Thunderstorms, Courage, and So Much More

Two days of mid 90-degree heat is rare in May up here in New England.  I knew a thunderstorm would soon roll in.  I sat on my porch, watching the sky, and was drawn to memories of thunderstorms and how they are a great source of strength.  I wrote to families in my preschool about this years ago and want to share it again.  It’s fundamental to what I do as a teacher, giving children ‘Roots and Wings’.

Some years ago I was on my porch with my adult daughter watching the big thunderstorm rumble into our yard. We were both enjoying the anticipation as well as the storm itself. I asked my daughter what memories popped into her head whenever she heard a big storm. She replied, “Camp, of course! We had nothing else; no TV, no computer, just the outdoors. Thunderstorms were great!” Funny thing. This was the same experience with me as a child at camp.

We talked about exciting and adventurous experiences in our childhood, and about childhood itself. We analyzed why children feel the way they do, and what is it that ‘makes a difference’ when they grow up. One thing kept ringing loud and clear. Children who are given experiences that challenge them, who are encouraged to take a chance and ‘do it’, and who have the firm love and support of their family, seem to grow up with a good, strong sense of self. Roots and wings.

I think of the swings on the playground and ‘yelling’ commands with excitement when a child first learns to pump a swing.  “Kick them out.  Tuck them in.  Pull.  Yes, you can do it!”  As children grow older, I think of opening the front door and letting my child ride his bike, alone, to the playground.  Then, going to sleepover camp for a month, at age eight.  My children begged to go, loved every minute of it, and I am convinced it was part of their foundation.  Roots and wings.

I was the opposite of a helicopter parent.  Friends were a little shocked to see my child roller-blading to school.  He couldn’t quite tie the laces tight enough, so his first grade teacher helped him.  They wondered if there was a ‘problem’ when my children went off to camp, and to prep school.  My daughter went to Italy, alone, after college graduation.  We’re talking speaking no Italian, as well.

After all of these different experiences, friends would then say, “Your children are so lucky to have these opportunities”.  That was quite a change.  I would smile and just say, “Roots and wings”.  They had the roots, with plenty of love and support.  Sometimes I felt brave and alone giving them the wings.  That was the hard part.  I’m so glad I did.

In my classroom, I approach each learning experience and activity, planned or unplanned, as an exciting opportunity. We are a family. We help each other, support each other, and encourage each other. We provide roots for each other with daily routine, tenderness, and a positive, fun attitude. We give each other wings when we learn how to write our name, pump a swing, stand in front of a group to talk, or try something new. Roots and wings.

Remember, it’s all the little experiences, over and over again, that we build upon. It’s not the big things that make a difference. Dancing with painted feet, coming to school at night and singing in the dark, shopping in a real Indian market, painting to classical music, setting up nap mats for other children, finding a new place on our big map with the magnifying glass, reading all the name cards without help….it is the culmination of all these activities, and many others, that make the difference.

I hope that in years to come, you and your child sit through a thunderstorm together, walk through the woods together, or sing in the dark together, and find it is an experience that is exciting. We hope that the Aqua Room has helped to give your child the experiences to feel a happy and confident sense of self. Roots and wings.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
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88 Responses to Thunderstorms, Courage, and So Much More

  1. beth says:

    I love this Jennie, and this is who you are –

  2. Darlene says:

    My daughter and I were talking about this very same thing. I also gave my children practical knowledge and guidelines and sent them off to explore and discover and learn. This is the daughter who lives alone on a small island, with no amenities, and makes art. She would have never had the courage to do that had I been a helicopter parent. She told me she felt sorry for the kids who are over supervised. She and her brother know that I am always there for them, even if thousands of miles away. Roots and wings are so important. And that is what you do!

    • Jennie says:

      Darlene!!! Your story is absolutely wonderful to hear, yet I’m not surprised. You gave her love and support and roots, and then (gulp) wings. The fact that she felt sorry for the kids under helicopter parents speaks to you. Yes, roots and wings. 🙂

  3. Ally Bean says:

    Such a good reminder here to live in the moment, follow your muse. Especially after this week’s tragedy… how do you talk to your students about something like that? Just curious

    • Jennie says:

      That’s a great question. Preschoolers generally aren’t aware that this happened, yet they might know children died. Today was a perfect example: Lunchtime conversations are the best. They’re heartfelt, intimate, fun, and much more. We ended up talking about a child’s dog who died, then that led to a grandparent who died, and a teacher’s dad who did. The children asked ‘why’. I asked children if you can come back again after you die. See how this evolved? For preschoolers, talking about death is important. They are not ready to comprehend senseless death. If they were first graders, I would have opened up that discussion.

