Ask a child to point to herself. Where does her index finger land?
If you or I were to point to ourselves, we would likely place our hand on the same destination as that child.
We point not to our forehead, not to our stomach, not to our ear or our other hand. We point to our heart.
I point to my heart because that’s where I live. I live through my heart. I see the world through my heart. I breathe through my heart. I listen to people with my heart. Heart to heart conversations are, for me, timeless, precious. “Your vision becomes clear only when you can look deeply into your own heart.” (Carl Jung).
I point to my heart because I “take heart” when a child smiles. I am “heartened” when I am in the presence of kindness and beauty.
Often I “wear my heart on my sleeve.”
We know we are approaching truth when our actions are “heartfelt”, when we open our heart, when our “heart is touched” by someone’s love, when we have faith to “harden not our hearts”.
We long to get to the “heart of the matter”. We feel “heartbroken” when we are hurt and heartache when we lose a person we love. My heart broke when I lost my sister Karen on May 26th. In so many ways, we identify our true selves with what is in our hearts.
We educators also go to school and more school and more and more school to educate our minds, empower them with knowledge, broaden them with theories and research, deepen them with insight and perspective. And, in the end (as in the beginning) we find our true self in our heart. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou’s heart reminds us.
We are our hearts. So, we need to tend to and care for our hearts as much as we pursue knowledge because if that big bear of a muscle fails, we have nothing left.
Do you tend to and care for your heart? John Donahue tended his heat when he made decisions to “waste his heart on fear no more”. Does he speak for you?
He does for me.
Two week ago, I tended to my heart. I chose to surrender my heart to four and one-half hours of flat-on-my-back surgery. Such surgical tending was necessary for my heart to beat effectively.
The surgery failed. I did not.
I faced my tigers above, tigers below, and tigers within, those clawsome forces that can ignite PTSD flashbacks, and addle me with panic so strong I want to run away. I did not run.
I did the opposite. I shared my fears. I asked for help. I admitted deep vulnerability. I owned my disability, PTSD. The surgery failed. I did not.
The surgery failed. My surgeon did not. Dr. Robotis and his team worked competently, intricately, and diligently to make things right. About thirty percent of the time, heart ablation surgery doesn’t work. When that happens, the surgery needs to be repeated, sometimes more than twice or three times. One colleague tells me a friend required nine surgeries. Another colleague knows a doctor whose heart didn’t heal until the fifth surgery.
So, I ask: What is the deeper message, the second, third, or ninth chance when something we need fails us? You’ve faced disappointments, loss, failures. What does your heart tell you about loss?
I do not love the saying: One step forward; two steps backward. I do not love victim status. I love my life’s unfolding adventure. Today, I feel more confident facing the unknown. Of course, I may still get scared. Terrified. Tigers can circle with neon eyes. Some hearts take a lifetime to heal.
Today, as I just begin to understand this pothole in my pathway, I make choices. I chose to:
When I was a child wounded by my parents’ abuse, I learned from my older sister, Karen, to swallow my grief to avoid, “If you want something to cry about, I’ll give you something to cry about”. Karen modeled for me my family’s “grin and bear it” motto. Even then, I walked my own pathway, using words, writing my parents: “You are choking my heart”.
I believe my parents, their parents, and generations tracing back to island nations scared by warfare lived as best they could. Who would want to pass cruelty and disease onto their children? I love my parents; they did the best they could.
Now the work is mine: as I face this 2nd, 5th, ninth chance to breathe freely, to walk with a stride, to swim without fear of breathlessness, I am grateful.
I may never love surgery. I may never love facing emotional flashbacks. I may never love the possibility that my heart could remain wounded until the end of my days. I can love the hope that comes from having done my best. I can love the belief that the healing I seek will help others. I do love walking alongside my tigers, rather than running from them.
Poets and sages tell the truth in a deeper way than facts and figures:
My task is to listen more fully, to hear and one day better understand the “inaudible language” of my heart. Yes, I will revel at the NAEYC conference this week, pacing myself to be kind to my heart. Yes, I will fly solo to discover Sri Lanka the next week, and join a small group adventure to the “Soul of India” in the weeks that follow. Yes I will celebrate my seventieth birthday New Year’s Eve with authentic gratitude. And yes, I will waste my heart on fear no more.
