Category Archives: Childhood

Growing Up Inclusive

Growing Up Inclusive is the topic I’ll address this coming Saturday afternoon at an event sponsored by Steinbach Neighbours for Community.  How do we help children develop inclusive attitudes, so they automatically look first for what they have in common with others and are quick to appreciate and learn from the differences they discover between themselves and other people? I’ll explore some ideas gleaned from my experience as an educator, parent, and community volunteer.  

I’ll look at the value of exposing children to a wide variety of experiences and people.  I’ll tell some stories about what our family learned when we lived and worked on the Hopi First Nation in Arizona but I also want to give parents, teachers, coaches, grandparents, church workers and other child advocates ideas for things they can do in their own community and province to give kids a chance to see the world from new perspectives. I’ll talk about the importance of helping children take responsibility when they use speech or display actions that show disrespect for people who may be different than they are in gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnicity, age, body size or ableness.  I am going to tell stories about people I know who have done that with sensitivity and firmness. Children need help learning to monitor their speech and actions so they are inclusive, and we can guide them. 

Who are role models for our children?  It is helpful for kids to have a wide variety of adults in their lives who show them what it means to be inclusive. Their primary role models are their parents, but many other people can be examples for our children.  I will talk about people who have been role models for me and my children and what I learned from them. Who are role models in the world of politics, entertainment and sports we want our children to emulate?

There is such a wonderful diversity of reading material available for children.  How do we choose books that foster an attitude of open-mindedness, so our kids learn there are different kinds of families and different ways to express one’s spirituality?  What sorts of literature will help them appreciate differences in sexual orientation, race and cultural practices? Can books help them understand why some people are homeless or why a person facing physical challenges has great strengths we can learn from?

Mural of Canada’s children on Broadway Avenue in Saskatoon

I will also look at ways parents can encourage their children to develop their own individual interests, personality traits and talents regardless of what society may say they should do or be like based on their gender, age, ableness, body size or cultural background.  Children whose uniqueness is appreciated will grow up to be adults who appreciate the uniqueness of others.

Finally, I will use examples from my own family to show why it is important to teach our children to be more than just witnesses to inclusive behaviour but true advocates for it.

I’ll be giving my talk Growing Up Inclusive on the second floor of the Steinbach Curling Club at 12:30 on Saturday, January 25th. I invite you to join me as we look at some of the ways we can work together to help children grow up to be accepting human beings who are active participants in making our communities places where all are welcome.  There will be an opportunity for questions and answers after my talk. An interesting session is also planned for the morning with Providence College Professor Val Hiebert and lunch is included in this free event.  You can learn more on the Steinbach Neighbors For Community Facebook page or website.

 Other posts………

Steinbach Pride- Homecoming, Forgiveness and Hope 

Include Me Please

Safe and Inclusive Schools


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Giving A Child Away

I just finished the novel Miles to Go by Beryl Young. Inspired by a true story it is narrated by two grade seven girls Anna and Maggie. They are best friends growing up in a small rural Saskatchewan community in 1948. Sadly right near the beginning of the book, Anna’s mother dies in childbirth. Anna who is just twelve must step in and care for her two pre-school sisters and the new baby. Anna has to keep house, make meals and do laundry. Anna is a promising student but she has to drop out of school.

Eventually, the father comes to realize the whole situation is untenable. He can’t afford to hire help, and he really wants his oldest daughter to go to school. His job requires him to travel and doesn’t allow him to assist with household responsibilities. The father makes the difficult decision to give away the baby for adoption and put the two younger girls in foster care. Anna is devastated her family is being split apart.

I think what Anna’s father did was fairly common seventy years ago. With birth control not available and knowledge about women’s health not what it is today, many women died in childbirth and families were left in the situation Anna’s was.

A friend of mine has written a memoir about her father in which she reveals his parents sent him to live with relatives for five years.  His family would grow to include 13 children and his parents simply couldn’t manage to feed and care for them all. 

Hopi woman with her children 1940s- image from the Digital Public Library of America

When we lived and taught on the Hopi First Nation in Arizona we learned about a custom in the past whereby women gave their childless sisters one of their own children. This was considered the right thing to do. We met a Hopi university professor who had been raised by her aunt and uncle in a situation like this and she had no hard feelings. She realized that in many ways she’d had a better life and more opportunities than her siblings because she was raised as an only child by parents who had been desperate to have children and gave her every advantage.

Making a decision to give a child away would be such a difficult thing to do, but in the past, it was something parents sometimes felt was their only option.

