Category Archives: Social/Emotional Needs

2016: Using the Virtues Project in meeting the Social/Emotional needs of Gifted Students

Over the past number of years I have been committed to learning and embedding the language of the virtues (The Virtues Project) into my professional and  personal life. At first it seemed like a simple enough task, after all, it isn’t as if I don’t already know the words. But it started out feeling very awkward to say the words “I see your determination,” or “Thank-you for your courtesy,” or “I need your self-discipline.”  I had become comfortable with short cuts like “Great job!” “Thanks!” and “Pay attention!” and to deviate from the auto-responses in an effort to really “see” the person, be present in the moment,  and most importantly to understand and acknowledge what I was seeing and needing meant that I had to change what I was looking for and who I needed to be to speak with authenticity.

But when you start looking for the virtues in the people around you, it really is like putting on a different set of “glasses” or lenses with which to see the world. Perfectionism can be redefined as idealism that requires an understanding of moderation and humility to fully blossom. Emotional over-sensitivities can be understood as empathy and compassion which may require an understanding of detachment to balance out how incredibly overwhelming they can feel. A temper tantrum can be transformed into learning how to balance commitment and determination with flexibility. In my mind, the value of using the virtues as part of a social/emotional curriculum for gifted learners cannot be understated. But it is not the kind of curriculum where each week you choose a virtue to study and learn. It is a daily search and acknowledgement for the virtues that are already there that need acknowledgement and/or cultivation.

This recent Ted Talk by my mentor in the Virtues Project, Christine Ayling, is a great place to get an introduction to what the project is all about as well as the five strategies in working with the virtues. In 2016 it is my goal to continue learning how to further develop the five strategies she talks about in my own life and practice as well as share some of those insights here. All the best to all of you in 2016!

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The (Gifted) Journey: Two Recurring Phases

This past October I had the chance to attend a Global Mentorship Retreat for the Virtues Project International Association in Calgary, Alberta. I was very excited to attend as I have been gradually growing my understanding of how to infuse the virtues into my personal and professional life for the past 10 years. The mentorship provided me with an unbelievable opportunity to connect with others from around the world who have been using The Virtues Project in so many different ways to address issues as diverse as the suicide epidemic in Japan to working through the trauma unleashed by the Truth and Reconciliation hearings here in Canada to Virtue Schools in Finland where children learn from a very early age that they are born in potential with all the virtues in them and they are encouraged to not forget that they possess these as they begin encountering the challenges the world is going to put before them.

I had the chance to sit and chat briefly with one of the founders of the project, Dr. Dan Popov during one of our breaks. I took this opportunity to share a bit about my work with gifted students as well as my interest in Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and how I was using the Virtues Project as a means of introducing students to the idea of understanding that they have the power to define their character through consciously cultivating the virtues that they value. After my very quick description of TPD, Dr. Popov wondered whether the theory could be reduced to two phases, a question that has had me pondering ever since. The first phase is the one where everything is right with the world and we go forth with confidence feeling that all things are as they should be. The second phase? When things are not right with the world and we are tasked with adjusting our worldview in order to restore “rightness”.

While reductionism often fails to capture the nuances and details that can give us comfort as we stumble through uncertainty, this simplification also resists the idea that once we get through this stage or this phase or to this level, things will be as they should be. A complex and changing world is going to continue to throw us curveballs. Pendulums will continue to swing. What we once took as gospel truth may be shown to have been incomplete as research uncovers new ideas and concepts. Add to this complexity the certainty that most of the people and organizations around us will be making “adjustments” as they work to integrate new things into their worldview. And so many individuals to varying degrees who do not fit neatly into existing “systems” to start with, may well be tasked with a constant search for and creation of sometimes fleeting moments of “rightness” with the world and with who they are in this world.