May we “do at last what we came here for”: claim our birthright to wonder and joy.
~ Holly Elissa Bruno
Do you have some left over pumpkins from your Halloween celebration? Or perhaps your local store or garden shop has some extra stock of gourds?
You can find this and many more science and math activities designed for young children in Teaching STEM In The Early Years. It is never to early to start getting children excited about science, technology, engineering, and math!
As a caregiver of children you probably see your fair share of illness, especially in the winter months. Children are stuck indoors, spending their time close together, and, of course, they love to share everything, including germs!
The first step to fighting common winter illnesses is prevention. That means parents, families, and other caregivers need to be informed about the illness and how to head it off. The images below are great to share with them as we head into colder weather and germ sharing season.
The Common Cold
All of this information came from Hip on Health by Charlotte M. Hendricks, PhD, where you can find tons of practical and easy-to-understand information for a full range of common health topics for caregivers and families. Good luck this winter season and stay well!
Noah Chases the Wind was released in April but was a special story for the staff of Redleaf Press long before that. Many of us instantly fell in love with Noah and the magical world he creates for himself. Just like first-grader Jewel, who reviewed it for the San Francisco Book Review, we enjoy going back to the illustrations time and again to take in the jewel tones and enchanting settings.
This book embodies what we hope to accomplish with the Redleaf Lane children’s stories. Noah encourages children to ask questions and learn in their own special way. It also advances acceptance of those on the autism spectrum and all the wonderful gifts they possess.
That is why we were so excited to find out Noah Chases the Wind was chosen as a silver medalist in the 2015 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards! These awards encompass all that Redleaf Press strives for in our books and brings together a stellar selection of children’s book year after year. The Moonbeam Awards were founded nine years ago “to bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and to support childhood literacy and life-long reading.”
And of course, congratulations go out to author Michelle Worthington and illustrator Joseph Cowman!
“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth”
~ Pema Chodron
“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” From The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World by Pema Chodron
Truth is I’d rather run. Board a plane. Take a hike. Read a book. Listen to Brahms or Marvin Gaye or Aretha. Jump out of my skin. Escape.
I have a certain expertise at running: I’m an escape artist. Houdini and me: we have got our act down! I have run from things scary, painful, disorienting or just unfamiliar.
I learned to be an escape artist as a child. When violence threatened at 12 Orchard Drive, I climbed a tree. I climbed a hilltop. I hid invisible (I prayed) behind a formal chair in my mother’s (un-lived-in living room). Later on, I hid in so many extracurricular activities, chose universities far away, accepted jobs that kept me from tigers.
I became adept at recalling only fully-lighted moments from my childhood while turning my back on dark memories where tigers lurked.
Those tigers are smart cookies. They took up residence inside my heart so I would never be without them. Even in what appears to others as a safe place, I feel the tigers prowling. My heart beats a fast and breath-taking tattoo.
Now to be fair, I also can summon up courage. Not every day. Not in every situation. Not when I’m feeling low in confidence or energy or both. But, yes. I have faced my tigers and even at times befriended them. Those tigers can be my best teachers if I’m confident. As Eleanor Roosevelt reminds me: “We must do the thing we fear the most. We must face down the fear.” You know how lovely it feels to face a fear and reclaim your serenity? That’s one sweet reward.
So what’s frightening me like an out-of-control, plummeting jet? Heart surgery. I have chosen to undergo a minimum of three hours of heart ablation surgery on October 30 at University of Massachusetts Hospital in Worcester, MA. I have chosen this path. Why do I walk into the mouths of hungry tigers?
Three different courses of medication haven’t cured my overworking heart which beats samba or rumba or salsa or the jerk, but almost never, the steady foxtrot. In August, a four-legged octopus, heart monitor with gooey sensors in gooey weather, clung to me like my BFF. “The disease is increasing” reported the monitor.
