A Tale of Two Escapes: Curious George, the Nazis and My Grandfather

How do you hook your kids into history? Make it personal. If you are here now that means you are a survivor. Your bloodline is rich with stories of hardship, perseverance and resilience that can be woven within the context of history.

Recently, I gave a presentation about my grandfather at the Rey Cultural Center in New Hampshire. This is the former summer home of the authors H.A. and Margret Rey of the iconic Curious George books. The following is a somewhat slightly modified version of what I had shared..

In order to prepare for this event, I needed to revisit both personal and world history to create a bigger picture and have a better understanding myself. I am very lucky to have poetry from my grandparents where they wrote about the holocaust, the war, suicide and death as well as family, love and hope.

Poem titled, Blue Devils by Rudy Meyer aka grandparents

Six years ago, my almost three year old son was in love with Curious George and I read the books so often that I had them memorized. One night I googled the authors and I learned the story of the Rey’s was similar to my grandfathers. They were also German Jews who escaped the Nazis and I knew I had to drive the six hours to visit their summer home with my children.

Nazi records of the murder of a cousin

Everyone is familiar with the iconic Curious George and the man with the yellow hat but what most people are not familiar with is the story of hope that George and his curiosity represents. In June of 1940, the German Jewish couple Hans and Margaret Rey had been on an extended honeymoon in France when the Nazis had occupied Paris and northern France. They fled with their manuscripts in their front basket along with a little food and the clothes on their backs. They fled with millions of other refugees fleeing south while Nazi aircraft flew overhead. Like many Jews, they hid in farmhouses and stables until they were able to board a train in Spain and eventually reach the neutral country of Portugal. In 1935, they had left Germany for Brazil in order to escape the increase in antisemitism and the Nazi Party so they had received dual Brazilian citizenship while living and working there. This made them lucky and it enabled them to get a Visa to travel by boat from Portugal back to Brazil where they waited for a month until they sailed to New York in October of 1940.

A letter from father to son direct from the front lines of WW II

The Rey’s were artists and writers. My grandfather was passionate about photography and hiking, especially on Prince Edward Island. I’ve often wondered how many of those six million Jews and an additional five million people who were gay, or gypsies or disabled, or too young or too old were also artists or writers or doctors or gardeners or teachers or someone’s sister or best friend since they were all just regular people like my grandfather and the Reys who had their own gifts to contribute to the world but they were wiped out. Six million people murdered because they were Jewish.

My family is Jewish. My grandparents were Jewish yet noone in the last two or three generations has actively practiced Judaism. My father had gone to temple as a kid but when I was growing up I had never stepped foot in a temple or done anything religious. My father had been very clear that he was raising us atheist but always maintained his Jewish identity. I don’t remember my grandparents ever attending temple or doing anything “Jewish” outside of the holidays yet they always identified as Jewish. I think being Jewish is much more than a religion, it’s a culture and a language, there’s Hebrew and Yiddish and there’s also a shared history that continues to shape lives.

My son’s third birthday in Waterville Valley to see the Rey Center

Last year, I had thought it would be great to find out what my DNA said about me. I was hoping for something I would never have imagined like I’m secretly a descendent of a princess from South Africa. According to those results, I am 99% European Jewish and one percent Israeli. The places that the DNA tests were referring to was Russia, Belarus and Lithuania and was the home of many Ashkenazi Jews who would eventually settle in Poland, Germany, Austria, Romania and the United States as a result of organized violence against Jews first in the form of pogroms and then the Shoah which is also known as the Holocaust. Anti-semitism and hating Jews is known as the world’s oldest hatred and unfortunately this hatred is once again on the rise.

My family is typical of many Ashkenazi Jewish families who came here in the first large waves of Jewish immigration during the 1880s through the turn of the century mostly through Russia because of Pogroms. Everyone with the exception of my paternal grandfather immigrated to the United States during that time.

What were the Pogroms?

The pogroms that began in 1881 were years of organized attacks sometimes with government and police encouragement against Jews that included raping and killing tens of thousands of Jews. The pogroms of Tsarist Russia was much like Nazi Germany with economic, religious, social and educational restrictions against Jewish citizens. Jews were being blamed for killing Jesus, in addition to the blood-libel myth that Jews killed Christian babies and baked their blood into matzah, the false rumor that Jews were somehow connected to the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II, the cause of economic difficulties and problems of the country and Russians used this as a justification to murder tens of thousands of citizens. After the craziness of the pogroms my great great grandparents had been thrilled to be given the opportunity to move to Bonn, Germany. My grandfather’s father had fought in World War I like a 100,000 other German Jews for Germany. He thought his service with the military would protect him but instead the Nazis shot him in the head and killed him. His wife, Rebecca arrived in the US two years after my grandfather. Afterwards, he became a professor at the University of Bonn. They lived a secular middle class life intertwined with Jews and Christians and they had two children, my grandfather and his sister. While they were teaching their kids to walk and talk Adolph Hitler was plotting his revenge against Jews who he blamed for the loss of WW1. The German government later proved that false. Hitler had blamed the jews for all of Germany’s economic problems and he used anti semitic propaganda to convince the German people to support his ultimate goal of the Jewish solution. His Jewish solution meant the complete eradication of Jews from all of Europe and the world where Germans could rule as a “pure” race. Hitler believed he was part of a “pure blooded master race” known as the Aryan Race that was at the top of the human “racial” hierarchy while Hitler placed Jews at the bottom and the lowest form of “humans” and classified them as “non-Germans” even with most Ashkenazi Jews having German surnames like my grandfathers. My grandfather’s family name Meyer is the equivalent of the surname Smith in the United States. It is still the third most common surname among German citizens. 

