Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Affairs of the Heart

There was no pain at all.  But I knew something was not right. 

  I was short of breath walking from my classroom to the parking lot.  I was more tired than usual.  I had gained weight for no reason at all.

But there was no pain.  There was no racing heartbeat.  There were really no warning signs other than the vague symptoms mentioned above.

I didn’t want to miss school so on Saturday, August 24 I went to a walk in clinic.  I could not find the first one I looked up so instead of going home I went to a second clinic.

I described my ambiguous symptoms and the Doctor said she wanted to take an EKG.  There was one little blip that was not right.  She would not let me leave.  She called an ambulance and they took me to the emergency room.

I was admitted on a Saturday.  They told me the cath lab would not open till Monday unless someone had an emergency and then they would get me in.

I settled into my room.  My husband was there and my sister.  The next thing I knew, I threw up.  After that I became the emergency.

I had a heart attack.

I don’t remember much about that day.  The surgeon did open heart surgery, a triple by pass.  There was a 90% blockage in one of my arteries, the other two were 70% blocked.  My endocrinologist told me I broke his heart because he thought they were going to lose me.
Turns out, I was one sick puppy.  My kidneys stopped functioning too.

I was in Cardiac Intensive Care for 9 days.  My legs were so swollen I could hardly bend them.  I was full of fluids and had all sorts of tubes coming out of me. I was delirious from some of the medication and imagined seeing things on the ceiling.  That was the scariest time. The nurses were extremely compassionate, gentle and caring.

I had dialysis 4 times.  The dialysis team was wonderful.

I was in a room for 9 more days, waiting for the kidneys to kick in.  They finally did and now I am home.  The nurses, once again, epitomized caring, compassionate individuals.

I had many visitors.  My husband, my family, and my friends made an effort to come see me.  They certainly kept me cheerful and hopeful.  Friends sent gifts.  There were lots of flowers from family and friends.

 I had over 100 cards from family, friends, and students.  I have read them over many times and am grateful for each visit and each card.

My chest is twist tied together with metal bands.  I am building up my strength.  I started walking 5 minutes 3 times a day and am now up to 11 minutes.  I am on a low salt, low fat diet.
But there was never any pain.

I am deeply grateful to be alive.  I am amazed that I followed through and went to the walk in clinic, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here.  I have immense love and appreciation for my family.  It brings tears to my eyes when I think of how much we all care for each other.  I am so grateful to my husband who came to visit frequently and took care of the dogs for 18 long days.

My priorities have shifted.  My family is number 1 and I intend to spend more time with all of them.  I miss the kids at school and am grateful to the school for making this as easy as possible.
Hard work is ahead.  They say every week in the hospital will take you three weeks to recover, so I have about an 8 week period until I feel like myself again.  I probably won’t be ready to go back to school until Thanksgiving.

So please take this away from my story.  There was no pain.  If you don’t feel right, get it checked out.  Don’t put if off.  It saved my life.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Should School be FUN?

Did you enjoy school when you were an elementary student?  Did you have wonderful experiences that helped you connect what you are learning to the world around you?  Were your favorite subjects recess, PE and lunch?  Did you look forward to going to school every day because you knew there was something interesting waiting for you?

Well, if you went to a Montessori School this may have been true for you.  For most of us, school was a time to be with our friends, not to experience the world.

Learning should be natural.  It should sweep the learner into a flowing stream where time and space do not exist and where the learner is one with the lesson.  This happens in Montessori schools because students have uninterrupted time to engage with the lessons, they have freedom of choice within the limits of the environment, they have encouraging adults who observe the students and bring them the right lessons at the right time.

If a child comes home and you ask what he learned today, you will often hear the response, "Nothing."  In a Montessori school that means that the learning was just the natural part of the day and life unfolded in a seamless and smooth way bringing the appropriate lesson at the right time.

Laughter should be part of every day at school.  Lessons should delight the student.

