Category Archives: Uncategorized

Educational Alternatives: Many Paths to Greatness

I have just started reading Scott Barry Kaufman’s book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined: The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness. I really enjoy reading books that challenge my understanding and conceptions of giftedness because it is such a controversial label and I am curious to see how others engage with it. With this book just reading the cover intrigues and perplexes me. I am intrigued to see what he means by “intelligence redefined” as someone who not only regularly reviews assessments and identifies students, but works with these same students over a number of years. And I am perplexed by  the final phrase in the title “and the Many Paths to Greatness.” This to me suggests, perhaps without intending to, that greatness should be our goal.

The book begins with his own school story, one that he has shared on this Ted Talk entitled from Evaluation to Inspiration.   Suffering from a central auditory processing disorder brought on by numerous ear infections as a young child, he was labelled learning disabled and relegated to special education classes until the 9th grade. It was then, that he finally felt “seen” by a substitute teacher which inspired him to advocate for himself thus changing the course of his academic career. Now with a PhD in cognitive psychology specializing in creativity, he explores the world of neuroscience to see whether there are genetic links to creativity and intelligence as well as the connection between nature and nurture. In the first few chapters, he explores the history of cognitive assessments, their limitations and their power to impact the lives of many children. The interplay of many elements; DNA, environment, self efficacy and opportunity all contribute to our future success, as do the many  genetic triggers and environmental obstacles that are yet to come. The message to the education system is clear: while the information on tests can be valuable, resist labels and find opportunities to inspire as there are many factors impacting our intellectual and creative growth.

I think what makes the educational journey so difficult for both teachers and parents is that the path to greatness is so personal and undefined and at any moment can spin on a dime. Is success somewhat predicated on the unexpected? Overcoming an obstacle can be a defining moment: would Kaufman be writing this book and conducting this research without the “inspiration” of his school experience? Other obstacles can change our trajectory entirely: my mother compelled to leave her home at fourteen and be schooled in another language, culture and country away from her family. Terry Fox diagnosed with cancer and mobilizing an entire nation while running to find a cure.

One cannot help but have great hopes for the children with whom we share and who will eventually inherit the world and therefore it is good that worry about their education. As parents we fear not doing enough to support them as much as we worry about not expecting enough and so what happens in school can create tremendous worry and have us constantly searching for educational alternatives and “better” ways to teach and learn. Living and working where I do, I know that these intentions drive our system, even though it may not always be visible and may still miss the mark for many.  In the Epilogue (yes I sometimes skip right to the back of the book before reading the whole thing) Kaufman goes to see the substitute teacher, now a middle school principal, to acknowledge her for the impact she had on his life on one single day in Grade 9, simply by “seeing” him. Perhaps that is the most important message in his book-the impact we can have on one another when we look beyond behaviors, labels and expectations and see our students and others in the world as they are-full of potential. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book to see what Kaufman means by greatness and whether that too has been redefined.

Proud to be a part of Hoagies Gifted blog hop. Click on the icon below for more musings on this topic!

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Nurturing Activism in Gifted Students

Having an awareness of how high gifted students can set the bar for themselves has made me proceed carefully into conversations around activism. One highly gifted child that I have the pleasure to know made the off-hand comment to me once that anything less than a Nobel Peace prize would seem an insignificant contribution. So while locally, nationally and internationally, child activists are doing amazing work and have been well recognized for their efforts, it is important to balance our conversations about these  tremendous role models with an understanding of the many layers to activism.

In our smallish community we are fortunate to have some amazing role models. One such individual is Tenille Nadkrynechny who at 15 began using her musical talents to ensure the homeless youth of our community have a safe shelter to go to. Her talents have been a source of inspiration to many of our local students. We are also very proud of Canadians Craig and Mark Kielberger whose activism began at the age of 12 championing the rights of child labourers. In the 21 years since their incredible work with the “Free the Children” organization has evolved into the internationally recognized Me to We movement. This movement has come to our community in the form of Mighty Peace Day. And we cannot forget Malala, who was catapulted onto the world stage after being shot for championing the right to go to school. She went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

