Influence on Wheels

I have written before about the importance of conversations with children.  Moms or dads who do the school run each day have prime time with their kids if they recognize it.

I have been the primary school driver, and there are many great memories (and some not so great) of conversations that have taken place in my van through the years. I mention the not-so-great ones, as conversations with kids are not always all sweetness and light. The teen years come to mind. In any event, if you’re listening, you can hear what’s going on in the minds of your kids.

Emily, our youngest, begins talking before she’s even fully in the door of the car at pick up.  She is full of information about her day. She opens her lunch box to retrieve whatever leftovers she can find to assuage her after-school hunger and she then begins to update me on the state of the Third Grade.

Who played with whom at recess, what books she chose on library day, the song they are singing in music class (would you like to hear it, Mom?), those are just a few of the items she shares while munching a half eaten cookie or carrot from lunch.

But if I listen well to what she is saying, I can pick up on some important things. This morning Em shared with me that the teacher has a poster on the wall of the classroom. “It says ‘Do All Things in Love.’ And then, Mom, it listed things you can do to show love.” The teacher who placed that poster up on the bulletin board may not realize it, but  her classroom decoration had an influence on our daughter. It gave us fodder for conversation as we drove down the road on the way to school this morning.

“There was a girl that nobody was playing with,” Em announced the other day. “I went to talk to her.”  Another conversation started that reinforced the right thing that Emily did. “Someday, that might be you without anyone to play with,” I added. Em nodded. She gets it.

Our culture is tremendously noisy.  Media of all kinds can pervade our lives. I have  antipathy for radio noise running in the background in the car or at home. My mom never had radios or TV’s blaring night and day. In fact, it was rarely on at all.  I feel the same way about it. Not only does it clutter up your mind and thinking (I’m not good at shutting it out), but it robs you of conversation time with your children, particularly as you travel.

Each moment with kids is precious, because it is fleeting. I have two kids in their 30’s now, and one nearly 30! Two are already 21. Childhood is a terribly brief time. Children’s character is formed through everyday conversation where values are inculcated, and hopefully, reinforced by what they see at home. Someone is influencing your child’s character and view of the world. Is it you?

Children are hard-wired to sort out what they learn about the world from their parents. We can help them through the increasingly ugly culture they are growing up in by seizing each opportunity we are given  to underscore truth, in love, in their minds. These truths serve as an anchor for their thinking–bedrock upon which to build their lives. Two apt metaphors.

This is also a reason to seek wisdom from God – the source of ALL wisdom and truth–as we attempt to guide our children. These times are perplexing and treacherous. Lives can be so easily shipwrecked with the lying siren song of the world playing in our children’s ears, forever drawing them to the dangerous rocks.

It’s our job as Christian parents to continually point to the beacon of light that will guide our children through this life. God’s Word is the piercing beam of light that will warn of the jagged rocks that endanger them. It cuts through the fog and darkness like a laser.  “Danger here! Watch out! Go this way instead!”

With a new school year upon us, I intend to make the most of our travel chats. Whether listening or speaking, it’s a daily opportunity not to be missed!



Back to School, Kids!

Will’s school starts shortly, so I had him try on his uniform pants from last year. It’s no surprise that none of them fit. 15-year-old boys have a way of shooting up several inches while they sleep.

It won’t be long before the neighborhood children will be seen walking up the hill to school, their new backpacks on display. There is something about those first warm days of school when summer is just transitioning into autumn that I have always loved.

I have written before about my love for school as a child, more in elementary than in high school (but that’s another post.) My elementary school years were happy ones educationally.

A triumphant return from my first day of kindergarten, 1971.

We walked the two short blocks after our family moved a few weeks after school started. The Lutheran day school and Neeskara Elementary kids walked on one side of Washington Boulevard, and the St. Sebastian’s Catholic school kids in their uniforms on the other side. Occasionally, a little inter-school rivalry would take the form of shouts across the boulevard, but it was always pretty good-natured.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my first day of kindergarten and the joys of Miss Weber’s class. First grade, however, was a bit of a shock. Having come from a largely non-academic, half-day kindergarten, first grade was very serious business. The teacher was not a grandmotherly teacher like Miss Weber. She was tough and got us right to work. Rather than tables and chairs and a big play area in the classroom, the desks were all lined up in straight rows in first grade. It was time for serious work.

They did not push reading in kindergarten back then. I was more than ready and had learned my letters even before kindergarten, but it was in first grade that phonics were taught. I remember the magic of finally being able to de-code letters in a book. It was thrilling to know that I didn’t need anyone else to help me with reading anymore. The world of books was all mine.

The highlight of the year was the spring concert where the girls in each class dressed up like a specific kind of flower. I only remember that my flower costume was a sort of periwinkle color and that we were instructed to leap around the stage while the piano played. Hardly any first-grade girl wouldn’t love being a dancing flower, and I was a very enthusiastic one.

I feel sad to think of children for whom school is not a joy, but an endless source of misery. It doesn’t take much money to prepare school-ready children. It does take a commitment on the part of at least one parent to read and converse thoughtfully with a child, to train a child behaviorally and of course, to provide a stable and loving emotional environment. Without these key elements, children are hindered from learning properly, and are potentially negatively impacted for the rest of their lives. It all starts with the family.

The bins of school supplies are all out again at the stores. I bought Emmy some big chunky crayons today. She likes to scribble with pencils, so I thought she’d like to make some colorful swirlies. Before we know it, she’ll be ready to sit down with me on the sofa with the old phonics handbook that has served our children well. I took 15 minutes a day to drill the sounds, and within a short time, they read beautifully. I’m looking forward to the day when the world of books is Emily’s for life!

For some American children, back to school means back to home-school. The world of American education isn’t what it was. Schools, both private and public, are often a microcosm of the moral anarchy of our culture today. Case in point: I saw pink girls’ notebooks today at Wal-Mart that read, “Eye-Candy” and “Love Muffin.” Seriously. Parents have to weigh carefully what is best for their particular child. Thanks to technology, home educators have an endless array of quality options to choose from.

Even when we home-schooled, it was a delightful day when we all sat down to get started, pencils sharpened, text books and notebooks crisp and new. Each school year is a new beginning with many joys and many challenges ahead. Another one is just about to begin…