Supporting growth and learning at home during summer and other school closings

School’s out and Summer is here. This year, following the lock-down summer of 2020 and hopeful after the widespread vaccinating drives of Spring 2021, there is much excitement as people across the country are looking forward to summer experiences as they used to be. Summer was always a time when most children put away their schoolbooks and enjoyed travel, visiting grandparents, hanging with friends, and attending hobby classes and summer camps. Unfortunately, the summer break in the American school system is unusually long, often stretching from early May (when many private schools end their academic year) to until after Labor Day in September. This gap of three or more months away from schoolwork will naturally result in the forgetting of some content knowledge that had been learned during the school year. More commonly known as Summer Slide it refers to the loss of knowledge and skills that occurs in the vacation break period between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. Summer Slide may be less apparent with children who are enrolled in summer classes and camps.

To prevent Summer Slide there are several experiences families can plan for at home. Because of virtual schooling during the past pandemic year most parents have probably already developed a level of proficiency in designing learning activities for their children. Still, here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind for those who are still looking for tips.

Apart from the usual summer outdoor activities such as sports, swimming and hiking – all of which are very important – there are countless indoor learning experiences that can be planned around daily activities.

To keep children constructively busy during summer days a well thought out schedule is essential. The planned experiences for children should serve to support their growth in four developmental domains (cognitive, social, emotional, and physical), and also address some academic content learning in Literacy, Social Studies, Math and Science. This may sound daunting to parents but the good news is that several of these targets can be reached with a single interdisciplinary activity or experience that can touch upon all the above content areas. And each experience can be made as simple or as complex to match the age and developmental levels of your children, as well as cultural contexts of your families and communities.  

Say you decide to make Fruit Salad one day. This may be extended into a rich learning experience. First you can help the kids write a list of their favorite fruit. This may be followed by a short research project where together you read up on each of those fruits and discuss where they grow and their health benefits. The next step would be to do a quick grocery run to shop for these fruit and involve the children in adding up the prices and making the payment. Once you return home you can wash the fruit and set up cutting stations on the dining table – give each child a plastic knife a cutting board and a large piece of fruit. The kids would proceed with cutting up the large piece of fruit into smaller bite-sized pieces. Once all the fruit is cut up it is put into a large bowl and chilled. Children then look forward to an afternoon snack that they helped make. While snacking you talk to them about the taste, smell, color and texture of each fruit. This can be followed by a writing and math activity where you help them chart how many fruit tasted sweet or sour.

As one can notice, this entire experience if planned and implemented thoughtfully and mindfully leads to getting kids practice their Reading, Writing, and Math skills and concepts, learning about the Science of the human body and healthy eating. If done with more than one child it nurtures social skills as they share, communicate with each other, and take turns. It also supports fine motor development as they hold down and cut the fruit into small pieces. And cognitive skills as they explore each fruit and identify its color, taste and texture. This experience can be made as simple or as complex depending on the age of the children.

Another completely different experience might be getting children to help with laundry and using that opportunity to discuss how laundry machines work, different kinds of fabric, colors and textures, how detergents and soaps work to clean stains, and then folding each piece of clothing which would be great for motor skills development. Again, depending on the age of the child the underlying academic concepts can be discussed at simple or complex levels.

Whatever the household chore – gardening, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, cleaning and organizing, taking a walk – can all be turned into experiences in sorting, classifying, sequencing, observing, predicting, sharing, helping, team building, and problem solving These experiences can also be used to reinforce academic content like Math, Science, Literacy and Social Studies. Running errands for the elderly neighbors, or cleaning up their rooms and getting them to donate their old toys and books to those in need promotes empathy and citizenship values. Setting up a lemonade stall on a hot summer afternoon teaches children the value of working and being independent while understanding how drinking lemonade on a hot summer day can prevent the body from losing minerals and salts, and becoming dehydrated.

A mindfully planned learning experience each day will go a long way in preventing loss of content knowledge during summer or other stay at home periods of time. Though reading and math are literally everywhere and all around us, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading books. Reading is a fundamental skill that eventually helps children succeed in all other content areas because everything is all about reading, comprehending what you read, retelling it in your own words, analyzing what you understood, and finally being able to apply what you read to a practical situation.

Read more on Summer Slide in the New York Metro Parents magazine:

Educating for Sustainability in ECE

One issue that emerges in research is that teachers are not adequately prepared on the topic of addressing Sustainability in their classroom curriculum and there has been wide agreement on the importance of including the topic of Educating for Sustainability into the Teacher Education Curriculum.

I discussed this with my graduate students and we agreed that it is easy to infuse this topic into all our teacher education courses. We also agreed that it is never too early to begin addressing issues around conserving and caring for our environment in PreK-12 schools even with young children.

We decided to compile a panel presentation on the theme of Educating for Sustainability. Participating on this panel are my graduate students most of whom are early childhood teachers in New York City schools and day care centers, and reflect a wide range of cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversities as do the children they teach.

The course that they are taking with me is Social Studies in the Early Childhood Classroom. The New York State Pre-K Learning Standards for the Social Studies touches upon its 4 pillars: Geography, History, Economics, and Civics & Citizenship. Under each of these headings are sub-themes that include:

Geography: Our Earth and our Environment, Land and water,  Location and Mapping, How people, products and ideas travel between places, How people and environment interact with each other, Conserving and caring for our environment,

History: Change over time, Continuity of human life, Learning about the past

Civics & Citizenship: Participating responsibly in the welfare of the group, Democratic living, Being empathetic, Being socially responsible & considerate of shared space

Economics: Production and Consumption, Scarcity of Resources, Needs & Wants, Interdependence of people and communities

These standards are seen to be closely aligned with the values of Sustainability, Environmental Awareness and Climate Change. And all of these standards can be addressed in very age-appropriate ways in the early childhood curriculum.

