Tag Archives: Imagination Library

These Frail Hands

This has been the strangest year of my life. I have had some pretty strange years in my life too–my family fostered children and I saw 7 foster children come into my home, which was always strange in one way or another. In one year in college I slept for 2-3 hours a night so that I could keep up with school, work, maintaining a relationship with the woman I was engaged to, and rehearse/perform a play that did well in the college theatre festival system and which garnered me an acting award nomination.

But nothing compares to a year of fatherhood. In the past 15 months I started a new career and began my own business at the same time; I determined that the self-same career is probably not the right path for me ultimately; I helped to create a new non-profit in our community, including serving on its board; I bought a house; and most importantly, I became a father.

I never anticipated much fatherhood is informed by cultural conceptions of masculinity, and in turn, how much my own understanding of masculinity is impacted by my fatherhood.

America needs fathers. And yet, America has no clue what a father is, because America has trouble figuring out what a man is. Is a man the typical action movie star? Is a man a high-powered corporate executive, defined largely by career success? Is a man a clueless slob? Is a man heavily devoted to his hobby and using every available weekend to pursue it, whether its sports, hunting, fishing, cars, or something else entirely? What is a man? And what are male humans that don’t fit into those nice, neat little holes that America uses to define men?

Furthermore, what is a father? As we hear every Mother’s Day, mothers are kind, loving, nurturing, life-giving, caring, sacrificial, supportive, and more. What unique parenting space does that leave for men? Personally, I don’t think men need a unique parenting space, but American culture doesn’t know how to accept a man who might have some or all of those “mothering” traits, let alone the “mothering” role. You don’t need to look any further than the “Mr. Mom” title that I still receive from time to time or the sexist posturing embraced by the leadership of some Christian denominations or the widespread use of popular yet divisive fatherhood training programs by even more American Christians to see that.

I don’t have any answers for America or American Christianity, even though I am glad to be both American and Christian. I think they both have their own path to walk to find true answers about fatherhood and masculinity. Hopefully we can all arrive in a positive and appreciative understanding about fatherhood and masculinity soon.

As I reflect on a year of fatherhood, I think about how insecure I was a year ago as a father. Nobody can fully understand how large a change parenthood is until they go through it themselves. I had some really bad days. I still fail at parenting quite a bit, although not as often as I did in the first few months.

I was very insecure about being a stay-at-home-dad. I looked for support online and found some good role models and fathering communities, which was very helpful. I worked far more and far harder than necessary–and for too little money–because I wanted to contribute financially in some way, and because I was worried about the “hole in my resume” from when I could not work outside the home as a stay-at-home-dad.

I agonized over my own masculinity due to thoughtless comments from friends and family and deliberately inflammatory statements by wolves in sheep’s clothing. For what it’s worth, all is forgiven, and I know, I think too much.

One of my dominant memories from early childhood is anticipated my father coming home from work and excitedly running to the door to greet him yelling “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” all the way. On some level it disappoints me that I will never receive that same greeting, even though I’m sure Emily will receive her own gender appropriate equivalent, and I know it will make me happy to hear Sam greet her in that way.

And yet I’m happy. I’m thrilled to be a father. I’m very happy to be a stay-at-home-dad. I recognize that I can add a great deal to my family and community without working. I have time to pursue greater interests than a job allows, and I am able to spend more quality time with family when we’re not forced to do housework in the evenings or on the weekends.

And I love Samuel. The boy who walks, talks, has a great smile and an even better personality. Who is learning to love books and music, and learning how to love and show love to others. Who is a dynamic and ever changing person.

My hands may be frail or unwilling at points, but they are and shall be the hands that pick Sam up when he falls, tickle him until he’s delirious with laughter, and carry him to bed when he’s fast asleep.

I couldn’t be happier to be who I am today.

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Making the Most of the Library

It’s National Library Week! All sorts of celebrations are happening in libraries across the country, including book giveaways, special guest events, and more. Now, it’s no secret that I love libraries. My dad was a librarian for most of his life, my uncle is a librarian, my wife is a librarian, I have lots of librarian friends, and I even worked in a library for over a year and a half.

In fact, it boggles my mind that so many people don’t use their library. There are so many valuable resources at a library useful for children and adults–books; magazines; computers; genealogical material; dvds; audiobooks; music; both fun and educational events and materials; and best of all, the masters of finding whatever information you need, librarians.

Behind that smile lies a mind ready and able to find whatever information you need–even if what you need is the connection between medieval siege warfare and Paris Hilton. Not that I have ever needed that information. No sir.

The public library is a valuable resource for anyone, but particularly parents. Here are a few ways you can use that resource well.

1. Make use of story time. As a parent of a young child, you probably already know about story time, but it still bears repeating. Go to story time. It’s one of the highlights of Sam’s week! He loves going to the library and seeing the librarians and all the other kids that attend. There are songs, games, dances, puppet plays, and of course picture books read by expert readers. It’s great for your children to see and play with other kids, plus they will definitely have fun with the activity itself.

