Silence Is Not An Absence Of Sound – Reflections on Gordon Hempton

I had just slipped out the front door in silence early one morning, hoping to squeeze in a quick walk-the-dog, when I realized I’d forgotten the library book I wanted to return. Quickly I turned around, and as I walked up to my driveway, my husband shouted ‘Jen” from the upstairs window.

I screamed.

Breathing deeply, I tried to recover from his startling interruption, all the while scowling at his hysterically laughing face in the window. “OMG – what if you’d been carrying groceries!” he managed to squeak out between bursts of laughter. “You’re so jumpy!”

Annoyed that my silence had been so rudely squelched, I slipped quietly inside, gathered my book, and headed back out. Jumpy? I guess so. I prefer to think of it as my Zen Jen mode that flows so naturally whenever I am by myself.

My family thinks it’s hilarious to make me scream while I’m gardening, or washing dishes, or writing. I think someday it’s going to give me a heart attack.

I’ve crafted a fine art of sinking into silence. It’s a coping mechanism, a centering tool, and most of all, a state of absolute bliss. Silence, you see, is not merely an absence of sound.

I’ve written before about how walking is my meditation. I’ve put hundreds of thousands of miles in during my lifetime, always preferring to walk instead of run, to go slow instead of fast. On a recent walk, I was delighted to listen to Gordon Hempton talk about silence on one of my favorite podcasts, Krista Tippett’s On Being.

I don’t always listen to podcasts or music when I walk; often I prefer to just listen to what’s going on around me, or the thoughts that are floating in my head from a busy day of teaching and mothering. But this day, a blue-sky January morning, I was mesmerized by his words. Hempton, an acoustic ecologist and founder and VP or The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation, blew open my mind with his explanation that silence is an absence of noise, not an absence of sound. His definition precisely named what I’m searching for when I walk, or sit in my garden, or stand on a snow covered mountainside – a way to cancel out the noise in my life in favor of a way to truly hear what is happening around me.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

Aldous Huxley (Music at Night and Other Essays)

It turns out, finding silence isn’t so easy. Music, Hempton says, is a reflection of who we are, and who we are is a reflection of what we hear. As a kid, I remember my sister constantly wanting me to turn down the radio, to be quiet. Growing up, my parents listened to Simon and Garfunkel and country music. In my teens, I became immersed in Goth music, lulled by the almost hypnotic, soothing sounds and emotional lyrics. I met my husband at a punk show – he was the singer in a band, I was hanging out backstage after the show. As an English major, I spent hours in my Berkeley apartment crafting my senior thesis to a background of Chopin and Rachmaninoff.  Hempton’s claim fits me like a glove.

“Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?”

Lawrence Durrell (Justine (The Alexandria Quartet #1))

Intrigued by this idea about silence as an absence of noise, I asked my family what their favorite sounds were. At first, my son replied, “crazy bass”, reflecting his place in the teenage culture of rap and urban music. But on second thought, he shared ”wind howling through the tall pines in a snowstorm far from any other source of noise”. I wonder if he knew that the whisper of pine trees is mine?

Hempton says true silence doesn’t exist; rather, we search for silence from modern life. Judging from the responses of my family, I’d agree. Rain, waves, water rushing, the absence of sound, and the cry of a raven were all sounds that my family loves, and to me, represent what it means to be in a place – of nature’s ‘acoustic system’, as Hempton shares.

Strangely enough, my middle school students are loving nature’s acoustics, too. My last period of the day is a remedial reading class – just imagine, for a minute, trying to get 12,13, and 14-year-olds who have below grade level reading ability to actually READ for 50 minutes.

It’s no small task.

Early on, I decided that my number one goal would be to help them develop a love for reading by learning that reading is relaxing. Every day, one student gets to choose where we ‘go’ for our relax and read time – to the ocean, by a foggy stream, in a sunny meadow, by a crackling fire – and for our ten minutes of quiet reading, we listen to nature sounds. And they love it. Curled up in a beanbag, hearing the sounds of rain trickling down the window (even on a sunny afternoon) helps them to relax and let their bodies and brains travel to another world. Spending time in a quiet environment helps them to calm down, and when they feel safe and secure I can start to help them become better readers. It works.

“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.”

Chaim Potok (The Chosen)

Finally, Hempton shares that silence is an endangered species. He believes that we must take our children away from human-constructed noise and experience spaces and times of silence. We should go into nature, to allow them to experience and feel their body, and to meet the sounds of wildlife. We are born listeners, he states, and as we age we are ‘taught’ how to listen. He believes that it is in nature where we are truly able to notice the darkness of night and an empty our thoughts. I wholeheartedly agree.