Here is the video recording of my students presenting their ideas on how this can be done by giving examples of learning experiences that they have designed for their own early childhood classrooms.

Early childhood teachers draw inspiration from Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman took the podium on January 20, 2021 as the youngest Inaugural Poet at a Presidential Inauguration. There was pin-drop silence as she recited "The Hill We Climb", mesmerizing all who were listening. Every word and every line was stunning in its imagery, clarity and power to inspire hope for recovery, regeneration, rejuvenation : "Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken but simply unfinished".  She reminded us that this wasn't the end but an opening to continue the work of uniting, of creating community. On that cold January day the air waves resonated with her voice, so confident, poised and reassuring, evoking sentiments of hope, unity, respect, empathy, inclusion and a togetherness that the country had been beginning to forget.

In the world of early childhood education community and togetherness are critical concepts that form the bedrock of joyful learning, effective teaching, and happy classrooms. The primary goal of early childhood teachers is "... to build the social skills and attitudes needed for learning in a community to keep the group together, and to engender, maintain and strengthen a feeling of togetherness in preschool (Hännikäinen 2003, 2005)". So in my graduate class of early childhood teachers I re-played the video of the young Amanda Gorman reciting her powerful poem, and I asked my class how this poem inspired them in their own professional work with young children. My students identified the particular lines that spoke to them the loudest, creating images to express their inspirations. These images appear in the photo gallery below in order of the students named here:

Karen Salamea: We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. To me this means that we must come together as a community to help our future become a better place without discrimination, social/color privileges, etc. We should put our differences aside because if we don’t, then we won’t be able to work together and help our community prosper. ​

Lia Albuquerque: Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.

Rashmi Sharma: When day comes, we step out of the shade  aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it. The light/dawn in my painting represents a new beginning, hope, and rebirth.

Guadalupe Muniz: The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it; If only we’re brave enough to be it. When I heard this particular line the vision of flowers blooming and the dawn breaking through the gray sky came to mind and that’s something really beautiful to see and feel because it symbolizes a new beginning.

Jamelin Gomez: We will rebuild, reconcile and recover. And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful. Based on the line  that I choose from the poem I created an image and the image that I created represents unity among the diverse people in the USA.  

Elagance Rowell:

Daniella Rodriguez:

Frances Vellair: We are striving to forge a Union with purpose.  To compose a Country committed to all cultures, color, characters, and conditions of man. That is what we as Early Childhood  Educators strive to do daily, forge a Union with dignity, respect, and LOVE for all cultures.

Keisha Lavia: When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it. This quote brings to mind the beginning of a new day. For me the sound of roosters signals the beginning of a new day.

Shannakay Shaw: I focused on the powerful words of the poem while still authentically representing the colorful aspect of the original image to preserve the meaning. I connected the different shades of skin color and the colors of the rainbow to the overall theme of the poem.

Eloquence Rowell:

Rubaba Mahjabeen: We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. I have drawn the picture from an early childhood point of view, a world without violence and full of love, peace and harmony.

Carly Moreno: It’s the past we step into and how we repair it…love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
I created a digital collage representing three iterations of the American flag. The quotes gave me the idea that as citizens we have the right to challenge and re-imagine the conscience of our country and how it is represented. It can be deconstructed and reformed to better serve who we are as a people now and what we will grow into. The colors red, white, and blue blend together to form a unifying color of lavender.

Michelle Whitaker: We are striving to forge a union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.  I created this picture to show that there are some people who can make changes in our country but are overshadowed by the darkness and those that are the darkest still have their colors of purpose.

Allan Molas:If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children's birthright. As a good citizen of this country we are duty bound to take up space, touch lives of other people, spread  mercy, and increase the virtues of faith hope and charity within our family and the whole society.

Sounds of the City: A picture book for children

It is the best feeling when one can combine being academic and practitioner at the same time, when one can engage in theory and research while also working actively in the field. I had that experience when I was a doctoral student of early childhood education while simultaneously working full time in an early childhood school. The matches and mismatches that I encountered between practice and theory were nothing short of exciting revelations as my understanding of the field deepened and expanded. I studied all about early years care and education while I was working with young children.  

Ever since those graduate school days I wanted to create books for children. That wish however was put on hold as over the years I completed my doctoral research, wrote up my dissertation, and started a career in academia. The years were spent navigating the "publish or perish" pressures by publishing what seemed to be an endless stream of academic books and articles to clear tenure and all my promotions. And then came the pandemic stay at home and work from home era. No longer feeling the academic pressure to publish as a full professor I was able to turn my attention to more creative passions. With not being able to travel anywhere the summer of 2020 gave me that precious time to work on my very first children's picture book. It was a new project with a steep learning curve for me but finally it published by the end of the summer. The paperback is now available on Amazon worldwide:

Book Description:

"This picture book is about a boy named Max who lives in a large city and who loves to take walks in his neighborhood. During one such walk Max encounters the many different sights and sounds that can be commonly seen and heard on city streets. The text and illustrations serve to paint a cityscape in all its exciting diversity. This book was inspired by life on the Upper West Side of New York City during the 1990’s. It will be relatable to any child living in a city environment as it highlights everyday city sights and sounds. And for children living in rural areas and suburban neighborhoods this book will introduce the exciting diversity of a cityscape. This book may also be used to introduce children to practices like silent sitting and mindful listening by focusing closely on sounds around them."