Other posts………

Common Threads- The Hopi

Thirties Prairie Portraits

Learning How to Write Historical Fiction

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Family

God Rest The Children of This World

Arctic Madonna by Pitaloosie Saila

In December of 2001, I wrote a poem for my Winnipeg Free Press column inspired by Ogden Nash’s A Carol for Children which was published in The New Yorker in 1935. Although the references in my poem are clearly ones that relate to the news events of 2001, it is sad to note that its sentiments are as timely today as they were then.  

God Rest Our Merry Children– by MaryLou Driedger – December 2001

God rest our merry children, let nothing them dismay
Let nothing scar their pure young hearts, this blessed Christmas Day
May they still believe in magic, the tinsel and the tree
May nothing mar their happiness or taint their innocent glee.

Our children are the cherished ones, shielded from fear and pain,
We care for them and love them, their dreams and hopes sustain.
God rest our merry children, but may we not forget
Those little ones who have no hope, who only know neglect

The children of Afghanistan, so hungry and so cold
AIDS babies born in Africa who never will grow old
Teenagers in Ireland who’ve learned to fight and hate
The orphans of Sierra Leone, what shall they celebrate?
In Palestine and Kurdistan, the children cannot sleep
They fear the bombs and snipers, they hear their mothers weep
While earthquakes rock the cradles in El Salvador
Those growing up in Bosnia live with the scars of war.
Here in North America we need only look to see
The suffering of children who live in poverty
Little minds already numbed by their mother’s alcohol and crack
Homeless, hungry and abused, their future looks so black
And what about the boys and girls who watched their parents die
When the towers of New York City exploded in the sky?
God rest the children of this world, but may we feel dismay
That so many of our little ones are sad this Christmas day.
Let us pray that sometime soon all children everywhere
Will live in comfort and joy and never know despair.

God bless our merry children, but open our eyes to see
All of those who need our help, our generosity.
May each of us do our part, whether great or small
To let the children of this world, know that God loves them all.
We wish a peaceful rest this night for young ones far and near
A blissful bit of slumber free from doubt and fear
God rest the children!

Other posts……..

War is Hell Especially For Children

Standing Up For Children

9/11 Adding Stories to Names

Meeting the Street Children of Dehli

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Filed under Childhood, Holidays

Down on the Farm

In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass botany professor Robin Kimmerer talks about how surprised she was when she first starting teaching to discover how little experience most of her university students had spending time outdoors in rural settings.  They hadn’t ever explored a farm to see where their food came from.  They hadn’t been in a garden.  They hadn’t waded in a pond or climbed a tree.  Now at the start of her university courses, she takes her students on expeditions to make sure they experience those things first hand. While looking through some old photographs I realized that unlike Robin’s students, my sons and their cousins were blessed to have a really great introduction to living close to the land thanks to their grandparents.  My Mom and Dad maintained a large hobby farm just outside of Steinbach for several decades. It afforded their grandchildren all kinds of good experiences learning about where their food came from and enjoying the great outdoors.


Other posts………

My Grandparents’ Farm

My Annual Moose Lake Fix 



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Generation Lockdown

The other day I walked into a Winnipeg kindergarten class just as the teacher was instructing the four and five-year-olds in her room about how they should behave during the lockdown drill that was going to happen in a few minutes.  I thought how sad it was that such little children needed to be educated in the steps to take should a dangerous person with deadly intent enter their school building. How did it make them feel ? 

On Wednesday night we went to the Winnipeg Art Gallery for a special showing of the Cannes Lions International Festival film that features all the award-winning advertisements for the past year. One that really made an impression on me was a public service announcement by the organization March For Our Lives.

A school girl instructs warehouse workers in active shooter protocol

It shows a schoolgirl named Kayleigh giving adults in a warehouse work area a training session on how to survive an active shooter event. The employees in the advertisement at first seem a bit amused that a young girl has come to talk to them. But as she solemnly instructs the adults in how to recognize different kinds of gunfire sounds, how to hide from a shooter, how to barricade doorways and ultimately escape by breaking windows, the faces of the people around her register shock and sadness. You can tell they are thinking, “What kind of world do we live in that a little girl needs to know these things?”

The advertisement titled Generation Lockdown reminds viewers that lockdown drills have become commonplace in schools ever since the Columbine High School shooting twenty years ago.

The ad ends by asking people to learn more about a variety of gun control measures being proposed in the United States that would prevent dangerous people from getting guns.  The organization that made the ad says 95% of school kids beginning at age five are now trained in what to do in active shooter situations because they have to be prepared for them to happen at any time. 

