Computers or Enrich Thinking

Chairs facing, I learned.

Chairs facing, I learned.

I was raised ‘pretech’.  Elementary school  in the 1950’s and high school in the 1960’s was low key. As a child at home, my time was occupied with reading, gardening, drawing, photography, and roaming the woods. As a teacher in the 1970’s and ’80’s, I rewarded students for finishing their work early with independent investigations and activities, rather than computer time.

Today, as pictures in the news of students with laptops and articles about learning the basics on a computer abound,  some related research comes to mind. One experiment compared a child’s  brain activity during  TV watching to looking out a window. TV watching had almost a straight line or no brain activity.  Looking out the window had significantly higher brain activity. Also, a student’s study effort  rewarded with TV time significantly decreased information recall. Now the question, can computer time enrich thinking?

As a teacher, without a computer, it was natural to enrich the assignments. Giving a report? The student gave a five question quiz to their classmates,  graded the answers, returned them to the students;  and gave a class summary of the results. There would have been no time to use a computer.

Reading groups focused on biographical books about the same person,  then compared and contrasted similar events.  The favorite was the Great Brain series.  For fun, this same sixth grade reread Dr. Seuss for a week! There were a lot in-depth observations during the class discussion time.

To enrich the writing process, students learned how to critique writing – their own efforts and others.  Again, no time for a computer.

In essence, without a computer, they had the time to participate at higher levels of thinking. One last observation: As a child I needed to learn my multiplication facts. My mother sat me down on a chair facing her with our knees touching.  I learned them, and still remember the love.    LOL

VIGNETTE:  I first recognized the computer impact when my son called from work asking how to make his new ‘slightly smaller’ bed sheets stay in place. As I mentioned the words, ‘hospital corners’, he paused, then said, “Got it, Mom.”  The Google search and computer pictorial had beaten my explanation. “Motherhood is on the way out,” I commented to him. He chuckled and hung up.

NOTE: See  for lessons on the above mentioned ideas.   Search ‘reading’, ‘presentations’ and ‘writing’.


Options for Writing Based On Abilities


Success comes when writing options are offered.

Success comes when writing options are offered.

If a teacher captures a student at the writing level at which he can succeed, the child gains confidence to move forward.   Students who begin at the easier levels will move up as they see how other students succeed.   The options listed below led to the  students’ willingness to move to more independent levels of writing. As they succeed, be sure to provide time for them to share their results!

To cover the range from totally dependent to independent writers, these ideas were used.

1.Two children of the same ability work together.  This works because neither child can lean or dominate the other.  As the lesson on enriching writing is taught, these two students work together to develop their work. Both children are responsible for writing a final copy.

2. A child who wants/needs to copy from the board is seated where it’s easy to see.   This approach shows that copying is allowed. Some children may copy everything with no rhyme or reason. They are happy just to be writing!  Over time, as they hear the other children share their sentence/story assignments, they will ‘catch’ the writing process.

3. Encourage enriching the sentences. Take time during the writing time to ask if anyone has enriched one of their sentences. (See the related blog “Young Writers Enriching Sentences”.)

4. Be available to help copy ‘a sentence or two’.

5. Post the introductory sentence, and let students choose from a list of class generated sentences which ones they will copy next. This takes a lot of pressure off a budding author.

6. Spelling. As they call out a word, write it on the board. (For ideas to encourage spelling, go to the website then the blog  Trudi Loves Teaching,  and on to the post on spelling.)

VIGNETTE.   In a fifth grade class, we were learning how to give input to help others improve their writing. The students practiced giving suggestions with a piece the teacher had written.  As time went on, they contributed their own writing for a class critique. One girl held back. Her success in writing was low.  After watching other students have their work improved by their classmates, she reached that day when her hand waved, and she said, “I want my story on the overhead. I want to hear what I can do to make it better.” Listening to her classmates help each other and finding out how the improvement process worked, she became willing to join in.

Not only the children improve in writing over time, but you will find more ways for them to succeed.

Conflict: Permanent Solutions Based on Creative, Radical Change

A bully is not a friend - at first.     From the book  "Can Dragons and Frogs Be Friends?"

A bully is not a friend – at first. From the book “Can Dragons and Frogs Be Friends?”

Yes, it’s tough to find an answer to  conflict.

At present, the goals to finding solutions to conflict range from ‘winning and domination’ to ‘reconciliation and unification’. Counselors in schools and businesses, diplomats and mediators at the national level attempt to defuse conflict with these methods.  But, do they solve it?

In the scenario of most conflict resolution, each opposing viewpoint gives up something until both sides are satisfied.  But, is this really resolution? If there is an underlying ‘simmer waiting to boil’ that wants one’s own viewpoint to ‘win’, then the conflict is only on the back burner. To truly dissolve a conflict,  a creative, radical approach must tempt both sides into a better,  so-far-unidentified, solution.

New geometry. The typical approach to mediation begins with a straight line with the opposing viewpoints at each end.  Each group/person gives up or modifies their viewpoint and moves toward the middle until each side is satisfied.  In the new approach, use a triangle. Write the goal above it.  Then, put each opposing viewpoint in a bottom corner.  Clearly identify each side’s viewpoints. Then, toss them out!  Work to find totally new viewpoints/solutions.  Wipe out any lingering preferences for the original conflicting viewpoints.

