The Scoop



Shirley Gehalo, who has been a teacher for 43 years, eases her students’ fears of spelling while they are creatively writing. She has them write SDM at a top corner of their papers. This reminds them that for now, SPELLING DOESN'T MATTER. This way, they can get their thoughts down without worrying about perfect spelling. Later, Shirley helps them find correct spelling as needed. Way to go, Shirley. During the creative process, it is far more important to write creatively, with original thoughts, with passion and depth of feeling, than it is to have perfect spelling.


Picture it: The year is 1958. Mr. Potato Head is a real potato, and kids stab sharp little facial features and body parts into his lumpy, misshapen spud body. No two Mr. Potato Heads are alike. Creative ten-year-olds can design Mr. Potato Head with four mutant legs coming out of his head and two eyes where his belly button should be. I was in love with Mr. P, especially if his tuber body was extra weird and lumpy. I once filled his pink pipe with Velveeta cheese. I’m still in therapy.

Fast-forward half a century. Mr. Potato Head’s entire body is now plastic, with a few predrilled holes that receive only the appropriate accessory. Every Potato Head is alike, unless you spring for the more expensive designer Potato Heads that reflect movies and super heroes. The toy companies, in taking out the endless creative possibilities, have also eliminated thinking, and therefore, most of the fun. What used to be the domain of curious, inventive, Velveeta-stuffing kids now comes pre-packaged in a box.

The other day I saw an advertisement for a sheet of plastic for sliding down hills. What’s wrong with a big cardboard box you can play on until it falls apart and then slide it down the hill with three of your friends hanging on behind you?

Whatever happened to building forts? Inventing cool things from scraps? Acting out stories you saw at the movies or read in a book?

Between our ears we have the most intricate, complex, miraculous super computer ever created: the human brain. Designed to last a lifetime, it warehouses thought, innovation, imagination, creativity, memory, design, spontaneity, logic, emotion, and problem solving. Dr. Frankenstein wanted one. Steve Martin had two. The Scarecrow sang about one.

Kids just don’t spend enough time tapping into their brains these days. I don’t mean to imply they don’t use their noggins for schoolwork and play. I’m talking about thinking . . . pondering . . . ruminating . . . problem solving . . . daydreaming . . . wondering . . . tinkering . . . inventing. When my husband, Rick, was a boy, he was given free rein of their huge basement and all the wonders that lay therein. He puttered with his grandfather’s interesting array of tools. He dismantled electric motors and alarm clocks to see how they worked. He dabbled with a cornucopia of chemistry sets and examined interesting finds under the microscope. These years of exploring led to a career in medicine and science, but had he been born today, that might never have happened. Because of our fear of danger, because we sometimes feel that children must be entertained constantly so they won’t become bored, kids today seldom have time to let their brains become curious. We have sanitized their environments and substituted personal, hands-on experiences with knowledge exclusively found in books and videos. Watch, children. Learn by accepting what SOMEONE ELSE has found out.

Much of their daily worlds are filled with chatter, music, and schedules filled with classroom learning, sports, dancing, music lessons, meals, bath time, chores, and homework. Little time is left for the simple art of thinking. Thinking is a vital life skill that comes in handy in all walks of life. Childhood is a perfect time to practice, and that just might involve taking things apart, using things for new purposes, snooping into things, asking zillions of questions, and being allowed to try, try, and try again. 

Photo Credit



             Listen to the conversations this week.

            “Did you have a good Thanksgiving?”

            “We had a great Thanksgiving.”

            What is a “great Thanksgiving,” and how did we have one? What happened that made it great? How do we plan in advance for that to happen? Thanksgiving is largely an American holiday, so what do we do in this country to create Thanksgiving?

            Well, there’s food, of course. Everybody knows that. Heaps and heaps of food. Rick made a delicious turkey that we are still enjoying. This bird was so big it would have blotted out the sun had it been flying overhead. We shared take-home food with all of our guests, and there’s still enough meat left for sandwiches and several nights of leftovers. He also made his world-famous mashed potatoes. I made gravy, creamed corn, broccoli salad, and strawberry pretzel salad. Our guests brought a French Canadian meat stuffing, sweet-potato casserole, Mexican cornbread, and a scrumptious Trinidadian macaroni casserole. There were pies aplenty. Our house was full of people, aromas, food, music, laughter, cats and dogs, children, older people, and last-minute preparations.

            We gathered. We hung out in the kitchen. At my house, the kitchen is where everyone hangs out while we are putting the last-minute spin on things, filling the glasses with ice, and buttering the rolls as they come out of the oven. Holiday music played on the stereo. Rick put a fireplace DVD on the flatscreen. I turned the air conditioning down to 72.

            But all of that was just the preparation for Thanksgiving. At the table, just before we ate, we reflected on what we are thankful for. We talked about our country, our faith, our families. We talked about what it is like to live where we feel safe. We talked about the men and women serving in the military. We talked about having each other.

            All of those thoughts have continued in my head this past week, especially when I watched an update on 60 Minutes about children who live in poverty. CBS chose central Florida to showcase children who live in a truck and other children who live in shelters or on the streets. I can’t escape from this thought: real Thanksgiving would be to reach out and share comfort and food with those who don’t have houses to gather in. Real Thanksgiving would be to help someone who doesn’t have a turkey as big as a boulder. True Thanksgiving would be to help my fellow man.

            And that’s what I’m going to do. Somehow, someway, somewhere. I’m going to look for opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the countless people around us who are suffering in shock and humiliation and desperation in this miserable economy. I’m going to find some. I’m going to look. I’m going to do something. Then, and only then, will I be truly thankful.