You can watch Generation Lockdown here.

You can find out when you can see the Cannes Lions film at the Winnipeg Art Gallery here. 

Other posts……..

Duck and Cover

Best of the Cannes Lions

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Filed under Childhood, Education, winnipeg art gallery

Christmas With the Nuns

nun's christmas st. boniface

Sitting on Santa’s knee 1959

When I was in grade one we lived in an apartment building for medical residents and their families on the grounds of the St. Boniface Hospital where my father was finishing his training to become a doctor. The Grey Nuns who had founded the hospital put on a Christmas party each year for the children of the residents complete with a visit from Santa, food, decorations and gifts. In the photo you can see the white-clad sisters in the background bringing in the presents. Santa is wearing a rather strange mask. Who knows? Perhaps he was also a nun in disguise.

I’m sitting on Santa’s left knee and the little girl with me is Candace Propp. Her family lived in the residence with us and our parents were friends. Later Candace and her family would move to Steinbach where her father would go into medical practice with my Dad.

Dad and his fellow interns at St. Boniface Hospital in the late 1950s. Dad is third from the right in the back row and Candace’s Dad Al is at the far right in the front row.

Our family of five lived in a very small one-bedroom apartment in the residence at St. Boniface Hospital and we didn’t have a great deal of money since my Dad was going to school and my Mom had quit her job as a teacher when she got married, because that’s what married women did in the 50s. So the lavish Christmas party the nuns hosted complete with food, games, treats, decorations and presents was a pretty big deal to us. 

Other posts………

Could I Have Been a Grey Nun?

The Children Are Watching and Listening and Wondering

Mennonite Nuns

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Filed under Childhood, Holidays

Overheard in Winnipeg Grade One Classrooms This Week

Bulletin board display in one of the schools I visit

Story 1

I am waiting for a post-observation chat with the student-teacher I am supervising when a child approaches her.  He is getting ready to go out for recess. 

Child:  Miss P could you please tie my shoes for me?’

Miss P:  Sure I can. 

She bends down and starts tying his laces.

Miss P:  It’s pretty cold and icy out today.  Don’t you have any boots? 

Child:  How long is a week?

Miss P:  A week is seven days. 

Child: Then I have to wait seven days to get boots because that’s when my Mom says the cheque will come.

A poster I saw in the hallway of a school I visited last week

Story 2

I am visiting with my student teacher when a mother comes in to talk to the classroom teacher. 

Parent:  I just wanted to let you know I have to move again but I will try to find a place close by so my daughter can keep coming to school here.  

Teacher:   I am glad you came in today because  I have a report that we have been waiting for a long time for you to sign. It is about a special education plan we want to put in place to help your daughter with her reading. 

Parent:  She read a book to me the other day and I nearly cried. 

Teacher: (Speaking softly and putting her hand gently on the mother’s arm) Yes her reading is getting a little better but she needs to come to school more often if we want her to make some real progress. 

Parent:  I know. I try.  But some days I just don’t feel that well and it’s too hard for me to get her ready and walk her to school. 

Other posts……….

The First Shall Be Last

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An Important Letter

Yesterday our daughter-in-law Karen Leis sent an important letter to the premier of Saskatchewan.  Karen is the province’s representative on the board of directors of the Canadian Paediatric Society. In her letter, she expresses her concern about a cluster of suicides in a Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation community near Loon Lake, about 360 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. There have been three suicides among young people there in a three week period and eight suicide attempts.  Karen notes that the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation is sadly not the only community to experience the pain of youth suicide. 

On behalf of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Karen urges Premier Scott Moe to collaborate with Indigenous communities and their elders to address issues of poverty, racism and substance abuse. Karen cites these as the root causes of the current mental health and suicide crisis.  She says a long term strategy to provide young people in Indigenous communities with effective, culturally appropriate and accessible mental health care services is imperative. Karen ends her letter by asking the premier to take action as soon as possible. 

Of course, the Saskatchewan story on this issue is not unique to that province, as the moving testimony at a special meeting of the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations earlier this week illustrated. National Chief Perry Bellegarde said action must be taken to stop Indigenous children and teens nationwide from feeling so hopeless they harm themselves.  

Karen’s letter on behalf of Canada’s paediatricians provides important support to the voices of the Assembly of First Nations on this pressing issue. It should inspire us all to speak out and take action in our own areas of influence, because as Karen notes so insightfully, the health of our children and young people is a key indicator of the health of our entire society. 

