Sunday, January 31, 2010

First Official Neighborkid Dinner

Today we held the first of our official, monthly Neighborkid Dinners, with 8-year-old Holly as our honored neighbor.  This tradition really got its start a couple months ago, when the neighborkids planned and hosted a “Da’Sean Dinner” here at “La Casa Chica” as a way for us to rally around and inspire our fellow neighbor Da’Sean - power-reader, puppy-lover and lizard-catcher extraordinaire.  

Since then, other neighborkids have been saying, “Let’s have a dinner for me!”  This seemed like a great idea, so a new tradition was born.

One thing that makes the monthly neighborkid dinners are a bit different from other student-oriented gatherings is that they are not in response to challenges that kids are experiencing.  Rather, they are a way for us to celebrate and honor our neighborkids and hopefully to discover and invent even more ways that the kids as individuals, and all of us as neighbors, together might reach our fullest potential. 

As the January Neighborkid of Honor, Holly decided on the invitation list and menu, and then picked out pictures that she wanted to include on the invitation that we created together to announce the dinner.  Here is the cover of the invitation, with photos we’ve taken in the neighborhood over the past 6 months that illustrate just a few of Holly’s many neighborly ways:

 Holly invited a variety of people from the neighborhood, all of whom live on our block– neighborkids (including one of our 2-year-old neighborbabies), a few adult neighbors, and a neighbor-pup, along with some family members:  her parents, her teenage aunt, and her cousin’s girlfriend.  She also decided to invite a couple of classmates (one boy and one girl), and some school staff (the principal and two teachers:  not only her current-year teacher, but also her last-year teacher, whom Holly describes as somebody who has loved her).  Holly raised the point that we would need to give these school folks a map, so they could find their way to the dinner.    

Another thing that makes these kid-oriented gatherings unique is that the invitation list is totally up to the child, rather than being decided upon by adults.   This then makes it possible for us to follow kid-wisdom, from which there is much to learn.  Holly’s selections help us to recognize that:
  • Even babies play a significant role in supporting the well-being of kids on the block, and the neighborhood as a whole.  Pets too. 
  • Kids are able to spot particular adults in their life, even beyond those in their families and schools, who they sense matter in helping them reach their potential.
  • Kids recognize the value of loving bonds formed with teachers, which do not evaporate when a new school year begins, and have the potential to provide ongoing caring, even when an everyday classroom relationship no longer exists between the teacher and the child.
Holly also decided on the meal for the dinner:  Cheese pizza, Chicken, Corn on the Cob, and Double Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Here’s a picture of her working on the menu:

One thing that surprised us about the menu was that Holly included wine!  When asked about that she said, “Well, I want us to use your grandmother’s special wine glasses!”  (These are crystal glasses I inherited from my grandmother, which the kids know I only bring out on very special occasions.)  We talked a bit about how some adults don’t drink wine, and we wouldn’t be able to serve wine to the kids either, so how about sparkling grape juice too, which would be just as deserving of the special wine glasses?   So that’s how sparkling grape juice made it on the menu.  What struck me about Holly’s menu planning was the natural way in which she began incorporating tradition and ritual into the celebration.   

In planning for the dinner, we also spent a lot of time preparing materials to share with all the invited guests – “folders” for all the people invited to be on “Team Holly.”  We started by creating a “neighborkid profile” for Holly.  Holly picked out a photo to include at the top of the page – she chose a picture of herself in her fancy Easter dress.  Next she filled in responses to all the questions we came up with:  age, school, grade, teacher, favorite color, favorite subject, favorite book, neighborly talents, etc.

Next came the “4 hopes” section.   What do you hope for yourself in a year?  For yourself when you are a teenager?  For yourself when you are a grown-up?  What do you hope for our neighborhood?  Here are Holly’s responses:

In a year:  To stay on track in school.
As a teenager:  To go to high school and graduate.
As a grown-up:  To have a car.
For our neighborhood:  To have fun as a neighborhood. 