Starting the 2020-21 school year with a Positive Mindset

Following a glorious Labor Day weekend on the east coast schools began a new academic year this past week. All across New York City the year 2020-21 kicked off with in-person classes or on-line classes or in many cases hybrid classes which combined on-line and in-person teaching and learning. My mind went back to my post from May 12, 2020 titled Teachers and Pandemic Fear. In that I had listed all the steps my graduate students would have liked to see implemented before they returned to teaching. From what my students shared with me this week some or all or none of those items had been addressed depending on individual schools and daycare centers. And since during this first week my students had anywhere between 3-12 children in their classrooms there was still a lot of trepidation and nervousness about going back to in-person teaching. Undoubtedly, first and foremost in our minds is how we are going to protect ourselves and our loved ones from these dangers.

Added to the pandemic stress the Spring and Summer of 2020 also brought on a tidal wave of fear and unrest across the country related to racial injustice, natural disasters, and political tensions. In any other year just one of those factors would have been enough to cause high levels of anxiety for anyone.

As difficult as it might be we hope that, as they begin a new school year, all our brave teachers will try and look for the positive within the current negative national and global climates. It's important that we not lose sight of the good and the kind and the beautiful that still bloom under layers of viral disease, racial injustice, political invective, and devastating forest fires that are filling the skies with ash and smoke. It's important to develop a positive mindset despite these challenges.

I asked my students who are working in New York City schools and day care centers to pause for a few minutes, and visually represent what they might be looking forward to even though the year ahead is filled with so many uncertainties. Here are their expressions and images for finding strength in the small comforts we might have all previously taken for granted.

Florencia: For this unusual Fall 2020, I look forward to learning and spending more time in the outdoors with my classroom.

Dayamara: I wanted to evoke both the uncertainty as well as the glimmer of excitement in my piece. I’m excited at the prospect of being settled back into my routines and interactions with new students and my co-workers, while also acknowledging that there are many obstacles we will have to work through...This manifests as planning for curriculum, reconnecting with new families, and seeing students excited (and perhaps even anxious) to learn for the first time.

Carmen: I made this word art portrait with words that were meaningful to me. Much of what I will bring into the classroom this year comes from my experiences, my culture and the people in my life that I love. All of this together has given me the grace and positivity to be generous in the lives that I am fortunate to teach and learn from.

Mary: Picture taken in the backyard of my childhood home- It was the morning after a big rain storm, and I was struck by how beautiful the light and the haze over the yard looked. I am so thankful to be able to wake up to this every day. When I see this, I get a sense of peace and gratitude, and I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be alive. In August I made the painful decision to resign from my job. I love my work, but, due to personal and family health issues, it was too risky for me to go back. The future is uncertain, and I’m anxious and worried about so much. Yet, despite all of that, I feel this is going to be a time of personal growth and self-discovery, and that gives me hope.

Rosanna: What I look forward to as a teacher in Fall 2020 and this academic year is to nurture and foster children's learning, by keeping children engaged in making learning fun.

Dalila: I'm looking forward this semester to go back to my class to welcome all my children with safety precautions.

Shanece: This piece illustrates unity and freedom of expression in a private school. I’m looking forward to teaching in a setting where the students will ALL be able to attend class and build a social relationship. Also, the quote on the board represents our past experience with Covid. It’s there as a reminder of what can be overcome. The book on the desk is called The Future. With this book, I’m aiming to teach my students about adaptation and flexibility in a variety of situations, adjusting to a new school system and expecting the unexpected.

Leanna: I wanted to depict the internal stressors and worries I have about teaching at a preschool and also starting my masters this year, that then lead to the positivity I emit into the universe all while having those stressors and worries.

Perla: During the pandemic, I stood away from the news to try and remain positive and I came across sunflowers. I googled the meaning of sunflowers and it stated it meant "adoration". I am a spiritual person and the sunflower also has a spiritual meaning of "faith". It resembles the sun which for me, meant positivity or sunshine, something to look forward to at the end of all of this. The color yellow also signifies "enthusiasm" and in a time where all I wanted to feel was happiness, it helped. I scribbled two verses of the bible from Isaiah 58:11 and Psalm 118:14.

Daniella: What I’m looking forward to now that everything is going back to normal. I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to try and do a blackout poem.

Carol: To provide a safe and healthy environment for each individual child.To encourage togetherness form 6 ft apart.To plan age appropriate activities and build on children’s prior knowledge.To provide materials that will enhance learning to meet the need of each individual needs. I am looking forward to a positive school year.

Remembering 9/11/2001: Pages from a journal 19 years ago

These are journal entries that I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the horrific tragedy that struck New York City on that fateful Tuesday in September, nineteen years ago, when the beautiful blue morning skies over the city turned grey with the thick smoke of death and destruction...

I had last visited the World Trade Centers two summers ago. As is the drill, I had taken a family member visiting from India to see it. I remember sitting by the waterfront at the base of the twin towers, at dusk, waiting for the lights of Manhattan to come on before we went up to the deck. The two structures seemed so colossal, so strong and so invincible from such close quarters. Never in my wildest imagination could I ever have thought that a powerful jet liner would one day tear through those walls as though they were made of paper…

My school is housed in a church building which has to be evacuated as it is a high-profile religious institution. And it is only the second day of a new school year. But everyone is wonderful - the teachers, the parents and the children in responding to this emergency. There is no hysteria or panic, although many families do not know the whereabouts of spouses, friends, relatives. Phone calls are being made but the cell phones are not working too well. At a time like this, communication is what is needed most. And it is communication that is the biggest obstacle this morning. However, by 2.30 pm each child has been picked up or sent home safely.

