Welcome!

We need as many stories about people doing things out of love and looking at what connects us all as a community. Here at Two in the World we hope visitors can come for a minute or five to just feel like they aren’t all alone. Together we will be exploring a multitude of ways in which we can foster kindness, courage, hope and justice.

Foundation and Framing

When in doubt, go to the library. — J. K. Rowling

The foundation for the downstairs garage/upstairs library has been poured and our message to ourselves and any future inhabitants has been permanently recorded via a nail as my writing instrument. Bill realized that once the walls go up, we will have to read our message upside down, because it’s in the front corner facing the street. Well, maybe that is okay. It will add an extra detail to the story, plus a bit of laughter.


In the meantime, our Little Neighborhood Library is as active as ever, with readers picking up and dropping off books each day. Sometimes, we even find a note like this one with a new book deposit.

When We Play, We Learn

“The play activity feeds a curiosity that may lead to a quest for knowledge…”

Dr. Stuart Brown, National Institute for Play

When I was homeschooled for 7th and 8th grade, I began each day by donning my straw hat and venturing out to the backyard where I would spend half an hour watering my vegetable garden. I would then set the kitchen timer for 45 minutes of piano and voice practice. By 10 AM, I was ready to launch into academic work. But the remainder of the day did not engender simply sitting at my desk; there were regular jaunts out into our backyard schoolhouse, and lessons were often punctuated by a bike ride or neighborhood walk. These interludes of activity—often outdoors—allowed me to approach writing, math, and Japanese with a clear head and heightened engagement. As it turns out, research backs this up.

“In order for children to learn, they must be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we must let them move!” So says Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist. Children, Hanscom explains, are spending most of the day sitting: in class, in the car, and at home doing homework. As a result, she and her colleagues are seeing more and more children with a weak vestibular sense (the balance sense), which is developed through vigorous movement—think swinging upside down from jungle gyms and rolling down hills. “A mature vestibular sense,” Hanscom writes, “supports attention, emotional regulation, eye muscle control, spatial awareness, and organization of the brain to support learning!” As a result of too little movement, children are increasingly being diagnosed with ADHD, in addition to sensory and motor deficits.

The rise of test-based education in the United States has been paralleled by a marked decrease in the time devoted to unstructured play. Under immense pressure to achieve higher standardized test scores, schools have squeezed recess from the schedule in order to devote more time to academics and test prep. With play relegated to lowest priority, it has become common for children to spend only 20 minutes in outdoor play over the course of a seven-hour school day. However, numerous studies have found that unstructured outdoor playtime is crucial to children’s cognitive as well as physical development.

Currently, most American students spend nearly 100% of class time sitting. Finnish schools, on the other hand, are “on the move.” For years, Finnish students have taken 15-minute breaks for every 45 minutes of academic instruction, and they spend a total of 75 minutes in recess (compared to an average of 27 minutes in the U.S.). From 2010 to 2015, 800 schools adopted “Finnish Schools on the Move,” a program designed to increase movement throughout the school day. Older students would put away their smartphones to engage their younger peers in physically active outdoor activities during breaks, while teachers were encouraged to allow students to complete classwork while standing or sitting on exercise balls instead of chairs.

Play need not take the form of another structured activity like team sports or even P.E.; Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play explains that something as simple as catching fireflies can be enormously beneficial to a child’s intellectual development: “The play activity feeds a curiosity that may lead to a quest for knowledge: Why do fireflies only appear in the summer? Why do they light up? And how? Part of the purpose of play is to extend ourselves to the next level, and catching bugs provides a great platform for that.”

Sources: “The Consequences of Forcing Young Kids to Sit Too Long in Class,” The Washington Post, 2017. “Finnish Schools Are on the Move—and America’s Need to Catch Up,” The Atlantic, 2015. “How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play,” The Atlantic, 2014. “The Children Must Play,” The New Republic, 2011. “Find and Keep,” Spirit, 2012.

Library + Tea & Biscuits

A retired teacher in Italy converted this charming truck into a mobile library and drives it to rural villages so that children who don’t have easy access to libraries can check out books.