So…talk about neighborkid wisdom!  That these are Holly’s particular wishes is revealing of the extent to which she, as a first-grader, is paying close attention to the messages of the world around her.  My sense is that she is listening to the stories she is hearing (which I have heard in this neighborhood too) about how opportunities are limited without a high school diploma.  She is experiencing both the limitations of not having a car readily available (which means she has no guaranteed way to school if she misses the bus) and also the opportunities that are available within driving distance, when a car is on hand (for example, church, parades, and stores).  She is both generating and involving herself in neighborhood fun, so that she has a genuine appreciation of how fun "on the block" matters.

When we combine Holly's wisdom with a heightened awareness of place (taking a look at a neighborhood map of assets, and a city map of our neighborhood among many, and a county map of the neighborkids' schools in the context of the entire district, along with some distributions that reveal where their schools compare to others on various features), we can begin to better understand the current realities affecting kids in our neighborhood, and to spot opportunities for each of us to make decisions and take action that might help our neighborhkids - and all of us - to reach our fullest potential.

OK, enough already - this is a blog, not a chapter book!  So here are some pics of the celebration itself - thank you for being a great neighbor, Holly!


Scavenger Hunters Published in Our Local Newspaper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune!

Today was an exciting day because the Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters’ "Central-Cocoanut Supreme" was published in our local newspaper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune!  It turns out the newspaper editors read our blog entry posted on January 8, and decided to include it with other community members’ responses to the Herald-Tribune “Suncoast Supreme” challenge!  Here is a link to the Herald-Tribune website, where there is not just a published version of the C-C Supreme, with a cartoon drawing to go with it, but also a picture of some of our Central-Cocoanut Scavenger Hunters!

I was happy to see our neighborkids' wisdom in print, but I did have some concerns about the ways the newspaper introduced us, so I submitted a Letter to the Editor to provide some clarification.  I don't know whether this Letter to the Editor will be printed in the newspaper, but either way it seems worth posting here on the blog as well:

To the Editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

I am so glad to learn that the Herald-Tribune has been following the adventures of the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood scavenger hunters and chose to publish the “Central-Cocoanut Supreme” in Sunday’s paper. However, the introductory description of the scavenger hunters provided by the Herald-Tribune, and my role in relationship to the scavenger hunters, deserve some clarification.

Our Central-Cocoanut neighborhood scavenger hunters are neighbors on a quest to explore all the great things in our own neighborhood, and to discover how we might increase our sense of connection and belonging in this particular patch of Sarasota that we call home.

While there are several of us adults who are “honorary” scavenger hunters, the great majority of the scavenger hunters are neighborkids. We follow our neighborkids’ lead because kids are naturally inclined to make friends, tell stories, and be curious, playful and exuberant – the very qualities that make for gifted neighborhood changemakers, community leaders, and social innovators.

Neighborhood scavenger hunting is something we do together as neighbors because it’s fun, and we love it here, and we are explorers and inventors at heart. This is not a formal service program. It is not an “out-of-school-time initiative.” It is about being neighbors together, with intention and awareness.

The Herald-Tribune introduced me as a “children’s advocate and mental health professional.” I am so grateful for the education, training, and experience I have gained as a child psychologist and children’s advocate because it has shaped who I am, and it helps me to pay attention to and recognize the wisdom emerging on the block every day. However, when I am at home in my neighborhood, these are not the “hats I wear.” At home in Central-Cocoanut, I am not Dr. Pinto; I am Miss Allison -- a name bestowed on me by my fellow neighbors, which I have come to treasure.

The scavenger hunters are not “my” scavenger hunters as reported in the Herald-Tribune; rather, we all belong to one another, as fellow neighbors.

And before we know it, we might just turn this community upside down.

Allison Pinto

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Each of Us - One Wild and Precious Life - Together

Today I witnessed something incredibly special when I visited the D's across the street.  Our newest neighbor, little Oschonna (or "Onna," as she is affectionately nick-named), has grown a bit since she was born a month ago, so her mom finally let Onna's oldest sister hold her.    Seeing 1-month-old Onna and 10-year-old Dalisha together felt like seeing the best of what's in store for all of us in the future.  I was reminded of the question Mary Oliver asks in her poem, "The Summer Day:"

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

With your one wild and precious life?"