Russia was not the beginning of anti-semitism and persecution of Jews which has been around at least since the Middle Ages. Initially, it had been about religion or Jews were blamed as the cause of the plague epidemic but then in the 19th centuries that was often replaced by a hatred based on erroneous race theories and the idea that the Jews were a separate race. Even Jews who had converted were still considered Jewish and different because of their blood line. Hitler blamed the Jews for losing World War I. There was a German myth at play stating that Germany did not lose the war on the battlefield, but through betrayal on the home front and Jews and Social Democrats were to be blamed. This was so far from the truth especially considering that at the start of the war there were only a half a million Jews living in Germany and 100,000 of them fought for Germany in the war is a significant number. Hitler’s “Final Solution” of the annihilation of all Jews was unique within antisemitism since it was the first time a country that was considered the pinnacle of culture and the arts and education decided as a nation to not just murder Jewish citizens in Germany but to completely obliterate them from the planet.

How does one plan for the murder of millions of people within their own country? How do you convince a population to turn against itself? You make your target population an “other”, an outsider and a repository for all of the woes and fears of a nation.

My grandfather’s story is his story alone. Yet his story is simultaneously the story of millions of Jews who did not have a voice because they were murdered too soon. 

Ny daughter is ready for a nature walk at the Rey Center

My grandfather was a very lucky man who was born on St. Patrick’s Day and he seemed to have the luck of the Irish in him when he survived not once but twice. First, he survived living in Nazi Germany and all of the hardships that it had entailed for a Jewish person all those years Hitler and the Nazi Party were in power. He survived and he escaped. My grandfather’s second round of luck was when he escaped to the United States and went on to fight in the United States Army in some of World War HIs largest and most significant battles as a heavy artillery gunman. He was one of only two hundred thousand other very lucky Jews who were allowed to enter the United States and therefore survive during that time period. Every person who survived was also very lucky, since lucky, was what made the difference between life and death.

Now my grandfather was not the type to say he was lucky or the type to tell his story or bring any attention to himself. When he wanted to convince my grandmother to marry him he didn’t just propose he offered to take her surname which was unheard of at that time. I found writing by my grandmother who described the political group that met at the YMCA as “young intellectuals” and something that she had joined because it was one of the only social or cultural activities  available at the time to her. She described the time as extremely lucky since she “nabbed an eligible bachelor.”

My grandfather, Rudolph Raphael Meyer was born on March 17th 1908 in Bonn, Germany to Albert and Rebecca Meyer less than a mile from Beethoven’s family home. I don’t know much about his childhood since I never heard him talk about it or much in the past. My grandfather was the type who didn’t show a range of emotion outside of focused or angry and I think that was a big part of German culture-not showing emotions and not being very touchy feely. Many of the stories that I’ve heard about my grandfather or heard from my grandparents were stories overheard or pieced together by listening to snatches of hidden conversations among adults in other rooms when I was supposed to be sleeping. My father had told me that my grandfather had thought his family would be ok because his father had fought for the German army in WWI but he quickly realized he needed to get out after Hitler had taken power in 1933. My grandfather had been working as an insurance agent and my brother thinks it was family owned when Hitler took power. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws which I will get more into later were established and put into effect revoking my family’s citizenship and their ability to attend school, have a business, or be in public locations and then there was the Night of Broken Glass Jews were being murdered by the tens of thousands and Jews were brought to the first camp in Dachau.

After four years of Nazi rule my grandfather fled first to England and then to New York City by ship with a friend and family member Alfred Gartner. His sister Ilse and her mother would arrive the following year. Alfred was married to Rudy and Ilse’s first cousin. My brother also found paperwork from the SS of the murder of another cousin from that family group. I didn’t know anything about Alfred before I had started looking into this and my brother found paperwork and records that looks like Alfred had left Germany the year before my grandfather and had established residency with his family in the US and then returned to get my grandfather and travel back with him from Germany and then Liverpool, England. I didn’t know about Alfred until recently and I’m going to try and find out more about him and his experience in the future. Once my grandfather and Alfred arrived in New York they stayed with Alfred’s family on the upper east side of Manhattan until my grandfather had moved into a YMCA. He had taken a ship to England and I am not sure if they traveled anywhere else before traveling to the United States. I am not positive but I think Alfred had returned a third time for Ilse but regardless of how she arrived here with her mother and future husband they all stayed with Alfred’s family on the upper east side. They also had other family who lived there who fought in WW II.

My grandfather and Alfred Gartner took the SS Samaria ship from Liverpool, England to New York City. His sister Ilse would take the same transatlantic ship the following year but she would meet her future husband on that trip. I find it amazing and incredibly lucky that they were among the only two hundred thousand Jews who had been allowed to enter the United States under the American immigration quota system that severely limited non-Nordic populations. It was common for men to move first to try and establish housing and work before bringing over their family and while Jews had been the victims of pogroms for decades no-one could have predicted the horrors of the holocaust.