I have a few bad moments when I hear about the plane crash “somewhere” in Pennsylvania. My older son is in college in Philadelphia and I haven’t been able to reach him on his cell phone for hours and am worried about him. But then I do reach him and am relieved to know he’s OK. My younger son is in high school in the Bronx. All entry into Manhattan has been cut off and he doesn’t have a cell phone and I can’t reach him.  Fortunately, a limited subway service into Manhattan is started by late afternoon and he is able to reach home. Otherwise he would have had to stay overnight in school in the Bronx. Today I vow to get a cell phone for him too.

Needless to say, everyone is reeling with shock, disbelief and an incredible sense of loss and sadness - for the innocent people who perished; for the complete destruction of the two towers that symbolized Manhattan and represented the global nature of all New Yorkers; and most of all for the feeling that life has changed and somehow we must learn how to live in the shadows of uncertainty and fear, haunted by these horrific images of death and destruction.

On the subway the faces around me are somber, sad and puzzled. Gone is the bravado and confidence that one normally sees in a New Yorker. It is replaced with hurt and a complete failure to understand what has happened and why. Of course, everyone is trying to carry on as normally as possible and engage in their daily routines. The Mayor asks us to. He seems stunned too- but is responding to rescue and recovery action despite the fact that the city’s Crisis Control Center has been destroyed and that hundreds of firefighters and policemen are dead or missing or hurt. City schools are closed only for one day. The whole city is being urged to carry on. But you can tell that on the inside people are hurting terribly. After all, how can anyone push away those horrific images? How can anyone’s life be normal after this?

The after-effects are being felt by us in various ways. Riverside Church has no internet or long-distance services. Our Internet service provider is located downtown and has suffered some damage. Verizon’s downtown cables have been destroyed and massively mangled. The phone at home too is intermittently non-functional. None of the local TV networks - ABC, NBC, CBS - can transmit. All their transmission stations operated from the top of the World Trade Centers.

It is Wednesday evening and the acrid smell of smoke and burning has reached us uptown. I have to keep the apartment windows closed because it is difficult to breathe and my eyes are smarting with smoke and other particles.  I am thankful that we are still alive and well, still have a roof over our heads and have plenty of food. My heart goes out to those who are inconsolable as they continue to wait on the streets and hospital corners for some news of their loved ones.

Downtown Manhattan is closed completely all the way below 14th street. It will be days and weeks before the shock even begins to wear thin, and they are able to clear the debris. I write as though the worst is over and behind us. And even as I write I ask myself "But is it?"

All day on Tuesday and Wednesday, I can only sit in front of the television. I am mesmerized and it’s as if an unseen force is keeping me riveted to the TV screen. All the channels are disrupted and blurred. Only one channel can transmit clearly via New Jersey. And I sit there in a stupor- watching those images again and again and again. The horror of it is hypnotic - the enormity of the attack, the crumbling of the invincible, the happening of the unimaginable. I still hear a part of my psyche say that this a disaster movie all over again. The mind cannot accept it.  I struggle to find and cross the line between fictitious polaroid imagery and this ghastly reality.

It is only on Thursday afternoon that I can muster up enough courage to venture up to the 23rd floor of my building. And through the south facing windows I gaze upon the Manhattan skyline. It is such a lovely afternoon, sunny with a slight haze in the distance.  I see the Empire State Building. I see the Chrysler Tower. But I cannot see the World Trade Centers. It is calm - so peaceful, so quiet in the city. No wailing of sirens on the streets, and no droning of planes in the skies. Even the mighty Hudson seems to stop in a moment of silence with not a ripple on its surface. I gaze back at the gap in the skyline. It is like looking at a watercolor of New York City in which someone with a gigantic paintbrush has gently brushed away the Twin Towers, blending them into the white and grey skies beyond. Perhaps my eyes are deceiving me. Perhaps if I peer hard enough into the distance the Twin Towers will emerge, ever so boldly, from behind the late afternoon haze. But the skyline remains unchanged. Yet so changed forever.

That evening I feel pulled towards downtown Manhattan. I need to get closer. Even though I am only a couple of miles north of the crash site, I feel removed from it - distanced by an eternity. I have to live it, see it, breathe it, sense it from a closer vantage point. I want to be nearer Ground Zero. The subway stops at 14th Street. No train can go beyond that. I come out of the underground station and out of habit, immediately turn my head upwards to look for the Twin Towers. I always looked for them to get my bearings when I surfaced from the subways. They helped me know north from south every time I found myself in the maze-like narrow streets of lower Manhattan. But of course, the towers aren’t there. Instead I am hit by a strong blast of acrid smoke stinging my eyes as I walk out onto the streets.

Once on the street level, I find myself right next to St. Vincent’s Hospital. The whole square is cordoned off. There are dozens of Radio and TV vans from all over the world lined up by the streets. Several commercial spotlights for TV transmissions flood the square with a white light that is as bright as day. People are huddled, gathered in groups talking about lost loved ones, showing pictures around in case anyone had been spotted being brought into the hospital. There is a low, hushed sound to people’s conversations. A sense of fear and horror lingers. Long lines of people wait to donate blood. I walk on past walls and bus shelters and phone booths covered with photos and fliers of missing people. Each piece of paper has a story to tell. Name, height, age, weight, color of eyes, which floor the missing persons were last seen on, which multinational corporations they worked for, whether they had been a mother or father or brother or sister. Even friend or fiancee or cousin. Each photograph pulsates like a living, breathing, smiling individual who has a full life still to be lived.

