Category Archives: Education

Insight and Wisdom From My Daughter-in-Law

My daughter-in-law Dr Karen Leis was on CBC News yesterday offering some important perspectives on sending Canadian children back to school in September.  Karen is the Saskatchewan representative on the Canadian Paediatric Society Board of Directors.

children sitting on brown chairs inside the classroom

Photo by Arthur Krijgsman on

It is still more than two months before schools will start their fall semesters and Karen reminds us two months in the COVID world is a long, long time. There is always new data coming out that may provide additional insights into how COVID-19 relates to children.

 Karen says what we have learned so far is that children around the world have not been as negatively affected by the coronavirus as adults. In Canada, they account for less than one per cent of hospitalizations and there have been no deaths. Researchers will continue to discover more about if and how children may be transmitting the virus asymptomatically as well as symptomatically. 

Dr Karen Leis is the Saskatchewan representative on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Paediatric Society

Karen says the Canadian Paediatric Society is asking governments to carefully consider the balance between the need for public health measures to combat COVID-19 with the risks that social isolation can present for children. While Karen was careful to point out that some children have thrived in isolation with their families she has also seen patients with anxiety, moodiness, behaviour problems and sleep issues related to the current crisis. She reminds us that for some at-risk children school is their safe space where they have relationships with adults they can trust.

Not all parents will feel comfortable sending their children to school in the fall, particularly children who may have chronic illnesses and families will need to make those decisions, perhaps in consultation with their health care provider. 

school children in taiwan channel news asia photo

Karen was asked about children using masks in her radio interview and she said while they are recommended for children over two years of age for short periods in specific situations, masks may not be as effective for children as adults because children tend to touch their masks more and adjust them more frequently. Masks also hinder children from seeing other people’s facial expressions and those expressions play a key role in effective communication. 

In her radio interview, Karen emphasized that governments need to consult teachers as they plan for school re-opening and must make sure schools are provided with the resources they require to implement health guidelines. 

Karen is a fine example of how dedicated health care providers are working hard to learn all they can about COVID-19 and offer the best advice possible to the public.  I’m very proud of her.  

Other posts………….

An Important Letter

Watch Schools and Daycares for Signs of Reopening

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Radiohead and Plato

My son hosts a weekly radio show and listening to it every Thursday introduces me to lots of interesting music.  Recently he played a song by Radiohead called Daydreaming. I liked it and so I looked up the lyrics. They talk about someone who doesn’t want to learn or venture out into the sun.  I found out the inspiration for the lyrics came from a story the philosopher Plato told 2,400 years ago. 

Ted Ed video of The Cave

Illustration from the Ted-Ed video of The Cave. It’s great!

Plato talks about some people who have been chained up in a cave since they were children. They can’t turn their heads. A fire behind them gives off a faint light and so when other humans and animals pass in front of the fire the chained people see images of things on the wall which they give names. These shadows seem real to the prisoners and shape their entire view of the world.

Then one of the prisoners is freed and leaves the cave to go outside. The sun hurts his eyes and he doesn’t want to believe all the new things he is seeing can be real. He is being introduced to a whole new world and it is scary but also wonderful and provides him with a completely new view of reality.  He feels sorry for his friends back in the cave with their limited ideas about the world and he goes back to them to share what he has learned. 

But they laugh and say he is crazy. The shadows they see in the cave are real, not the world he is talking about.  The prisoner who has been outside the cave and seen the sun and all the things it illuminated, can no longer adjust his eyes to see the shadow reality. The other prisoners say their companion who has seen the sunlight is stupid and blind and they refuse to allow him to free them. When he tries they get hostile and violent. 

Plato's Cave by Lalita Hamill

Plato’s Cave by British Columbia artist  Lalita Hamill

What does Plato’s allegory mean? That many people are comfortable in their ignorance and hostile to anyone who points it out? Plato spent much of his life promoting rule by philosopher kings, learned people who had read and studied and ‘seen the light’. Are those the kinds of leaders we would do well to elect?

