Monday, June 26, 2017

How Public Libraries Guarantee Access To Knowledge

Libraries are a valuable resource which should never be taken for granted. They provide the public at large with free access to a plethora of materials, the variety and diversity of which having expanded greatly in the last few decades to include everything from digital items to garden seed.

The following article was previously published September of 2012

The role of public libraries in guaranteeing access to knowledge

Public lending libraries have long held an important role in providing communities with valuable access to books, periodicals, and other materials free of charge. Libraries have also served as meeting places for community groups as well as venues for poetry readings and receptions.

The opportunity to walk into a public library and have access to more books than any one person could hope to acquire on their own on every known subject is invaluable. In addition to books, modern libraries also offer newspapers, magazines, literary journals and other periodicals, music recordings, and movies. Large libraries, usually the main branch locations, also offer microfilm, special archives and collections, and resource centers. Some libraries also offer tutoring to develop computer skills.

As the communities they serve have changed over time, the role of public libraries has evolved further and further. They increasingly provide more access to new media, which for some is the only hands-on access they have to new information and technology.

The guaranteed access to knowledge that public libraries provide is more important than ever before as underserved populations become aware of what libraries have to offer and the advantages afforded in using them. This is particularly the case in the age of ebooks as now proximity and location are no longer an issue.

In addition to books on how to do just about everything imaginable, individuals seeking information on grant opportunities can find a wealth of resources at public libraries. The extensive reference collections at public libraries, though not necessarily available for borrowing, are vital to students as well as anyone conducting historical research.
Children’s story time is a valuable resource for parents that also fosters the love of reading in children. For some children, attending these events may even spark the desire to become a writer. Public libraries that present author readings by poets, fiction writers, biographers, and others, bring communities face to face with role models and sources of inspiration, and afford them the opportunity to further engage and ask questions.

Since their inception, public libraries have provided countless individuals with limitless hours of virtual adventure and entertainment, as well as multiple resources for learning new information, viewing other cultures, achieving goals, and accomplishing tasks.

The role of public libraries in guaranteeing access to knowledge to everyone can best be summed up in the words of Ray Bradbury: “Without libraries what do have we? We have no past and no future.”

Friday, April 29, 2016

Why and How to Encourage Children to Read

Almost nothing in life is more important than literacy. Not being able to read or having a low literacy level affects everything from driving to taking medicine, not to mention applying for and functioning on a job. A favorite quote I often share on Twitter is "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." If you read to children when they are very young, and if they see you reading, they will develop an interest in reading and learning in general.

Originally published October 2011 via that site that no longer exists...

How to Encourage your Child to Read

Reading is an important component to success, and the best way to encourage children to read is for the adults in their lives to set an example as a readers. If children are read to from a very young age, they learn to appreciate it as entertainment long before they ever discover reading as a “work.” With the right foundation children can learn to look upon reading as the ticket to unending adventure as well as a gateway to unlimited knowledge.

All children love stories and imaginative play; if children are introduced to reading early enough, they will consider it a part of fun time – AKA play – and regularly ask (or even demand) to be read to. As they grow older, they will want to do the reading to their parents and others, and appreciate books as much as they do their most prized toys and games.
Aside from being read to on a regular (if not daily) basis, the next important factor that will encourage children to want to read is having an assortment of books at home. It is important that these books always be age appropriate with regard to both subject matter and reading level. Books with pictures but no text will encourage very early readers to use their imaginations while they interpret the pictures to make up their own stories, and chapter books will help proficient readers stay interested as they grow out of “baby books”.

Thrift stores are a great source of books to help build a young reader library as several books can usually be purchased for less than one dollar (U.S.), and often books are put on sale for half price, making them even more affordable. As soon as a child is old enough (or has facility enough) to read beginner books on their own, they should be taken to the public library. One of the best things that can happen in a child’s life is getting their own library card.

As children get older and become more independent, they also discover other interests. Having both fiction and non-fiction books at their disposal that help them learn more about those interests and other people’s experiences with them is another way to encourage them to continue to read.

Not all reading material has to be in the form of books, however. One of the best ways to encourage a child to read is to write letters to them. Even early readers can comprehend short notes and begin to write back. Jokes, funny sayings, instructions on where to find special treats, can help to start a tradition with children that will continue well into adulthood.