So how does one begin talking about activism with students who have tremendous compassion and wish to make a difference in the world? Depending on the child and where they are setting their bar, it may start with a conversation about our fascination with eminence. In some of her talks, Linda Silverman reflects on eminence being a wrongheaded guide for giftedness when she explains how at one time eminence/giftedness was measured by the number of books one had written about them. Based on that interpretation the most gifted individual on the planet at one point would have been the race horse Sea Biscuit. While Sea Biscuit may have been a very gifted horse with a very gifted trainer, we can’t all be Sea Biscuit for a few obvious reasons. We also can’t all be Malala for just as obvious reasons.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t be activists. In fact, the next conversation might be about how activism is a daily activity-the product of a thoughtfully lived life. Every time we are faced with a situation that calls us to action: standing up for or to a friend, seeing someone in need, deciding what we will or will not purchase or consume, voting, choosing a topic for an assignment…we are activists. For my anxious and perfectionistic students who might find this concept paralyzing, I would turn to the The Virtues Project and contrast the excellence and moderation definitions with one another. In fact, it is the cultivation of these and other virtues as we proceed with pursuing our passion that will allow us, should an opportunity arrive, to be an activist for a cause larger than ourselves, and proceed with the confidence, compassion, integrity and humility required of those who might be called upon to lead.

Please take time to check out Hoagies Blog hop for more thoughts on this topic by clicking on the link below.

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Dear Gifted Parent: A Letter From An Educator

Dear Gifted Parent:

Today I want to dedicate my post to you. I can’t tell you what a privilege it has been to work with you and your child for the majority of my teaching career. The uniqueness of your child has often meant that we have had to learn together about the many facets of giftedness and through that process we’ve made a difference for the gifted students I have yet to meet. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but there are many things that I’ve appreciated as we’ve traveled together and I feel it is time to honour you for those things.

First I want to acknowledge your commitment. I see the schedules that you keep and the opportunities that you provide for your child to explore their areas of passion. You make sure that they get to all the programming options that I provide for them, often practicing tremendous flexibility to make things work. When I need help, you are generous with your time and support. I recognize your commitment.

Next I want to acknowledge your honesty. When things aren’t going well for your child you tell me and give me the opportunity to try to figure out how to make things better. When things don’t make sense, you ask excellent questions that force me to take another look and see how things could be improved. Though there have been times when you have been incredibly frustrated, you have been kind in sharing those frustrations and patient as we explore solutions. I appreciate your honesty.

I  appreciate your idealism as in it I recognize your desire to make the world (schools in particular) a better place. As you “re-enter” school through the experience and eyes of your child and the struggles they have, you dream about the way schools “could be” and share your thoughts with me. I know that idealism is what pushes us to ask the question “could it be otherwise?” and keeps us from getting stuck. I am grateful for you idealism.

In closing, I am most grateful for your trust. The programming that I plan involves helping your child learn flexibility, resilience, perseverance and collaboration. These lessons don’t always come easy and I know there must be days when your child comes home frustrated. Thank-you for trusting the process and giving me the opportunity to work though this with them.

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This month’s blog hop is around forming parent groups and I felt it was important to share how the parents of my students have supported gifted programming in my district. For more insights from other bloggers, click on the link below:

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Math and the Gifted Learner

It might be the nature of the discipline or the way it is taught, but math is one of those subjects where if a student is really good at it, it generally gets noticed. So now what? In my years of coordinating gifted programming, this is the area that has called for the most intervention and while the answer can appear simplistic, that is not always the case. There are several questions that we ask in our program to guide us through the process.

Is math actually an area of strength? On more than one occasion I have had requests to accelerate students who in fact were not good candidates. (A gifted code does not guarantee giftedness in all disciplines.) How do we determine this? In our district we use math specific achievement tests. It is important to complete this before any accelerated programming takes place. In several cases where a student had been informally accelerated by their teacher, we found that while the achievement test showed us excellence at the current grade level, they were not working above their grade level and the acceleration was not successful. When accelerating a student into a higher level of math they must continue to achieve excellence at the higher level. To move them from a level of high achievement into one where they perform poorly is not recommended.

Is this an area of passion? There are many students who excel at math but it is not an area of passion. They are able to grasp concepts easily and finish work quickly, but the last thing they want is more math. In cases such as these, the approach has been to compact the curriculum to free up time to work in an area of passion. For some this has meant in depth research while others have gravitated towards science projects or even learning another language.

What is the nature of the passion? Even when math is the area of passion acceleration is not always the route favored by students. Some like to “play” with the concepts in larger math projects in some broader contexts. Numeracy tasks, like the ones available at Peter Liljedahl’s website have provided enrichment for many students in our district. There are also some fantastic math competitions that students enjoy preparing for which include: Kangaroo Math (available internationally), CEMC Competitions, Virtual Mathematical Marathon as well as the International Mathematical Olympiad. These are just a few.

