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If you recall some of your nursery rhymes, you'll remember how Mary brought her lamb to school one day--or at least, the lamb followed her there.
Now, in Ohio, a school is using this idea in a new way. It has introduced a dog, a chocolate-colored Labrador, into the classroom to help children with reading problems. The dog, oddly named Bear, sits next to the children as they face the rigors of reading that prove to be so difficult for them.
The teachers report that the presence of this canine partner helps children deal with the emotional problems that inevitably accompany reading problems.
The idea is for students to transfer their love of reading to the dog to reading. The dog also has a calming influence on the children. It's reported that children who have hitherto avoided reading are now clamoring to read to Bear, even to the point of bringing books from home to read.
Because the program has been so successful, the school is preparing to add another dog. This is, of course, not the first time dogs have been used in therapeutic roles. There is an organization Therapy Dogs International http://www.tdi-dog.org/ which trains and certifies dogs to perform a range of these sorts of activities.
And for those who are not acquainted with the original nursery rhyme about Mary and her little lamb, here it is:
Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.
It followed her to school one day, which was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play, to see a lamb at school.
And so the teacher turned it out, but still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about till Mary did appear.
"Why does the lamb love Mary so?" the eager children cry;
"Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know" the teacher did reply.
The range of topics one can jest about is vast and Christmas offers no exception. So here are some question-answer jokes about the holiday that you can enjoy with your children--while offering them the chance for some interesting word play
Q: What do you call a bunch of grandmasters of chess bragging about their games in a hotel lobby?
A: Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!
Q: What do elves learn in school?
A: The Elf-abet!
Q: If Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus had a child, what would he be called?
A: A subordinate claus.
Q: What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?
Q: Where do polar bears vote?
A: The North Poll.
Q: What kind of bird can write?
A: A PENguin.
Q: How does Al Gore's household keep Christmas politically correct?
A: On Christmas morning, they give the presents TO the tree.
Q: What do you call a cat on the beach at Christmas time?
A: Sandy Claus!
Q: How do sheep in Mexico say Merry Christmas?
A: Fleece Navidad!
Q: Why does Santa's sled get such good mileage?
A: Because it has long-distance runners on each side.
Q: What do you get if you deep fry Santa Claus?
A: Crisp Cringle.
Q: Why was Santa's little helper depressed?
A: Because he had low elf esteem.
Q: What do snowmen eat for breakfast?
Q: Why did the elf push his bed into the fireplace?
A: He wanted to sleep like a log.
Q: Why did Santa spell Christmas N-O-E?
A: Because the angel had said, "No L!"
Q: Why does Santa Claus go down the chimney on Christmas Eve?
A: Because it "soots" him!
Q: How come you never hear anything about the 10th reindeer "Olive" ?
A: Yeah, you know, "Olive the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names"
Q: What's a good holiday tip?
A: Never catch snowflakes with your tongue until all the birds have gone south for the winter.
Q: What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus?
We've been told a lot about the problems stemming from the American diet. But, as always, a picture is worth a thousand words. Through these beautiful images, we can see in brilliant color, how far we've come in relying on processed foods and how spectacularly attractive natural fresh food is.
Of course, none of this should affect the feasts you are going to have during the holiday season. But perhaps these images will lead you to actions that will expand food supplies to those in need--in our nation and abroad.
And once the holidays are past, perhaps you'll turn back to these photos and let them lead you to some New Year's resolutions about revamping the family fare. (The photos you will be seeing are the work of Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. I encourage you to visit their site to check out their other great photography and photo projects -
All photos are Â©Peter Menzel www.menzelphoto.com; from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. Ten Speed Press.
If you would like to help your child achieve masterful scores on the SAT vocabulary, you can now do so via an interesting setup. You can go to the website www.freerice.com. There, your youngster will learn some interesting, esoteric words. But in addition, right answers lead to grains of rice being sent to the hungry of the world. So along with the fun of the word-game, players get an extra jolt of "feel good" joy:
It all began when a father was trying to find a way to help his son prepare for the SAT. Today, some 500,000 people daily visit the vocabulary-quiz website the Indiana-based computer programmer set up.
The site, which made its debut in OctÂoÂber, donates 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program (WFP) every time a player selects the correct definition for a particular word. The layout of the site is simple: The left side of the page has a word with four possible definitions below. When the user clicks on a definition, a new page loads and indicates whether the answer was correct. If the user was right, a graphic of a wooden bowl on the right side of the page fills with 20 grains of rice. (The average adult needs 18,000-20,000 grains of rice to eat for a day.)
The site had received some over million hits. Paid for with advertising income, over 4 billion grains have been won for the WFP so far. That's 160 metric tons, or enough to feed 200,000 people for one day.
"It's really caught fire," says Brenda Barton, a WFP spokeswoman. "More people visit our site from the link on Freerice.com than any other referral." "We see an interest, especially among kids, in the issue of hunger," Ms. Barton says. "We need to talk to them at their level by using the Internet and video games. Freerice.com does that."
People from all walks of life and from around the globe have written in to express their appreciation for the game, she says. "We get messages from fourth-Âgraders saying, 'I really enjoyed playing this game. My teacher has organized a spelling bee using it.' "
The same parent had experience in online philanthropy before. In 1999, he created http://www.thehungersite.com . Visitors can "click to donate" a cup of food to an impoverished person. Sponsors pay for the food; visitors are limited to one donation per day. The site averages nearly 200,000 hits daily and has brought in $2.9 million for the WFP so far.
A recent headline in the British press read, "Primary schools have lost their sense of fun and play." What is being referred to is the emphasis in classrooms, not confined to the U.K. but present in our country as well, to teach traditional academic subjects as early as possible.