In his article “Keep Radiantly Well” David Jardine (2015), recently retired from his position in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, reflects in another way on this “rightness” when he asks how we can maintain the “beauty” in places made ugly by “panic, defeat, feat, retraction, entrenchment, reification and hostility.” In it he also reminded me of a quote by political theorist Hannah Arendt who spoke of how the world “must be constantly set right anew” and that we must “educate in such a way that setting right remains possible.” (1969) For those of us in the system this can feel like a monumental and fruitless task. But Jardine tells us not to retreat, but go into those places where beauty is being compromised and be of service. Dr. Dan Popov’s keynote address echoed this sentiment when he asked us all three questions: What use will I make of my gifts? Who will I serve? How will I serve them? The third question leads us back to the virtues because how we serve, be it with love, steadfastness, patience, integrity is what will truly make the difference and allow us to keep the beauty in sight as we work through the struggle.

In one of my favorite Christmas movies “While You Were Sleeping” there is a scene where the father speaks to one of his sons where he says something to the effect “Every once in a while you get one of those moments where everything is alright and everyone is okay,” and his son replies “This is not one of those moments.” They talk it out, their world shifts a little and the movie continues on through some bumps to the inevitable romcom happy ending. (I am a sucker for a happy ending!) But isn’t that what all great stories are about? We start with the status quo, something shifts, and suddenly the protagonists are required to adjust and somehow set things right again, even though nothing will never be the same. Those who are able to persevere through the trials over the course of a lifetime grow in resilience and character and at different times and in different ways find their moments of “rightness”.

For other perspectives on the ages and stages of of giftedness, follow the link below:

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Understanding Overexcitabilities: The Basics

Overexcitability is part of the larger Theory of Positive Disintegration. (TPD) developed by Kazmierz Dabrowski. TPD is an important theory offering insight into personality development and the role anxiety and psychoneuroses play in reaching one’s developmental potential. Looking at the overexcitabilities independent of TPD is problematic as they drive developmental potential and need to be understood and supported in that context.

WHO experiences TPD? At the 2014 International Dabrowski Congress there seemed to be some controversy over the use overexcitability scales particularly as a predictor of giftedness. This makes sense as Dabrowski believed that the percentage of the population that experience positive disintegration is somewhere around 30-35% while giftedness is considered to occur in 2% of the population. While research indicates that the overexcitabilities occur to a larger degree within the gifted population, they are not exclusive to gifted individuals.

WHAT is “overexcitability”? “Overexcitability is a characteristic of the nervous system involving higher than average sensitivity to stimuli (a lower threshold to stimuli) and a higher than average response to stimuli.  Dabrowski described five main types of overexcitability: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional, and emphasized that the latter three are critical to development and in particular, that emotional overexcitability drives and guides higher development.” (Taken from PositiveDisintegration.com.)

WHEN is it an overexcitability vs “something else”?  The key element here is focus. A child with an intellectual overexcitability may exhibit ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) behaviors until they are given a task that they find intellectually stimulating at which time they are able to focus. Sometimes this incredible focus can look like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). There are also times when an emotional excitability can look like a trauma response. And there are also times when there can be a dual diagnosis where an individual has been diagnosed with ADHD and be gifted as well. Webb et al. have done a great job of working through Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of the Gifted which you can find here. This article does a great job of describing how the intensities and sensitivities can manifest themselves in gifted children.

WHERE can you find strategies to cope? Again, as I work through understanding Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration it is very important to note that the overexcitabilities are not distributed in equal measure and the various dynamisms do not contribute to developmental potential in the same way. Every child is unique so there is no cookie cutter fix. That said, this article at SENGifted is a great place to start to put together something that may work for you and your child. There are also some specific strategies relevant to specific overexcitabilities here.