Sisters Onna and Dalisha are to me a real-life image of "pure potential," and a reminder of all we have to be so very hopeful about... 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Our Neighborkids are Some Serious Award Winners!

Today puppy Gus, Holly, and I stopped by Amorie’s house and were chatting with his family.  Suddenly Amorie’s grandma, Miss Barbara, called over to him and said, “Amorie, did you tell Miss Allison about your awards?”  When he said no, she replied, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell Miss Allison about them!”  At that, Amorie darted inside, and in a few minutes he came out with not one but a handful of awards that he received in school this week!  It turns out that at Gocio Elementary, this is a time of the school year when “Renaissance Awards” are given out to students, as well as classroom awards.  

Thanks to Holly, who shared her Gocio student agenda book with me later when we got home so that I could read some about the Gocio school traditions and culture, I soon learned that these are a few categories included in the Renaissance Awards:
  • The “Principal’s Award” is given to students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, O’s (outstanding) and S’s (satisfactory) in all academic areas, and behavior and work habits that reflect ongoing student effort and no office referrals resulting in in-school or out-of-school suspensions. 
  • The “Super Citizen” award is given to students who are respectful to others and positive role models.
  • The “Awesome Attendance” award is for students who are present and on time every day.
Luckily, I had my camera with me when Amorie came out with his handful of awards, so I said, “Amorie, let’s take a picture - this is definitely a photo op!”  The next thing I knew, Amorie was offering to share his awards with Holly, so they both could be in the picture.  Holly told us that she got one of the same awards that Amorie got, so that is the one she is sharing in the picture.

Once we snapped the photo, lots of other neighborkids started talking about how they got awards at school too!  So here are some pics of some preschool award winners I had the honor of photographing on Amorie’s front porch:


It didn’t stop there.  Soon Ray Ray was saying, “Miss Allison, we have lots down at our house too – why don’t you drive down to our house to come see?”  And at that, a bunch of kids hopped on their bikes and sped down the street, so Holly and I hopped in the car to follow.  DuShun told us that his bicycle tire was flat, so he hopped in the backseat with Holly too.  To add to the excitement, DuShun brought along Semaj’s electric guitar, and as we were driving down the block he was playing it, and even teaching Holly how to play.  DuShun is one talented musician!

Before long we were at Amorie’s cousins’ house (Ray Ray, DuShun, Quan, James and Semaj).   Ray Ray had already announced to her brothers that we were on our way to see their awards, so when we arrived…WOW!  They weren’t kidding!  I couldn’t believe how many awards they had to show us!  Turns out we’ve got some serious high achievers in our neighborhood! 

What a tremendous discovery we made today – finding out that our neighborhood is chock-full of award-winning neighborkids.  This is yet another reason I am so pleased to be living in Central-Cocoanut, as a neighbor.  

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dinner Gathering Around Community Self-Organizing

Tonight was the first of hopefully many monthly dinner gatherings for those of us with an appetite for reflecting on community self-organizing.  A few of us (adults and kids, neighbors and others) got together for a homestyle Italian meal of chicken cacciatore, salad, garlic bread, and red wine.  The prep itself was a bit of an exercise in self-organizing, as the first people to arrive scrambled to help finish cleaning up, get the pasta on the stove, and take care of puppy Gus…then, before we knew it, our first monthly gathering was officially underway!   

Some folks had not met before, so as you might imagine, we started out with the kind of everyday dinner conversation that fits when people are first getting to know one another.  It was a reminder of how different it feels to chat around the dinner table than to discuss around the office table. 

Since the gathering was intended as an opportunity for those of us who are interested in community self-organizing to get together to talk and reflect, our conversation then began to take shape around a single question:  Why does each of us choose to live here? Not what brought us here initially, but rather, what keeps us here today? 