Should we accelerate?  What do we do when all of our questions and assessments point to math as a strength as well as a passion area? There are a number of things to consider. Is the student going to be working alone or is it possible for them to attend math with another grade? While it is possible to work alone and be successful, many students need the conversations that push their thinking ahead as well as the companionship and  motivation to challenge difficult tasks that comes from working with others. Sitting in with another grade has worked very well in our district, but it means a yearly juggle with scheduling to make sure that the student can continue in this way and there will be years where there is no higher grade to go to if you are in the highest grade offered at your school. Driving between schools demands another level of commitment from everyone, not to mention the additional juggling that takes place. While it is possible and can be worth the effort, it is important to consider these factors before you begin!

The beauty of math is that there are so many resources available online to support math learning and math passions…it’s just a matter to taking the time to explore. For more perspectives on gifted math learning click on the link below!

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Giftedness and the Myth of Meritocracy

“I have a notebook in the back of my closet with my life plan written in it,” she tells me.  At fourteen the path is clear: which courses she will need in high school, the university she will attend, the research she plans on completing as well as the place she will eventually live. She knows the grades she will need and she is not afraid to share the anxiety she has when contemplating the next step in her plan.  For a moment I am reminded of a conversation I had a few weeks earlier with a thirty year old gifted adult male who told me, “I think I was in elementary school when I realized that the meritocracy I was being ‘sold’ didn’t really exist,” and wonder if it is important to share this perspective?

You see, I live and work in a system purports that “good grades” will get you into “good schools” which in turn will get you the “good jobs” and if you learn this early, the world is yours. Most believe for a gifted student, this should be a piece of cake and for many it is.  The problem with propagating this myth is that there are no guarantees and what happens when the curveballs or dead ends come? What happens when an individual fails to see the myth and instead believes that the failing is in themselves?  Do we have a responsibility to debunk myths? But wait… Where would we be without that myth? Is it something we can only discover on our own? Does believing in the myth help make it a reality? What is the impact of this myth on the psyche of our society? This topic has been well explored. You can check out some of the articles at Psychology Today to see the “gift” of failure.

I hit adulthood with a back up plan-it was the gift from pragmatic parents who didn’t want me to become a starving artist. Some days I wonder if I hadn’t had a back up plan, if I would have given myself whole-heartedly to the dream but most days I am fairly certain that the back-up plan had more appeal for reasons that go well beyond what I wanted to “do” versus how I wanted to “live”. But still it took me a a few “failures” before I came to that realization and if the truth be told, I can still get sideswiped when things don’t go as I hope. But it was a lucky encounter early in my career with Norm Goble, the then President of the Canadian Teachers Federation that has given me tremendous perspective. He had just delivered a keynote address entitled “If not you, who? If not now, when?” at an ATA Summer Conference that left me weak in the knees. At the reception afterwards he was standing alone and I went over and asked him how best to proceed as a teacher. I have carried his response with me ever since.

“I am an ambitionless man. I have simply followed the opportunities that were presented to me.” Now I know that the opportunities that present themselves will vary significantly from individual to individual and the opportunities available to a someone of a certain ethnic or socio-economic background will not be the same. But in his response to me I saw life and the path we take as an act of courage and not simply merit. It is courage that will allow us to see the opportunities that abound, while merit will try to steer us in a certain direction. Sometimes they work together magnificently, and other times, they do not. My path may not have provided me with the meteoric ascension that the myth of meritocracy promises, but on most days, I can see a world full of opportunities. And luckily, on most days, I can muster up the courage to explore one or two which on many days take me to unexpected and wonderful places.

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Globals Finals: In a Canadian Nutshell

Last year at this time I was getting ready to take a group of four teenage girls to the Destination ImagiNation (DI) Global Finals in Knoxville TN. If you are not familiar with DI you can learn more about this creative problem solving program at idodi.org. It is one of the more popular options that students who are involved in the gifted program can choose to be involved in. I love the program because of the way it helps my students learn creative and collaborative ways to unite their strengths in unique ways while overcoming the “things that didn’t work” and practicing flexibility. This can be a challenge for gifted kids! Anyway, if you want to know what going to an international tournament with more than 1400 teams from around the world is like, I think Kara, one of the girls on my team describes it pretty well here:

Hamster balls for humans
A life size game of chess
People from around the world
In homemade duct-tape dress.

Trading pin phenomenons
A group of mimes passing by
Something this diverse
Could only be DI.

Late night flights and Starbucks runs
Flights that were canceled too
3 am awake in an airport
Rihanna’s blaring – no sleep for you!