WHY does it help to have an understanding of Dabrowski’s theory? In my experience of working with individuals who experience emotional and intellectual overexcitabilities, the danger of seeing this independent of personality development through positive disintegration is that there can be a tendency to pathologize it into a behavior problem rather than work to understand and acknowledge the transformative work that is taking place.  The approach we use in supporting children with overexcitabilities is the difference between them seeing their sensitivities as “bad” “immature” or  “overreactions” and developing a self-understanding to how they experience the world as part of a quest to become their best person. For parents and teachers here is the gift/burden: “The richer the developmental potential, the greater number and variety of conflicting and mutually opposing elements are brought into play, and the more disequilibrium is produced.” (p. 64. Theory of Levels of Emotional Development, 1977.)

HOW we handle overexcitabilities can make all the difference. The first and most important step is to manage our own reactions. How we respond to that “intense response to stimuli” will go a long way to nurturing the safety and trust required to build a relationship where the adult can empower the child through finding strategies that will help regulate responses but not inhibit developmental potential.

For more information/perspectives on overexcitabilities you can follow Hoagies Blog Hop at the link below.

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Gifted and Struggling with Relationships? The Virtues are a Good Place to Start

Gifted or not, relationships can be difficult. Much of my research in my masters thesis focused on the impact of relationships on learning and the focus of three years of intense study into curriculum along with interviewing teachers confirmed that yes, relationships are difficult. In a school setting, there are many things that contribute to these difficulties.

1. Assessment. Learning is about opening yourself up to new ideas, taking risks, exploring the distance between what you know and what you have yet to discover and potentially being transformed by the experience. Knowing that this journey is constantly being “evaluated” can place stress on the relationships in the school setting as evaluations lead to expectations.

2. Expectations. Schools are rife with expectations coming from students, parents, teachers, administrators, community groups, economic think tanks and government about what could and should be happening in them. Because the expectations are so varied and needs are so different, there are some things that schools are able to deliver and some things they are not due to this diversity.

3. Diversity. As much as we would like to say we embrace diversity, it is impossible for us to ever fully  understand the experience of another human being. When I ask colleagues to imagine what it would be like to be a gifted student in a classroom, the assumption is that it would be easier than it is for most. They can’t begin to imagine the sensitivities, the self-doubt, frustrations and worries that can plague what appear to be the most capable of students. In the same way it would be difficult to fully understand the experience of other groups of students: ELL students, FNMI students, LGBT students…and ultimately all of our students. Outside the building everyone has a story and experience that they carry with them into the school environment.

So what did I learn from researching relationships and their impact on learning? That ultimately good relationships emerge from believing the best about ourselves and believing in the best in others. It means letting go of assumptions when things get challenging and seeing if you can find out what the other person needs. It means practicing flexibility, forgiveness and humility while embracing care. Institutions are what they are: places designed to help us conform to the perceived needs of our society. What makes them positive places is the humanity that we bring to them as we navigate the expectations and the diversity.  Once I help my gifted students understand the nature of institutions, my favourite resource for addressing how we can bring in our humanity is The Virtues Project. The core belief is that we are all born complete with the virtues required for this difficult journey full of difficult relationships. Our work is to honour and bring out the best in each other along the way.

For more blogs about relationships follow the link below:

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Free Time: Critical for Gifted Children Who Engage in Philosophical Thinking?

“Is this a monoculture?” My daughter was four years old when she asked this question as we were driving through a rather large city on our way to an event where my band and I would be performing. I was not surprised by her use of the word, it was from a line in our song written from the perspective of a dandelion: “I don’t fit in your monocultured world…” But to hear a young child ask the question while surrounded by traffic and tall buildings, knowing her penchant for natural outdoor spaces where her imagination could run free, took the whole band by surprise. “Yes,” said the bass player looking out the window, “I suppose it is.”

There is a chapter by Deirdre V. Lovecky in the book Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child edited by Neville, Piechowski and Tolan that speaks to young gifted children being natural philosophers. It is full of examples of some of the complex questions that you might hear from a young gifted child regarding things like time, the nature and origins of the universe, and why we only see one image through two eyes. They are questions that may surprise us considering the age of the child but also signal to us the amazing process by which these young minds formulate an understanding of the world. This is where the gift of free time is so important.