Some people responded in relation to Sarasota as a whole, and others in relation to their particular home neighborhood.  These are some of the responses folks shared: 

  • I came here, and stay here, to be with my boyfriend.
  • It feels like there are more opportunities for me here – school-wise, and work-wise.
  • I want to live where my family lives.
  • I like that there are lots of people to play with around here. 
  • I like the energy in the neighborhood – there are always people out and about, and neighbors say hello.
  • I like that the bay is close by, and there is a bay-front park within walking distance.  I can go there to sit and look out over the water and think. 
  • I like the architecture around here, and that you can hear the train rumbling by every so often – it feels soulful. 
It seems that we are attracted to this place for a motley assortment of reasons.    Some of us are choosing to stay close to a beloved somebody; some to stay close to the possibility of opportunities not yet fully realized; some to stay close to surroundings that, for now at least, soothe the spirit and feed the soul.

Why are you choosing to live here today? 

When we pause to consider the great diversity of motivations and attractions that connect us to one another, to various places in our midst, and to the invisible-yet-felt “vibes” particular to this locale, we begin to sense the wonderful, ever-changing, self-organizing nature of our community.  It will never be fully known; it cannot be controlled or forced; it will emerge in spite of and because of us all.  

So how might each of us make decisions and take action that optimally contribute to our community self-organizing for the better? 

We’ll keep asking ourselves this question as we gather once a month for dinner and conversation.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Celebrating Martin as Everyday Neighbors

Today Holly stopped by after riding her scooter for a bit and worked some more on the invitation we are making for the Holly dinner.  Earlier this week she made a list of people she wants to invite, decided on the menu, and selected which scavenger hunter and neighborkid photos of herself to include in the celebration.  Today, she arranged the pictures and typed up some more information for the invitation.  Here is a picture of her sounding out her words to spell them as she types.

We’ll tell you more about the dinner when it happens next week…

Soon it was just after noon, so we telephoned the D’s to see whether they wanted to head over to the MLK parade that was getting started on Main Street in downtown Sarasota, which soon would be coming to our neighborhood.  The D’s dad, Oscar, said Dareeona was getting her hair done but if we could wait until around 1:00, then she could go as well.

That gave Holly time to run home because she wanted to get her purse.  Soon it was 1:00 so Dareeona and Da’Sean came over.  Daree grabbed the copy of My Brother Martin that she’s been reading (it’s the book about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King as a child, written by his sister), to bring it along to the parade, and Da’Sean took along the 15th Street banner we made for last year’s parade and saved for special occasions like today.

Then Holly’s Me-Ma came to pick her up for their weekly Monday afternoon visit, and when Holly told her about the parade, Me-Ma decided to come along too. 

We text messaged Tim to find out how far along the parade was, since he was marching in it.  He said they were at 10th and Orange – perfect timing!  So we decided to head up to the northern-most street in our neighborhood, MLK Jr Way, and then head east a few blocks to the corner of MLK and Orange. 

When we got there, we could see that the parade was fast approaching – it was less than a block away! 

While Da’Sean, Holly and Daree got the banner ready,

Gus and Holly's Me-Ma kept an eye out.

Soon Da’Sean, Daree and Holly noticed something incredible - there was an actual HORSE leading the parade!   That was a surprise for all of us - since we live in the city, we don’t often see horses walking down the street in our neighborhood! Can you see it behind the police car?

When we realized the parade was turning down MLK Way, we decided to cross Orange to stand on the other side of the road. This was a perfect spot because we got to see some of our neighborhood stars in the parade, up close and personal, like Ms. Valerie and Commissioner Carolyn.  Then Da’Sean saw his cousin, who was in the parade and waved!  We saw the people who work at SCOPE too (which is where Gus and Tim work).  We looked for Tim, but he wasn’t with them – he must have stopped marching a bit earlier.  Da’Sean said, “That’s okay – it’s still fun!”

We were standing in a spot that was perfect for receiving all the treats that the people marching in the parade were throwing out to the crowd, like chips and candy.  Here is a pic of some of the students from our neighborhood high school, Booker High, sharing chips.  Yum! 

After the parade passed by, we decided to head over to the MLK park in our neighborhood – it’s the same park we went to for the Juneteenth celebration this past summer.  Since Ms. Allison is still recovering from having her appendix removed, Da’Sean kept hold of Gus’ leash.  That’s when Da’Sean realized how much Gus has grown since the summertime – Gus is so strong now that Da’Sean had to use all his strength to keep him from bounding off, especially when he encountered other dogs he wanted to befriend!

