Sunday, September 29, 2013

Traveling with a child: Good medicine for the soul  
As a result of a school grant , I was able to travel with my partner and our four year old daughter, Bella, to the Pacific Northwest for three weeks, combining camping and Bed & Breakfast stays. The adventure began when we flew into Portland, Oregon and rented a mini-van. Our journey took us through five states, five National Parks, and 3306 miles in three weeks.

As a U.S. history teacher, it was quite powerful to see the majesty and varied terrain of the five states we visited. Simply put, we were in awe. We were also reminded of the simplicity of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. In our post 9/11 world, we, adults, are so cautious and sometimes distrustful. When I was a child, it was absolutely normal to run outside after returning home from school and playing with neighborhood children. Yes, there was “stranger danger” but not like today. There was something about camping in National Parks that allowed us to go back to that era.  Each time we set up a new camp Bella asked us to help her find a new friend. Believe me, she did not need help. She broke down walls of unfamiliarity with ease. Yes, we were with her to be sure she was safe yet, her ready smile and genuine desire to meet new people collapsed any barrier that we adults put up when meeting people outside of what is familiar to us.

Beyond finding new friends, Bella reminded us that we can create new adventures with anything that surrounds us. In Olympic National Park we walked to the beach and immediately, she began racing the waves. As the tide went out, baby dungeness crabs littered the beach. She said she wanted to save the “taxicrabs” and send them back to the ocean. She did not need a pre-determined set of rules or planned activity. Yes, again, we were there to keep her safe but she explored, created, and learned. Our little adventurer helped us have a truly grand journey on land and in our hearts. Perhaps we all need to let our guard down a bit more in order to meet new friends and create new adventures of our own.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Building financial literacy and nurturing confidence in children

Children need to learn basic economic concepts early. One might think this is only to help them keep track of their finances. However, it is a much bigger issue than that. Girls, in particular, need to learn to negotiate and value their own worth. Dr. Linda Babcock, an economist at Carnegie-Mellon University notes, “I tell my graduate students that by not negotiating their job at the beginning of their career, they're leaving anywhere between $1 million and $1.5 million on the table in lost earnings over their lifetime.”[1] In fact, that loss is in the salary alone. Factor in what is lost in benefits which are based on salary, quite often, one loses even more.

The more we integrate vocabulary related to financial literacy into our everyday conversations, the more comfortable our children will feel with the concepts.  The more we discuss everyday financial experiences, the more successful they will be with handling their own finances.

Don’t wait until your children are older to begin to help them develop the language and skills that will make them competent, confident, and effective managers of their financial lives. 

Look for opportunities to use the word trade-off. When we make choices, we are accepting a trade-off.
·        Choose to go to the park instead of a movie
·        Choose one item at the store instead of another
·        Choose to read a book rather than watch television
·        Choose peas over carrots

Another way to look at trade-offs is to consider equivalents.
What is the equivalent value of:
·        A year of tuition?
·        Riding lessons?
·        Money spent at Target in a week or month?
·        Money for a week-end of "fun"- itemize what was spent.

Sit down with your children and go over the grocery receipts.  Which items are wants? Needs?  If your children are older, let them see the utility bills. Talk about what happens when the lights are left on and water is left running. All of these affect the bills. When money is spent on bills, the trade-off is less money for wants.

Look at the collection of Halloween candy amassed by trick-or-treaters. Talk about setting a limit on the number of pieces to be eaten in a day.  This is a budgeting basic.  If one does not consume all at the moment but saves some for later, what one has saved will last over a longer period of time.
ACTIVITY: Decorate four jars of equal size. Make a coin size hole in the top of each. Then put four different labels on the jars: spend, save, donate, and invest. This will help your child see different ways to budget money. You can talk about your family values with relation to these categories, too.

Talk about chores. Do you expect chores to be done? How does this contribute to the household? How does this put a value on how one uses time?  How does this tie in with trade-offs and decision-making?

