For generations, kids have enjoyed "The Tale of Jack and the Beanstalk" and other "Jack" tales. At times, I think that mischievous trickster, Jack, lives among us and has switched from planting magic beans to planting new words in our vocabularies. "New and improved" words creep into usage before we realize. When you ask a question, more than likely the responder says, "Wait just a minute, I'll Google that." You might send Mr. Webster thumbing through his dictionary if he heard that you had a plan to "repurpose" a room. On occasion, nouns become verbs and vice versa.
Sometimes in the name of communication, old becomes new again. Long ago when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was a child, my granny sent me off to school with the words, "Now you be mindful of your teacher." I knew exactly what she meant - sit still and listen to your teacher. Now, in the name of good parenting, we are encouraged to engage in mindful listening. In other words, quit multi-tasking, put down the paper, the cell phone, the remote control, sit still and listen to your child.
As we all know, hearing and listening are oceans apart. We hear kids playing, but we listen when there is a serious change in voice tones. About four to six weeks into the new school year, here comes the fall open house with classroom visitation. We hear about the exciting new year, about parent volunteer opportunities, etc., but we listen intently when it impacts us directly - the notice about fees that never made it out of the book bag, the lost homework, the growing problem with sharing or talking.
It isn't groundbreaking news that establishing a good rapport with your child's teacher is important. The teacher is very willing to join with you to clarify a situation and deal with a small issue before it mushrooms into a giant problem. Some of my teacher friends remind me that occasionally parents assume teachers are gifted with a unique talent - mind reading. Teachers can't always pinpoint a problem. Sometimes trouble begins at home, then manifests in the classroom.
When I taught nursery school, I had a little fellow with a sunny disposition who out of the blue developed a bad attitude and began to hit. His mom was distressed to find that her 4-year-old who played cheerfully at home with his little sister and older brother had morphed into the school's miniature menace. I spent several days sitting on the floor, eye-level with him, and used his name a lot as I chatted with him. I invited him to take my hand or to put his hands in his pockets when he felt like hitting. Possibly he became a little more aware of hitting.
The real turnaround came when without provocation he clobbered his best friend. "Why did you hit me?" the friend asked.
"I am mad!" he said.
"But I didn't do anything."
I didn't hear the squabble, I listened. I sat eye-to-eye with the youngster and asked, "Is there a special reason that you are mad today?"
"Mommy killed my dog" rolled out, and he began to cry.
There it was. The answer so big it filled the room. The dog was gravely ill with cancer and went to doggy heaven while the child was at school. He didn't understand sudden death or why he couldn't tell his dog goodbye. His mom and I brainstormed how he could find closure. Together, the family made a small cement plaque with the dog's name, and he selected the memorial spot in the yard. Before long, Mr. Sunshine returned.
If there is a moral to this story, it would be to establish good communication with your child's teacher before there is a storm on the horizon.
Good communication is essential. Some children tell you more than you would ever want to know. Occasionally, there is a child who is quiet by nature or perhaps becomes uncharacteristically quiet. If your child doesn't want to talk, and you suspect something is lurking that probably should be discussed, you and your child might collaborate on a project. When hands are busy, conversation seems to flow.
Share an art project. A collage is a fun, talk-promoting project. The materials are simple and readily available: a sturdy piece of paper, a paintbrush or sponge brush, white glue and lots of good "stuff." If you haven't started an all-purpose craft box, now is the time as you and your child collect items for the collage. Consider wrapping paper scraps, old pictures. Use string, yarn and fabric, glitter - the works!
Encourage your child cut or tear pictures and words from magazines and newspapers. Store overflow items in the craft box. Observe and chat a little about the picture selections and material choices. This leads to an opportunity to talk about life, death and everything in between.
Usually a theme or topic will emerge and the theme may lead to "high-level" conversations.
Maybe the flat paper collage worked a couple of times or the child is a little older, so it is time to move to something slightly different, a dimensional collage. Any type of sturdy box will do. Square is my favorite. My children called the decorated boxes "talking cubes." They decorated all the sides with pictures and words related to friends, themselves, a pet, favorite likes or dislikes. Depending on the size, the decorated boxes can serve as barrette holders, hair brush and comb holders, pencil and pen holders, spare change containers. The uses are limited only by the imagination of the creator.
"Repurpose" the talk therapy collages and "talking cubes" into thoughtful birthday, off-to-college, teacher and holiday gifts. I feel compelled in the name of communication to dust off that old adage: "A picture is worth a thousand words."
- Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of two books, "All Join Hands: The Forgotten Art of Playing With Children" and "A Gift of Herbs." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.