But I knew that. I knew I could stride for one minute and not be able to catch my breath in the next. Swimming in clear New England lakes? Brilliant until I couldn’t breathe mid-stroke. And keynoting? I fell off the stage in Austin, TX, in a dearth of oxygen. Fortunately, I remembered an old lesson: roll. So I rolled, stood up and kept going (while participants smilingly shook bottles of Aleve if I needed them). This low-to-no oxygen state is not the way I want to live, given I have a choice.
So, having gotten the test results, while waiting for my busy cardiologist, Dr. Dionyssius Robotis, to join me in the consultation room, I looked out the window over the treetops, breathed in and exhaled this decision: quality of life wins. Fear loses. “Set me up for surgery,” I said without question.
The man cares: He’s a surgeon with a concerned heart who looks in my eyes and insists: “Call me anytime, dee-ah”. He rearranged his schedule so I could get in soon and between my travels. I felt resolved. Decisions made are more assuring to me than decisions pending.
That was then: August. Sunny August. Raspberry-picking August. Easy as Sunday morning August.
This is chill-in-the air October. October is “under the knife” month. October is “what on earth was I thinking? What if I chicken out?” month. Maybe you know how this goes: a decision that sounded good gets scary as the change (aka loss, threat, unseen territory) comes closer? Tigers in autumn grow hungrier.
“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth”: How is it that this fear I am feeling is a slow albeit leaky boat to the truth? Maybe truth isn’t as noble as I believe it to be. Denial: now I know denial like I know how to run. Denial has often been my drug of choice as I step toward the precipice.
What’s scaring the blazes out of me? OK, I’ll say it. Think of me what you will. PTSD can terrorize me. From ongoing childhood trauma, including sexual abuse, any unwanted touching, especially an invasion of my body causes (what feels like) unbearable flashbacks. Flashbacks so terrifying and shaming, I’d almost rather die.
Only while confident, can I acknowledge PTSD as my most rigorous professor.
What’s really frightening me? OK, I’ll say it. I’ll humiliate myself by getting so scared I’ll run barefooted and banshee screaming out of the hospital in my (decidedly un-chic) johnnie. What’s really frightening me? I’ll lose it and go crazy like my mom, who (bless her) was afflicted with mental illness and whom I saw lose it too many times. What’s really frightening me: I’m not sure I have enough trust to surrender to the unknown.
What’s really frightening me is Fear’s tiger-y cousin, Anticipatory Anxiety, the storm before the calm. I have scared myself before root canals, cataract surgery, the Bar Exam, flying for 14 hours over the Pacific, leaping from a zip-line platform in Tikal, Guatemala, climbing up the heathered hillside of the Mare’s Tail waterfall in the Scottish Borders.
Stepping back, I was able to find my way to the other side in each of these (once) scary events and come out triumphant (albeit exhausted, but smiling) on the other side. The only fear I was not able to face was the climb up the mountainside in Scotland. A crisply elegant hike up the purple path was exhilarating until I looked down. Down. Way down. I froze. Tigers below. Tigers above. Tigers within. I forced my frozen body to descend one step at a time while looking only at my feet, not down the precipice.
Which of these dynamics will be in my heart on October 30 as I await the opening of the surgery room doors? Will I find courage and trust? Will I lose myself in fear?
I want to believe I will face my fear, stare it down, be strong in my vulnerability, by asking for and accepting every ounce of help that is offered:
My friend Steve will accompany me on pre-surgery day; he’ll listen for what I may miss. My friend, Marina, will move in with me to bring chicken soup, pho, laughter, chamber music, Turner Classic Movies, and a steady supply of novels and hugs. My son, Nick, will ride the doctors insisting: “You do right by my Mom!”
And my dear friends and family are and will be praying for me. So many kind-hearted people want me to have a second chance. Can I be as kind to me as they are?
Hey, I’ll pray for me. I’ll pray to reach for the sweetest of strawberries. Tigers above and tigers below, with neon yellow eyes, take a rest. Tigers within, stick out your paw and pull in your claws. I’m going to look you in the eye and not run. I’ll share the strawberries.
