“Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.” ~Thomas Berry
Alright friends, I know you take AMAZING photos of the kids in your life. Do you have pics of them enjoying time in nature? I want these kinds of photos to decorate my ed tech company’s office. They will serve as a reminder of why we’re embarking on this venture to help kids realize that the natural world we live in has so much to teach all of us and deserves to be protected.
I’m looking for nature photos in which kids are truly interacting with nature and exploring it. Please send any photos like this to me at email@example.com and we will gladly credit you in the print!
I recently read a quote that books (and thereby, learning and education) can’t solve everything. They don’t fill an empty belly, stop violence, or provide much-needed healthcare. And I beg to differ. I’ve felt hungry, afraid in an unstable environment, and sick without healthcare. Books helped me, and continue to help me, take the long view. They help me to believe in a better, brighter tomorrow, and they empower me to build that tomorrow with my own two hands, and my mind, and my heart. Books make me powerful.
In my saddest and darkest hours, my education literally saved me. It helped me to keep looking up, and to keep trying, when it seemed like all of my efforts were in vain. No, maintaining our grit and determination in the face of adversity isn’t easy, and yes, it’s tempting to take a shortcut and go off the tracks and give up. But if we will go just one more day, no matter how difficult or embarrassing or discouraging, the light at the end of the tunnel is there and it is ours as much as it is anyone else’s. It was there for me, and it’s there for every child who can find a way to keep going.
We have within our power, in one generation, to make that happen for every child, everywhere. It will be expensive, though not nearly as expensive as not doing it. Think of how we could change the world if we could educate every child.An education is for the good of the many, and the one. That’s not just an idea, that’s a revolution. That’s a movement.
“Christa, why aren’t you having kids?” I get this question a lot, and not without a fair bit of judgement. And here’s the reason: by not having kids of my own, all the children of the world are my full-time concern. I’m extremely passionate about public education and the wellbeing of children. It’s the main reason I took a job as Product Manager at ed tech startup STEAM Engine, Inc. Improving all of their lives through learning is my goal.
I’ve read many autobiographies of people who transformed their corners of the world, and I aspire to be one of those people who makes an enormous impact that lasts far beyond my own lifetime. One thing that every single one of these people mentions is that their mission to change the world required them to spend less time with their families, and specifically their children, than they would have liked to spend.
They reasoned that many other people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, needed them more than their own children needed them. I’m not going to debate whether or not that’s true. It’s how they feel. It’s a conscious choice they made and had the courage to tell the world about.
Of course it’s absolutely possible to have kids of our own and have a full career, too. So many people have shown us that and I tip my hat to every single one of them. Many of my friends are the most incredible parents and highly successful in their careers. I’m in awe of them. The great balancing act and sacrifices they manage isn’t something I could do gracefully; I know my limits. So, I realized I had to make a choice, a very personal choice that is right for me. And I decided, for me, I wanted to devote everything I have to the pursuit to help all kids through my career.
I mean to use the 24 hours I have every day to make a high-quality education for every child everywhere a birthright. It’s not a luxury or a nice-to-have service. It’s not something that should only be given to those of good fortune. It’s as vital as breathing, eating, and sleeping. We are all given this tremendously complex, wondrous piece of machinery called the human brain. It’s the greatest invention ever made, and I feel physical pain from the idea that some children, by simple luck of the draw, don’t get the chance to develop their full mental potential. It’s unacceptable and intolerable, and I’ve got to do something about it.
So, am I having kids? I already have kids. Millions of them. They need me, and I plan to use my career, time, and energy to be there for them. All of them.
The news out of Ferguson, New York City, and Charlottesville, made me shake my fists at the ceiling and ask, “Why? Why have we been taught to value institutions, however corrupt, over human life? Why does our society continue to glorify violence over justice, kindness, and respect?” I have no answers to these questions, but I do know this: it must stop and change starts with us.
I understand that teaching our children Common Core concepts has merit, but what about the common core of compassion, mindfulness, and nonviolence? I know there is value in math, science, and the proper use of the English language, but they are worthless unless we first learn to treat one another with respect and decency.
What we need are new standards, standards that aren’t measured by a state administered exam on a specific day, but by our own daily actions. When I was a student at UVA’s Darden School, we had to write and sign an oath at the end of every exam that stated the work that we did was ours and ours alone. I want to see everyone, everywhere, accept an Honor Code that includes conduct that goes far beyond UVA’s oath against lying, cheating, and stealing. I want an Honor Code that elevates humanity and denounces violence in all its ugly forms.