Catching forty winks in a rental car
Rushing to Knoxville, Tennessee
Trying to make it on time for your challenge
That afternoon at three.

Finally performing your challenge
Having your whole set fall down
Saying something about home renovations
While trying not to look like a clown.

Discovering just how Canadian you are
When under pressure you keep saying ‘eh’
Having sticky tape in your materials list
But using an envelope flap anyway.

Being the only team who built paper towers
or popped helium balloons on stage
Using hashtags as your comic strip captions
#hashtags4daze.

The hunt for the heart-eye emoji pin
Or the elusive Doctor Who
What Does the Fox Play? Maybe it’s drums
Or Alberta’s guitar in green or blue.

Rollercoasters in Dollywood
Going backwards and upside down
Pounding bass at a teen party
While the adults left town.

And then suddenly the closing ceremonies
Already we’re flying home
No cancelled flights on the return trip-
Just disappointing cold.

Have a great time all you teams heading off to Globals!

Gifted Testing… Elitist?… Limited?… Necessary?

Elitist?
Every year as we gear up for gifted screening my thoughts can’t help but stray to the early 1800’s and American polygenist Samuel George Morton who had a large collection of human skulls which he classified by race and would fill with buckshot to measure, record and compare the various sizes of the craniums. One of his goals was to prove that different races of humans were in fact different species and that the information he gathered could be used to scientifically ascribe various attributes to the different “species”. This early “brain research” is part of a fascinating read by Stephen Jay Gould whose controversial book “The Mismeasure of Man” traces the history of craniology to intelligence testing as a means of understanding the many ways humans can be measured as well as some of the process and motivations behind this inquiry. Gould attempts to demonstrate how Morton with his raw data and evidence appeared ignorant of his own a priori assumptions in his “scientific” quest to legitimize racial ranking. But Morton was not alone, as Gould writes on page 101, “Morton was widely hailed as the objectivist of his age, the man who would rescue American science from the mire of unsupported speculation.” While this may appear a rather bleak backdrop on which to consider “testing” students for programming, it helps me understand not only the deep suspicion and worry over elitism, but also the imperfect art of creating a way of measuring something as intangible as intelligence or “G”. But if we can move beyond some of the questionable historical roots of “brain research”, there are good reasons to test.
Limited?
Yes. But here is why. If you think of “G” as being the sum of those cognitive abilities that are highly valued and cultivated in our society, then the creation of a test that focuses on the degree to which one possesses these abilities makes sense…especially if the political will in education is to cultivate those highly valued abilities in both the “average” child and “not so average” child. So in using cognitive testing there must be a recognition that there are many abilities or gifts that may not be measured by the tests we are giving. (Luckily many communities offer alternative forms of programming in arts, community service and sports programs outside of school.) Understanding cognitive development through testing helps educational institutions become efficient in educating students to become fluent in those highly valued areas. In particular, literacy and numeracy. So we must think of testing not so much to measure and “rank” intelligence, but to measure difference so we may discern what, in the name of efficiently cultivating what we value among the largest grouping of students (average), may in fact create barriers for our not so average students. We must also make this testing available to students who may already be “different” by virtue of culture and/or social economic status whose abilities may not be readily apparent to those unfamiliar with the expression of abilities in those cultures. The interesting thing about difference is that while it is naturally occurring, the solutions to the challenges it presents generally are not efficient. Managing difference then becomes an economic issue although we may pay a bigger price for not doing so. But even with this statement we once again enter the realm of “very difficult to measure.”
Necessary?
There is a quote from Charles Darwin at the beginning of Gould’s book that goes like this: “If the misery of the poor be not caused by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our shame.” It is hard to understand the limitations of our institutions until we’ve experienced them through the eyes of those who are different. At present our culture appears to be enamoured with difference as the number of movies, books and “viral” social media dedicated to individuals “overcoming the obstacles” can attest to. But while we thrive on success stories and the hope that in some place in time we too may “beat the odds” the stories of the individuals who have been defeated or waylaid by the obstacles don’t always capture the imagination in the same way. Hospitals, social service agencies and the justice system are rife with support workers whose catch phrase as they work with those who have fallen through the cracks is “If only…” Testing can be one way to find support for individuals who may be struggling with the obstacles they are encountering due to their difference. What people don’t always understand about gifted testing is how a difference which on the surface appears advantageous, could create barriers. It is well documented that above average cognitive ability can come wrapped in a package of asynchronous development, intensities, sensitivities and a host of frustrations that efficient systems may not easily accommodate. As a result many gifted individuals may feel that there is something wrong with them. “If I am so smart, why isn’t being in the system easier?” Testing can provide us with a different view on the anxiety, behaviours and frustrations that students may be experiencing. If it is based in some form of cognitive difference, the test can provide us with a map to some of the obstacles to success. The tests themselves may not be perfect, but if they are used in a manner that supports students in negotiating the barriers that arise out of being part of an institution governed by political and economic concerns, they do give us a place to start.