As we go through life are we resolutely certain that we know what is right or are we open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things and doing things?  What if allowing ourselves to think in those new ways challenged the norm?  What if thinking in new ways could endanger us or cause us to lose friends or alienate family members?  Are we open to seeing things in a new light? 

Other posts………..

Laughing at the Suffering of Others

Elegant Words

Hairnets and Helmets




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Filed under Education, Music

How I Became Aware of Racism

I’ve been thinking about how old I was when I first became aware of the idea of racism.  I grew up in a small Mennonite Canadian town where almost everyone was white.  Take a look at my elementary and junior high school class pictures and that’s clearly evident.

Three things stand out in my mind when I think of racism awareness in my childhood and teen years.  

My Grade Five Class in 1963 with our teacher Mr Klassen. 

In grade five I had a very innovative teacher, Mr Helmut Klassen.  I loved him because we did all sorts of hands-on projects. He taught us how to have a debate. We learned the rules and format of debating, and the best way to prepare and present our case.  

The topic of one of the debates we had in our class was whether black and white people should be treated equally. I argued for the affirmative and the research and planning I did for that debate was probably my first introduction to racism.  I can still see myself up on the stage at the old Southwood School in Steinbach drawing an illustration on a portable chalk blackboard to illustrate one of my points.

Now, of course, the very fact that we had a DEBATE over whether there should be racial equality seems hard to believe. I memorized a poem to recite during that debate called Incident.  It was by a black American writer Countee Cullen and it brought me to tears every time I read it. I can still recite it by heart. You can read it here. 

I will never forget that around the same time I heard an elderly relative of mine use the N-word.  And I remember how horrified I was. I knew enough about racism to be shocked. My mother explained that the woman had grown up in the American south and it was a word she used out of habit. I knew her as the sweetest and kindest of souls but it got me thinking about how even ‘good people’ could be racist and how I might be racist too. Then in high school, I read a book called Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn. It was published the year I was thirteen but I was a bit older when I read it. I don’t remember where I got it. I was a voracious reader growing up in a town without a library so I was always gathering books like a packrat, from a whole variety of sources.  

The novel was the life story of a young man named David, a civil rights activist from Mississippi.  The title alluded to the Biblical hero David who challenged the giant Goliath with only five smooth stones as his weapons. Part of the attraction of the novel for me was David’s turbulent romantic relationship with a white woman named Sara. It faced insurmountable obstacles because of the laws against interracial marriage, but the 900-page saga also introduced me, a sheltered white teenager, to the horrors of the Jim Crow laws, legal discrimination and the legacy of slavery.  

I read and re-read it many times until the book was literally falling apart.  I just looked it up on Good Reads and was surprised how many people said that growing up in the 1960s this book was what shook their world of white privilege.  I haven’t read it in decades and I am sure it would seem dated were I to read it now, and certainly would seem less than authentic because it was penned by a white author, but at the time it was such an eye-opener. 

If you are white and of a generation similar to mine how did you become aware of the idea of racism? 

Other posts……….

Racism- Pure and Simple

A Display of Racist Anger

A Racist Statue



Filed under Books, Education, Politics

Questions About School Opening, Apple Blossoms and Travel Options

“Keep working from Home” was the headline for the CBC story about yesterday’s question and answer session with Dr.Brent Roussin.   Roussin cautioned employers not to rush to bring their employees back to their communal workspaces.  Seems strange then that the province has decided teachers will be returning to their communal workspaces next week. 

Photo by fauxels on

I am wondering what will happen to their own children when teachers return to school. Phase 2 guidelines for Manitoba schools indicate that not all children will be at school every day in June. This means teachers with school-age children will have to arrange child care for their own children. Who will provide that care? Grandparents? Not the best idea with most of them in the age group that is considered at risk. Perhaps their children’s other non-teaching parent can provide care. But what if that other parent is a front line or essential worker? What if the teacher is a single parent? 