As I grow older, I grow more comfortable with the vulnerability of silence. When I’m walking, I feel a shedding of all that troubles me, the burdens of balancing life and the fears about the future slide into the dirt beneath my sneakers. It is in the absence of noise, in the silence, surrounded by the sounds of the world, that I feel most secure, where I find my center and can just be

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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“CURIOUS WORLD” SUMMER TOUR INSPIRING PLAYFUL LEARNING

Do your kids love Curious George? Mine did – and even though they’re past the ‘cuddle-and-read-me-a-book-stage’, I’d bet money that I could still recite from memory how Curious George goes to the hospital, or how he flies a kite…that’s what endless nights of reading the stories over-and-over will do to you!
So when I was asked to read aloud at for the kick off the the Curious World Tour at the California State Capitol, I couldn’t resist! Won’t you come join me Tuesday, July 26 at 2:30 and share in the fun? Just imagine: The welcome truck with a giant map featuring videos of children saying “hello” in multiple languages, relaxing on tree-trunk stools, an outdoor space for kids to engage in various food-learning exercises, an extraterrestrial area expanding kids’ minds, a play area with an open stage featuring special appearances by Curious George,  and a collaborative mural to help kids express their artistic side and learn about team work!
How fun does that sound?
If you can’t make it to Sacramento next week, check out their upcoming dates in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles – it’s going to be fantastic!

Curious World Details:

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT KICKS OFF “CURIOUS WORLD” SUMMER TOUR, INSPIRING PLAYFUL LEARNING NATIONWIDE 
 Featuring Curious George and other iconic HMH characters, Curious World Tour will include six interactive activity stations filled with hands-on summer learning activities, from rocket ship building and story time to dancing and gardening. The mobile experience will be powered by a “Little Blue Truck” inspired by the iconic HMH children’s books by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry. In each destination, the vehicle’s trailer will unfold to create a playful learning environment for children and families.
 
“We know that children are born learning and that play and exploration are essential for healthy growth and development. Our goal with Curious World Tour is to bring unique, fun early learning experiences directly to children and families in their communities,” said Linda K. Zecher, President, CEO & Director of HMH. “HMH’s mission is to change lives by fostering passionate, curious learners, and our summer road trip is designed to engage, inspire, and remind us all that learning takes place everywhere.”
 
178731_CuriousWorldTour_Infographic_HR
Curious World Tour will hit the road in a rugged, colorful vehicle that unfolds to create a mobile playful learning environment for children and families. Explorers of all ages are invited on a personal journey with beloved HMH characters like Curious George – who celebrates his 75th birthday this year – that will inspire them to ask questions, open their minds, and take a hands-on approach to the world around them through interactive, multi-disciplinary educational activities, including:
●      Curious World HQ: The welcome truck with a giant map featuring videos of children saying “hello” in multiple languages, where adventure leaders will give children the opportunity to plan and document their Curious World Tour journey with a Curiosity Log.
●      Story Camp: A tented library featuring HMH characters and award-winning stories – like Curious George, Gossie and Gertie, and the Five Little Monkeys – inviting kids to relax on tree-trunk stools and open up their imagination for story time.
●      Community Garden: An outdoor space for kids to engage in various food-learning exercises, such as planting their own seeds in a decorated pot that they can take home to water and watch grow.
●      Space Station: An extraterrestrial area expanding kids’ minds, encouraging them to think beyond planet Earth with the opportunity to make alien puppets, build space shuttles and learn about constellations in rocket ship light brites.
●      Jungle Jamboree: A play area with an open stage featuring special appearances by Curious George and others, where kids will learn about sound, rhythm and tunes on an interactive music wall.
●      #SparkAMind Color the World: A collaborative mural to help kids express their artistic side and learn about team work as they color in their favorite HMH characters alongside a local artist. Murals will be donated to education institutions and organizations that serve children and families in each local community.
“We are proud to partner with HMH and share the expertise of children’s museums in creating substantive and fun learning opportunities for families with young children,” said Laura Huerta Migus, executive director of the Association of Children’s Museums. “Curious World Tour is not only bringing HMH’s quality resources for families across the country, but is also making a great statement on the importance of play as the foundation of lifelong learning.”
 
In each station, young learners will be able to experience for themselves the power of playful learning inside HMH’s new interactive content service, the Curious World AppThis ever-growing library of learning videos, books and games for children ages 2-7, as well as inspiration for offline activities and tools for parents to be involved in their child’s learning journey.
 
 

Learn more about Curious World Tour here.