The most important factor in encouraging a child to read is “not dropping the ball.” It is not enough to get a child started with reading and provide them with books; the ongoing interest must be encouraged and kept alive by activities and discussion. It is extremely important for the adults in a child’s life to set aside both quiet time reading as well as time for reflection where the child can talk about what was read and share any thoughts or feelings he or she might have.
First at home, and later at school, children develop an appreciation for reading when it is practiced regularly in their environment. It is an easy thing to encourage a child to read when they have learned to value it early on.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Packing Supplies needed to Move

The great article migration continues. Helium is now a distant memory and still hundreds of previously published articles continue to languish in obscurity as life continually finds a way to interrupt my attempts at regular blog posting. (Gotta follow the paycheck...)

Moving is stressful; the need for it often comes at an inconvenient time, and even when the move is a desired one (such as after the purchase of a house), there are so many details to attend to that it can be overwhelming.

The article below, originally published on July 29, 2013, as "Packing supplies needed for a move," will help you plan an organized move so that things can go as smoothly as possible.

Few things are more tedious than packing to move. Having the right supplies on hand can help make the difference between things going smoothly and feeling like things are out of control. You can save yourself a lot of headaches and frustration by assembling and organizing everything you need ahead of time.

Hopefully, when it is time to relocate you will have enough notice so that you can plan the move and gather all of your packing supplies a week or two ahead of time. Moving supplies are pretty basic; something to contain your belongings, something to protect delicate items that could get broken and something to seal the containers you cart your belongings in.

Determining what specific packing supplies you will need for your move will depend on what items you need to transport, how many items, how fragile they are and how far you will be traveling for the move. For instance, packing needs for a handful of odd plates, bowls and cups for a bachelor or college student are quite different than for someone who needs to pack up a matched set of dishes with service for eight.

Short moves can be accomplished mostly with whatever is on hand for carting things, while relocating to a new city requires sturdy cartons or lidded storage containers. Boxes can be obtained for free by asking at the nearest supermarket or you can purchase them from a company like U-haul or a storage facility.

The advantage of purchased boxes is that they are sized specifically to accommodate the household items most people need to pack. Being able to leave clothing hanging by removing it from your closet and placing it directly into a wardrobe box is a huge benefit. Clothes stay neat and organized in their portable cabinet and can be put away with ease once you reach your new home.

Items that will be placed into storage will need to be completely sealed in cartons or containers that can protect the contents from moisture and pests, especially if the boxes or bins will not be kept in a climate controlled area. Packaging tape for sealing boxes can be obtained at some drugstores, office supply stores and even the post office.

Moving is often a time to purge items that are no longer needed such as clothing and papers, but these items can also serve as packing materials. Clothing can be used to wrap glass, dishes and other delicate items that could get broken during a move. Old newspaper can be used to wrap glass or you can use junk mail, bills and other unwanted paper, it can be shredded and used in boxes in place of packing peanuts.

Additional, optional packing supplies for a move include bubble wrap, twine, rubber bands, plastic bags, cling wrap and a permanent marker or sharpie. Cling wrap can be used to contain items like books or CDs on their shelves/racks so that they do not have to be removed and packed into boxes or bins. This is especially helpful for short distance moves where items are not likely to move around a lot in transport.

Whether relocating just across town or moving completely across country, nothing is more frustrating than arriving at your new home and not being able to find anything. Always number your boxes and make a list of the general contents of each and, when assembling packing supplies for a move, always get extra.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Education Topics: Subjects To Enhance Students' Lives

For a brief period, I had a blog titled Engaging Kids, Enriching Lives. I was teaching enrichment classes at a charter school at the time and contributing education articles to Helium. I started the blog to address some of the issues I saw in and out of the classroom and with the education system in general.

After a while I decided to delete the blog. Too many blogs, too little time; also, I had the platform for publishing at Helium (little did I know how soon that would end...), and I was no longer in the classroom. Some of the same topics are still relevant for me, though I don't get to spend as much time on those subjects anymore.

Engagement is still important, and I hope I am still enriching young lives in my role as a docent at the Ogden Museum, where I've been leading tours for school children since 2007. The arts are a great way to engage children and get them interested and involved in learning. The article below addresses some of the ways in which to do so.

Originally published on as "What subjects should be taught to children as enhancements to their lives," in April 2009.

Enhancing Children through Education

Holding the attention of today's children long and well enough to keep them not only interested in a particular subject but excited about learning is a tremendous challenge. Traditional education is basically a low-tech endeavor that hardly competes with the modern multi-media excitement of Wii, X-boxes, Playstations and the like.

It is indisputable that every child needs to learn to read and write and to be able to perform basic arithmetic in order to effectively communicate with others and to function in the adult world, as well as be able to hold a job when they grow up. This is only part of the picture however; it is also important for schools to incorporate enrichment and character education.