You can enjoy summer reading programs anywhere.

2. Join summer reading. Every public library in America is going to have a summer reading program. These can be great fun for your kids, even if they’re not old enough to read themselves yet. Parents can read to children and participate that way, winning prizes and having fun while enriching their minds. Furthermore, many summer reading programs also include special guests and events for children. There might be a special touring puppet show one week, a concert by a kids musician the next, a magic show the week after that, or even more. One year while I was working at a library, a truck-based aquarium came and parked in our parking lot for the kids to enjoy!

Although they’re not as well known, most public libraries will also hold an adult summer reading program as well. You should definitely participate! There are still prize giveaways, special events, and more for you to enjoy as well, so plan to join in this summer.

3. Ask about other children’s programs. As I just mentioned, libraries have lots of great programs they put on themselves, like story times or summer reading. However, there are even more great opportunities for your child that you might never know about without asking. These could include Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, after school programs, arts enrichment classes, and so much more. It’s a librarian’s job to know about these sorts of things, so ask away!

I don’t think these kids think a library is boring, do you?

4. Socialize. If your idea of a library is a musty place where people will shush you for speaking above a whisper, it’s time to reevaluate your conceptions. Libraries are a great place to meet and talk with new people or just spend a nice afternoon playing a game. Although board games would be a great idea–I’ve got a few suggestions for you too–many libraries now even have video games for kids and adults to play.

5. Check out materials. This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating. Libraries are a great way to find great reading, listening, or viewing material. You can try things you might never have tried before–new genres, styles, authors, musicians, and more. Check out both fiction and non-fiction, books and dvds, audiobooks and music–you never know what you’ll discover, but your life will definitely be better for it.

If you’ve never been to a library, give it a try. Spend some time at your local library this week. Wander through it. Ask a few questions. Check out something new. And above all, remember to thank your librarian. They work hard for you, whether you know it or take advantage of it or not. Enjoy your time there! I know you will.

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How to read with your child

Continuing last post, it’s important to recognize not just the importance of reading to your child, but also how to do it effectively. Reading is a skill that has to be learned, and reading aloud to a child is no exception. It’s easy to assume that reading to a child is just like reading to yourself, but there is a lot more to it than that! Reading to a child requires you to be an actor, a teacher, and a friend all at the same time. Let’s take a look at what that means.

Reading as an actor doesn’t mean you need to be like this guy:

Instead, it just means that you have to put some feeling into your reading. It’s very easy to become monotone while you read to a child (particularly when you’re reading a child’s favorite book. Again. For the fifteenth time. This morning.), but they will enjoy the story far more if you try to stay engaged. When something surprising or sad happens, put that into your voice so it matches what is happening on the page. If you feel inspired, try making some special voices for different characters. You might not think you are doing a great job, but I promise your kids will love even the worst attempt at you making a special voice like a turtle!

Similarly, reading as a teacher doesn’t mean you have to teach the moral lesson from the story (if there is one) or diagram the sentences–unless that’s your sort of thing of course. As a former English major, I always approve of diagramming sentences! Instead, I just mean that you should think about what you’re reading and engage with the child. For example, ask the child questions, or answer their questions. For example, you might ask, “What color is that dog?” or “How do you think they feel right now?” or maybe “How many clouds are in this picture?”

Finally, don’t forget to be a friend to your child while you read. There are many times throughout the day where we have to be the adults. We have to make sure children eat well; stay clean, healthy, and safe; and do things children need to do. But while you’re reading, just make the time to enjoy the book and the story together. Laugh together, talk about the story together, go back or jump ahead to a favorite part of the book, even stop reading for the moment if it’s not something that your child is enjoying. This is one time of day where you get to be on the same level as your child. Enjoy it!

These aren’t the only ways of reading with a child, and different books and different children call for different styles. I know that I forget to do these things from time to time as well, and it’s ok if you do too. But I hope these tips will help you think about how you can read to your child more effectively, and ultimately that you will both enjoy reading even more than you already do with these ideas in mind.

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The Importance of Reading to Children

You all know I am passionate about childhood literacy, so much so that I am helping to start Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in our home town. However, I want to talk a little today about why childhood literacy is so important.

Here are some frightening statistics for you: Two thirds of children who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. 37% of children enter Kindergarten without the skills necessary for lifetime learning. Or, the one that’s most disturbing to me, The US is the only nation out of 20 OECD free-market countries where the current generation is less well educated than the previous.

This is not acceptable. This is not how any nation in the world should be, and we need to take steps to reverse these trends. Fortunately, reading to young children, making books freely and easily available to them, and encouraging them to be life-long readers can make a huge difference in their lives!

Let’s look at some other studies too that show the value of reading to young children: A study of children aged 3-5 who were read to at least 3 times a week revealed that these children were two times more likely to recognize all letters, two times more likely to have word-sight recognition, and two times more likely to understand words in context. Creating a steady stream of new, age appropriate books has been shown to nearly triple interest in reading within months. The most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print.