And here’s something new. I want to choose faith over white-knuckle will-power. I want to acknowledge “my” fear, claim it as a predictable physiological, not out-of-control insane, response to a real threat.
May I befriend you, my tigers? How gloriously relieving to imagine you by my side as we stride (or even unsteadily tiptoe) shoulder to shoulder into the operating room.
For most of us school has been back in session for several weeks. The luster of the new clothes, backpacks, and classmates has begun to wear off. So what can you do to re-engage students and get them excited to be there again?
Here are a few ideas to bring back a little of the novelty that sparked excitement the first week of school:
Consider new décor or a new classroom set-up. It can be as simple as re-arranging tables or as thorough as starting from scratch. Involving the children can get them excited about the changes and can be a great way to teach them about a variety of topics.
Even after a short time together children can start to congregate with the same group of people. These friendships can be very good for their social and emotional development, but moving them to sit by someone new can also be a good way to foster friendship among the whole class.
As fall begins the days get shorter and that can make children feel even more like they are “stuck” at school. Getting out in the sun and fresh air year round can be a great way to wake up and get a little energy for the next activity or lesson. Besides, a trip outdoors can be full of educational opportunities.
Enlist parents and family
Everyone is in this together and the grind of getting ready in the morning and evening activities is most likely taking a toll on the whole family. So maybe it is time to re-engage the whole support system and bring back the excitement of going back to school.
Consider having a fall festival, classroom party, or other fun activity for the whole family to partake in. This is also a great opportunity for you to get to know families better and of them to get to know each other. If they feel more engaged they will be more excited about working together and encouraging their children to enjoy school.
How do you keep children engaged as the school year gets underway and the shine of the new year has worn away?
“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
~ Jacques Barzun
Teachers often feel like they are a world apart from other professions. Misunderstood. Overlooked. Undervalued.
Those emotions are why we were so excited to find out Holly Elissa Bruno’s newest book, The Comfort of Little Things: An Educator’s Guide to Second Chances, won the silver medal in the personal growth and motivation category of the Living Now book awards.
This award program is designed to “honor those kinds of life-changing books” and “celebrate the innovation and creativity of books that enhance the quality of life”.
We see the amazing work teachers do daily and how they enhance the quality of life for every child and student they come in contact with. This honor brings that recognition to a wider audience and shows the valuable insights the profession can bring to all of us as students of life.
As Holly points out . . .
Life’s too short to do anything but enjoy it daily.
As hard-working educators dedicated to making a difference, however, it’s easy for us to become weighed down with work and worry. Burdened with the weight of too many responsibilities, we sometimes have trouble looking up. Being burdened, it’s hard for us to remember what it originally meant to educate: To draw out that which lies within. (Latin, educare) What lies within is our birthright to joy.
This book is about unburdening. It’s about looking up. It’s about choosing to take (and offer) as many second chances as our hearts can bear. It’s about reclaiming the joy and humor and passion that are rightfully ours, especially when our joy, humor, and passion are under threat. It’s about drawing out the promise that lies within you, me, and each person we touch.
As we do this, we find and share in all the little comforts awaiting us in our everyday lives.
~ From The Comfort of Little Things
We hope you will join us in saying “Congratulations” to Holly Elissa Bruno and all teachers for this second chance at the recognition you all deserve.
Everyone is heading back to school and child care which means it is time to meet new people and make new friends. For some children, that can be a scary idea and even if you aren’t shy there are times that being the first to say “hello” isn’t easy.
But that one simple word can hold a lot of power. It can be the beginning of a friendship. It can ease the other person’s anxiety and let them know that they belong. It can be the introduction to an opportunity that you may have missed.
To make it a smoother transition and help all the children in your care get to know each other here are a few easy ideas from The Kindness Curriculum.
Activities such as these can make for a more enjoyable environment and helps teach children that it is polite to say “hi”. Hopefully, it can also ease their nerves and make it easier to introduce themselves as they get older and enter new situations . . . a simple introduction can open a lot of doors.