Fourth-grade teacher Dana L. Scippo, from Littleton Elementary in North Fort Myers, FL came up with a great SCHOOLWIDE idea called “Sparkle Words.” A team of teachers creates a list of sizzling, picturesque “sparkle words” and prints them in large typeface on beautiful sparkle paper, which you can buy at a craftstore or a scrapbooking store. These are displayed all around the school. Each day (or each week, if you prefer), classroom teachers appoint a Sparkle Spotter from their classes to look for and choose one sparkle word to bring back to the classroom. Teachers add these words to their word walls, writing lessons, vocabulary displays, etc. What an awesome way to involve the whole school! Send us photos of how you implement this idea at your school so we can post them here! 




            One lovely spring day, when everything in the world seemed innocent and inviting, I had an experience so humiliating that it still makes me cringe when I think about it today.  My friends Barb and Jim from Indiana were visiting. Sun lovers, they expressed an interest in all sorts of outdoor activities. We’d been to the beach, so we decided to go on a long canoe trip down the Rainbow River in central Florida. That struck a chord in me. I loved being on the river, especially when we’d had plenty of rain and the river was up.

            Barb and I decided we would wear bandeau bathing suits. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that term, a bandeau bathing suit has no straps, so your tan lines won’t show.

            BANDEAU noun \ban-ˈdō\ A bathing suit held up by an elastic band, worn by fools and those who don’t know any better.

            A thick wide band of elastic holds up the suit in front—the band, and what Mother Nature has endowed you with. Mother Nature had been generous to me. So, off we went with our husbands for a day of high adventure.

            That day we shared the river with about twenty 12- to 13-year-old Boy Scouts. We kidded back and forth with the boys, vying for first place, joking good naturedly about all sorts of things. They stopped to swim; we went ahead. We stopped to picnic; they shot ahead. The Rainbow is incredibly beautiful, so we stopped to take pictures and point out turtles and bass and gar.

            At one point, the Rainbow river turns and narrows through a rock gorge. Since the water was high on the day of my adventure, that meant that thousands of gallons of water suddenly had to squeeze through a smaller space. The force of the water can be tremendous. When our foursome turned the corner, we were surprised to see many of the Boy Scout canoes stuck together in a glut, right where the river was surging through the smaller gorge. I saw that we were going to ram them, so I stuck my paddle in the water to try to slow us down. No deal, Lucille. The force of the water pitched me out into the rushing river and sucked me forward with lightning speed.

            As a child, I had once almost drowned when I got caught under a giant rubber raft at the beach and couldn’t get out from under it. That day on the Rainbow, I saw myself being sucked underneath the knot of 15 or so canoes, and I panicked. I reached up in desperation and grabbed the side of one of the canoes to stop me from going under. I gripped it with a death grip. I held on, BUT MY BATHING SUIT WENT TO MEXICO (thank goodness it didn’t go to Chile!). I felt what was happening, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. My head was still under 2 feet of water, my hands were gripping the side of a canoe, and there I hung in all my glory.

             I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold my breath  much longer, so I looked up from down under the water. I saw the shadowy figures of several boys. They were looking down with their mouths hanging open. One boy pointed while talking to the others. I couldn’t hear his voice, of course, but I read his lips.

            “LOOK AT THOSE!!!”

            I hung there, suspended between drowning and humiliation.

            Everything happened at once. My husband rescued me. He reached down to haul me back into our canoe and somehow managed to pull up my suit in the process. The canoes came untangled and started making their way through the gorge. We spun in an eddy while my face tried to return to its normal color. It would have been nice to have made a hasty exit, but there was quite a lot of river to cover before the gettin’-out place.

            We only saw the Boy Scouts one more time that day. As we paddled by their noisy group, they went instantly quiet, except for one boy, who stage whispered, “She’s the one! Her! Her! Right there!”

            There’s good news about this story, however. I learned to respect the Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared. The Boy Scouts learned an anatomy lesson. The bad news is that I was Exhibits A and B.


Teachers amaze me. They’re brilliant. They’re fierce. And they’re weird. I mean, who willingly becomes a teacher In the first place, and who stays in the classroom in this day and age? Weird, that’s what it is. Wonderfully, magnificently weird.

Millions of teachers recently started a new school year. Do you have any clue how much stress they’re under? Can you imagine the amount of gossip they have to catch up on in the teachers’ lounge? The volume of wood shavings they have to dig out of the pencil sharpener? The sturdy shoes they’ll have to pull out of the backs of their closets? The Lean Cuisines they’ll have to microwave for lunch? Do you know what it’s like to hold a quivering kindergartner who sees Mommy heading out the door? Do you have any idea what fifth graders smell like after P.E.? Why, the stacks of papers teachers will grade this year alone could reach to the moon and back. Believe me, Captain America has nothing on a teacher.

Lest you be tempted to believe what you read in the papers, what you hear on the radio, or see on television, that teachers are solely responsible for low test scores and students who fail to achieve, think of this: Teachers work countless hours they aren’t paid for, arrive early, stay late, take home work, clean up vomit, break up fights, dry tears, hold hands, calm fears, and prepare millions and millions of lesson plans. They plan field trips, science fairs, musicals, gardens, birthday parties, bulletin boards, and story time. They willingly spend their days teaching America’s children in spite of classroom interruptions, personal loss, illness, miscommunications, cruel and rude remarks, low salaries, unappreciative parents, and a lack of honor and respect for their profession.

I told you: they’re weird. Why do they do it? Why? You might not believe it, but it’s true. They love your children. Love them. Adore them. Ache for them. Believe in them. Cry for them. Celebrate their successes. Champion their accomplishments.

Amazing. Absolutely amazing.