The inevitable result has been an elimination of the relaxed, play-like exploratory activities associated with early schooling. In their place have come the drills and tests associated with new academic standards. For example, in many classrooms today, recess has all but been dropped from the school day. This is a disastrous development--particularly in an age where so many children show attentional problems and opportunities for physical activity are of enormous benefit.
Now, at least in England, there is a move to return to a more balanced approach. There, a national inquiry, recommends scrapping end-of-term national curriculum tests.
It argues that excessive repetitive learning has damaged children's education by lessening their motivation to learn. As one consultant said, "Fun and play are what motivate young children to learn and to want to go on learning."
These ideas, however, are only recommendations. They stand in direct contradiction to the actual plan that the government has in place.
The irony is that the current conflict between play and achievement is unnecessary and misguided. Unfortunately, when the pressure developed for increasing "academic performance" in young children, people automatically and unthinkingly turned to the old, Victorian models of dreary drills involving endless repetition. There was no need to go this route--especially with the advances in behavioral science that had yielded new insights into children's learning.
As but one example--young children are remarkably adept at learning language. They do so with ease and enjoyment. The drive for improved performance could easily have taken advantage of this by introducing well-designed foreign language programs into the classrooms. But this would have required the bureaucracy to institute major changes all along the line including the way teachers are trained and the way the curriculum is organized. It was cheaper and easier, albeit counterproductive, to put in limited and unexciting drill activities that lend themselves to easy testing.
Once again, it's not that we lack the knowledge of better alternatives; it's that the bureaucratic systems fail to take advantage of and do the work that these better alternatives require.
Christmas is a beloved holiday--one associated with a solid set of traditions from the brightly lit trees to the well-known carols to the stockings on the mantelpiece. So we almost never think of it as including a treasure trove of ideas that most of us have never heard about.
Now Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John Kennedy, has shown us a lot of what we have been missing. Her new anthology, A Family Christmas, is a collection of poetry, prose, lyrics and scripture about the season that lets us see the many aspects of Christmas that are rarely discussed.
For example, among the tidbits she offers are the following::
In 1659, the Puritans of Massachusetts banned the celebration of Christmas, "which had become known for public drunkenness, licentious sex, and gambling."
The American vision of Santa Claus was created by Clement Clarke Moore in his 1822 poem that starts "'Twas the night before Christmas" and was later exported to the world largely via Coca-Cola ads.
Department stores - invented in America - "contributed greatly to the economic growth of Christmas." Macy's began decorating its windows in the 1870s and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created for Chicago's Montgomery Ward stores in 1939.
"The first electric Christmas-tree lights, eighty hand-blown red, white, and blue glass bulbs, festooned the 1882 tree of Edward Johnson, an executive in the Edison Illuminating Company."
"America's first public Christmas tree was lit in 1912 by Caroline Kennedy's great grandfather, Boston Mayor John F. Fitzgerald, at 5 p.m., beating New York's Madison Square tree by half an hour."
Among the more unusual entries are a letter from Groucho Marx about his bad luck with holiday tipping, recipes from the kitchen of Martha Washington and the lyrics to "Christmas in Hollis" by rappers Run-DMC.
So if you want to add some history, some fun and some unusual insights about the holiday, this is a great book to turn to and help you bring a new dimension to the family celebrations.
When Albert Einstein was asked to account for his incredible insights, he was reputed to have said, "It's because I never stopped asking the questions that children ask."
So people in England should have been prepared for the recent developments that have the country all abuzz. As the Guardian newspaper put it, "Everywhere you look, people are talking about teaching philosophy to children."
It seems that there is a major move to get children into learning about and discussing problems usually seen as the preserve of esoteric philosophers. And, while Einstein would have expected as much, most people are surprised to find how well the children are responding to the challenge.
Not only do they enjoy the questions that are raised, but they often come up with fundamental questions for themselves. For example, in a discussion in one London classroom, the students were dealing with issues such as "Can something be beautiful to one person but ugly to another?" "How could I know if everyone else sees green when I see red?" and "Do human beings really make free choices?"
There are also discussions based around picture story books that concern themes of loneliness and friendship. Even children of preschool age enthusiastically engage in this sort of discussion.
Fortunately, this realm is one that can easily be brought into our homes by expanding family activities to regularly include discussions on the vast range of issues that intrigue us all. Just think of what might come up if you raise topics such as the following with your children:
What has a mind?
How should we treat our friends?
Should we always think for ourselves?
What would a fair society be like?
Do we own our bodies?
What does it mean to know something?
What counts as a good reason for something?
And when you fall short of ideas, you can turn to a number of websites that are specifically aimed at "philosophy for children." These include:
Those of us who are concerned about literacy standards in our nation received little in the way of comfort this week when the results came out on the Progress in International Reading Literacy test. It showed that our fourth-graders have lost ground in reading ability compared with children around the world.
The test results showed that our students scored about the same as they did in 2001, the last time the test was given. However, at that time, only three countries were ahead of the United States. Now, ten countries or jurisdictions were ahead of us. These include Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Luxembourg, Hungary, Italy and Sweden, along with the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.
Ironically, our relatively poor showing occurred despite the increased emphasis on reading under the No Child Left Behind law and despite the fact that our children get more reading instruction than do those in other countries.
The results send a clear message that there is no benefit to spending more time, money and effort on the methods that currently dominate reading instruction. However, these methods are deeply entrenched and it will take enormous effort and commitment from parents and professionals to make the changes that are needed. Fortunately, parents who are well-informed know that in the interim, they need to be prepared to offer productive programs outside of the regular system.
You can find additional information at http://timss.bc.edu/