I make my way further south, the smoke becoming denser. It is an eerie sight. The streets of Lower Manhattan are empty of vehicles. Hundreds of people are just walking - in shocked disbelief, grappling with the reality of what has happened, struggling to make sense of this tragedy that has occurred through deliberate acts of human cruelty. Many wear masks, not able to breathe freely in the smoke-filled air. An occasional vehicle rolls by silently- Department of Sanitation, or NYPD, or American Red Cross Disaster Relief. There is no need for sirens or traffic control police on these empty streets. How can this be, I ask myself incredulously for the thousandth time. Film and television images of New York being trashed and destroyed abound in my mind- but only in Hollywood blockbusters such as Armageddon, Earthquake, and Deep Impact. How could the unthinkable, the unimaginable really have happened?

I walk down to Houston Street before being stopped by a police barricade. Not even pedestrians are allowed beyond this. I stand there along with several other people. We are all there with the same purpose, or the same non-purpose. Just standing in a trance, too stunned to do or say anything. In any case, there is nothing to say. Nobody has the capacity or the words that will adequately express what we are feeling or describe what just happened. 

It is late in the evening. Staring down the street it is hard to distinguish the buildings in the faint light of dusk - or is it just the dust and smoke darkened by acts of evil? Shadowy outlines of buildings stand silently as a plume of smoke swirls around them from a still smoldering pile of shattered steel, crushed concrete and broken bodies. And that smell!  Strong, acidic and metallic, rising from the rubble of burning glass and metal and human bodies. Where else could they be- those thousands of people whose smiling faces are now looking down upon me from every wall and lamp post in the area?

It has been raining continuously since yesterday quenching smoldering fires and washing off some of the dust and ash that is covering the city. But not even these tears from the clouds above can wash out the slivers of fear and the specks of pain that have been firmly lodged into the eyes of New Yorkers.The rain comes down into the sea, water meeting water. And I can be sure that tears of grief are rolling down the face of Lady Liberty who stood by helplessly as the city by her precious harbor was invaded, raped and ravaged by the hand of hate and terror.

This morning I feel that I must go downtown again. I call my friend Nancy and she is as eager as I am to visit the Site. Of course, once again, we’re not allowed to go beyond a certain point. This time we reach Canal Street and head out West to West Side Highway. There is a crowd of people all over, and photos, letters, notes stuck on every wall and shop window. One Café has large glass walls and outside on a table someone has left a pile of sticky notes and pencils. Passers by stop, write a note, pen a thought, pencil in their love and support and stick it on the café windows. There are thousands and thousands of such notes - from Nancy and I, from other New Yorkers, from people across the country, even across the world.

West Side Highway is being used by the Rescue and Recovery crew. Firefighters, policemen, volunteers go in by the hundreds to do what they can. I watch as van and busloads of tired and exhausted firefighters return from their shifts. The expressions on their faces is one of physical and emotional fatigue - a kind of hopelessness that comes from knowing deep within that there is no chance of any more survivors, that to clear this mountain of rubble is going to take not days and weeks but months. Each time a group of tired workers leaves, or a group of fresh firefighters returns to yet another shift, the bystanders cheer loudly, urging them on with all they’ve got using their voices, their hands and home-made signs.

Even several days after the event, I meet people whom I have known for years and who have variously experienced this attack of terror on their lives. New stories told to me by friends and acquaintances keep surfacing in an unrelenting series of painful spasms. I find it impossible to push these stories to the back of my mind, to unfreeze my being from the icy coils of panic. How must it be for these people who have actually lived this fear?

How can Sheryl overcome her grief of hearing her fiancee call her one last time from the 102nd floor of the World Trade Towers, after which there was only a silent and devastating wait that is stretched into infinity?  How can Charlene move beyond her shock to discover only incidentally that three of her business colleagues who did not even work at the Twin Towers were there that morning for an American Express meeting and have not been heard since?

How can Lisa ever forget the horrific images of debris and fire and fear that met her eyes as she stepped out of the subway station on Wall Street that morning just as the second plane hit the Towers? Or Rick, who was under the airplane as it struck the first building. He ducked for cover, and saw debris fall all around him, exploding like a million bombs as it hit the ground.  It was a few minutes later that he realized that the debris had turned into human beings who were falling from hundreds of feet above, all around him. The bodies were breaking up into pieces as they struck the ground, and then body parts were flying off hitting other people on the streets. Will these images ever fade in Rick’s memory? Probably not. And I won’t forget the shell-shocked look on Lisa’s and Rick’s faces as they rambled on, deliriously describing their experience to me.

And neither will John at his law firm, or Arthur at the Justice Department who both ran out from 7 World Trade Center just in time before the building collapsed, with falling debris and bodies hitting them from all sides. They lost their offices and everything they had - photos, college diplomas, files, data, their business lives. Today both shrug it all off, just glad that they are still alive.  And what about the pain that Dora feels- Dora who I see everyday and who knew Mychal Judge, the Firefighter’s Chaplain. They attended the same church and met every Sunday for years. Mychal died while attending to a dying fireman as the first tower fell right onto him - crushing him. Or how can I not think of the terror that George must have felt - George who worked in an insurance company on the 102nd floor and with whom I had had several telephone conversations each year because that was the company that insured the children in my school. I read his obituary in the New York Times earlier this week.

And so it is with several other parents at my school who worked on and around Wall Street and the World Trade Centers. The stories are told and retold. And interspersed with these tales of horrific truths are the city’s attempts to comfort and console and start the healing. For somewhere the healing must begin. I feel it’s too soon for any kind of healing. But a start must be made.

