Friday, February 15, 2013

Memories can be tools for teaching

From today's Briefing:

We’ve been all wrapped up in projects at the Damm house.

Cooper has been juggling four: a presentation on Martin Luther King Jr., a poster on the element sodium (re-imagined as a comic book villain), a presentation on Belgium and a board game based on a mystery novel.

Katie’s second-grade load is a little lighter: Valentine cards, a Valentine box and a timeline of her life so far.

Since this is my second round as a second-grade parent, I’ve been bracing for the timeline project. The requirements, which haven’t changed since Cooper’s turn, demand patient parent participation.

The student must turn in nine note cards held together vertically by tape. The top card is for the child’s name. The next eight represent eight moments in the child’s life.

Half of each card is illustrated with either a photo or drawing. The other half must include complete sentences, first written in pencil (using a ruler as a guide) and then traced with a fine-tip black marker.

The first step in the project was brainstorming which events to include. I sat across from Katie at the kitchen table and asked her to name the most important events in her life so far.

Her final list: the day she was born, dancing with her Daddy, hanging out at a dude ranch, the first day of kindergarten, touring the Texas Capitol, visiting the Eiffel Tower, walking through the Butchart Gardens near Victoria, B.C., and playing at the beach.

As she brainstormed, we talked about memories — what she actually remembers and what she recalls only through family stories and photos.

She remembers that she broke her collarbone (the first time) when she was 2 but doesn’t remember the act of standing up on the slide and falling to the ground.

She remembers getting her hand stuck in a revolving door when she was 3 but doesn’t remember that we were in Chicago at the time.

She asked for my first memory.

I was 2. An adult friend was visiting to meet my baby sister for the first time. The woman brought baby Mel a giant, stuffed Oscar the Grouch. I remember thinking, “That baby doesn’t even know who Oscar the Grouch is. That should be mine.”

Fitting that I coveted a grouch, eh?

Indeed, a lot of my childhood memories are of the morality tale variety.

Like when I was 4 and jumped on the bed — despite the rule that I not jump on the bed — and I fell off and hit my head on the wooden toy chest and busted my scalp open and needed stitches.

Like when I was 5 and let a sixth-grader “look” at my purse after she complimented it, when in fact “look” meant “grab and run away.”

Like when I was 8 and playing inside Edgar’s house even though no adult was home — which broke his family’s rules — and the moment we heard someone coming in the front door we ran out the back door and I slipped on a mat and fell into a rusty nail sticking out of a pole and cut my face open and needed stitches.

Jealousy, disobedience, pride, more disobedience.

If I had to compile and turn in my own timeline, with only eight life milestones, none of those events would make the cut. But they all litter the timeline in my mind. There are no photos, but I could draw a detailed picture of each moment.

And I can rattle off life lessons related to each one. Don’t covet. Don’t jump on the bed. Don’t let flattery cloud your judgment. Don’t be sneaky.

Here’s another: Remember all those mistakes so you can tell stories on yourself, entertain your children and slide in a little advice along the way.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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