 Will daycares that have filled their spaces with the children of other front line workers now have to find room for teacher’s children as well for just four weeks?  Will teachers now be considered front line workers? 

I haven’t heard about any provisions being made for older teachers, teachers who may have compromised immune systems or those who are living with illnesses like diabetes or a heart condition or arthritis.  Will they have to go back to school as well? 

Will teachers be expected to continue providing daily online learning for their students who remain at home at the same time as they are at the school building meeting with small groups of other students? 

Will teachers receive training about how to operate a classroom in which you maintain physical distancing? I can only imagine what a huge learning curve that is going to be. For their own health and safety and that of their students’ teachers will need to have some kind of professional development in this area. 

Will children and teachers be required to wear a mask?  Will the province be supplying personal protective equipment for students and teachers? 

As someone who is involved with training new educators, it seems to me there are lots of questions to be answered before teachers should be asked to return to their classrooms. I went to see my Dad again yesterday. Dad is in an assisted living facility and I had to make an appointment to meet him outside on the patio. The staff at the facility where he lives have set up benches placed a safe distance apart where we can talk. Dad couldn’t get over the beauty of the blossoming apple trees around us.  He thought the blossoms falling to the ground looked like the petals sometimes scattered in the church aisle for a couple getting married.  This made Dad think about his seven great-grandchildren.  “I don’t think I will be around to attend any of their weddings,” Dad said. The new life on the trees made him consider the approaching end of his own life.  

Having breakfast with Donna Janke in summer

Last summer I had the privilege of meeting a fellow blogger Donna Janke. Donna writes a travel blog called Destinations, Detours and Dreams. Since we can’t really travel outside of our own province right now Donna is encouraging people to look for things to see and do right in their home towns and cities. In her latest blog post, she gives ideas for how to discover what you can see and do in your own area.  I was privileged to have my blog What Next referenced in Donna’s post. 

Other posts……..

Into the Wilds of Winnipeg

Winnipeg and Mennonites in the Movie Gone Girl

Watch Schools and Daycares For A Sign Things Are Returning to Normal

At the Apple Orchard



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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Education

Watch Schools And Daycares For A Sign Things Are Returning To Normal

Regular temperature taking and handwashing routines throughout the day have allowed schools in Taiwan to stay open

Things can’t really return to any kind of normal until schools and daycares are open again. That was the gist of a lengthier comment by Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert during a recent At Issue panel on CBC television. Hébert is right to think opening schools and daycares will be essential to getting the economy going again. Parents will not be able to return to work until their children can return to school or daycare.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed Hébert’s reasoning as he reflected on President Trump’s plan to open American businesses in May.  “I don’t understand how you’d start businesses in May without opening schools…because schools do education and schools also do daycare for a large percentage of the New York population.”

Photo of me doing art with children on the Winnipeg Art Gallery site

If businesses were to reopen in summer, we would also need to open all the programs at art galleries, museums, camps, on university campuses, in community centres, schools and churches that care for children during the holidays.

In more than 70% of Canadian families, both parents are working – photo by Nicole DeKhors used by permission

The latest statistics about employed parents I could find were for 2014. At that point, 70% of households in Canada with children under the age of sixteen reported both parents were wage earners outside the home. I suspect that percentage is even higher now. Those employed parents make up a substantial part of the Canadian workforce and if they are going to return to their places of employment their children will have to be supervised or cared for.

Last week the Quebec premier Francois Legault, recognizing the importance of reopening schools and daycares, suggested he would let that start happening in May. He reasoned that children, who seem to be one segment of the population that rarely gets seriously ill from the coronavirus, could help to spread immunity in the community.

According to the National Post the premier’s suggestion was met with concern by parents, teachers, school administrators and daycare operators.  While most children may not be impacted negatively by the virus, what about teachers, cleaning staff, school secretaries, daycare workers and others who may be over sixty or have autoimmune diseases? Some children live with grandparents or have relatives with compromised immune systems. They could bring the disease home to them. And what about the children of frontline workers who could contract the virus at school, and give it to their parents, who would, in turn, give it to their clients and customers and patients?