Lovecky asserts that we “need to allow them plenty of opportunity to explore the natural world without giving them predefined answers” as this may “limit thinking because new directions the naive child might take are cut off prematurely.” p.142. She means without the TV, video games and computers that are detrimental to this exploration. A better option for free time would be “common household objects or old-fashioned toys, such as blocks” in addition to “reading extensively or being read to from books with complex language” which can also promote “complexity of ideas.”

While it can be a breathtaking experience to take part in a philosophical exchange with gifted child, the process of forming paradigms based on concepts that evolve out of abstract thinking is complex and can become an emotional minefield for these children when they attempt to navigate the world through these “untested” and sometimes rigid paradigms. This is where the really challenging work of parents and teachers begins.

First they need us to talk about their interesting ideas. This can be pretty taxing on our free time! But as these curiosities evolve into developing paradigms, Lovecky reminds us that “caring adults can help them discover their own internal resources while providing the intellectual, emotional and moral support the children need so they can integrate reasoning and compassion into wise moral choices.” p.143. Seeing the connection between the questions and the paradigms can take a lot of time and understanding.

Ten years later, my now 14 year old daughter tells me how my mother’s farm is her second home. She has a pretty special connection with her grandmother who knew at the age of five, despite growing up in the city of Berlin, that she was destined to be a farmer. There are no pesticides on my mother’s farm but lots of diversity in her garden and her ideas…and a lot of free time. All in all, a pretty safe and stimulating place for an introverted young girl to explore her place in the world with a caring adult who has seen so much.

Check out more perspectives on free time in this month’s blog hop by clicking on the icon below:

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Anxiety: From Gordon Neufeld to Kazimierz Dabrowski and beyond

If you consider anxiety from the standpoint of the role it has played in the survival of our species it is more hero than villain. The flight or fight response in an ancient ecosystem is not much different than the knee jerk reaction that steers us away from situations that appear risky. Without it, we would not only be incredibly vulnerable to the “predators” in our environment but our ability to assess other danger would be impaired. As a diagnosable disorder it becomes less heroic as it can inhibit us from fully participating in the experience of living. It can also present itself in a wide array of circumstances with varying degrees intensities which can often make it difficult to discern or impossible to miss. So what is important to know when you are working with or parenting an anxious child?

Where I like to begin with understanding and addressing anxiety is the work of Gordon Neufeld whose book Hold On To Your Kids addresses it from the perspective of parental attachment. His work revolves around the idea that children have an “orienting instinct” which compels them to find their direction from a source of authority and comfort. This “attachment bond” in their early life is with their parent and can be a powerful ally in keeping children safe from influences that may not have their best interests at heart. Parents also play a powerful role in signalling to their children who may be trusted when they are in new situations. The communication between the parents and other adults involved with the child can indicate the sharing of this attachment bond. This is why the relationship between the teacher and parent is so crucial. It signals to the child that their parent trusts this other adult to be the child’s source of authority and comfort (safety) when the parent is absent. Something as simple as meeting and greeting the other adult in the child’s life with warmth and respect can go a long way in alleviating anxiety. As parent or “other” adult in a child’s life, we have a huge responsibility in maintaining that authority and comfort (safety).

My second “go to” theory for understanding and addressing anxiety is the work of Kazimierz Dabrowski. Anxiety plays a pivotal role in his theory of positive disintegration which can be described as the process by which one becomes actively involved in crafting/cultivating one’s personality and engaging in the work of moving to a “higher” level. While this in itself may sound as simple as maturation, the intensity of the experience will vary and for some individuals this becoming one’s own person through “separation” from the perceived expectations the world can be fraught with anxiety as they wrestle over “fitting in” and potentially the sacrificing the “self” or not fitting in favour of claiming their “selfhood” risking loneliness. This can once again be exacerbated by gifted characteristics that make it difficult to “fit in” given intellectual abilities, learning disabilities, areas of passion, intensities and sensitivities. Once again the responsibility of the adult is creating the safety for this anxious self discovery to occur, with the added understanding of the child’s need now to challenge that authority to find and set new boundaries as they do this important work.