 

 
About Ultimate Block Party
In 2009, a small group of educators, business leaders, authors and researchers came together to champion the importance of play in the lives of children. Conceived as a multi-tiered social movement, the groundbreaking initiative aims to ensure that all children are provided with the competitive skills necessary to succeed in the 21st Century global economy as well as build a public dialogue to underscore the value of play in fostering lifelong achievement and social, emotional and physical well-being. The organization’s mission is to change attitudes, beliefs and practices how children learn among families, educators, child-care providers, pediatricians and policymakers. www.ultimateblockparty.com

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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6 ways to help your child get good grades

6 Ways To Help Your Child Get Good Grades

Grades aren’t everything. There’s a lot more to life than getting an A+ on every paper that a student hands in. In middle school, however, students need to know that grades are important in terms of career and the college that they’re able to get into. That is why, as parents, we should be doing all that we can to help our children to get good grades. So that when it comes to it, they have the future that they deserve – that’s what education is about, getting to where you want to be.

6 ways to help your child get good grades

To help your child get good grades –  there are a few simple things that you can do. The key to helping your kids understand that their education is important is the attitude you take to it. With this in mind, here are six ways you can help your children to get good grades.

  1. Make reading a part of family life

Reading shouldn’t be something that your children hate doing; it should be something that they enjoy. If you make reading a part of family life, this will help your children to enjoy it. Reading is important when it comes to grades as kids who are able to read confidently tend to do better on assignments. Have a quiet space in your home for reading where there’s a bookshelf and comfortable seating. This will encourage your children to read for pleasure, as well as for school.

6 ways to help your child get good grades

  1. Offer them help with homework

A lot of the time, kids who struggle at school do so because they don’t have the support that they need. When homework looks daunting, a lot of children get themselves into a state about it. However, if you offer to help your kids with tricky homework, you can help them to get the grades that they need. Sometimes, all kids need is a helping hand. When homework looks too hard, children don’t always know where to start. This can put them off doing it and affect their grades. That’s why offering them help is so important. Whether they struggle with fractions or the different types of essays, being there to support and help them is important.

  1. Incorporate educational toys and games

At home, have lots of educational toys around. This doesn’t only work for younger kids, but older ones too. Have sudoku puzzles, word searches, and crosswords lying around, as these encourage brain power. You could also load tablets with educational games, to help your children to develop their skills. Once children understand that learning can be fun, they’re a lot happier to put effort into their school work. This is important as without hard work; they’ll never get good grades.

  1. Make learning part of life

Learning isn’t just for in the classroom. If you want to help your child get good grades, you need to make learning part of life. Whether you practice fractions with chocolate cake or teach spelling with rhymes, it doesn’t matter. If you want your children to be eager to learn, then making learning part of your everyday life is essential. To get a few unique ideas for how to do this, have a look online. There are plenty of ways you can do this, you just need a little inspiration, that’s all.

6 ways to help your child get good grades

  1. Reward good grades

Make sure to praise good grades. To encourage your children to work hard at school, always make sure to reward good grades. This is important as it teaches your kids that getting good marks is something to be proud of. The rewards don’t have to be big, just little things that say well done. It could be a trip to the cinema, dinner out, or a little gift – whatever you think they deserve.

  1. Encourage their dreams

The best way to help your child to get good grades is by encouraging their dreams. Whether they want to be a firefighter or a school teacher, by telling them that they can do anything, you will drive them to be successful. When your child shares with you what they want to be when they grow up, tell them that to do that they need to get good grades. This will encourage them to try hard at school so that they can go where they dream.

Make your child’s dreams come true by helping them to get good grades. Whatever they want to be when they grow up, having a good education will come in handy throughout their life.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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What To Do On A Rainy Day When You Miss Your Kids?

I love rainy days. I swear I should live in the Pacific Northwest – when I wake up to clouds and drizzle I feel so peaceful. I never wonder what to do on a rainy day – I open the windows just a crack, enough to let the soothing sound of droplets send me into a state of zen. I throw open the curtains, grab my book (right now I’m reading The Book of Night Women by Marlon James) and a cup of freshly brewed Sumatra with cream, and snuggle up.

What To Do On A Rainy Day

 

I’ll admit, though, that when my kids were little, rainy days weren’t always spent in such peaceful pleasure. Keeping two active athletes busy was a trick – and if we weren’t chasing them down the ski course, I was attempting to wrap them up and snuggle them close with promises of Curious George, Madeline, Harry Potter or Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It didn’t matter if we were at home or in a bookstore, those moments of feeling their small bodies nestled next to me, tiny hands pointing to George as he swallowed the puzzle piece and eyes wide open when the Deatheaters appeared are etched into my heart as placeholders of the love I have for my boy and girl.

One day, not too long ago, I found myself alone on a rainy day in a bookstore, and the memories came flooding so fast I found myself in the children’s section, finding comfort in the familiar book covers. While my kids no longer fit on my lap, these moments of what to do on a rainy day fill my heart like a flash from the past.

What To Do On A Rainy Day

Today, my story of that Rainy Day In A Bookstore is featured on the Good Mother Project – you can click here to read it.