My grandfather and I in the park having quality time.
My grandfather and I getting a little quality time

In 1940 the ship Samaria that my grandfather had sailed the transatlantic on just a couple of years prior was now shuttling out British and Jewish children to family, friends and profitable schemes in the US, Canada and South America saving the lives of 14,000 British children and several hundred Jewish children. I have friends who are the grandchildren of survivors who thanks to DNA testing have found family members who had been given up for adoption to save their lives in the United States. DNA testing is really a game changer in furthering our understanding of the past. For example a friend of mine recently got his DNA results back and learned that he isn’t Italian at all and over thirty percent Jewish so it makes you wonder if his grandparents had been one of those children and what happened to those children and their legacies.

My grandparents had met that year in the basement of a YMCA where political discussions were being held. My grandmother had been the only woman in that group and she was also a college graduate and working as a second grade teacher. My grandfather was still a German citizen at the time and he told my grandmother that if she would agree to marry him he would even take her name which was pretty significant at that time. My grandmother, Ruth Cohn had been living with her parents, her sister Erna and her husband Manny as well as a German Jewish refugee they had taken in. My grandmother’s family were Polish/Russian Jews that had settled in Poland and then in Amsterdam New York in a factory town. My grandmother’s family had been very poor and she had worked in a factory to help support her family until her uncle and aunt became very wealthy and paid for her to attend college. My grandmother’s uncle had dropped out of school at 14 and made his way from a vaudeville performer to creating and running Columbia Pictures with his brother for over forty years.this had been a source of deep contention between my grandmother and her sister Erna for decades since only my grandmother had that opportunity. My grandparents had stayed close with this part of the family right up until my grandfather’s death and while her uncle had passed other family had paid for his funeral and hospital expenses when he had been very ill the last several years of his life. My great uncle was a product of his time and not the best kind of person. He had been known as a Harvey Weinstein. When I was a kid my family would pile into the car on Staten Island and drive to Long Island on Sundays to have dinner with my grandparents. I remember a dinner time family story was included in the Godfather two film of the horses head being cut off. While I know the director of the film claims that scene was based in fiction, it wasn’t. It had been my great uncles favorite horse and someone in the mafia had decapitated it and placed it in his bed over an issue with Frank Sinatra and someone they were both sleeping with a contract. 

In December of 1943 my grandfather arrived in Casablanca, NorthernAfrica with 14,000 other men on an overcrowded Liberty ship as a part of the 88th Infantry Division. This would eventually become known as the “Blue Devils.” in Italy. My father was born a the end of April while my grandfather and the Allies went on to attack enemy lines at  Mount Diamano and the Austene Valley.

To Be Continued… next week!

Jump for Joy! Recess and Free Play are as important as Literacy (that goes for tweens and teens too)!

What do our kids need to ensure a great education and to optimize health and learning? What is often forgotten in that push to improve cognition and learning?

Recess!

Did you know that recess and free unstructured play is not just GOOD for developing brains, it’s ESSENTIAL?

Did you know that the NEED for free unstructured time is a crucial element of developing physical and health benefits and provides significant emotional and academic benefits such as learning to be independent, solve conflicts and initiate play or activities and generate new ideas?

Imagine adults weren’t allowed to take breaks? No more lunches laughing with friends or early morning runs in the dark before the world is awake or all of your actives or all of your daily choices were pre-determined for you? I’d hate to see what I’d end up doing.

It is so tempting when creating a schedule for your family to fill it with lots of structured activities and learning experiences because you are awesome and love your kids so much. You want them to have diverse experiences and abilities. However, our kids need autonomy and independence that can only come from learning to find one’s way without us.

Winter is quickly approaching and with it all of the challenges of the elements. Winter is another fabulous opportunity for our kids (teens too) to have new experiences, create new synapses and neural connections within the brain while getting their heart rates up and improving their cardiovascular fitness. Each season has its own discoveries to be found. Proper clothing designed for the elements is often the biggest factor to enjoying the outdoors in cooler temperatures. Get your kids a pair of great boots and then send them outside WITHOUT a plan.

You can check out what Harvard University has to say about the proven benefits of free play on brain development and cognition here:

https://hms.harvard.edu/magazine/play/flights-fancy

Where is your Tar Beach? Where is your mental break?

Where does your imagination fly to escape?

Where is your child’s magical place?

Everyone, children included need a place to call their own and to mentally recharge especially now during a pandemic.

My son admiring Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach quilt at the Montclair Art Museum

Everyone needs a place to mentally escape even if it is just for a few minutes at a time. Lately, my place to mentally unwind has been watching the sunrise by the George Washington Bridge. NYC artist and author Faith Ringgold’s childhood escape was also the GWB. In her beautifully crafted first children’s book Tar Beach, African American Cassie Lightfoot dreams she can fly on top of her black tar roof as it transforms into a beach and she claims the George Washington Bridge next to her Harlem home as her own. This is the story of Cassie’s hopes and dreams as well as her way of overcoming obstacles that all children can relate to.

You can see the Guggenheim’s photos of the quilt here: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/3719

Faith Ringgold is an African American artist, NYC teacher, and civil rights advocate who first created her story using a quilt to tell her story the same way that African American slaves had used quilts as guides to freedom during the Civil War. Her great, great, great grandmother had been a slave on a southern plantation who made quilts for plantation owners. Ringgold was born in 1930 and grew up in Harlem dreaming about claiming the George Washington Bridge as her own. Her father wasn’t allowed to join the union to work on the bridge because he was African American. Tar Beach was Ringgold’s childhood escape. Great children’s books are a bridge into our kid’s worlds to help them navigate this difficult time.

You can see an interview with Faith Ringgold here: https://youtu.be/794M-mcOJY4

What helps you to get out of your own head?

