Posted by: Kirsten | Sunday, 16 September 2007

Making Connections

Eleanor's Everywhere (Foto by Jon T. Merryman)
“At a child’s birth, if a mother could ask
a fairy godmother to endow it with the
most useful gift, that gift would be
curiosity.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

We’d love for our kids to just devour every bit of subject matter we throw at them, but most of us realize it doesn’t work that way no matter how hard we try, how well we plan, or how passionately we hope and pray for the best.

It helps if you can find some connection, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, that will connect a certain topic with their interests, their passions, their prior experiences, or perhaps their everyday lives. If our kids can make that connection on their own, that’s great, but oftentimes they need a bit of help from Mom or Dad.

 

Heck, we parents could use a little help too — it’d be great if I could’ve recognized these connections at that moment in time when it would have made the most impact on our recent field trip to Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Memorial in Washington, DC. To varying degrees, kids are always wondering “Why should I care about this?” when new subjects come up, and thankfully, as we left the FDR Memorial last Friday and headed off to drama class, I began to fit the pieces together myself.
 
Brother, can you spare a dime? (Foto by Jon T. Merryman) Being the first day of drama class for the fall season, I gave my daughter plenty of opportunities to “act the part” at the Memorial. I asked her to stand in the soup line with other statue-people who were down on their luck, and to make it look convincing. Learning is supposed to fun, right? She had lots of fun also posing for her OWN statue when she becomes famous for her future words and deeds.
She even saluted some of the veterans who came to pay their respects to FDR and undoubtedly the men they fought alongside during World War II.  Being a former Army sergeant myself, seeing all those “old soldiers” and watching their faces and families walk alongside of them through the Memorial grounds was especially moving for me.  And seeing my daughter bring a smile to their faces brought tears to mine.
 
After many photo opps with FDR, his wonderful wife Eleanor, his little dog Fala, and a pleasant stroll among the cascading waterfalls of the Memorial, it was time to start heading home and thinking about drama practice that evening.
 
Since breakfast, my daughter had been singing the song she was going to use for her “tryout” that evening — a song called “Maybe”. As we drove through the Friday afternoon traffic of our nation’s capital, it hit me.

Me: “Which musical is that song from again?”

Daughter: “It’s Annie, Dad!”

Me: “Hmm, wait a second… isn’t there a famous president that Annie meets during the show?  What was his name again…?”

Daughter: “President Roosevelt!”

Me: “And what was the name of the President whose Memorial we just visited?”

Daughter: “Franklin Delano Roosevelt… the same guy!”

A New Deal for Christmas (Foto by Jon T. Merryman)
She knows the story of Annie so well that suddenly the somewhat difficult concept of the Great Depression kinda made sense for this six-year-old. Well, from an Annie point of view, that is. We made a stop at the next bookstore we could find on the way to drama and picked up a copy of two books — one on FDR and one on Eleanor Roosevelt.
 
That big “aha” connection had been made and my daughter was hooked. I’ve now got a week’s worth of bedtime stories with a guaranteed attentive audience, especially since a certain famous cartoon pig named “Olivia” just happens to have a life-sized photo of Eleanor Roosevelt on her bedroom wall, just above her headboard.  Go figure.
 
So here’s my story and I’m sticking to it — if anyone asks if I planned it all that way, the answer is simple: “Maybe.”
— Jon
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