And to all those moms who are wondering if El Nino will ever end, please pause, pull out your favorite book and take a moment for yourself. Cuddle up with your baby if you still can, and remember that someday you’ll be alone on a rainy day, wishing you had taken that moment when you could.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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5 Ways To Create A Love Of Reading With Children

Harry Potter

I’ve been helping kids create a love of reading for 25 years.

Some days, I think I’ve nailed it. Others, it’s more of a struggle.

Yesterday, for example, my 8th graders rushed into class babbling about the first chapter of The Pearl; they couldn’t believe it when the chapter was over, and how fully Steinbeck had loaded it with intrigue. And it’s an assigned text.

That’s a win.

Over the last month, though, I’ve been helping one of my struggling readers build up his confidence. He fought me. He pretended to read. He insisted he understood what he was reading. And one day, he broke down in tears.

We had a talk. We found books that were at his reading level (four grades below) and that had interesting topics. And he reluctantly started to read.

He didn’t stop until he had blown through three books and asked if he could try something longer.

This week, he’s pushing himself.

The struggle for the win.

Finding ways to get kids to love reading takes some tenacity, some audaciousness, and a bit of luck. I’ve noticed that the faster we’re accustomed to acquiring information, the less interested many kids become in persevering through a text. They want the answer now, the ending fast, and want to be entertained all the way through.

Kind of like a video game.

So as a middle school teacher, figuring out how to hook kids often makes me feel like an entertainer, a magician, and a task master all rolled up into one tired teacher.

It’s a good thing I like a challenge.

I’ve come up with 5 ways I’ve found to create a love of reading in children. Some are simple, some will take more effort on your part. But all of these will work to develop children who love to read.

How to create a love of reading:

  1. READ every day.

This is sometimes easier said than done, but it really is the number one way to create a love of reading. Think of reading as part of your routine. If your children are pre-readers, read to them. If they are independent readers, schedule blocks of reading time. Teach them that reading time is relaxing, not rigorous. Let them choose what they read, and watch what happens:

It all adds up. Supposing a kindergartener reads/is read to for one minute a day. By the time they reach 6th grade, they will have read for a total of three school days, 8,000 words per year.

If they read five minutes per day, they will total up to 12 school days or 900 minutes and 282,000 words per year.

But if they read my suggested amount of 20 minutes a day, between kindergarten and 6th grade, they will have read for 60 school days, 3600 minutes, or 1,800.000 words per year.

With all those words and all that time, they will be hooked.

     2. READ all types of text.

Read all sorts of things – not only books but also show them print in all forms. Re-read their favorites over and over – when they (and you) have it memorized, they’re internalizing story structure, language skills, and feel successful. Read greeting cards and magazines and board game directions and recipes. Don’t worry if they’re not reading ‘classics’ – just keep trying until they get hooked. Older kids are quickly engaged by graphic novels and books about sports or hobbies. Whatever they’re interested in, find something about it in print and READ.

     3. LABEL everything.

My kids went to a Spanish Immersion school, and to increase vocabulary in their kindergarten class, everything was labeled in Spanish. Do the same thing in your house. Start in their room, and write labels for their boxes of Legos and art supplies. I used index cards and covered them with packaging tape to make them durable. READ the labels as you move around your house. You don’t have to do everything at once – make it a game, and see if every day they can spot the new labels. Pretty soon they will have a huge vocabulary of sight words!

     4. Go to the library.

Make library visits a regular part of your calendar. Schedule a day each week, if you can, to spend an hour browsing and playing. When your kids are little, have them pull out a stack of books and find a cozy spot to read together. As they get older, you can bring your own book to read while they look around. Find out about storytimes or programs you and your child can participate in. Create a ‘library play group’ with a few other kids and take turns being the parent in charge. Celebrate the day they’re old enough to be issued their own library card. Going to the library will open the door to a world of opportunity – and it’s all free!

     5. Create your own books.

Staple together a few pieces of blank paper (or better yet, purchase a bound sketchbook) and help your child draw pictures of their day. Cutting up magazines is also an option (and often old magazines are free at the library). If they’re able to write, have them create a caption. If not, they can dictate it to you. Creating books is a fun way to document a trip, a special day, or just the extraordinary, ordinary life of being a child. Make sure to date the pages- you’ll appreciate that when they’re older. Teens will enjoy having a special journal to draw or write in – a spiral notebook works just fine, and they can customize the cover with cut-outs, stickers, and photographs. Cover with packaging tape to make it durable, and they have their own personalized book.

Even if your child already has a love for reading, adding in new and exciting opportunities to explore text will enhance their abilities and open up new ways for them to learn.

photo credit: A Look Back At Harry Potter via photopin (license)

photo credit: Reading for baby via photopin (license)

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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