When I told Natalie I would love to convert a vehicle into a Mobile Bookshop/Tea Shop that could visit homebound older people—to check on them over a cup of tea, distribute books, and perhaps sell a small selection of food items—she reminded me that I could turn a teardrop trailer into a traveling tea shop. I am pondering the idea. In the meantime, I found these two examples.

South Africa
Massachusetts

“The Skylarks’ War” by Hilary McKay

“The historical stories we tell have a profound impact on the world.”

Dana Goldstein, New York Times journalist

Both Natalie and Pamela loved this book so much that we purchased five copies to give away over the holidays. Natalie recently read an adult novel that covers the same period (World War I) and said The Skylarks’ War was so much more affecting. Our advice to adult readers: Don’t rule out reading books for children. The best can be just as perceptive, moving, and rich as the most renowned of adult novels.

The publisher’s description pretty well captures The Skylarks’ War (originally published in the U.S. as Love to Everyone): Clarry Penrose finds the good in everyone. Even in her father, who isn’t fond of children, and especially girls. He doesn’t worry about her education, because he knows she won’t need it. It’s the early twentieth century, and the only thing girls are expected to do is behave. But Clarry longs for a life of her own. She wants to dive off cliffs and go swimming with her brother Peter and cousin Rupert. And more than anything, she wants an education. She helps Peter with his homework all the time, so why can’t she manage it by herself? When war breaks out, Clarry is shocked to find that Rupert has enlisted. Then he is declared missing, and Clarry is devastated. Now she must take a momentous step into the wide world—for if she misses this chance, she may never make it. This is an inspirational, funny, and heartwarming story about a girl who dares to open doors that the world would rather keep closed.

We loved what this Goodreads reader wrote: “What an amazing and moving story. My wife read it first and couldn’t put it down. She kindly passed it on to me and I read it in a day. I am a history teacher and often have issues with books set in the World Wars as the writers tend to make obvious errors but this was beautifully written and I felt captured the mood of the war years. I was moved almost to tears in places. It reminded me of so many amazing books like: War Horse, The Railway Children and maybe Swallows and Amazons. With All Quiet on the Western Front in there too. For a children’s novel it was quite brutally honest about how hard and dark the Western Front could be. Dare I say a modern classic? I am going to recommend this for the school library and my students. What a lovely story.”

New York Times journalist Dana Goldstein recently observed that “the historical stories we tell have a profound impact on the world.” This is particularly true for young audiences. We are glad that The Skylarks’ War is one such historical story; its impact is desperately needed.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Effective Classrooms, Part 1

If we peek into the most effective classrooms, we will probably see not just students thriving, but also teachers thriving. We all know that with so many kids with different needs and so many demands to juggle, every day won’t be perfect for each and every child. In the October 2017 issue of The Atlantic, writer and educator Erika Christakis states, “Our public education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society.” I agree with her.

So, here is the question I have asked myself:

What makes a classroom dynamic effective for each individual learner and the classroom as a whole?

Borrowing an ideology from our son’s elementary school that the best learning environments honor the important connection between head, hand and heart, I have made a list of what that means and what it might look like in a dynamic classroom where those three needs are honored and met. Over the next few days, I’ll write a little something about what each one means to me.

Learning Should be Fun; Laughter Helps!

“Humor improves student performance by attracting and sustaining attention, reducing anxiety, enhancing participation, and increasing motivation.”

Brandon M. Savage et al., Advances in Physiology Education 2017 (41:3)

This is a photo of sixth-grade me. I’d been sitting at the kitchen table puzzling over my pre-algebra textbook, which had a penchant for asking ridiculous (but supposedly relevant) questions and failing to answer my question, “WHY?”

Laugh about math!

WHY is a negative times a negative a positive? WHY is multiplying by a fraction’s reciprocal the same as dividing? WHY does cross-multiplying work?

After half an hour of reading the same problem over and over, I had become teary. My dad sat down to give me a hand, took one look at the word problem, and exclaimed: “Is Fred crazy? What’s he thinking cutting a rope into halves and quarters and then sevenths? He’s just making life harder for himself!” By then, I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. Soon, we had figured out how to approach Fred’s problem. From then on, through homeschooling, our motto was “Laugh about math.”