Other posts…………

Art That Makes You Feel Sick

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Filed under Childhood, Health

A Recipe Book That Brings Back Memories

My aunt has been downsizing for a move and during the process, she found this recipe book I gave her for Christmas one year. I made the recipe books with my grade three class. We put them together as a fundraiser for the Junior Red Cross. I was curious about the Junior Red Cross and found out it was an international organization for kids that operated in conjunction with the Red Cross from 1919 to 1980.

Initially, they raised funds for nurseries for war orphans but during the late 1950s and early 1960s when my grade three class was involved, much of the money Canadian school children raised went to the Crippled Children’s Fund to pay for medical treatment for children in each province with physical disabilities. Remember this was a time when the polio vaccine was just starting to be used and there was no universal health care. My grade three teacher Mrs Kihn had obviously enrolled our class in the charitable efforts of the Junior Red Cross and selling our recipe books was a fundraiser. I can’t recall how much we charged for each book but I certainly remember making them. It was a long tedious process.

We put two little balls of plasticine on our desks and stuck a pencil in each one. Then we slid first the back cover, and then each of the forty-five pages of the book and the front cover one by one over the pencils which had been placed exactly the right distance apart. When we were done our teacher carefully slid the compiled recipe books off the pencils and inserted the plastic rings to hold them together. I think we each made five books to sell and let me tell you it took a long time. We had obviously brought recipes from home that our mothers had written out and sent along with us to school. At age eight I’d certainly never made sweet and sour spareribs and I am sure little Herby Peters who went on to become the managing partner of a large Winnipeg law firm had never made date cake. Our teacher Mrs Kihn must have typed all those recipes onto mimeograph sheets and copied them all on an old Gestetner machine. Then she will have cut them apart with a paper cutter and punched holes in each sheet. A laborious task indeed! And there were forty children in our class who each made five recipe books. That’s 200 hundred recipe books Mrs. Kihn prepared for us to put together. 

My grade three class at the Kornelson School in Steinbach. I am second from the left in the second last row and Herby is in the middle of the girls in the back row. 

Mrs Kihn went to great lengths to help her students become civic-minded young people who were motivated to help others. I don’t think I fully appreciated that when I was sliding all those pages over the pencils on the second floor of the old Kornelson School in Steinbach.  Now I do!

Other posts………

My Polio Vaccines

Kornelson School Memories

Duck and Cover

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Who Loved You Into Being?

“Think about who loved you into being.”  I saw the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood on Friday night. There is a scene in the film where Tom Hanks playing the part of children’s television star Fred Rogers is having lunch in a Chinese restaurant with a young troubled journalist named Lloyd Vogel. Mr Rogers asks Lloyd to just sit for one full minute and think about the people who have loved him into being.  Who are people in his life that truly cared about him and wanted the best for him? Mr Rogers asks Lloyd to think deeply about those people and feel connected to them and grateful to them.

As Lloyd begins to do this, movie director Marielle Heller chooses to freeze the film for one full minute. This means while Lloyd Vogel is thinking about the people who loved him into being the audience is encouraged, really more or less forced, to do so too.  On Friday night I could hear people in the theatre initially shift uncomfortably in their seats as the screen froze but then they got drawn into the silence and I am sure most began thinking about the people who had loved them into being.  I wiped away tears when the minute ended as did the stranger sitting beside me. I suspect there were many damp eyes in the audience.  

Tom Hanks says the full minute of silence goes against every rule of movie-making but it is perhaps the most profound moment in the film. It makes the audience full participants.

The restaurant scene never really happened in Fred Rogers life but is partially based on a true incident. When Fred Rogers was awarded a lifetime achievement award at the 1997 Emmys for his contributions to children’s television programming he asked the audience to spend ten seconds thinking about the people who had loved them into being.  He said, “All of us have special ones who loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think about the people who have helped you to become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.”  

When the time was up Mr Rogers asked the audience members to consider how happy and grateful the people who had made a difference in their life would feel to know that they had meant so much to someone.  

I thought Tom Hanks was perfectly cast as Fred Rogers

Mr Rogers’ basic message on his television program that ran for thirty-three years was that every child is special just the way they are and worthy of kindness. In order to be good human beings, we all need to have had someone who respects who we are,  shows us kindness, cares about us, and loves us into being.  Maybe many of the problems of our society could be solved if we could only ensure that every human being had exactly that- someone to love them into being.  

Who loved you into being? 

Other posts…………

Won’t You Be My Neighbour? 

Children’s Party with Aunt Olly

Getting Nostalgic and Just a Little Sad

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Filed under Childhood, Movies