Being a teen has always been a complicated, highly intense time. Throw a pandemic into the mix and it only amplifies the intensity and the reason why coming-of-age stories are a perfect anecdote.

Growing up can be challenging, add a pandemic to the mix and you have a true challenge. Our kids are facing uncertain times and coming of age stories teach kids how to face difficult times and persevere. This genre is like gifting your kid a best friend who they can continuously circle back to reread. Coming of age novels are a great anecdote to those deep growing pains as your teen transitions towards adulthood on top of managing the day to day life in a pandemic.

A dog and a coming of age story are soothing for the teen soul

The beauty of coming of age novels is that they maintain their relevance and importance regardless of the time period. I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorites beginning with the book my daughter is currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. What books would you add to the list?

My daughter reading a book that spoke to me at her age.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a semi-autobiographical novel set during the first two decade of the 20th century in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The story follows the life of Francie Nolan and her Irish immigrant family as they navigate extreme poverty, alcoholism, death, relationships and where she learns to be strong as nails like her mother.

Graphic novel that weaves three stories into one.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novel that weaves three separate tales into one. It begins with the legendary folk tale of Sun Wukong (The Monkey King) from a classic Chinese folktale. The second tale is the story of a first generation immigrant family who moves from Chinatown to an all white suburb and the protagonist has trouble fitting in. It is here that the first two stories come into play creating a ethnic coming of age story that also looks at cultural and ethnic identity.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

“I know what I want, I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love. Let me be myself, and then I am satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inward strength and courage” Anne Frank

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is her journal that was found by her father after she died in a concentration camp at age fifteen in Nazi Germany. Her journal covers the period of her family’s hiding in an attic with another family for two years beginning when Anne was 13.

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall was first published in 1959. It tells the story of a Barbadian immigrant family in Brooklyn.

Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs tells the story of a Mexican teen desperate to support his family as they struggle in abject poverty after his father’s death. He decides to travel to the United States to work like his father had from Mexico.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of Frannie and how she navigates race, religion, disability, and friendship in this story set in an urban all black school with a new white boy in the early 1970s.

Fifteen by Beverly Cleary is Cleary’s 1950s story about falling in love for the first time.

Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumes is the story of a young girl who immigrates from Iran to California. The story is narrated through her very funny eyes.

Go Tell It To the Mountain by James Baldwin is based off of an old Black spiritual. It tells the story of the fourteenth birthday of John Grimes set in 1935 Harlem. The story uses flashbacks to include the characters grandparent’s experiences as slaves in the south.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson is a story that celebrates the healing and help a group of six middle schoolers are able to provide one another during a weekly meeting without adults through the act of sharing their stories.

Locomtion & Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of 12 year old Lonnie who is in foster care apart from his younger sister. He decides his job is “rememberer” and sets about to chronicle their lives.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding tells the story of a group of British prep school boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island and they attempt to govern themselves. Conch tales are in abundance.

Night by Elie Wiesel is Wiesel’s account of his time with his father in Nazi Germany concentrations camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper was gifted to my daughter by her friend who has cerebral palsy. This is the story of Melody who has CP and is treated as less than intelligent or equal by her classmates, teachers and doctors but she decides to make sure they understand she isn’t defined or cognitively limited by cerebral palsy.

Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang is a historical memoir about the cultural revolution of China in the late 1960s. In 1966, 12 year old Ji-li is a popular kid in Communist China until the revolution begins. People she had thought were friends turned on her family and her father was imprisoned.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead is set in the mid 1980s in Sag Harbor, an exclusive and very wealthy area of the Hamptons. The story’s main character Benji is an African American teen spending the summer within a black enclave of a predominately white and close knit town and reaches issues of race, class, and commercialism.

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai tells the story of 12 year old Fadi’s family illegally fleeing Taliban controlled Afghanistan on an underground transport for the United States in the summer of 2001.

The Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac tells the story of Navajo code breakers who played a critical role in the success of the US military during WW2. The story is told through a 16 year old Navajo boy’s journey as a code talker.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas tells the story of a young girl who witnesses her best friend get shot by the police. Her best friend was an unarmed kid.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins tells the story of sixteen year old Katniss as she battles twelve other children from various regions to the death on live TV.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton tells the story of Ponyboy and his brothers about their lives as greasers versus rival gangs that are based on socio-economic status.

The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 by Paul Curtis is the fictionalized story of an African American family that travels from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham to bring the oldest brother to stay with their grandmother after he gets in a little trouble.

When I Was Puerto Rican is Esmeralda Santiago’s memoir of growing up between rural Puerto Rico and Brooklyn, NY.

Does your child fight you like Muhammad Ali about sitting down to read, write or work on math? Allowing for a small physical and mental shift in setting often creates significant change.

Reading a great find from a little library.

You can learn anywhere. Physical space creates a mood and having physical control over one’s space is as important as self regulation when it comes to learning. Let your kid decide where to read or write even if it’s the floor or the driveway. Create an atmosphere of “I can learn anywhere.” Why not read on a bench or the lawn? Kids learn best when stress levels are low and when they’re comfortable. Allowing your child to find the spaces that work best for them will also help to develop the ability to self regulate.

My daughter studying Korean on the dining room floor.

Homeschooling is more than an educational philosophy. It’s a lifestyle. My kids have desks yet most of their “work” happens elsewhere. Let go of the need to limit learning to one area of the house. When there is space to learn, children will fill it. My job as a parent is both educational facilitator and to step back and get out of the way so they can take the reins of their education.