If this is missing from your children's education, send them to a Montessori school.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What I have learned this week

It has been a tough week.  Ziggy, my 3 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix had an accident.  It was my fault.
Ziggy is an energetic personality.  He loves to be outside or go for car rides.  He is happy, protective of his family, and adventurous.
We were at a friend's house.  She has a lot of property so I thought it would be safe to let the dogs off leash.  Ollie stayed near me and Ziggy kept venturing a little further every moment.  I had to stop to pick up Ollie's poop and Ziggy got too far away.  I called but something was more interesting to him and he kept going.  Before I knew it he was under the fence of the corral.  I didn't even think that the horse would be out.  Ziggy saw this big animal and started running.  The horse started running, Ziggy got under his feet and before I could get there he screamed.  
The gate was locked so I climbed the fence and picked up my baby to check for broken bones.  All seemed fine until I saw his right eye.
It just started to swell and I knew it was filling with blood.  Ziggy would whimper if anything got near it.  We headed straight to the vet.  She was in surgery but the tech took Ziggy in and they sent us right to the ophthalmologist.  After a look over we knew he would lose his eye.  It has been a week and he is recovering nicely.
What is most amazing is that Ziggy is still Ziggy.  He leads us down the sidewalk as fast as he can.  He hops up onto the back of the couch so he can see everything that is going on, and he is first into the kitchen for a treat.  

It makes me think about the students in my class.  We put them into this situation called school where they are expected to conform to the rules of education.  They are expected to all be on the same page at the same time.  They are expected to all know the same things.  How crazy is this?

Personality does not change it adapts.  We need to allow for this in schools.  Children will learn the things they need to live a successful life.  This is inside the child from birth.  Ziggy is still Ziggy and has adapted to his new field of vision.  

No matter what, your children will be fine.  They will adapt to the expectations of others.  But think of the possibilities for your child in a school where they can construct their own learning, where they can fulfill their own potential and not be judged in relation to others.  Where they are accepted for who they are.

I know you would all accept Ziggy without his eye, so why not accept children with differences and adjust to meet their needs rather than forcing them to fulfill someone else's expectations.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cursive Handwriting

From what I understand, many school districts are no longer teaching cursive handwriting.  I find the sad, and frankly a mistake on the part of school boards who continue to add curriculum that can be tested to the school day.  (But that is another story.)

Learning to write in cursive, is so much more than having good handwriting.  Here are a few example:

Concentration - lack of focus and concentration have always been issues.  Maria Montessori even wrote about children who are labeled as "naughty" because they are unable to concentrate on anything.  Like any skill concentration needs to be practiced.  Cursive practice gives students the space and time to develop focus which can then be transferred to other lessons.

Directionality - Rarely do children write their letters backwards while using cursive.  The letters are always formed left to right.  In print the letters begin in all sorts of different places and you may have to go left or right or up or down.  This can be confusing.  In cursive all the letters start on the line and you then move to the right.  

Reading skills - Cursive can improve reading skills.  It practices seeing words from left to right.  Cursive letters are connected to form words.  In print the letters are spaced and then there is a larger space between words, this can be confusing to a child.  Children can read cursive words because the letters are connected to form a single word.

Perseverance, Patience, Pride - Cursive practice teaches children to persevere until they master the correct formation.  Patience is developed by working at something that becomes easier over time.  Pride in one's work and finished products are internal motivation.  We do it because we want it to be beautiful not because we want a sticker.   These three benefits are often overlooked by school boards.

I think cursive should be taught when the child is learning to write.  It is easier to learn.  Many people many say but we need to teach print so children can learn to read.  Well that is true.  But learning to read and learning to write are actually different skills.  We can teach children to read print but to write in cursive with no detriment to the child.

There are many fun ways to learn cursive too.  

Sand Tray - Using a tray of sand or oatmeal with a pinch of cinnamon is a fun way to  practice letters.  It engages sight, smell, and touch.

Painting -Writing with a paint brush and water on the side of the house.  Make the letters and swoops really large to get the movement into the shoulder muscles.

Rainbow writing -  using highlighters to trace cursive letters or words.

So we do need to have a signature, this means we must learn to write in cursive.  Writing in print is actually becoming old fashioned as we use computers to compose, complete application, and send mail.

Cursive is a necessary art form. Young children want to learn how to write in cursive, it is mysterious and very grown up.  If you wait until 3rd or 4th grade it could be too late!  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Seeing the REAL Child

When I was growing up, I faced situations where I was unsure how to behave or act.  I questioned how to be a friend to someone or make a good impression.  Being a child of the 1960s and 70s, my parents would say, "Just be yourself."

I would think, "Just who is myself?"

There was the IDEAL me.  The one that longed to live up to the expectations of parents, relatives, teachers, and friends.  She was a good girl, kind, helpful, diligent, and considerate.

There was the SECRET me.  The one I wanted to be; popular, funny, pretty, talented, and one who always knew the right thing to say.

But who was the REAL me?  I am learning that children, like seeds, contain all their potential at birth.  Well intentioned adults put their expectations on the children they love.  Educators put expectations on the children in their care.  Often this confuses the child.  Am I me or am I someone's idea of me?