Riverside Church holds one of the first inter-faith services open to the public. People flock to it - still numb with shock, still in denial, still not wanting to believe it’s real. The service is telecast live on PBS. I watch it at home on TV. Away from the prying eyes of people. Being able to cry in private. There are religious chants by Rev. James Forbes, Imam Al-Hajj W. Abur-Rashid, Karda Al-Quari Sheikh Ahmed Dewidar, Rabbi Lester Bronstein, Cantor Benji Ellen Shiller, Ven. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki. Each chant, regardless of faith and source, is haunting, its melody echoing of the eternal nature of pain, sadness, love and beauty all at once. Between these religious invocations are expressions of healing and faith from the Arts. A mezzo soprano singing a Fransiscan prayer, Mandy Patinkin singing selections from Sondheim and Rodgers & Hammerstein, violinist Joshua Bell playing the soul searing Meditation from Thais, Matthew Rushing dancing from an Alvin Ailey choreography and Lillias White singing Duke Ellington. Across faiths, across race, across disciplines the words and music of comfort and understanding begin to flow into the mind and soul.

Riverside Church hosts yet another service - reaching out to the tired and weary and grief-stricken people of Manhattan. This time to come listen to the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who was recently nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace. I am able to get a front row seat. I don’t know how. But I accept that as a gift. At a time when I cannot understand how it is that I am alive and yet 6000 people only a few miles from me have lost their lives and have been incinerated to dust, I have stopped asking why and take everything I get as a precious gift. There is a beautiful Buddhist ceremony as the monks sing and invoke the Boddhisattvas . Thich Nhat Hanh sits serenely, cross legged, a mere 7 feet away from me. I gaze at his face and feel the energy of peace that emanates from him. He speaks for 90 minutes and talks of mindful listening. The West is not brought up to value mindful listening, he says. Rather success here is measured in terms of verbal skills. He emphasizes that the key to good communication is not in talking but in listening - between parent and child, between partners, between nations - really listening by keeping an open mind and not judging. Mindful listening, mindful walking, mindful breathing, mindful drinking: Let’s be mindful of every little step we take, every little breath we breathe, every little word we speak. I come away from the three-hour service feeling comforted and a little calmer.

There are things that happen that are not for me to reason out or question. There are things that happen for which I find no answers, and that I cannot understand. The tragedy remains as a horrific shock. Perhaps the biggest disaster that I have known. I know that this is certainly not the biggest tragedy in the history of mankind. There have been worse. The Black Plague, the two World Wars, Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, every nation’s fight for freedom, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, natural disasters, and dozens of other tragedies. But for each one of us, the magnitude of a tragedy rests upon proximity, and the probability that it could have been “me or mine”. And it could have been me - if I had happened to have an appointment to see my financial advisor on Wall Street, or if I had happened to visit my immigration attorney’s office downtown, or if I had happened to take a morning off to visit Century 21, or if I had happened to show another visitor from India the World Trade Center...The possibilities were endless.

But I was not there on Tuesday morning, and nor was any loved one of mine. And for that I will remain eternally grateful. The sadness, too, will remain. There is too much and too many that will be constant reminders around me of that horrendous, shocking, heart-stopping moment when, a couple of miles away from where I sat in my office in a tower, the first jet liner flew into one of the Twin Towers followed by ever increasing horror as the tragedy continued with the second plane, and extended even further with the crumbling of the first tower and then the crashing of the second tower, killing thousands of innocent people.

Tuesday, September 11. A day that will go down in history as one having stunned the world. It’s hard for me to accept this act of terrorism because it happened in New York City - a city that I thought was strong and invincible - the pulsating nerve center of an economic power; a microcosm representing the world and where people from all over the world live in close proximity; a dynamic emblem of freedom, democracy, and diversity. A city that never sleeps had been stunned into a stupor. For people like me who had made a conscious choice to live in New York City, it was like a personal assault. This city gave me the opportunity to accomplish what I never would have in any other part of the world. This city let me, a foreign woman of color and a single mother, go to school, start a career, raise my children, and live a respectful life. This city gifted my children a free and high-quality public education without asking who they were or what they believed in. This city allowed me to dream and aspire, and then provided me with the opportunities to realize those dreams. How can I not feel angry at those who invaded my life and injured my city?

I am always amazed when I think back to how from those initial weeks of raw emotions - of shock, sorrow, anger and fear - New Yorkers banded together and bounded back to a better and stronger place. I hope we can remind ourselves of our resilience and inherent goodness to once more work together and overcome the sorrow, anger and fear that is currently sweeping across our country...

Resources to help children understand racial injustice in a post-Covid world

June 19-20, 2020

June 20th, 2020: Summer Solstice. The official end of Spring and the beginning of summer. After being blindsided by a deadly pandemic, the world finds itself in a new post-Covid 19 era of dealing with a deadly virus while working from home and learning from home. With most summer camps and schools suspended due to the pandemic, parents/caregivers continue to keep their children at home while also educating them during the long summer days that lie ahead. This is, of course, on top of continuing to themselves work full time from home.

June 19, 2020: Juneteenth. Our post-Covid world is also witnessing another life changing moment as the protests following the killing of George Floyd gathered momentum, and the Black Lives Matter movement now impacting legislation on policing policies around the country.

How to address issues of race and racial injustice with young children is currently the most discussed topic in many homes. There is a plethora of information out there and reading through all of it can be overwhelming. I have selected a handful of multimodal sites to share here. This list is certainly not complete and there is a lot more available in terms of relevant resources. But I have deliberately kept this list short and easy to navigate. Some of these resources contain information for parents/caregivers and teachers, and others can be explored together with children. My hope is that it will provide a starting point for families/teachers who are just beginning this discussion with young children, and will support them with helpful tools to address the topic of racial injustice.

Short films: To tackle issues of race, bias and identity the New York Times has compiled 26 short documentaries that range in time from 1 to 7 minutes. Additionally, teachers will find here several teaching ideas, related readings and student activities.

Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race: Racism expands beyond skin color. It includes cultural norms and behavior, language, and other markers of racial and ethnic identity. Therefore it is important to introduce children to stories and books that demonstrate that people of color are complex and diverse persons and not a monolithic group. This site offers a long list of books on racial diversity which provide parents with an easy place to start exploring with their children how to destigmatize difference & celebrate racial diversity.

100 race-conscious things you can say to your child to advance racial justice: Don’t know the words to use or to explain a race-related idea? This site is a great resource for adults as it models the language they can use when they are trying to talk about race with young children, with the goals of dismantling the color-blind framework and preparing young people to work toward racial justice. Examples of terms that are explained include racism, multi-racial, violence, activism, homelessness, the Thanksgiving holiday, sexism, white privilege, gender identity, and others.

Social Justice Summer Curriculum for Children of Color: This website offers a carefully planned summer curriculum to be used by parents during the summer. It was compiled by a group of five Chicana Mothers and can be adapted for any family of color and any age-group of children. It is a six-week Social Justice Summer Curriculum based on these mothers’ beliefs that teaching abolition and liberation begins at home. For each week the curriculum provides a suggested activity, a book to read, and flash cards to introduce to the children the language and vocabulary of inclusion.

It Starts at Home: Confronting Anti-Blackness in South Asian Communities: A Facilitation Guide: Created by the Queer South Asian National Network which believes that undoing anti-Blackness starts at home: in our families and our communities where conflict can often be hardest. This helpful guide provides the tools for South Asians to hold these conversations within their own communities.

Podcast: The Parent Scoop - bringing education research and knowledge to parents, from parents.This podcast is hosted by Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher, Ed.D., education professor and mom of two and has a wonderful collection of conversations with experts that does a deep-dive on topics such as race, pandemic schooling, balancing work and play, etc.

Videos for children: Compiled by the site We Are Teachers these videos on anti-racism will help to explain complex topics to young audiences:

Museum Portal: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has released the “Talking About Race” web portal to help people explore issues of Race, Racism and Racial Identity. The portal provides tools and guidance to inspire conversation.


For parents of color, schooling at home can be an act of resistance (Monisha Bajaj):

Talking to Children Authentically about Race and Racism: A conversation hosted by PBS KIDS for Parents featuring fellow parents, educators and child development and trauma experts ​about how you can talk with young children about racial injustice. This show can be viewed on Youtube under the title Talking to Children Authentically about Race and Racism.

Becoming a Parent in the Age of Black Lives Matter (Clint Smith)

How Kids Learn Prejudice (Katherine D. Kinzler)

Black Lives Matter is relevant to all communities. South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over a century. These are the histories we were never taught. This article offers a glimpse into that secret history of solidarity that is not widely known or talked about, by Anirvan Chaterjee.

From Juneteenth to the Tulsa massacre: What isn't taught in classrooms has a profound impact (Daniella Silva)

The light still shines

Teachers and Pandemic Fear

The Spring "Covid" Semester of 2020 comes to a close with this last week of classes. It brings a bitter-sweet feeling as I prepare to say goodbye to my wonderful students. Like most New Yorkers they have suffered tremendously this Spring: illnesses due to the Corona virus, many losing friends and family members, and several losing their jobs. On top of that the stress of parenting and working from home simultaneously has taken an immense toll on many of my students. But they have courageously persisted, and with great determination have attended every single remote class we've had, and have completed their course work admirably. I will miss them in class but we could all do with a break from screen fatigue.

We are looking forward to summer despite knowing that it's going to be a different kind of summer, more restricting and probably with more weeks of shelter-at-home. And also hanging upon us is the cloud of uncertainty around going back to work in the Fall. Will school and college buildings reopen in New York City? Will in-person classes resume? Will we have to teach in our windowless airless classrooms? Will we have to commute on crowded subways and packed buses? Though we would love to go back to the in-person teaching and learning that is so central to early childhood education, we are also afraid to go back to work in the same way as we used to.

Most of my students are in-service or pre-service early childhood teachers in New York City. I asked 40 of them to discuss the changes that they would want to see implemented in their schools and classrooms before they felt safe enough to resume in-person teaching or safe enough to send their own children back to school. Here are some of the concerns they expressed and the changes they wished to see implemented as NYC schools consider reopening in the Fall:

Advance preparation

More research-based information about the virus – how it attacks, symptoms, treatment

Everyone (administrators, staff, teachers,children) should be tested for Covid 19 and antibodies before coming back to school.

Cities and counties need to set high standards for sanitation and hygiene in schools and classrooms and send qualified and adequately equipped people to properly clean and sanitize all schools and daycares

Make sure all classrooms are properly equipped with hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, cleaning materials, ppe for teachers, etc.

Ensure better ventilation and airflow in classrooms/centers/schools

Transportation for children and teachers should be provided so as to avoid crowded subways and buses

Won’t feel safe unless there’s a vaccine in place and after that mandatory vaccinations to be a policy

Classroom and School Procedures

A nurse should be available in schools all day for a daily temperature check

Have a clear plan of action in case of  a second wave or another outbreak occurs

Ensure adequate time and supervision for helping children use masks and hand sanitizer

Stricter stay-at-home policy for anyone who is sick

Strict enforcement of policies and hygiene protocols for hand washing (20 seconds), disinfecting classroom surfaces throughout the day, daily temperature checks

Making resources available for more sinks, sinks in hallways, more hand sanitizer, more time for kids to wash hands

Accountability for people who are cleaning the classrooms

Classroom and School Environment

Strive to socially distance

Overcrowding of classrooms is a big concern - we need smaller class sizes for social distance

Overcrowding may be addressed by having AM and PM shifts for children

Better public education about hygiene which should also be made an essential part of classroom discussions

Ensuring Trust and Well-being

There should be training procedures for children, teachers and families regarding the way we talk about the virus and how we treat each other

The pandemic brings out the positive but also the negative qualities in people and we need to ensure the emotional well-being of individuals and of the community

We need to consider how the opening of schools will affect those who cannot come back due to illness

There needs to be more efficient management and better treatment of the disease

Regaining trust in government at all levels

Most importantly, how will preschoolers play together, hug each other, comfort each other, share with each other, and do all the things that they need to do to become caring, sharing, empathetic, compassionate individuals? The saddest thoughts shared were by a couple of students who questioned their plan of becoming a teacher and whether they would ever feel comfortable enough to go back into the classroom. I despair to think that if those in power don't get it right we might lose many fine teachers to the fear of this pandemic.