We checked out the different booths and stands at the park but found none that were selling candy apples, so we decided to head back down MLK to a roadside stand where we saw some earlier.

Unfortunately, when we got there Ms. Allison realized that somewhere along the way she had accidently dropped the $5 that we were planning to use for candy apples.  We were so disappointed!  Since the apples cost $3.50 each, and we only had 2 other dollars, Da’Sean and Daree decided to buy something else from our neighbor Ms. Theresa who was running the candy apple stand.  Da’Sean used his dollar to get 4 pickled eggs and Daree got a hot sausage, which left her with a quarter in change.  Not the same as candy apples, but still very tasty!  And it was everything we could do to keep Gus from eating the sausage and eggs on the car-ride home!

When we got home we used the apples in the fridge and the leftover dipping chocolate to make our own version of candy apples.  As usual, Da’Sean proved how much he LOVES chocolate!

Daree got My Brother Martin out of the car so we could read the really good part together, but before she started reading she became curious about the “20 Q” toy that was left out on the counter.

This is the gadget that asks 20 questions and tries to guess what WE are thinking.  We decided to see whether it could guess “Martin Luther King” if we provided it with answers to its questions.  Then Daree and Da’Sean began giving it clues:

Is it an animal?  NO.
Is it a vegetable?  NO.
Is it a mineral? NO. 
Is it bigger than a breadbox or a microwave oven?  YES.

Here are some of the clues that they provided that made the biggest impression on me, because of what they revealed about who MLK is to neighborkids today:

Does it bring joy to people?  YES.
Can you touch it?  No.
Is it intelligent?  YES.
Does it communicate?  Yes. 
Is it an abstract concept (in other words, just an idea)?  No.
Is it a spirit?  Maybe. 
Do you love it?  YES.

Moments later the D’s family was heading out to the store, so Da’Sean and Daree had to go, and Gus finally decided to take a nap. 

There you have it – another rich slice of life on the block here in Central-Cocoanut.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Neighborkids Respond to News of Earthquake in Haiti

This afternoon, neighborkids Da'Sean and Holly stopped by.  Da'Sean told us that at school today he found out about yesterday's earthquake in Haiti.  He asked if he could go on the computer to show us.  He googled "earthquake" and found some stories about the disaster and read them out loud to us.

He also took this cell phone picture of a computer screenshot of the damage:

In a few minutes Dalisha and Chunk Chunk came over too, and then everybody was crowded around the computer to find out what happened.  Dalisha said she wasn't sure what an earthquake is, which is understandable since we don't have earthquakes here in Florida.  Da'Sean explained, "Right now we're floating on lava and plates.  The plates, they be sometimes going wiggly and that makes the ground shake."

The neighborkids checked out some more stories, and these were some of their quiet comments in response:

"I feel bad for these people."
"They don't got nowhere to live."
"Some are kids, some are grown-ups, and babies too."
"Poor little baby."

The kids then counted the money they keep in the baby wipes container that they turned into a cashbox:

This past summer, the scavenger hunters chose to use some of their car wash earnings to bake a cake and make some fruit salad for the family of our neighbor Will Holley after he was shot and killed in our neighborhhood.  Later in the summer, they decided to put some in a card for our neighbor Miss Gloria when her husband died.  Today Da'Sean, Holly and Dalisha talked for a bit about whether they wanted the scavenger hunters to contribute some of the ten dollars left in the box to help the people in Haiti -- because even though they are not our neighbors, as Holly said, "They're still friends."

When it comes to our Central-Cocoanut scavenger hunters, it seems the spirit of neighborliness reaches far...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One Pooped Pup!