Chantal Hébert made another good point during the panel discussion that illustrates just how difficult it may be to open schools and daycares.  “We all know there is one place where a two-meter distance will be almost impossible to maintain and that’s a classroom.”

Schools and daycares simply aren’t set up to allow for social distancing and children’s natural tendency is to touch others.  According to Dr David Givens of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, touch was already vital to our primate ancestors 60 million years ago. We’re not going to get kids to instantly change that innate instinct.

One can only hope the current crisis makes us all more mindful of the vital role schools and daycares play in our society and that in the future this may lead to a nationally-funded daycare program in Canada and measures to ensure schools have all the resources they require to adequately address the needs of the children they serve.

The dictionary says a bellwether is an indicator of how a situation has changed or is about to change.  I think the reopening of schools and daycares will be a bellwether for our society getting back to normal.

Other posts………….

Popping In and Out of Schools

Overheard in Winnipeg Grade One Classrooms

Improving Education in Manitoba?  Some People Think They Have All the Answers

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Education

Swimming Down a Different Canal, After the Storm, Old Friends and Inspiration from Young Educators

Dad and me with the globe we gave him on his birthday some thirty-five years ago. Dad has interesting ways of describing what’s going on in the world right now. 

Like many of us when we grow older my Dad often has to search for just the right word to describe things. I think Dad has always fancied himself a wordsmith and when he had to write a speech for any occasion he usually did so with the dictionary open beside him. I suspect he also used the dictionary when writing the very poetic and sometimes difficult to discern messages of advice he always included in our Christmas cards. Now, Dad finds it a struggle to look things up in the dictionary but his penchant for describing things in unique ways has not changed.  This weekend while talking about our current world situation he said,  “Well MaryLou we are certainly swimming down a different canal right now.”    Yes, Dad. You are right. We most certainly are. 

CBS’s Sunday morning did a documentary yesterday on Kadir Nelson whose work frequently makes the cover of magazines like The New Yorker. Nelson just won the 2019 Caldecott medal for children’s literature for his illustrations in the book The Undefeated. He has created a new artwork that shows people after the pandemic is over. It is called After the Storm.

After the Storm by Kadir Nelson- from the CBS website

Look at how the marvellously diverse people in the painting all have their eyes focused on something ahead of them and how they are all touching one another in various ways. Will the pandemic help to unite us and force us to focus on the things that are vital to creating a bright future for our world? 

 Kadir Nelson’s painting reminds me of a painting by Norman Rockwell called The Golden Rule which graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in April of 1961. Rockwell reminds us that no matter our differences we should treat others the way we want to be treated. 

Mural on the wall of one of the schools I visit.

I have been busy reading the papers and assignments my student teachers had to submit to me in lieu of their practicum placements in classrooms during the months of March and April.  I have found so many pearls of wisdom in these young educators’ reflections. 

“If kids are hungry or they don’t feel safe they can’t learn.

“COVID-19 has made me aware that not all students have access to technology at home and that is making it hard for them to keep up with school work right now.” 

“I’ve learned that teaching children about mindfulness and meditation can make a difference in how they handle things.”

“I’ve developed this real passion for teaching in the inner city and I wasn’t expecting that.” 

” If you give kids choices instead of always telling them what to do they will feel more responsible for their own behaviour.” 

” I love my students and I am so sad I won’t get to see them again before the school year is over.  I didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye to them.” 

Our small group in 2016

We have been in a friendship group with four other couples for decades.  Our group began at a church we all used to attend. Dave and I are trying to connect with one of the couples each week to see how they are doing.  On Saturday we had a great visit with our friends who are isolating on their country property and having some interesting encounters with skunks.  We used to stage an annual lawn dart competition at this couple’s home and while cleaning up their shed they had found some posters celebrating the winners of those tournaments.  It was nice to reminisce about old times and catch up on what’s going on in our lives right now. 