Reading about the brain during breakfast. Science never waits.

My daughter is obsessed with K-Pop like a gazillion other American tweens. I wanted her to study another language and she chose Korean to better understand her idols while I get to check off the foreign language box for the year in my head. Since we are in a small house with kids, a dog, working parents and a pandemic we need to be flexible about shared spaces. As you can see in the photo, she is sitting on the floor of the dining room while studying Korean so that she can be physically near others while studying. Shared learning spaces and shared self directed learning isn’t in abundance right now due to the virus. However, kids are finding ways to address it if we let them. My daughter decided to stay in close proximity to her brother while he read a book. Connection has been lost due to COVID for so many of our kids and with the absence of coops and playdates, sports teams, libraries, schools and other connections knowing someone else is close by can be a great source of comfort. Another favorite reading place is an old tent I had gotten as a wedding gift from REI 15 years ago. It has withstood snow and rain and my kids reading and playing for hours in their own little bubble. They have pillows, secret envelopes and notes and books inside. Math for my son is often at the kitchen table while my daughter prefers working on math at her desk in her room.

My kids often read for hours in a tent in the yard. Best REI purchase over a decade ago.

Reading can happen on a park bench.

Reading a book in a favorite local park.

I don’t set boundaries on reading therefore I encourage my kids to always carry a book just in case they have a spare second. It’s like having a best friend close by so independent reading can happen on the sidewalk at random places or on a park bench with a lot less resistance than if I had decided my kids had to sit in spot x for 30 minutes.

Do you feel yourself glaze over and needing an adult beverage whenever you hear whispers (and shouts) of virtual, virtual-hybrid and homeschooling? What does that even look like? Here’s a quick cheat sheet on the terms along with a few tips for making whatever you choose work. So grab a beverage and read on.

To begin with there is homeschooling, the once fringe movement that suddenly has a spotlight shining on it. Homeschooling is a legal option in all fifty states. I’m a former public school teacher and a homeschool mom of two children ages 9 and 12, one of whom has special needs since 2013 in New Jersey. I was also a teacher at the school closest to the twin towers on 9/11 (there’s a blog post all about it) and I’ve learned that the most important factor for a child’s future is you. For a child to learn they need to feel secure. They need us more than anything else and they will get through this challenging time and you can help your child to see that they can persevere through difficult times and still be ok. I hope to provide you with a clearer picture of virtual, virtual-hybrid and homeschool education.

Homeschooling options are as varied as there are families. Some families choose to take classes in museums and farms and arrange coops for everything from competitive math teams and science fairs to civics clubs and beach and hiking groups. Homeschool families are often not home because they’re out in the world engaging with it and learning. Homeschool families come from every socioeconomic background and many families have two working parents or single parent families and make arrangements with other families to help each other. Laws vary according to state but in my home state of New Jersey caregivers/parents are free to choose how and when to educate their child and may decide to teach math with a meal or after work. You may choose a variety of educational options from traditional curriculums, to online classes and programs to coops and classes at local forests (even in urban areas) to someone’s house or backyard to a science center or nature reserve.

Tips for making this work: 1. Be brave. You got this. 2.You know your child and you are an experienced teacher working and educating your children every day of their lives. 3. Don’t try to recreate school at home. A daily rhythm can be created around your child’s needs as well as around your work schedule and home life. Math may happen after dinner. 4. Reignite a passion you long stopped doing, stock up on your favorite beach reads and model a love for learning and a love for reading. Nothing teaches a child to read like seeing a parent or loved adult cuddled up with a good book. 5. Set up reading nooks and places for art and building. Small house? Apartment? No problem. I have a three bedroom house with one bathroom and an unfinished basement about 20 minutes from midtown Manhattan so I’m always looking for space. My kitchen table doubles as a work table with writing supplies, art tools and math manipulative kept in rolling carts under the table and learning happens throughout the house and throughout the day. 6. Let your children work alongside you as you’re working if possible or doing other activities at home. 7 Join a few local and state on-line homeschooling organizations and familiarize yourself with all of the local in-person and online activities in your community. Many homeschool groups will share curriculum reviews and allow others to look through programs before you decide to commit to anything. 8. Remember that you have the gift of time to work with your children where they are. Right now.

Virtual Education and virtual hybrid programs are created and provided by your child’s school. Students continue with IEP and 504 accommodations/ mandated services. Children are expected to complete their work online and have a regular school year schedule. A hybrid program allows time for students to be online at home working virtually with their school’s lesson as well to physically attend school part of the time.

Tips for making this work: 1. Give your child a sense of control by letting them independently set up and decorate their workspace or do it together. Let them own this space. 2. Spend a few minutes each morning reviewing your child’s daily schedule with them to provide a sense of predictability, consistency and most importantly guidance and a moment of connection. This can also be done the night before as well. 3. Provide lots of space (both time and physical) for movement and free play breaks. Children need to move. A lot. Even six feet tall children. In between classes send children outside, even if for only ten minutes to take a walk while talking to a friend on the phone (arrange breaks with friends) or perhaps a few kids can arrange to meet a couple of days a week between classes as well as free play outside. 4. Consider using a ball or standing for parts of virtual instruction. Frequent movement breaks should be worked into time on-line. 5. Everyone is in the same position so find another child locally or from the school to meet with outside of class when possible. 6. If something isn’t working reach out to the school. Teachers want to help and they need your feedback to provide the best possible learning environment for your child. 7. For children with executive functioning difficulties creating an online LMS (learning management system) in digital portals like Google Classroom and Moodle can help students with organization and planning.