Seeing anxiety as natural and helpful can often go a long way in helping anxious children understand that there is nothing wrong with them for feeling this way. But when the anxiety becomes so strong that it interferes with quality of life, having support in overcoming them is necessary. From learning breathing exercises to setting up a step by step program, there are many tools available to work through anxiety. I like the AnxietyBC.com website where they have strategies and resources directed at youth, adults and parents when honouring the need for attachment and disintegration is not enough.

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‘Tis the Season to be…Anxious?

I can’t remember any of the gifts that I received for Christmas as a child. Unless of course you count the year I got the radio that I still have kicking around the house somewhere. But I know why I remember it and not others. (Long story…) I believe there might also have been a wagon full of blocks? Not sure. And while I am certain that I always received and anticipated gifts, it is the magic that preceded and surrounded them that I remember: our living room transformed into a magical Christmas wonderland with a tree full of candles that were lit while we sang carols in the kitchen waiting to be summoned. A special Christmas Eve supper that was the same each year followed by a reading of the Christmas story. Playing games until the wee hours of the morning.

The purchasing of Christmas gifts however, has always and continues to fill me with anxiety. There are so many competing narratives that are invoked at this time of year that always have me carefully navigating the distance between Santa and Scrooge, religion and secularism, scarcity and abundance, intention and expectation. I now understand the “grumpiness” that enveloped my father in the weeks preceding Christmas as I know he was as conflicted as I am this time of year. In the end, I have learned to do what he did, submit myself to the comfort and joy of the traditions and make a firm budget to govern all forms of giving.

David Jardine posted a wonderful article on his site this week entitled “I Love the Terror in a Mother’s Heart” that I believe helps to explain the market forces that attempt to use anxiety to lure us in both as parents and teachers as we try so hard to do what is good for our children and students. As we consider the many options of gifts that may support passions, interests and learning I believe ultimately it is the things that we do together without fail that become the greatest gifts. Sing some songs, eat some great food, share some wonderful stories and have a wonderful holiday season!

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Stop. Listen. Know when and how to advocate.

It is the second week of school and I am greeted at breakfast by a child with sad eyes. “Please don’t make me go to school Mom. My teacher is mean!” And with this she bursts into tears.

“Wow, this is the first I’ve heard about her being mean. What did she do that’s mean?” I ask.

“It’s hard to explain, she’s just mean. Please don’t make me go back!”

We move to the couch where where she can cuddle next to me. “Can you tell me what happened yesterday?”

“She said she was going to really push us hard this year and make us move out of our comfort zones! I don’t want to move out of my comfort zone!” There is another round of tears.

“And you’re already uncomfortable because you’ve had to change schools?” Her head nods inside my hug. “And you’re sad because you didn’t get the teacher that you already knew at school?” She nods again. “And you’re worried because none of your friends are in your class?” Another nod. My husband gives me a look clearly indicating that he doesn’t believe I’m improving the situation as the tears continue to flow. When the they slow down I try a few different approaches. “Have you thought about why your teacher might have said it?” I ask.

“Because she’s mean!”

I try a different approach, my teacher approach. “Did you know that learning is all about pushing yourself farther than you thought you could go and that’s not always comfortable but when you show yourself you can do it, it feels good?”

“Learning should be fun, not scary! And her face and voice was mean when she said it!”

“Can you show me how she said it? I want to hear her mean voice.” My daughter turns to me with a scowl on her face and  says “I’m going to push you hard this year and get you out of your comfort zone!”