As an educator, I am rethinking how I respond to children.  Children learn naturally.  I do not want to get in the way of the developing potential of the child.  If I am the REAL me and respond the the REAL child, then I must give the child space and time to make connections with the world around him or her.

I guess the REAL me must live up to my own potential and my own expectations.  We must all be free to decide who the REAL person inside of us is.
Our experiences are what feeds our potential.  Do you know the REAL you?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Video for Star Spangled Skewerw

Here is the link to the video for Star Spangled Skewers:


You can cut and paste the address into your browser.

Thanks to David, Buddy and my young helpers for this one.  I am going to get better at the video thing....give me a little time.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Peach Cobbler recipe and videos

Okay, so today I spent the day trying to capture a peach cobbler recipe and some kitchen tips for working with children in a video to put on my new YouTube channel, Help From Debbie.

Haha, I have been working on it for 5 hours now.  I am not able to put all the videos together in one smooth shot...so there are 5!

The cobbler is delicious and here is the recipe.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Fresh peaches
1 C. brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 C flour
1/3 C melted butter
1/2 C milk
1 egg
lemon zest

Wash, peel and cut peaches into chunks, place in buttered 8x8 inch pan (I use a cast iron skillet).
Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and cinnamon.
Combine other ingredients in a bowl, mix till smooth.
Pour over peaches.
Bake for 55 - 60 minutes.
Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or a dash of heavy cream.

If you would like to watch the videos, my youtube channel is

They are labeled peach cobbler 1 - 5.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Star Spangled Skewers

This is a great cooking activity to celebrate the Fourth of July.  And it’s healthy! 
Before you begin any cooking project, here are a few tips:

Cover your kitchen table with a plastic table cloth, this makes for easy clean up.
Put a kitchen towel out for each child.  This defines their workspace.
Have a roll of paper towels ready to use if needed.
Have all of your materials, ingredients, utensils, cutting boards, etc. ready to go.

I call these “Star Spangled Skewers”.
Most important is the preparation of the child.
Everyone has an apron, and everyone washed their hands.

For this recipe you need
12 inch skewers
Blueberries, strawberries, bananas
Mini marshmallows
Wash and dry the berries.

Cut the tops off of the strawberries and then cut each one in half.
Cut the bananas.  
Children can help with the cutting.  Use plastic knives.  I like to cut down one side of the banana to make it more stable on the cutting board.  Make small cuts in the banana where you want the child to cut through.  Show the child how to hold the fruit on the cutting board with one hand and press with the knife until it goes all the way through to the board.
Have a bowl on the table for garbage.  Thanks to Rachael Ray for that.
Now we assemble.
Seven of the skewers need to have the strawberries and bananas alternated so there are 13 pieces of fruit on each one, start and end with a strawberry.
The other five skewers need to have strawberry, banana, strawberry, banana, strawberry
Then finish with alternating the blueberries and marshmallows.

To display use a flat board like a cutting board and arrange the skewers to look like the American Flag.
Everyone who cooks can help clean up.
So assign jobs.

Shaun will you please take the cutting boards to the sink, one at a time.
Lily will you carefully dump the contents of the garbage bowl into the trash?
Ava will you collect the towels and bring them to the washer?
I will collect the knives and the table cloth.  Wrap all the table mess in the plastic table cloth and clean up is easy!

These Star Spangled Skewers are fun to make, but they are even more fun to eat!!!

We will soon put a video up of this segment, check back to see the fun!

Thursday, June 27, 2013


I have started a YouTube channel!  I just put up a test video.  I will be shooting a cooking video with some of my nieces and nephews tomorrow.  When it is up, I will let you know.  We will be making Star Spangled Skewers!!

Kindly take a look and check out Ziggy the day after we got him.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

This one's for you, Dad. - CAMP!


Camp is a great way to spend the summer.  To be honest, I believe that some unscheduled time is vital for children to develop their own interests, learn to entertain themselves (not with screen time), and learn to be who they are.

But 12 weeks of unscheduled time is a lot for a child.  It is said that students tend to forget about 40% of what is learned in school during the summer months.  This means teachers cannot just dive in with new and unexplored curriculum.  Time must be spent REVIEWING!  No fun for anyone.

Camp is a good way to continue learning and exploring in a supervised manner.

There are many types of camps.

In every community there are camps that specialize in activities.  This is a good way for a child to explore something they have an interest in whether it be a particular sport or a visual or performing art.  Lego camps have become very popular.  The key is that it is something that interests the child.  The child should be part of the decision making process when it comes to choosing a camp.