Every family is different therefore what will work best for your family may not be someone else’s first choice. Embrace being flexible. You will get through this and have the opportunity to model empathy, perseverance, patience and flexible thinking for your children.

I was a teacher in the school closest to the towers on 9/11. Here is what I learned from that tragedy that helps me as an educator and as a parent …

I was a teacher in one of the five schools closest to the twin towers. 9/11 had been my second day teaching at PS 89.

I was a teacher in the school closest to the towers on 9/11. Here is what I learned from that tragedy that helps me as an educator and as a parent …

I was a teacher in the school closest to the towers on 9/11. Here is what I learned from that tragedy that helps me as an educator and as a parent during COVID.

I was a teacher in NYC in one of the five schools that were local to the twin towers. 9/11 had been my second day teaching ESL at PS 89 in Battery Park City. Due to the nature of my type of position, my time was split between that location and another elementary school located in Hells Kitchen.

9/11 Memorial at Sunrise Photo by Candice Narvaez

That Tuesday morning was a gorgeous day just right for boots with a nice heel. The plan was to take the subway back and forth between the two schools returning to midtown for happy hour with my home base school friends to celebrate the kickoff of a new school year. I had started at my school in midtown where I was preparing testing paperwork when the security guard whose office was directly across from mine called over.

Hey Candy? You hear an airplane just flew into the twin towers?

Her words didn’t register. I grabbed my bag.

Where you think you’re going?

I said something about having a bunch of kids I needed to test and that I was sorry but I was in a rush.

The second time, her words registered. My dad was in the towers. PS 89 was blocks from there. I called my dad’s office. No answer. I called the school. No answer. Another security guard came over and they started to talk. A second plane crashed into the towers. I called both again. No answer. I walked upstairs into the main office and whispered the news to the principal, Mrs. T and from there went from classroom to classroom interrupting literacy groups and morning meetings to summon teachers over so that I could whisper the news.

The Midtown West School is a public school on W48th Street. It shares it’s space with PPAS, a performing arts middle and high school. I started to hear high schoolers in the hallways. Some were crying, everyone was moving quickly. The principal set up a sign out table in the main hallway to expedite the process while speciality teachers ran back and forth to classrooms to bring kids out for pickup. We waited for every single child to be picked up. Some children were picked up within minutes while others were waiting for parents to walk back from the outer boroughs. Some parents were covered in ash. Luckily, none of the students had lost a parent. The subways stopped. Cell service went down. Once all of the children had been picked up, I walked from midtown to uptown with a couple of other teachers to sleep at a co-worker/friend’s apartment. Her on again/off again boyfriend worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. She stayed up and cried all night. I stayed up with her but I couldn’t cry. I was numb watching the images of the planes on tv crashing into the towers. I hadn’t seen any of this during the day. She knew, without being told, he had been killed. Yet, she took his toothbrush downtown anyway to search in the days and weeks that followed. The next morning, cell service had returned and I learned my father was ok. I walked across the George Washington Bridge back to NJ with thousands of others. It smelled like the world was on fire.

Liberty State Park’s view of Manhattan Photo by Candice Narvaez

I later learned my other school had to be evacuated. The teachers and staff had to run with their crying students who were as young as four to safety while the world around them was on fire. Teachers sang and made jokes to keep the kids distracted while staying on autopilot in order to hold themselves together. There were five local schools closest to the towers. Not a single teacher left their students and they took every one of those kids through hell to safety. My father had been in the towers eating pizza on the first floor when the first plane had hit. He had initially thought there had been a bomb and knew to tell his coworkers once he was back in his office when the second plane hit to run. He made it out.

Lesson #1: Make sure your kids have their basic contact information, medical conditions, etc memorized and for children who need extra support with this should have a form of medical alert jewelry. Make sure you’re able to walk comfortably from wherever you are if need be. If you’re traveling into work, keep an extra pair of flats or sneakers at work or keep extra sneakers and change of clothes, wipes, water and a towel in your car at all times. Teach your children not to rely on their phones but their memories because in an emergency one of those things may not work. Review basic fire safety and first aid with your children every few months and at minimum annually. Get yourself certified for first aid.

Geese marching towards the 9/11 Memorial at Liberty State Park. Photo by Candice Narvaez
Geese walking towards the 9/11 memorial in Liberty Park. Photo by Candice Narvaez

Since my school was one of the five local schools to the twin towers, the staff and students were temporarily relocated to two different locations within a four month period. When I showed up for work on September 13th, more than half of the school was absent. Many kids lost their homes at least temporarily. The press was there and it was very chaotic outside of the building but inside small groups of children were sitting cross legged on the floor in small groups throughout the library and various parts of the building we were temporarily housed in. We didn’t have supplies but eventually that came. The teachers were making mini booklets with their students teaching word families, making up stories and adding illustrations. The teachers focused on what resources they had and not what they were lacking.

9/11 Memorial at Liberty State Park. Photo by Candice Narvaez

Lesson #2 You and your child are their most important educational resource. All of the books in the world won’t do anything if a child is stressed about their basic well being. Children need to feel safe in order to learn. September 11th was catastrophic on multiple levels. There is no way to eliminate the significant damage that occurred that day. During a crisis like 9/11 it’s pretty difficult to feel safe but it is easy to show a child that you are there for them. The most important educational tool that you have available for your child is your love. I notice people are placing a lot of importance on what curriculums or methods of instruction they’ll be using for next year but none of that is as important as showing your children that they will be ok regardless. They can learn regardless of what happens. We can’t control covid but we can control our responses to it. The staff at PS 89 used songs, art and stories to keep their student’s spirits high and to created a sense of community in the weeks and months that followed. When I am stressed and I feel like I don’t have control, I focus on a word or a phrase or my breathing. I’ve taught my kids to do the same.