Other posts……….

Norman Rockwell at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

90 Years

Cocktails in a Stable


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Oh What Fun!

Here I am with the cactus bandana I made in the hands-on education room in the Arizona State University Art Gallery. I had such a fun time there! As you entered the space you could watch a video featuring an artist named Cruz Ortiz. He explains how he created the art on display in the room.

Summer Nite Star Dream by Cruz Ortiz

He went out into the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix and drew sketches of all kinds of things. Then he created woodblock carvings of the things he’d drawn.

Palo Verde Cream by Cruz Ortiz

He inked the woodblocks and used them to make the prints that he arranged together in order to compose his larger artworks. There was a table with all kinds of woodblock prints sort of like the ones in the Ortiz artworks and fresh white cloth bandanas. You could unfold one and then make your own special piece of art. I had so much fun making the first one that I made a second one too! There was this floor to ceiling cupboard in the space and a sign nearby that explained what a still life artwork was. You were invited to take objects from the shelves and arrange them to create your own still life.  I made three.


Ocean Treasures


Then you could sit at a table and sketch your own still life object.

One whole wall in the space was for making poetry. You could rearrange the magnetic words to create a poem of your own. I composed one about my mother and one for Elisabeth Warren who had just bowed out of the Democratic Presidential race.  I was sad that the youngest, most intelligent, most energetic, most organized, most personable, most positively passionate of the three remaining viable candidates was judged more for her gender than her competence. Before you left the space you were invited to add your comments and ideas to these long strings hanging from the pillars in the space.  In the background, you can see my partner Dave who read while I had my fun but was always willing to put his book down and take a picture as needed. I wrote two different messages and pinned them to the strings in the education space.

Something else that was cool and fun was that the art studio where I was enjoying myself was just next to the Arizona State school of music. Since it was a lovely day there were musicians all over the place outside rehearsing and they provided a wonderful musical accompaniment to my artistic endeavours.

Other posts………….

Artists in Action

A Dutch Touch on a Fine Fall Afternoon

Meet You At The Folio

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Filed under Arizona, Art, Education

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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Filed under Childhood, Education

A Bath Tub in My Classroom

reading in the tubI wrote a blog post not long ago about the Olden Days which proved very popular and got quite a few comments.  One of the readers was a former student of mine Jennifer Cure Kehler.  She wrote this about my post.

“In my “olden days” I had an incredible grade one teacher who taught me, and many other students that reading can be/is…. comfort. A bathtub full of cozy pillows and some good reading material was the GREATEST reward of all! I think she was ahead of her time!”

kids in the bath tubWhat Jennifer is referring to is the fact that for many, many years I had an antique claw-footed bathtub in my classroom.  It was designed as a spot for children to read.  I found the tub in an old house on the site where my parents were going to build a new home. I asked Dad if I could have the tub and he hauled it to my classroom in his truck. We painted it bright yellow and filled it with pillows and it was a popular reading spot.jeff and justin in reading corner The tub was part of a reading corner lined with shelves of books, a covered mattress for a reading couch, lots of big pillows, an old big armed wooden chair, a rug, and apple baskets filled with more books. When I left Elmdale School in Steinbach to move to the new elementary school in Mitchell I insisted on taking the tub with me.  I still remember how the school division employees grumbled about having to move the heavy thing.  

I don’t know where the bathtub ended up.  When I left my teaching position in Mitchell to go and teach in Hong Kong the bathtub stayed in my classroom. Although the bathtub was a popular place to read it was also a good place for kids who weren’t feeling well to lie down or have a nap.  It was also a nice place for kids to curl up if they needed some time alone. 

trina and roxie in reading cornerJennifer’s remarks about the bathtub sent me looking for some old photos of the tub.  And I managed to find a few. Thanks, Jennifer for bringing back some good memories from my teaching career. 

Other posts……

Teacher Can You Spare A Dime

Stopping By Woods- A Children’s Masterpiece

Counting On Their Fingers

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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