach some sumac berries with floral wire. And I discovered a recipe for  cute birdseed ornaments here which can be made with gelatin using cookie cutters. Have fun decorating, then enjoy the show put on by your feathered friends.

Visit a nursing home. This is such a lonely time of year for residents. As a girl, this was an activity I participated in with my church, but it’s not necessary to be part of an organized group. You may want to call ahead and let the staff know you would like to visit. They can direct you to the people who would most enjoy your company. You might even have your children bring along a short book to read. This can be a great opportunity to discuss the different ways of giving.

How will you and your children spend the remainder of break?

Fall Break and Mummies


Many schools in West Georgia are enjoying an extra long weekend for fall break. Although there are plenty of pumpkin patches and corn mazes to explore, consider a different type of outing. I recently discovered that the Micheal C. Carlos Museum at Emory University has partnered with Georgia Public Libraries to offer a family pass which allows free general admission for up to six people. You have a week to make your visit after checking out the pass from your local library. The pass can be used during regular operating hours but does not include events, programs, and audio tours (those are $2).

In an earlier post, I wrote about how these trips can really spark children’s interest in history. Whether your child attends a traditional school or homeschools, this is a great opportunity to educate them about world civilizations. To further enhance your visit, you can engage in interactive online activities here before and after your visit.

Be sure to check out the other wonderful offerings at your library.


Museum Day 2016


While some women eagerly await Black Friday to get a great deal, I look forward scoring free museum admission during Museum Day Live! National Museum Day 2016 is happening this Saturday September 24. Smithsonian Magazine sponsors this event in which participating museums around the country offer free admission. If you want to increase your knowledge of just about anything -Native Americans, art, trains, textiles,etc. -and make lasting family memories, then go here to search for participating sites in your area. You can print a ticket good for two people, and some sites are accepting the ticket image on your smartphone. Even if you have a conflict on that date, you should check out the website anyway because you’re certain to find a jewel to visit another day.

Let me know in the comments where you would like to go.