September 2021 will most likely look much different than this September. However, it won’t look like it did a year ago because nothing ever does. Sentimentalism can become a trap of complacency and fear. We can use COVID as a lesson in flexibility, compassion, civic duty, and as an opportunity for growth for ourselves and for our children. Your children will always remember this time but how they will remember it will be largely impacted by our responses. Model the responses of resiliency and creativity you want to see in your children.

The students that I had in 2001 are adults now. Some are parents, some are in graduate school, living in the US and abroad. The students I had who came from mid to high socioeconomic backgrounds are highly successful adults. Several of those students did not speak more than a few words in English on 9/11 and yet still graduated from top universities. Many of my students from the poorest socioeconomic backgrounds are still struggling today. Those students were equally motivated and intelligent but school is only one factor in societal change that needs to occur. The need for educational equity and parity in this country is real as is the need for societal safety nets for our children like universal healthcare and meals for school aged children year round so that when there is a national or global challenge we can ensure that even our poorest members are taken care of.

At one point, our school was moved to alphabet city and we were told that we would be returning to our original Warren Street location in February just four months after 9/11. We were told it was safe to return by Christine Todd Whitman, head of the EPA and former Governor of NJ. I knew in my gut it couldn’t be safe and the principal of my school in midtown arranged for me to work ft there starting that February instead of returning downtown. My dad, a life long runner and non smoker has had chronic health issues ever since. He’s had part of a lung removed, cancer and heart issues. Many people died in the months and years following 9/11 from various cancers and lung conditions. Whitman has publicly acknowledged the EPAs failure. Whether you decide homeschool, virtual school or in-person school always put your child’s health first based on the information that you have and not necessarily someone else’s interpretation. Everyone is in a tough situation right now and it is important to take care of yourself and your children first just like in an airplane situation so that you are then able to help others. I do not believe putting our children at risk is somehow creating a more equitable system when it is those children who are put at even greater risk if there are more children in school. If a child needs to be there then that is ok, too. We need to be open to alternative ways of educating our youth and moving within the moment we are living in and not in reaction to it. The system is broken and it hasn’t been helping those most in need who require a true systemic change. If you are looking to help, ask those who are in need what they need and see how it may be provided.

Author Study

Are you looking to create an engaging, awesome literary study for different ages? Are you looking to build a deep attachment and love of literature for your child/ren? Are you looking to teach your child critical thinking, literary analysis and improve your child’s writing skills by using mentor texts? Are you looking for an adventure?

Great! Welcome to “The Author Study.”

What is an author study and what makes it so awesome?

An author study is a way to learn about and engage with the author of a text. You can compare and contrast books by an author. You can research an author’s life and use it to make connections between the author and the text as well as to other texts and to oneself. To begin, choose an author. Look at the books your child is currently reading or books you’re hoping to read together in the future and choose an author. Now you can decide your goals for the study. Are you interested in comparing features of text or how a story evolves throughout books or are you interested in researching the time period the author grew in and how their personal experiences may have influenced various parts of their writing? You can decide before you begin or after you’ve done some research and have a feel for which might be a better direction.

One of the first studies I did with my children was on Margaret and H.A. Rey, aka the authors of Curious George. It was an easy choice since my kids were 3 and 6 at the time. I found myself up late at night unable to sleep googling the Reys since I was spending so much time reading the series to my son. My daughter had been a fan but by 7 was more interested in The American Girl Historical series so I chose this since I could easily engage both of my children and my son couldn’t get enough of George. Initially, I found a hook and that hook was the author’s biographies. Their story was more than the story of a couple who had a knack for writing highly profitable children’s stories. Their story was one of bravery and perseverance in the face of the worst of human evil and prejudice. The Rey’s were German Jews who had been living in France when the Nazis rode in and occupied Paris in 1940. The only transportation the Rey’s could find was spare parts to make two bicycles that they fixed and rode to the Spanish border and boarded a train. There was a basket on the front of the bike that held the manuscript for Curious George except at that time it was called Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys along with 4 other manuscripts and a small amount of food. They stayed in Portugal eventually heading to Brazil and then New York publishing Curious George in 1941. The more I read about the author’s lives, the more I began to see connections like in their 1944 book Spotty. This book is the tale of two bunnies and race that is way before it’s time yet makes sense once you know the context of the author’s personal lives. Just so you know, I don’t possess super sleuth skills and you don’t need to either. I just googled their name and read for one minute on the PhD site, Wikipedia and I knew I needed to read more. So then, I googled and read on. Eventually, once I was truly hooked, I bought actual books with real pages made of paper in them and had therefore committed myself heart and mind to the author study. However, you don’t need to purchase anything to be wholeheartedly committed.