To consider the importance of radical changes in viewpoints, read Can Dragons and Frogs Be Friends?  The ‘soon-to-be dinner’ frog offers to help the dragon solve his problem.  This is radical change #1. He is not treating him as the enemy.  Then,  he deserts the other frogs to help the dragon. Radical change #2, the frog is willing to stand alone.

Next, is the frog’s persistent offers to help the dragon which equals radical change # 3. He is determined to help him at all costs.   This defies the usual interaction of dragons eating frogs.  Radical change #4 happens when the frog willingly ignores, then disproves, the ancient forest legend regarding the inevitability of conflict. It is often the history, the past, that straitjackets finding a solution.

These radical changes on the part of the frog disarm the dragon.   Recognizing the frog’s shift in attitude, the dragon shifts his perception of the frog and accepts his help. This is the dragon’s radical change #1. When a second dragon arrives on the scene and threatens to eat the frog, the first dragon defends and protects him – radical change #2. His defense is so thorough that the second dragon expresses gratitude toward the frog and does not eat him. That was definitely a radical change!

The success of this ‘higher viewpoint‘ mediation method is the willingness of everyone to completely give up the past – what others have said and done – and  then recognize and prove what is good and useful about the ‘enemy’.  This requires a lot of creative thinking and a true willingness to change.  It usually happens when both sides are about to wipe each other out.

I admit this approach appears to be based on the “love your enemy” concept. But, it is not. Loving the enemy as an enemy, still sees him as your enemy. It is the  gaining and holding a different viewpoint of him that causes the radical and positive change. This higher, better viewpoint is gained when the ‘enemy’ becomes a cohort, a friend, and someone worth knowing.  With that radical change, comes the creative solution to conflict.

Children’s Books Are Everyone’s Books

Books children fall in love and are bought by many are called popular and, over time, may become classics.  Why? Because the children who loved the books became the adults who read them to the next generation – and the next. Every business needs children’s books to provide moments of relaxation and delight in childhood memories. To enhance the childlike moment, add coloring books and crayons.

Velovotee / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A classic author for me is Beatrix Potter. The Story of Peter Rabbit shows her flair for a detailed, simple story that appeals to many ages, including mine! Reading the’ back story’ to Peter Rabbit, I found that she had originally written the story in a letter to a child. Later, she asked for the letter back so she might publish the story. Today, children the world over delight in Peter’s adventures.

Future classics, in my humble opinion, will be Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books. Written for the ‘I Can Read’ children, the stories take a small event and look at it from many angles. For instance, in April, when Frog wants Toad to get up from his winter hibernation, and Toad wants to sleep just a little longer like maybe until May, Frog tears off the calendar pages from November to April. He then reawakens Toad who is surprised as to how fast time has flown! What a smile that brings to a child’s face as the logic and the humor come together. The happiest part is there are at least five stories to every book!

The Magic School Bus series based on a PBS program reveals a love for science in delightful stories of travel through time in a school bus that shrinks and enlarges. With factual information and a story to carry the adventure along, children discover the world around them, and hopefully go outside for another look!

An interesting book, written for an older child, is one I discovered in a grocery store. For fun, I asked a friend to read it to me. (If, as an adult you have not had another adult read a children’s book to you, I assure you, it is a unique way to hear a children’s story.) The Mask of the Dancing Princess written and illustrated by Judith Gwyn Brown is a fantasy beyond imagination and yet, well, maybe it could happen. The king’s daughter asks for the impossible – someone who looks just like her. When the king grants her wish, things go wrong, and her adventure as a gypsy begin. Over time, she learns that there are more important things than just loving oneself.

Children’s literature is such a rich world.  To enter it,  find a comfortable chair, gather a stack of children’s books, and enter the mind of a child. For me, I include a stack of Oreo cookies and a glass of milk.

Ah yes! One more! James’ Herriot’s books including The Christmas Day Kitten are truly a delightful must read.

Children Need Camera Experience

A 1950’s Kodak was a black box camera with a plastic handle. Held in my hands at waist high I peered into the lens on the top, held still, and pressed the lever. Twelve pictures later, the roll of black and white film was dropped off at the camera shop, then anxiously waited for, and finally picked up a week later. Inside the white envelope with my name and address on the front, was a smaller packet with negatives and photos. At last! I considered the photo taking a success if three pictures looked good.

Brandon Christopher Warren / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Without a doubt, children benefit when photography is added to their repertoire of life skills.

Photography develops critical as well as creative thinking. To compose a scene, pose a person, consider the lighting, and pore over photography books for ideas requires thinking skills and unique perceptions.

How does photography affect children? It enhances whatever the child loves – from sports, to poetry, to pets, to fashion, to friends and family.  A photo collection makes that love ‘even better.’ Children become more observant which carries over to the details used in writing and in conversations. Independent thinking improves because picture taking goes beyond ‘shoot and snap’. It requires analysis for the ‘best’ angle; decision making for the lighting and shadows, and creative thinking for the tilt of someone’s head. With today’s cameras and camera phones, a child finds a world of color, shapes, and light to explore – and think about.