A Kinder Classroom

When teachers spend the majority of their time managing behavior there is very little learning taking place. Students have to be able to sit for extended periods, pay attention and be good neighbors to their classmates. They need to learn the concepts of teamwork and sportsmanship and to develop speaking and social skills and they need these concepts continually reinforced beyond the limits of what little of these is provided through their scant physical education classes.

Children need to be taught about responsibility and respect and forgiveness. While many may feel this is the job of parents, the reality of the situation is that today's kids spend the major part of their waking hours at school under the influence of teachers, administrators and most of all, their peers. The use of non-competitive games and cooperatives such as the ones found in Bernie Badegruber's "101 Life Skills Games for Children" can be incorporated into classroom routines to help to encourage emotional maturity and further develop skills of observation and concentration, while reducing aggression and encouraging social awareness.

Looking at Education Another Way

While subjects like Social Studies provide a broad concept of history and social systems they do little toward teaching children to honor diversity and appreciate the differences between themselves and other members of their community. Schools that provide Spanish or French language instruction at the elementary level also include culturally relevant lesson plans that address aspects of the cultures that those languages come from but these programs usually reflect the cultural makeup of the cities in which they are used and are not necessarily wide spread.

Schools, teachers and even parents are aware of the deficits within their educational programs but are not always in a position to address them. Fortunately, there are a number of resources on the web to assist teachers in supplementing their out of date textbooks with creative approaches to augment the classroom experience. One of those resources is Edutopia.

The George Lucas Foundation established Edutopia ( to address the challenges of learning and educating in today's world of continual technological advances, where in many instances, students who are barely literate have to hurry and catch up with the digital age in order to be able to be competitive when they enter the workplace. They have provided a forum for educators to share and distribute information with each other via an assortment of media. The core concepts of Edutopia are Project Learning, Social and Emotional Learning, Technology Integration, Teacher Development, Comprehensive Assessment and Integrated Studies. Teachers all across the United States are posting information and learning how to use hands on projects and other methods to enhance their classroom lessons.

In order for students to be well rounded and develop into creative, critical thinkers they need to be exposed to a variety of interesting and stimulating activities that cause them to ask "what are we doing next?" Project based and experiential learning lesson plans provide the approach while specific programs to provide enrichment classes to students provide the means.

The Arts

Just as Liberal Arts contribute to the well-rounded adult student, supplementing the basic subjects in elementary education with electives and extended day enrichment classes offers a vital opportunity to shape young minds early on and foster interest in learning and scholarly habits. These classes allow for the introduction of important concepts that the traditional lesson plans don't leave room for.
It is extremely important for students to participate in and develop an appreciation for what the arts disciplines have to offer. Even if they never become dancers, painters or musicians there is much they can learn that will later come in handy in the adult world that will be applicable to social settings as well as the work world. Developing this appreciation also helps insure the future of the arts for other generations.

The documentary film "Mad Hot Ballroom" is a great example of how partnered social dance has been used in schools to improve self-esteem, manners, communication and consideration for others resulting in fewer discipline problems. Children love music and they absolutely love to dance and once they get past the issue of having to touch a boy/girl and potentially looking silly they completely embrace Salsa, Merengue, Tango and Swing. The also enjoy teaching it to other students, and performing and showing what they have learned to their parents.

Extended day enrichment classes not only provide a better alternative to aftercare and late pickup the use of nontraditional approaches like Hip Hop classes that foster the appreciation for poetry and ethnic dance classes for African and Brazlian forms add an additional cultural element while allowing students to get up an move, which is a plus after they have spent the better part of their day confined to a desk. Classes like yoga promote calmness and good posture while encouraging students toward healthy lifestyles. Schools with garden programs have found that children love to watch things grow as well as prepare their own foods and have connected this interest to science and math curriculums.
Education is a challenging enterprise that can also be deeply gratifying. No matter what changes take place in the world around us some things are constant: children learn best when they are fully engaged in what is happening.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gifts and Giving: Getting Creative with Gift Wrapping

I love gift wrapping. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the excitement of the anticipation of what's to come, or maybe it's just another thing that allows me to be creative and have fun. Sometimes the gift wrap is left plain and sometimes I embellish with ribbons, bows, homemade tags, or whatever interesting tickles my fancy.

Last year at Christmas, I added a variety of scrapbooking embellishments to my gifts from lettering to snowflakes. It's fun, and it's a good way to use up extras and leftovers from your crafting supplies or reusuables that become craft supplies.