Day camps can provide a variety of activities too.  There are camps that give children sports, arts, games, and nature activities throughout the day.  These are great camps for children who have a wide field of interest.

Sleep Away Camps are great for older children.  Children who choose a sleep away camp should have experience staying overnight at the houses of friends or relatives.  The first experience should be for a short amount of time, whether it is a week or two.  You can increase the duration if your child has a positive experience.  I would not send a child who is under the age of 10.

All camps should have the following:
Experienced and qualified staff members
Clean and comfortable facilities
A planned schedule of activities
Staff certified in first aid and CPR

I highly recommend students attending camps.  It helps students grow, it leads to self confidence and self discovery, and it can be the source of wonderful memories.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

No Math For Me

It is often challenging for parents to get their children to practice academics over the summer.  The truth is, children forget about 50% of what they learned the previous year during summer vacation.  Teachers spend 4-6 weeks reviewing information that the students knew last year.  Seems like a faulty plan.  (That's why I am for year round school.)

So I have a new blog at http://nomathforme.blogspot.com, please take a look.  It is a fun way for elementary students to read and practice math a little bit.  I will add to the blog every day or two.  Students can send me their answers in the comment section.

I will include the name of the first responder with the correct answer in the next episode.  So send the blog to students, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends.  Let's see where the No Math For Me adventures take us!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What's the Rush?

I haven't written a post in a while due to the fact that I am working on my Master's Degree!  A little late but I am determined to get it done.  Which brings me to this blog...What's the rush?

I have always considered myself a late bloomer.  I didn't find my career until I was in my 30's, I didn't get married until that decade either.  There are a lot of things I did not do until I was past the average age for many things.  I even wrote a play called "Confessions of a Late Bloomer", but that is a story for another day.

I am so surprised when parents say to me, "My child is growing up too fast."  When I observe the "child" in question (and there are many, this is not a blog about any specific child), I notice the child has pierced ears, fingernail polish, a facebook account, an i phone, wears extremely short shorts and revealing tops.  These are children who are not even in double digits yet.  For boys it's more about the language they use.  They begin calling each other "Dude", using phrases such as "Wasssup?", talking about violent video games, and TV shows that even though animated are clearly filled with adult content.

So, if we don't want our children to miss out on their childhood, don't start providing items and opportunities that they can work towards.  Many philosophers say that play is the highest form of expression in childhood. Yet I see children who are bored on the playground because they are so used to being the passive participant in entertainment.  Childhood is a time when children should be out doors, exploring nature, growing gardens, flying kites, hiking, swimming, skating, sledding.  Children should be actively engaged in childhood.

  • It does go by in the blink of an eye, so why allow a child to do more grown up things?  It doesn't hurt to say:
  • You can have that when you are 15.
  • You can watch 30 minutes of TV, after you ...(play outside, ride your bike, do an art project, build with legos, play with friends, walk the dog, do your homework, do your chores).  
  • As your parents, we think you are too young for that.
  • It doesn't matter to me what your friends have, wear, do...as your parents we will make decisions that are in your best interest.
  • Thank you for your input, I understand what you want, what I want is for you to have a childhood that is filled with wonderful memories and magical experiences, so we can save that experience for a later date, now let's bake cookies.
As parents you have the controls, you can make childhood last a little longer.  It is not something you get to have back.  It is a gift your child will thank you for....later.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What to do when someone you love has ADHD

I have worked with many students and families who have heard the diagnosis of ADHD.  As a classroom teacher, I do not feel comfortable telling parents which route they should take with their child as each situation is different.  But if I could give advice to someone I love, I would say:

Take a deep breath.  This is a journey, there are no quick fixes.  Take another deep breath, this will not ruin your child's life or impede your child from becoming a self sufficient, functioning, responsible adult.  As a matter of fact there are many successful adults with ADHD, we just call it ambition, creative thinking, and energy.

As a parent, your job is to raise a child who can be a functioning member of society.  Although your heart is breaking for your child's situation, you have a job to do.  Be honest with the professionals in your child's life. Don't be afraid of your child being "labeled"  The label of ADHD is better than the label of naughty, unruly, and discipline problem.

If your child had diabetes, or needed glasses you would certainly get your child the help she needs.  It is the same with ADHD,  Your child has an interference with normal focus.  It is like watching TV in the 1950's.  There are some channels that are fuzzy and full of static.  That is what your child's brain is like.  The ability to tune in clearly is not there.  Another example would be the Charlie Brown TV specials.  The adults talk "Whaa, waa, waa," that is what your child hears.  She cannot adjust the controls in her brain to make the message clear.

