The Telling Hug by Susan A. Haid, Founder, Peace Out Project

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Last week I was teaching a chapter from the Peace Out Project to a classroom of upper elementary school children. For those of you who don’t know about the Peace Out Project, this is a peace promotion, bully prevention program.

The chapter I was teaching is entitled “True Heart”, and this chapter gives the facts about the extreme abuse that Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender youth experience on a day-to-day basis.  It tells the truth about the isolation, deep despair and desperation these kids feel.

The kids in my class, as always, were truly compassionate about the topic. There was no giggling, joking or awkwardness. They were totally cool with the entire presentation, and actually, had a lot to add about respect and sensitivity towards GLBT peers and classmates. So awesome.

After the chapter was complete, one boy ran up to me, wrapped his thin arms tightly around my waist and hugged me with the abandon of a soul newly unleashed. I was surprised, to say the least, but I didn’t really know why I was gifted with such a spontaneous show of sincere appreciation.  I gladly accepted the gift and gratefully returned the hug.

Days later, this child remarked, “I never heard anyone say it was OK to be gay before.”

Humph.

I’m now treated regularly to wonderful hugs from my dear little friend.  To witness the change in his self-worth is what is so tremendously gratifying and what the Peace Out Project is all about.   I believe this child now sleeps better at night than ever before because he knows that his dad is more than OK, his dad is perfectly beautiful.  I’m sleeping pretty good too.

The kids in this class understand how important the concepts of acceptance and compassion are.   But for them, these are more than “concepts”.  Just ask them, and they’ll tell you all you need to know.  And, you’ll also see what brilliant, open-hearted teachers they are.  You can’t help but get the message.

After all, doesn’t a hug ever so simply say it all?

For more information about the Peace Out Project, visit www.peaceoutproject.com.

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A Magical Education, Part II: The Link Between Singing and Literacy by Susan A. Haid, Author-Producer Lily’s Truth

by Susan A. Haid

For many kids, learning to read is an arduous process.  Of course, there are developmental landmarks that must be reached before literacy skills can reach their full potential.  Unfortunately, standardized testing in today’s public schools require that children learn to read at the same time, at the same pace, in the same way, like cookies punched from cookie-cutters. This leaves little room for a child’s natural rate of development to unfold. This natural rate of development is replaced with pressure to learn before the brain is ready.

When reading skills come easily and naturally to a child, the child feels intelligent and confident about their ability to learn.  Frankly, it should be no surprise that children who learn to read at a slower rate, a rate deemed ‘less than proficient’ by standardized testing, feel ‘stupid’.  Their confidence in their ability to learn is damaged very early on. Moreover, their self-esteem and self-confidence is broken as well.

It has been my experience that slow readers are told to read, read, read. Practice makes perfect.  Of course, what is a parent and a child to do?  This seems like an obvious solution.  However, when a child is placed in a pressure cooker and forced to learn at a rate that is not equivalent to their developmental level, then we have created bigger problems that overshadow mere literacy skills.

It is time that we change how we are teaching our children to read. Instead of teaching in a manner that suits the teacher, a manner that gives the appearance of ease and expedience, a manner that is as old as time, we should be facilitating the learning process in ways that are gentle, enjoyable and elegant for the child.

There is a way, you see, a way that is older than time itself: singing.

Why singing?  To start with, when we sing, the whole brain is involved. Science is beginning to understand the benefits of whole-brain learning; whole-brain learning, or connecting both hemispheres of the brain during the learning process, is highly desirable and extremely beneficial.  Singing accomplishes this along with enhancing fluency and building comprehension of language structure.

Pretty good.  And fun too.

As we cut back on funding for arts in the schools, we need to rethink this decision.   I believe the answer here is to merge arts with education directly, blending the arts with the learning process right in the classroom. Learning will be much more fun for everyone, much more whole-brain, and much, much more joyful and memorable.