Reflecting on today’s news, I’m reminded of the quote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” Collectively, we have within our power, in our lifetimes, to create a tidal shift in how we treat one another. And of course, how we treat others is how our world is shaped.
We have the chance now to create a better and more peaceful world for our children and future generations. But we have to raise our voices in unison and in the name of all people everywhere. It is time for goodness to have its reign, and it starts in each of our mirrors. It’s time for us to put aside all the titles we carry around—where we work, where we live, where we came from, how much money we have, what gender, race, and religion we are—and recognize the one thing that binds us together forever: we’re all on Team Human. Let’s act like it.
My 4-year old niece, Aubree, asked me to pick her up so she could see herself in the mirror. She looked at our reflection and hugged my face. “We are the same!”, she said. She has blond hair and blue eyes. I absolutely don’t.
Kids are amazing because the first thing they see are our similarities. They bring people together. Adults immediately look for differences and divide people. Let’s let kids lead, in our daily lives and on the world stage. We are so much more like all people than we realize. There is always common ground.
My niece, Lorelei, had a choice for her after dinner treat: a cookie or playing on my iPad with an app that helps her write stories. She chose to write stories. “Stories are good for me and sugar is bad for me so I’m choosing stories.” A girl after my own heart (not that I have anything against cookies!) Some people may bemoan technology and kids’ obsession with it. I celebrate it. For my nieces, it opens up whole worlds for them and enables them, at a very young age, to tell their own stories. Kid, if you have a story you need to tell, you can use my iPad anytime you want.
“For me Madeline is therapy in the dark hours.” ~ Ludwig Bemelmans
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…” is one of the most famous introductions to one of the most famous characters in children’s literature: Madeline. Ludwig Bemelmans created Madeline after a terrible accident that left him hospitalized at the age of 39. His hospital roommate was a young girl who had her appendix removed. Her stories of her life inspired Bemelmans to create Madeline.
Eventually Bemelmans recovered from his injuries and published his first Madeline book at age 41 after 20+ years of working in hotels in New York. During those two decades, he consistently practiced his art and slowly built up his freelance portfolio. His example has been a great inspiration to me as a writer.
Madeline was Bemelmans’ second act after many years of difficult work in a completely different industry. He never lost his optimism and never gave up. And thank goodness. Not only is Madeline therapy for him, but it’s therapy for all of his readers and admirers, particularly little girls who strive to be strong, brave, and courageous. The New-York Historical Society has mounted a retrospective of Bemelmans’ life and art with Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.
Bemelmans Bar is one of my favorite bars in New York – tucked away in the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street. The walls are covered with his original drawings. It’s a good place to dream, and drink. If you’re in New York, I highly recommend it.
I’m outlining the draft of my first novel that I’ll write in November during National Novel Writing Month. It’s for a young adult audience and at one point last week I worried that the story was getting too complicated for that age range. Then I saw this quote by Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if that book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Children understand so much that adults have forgotten. Once I really understood this, the story opened back up to all these wonderful possibilities that my adult mind had closed off. Writing’s funny that way. It makes us wonder. It makes us young again.
Over the weekend, I started reading Kurt Vonnegut: The Last Interview. He believed all writers should write for an audience of one to give writing intimacy and immediacy.
It took me about half a second to realize who is in my audience of one: it’s me as a child. I write every word to help her be brave. To help her know that a better, freer, happier, more fulfilling life awaits her. That all things and all dreams are possible. And yes, it will be difficult and there will be many times when she will want to quit. She will lose a lot of sleep and she will be very afraid, but it will all be worth it. I write to entertain her, to help her escape, to give her the courage to keep going. And I know there are lots of people out there, the tall and the small, who still need that encouragement and support.
Sadly, as much as the world has changed since I was a kid, this fact hasn’t: we spend too many days afraid. Reading helped me press on despite fear. Now as an adult, writing helps me do that. So I write – for me, for her, and for all the people like us who need to know that we can create our own bright future one day at a time.
“The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius.” ~ Rebecca Pepper Sinkler
Keep your board games, puzzles, fairytales, and toys. Hang onto your intense curiosity, magical sense of wonder, and big dreams, especially those that you created when you felt that anything and everything was possible. The surest ways to success and happiness lie along those roads. Guard them like the precious gifts that they are.