A friend of mine is also very creative and whenever I receive a gift from her it's usually in a recycled container or wrapping, and there is always something extra attached to the package. The extra may be a dried flower, or a little jingle bell - simple little touches that make the parcel all that more special to receive.

Certain items have always presented a challenge to wrap and have required some ingenuity on the gift giver. Lately, the trend to reuse and recycle seems to have more and more people thinking about ways to cut back on paper waste.

Below is an article originally published on Helium in November 2009 to address alternative ideas for presenting holiday and other gifts.

Creative Gift Wrapping Ideas

Wrapping gifts is, for many people, a labor of love. Finding the right paper, trims and tags, and gussying up your carefully selected presents can be just as exciting as watching your friends and loved ones opening them. Keeping a ready supply of gift wrap on hand can get expensive, but there are number of creative ways to wrap gifts with materials you already have at home.
Reusable tins and canisters are great for holding a lot more than just holiday cookies and candy. Clean them carefully, dry thoroughly and then paint them with spray enamel to use in place of paper-based gift boxes. You can further decorate them by using stencils to create a design on the surface. Another way to decorate them for holding gifts is to use decoupage.
Small items such as earrings can be placed inside little origami boxes made from recycled paper. There are a variety of styles of origami boxes in different shapes from the basic square to triangles, hearts and stars. Choose one that is best suited for your gift. Large grocery bags and heavy weight magazine pages such as the ones used for perfume samples and old greeting cards are well suited for origami boxes.
Paper grocery bags can also be opened and used for wrapping gifts. Use rubber stamps, stencils or stickers to create decorative patterns suitable to the occasion to create unique wrapping paper. Turn leftover lunch sacks turned into gift bags by adding handles from ribbon or pipe cleaners and decorative trim. Alternatively, in place of handles, fold the top of the lunch sack down two to three inches against one side of the bag. Use a single-hole punch to place to holes through all layers of the paper flap one inch from the top edges and thread ribbon or yarn through the holes and tie to make a closure.
Old clothing can easily be recycled into reusable gift bags and pouches. Unused, headscarves, handkerchiefs, tea towels and table linens are also suitable for wrapping gifts. Use an envelope or simple clutch purse pattern as a guide for your fabric pouch. You can also use a paper lunch sack as a template to create a pattern for a reusable gift sack. Longer pieces of recycled fabric can be used to create unique ribbons and flowers for embellishing wrapped gifts. Create ribbon by folding a long cloth strip around fusible web and ironing.
Newspaper makes great gift wrap. It's practical and eco-friendly and, since most people have a ready supply on hand, it's convenient and cheap. For a personal touch, use the Sunday comics when wrapping gifts for kids, the fashion section for teens and the sports pages for budding athletes. Use ribbons, lace, buttons, costume jewelry or strips of paper to embellish the news wrapped gifts. Patterned stationery is another great stand in for store bought wrapping paper and is ideal for wrapping small boxes.
With a little thought and rummaging around you can find all sorts of materials around the house that are suitable for wrapping gifts. Your packages will have their own unique style and friends and family members will praise your creative ingenuity.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Not Your Grandma's Christmas Music

It's that time of year (again) where Christmas music is blasting from everywhere you turn. It's enough to drive you crazy if you're not that into it - and I am not all that into it, especially if it's muzak versions. While there are a number of very pretty songs associated with the holiday season, such as Carol of the Bells, Oh Holy Night, and so forth, some are just downright obnoxious, especially when you're hearing them over and over and over and over.

One less painful way to endure Christmas music is to listen to recordings that are strictly instrumental, that way you can have holiday music on, but tune in and out without it distracting or bothering you too much through the day. Somehow it's less grating on the psyche when there are no vocals in the music (I know, I know... don't tell the other vocalists), and the words are less likely to be stuck in your head all day (which can drive you crazy even more).

Even better than all-instrumental Christmas music, is when your holiday tunes are all about the swing! Below is an article written for Helium back in November of 2012, and if I do say so myself, I think it's one of my best. Enjoy, and keep swinging!