An author study can be as fancy as a toddler in a tiara (aka difficult) or as laid back as a beach towel, it’s up to you. Sometimes I’ve kept journals for myself and one for the kids where I’d read a chapter or two to them a day and then they’d journal a response or we would talk about something we had connected with or noticed in the story and then come up with our own questions that we could answer and have each other answer in our journals. I like to get all of the books that I can by a particular author. This can easily be done at the library. I think it’s nice if you have independent readers or even emergent readers to let them read or skim through some of the books or just glance through them. This helps to establish prior knowledge and build a stronger base to learn from just as reading multiple books by the same author. If you really enjoy the style or tone of an author, that can be used as a mentor text to teach writing. For example, when my daughter had first started writing, I used the book, No, David by David Shannon to create her own book titled, No, Catalina. This taught her basic features of a text, had her writing several sight words and reinforced other writing habits and most importantly enabled her to see herself as a writer. I showed her how to write the text and she copied it onto big strips that she then added beneath her drawings and suddenly she had written her first book. She was very proud to be five and calling herself an author. How you see yourself is what you will become so she still loves to write seven years later.

Listening to an explanation at Almanzo Wilder’s homestead during a Little House on the Prairie author study.

One of the great things about an author study is that you can take it as far as you can imagine. For my son’s third birthday, I booked a room in the town where the Reys had lived and now had a conservation center in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We drove 6 hours to discover an incredible year round hiking, biking and skiing area that we head to whenever possible. My kids learned to catch a worm and bait a hook, fish there and cook what they caught, swim in a lake, and to ski. They also learned about constellations and developed a love of outer space and geology thanks to the Reys. I can’t wait to read about what you do with your family.

Homeschooling with Dyslexia

Reading is a gift that is available to every child with the right support.

Are you homeschooling a child who has dyslexia or other reading challenge? Are you looking for effective scaffolding resources and remediation methodologies that will assist your child across subject matter as well as build a strong reading base? Great, let’s begin.

You can learn anything and you can teach your children the same attitude.
They will learn how to read and they will learn to be resourceful and innovative in the process.

Reading is a human made invention that is arbitrary and challenging on multiple levels. If one of those areas isn’t functioning fluidly, it can throw off the entire system. In order to comprehend text, an emergent aka a beginner reader needs to be able to read it (decode) quickly and accurately without having to think about it. When a child is first beginning to sound out words and then sentences, the amount of time and effort to read it does not equate to comprehension. When a child has to use all of their mental energy decoding there isn’t a lot of energy left for comprehending. Having the time to help a child with dyslexia is a gift. They need that 1:1 or small group instruction in order to learn to break down a word by phoneme, mastering phonemes while learning to connect them to letters while developing decoding and fluency skills.. Programs like Wilson, Orton Gillingham, Great Leaps, Fundamentals, and Explode the Code can help children with dyslexia learn to read fluently by improving their decoding skills so that they can switch to reading to learn. These multi sensory programs are available virtually and in book-teacher/parent form.

My son learning the sounds and shapes of the English alphabet using Handwriting Without Tears multi-sensory approach.

I love Handwriting without Tears for teaching print, cursive and keyboarding. It’s multi-sensory and includes grammar naturally into the lessons while reinforcing phoneme and letter connections. I think learning cursive is especially important for children with dyslexia because it will help them read cursive as well. For language arts curriculums WriteShop Junior or All Things Fun and Fascinating are a good fit for children with dyslexia and an intro to IEW writing in higher grades. Barton Reading is also good. It’s a scripted program which makes it easy to use and very parent or teacher friendly and it is Orton Gillingham based.

Did you know that listening to a book is as cognitively beneficial as reading it with your eyes? Here’s a good read about this. https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/listening-to-audiobooks-is-just-as-good-as-reading-if-not-better-so-back-the-hell-off

Audible, Epic, and your local library are great resources for listening to books. Audible is free for kids during Covid. It’s also incredibly beneficial for kids who have a high level of comprehension but their reading level doesnt match it to have access to a huge number of high quality fiction and nonfiction titles..

My daughter listening to Harry Potter. She’s read and listened to the series. One input reinforces the other.

Listening to books read-aloud by an adult or choose your favorite listening method, provides access to content knowledge while your child works on the mechanics of reading. My son loves Epic, which has a read to me option, books on audio and access to an incredible range of high quality kid’s books. There are also nonfiction songs and videos related to academics that he loves on there. Learning Ally is another excellent resource for listening to books while on a tablet or device.

Reading to another is an act of love

WriteShop Junior, All Things Fun and Fascinating, Barton Reading and Reading Horizons are great fits for language arts instruction in grades K-3 and it is uses the same methodology as Orton, a proven dyslexia intervention.

I used Singapore Math with my kids but I supplemented a lot because math opportunities are literally everywhere. I like it because it teaches multiple strategies and focuses initially on concrete hands on learning. It progresses to visual then mental math. While, I don’t use the following, I’ve looked through them and think Teaching Textbooks, Math-U-See and Right Start Math and Singapore or similar multi sensory hands on programs are good for children with dyslexia and for typical readers. Right start uses an abacus and is very hands on. I also use Khan Academy, a free and fantastic online educational program, as a supplement and math board games.

For history, I used the Story of the World Series with my kids by Susan Bauer. Each book has a CD or mp3 download. I read the books with them initially and then had them listen and follow along to the cd and sometimes they just listen in the car. I also included a lot of additional content and resources.

Reading creates bonds

I also recommend getting graphic novels for science and history since there is a lot of visual support to get meaning and it helps with decoding and overall comprehension. Educational field trips benefit all children and reinforce what is being learned. Trips can be as simply noticing a local trail name and it’s connection to a Native American tribe to traveling to spend a few days at Almanzo’s homestead in Malone, NY after reading The Little House on the Prairie series.

%d bloggers like this: