When I was five years old I started grade one at Marion School in St. Boniface. My father was an intern at the St. Boniface Hospital and so our family lived in a large apartment block on the hospital grounds. While my father put in long hours at the hospital my mother was home caring for me, my infant brother and three year old sister. Our family did not have a car. So when September rolled around and it was time for me to start grade one the only practical solution for transportation to school was that I take a city bus. And I did. Alone. Mom walked me to the stop at first with my younger siblings in tow but after awhile I walked on my own. I remember riding the bus and can still recall the face of one of the drivers who was often assigned to my route. I sat on the long front seat right near the driver.
I thought of my grade one experience when I read a Macleans magazine article about Adrian Crook a single father of five in Vancouver. His oldest four children aged 7, 8, 9, and 11 have been riding a city bus to school on their own for two years. His children have been doing this without incident and in fact he has received affirmations from other bus riders complimenting him on how well behaved his children are. But an anonymous report to the B.C. ministry of Child and Family Development has resulted in Mr. Crook being ordered to accompany his children to school on the bus. Mr. Crook had practiced the bus route with his children many times before allowing them to travel on their own. His kids were acquainted with the bus drivers on their route and the children carried a cell phone to call their father if they had any problems. But one report from someone Mr. Crook doesn’t even know has changed everything. Mr. Crook’s case is getting national attention because it addresses the issue of how we can keep children safe while still allowing them to grow up to be independent and responsible.
Mr. Crook argues that evidence and not fear should dictate the rules in cases like his. Buses are twenty four times safer than cars and in Canada your child has the same risk of being struck by lightning as they do of being kidnapped by a stranger. Criminal activity in Canada is lower than it’s been in some forty years. Mr. Crook believes that should prove he is not being irresponsible about allowing his children to take the bus alone to school. Other people seem to agree with him because a Go Fund Me page to help Mr. Crook mount a legal challenge against the ministry has already received $25,000.
I lived in Hong Kong for six years and there children took public transportation on their own all the time. They wore their transportation identity cards around their necks on lanyards and happily rode around the city unaccompanied by an adult. No one seemed overly concerned about their safety.
I certainly don’t believe my parents were negligent in allowing me to ride the bus to school on my own. Yet when I think of my own five- year- old grandson riding the bus alone in the large Canadian city where he lives, I admit to strong misgivings. Why is that? Why do we think the world has become a much more dangerous place all evidence to the contrary? And how is that belief impacting the way our children grow up?
Standing Up For Children
What’s the Best Way to Raise Children
Technology and Family Time
Revisiting the Good Will store on Princess Street
The GoodWill store on Princess Street in Winnipeg was a place of wonder and delight for me as a child. The store has changed somewhat since I used to visit there in the 1960s but one thing hasn’t changed. On the far wall just where they’ve always been, are rows and rows and rows of books from the floor to the ceiling. The shelves of the Good Will Store were one of my main sources for reading material when I was a child. We lived in Steinbach which didn’t have a public library till 1973, the year I turned twenty. Our Steinbach church didn’t have a library yet, in fact we didn’t even have a building. We met for services in a school basement. The old Kornelson School where I first attended classes in Steinbach didn’t have a library either and Steinbach didn’t have a book store. Perhaps because I had been read to often when I was a child, I grew up loving books and read voraciously. On family trips my Mom would tell me to get my nose out of my book and look at the scenery. Here I am setting off for my first day of school with a book in hand. I could read before I started grade one. So what was a girl who loved to read and had no access to books in her home town to do? My reading salvation lay at the Good Will store. On trips to Winnipeg my Mom often made a stop at Good Will and patiently waited while I picked out books to read. Books were 5 cents each. On my birthday my Grandma and Grandpa always sent me a one dollar bill in my birthday card. That was 20 books! Should I choose a Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Box Car Children, Elsie Dinsmore, Bobbsey Twins, or another book in the Anne of Green Gables series or Little House series? I was in heaven in the GoodWill Store! All those books! The Good Will store on Princess Street offered me reading salvation as a child. I’m glad kids today have many more options for gaining access to books.
Who Do Family Stories Belong To?
Agatha Christie’s First Trip on the Orient Express
Lesson Not Required
This week people have been celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Harry Potter. It reminded me of an article I wrote about the Harry Potter books in 2000. It was by debut column as a regular writer for the Faith Page of the Winnipeg Free Press.
I wrote about two events in Toronto’s Skydome. On October 23, 2000 J.K. Rowling read excerpts from her book Harry Potter to 20,000 school children in the Skydome and on October 25, 2000 singer Eminem played a show there to a packed house of enthusiastic teenagers. Many religious groups had been criticizing both Rowling and Eminem. The year my column debuted, Eminem and JK Rowling were two of pop cultures most famous icons.
Religious groups were accusing Rowling of championing witchcraft and Eminem was being taken to task because his songs often promoted violent acts towards women. In my column I suggested the Rowling books should not cause concern for parents but they would do well to read the frightening and disturbing Eminem lyrics and then decide whether they might be suitable for their children.
The main point of my article was that parents had a responsiblity to be informed about the books and recordings that engaged their children, and be willing to discuss the content of that literature and music with their kids. That’s as true today in 2017 as it was when my column was written in 2000.
Why Are Adults Reading Teen Fiction?
A Little Inspiration From the James Taylor Concert
Lynch Family and Lead Belly
Have you heard of a fidget? I just learned about them on Friday when I was doing a workshop with kids at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. One of them pulled out a fidget to play with as she did her artwork.
“What in the world is that?” I asked.
“You don’t know? ” She didn’t want to believe me. “It’s a fidget. Everybody has one.” And indeed several other children working at the same table pulled out their fidgets too. One of them let me try twirling the fidget around with my fingers.
“Is this all it does? ” I asked.
“Well you can also twirl it around on the table,” they said and demonstrated that for me.
When I got home I did a little research. The fact I didn’t know about fidgets didn’t make me as behind the times as I thought. Fidgets just became a fad in April of this year. By May 2017 twenty different versions of it were topping the best seller list of toys on Amazon.
Initially fidgets were made for children with autism and attention deficit disorder. Playing with them provided a release for nervous energy or stress. Now however so many school kids have them, they are proving to be a distraction in class, and some teachers have banned them.
Fidgets come in every color of the rainbow. Some glow in the dark. Fidgets sell for prices ranging from $2 to $460. The one I was experimenting with at the art gallery was a $10 model. Apparently they aren’t just for kids but are also being marketed to adults as way to relieve stress on the job. I don’t think I’ll be buying one anytime soon.
A Kaleidoscope of Possibilities
This May marks the 20th anniversary of the height of the great flood of 1997. It was dubbed the Flood of the Century. It caused more than $500 million in damage and resulted in the evacuation of tens of thousands of Manitoba folks from their homes. News of the rising Red River dominated the media. Children saw images of it constantly on their television screens and heard adults discussing the rising waters. In a newspaper column in May of 1997 I wrote about what I was observing in the children and young people I knew as they reacted to all that flood information.
At Mitchell School where I was teaching at the time I watched two girls playing with a doll house and moving all their miniature people and furniture to the second floor. “A flood is coming,” they told me as they fashioned a boat out of clay to rescue their stranded doll family.
At recess time I noticed kids digging rivers and building cities in the sandbox and then drowning them with water from nearby puddles.
The journal entries of my grade four students alerted me to how concerned they were. One girl wrote, “I heard the water would have to touch the Golden Boy’s toes before Mitchell would be flooded. I hope that’s true.” Another girl described the day her family spent sandbagging to try to save a relative’s hog barns in Rosenort. One boy wrote about a horse he had seen on television that had nearly drowned in the rising waters.
Each morning I gave the kids a chance to talk about the flood. They were clearly apprehensive about how the flood might impact them. I had to reassure them adults were handling the situation and they shouldn’t worry.
My older son was eighteen at the time of the flood and just finishing his final year of high school. It was interesting to observe how the natural disaster gave him and his friends such a sense of purpose and importance. For many days in a row they’d report to school in the morning and then be sent out in work groups to flood threatened areas. The teens would put in long hours of hard physical labor sandbagging, coming home wet, muddy, sunburned and bone-tired only to wake up the next morning and head back out again to another threatened site. My son talked about how grateful people were to them and how homeowners thanked them profusely.It was a great character builder for the kids. They were making a difference. People were counting on them. I think probably that week or so of sandbagging was one of the most important learning experiences of my son’s senior year of high school.
I am glad there has been no repeat of Flood of the Century here in Manitoba. But as I have listened to news of the flooding that has caused such havoc in the province of Quebec in recent weeks, I have been thinking about how the children there are being impacted by the rising waters, and how they might be reacting. I hope there are people listening to their concerns, reassuring them and providing positive ways for them to respond.
Flooding at Birch Point
Noah – A Violent Movie About a Violent Story
Dave Bends Over Backward
A popular new activity we have been trying at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on our school tours is portrait creation with plasticine. It engages even the most reluctant visitors. I’ve found it works especially well with a series of portraits located quite close to one another in our Modernist Tradition gallery. I tell the kids they can try to recreate one of the portraits, combine features from several or create their own unique portrait.
Younger gallery visitors aren’t sure they would like to meet Professor Felix Walter whose portrait was done by Charles Fraser Comfort in 1933. They tell me the professor’s eyebrows are too bushy and his hands too bony. Older students however are intrigued by the professor.
The kids invariably comment on Helen Esterman‘s long neck in this bronze portrait of her by Sir Jacob Epstein done in 1948.
Junior highs seem especially enamored with Rubber Lips a 1997 work by Janet Werner.
Younger students often identify most closely with The Farmer’s Daughter a portrait done by Prudence Heward in 1938. We try to give time for some kind of art activity on every tour we do with students at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. We want them to feel like they are artists too and can be creative just like the artists whose work they are seeing. Their plasticine masterpieces show just how creative so many of them are!!
I Love Art
Sunday Afternoon at the Winnipeg Art Gallery
I was visiting a school and kids at a table just outside the gym door were selling treats to raise funds for a class outing. “Will you buy something?” they entreated.
“What do you have that’s healthy?” I asked. They were stymied. They had a wide variety of chocolate bars, chips and baked goods for sale. They suggested a fruit juice box but a quick check of the label revealed it was packed with sugar. The only healthy thing I could find were sticks of cheese. The irony of the sales table being just outside the gym door where the kids take their Physical Well Being classes wasn’t lost on me.
There were lots of positives to the kids’ sales venture. They were learning how to interact politely with the public, how to handle and count money, the importance of managing costs and profits and they were working together to achieve a goal. Could they have learned those things just as well if their sales table had featured fruits and vegetables, popcorn, yogurt, sunflower seeds, pistachios and whole grain or rice crackers? I understand those things might have been hard to sell.
It will take some doing to get kids to think healthy treats can be just as delicious and satisfying as unhealthy ones. But it’s a change of perspective families, schools and governments need to work at seriously if we are going to combat childhood obesity and promote more healthy lifestyles for kids. Thinking about what kinds of things we sell for fundraisers- cookies, candies and chocolates might be a good place to start.
Eat Like You Give A Damn
Healthy Environments- Not Gyms or Arenas