The best Jazz Music Recordings for Christmas

If swing is your thing, you’ll no doubt be looking for recordings of Christmas music that reflect your tender bopping sensibilities when the winter holiday period rolls around. No Jazz lover’s holiday could possibly be complete without the quintessential seasonal recordings of some of the best to ever grace the bandstand.
There are a number of holiday CD compilations that have been put together since Jazz’s resurgence in the 1980s. One of those is the recording God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen, which features six tracks from six artists, including the incomparable tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and the transcendent pianist McCoy Tyner. Tunes included are "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," "I’ll Be Home For Christmas," "The Christmas Song," "Our Little Town," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings of Orient Are."
Also from the 1980s, another must-have is New Orleans-born trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ Crescent City Christmas Card, which features the award-winning trumpeter reading The Night Before Christmas. There are 13 tracks in total on the recording, which also features performances by Todd Williams, Alvin Batiste, Joe Temperley, Wessell Anderson, Wycliffe Gordon, Marcus Roberts, Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley and Ben Riley. Kathleen Battle is a featured guest on traditional holiday favorite "Silent Night," and Jon Hendricks joined the ensemble for "Sleigh Ride."
The Nutcracker ballet is synonymous with the Christmas season; its well-known music is heard everywhere during the holidays, from television commercials to the speakers in shopping malls. No jazz lover’s holiday could possibly be complete without the Duke Ellington recording of Tchaikovsky’s famous Suite, which is available on the release Three Suites, from Columbia.
A Christmas collection of Jazz wouldn't be complete without at least one album from the father of Jazz himself, Louis Armstrong. While it's not strictly a collection of Christmas songs, Christmas Through the Years, a recording made not long before Armstrong's death, features “Pops” on The Night Before Christmas. Other options for an Armstrong Christmas include the recordings What a Wonderful Christmas, and The Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong Christmas Collection.
Last, but most certainly not least, not even Scrooge himself could resist the urge to bob his head and tap his foot while listening to An Oscar Peterson Christmas. It features fourteen fabulous tracks including "What Child Is This," "I’ll be Home For Christmas," "Christmas Waltz" and "Away in a Manger."
These recordings from some of the most significant players in jazz history are guaranteed to make the season bright with swing.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Teacher Tips: How to use Simon Says in the Classroom

Classroom management is a living entity of sorts that evolves with both the teacher and their students as the term progresses. Class rules, seating charts, character development programs, etc., are good starting points, but in the absence of established teacher-student relationships, engagement is key in maintaining a safe, healthy, and productive learning environment.

Using games such as Simon Says in the early education classroom is a simple method for re-focusing students, keeping things light, and bringing an element of fun into the learning environment. The following article was previously published in the education channel on the Helium publishing web site in November of 2009.

How to Play Simon Says

Primary school aged children love to play Simon Says and the game is a great way to hold their attention and keep them from being restless during periods where they have to sit still and wait for several minutes. But the game is useful to teachers in many other ways as well.
Almost everyone understands how to play Simon Says. The leader says "Simon says touch your nose," and the group does it. After a couple of other tasks the leader says "clap your hands." Because he or she didn't say "Simon says clap your hands" any child who clapped is now out of the game.
Simon Says in the classroom teaches children to pay attention and follow directions while having fun. They see remaining in the game as not getting tricked by the teacher into doing something. This means that the teacher leading the game has to be quick on the draw with the "Simon says do this" tasks. If there is any lag in the game it allows children to think about what you have said before they respond.
A rapid fire of Simon Says commands that are repetitive followed by one that doesn't include the words "Simon says..." is the key to keeping the game moving and tricking up crafty students who think they won't make a mistake and respond to the wrong task.
Here is an example:
Simon Says touch your nose.
Simon Says put both hands on your hips.
Simon Says put your hands on your head.
Simon Says put your hands or your hips.
Simon Says put your hands on your head
Put your hands on your hips.
When dealing with hyper kids Simon Says is an opportunity to move around a bit and get rid of some of their nervous energy before getting back to the academic lesson. The game is also a good idea for days when the weather prevents children from enjoying recess outdoors. Because the game allows children to move around you can use Simon Says as a means to low scale physical education.
Here is an example:
Simon Says reach for the sky
Simon Says touch your toes.
Simon Says stand up.
Now touch your nose.
Simon Says look to the right.
Simon Says look to the left
Simon Says point to the sky
Point to the floor.
The idea is to use Simon Says to allow your students to get a little exercise without knowing that is what they are doing. When they burn up a little energy playing the game over five or ten minutes they are more likely to sit calmly, pay attention and stay on task.
Simon Says can also be used to get children to transition from one activity to another or from working to lining up. In this instance, you are not trying to "trick" them or catch them off guard. You are getting them to respond positively to being asked to do what you want them to such as standing, pushing in their chairs and walking to the door to lineup. Of course, you can always spend a minute or two just playing the game for fun first.
Using games with active play like Simon Says with your students helps keep coming to school interesting and fun when mixed in between periods of academic learning. Kids have a hard time sitting still in their seats for long periods of time so the game also gives them an opportunity to move around a little and get the fidgets out of their system.