Take a deep breath.  Your child is unique.  Love your child.  Then get your child what she needs to be able to focus, to control impulsivity, and to be successful.

As a teacher I have not seen cases where natural remedies, diet changes, and behavior modification work consistently.  I have seen parents go through these steps on the journey with their child, this only seems to delay the inevitable.

I do recommend medication.  It may take awhile to find the right dose and the right brand, but work with your teacher and pediatrician to keep on top of it.  Find teachers who have experience and can be supportive.  Find a school where the child does not have to sit at a desk for long periods of time, where they teach self reliance and responsibility, and where children are allowed to socialize and move about within limits.

Find a school and stick with it.  Taking a child from school to school is a disadvantage.  Each time you move the child they need to reestablish relationships and adapt to new rules.  Not easy for an ADHD child.

A child with ADHD needs freedom within limits.  The boundaries must be clearly defined and consistently enforced.  The child who is allowed freedom within these boundaries with the help of the right medication, the right school and the love of a strong parent will thrive.

Take a deep breath, love your child, then help her cope with this challenge.  Be grateful for the joy this child brings to your life.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I Never Thought I Would See the Day

When we got back to school after the long weekend, I began a discussion about the inauguration.  Some of the students were very aware that it was happening, others... well, not so much.  After a discussion about elections and the peaceful transfer of power in the United States, I asked the students what impressed them about the ceremony and the celebrations from Washington DC.  Students commented on the parade, Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson, and how the First Lady and First Daughters were dressed.

One boy raised his hand and when I called on him he said, "I was very proud of the President for saying that Gays and Lesbians should be treated like everyone else".  I held my breath as this has always been a tricky subject with third and fourth graders.  I was waiting for eye rolling, chuckles, negative comments, and uncomfortable reactions, as this has always happened in the past.  As the sister of a gay man who has adopted two beautiful children with his partner, I worry that this situation will come up in the school life of my niece and nephew and they will have to find a way to answer comments that come from unenlightened classmates.  

So as students raised their hands I chose the next child carefully.  He said, "It is important for everyone to find love." No eye rolling, no chuckling, no comments came forth.  I started breathing again.  I added to the discussion by saying that the President said that everyone in our country no matter who we are, who we love, where we come from or what we do, we all make up the community that is the United States.  Each one of us is important and each one has a role to play. 

Obama ran for his first term as President on "HOPE and CHANGE".  I have witnessed it and can testify that there is hope and change has come.

I am so proud of my brother and his family.  I am hopeful that my niece and nephew will have a peaceful, joyful, and academically challenging school experience.  I see our future when I look at these amazing children.

I am also proud of the students in my class and their families.  They are accepting, open minded, and have great big hearts.  I see our future when I look at these amazing children.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Third grade Shakespeare

It always amazes me when parents say, "I can't believe you were able to teach Shakespeare to 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students!"

I just directed my students in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.  The students performed and the audience was delighted.

I have been doing this for close to 20 years.  I am at a new school now, so students did not have a reference point in seeing older siblings and friends perform.

When I introduced the idea to my new group there were mixed reactions.  Many students did not want to participate, or wanted a non-speaking role.  As a director, I spend a lot of my time coaxing, encouraging, cheer leading and convincing the students that they are capable.

Our rehearsals started off slowly with student tripping over the unusual language and sentence patterns.  Some wanted to back out, some said they would never be able to learn the lines, some threatened to absent from the performance.  I cajoled, comforted and listened to each student who had an issue.

After a while, the students started to ask, "Are we going to rehearse today?"  It became the best part of the day for some of these young thespians.

Our show was successful!  Students bravely got up on stage.  Some of them were as bright as the footlights, some of them courageously gave it all they had.  The parents were delighted.

The next day, at school, the students asked if we could rehearse it again.  Every one of them was proud and walking on air for having fun and for doing a good job.

The point is, if you do not learn to love the classics in school, you will never be interested in them.  Shakespeare is not meant to be read.  It is written as a play so it is meant to be performed and enjoyed by an audience.  By the time you have to read these plays in high school, you have to already love it.

Performing builds confidence.  Public speaking continues to be a fearful venture for many.  Performing gives students positive energy around the experience of being in front of an audience.

If my legacy will be that I have started Shakespeare programs at 2 local schools and introduced hundreds of students to the Bard, I will be content.