Of course, maybe the US Department of Education says it best:

If daily reading begins in infancy, by the time the child is 5 years old, he or she has been fed roughly 900 hours of brain food! Reduce that experience to just 30 minutes a week, and the child’s hungry mind loses 770 hours of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and stories. A kindergarten student who has not been read to could enter school with less than 60 hours of literacy nutrition. No teacher, no matter how talented, can make up for those lost hours of mental nourishment. (USDOE, 1999)

How can anyone make up for it? Read to your children. Support childhood literacy programs in your community. Make a difference in the lives of children today.

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Planning Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

It’s been a while since I last talked about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a fantastic non-profit dedicated to developing childhood literacy by giving children under 5 age-appropriate books at no cost to the children or their families. If you remember, I am working with a group to begin an affiliate in our county in Kentucky, and I wanted to give you all an update.

This project began close to a year ago, when my wife, Emily, and I were talking with someone at church who also happens to work as an early education professor at the local community college. She asked if I would be interested in working with her on a literacy-based event, and I mentioned to her that I was interested in starting the Imagination Library in our community. She had heard of the program before and was excited to bring it to our town as well, but none of us were ready to jump in with both feet yet, since we were still expecting Samuel and in the middle of a school semester.

So, about six months later, we began talking about this again and pulled the children’s librarian at our local public library into the loop, and we began planning in earnest. Our public library’s foundation agreed to be our “champion”–the non-profit entity that officially backs the program–and we began to talk to local business people and other community oriented groups to see who would be interested in serving on our board and donating funds.

This has been tremendously successful, and we even discovered that one of our local rotary clubs was already working on starting the program themselves! We quickly and happily joined forces and funds and we are now planning a kick-off event for May, when we begin enrollment.

We have a great deal of support from our local public library, rotary clubs, and chamber of commerce, plus we have begun talking to local businesses and government officials to continue raising funds and awareness of the program. I tell you this partly because I am so excited about our prospects and how this has progressed so quickly, but also to encourage you to become involved in your own local affiliate, or found one yourself. This is not terribly hard. People get excited about the program, in part because it’s so great on it’s own terms, but also because it’s an easy sell: Give kids books.

Here in southern Kentucky, we’re excited about what we’re doing, and I guarantee that people will be/are excited about in your area too. Let me know if you have any questions by commenting below, and I encourage you to share literacy with the children in your life today.

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As I explained in one of my first posts, Fred Rogers is one of my heroes. However, believe it or not, Dolly Parton is another hero of mine. Don’t get me wrong now, it’s not for her music (somehow I grew up in the south and never gained an appreciation for country music), it’s for her business savvy, and above all, her philanthropy.Dolly Parton reading "The Little Engine That Could"

I grew up in Jefferson County TN, right next door to Dolly’s home of Sevier County. Because of my close proximity, I became aware of her childhood literacy project, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (hence the title of the post, DPIL) shortly after it was created in 1996. Although I was far too old to be a part of the program, my younger sister received a free, age-appropriate book once per month delivered to our house absolutely free, thanks to DPIL and the Jefferson County local affiliate, until she turned five and grew too old for the program.

Fast-forward about ten years and DPIL had grown far beyond Sevier County and a few other surrounding counties–every county in Tennessee had a local affiliate, West Virginia and Alaska were in the process of developing state-wide programs of their own, affiliates were located all over the US, and had even spread to Canada and the United Kingdom, totaling over 1,200 local affiliates (each affiliate covering a town, school district, county, or other comparatively small area) in all.

Additionally, a couple of years ago I found myself working in a job where part of my responsibilities were to oversee the day-to-day operations of a county affiliate in another part of Tennessee. This included promotion of the program, managing the database, answering questions from parents, and a number of other administrative tasks. I spent over a year doing this on a regular basis, learning the ins and outs of the system and some of the program’s failings and successes. Because of this experience, I am a HUGE supporter of DPIL, and I try to tell people about it if I can.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a great program, and if you have children under five right now, I encourage you to stop reading this post, go to www.imaginationlibrary.com, and see whether you have a local affiliate and sign up your child.

Unfortunately, that’s not an option for me–and more significantly, for Samuel–in our current town. There is no local affiliate for us. Because of that, Samuel’s mom and I are working on starting a new affiliate for our county in Kentucky. I know, I probably have too much on my plate already, but this is too important to just hope that it will happen thanks to someone else’s work. I have the means, the time, and the ability to start the program rolling, and we are starting to do that. Last week we had a small planning committee meeting to start hammering out some concrete steps we can take to start the program, and I am encouraged and excited about the possibilities.

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you out of the loop! I think it will be interesting to chronicle the start of the program in our town, and I hope it is interesting for you to read about, and maybe even inspiring for your own life. If your town doesn’t currently have the Imagination Library, why not start it yourself? I’m always happy to answer questions, and hopefully I can help you figure out the next steps to take. Keep an eye on this space, and be sure to check out the “Imagination Library” category and tag on Mommy Is At Work for future information on the project.

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