“Whoa that is mean!” I say, “Let me try.” I put on my best scowl and with a bit of a growl in my voice I say, “I’m going to push you hard this year and get you out of your comfort zone!” She gives me a deprecating look, “That’s not it!” I try again, each time a little sillier doing my best Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck imitations. Before long we’re both laughing. “Did you know, when I was studying to be a teacher I was told not to smile before Christmas?”

“That’s dumb! Why would they tell you that?”

“I think it was because they thought that some kids wouldn’t take you seriously if you smiled too much and then they would ignore the classroom rules. It’s hard to get things done if students aren’t following rules.” She gives me a thoughtful look before wandering off to get ready for school.

If you look up the word advocate, it is all about speaking; speaking in favour or in support of something. But perhaps this is where we miss the mark. I could have gone to the teacher and shared with her extensive research on the importance of building trusting relationships in the classroom or conversely I could have told my daughter that life is about learning to work with many different kinds of people and asked her to give the teacher a chance. Both would have been advocating but both would have been far less successful than simply listening and hearing with my heart. On many days, this will be enough…but not always.

I can’t tell you the number of times in my role as coordinator for the Gifted Program that I have been told that my intense, highly sensitive students need to learn coping skills if they are going to survive in this world. We ache for these children as we work hard on strategies to help them cope and while these strategies can be important, we must not forget the listening.

Let’s imagine you speak up about something that is really frustrating or hurtful (and there are many ways you speak out, not just with words) and no one hears you.  You may be tempted to raise your voice and before long you are screaming and have created a major incident. So you are told that when you feel like screaming there are many things that you can do to keep yourself from screaming and thus avert future incident. Still no one knows what prompted you to speak in the first place. Maybe you just needed someone to listen and help you understand the intensity of feelings that you experience. Maybe there are things that you just don’t understand and it’s frustrating because you’ve always been told you’re smart. Maybe some of the things that happen in this world just don’t make sense and are you the only one who sees it?!? Wouldn’t you want at the very least, someone who listens? If we are the ones who take the time to listen, we will know if we need to take further steps.

Which brings us to the students who have stopped screaming. The students who have learned strategies to cope while trying to deal with the frustrations and hurt on their own. The ones who may take a long time before they trust that you are actually interested in what they have to say and willing to listen. The ones who may need us to begin speaking on their behalf because when listening won’t be enough. Now we must learn the hard work of advocacy, the work of changing the environment (when necessary) that prompted  and perhaps ended the screaming in the first place.

Advocating. When we believe we are right, we tend to like the sound of our own voice and yet here is a time we must listen once again. Until we can understand the mindset of the individual or organization that we believe is failing to meet the needs of our children, it will be difficult to advocate for change. Dr. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, established a online community called The Society for Organizational learning where you can find protocols for balancing inquiry and advocacy. As I read through the conversation templates I realize that I still have much to learn about advocacy, especially in a time when it feels like so many of our conversations have become restricted by time and utilize abbreviated forms of communication.

To hop to another blog, click on the button below.

To see all the blogs on advocacy, go to Hoagie’s by clicking here!

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Like-Mindedness and Finding Your “Peeps”

I have been known to tell parents and teachers that some gifted students will have difficulty finding good friends; like-minded individuals who will understand them. “If you look at the normal curve,” I say, “there may be one other student in 100 who are their intellectual counterpart and the odds of them being of similar gender and interests are working against them.” It’s part of the platform of our pull-in program, that we give these students the opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals, so we pull them together for eight days a year and while there definitely is a sense of familiarity, it doesn’t quite feel like enough. For myself, I also look forward to the times when I can meet with “like minded”colleagues who are working through some of the same issues as myself which is why I was really looking forward to the 11th Annual International Dabrowski Congress held in Canmore AB last week.