I have used this gentle method with my own children.  We still read books, of course, every day.  But when my kids sing along with sheet music and a companion CD, they sing for hours….on and off all day long.  They read and sing their lyrics over and over and over.  This kind of repetition I could not achieve with a book alone.

They are learning to read without barriers and pressure.  They are learning to read in a joyful and magical way.  My house is filled with the sweetness of music and young voices all day long.

By the way, my kids are gaining an education in music too.

The biggest suggestion I might offer if you are going to try this with your own children is this: use beautiful music.  Use beautiful music….kids respond to it, well, beautifully.  Between fabulous Andrew Lloyd Webber compositions and lively broadway show tunes, there is a wealth of grand music to choose from.

Before you know it, your kids will be singing, singing, singing!  And oh gosh, they’ll be learning to read too.

For more tools to empower your children, visit www.lilystruth.com.

A Magical Education: Part I by Susan Haid, Author-Producer, Lily’s Truth

by Susan Haid

As the pressure on public school teachers increases to raise student test scores, and the boom lowers on our kids to perform on standardized testing, as funds drain away and classroom sizes swell, what is the educational experience becoming? More importantly, how much of this knowledge is being retained by our kids? I believe current statistics report that after three years, students retain approximately 20-30 percent of the knowledge imparted in the classroom.

Humph.

As importantly, a question to be asked is this, are our children enjoying school? Or has it become simply ‘nose to the grindstone’ for everyone? I have asked myself this question many times over as I have packed my kids off to school.

Kids, quite naturally, learn through pretend play, imaginative play and physical activity. So why are we asking them to sit at a desk for hours on end, pushing a pencil, with little application of their creative abilities? This just seems counterintuitive to me.

As a personal experiment, this summer I have spent many hours educating my kids in unconventional ways. By the way, I have three children who are ages 5, 9 and 12 years old. We have engaged in theatre games, short plays, art-based mathematics projects, broadway show tunes, monologues, pantomime and story-telling among other things. My goal has been to enhance literacy skills, build complex math concepts and facilitate the emergence of the unique giftedness within my kids.

We have converted my living room and dining room into a playhouse replete with stage curtains and spotlights. We have ‘played’ for hours on end. To my surprise and delight, my kids have begged for more. Most of all, I have had the deeply touching experience of watching my children learn in a magical and playful way that has opened their hearts. My kids are becoming far more expressive, creative, communicative and confident.

Wow.

These are important life skills to cultivate in every child. With a little face paint and some props from our local thrift store, we have made magic in our living room. Funny thing is, my kids remember every detail of what they have learned because they were involved on all levels in their learning experience. Even better, they have had a blast. Best of all, so have I.

The arts are for everyone, not just elite actors or creative types. My boys are extremely athletic, but they have loved every minute of this “school”.  Methinks it’s time to revamp education. Learning can and should be a joyful, memorable experience. Yes, yes, I know that funding of schools depends on test scores. But frankly, I refuse to pressure my kids. I will not have their natural creativity, self-esteem and self-expression thwarted….you see, kids DO define themselves by test scores. This is the greatest tragedy of all.

My kids are learning about who they really are. They are finding tremendous joy in learning, even though most of the time, they are not even aware that they are learning. For them, they’re just having fun.

So, I’ll keep you posted on the growth I witness in my own kids as we continue to play in our home theatre, so-to-speak. We’ll be inviting friends and neighbors to join us soon as everyone wants to get in on the fun.

My kids, in a very short period of time, have bloomed into life. I have found them singing in the shower, trying on different personalities, and experimenting with comedy and improvisation.  So where is all this leading?

Well, creativity is something everyone has and it applies to every endeavor in life. As the world falls apart around us, this just may be the most valuable and important attribute my kids leave home with in the years to come. At the very least, we have made memories to last a lifetime.

For more information and tools for empowering yourself and your kids, visit www.lilystruth.com.

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