Although there are some signs that the country’s economy might change for the better soon, job cut-backs and lay-offs are still an ever-present reality around here.  This week it hit close to home when Gus got his hours reduced at SCOPE.  SCOPE is the organization that's in our neighborhood, just four blocks away, where Gus has been working for the past 6 months as the Office Pup - as greeter, filer, and occasional photocopier.  Here are some pictures of him on the job:  


Did you know that dog-friendly workplaces have been touted for several years as a way to attract and keep great employees and humanize the workplace?  And this year, there is finally a company  considering the same possibilities with babies!  Now I am going to think some about what the implications might be for La Casa Chica - how this place  can be just as embracing of our neighbor-pups and neighbor-babies…

Anyhow, with Gus' reduction in work hours and my continued work commute to Tampa, we needed to find another weekday option for the little guy.  Thankfully, one of the special places in our neighborhood, just a block away, is Central Pups.  (You might remember hearing about Central Pups in our scavenger hunt chapters - it's where our neighbor Jenterrio worked for a bit this past summer.)  Gus went for the first time yesterday, and loved it!  A chance to make a bunch of dog-friends, to play non-stop, and to learn some self-control too.  Mr. George, who is our neighbor and the man who runs the place, has a great way about him - firm and loving at the same time.  I know because there is a "doggie-cam" on the website, so you can watch the dogs playing throughout the day!  

Gus was pooped by the time he got home - climbed up on the couch and fell asleep right away!  Eager to  discover what he learns next with his new friends...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Scavenger Hunters' C-C Supreme

This week, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune is running the annual "Fill-In-The-Blanks Challenge," a Mad Libs of sorts.  This year there is a "Top Chef" theme so it's called, "How To Make a Suncoast Supreme." Here's what's posted on the SHT website:

Seemed like it would be fun to ask the Neighborhood Scavenger Hunters what they thought would make for a good C-C (Central-Cocoanut) Supreme, so as they stop in and hang out for a while at La Casa Chica I am asking them for their recommended ingredients for the recipe - here's what they've come up with so far...

1.  First, place all the trivial problems like ___ on the back burner – (something grown-ups think is a big deal, but you think really is no big deal)

jumping on the couch
sneaking to a friends house
jumping on my bed
us running around playing in the roads

2.  and move the seriously hot ones like ___ to the front burner
(something you think is a big problem in our neighborhood)

calling names, like cracker
not getting along with friends
getting hit or throwing stuff
drug dealers
too much dogs

3.  or more entertaining ones like ___ to the front burner
(something some people think is a problem in our neighborhood, but you think is actually kind of funny)

kids doing silly dancing
people getting mad at other people
telling jokes
the park
the pool

4.  Pepper the area with a pinch of ___
(something you would like to have more of in our neighborhood)

being funny
dancing with hula hoops

5.  and generous portions of ____
(something else you would like to have A LOT more of in our neighborhood)

scavenger hunting
scavenger hunting
scavenger hunting

6.  Stir up some local businesses by adding a slice of ____ to the mix.
(a store you would like to have in our neighborhood)

toy stores
a Walmart
another Publix
a bookstore
another Publix
another Publix

7.  Chill those annoying impatient drivers on our highways and byways by ___
(a way to get people to drive their motorcycles or cars safely around here)

saying “can we PLEASE clean the place up?!?”
stop signs 
stop signs
saying don't bump to people
put a sign up
keep their eyes on the road

8.  Toss out all of the unnecessary ___
(something you wish we didn’t have in our neighborhood)

sad goodbyes
mean people
driving where people are walking
bad dogs
bad cats and kids

9.  Last, but not least, don't even think of adding ___ to the recipe! 
(something you think we DEFINITELY should not have in our neighborhood)

bad people

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dalisha in the Smokifier

Today we read in the Herald-Tribune that the Smokifier vans will be coming to Sarasota this weekend.  These are the vans with photo booths that use age-progression software to show you how you will look in 20 years if you smoke.  Ten-year-old Dalisha, who seems to be one of our most health-focused neighborkids, was captivated by the Smokifier.  She made a strong case for submitting a scavenger hunter pic of herself to the online Smokifier so that we could see what she’d look like in 20 years if she smoked.  Here it is:

Yikes!  Looks like Dalisha is ten, going on 65!

If you want to see what you might look like in 20 years if you smoke, here’s a link to the Smokifier.

Monday, January 4, 2010

These kids, they are a-changin'...

What I Learned Over Winter Vacation - Part III

It has only been four months since we were spending daily time together on the block, but how quickly our neighborkids are changing!  Our neighbor-babies are now walking and talking, and new ones have arrived and are on their way.  

Our puppies are full-grown dogs.  

The Woo Tang has been replaced by The Jerk as the dance-of-choice. 


Kids are reading and writing words they could barely sound out in the summertime.

Shared memories are becoming more interconnected too.  “Remember when…” is now followed by an even richer array of recollections than several months ago.  We are developing a history together, and kids are proving themselves to be natural oral historians.   It feels like a neighborkid culture is emerging…

As my former supervisor and mentor Dan Siegel talks about in his book The Developing Mind, "shareable stories...determine patterns of behavior...and may influence our internal lives in the forms of dreams, imagery, sensations and states of mind (p. 62)."  

Glad we've got our neighborkids helping us create new stories together - and imagine what could happen if we all allowed their perspective to influence our states of mind...

How Thin a Veil...

What I Learned Over Winter Vacation - PART II 

In my work life, I am often part of conversations among professionals concerned about children’s learning difficulties.  Basically, the question goes:  Why aren’t kids – all kids -- learning in school?  Why aren’t they engaged in learning?    

The last two weeks have convinced me once again that if there is a veil cloaking children’s enthusiasm for learning, then how thin a veil it is…

I am remembering the chain reaction of enthusiasm for reading that Da’Sean set off last week when he pulled “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” back off the bookshelf, got comfy beside me on the couch, and started reading it out loud -- with inflection.  Next thing we knew, Dareeona was proclaiming that she would be reading “My Brother Martin” over the break, and Dalisha was chiming in, “No fair!  What am I going to read?”  Even 23-month-old Chunk Chunk was pulling books off the shelf (she seems to have a preference for non-fiction “chapter books”) and play-reading alongside the others! 


I am remembering the neighborkids reaction to the letter left by Santa – how one boy’s initial reluctance to read the note, murmuring “I’m not a good reader,” gave way to curiosity, inspiring him to snatch the letter from another boy’s hands so he could read ahead and be the first to find out all that Santa had to say.

I am remembering the excitement of Dantrae, Dalisha, and Dareeona when they got special permission from their dad to open the family’s decorative gingerbread jar and use the layered ingredients inside to make ginger cookies.  They invited Holly to join in the fun, and once again it was a recipe they followed entirely on their own, careful to keep from burning themselves as they slid the cookie sheet into and out of the oven. 

And then the fun we all had on Christmas Eve making a Feast of the Seven Fishes, even though none of us are Italian.  Daree made the clam dip and it turned out to be everyone’s favorite, and for the rest of the night we heard her say every so often, “I’m a good cooker, huh?” 

I am remembering Dmitri dropping by one afternoon and telling Quan and me over cocoa about how he got in trouble with his teacher the week before when he was urgently trying to let the teacher know about an amazing discovery he had just made.  After the boys commiserated some about what its like to get in trouble I asked:  So what was it you had discovered?  With that, Dmitri announced excitedly, “There is a sea sponge that is so big, a person can fit inside it.  And they don’t even get stung!” 

And finally, I am remembering Amorie and Deandre’s responses to the question I posed on the eve of their return to school.  “So what are you hoping to learn when you get back to school?” I asked.  “To do my work,” said Deandre; “to behave,” said Amorie.  What?!?  Those sound like the kinds of responses you tell grown-ups when you think you’re supposed to tell them what they want to hear!  “No, I mean what do you really want to learn?” I asked again.  After a long pause, Deandre said with certainty in his voice, “Math.  I really like math.”   

Enthusiasm for learning – yep, our neighborkids definitely have got it.  Who knows, Deandre might wind up following in the footsteps of Dr. Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. 

Dr. Hrabowski, who grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960s, still remembers, “When I was a child I used to get goosebumps doing math problems." He shared that with the audience when he was giving a speech to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and then asked,  “How do we help every child have that curiosity that drives them to work through the problem, and that sense of exhilaration when they finally figure it out? There's something very special about that."

It is special, and I’m glad our neighborkids keep reminding us what that enthusiasm looks and feels like – seems to me it’s important not just for kids to experience, but for all of us.