There were 95 people from all over the world attending with many sessions dedicated to understanding both Dabrowski and how his work relates to giftedness. In the last session where some of the keynote speakers were delivering their final thoughts, Dr. Linda Silverman commented on just how diverse our group was despite the fact that many of us were working in the gifted community and all had an interest in the work of this one psychologist. While some individuals commented on how the conference felt like a “homecoming”, Dabrowski’s work was taken up in so many different ways  that it was still possible to feel a sense of “distinction”. However, if there is one thing that was shared, it was the passion of the presenters in communicating not only their understanding but their belief that the Theory of Positive Disintegration offers us a powerful framework for supporting individuals in crisis.

Since the conference I have been reflecting a lot on this notion of “like-mindedness”, how it relates to friendships and finding our “peeps”. Without going into Dabrowski’s theory too much, there is a place in it where he speaks of our getting to the place in our mental development where we become involved the autonomous process of creating our “personality”.  Through authentically claiming our difference we allow others their differences as well and the process of exploring and celebrating these differences can be the basis for a different kind of relationship rooted in empathy as opposed to like-mindedness. We are all on different journeys and our travels will inform us in unique ways.  So how does this help our children/students? Sometimes we do everything we can to help them “fit in” and “make friends”.  If instead we encouraged them to claim their “uniqueness”, celebrate their difference and build on their strengths, we set them on the path to authenticity where their comfort with themselves allows them to be comfortable with the differences in others…even if they’re not like-minded mathematicians, bookworms or philosophers. Sure, it may take time to find that elusive “soul-mate” but then again, I have found some of my “peeps” in the most unexpected places! Click on the image below to read more about gifted friendships.

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A Summer of Books and Beyond…

“Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; [the Lakota] knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.”  Luther Standing Bear (c.1868-1939)

One of the things that really surprised me this year during my pull-out sessions were the number of students who told me they preferred not to go outside, whether it be for a fresh air break or a bit of a field trip to the local bird sanctuary. Knowing the draw of a good book, the pull of my basement studio and my fascination with the portal to the world that rests in the touch of a finger on my iPad, there is a part of me that can understand the competition these attractions can provide, but this summer I urge you to not only spend time outdoors, but to really fall in love with where you live in the natural world. If you want reasons I can quote you several books: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, The One Straw Evolution by Masanobu Fukoaka,  Epitaph for a Peach by David Mas Masumoto or Barbara Kingsolver’s: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I firmly believe that there are things we need to know that only the land can teach us.

My mother, a farmer and avid environmentalist, grew up in Berlin during World War II and says that it was a book that changed her life.  She can remember at five years old reading a book about wilderness survival and held that dream until adulthood when my father brought her to a farm in the middle of nowhere in northern Alberta. She thought she had found paradise in the hard work of making a life on the land. I grew up in a wilderness playground where nature taught me many things perhaps most importantly, the concept of unconditional love as I became a forager for wild berries. To this day I experience it as the land around me and my garden produce (with very little help from me) an unbelievable amount of rhubarb, saskatoons, apples, raspberries and strawberries making me feel rich and loved in ways that I can’t even begin to describe.  (The vegetables take a little more work  and I learn other things from them!)

Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives. Wendell Berry

While I can’t find the English version of the book my mother read, there are other books that can lead to a curiosity and interest in getting outdoors (especially if you read them in the shade of a tree!) My favorites include: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell or Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry. Then start exploring! In our part of the world, there are some great places to get back to nature:

Pipestone Creek: camping, playground…dinosaur fossil bed. Historic Dunvegan: mission and trading post.  South Peace Centennial Museum in Beaverlodge: you don’t want to miss Pioneer Days in July. Two Lakes: if you really want to get out in the wilderness this is a beautiful place to go. Red Willow Falls is a little more difficult to find, but it is definitely worth the adventure getting there. Kleskun Hills: a family favorite, with some great little hikes and a lot of history. There is so much to love about our place in our world…summer is a great time to discover it! Perhaps you have some special spots or books to share?

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
— Rachel Carson
Check out the links below for more summer ideas!
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