Are cameras for children? Absolutely!


Photography became a natural part of my children’s lives that continues to enrich them even today. My son captures ‘snaps” small animals eating seeds, bread, and apples. Indoors, he tracks down spiders, researches their behavior, and creates photo stories. My daughter is the traveler. Getting up early to catch the morning light, she explores the cities and mountains. A snowstorm in NYC became a photo-op of a winter wonderland. Canvases on the wall of her home showcase her work.

Recently I created an album of beach pictures from Florida to California to the Gulf to Long Island. The final sand photo shows long shadows with my flip-flop toes and shadow next to my brother’s shadow. The album title is “I Am Happiest at the Beach”.

Defuse Bullying Behavior

book cover

Everyday bullies are everywhere. A clerk delays waiting on one person while serving others who arrived later.

A parent makes a comment in a public place guaranteed to set the child off or vice-verse.  A ‘double bully’ is one person allowing the bullying behavior of another to continue. It takes diligence to defuse the actions that squash someone’s right to the pursuit of happiness.

One approach to stop this behavior is your willingness to act differently. “To change others, begin with yourself.” Pay attention to your thoughts. “What you think, you become.” Are you thinking angry thoughts? This form of ‘mental bullying’ leads to ‘outward bullying’.  Worse, it attracts a bully to you. “Like attracts like.”

In my book Can Dragons and Frogs Be Friends? the bully, a fire-breathing dragon, chases and eats frogs. When the dragon is in trouble, a frog takes a chance and changes his own behavior. This causes the dragon’s viewpoint of the frogs to change, and he stops being a bully and discovers a friend.


On the last day of school, a fourth grade student stopped to see his next year teacher to tell her that he was looking forward to being in her class. The teacher answered, “I can’t wait to have you in my class! We will have a great year!” Off he went with a smile. In the office file drawer, there was a three-inch thick folder of his behavior problems. Over the summer, the teacher barely scanned it. Most important, the file did not become a checklist of expectations that would preclude any possible progress. On the first day of school, the student arrived early along with his mom with his smile and his plan for changing himself. The arriving class was given a heads up to allow the young man to change. They did. He did. It was a happy year. Past behavior was dissolved by everyone’s willingness to change.

A second key to deflect and diffuse bullying behavior is to create an atmosphere in which a bully finds no victim or partner. Increase your compassion for others. Memorize quotes that lift your thoughts. Sing with joy! Pay attention to the good around you. Be grateful. As Forest Squirrel says in the above mentioned book, ‘Say thank you a lot.” A bully’s anger dissolves in the face of true deep down compassion as Throckmorton, the dragon, discovered.

A third key that counters and obliterates bullying is what a friend mentioned after hearing of this article. “You can’t be bullied if you have self-confidence.” The idea resonated. When you know who you are and what you believe, when you know what you love, then you walk tall, speak firmly and clearly and become a confident ‘you’ that simply cannot be bullied. For there is nothing to be bullied!

In essence, to defuse and destroy bullying behavior change your actions, create an atmosphere of kindness, and build your self-confidence. For lack of victim or partner, bullying behaviors will disappear.

Young Writers: Enriching Sentences

As one mother said, “I know my son is creative, but I can’t get him to write creatively.”

What is missing? Sometimes it’s lack of confidence. Creative writing doesn’t have a step by step procedure. Often the  lack of creativity is not understanding the process of enrichment.

Creativity is the ability to let one’s imagination fly – to leap frog from one idea into the next, and then pop! with a new idea.

The following Enrichment Process for sentence writing teaches the young writer to think while they are writing.

To begin, identify short sentences that have potential: The squirrel jumped. The dog barked. A tree is green. The storm is wild. The bee buzzed. The car stopped.

On the board, write a short sentence.  Next, ask questions based on grammar. [Samples below.]  Use the child’s answers and rewrite the sentence with the new information.  Continue asking questions and rewriting the sentence until a long unique sentence is completed.

For instance: (3 words)

The frog leaped. What does the frog look like?

The small, green frog leaped. What did the frog leap over?

The small green frog leaped over an old log. How did he leap?

The small green frog leaped high into the air over an old log. Why did he do that?

The small green frog leaped high into the air over an old log when the owl swooped down. Where did this happen?

Down by the pond, the small green frog leaped high into the air over an old log when the owl swooped down. (22 words)

Of course, an astute child will notice that leaping high into the air probably meant the frog became owl’s dinner!  🙂 

If the follow-up assignment is to copy the sentence, encourage the young writers to change the ideas. Maybe their frogs will jump into the log instead of high over it!

As children become familiar with this enrichment process, take a step towards independent work. Have each child sit with a partner of the same ability level. Write a short sentence on the board. Discuss [or list] related questions, and step back! Creativity brings lots of laughter the gateway to unique ideas.

Share. Compliment. Laugh a lot.Draw pictures.

Enrichment is being learned. Creativity has taken a step forward.