Kindness in the time of Covid

A few days ago I read an article in the NY Times on “What our new normal will feel like” by Max Fisher: “The greatest psychological shift amid widespread crisis may be toward what is termed “prosocial behavior” — checking in on neighbors, caring for the needy, cooking for friends. Early humans, trapped in a hostile environment, thrived when they cooperated, typically in groups of a few hundred. Now, as we are once again besieged by nature and isolated into small communities, our survival instincts are re-emerging. During the SARS epidemic, Dr. Sim said, people looked out for one another in ways they might not have done before. They are doing so again now, even in Singapore, a city known for capitalist striving and competition.” (Max Fisher, NY Times, April 21, 2020).

Yes, acts of kindness have been spotlighted across the globe. The news media is filled with stories of people and communities reaching out to help, volunteer, donate, and offer any assistance they are able to. New Yorkers too have been doing what they do best - face difficult times by lending fully their hands, hearts, and minds to help build bridges of support.

The other day I asked my students to focus on positive energy and share any acts of kindness they had personally experienced or observed during these days of Covid 19. Here are but a few examples:

Volunteers in Caroline's neighborhood are helping the elderly and disabled to buy groceries and get medication.

Carol's niece who is a nurse is doing the grocery shopping for Carol and her family. When Carol's dog died, someone came to her home from another borough to pick the dog up, handle the cremation, and send the ashes back to the family.

Shannon has noticed that people are being kinder to each other in public spaces, letting those who are elderly or who have only a few items in their cart get ahead of them in line.

Dee was in a grocery store and didn't have a bag. The cashier got her a box, packed the box and put it in a cart so she could take it out to the car. Another time Dee went to the laundromat where an employee gave her a free mask and wouldn't accept payment for it.

When Mercy went to pay after shopping at a supermarket the cashier observed that she was stressed and spoke to her with much kindness, asking "How are you? Are you okay? It's okay, breathe, take your time!"

Walter said that residents in his building created a WhatsApp group that supports each other, and informs each other when a package is delivered for them in the building.

Larita shared that she and her coworkers are praying everyday on Zoom for another coworker who is sick. 

Maria’s sister cooks and donates meals to the military.

And then there are the instances we have been reading about everyday: parents forming support groups for homeschooling; restaurants ordering food for healthcare workers; the 7:00pm cheering for front-line workers all around the world; volunteers packing lunch bags for the homeless and providing hand sanitizer; hotels providing rooms for the homeless; people offering free classes, read-alouds, and other performances; libraries offering books to read online for free...

Hopefully, once the worst is over, we as a community, a city, a country, and the world can continue to keep our sights on those spaces deep within us from which such kindness emanates. Human nature is compassionate in its essence, and we can put human well-being above personal profit despite those who might urge otherwise. Let's do our best to remember our goodness during this devastating and dangerous time.

Kindness cannot be killed by the corona's sharp spikes. This is our opportunity to teach children not just good hygiene, but to teach them to value the compassion, kindness and empathy that lives within them. 

The Spring of Covid

It's April 15th... a month since schools and colleges closed in New York City. Almost overnight teachers, professors, and other educators had to learn how to teach their students of all ages remotely using electronic devices. Understanding the language of distance education, on-line instruction, researching the multitude of platforms that support working and teaching from home, selecting which platform to use, re-designing course content and syllabi to be more suitable for an on-line format, and then beginning to hold on-line classes synchronously and asynchronously.... it's been a daunting and anxiety-ridden transition for someone like me who has been a staunch supporter of in-person teaching and learning. But we're doing it - my colleagues and I at the college levels, and my students at the early childhood and primary school levels. We're figuring it out and are now teaching from home.

What I found was that my class sessions for now have been 40% hand-holding and sharing resources with my students, and 60% teaching of content. And that's okay - I firmly believe that my goal as a college professor at this time is not to strive for the perfect on-line class. We are in crisis mode and each of us is sheltering at home with our family members while continuing to work. There are interruptions, disruptions, technological challenges, worrying about adequate food supplies and the well-being of our loved ones near and far. My goal during this time is to offer the most supportive, empathetic, understanding and stress-free class sessions while also getting some of the course work completed. My students are overjoyed each week just to log in, see each other in the virtual "classroom", greet each other, share their worries, ask for help with resources, and find comfort in the advice and consolations they get from each other. I find my groups to be stronger classroom communities than ever before because of their common fight and shared struggle with living in the time of Covid. And I so look forward to seeing them each week myself. Because what a teacher most needs is to see the faces of her students. The non-verbal language and the interpersonal connections between teacher and learner still take priority in my definition of teaching and learning.

I am proud of my students - for their courage, their persistence, their empathy, and their care and support for each other. I remind them that as they share their struggles in these difficult days they should also share with each other who or what continues to spark joy in them. To look for that glimmer of brightness however slim it might be.

Spring still blossoms in the climate of Covid...