Please click on the link below to get more perspectives on testing!

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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!

To follow the blog hop to find other “gifted” ideas…click on the button below:

To see all the blogs listed, click here:
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IQ’s, OE’s and DP…Who Is Gifted?

The work of Kazimierz Dabrowski  has been embraced by the gifted community for the last 35 years and this summer I wanted to gain a better understanding of how it relates to giftedness by attending the Dabrowski Congress in Canmore AB.  While it became easy to see how his work in the area of overexcitabilities (OE) and developmental potential (DP) through positive disintegration explains many of the attributes we see in gifted students, it also became clear that these attributes which have often been considered hallmarks of giftedness, are part of a broader conceptual framework and to use them as discretely could be problematic. You can learn more about the Dabrowski’s work here.

Though I hesitate doing this, in a nutshell, Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration is a theory that attempts to explain personality development through a combination of psychological tension (anxiety to neurosis), emotional reactions (overexcitabilities), expressive talents and abilities and a drive toward individual growth and autonomy. It is the journey of someone who is committed to becoming their own person in a world where many are comfortable ascribing to an unquestioned belief system. It can be a journey fraught with, intensity, self-doubt, frustration and cognitive dissonance as the individual struggles to craft their “personality” into their ideal of who they “should be” in a world that falls short of what it “could be”.

At the Congress it was shared that Dabrowski believed that somewhere between 30-35% of the population had developmental potential (DP) which is not only the route to shaping your own personality or character, but a route in which anxiety and depression can cause the initial disintegration which is the first step in personality development. While Dabrowski reported that a disproportionate number of gifted individuals may experience positive disintegration, it is not a theory that relates specifically to gifted and since giftedness generally refers to 2% of the population, there are many who may display OE’s and DP whose IQ’s may not reflect giftedness. Still we tend to use the OE’s as a potential marker for giftedness.

So what are these OE’s? They are described by Dabrowski as extreme neural receptivity in five domains: intellectual, imaginational, emotional, sensual and psychomotor. If IQ tests measure predominantly in the “intellectual” domain you can see where OE’s and ergo “extreme receptivity” in other areas may not be recognized but those individuals may face some of the same challenges we see with our intellectually “gifted” individuals. It is important to remember that individuals could experience OE’s in a single or more than one domain.

So taking Dabrowski’s work into consideration, who are our gifted? I like the definition written inn 1991 by the Columbus Group who described giftedness in the following way: “Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” In the book, Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child edited by Christine S. Neville, Michael M. Piechowski and Stephanie Tolan, Stephanie Tolan shares that the Columbus Group which consisted of five leaders in the study of giftedness had just attended the Dabrowski Congress in Ohio and met afterwards to craft a definition that would adequately describe what they were seeing in their work with thousands of gifted children. p.14

When I view giftedness through a Dabrowskian lens I begin to see how an achievement based understanding of giftedness is not enough…some of our gifted students will need support that responds to their sensitivities and struggles in a way that recognizes it is part of their giftedness. I also see how measuring giftedness in a single domain also has limitations. Should/could extreme neural receptivity in the emotional or imaginational domains be considered a form of giftedness? We are becoming more and more aware of the levels of anxiety and depression in our children, and I can’t help but wonder how many might be struggling with who they think they should be in a world that is not all it could be?

I think it is very important to remember that Dabrowski called this psychological tension the first step “positive” disintegration so that we would not pathologize this process into a negative framework as it is the first step in forging our own character.   And yes, I did say first step. Dabrowski identified five levels in the process and those who continue past the first disintegration may be in for a life of questioning, doubting and dis-ease (along with their parents!). But Socrates did say that an unexamined life is not worth living and the Ghandi and Mendala’s of the world who learned to be the change that they wanted to see have demonstrated the value of that journey.

For more exploration of how people may be gifted, go to Hoagies’s Gifted Blog hop by clicking on the graphic below:

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Bibliography:

http://www.positivedisintegration.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazimierz_D%C4%85browski

 

 

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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