It turns out this was a sound pedagogical approach (as my dad would know, given that he’s spent 30 years teaching college students). “Humor and laughter may not directly cause learning; however, humor creates an environment that promotes learning,” write the authors of a 2017 article for Advances in Physiology Education. “Evidence documents that appropriate humor, and humor that relates to course material, attracts and sustains attention and produces a more relaxed and productive learning environment. Humor also reduces anxiety, enhances participation, and increases motivation.”

My experience certainly backs this up. Some of my most memorable learning experiences—including in high school and college—are those where the class dissolved in laughter. This does not mean teachers should be expected to perform stand-up comedy, nor that every class should be as lighthearted as a sitcom. I was a history major; there are plenty of times when, given the nature of the subject matter, it would have been wildly inappropriate for class to be conducted in a humorous vein. Perhaps the best way to think about it is thus: Periodic laughter is an expression of the most productive kind of learning environment, one where students are engaged, where they feel comfortable with each other and with the instructor, and where learning is a process to be relished.

It Began With a Page

How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

We are building a library because we love books and we love to read so much. While this space will most often feature stories and discoveries we make in the process of building our library, I will occasionally write about a book that I love too much not to share with you.

Here is a book I recently found and I LOVE it.

This elegant picture book would make a lovely gift for any child or adult (picture books are not just for children; I will write more about this idea in a future post). It is the perfect book for anyone who you think would be interested in a moving story (written by Kyo Maclear), beautiful illustrations (by Julie Morstad), and learning about another brave woman who changed history.

A biographical picture book, it includes moving moments in the life of Gyo Fujikawa, a groundbreaking Japanese American hero who spoke up for racial diversity in picture books.

Growing up in California, Gyo Fujikawa always knew that she wanted to be an artist. She was raised among strong women, including her mother and teachers, who encouraged her to fight for what she believed in. During World War II, Gyo’s Japanese-American family was forced to abandon their home and belongings and imprisoned in an internment camp in Arkansas.

In the meantime, Gyo was living in New York working as an illustrator. This was such a difficult time for Gyo. Seeing the diversity around her and feeling pangs from her own childhood, Gyo became determined to show all types of children in the pages of her books. There had to be a world where every child saw themselves represented. Her book Babies, initially rejected, was published in 1963 and stands as a landmark: it was the first children’s book to depict infants of different races and nations sharing growing experiences. Two million copies were sold. Fujikawa’s books have been translated into 17 languages and are read in more than 22 countries.

This exquisite book includes additional information on Gyo Fujikawa, a bibliography, a note from the creators, a timeline, and archival photos.

It Began With a Page is written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad

Halloween Book Treats

Sharing our love of books is fun

For the second year in a row, we set up our Halloween book give-away and it was exhilarating to see how enthusiastic and appreciative everyone, both children and adults, was when they saw the boxes organized by picture books, middle grade books, young adult, and books for parents. We start collecting books in the summer, purchasing many from book shops in public libraries. One friend loves this idea so much she’s give us three boxes of books both years.

Bill sets up the books. Natalie makes the signs. From our front porch, we could see so many children and adults taking their time choosing a book.

About 500 books went home tonight to new homes. Here are a few fun things we overheard:

“This is so amazing”
“This is so dope!”
“I’m so excited to read this”
“My friend said this is a good author”

And from one mom: “This is my new favorite house.” 🙂

“The Cotilda”

After finishing my Life Jackets project, I felt the pull to do a little painting again. During the months of making those jackets, I had done a lot of thinking about the unknown futures of individuals—now my thoughts turned to unknown pasts, especially relatives on my late father’s side. A genetic test revealed I was 6% black. Further research revealed I had ancestors who were free people of color who actually owned slaves themselves. Disturbing to say the least. A little research brought me to news that the remains of the last slave ship to reach America had been unearthed; this provided the inspiration for the painting “The Cotilda” which landed in Alabama in 1859.

“The Cotilda”
40 X 30, oil and charcoal on canvas

Click here to watch “Life Jackets,” the 8-minute film by Pamela Beere Briggs & William McDonald featuring Suzanne’s recent project.