If your child wants money to donate to a charity, consider having her earn it by performing chores for a neighbor or relative.  Discuss the value of earning money instead of simply handing it over.  This might be a good opportunity to talk about groups who stand on street corners in "bucket brigades" to collect for a group.  Could your child find a way to raise money that puts value back into the community- a car wash, raking leaves, babysitting and giving that money to the desired group as opposed to keeping it? Talk about the value of one's time when babysitting or raking leaves in the neighborhood.  What are your skills and time worth?  If your child simply says, I'll take whatever they give me, how might this translate into a willingness to ask for a fair salary later in life?  This might be a great time to talk about negotiation, a life skill.

The bottom line is that financial literacy opportunities are all around us. With a bit of time and thought, we can help our children build skills and confidence that will last a lifetime.

Some helpful links:
PROGRESS- Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society – offers some great, simple tips for teaching negotiating skills to girls and women 

[1] Ludden, Jennifer. National Public Radio, "Ask For a Raise, Most Women Hesitate." Last modified 2011. Accessed April 9, 2013.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Paying it forward through literacy

“The loss of a tongue is a social, cultural, and even spiritual problem”

- MarĂ­a Virginia Haoa is one of the founders of the Rapa Nui Language Academy, Chile

Teaching is so very far from being a one-way street. I am constantly inspired by my former students. I have had some alumnae come back to school - live and through Skype- and speak to my Economics class as mentors in the business world. Some have come back to speak about their work as lawyers helping to sort out the chaos of the legal system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Another former student shared her work in helping to eliminate "Food Deserts" in Baltimore City.  All of these women (I work in a girls' school Garrison Forest School) are leaders in title and/or example. They create, innovate, and give back to the community.

Ah, giving back. That is where my heart lies.  If my students learn nothing else, I hope they learn about the value of using their gifts and opportunities not only to make themselves happy but, to help others. I adored the concept of "paying it forward" long before it was a movie or catch-phrase. I see my role as a teacher as paying it forward by educating students not only about content but about their responsibility for doing positive work in the world, whether through vocation or avocation.

And what of alumnae, paying it forward, and literacy? Another of my former students, Kate Joyce, joined the Peace Corps after college (actually, a number of my former students have joined the Peace Corps). Among her other jobs have been guiding a girls' magazine and serving as director of a book bank that provided books to massively under-served areas of the world. Her latest venture is the creation and directorship of Mother Tongue Books, a non-profit whose mission is to provide books in the original language of people in areas of the world that have limited resources, particularly books. As they note on their webpage,

"The lowest literacy rates in the world are in countries where affordable good books are not available in the languages people speak, so Mother Tongue Books translates good children's books into mother tongue languages and distributes them through organizations already doing development and education work in low-literacy countries."

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What could be a greater way to pay forward her education and opportunities than to bring literacy to others, in their language? It is not as simple as taking American children's stories and translating them. American stories are filled with cuddly bears and pigs. Imagine these books in the hands of children for whom pork is sinful or bears are frightening. Producing these books involves tremendous cultural literacy.  They also pose a great opportunity for students. Some of our students taking advanced levels of French are working on the translation of culturally appropriate books into French. Not only are they performing a service, they are applying their language skills and they are engaging in meaningful cross-cultural education.

Mother Tongue books is a young venture with a bright future and ample opportunities for student engagement. Travelers, too, can be part of enriching literacy across the globe. Stop in a local bookstore and find a book that is culturally relevant. Send it along to Mother Tongue for translation. They will get it into the hands of children who will benefit so very much from the opportunity to develop their literacy.

Let us all help "pay it forward" by encouraging young leaders and visionaries by supporting their good works. Simple steps can make a world of difference.

For more information about Mother Tongue Books, check out their website or contact:
Kate Joyce, Executive Director

While we're at it, let's celebrate World Read Aloud Day