  4. Such wise words! I wasn’t a helicopter parent, either. After a rough rebellious period, my daugther has become a very capable and grounded adult.

  5. willedare says:

    Thanks for another scoop of wisdom, Jennie! I am sharing it with a friend who was recently sharing with me her ambivalence/fears about letting her 10-year-old son ride the public bus by himself to school…

    • Jennie says:

      Sometimes all a parent needs is to know is ‘it’s okay’. Giving wings is not easy, but it gives the child what they truly need. Thanks Will!

  6. srbottch says:

    Well said, Jennie. Our son walked to the school bus stop by himself at an early age, joining a friend along the way and then meeting with the ‘tribe’ at the stop. They worked out issues, if any. Today, I watch neighbors walked their kids to the stop and stay with them even though it’s at the end of their driveway. Of course, kids, unfortunately, are more vulnerable as targets for other people’s anger. Let’s hope the pendulum swings back. I pray for the families of the kids in Texas and the adults in Buffalo. Communities need more ‘Jennies’ in their midst.

    • Jennie says:

      I watch parents today as well. They are glued to their child. The media heightens fears, and children aren’t getting opportunities to develop socially and emotionally. It’s sad. The first thing I thought of with the Texas tragedy was, “What did his 2nd and 3rd grade teachers see in him? I guarantee he showed signs of being ‘off’ back then. I said to my husband, “Do you know what I’m doing at school? I’m preventing a child from becoming a killer.” Yes.

      • srbottch says:

        I believe you are. I approached my crossing job that way. I wanted each kid to leave my post with a smile or a good attitude. Have a wonderful holiday, Jennie.

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, that was exactly what you did. You made a big mark and huge difference with those children. Neve forget that, Steve. Best to you!

      • srbottch says:

        Thank you, Jennie. Speaking of trouble youth, I’m reading ‘VanGogh, the Life’. It’s a big book and I’m a slow reader but I’m nearly half way on my Kindle. From what I’ve read so far, he was not a man with a very dark side. A loner, not one who took advice well, used women for nefarious purposes, loved his brother but used him as a means of support, had a poor relationship with his parents, very much a misfit. He could have used you in his early life for a good foundation. He was brilliant in other ways, no doubt.

        Enjoy your long weekend and tell your husband, ‘Thanks for his service’, for me.

      • Jennie says:

        I did not know that! Thank you, Steve. The early years are the important years.

        Enjoy the long weekend. I will give my husband your thanks. Did you know our son is a Commander in the Navy? We had a wonderful Memorial Day remembrance at school which I will post about tomorrow.

      • srbottch says:

        No, I didn’t know that about your son. Congratulations! I assume that he’s a career man, then.

        As for VanGogh, I’m at the point where he’s 33 and he still is doing drawings of dark and depressing images, primarily in black with pencil, coal, chalk. He used models, almost exclusively, and created scenes in his makeshift studios. His brother pleaded with him to try watercolors or paint and he found every excuse to avoid colors, staying with blacks and browns. His brother, Theo, basically subsidized Vincent’s lifestyle, but it was never enough, as V demanded more and more money, much of it wasted on expensive supplies and prostitutes. Very interesting story and very detailed.

        By the way, we have our small flags in the ground and our standard flag by the door. I fly that one almost daily.

      • Jennie says:

        How interesting about van Gogh! So, you’re at when he’s 33. Well, Theo is the hero at this point. Where were his parents? Please, please give me updates as you continue reading the book. Like you, I am a slow reader. I have my stack of books ready to be read this summer. I won’t be able to tackle this book, so I need your feedback. Starry Night is big in my classroom.

        I remember the photo of the flags planted by your door. Wonderful, Steve. Yes, our son is career Navy. He graduated from the Naval Academy in ’03- seems like yesterday.

      • srbottch says:

        You would be surprised to learn that his favorite colors were black, gray and brown. Get this quote: “he subdued his palette to a rainbows of grays, rarely using hue to do more than distinguish one object from another”.

        I’m anxious to get to the point where something clicks and starts to ‘get it’. Of course, at 33 he’s running out of time.

      • Jennie says:

        I’m loving this, Steve!

  7. This is wonderful, Jennie! I love the name you gave it too. Roots and Wings. 🥰

  8. Your reflections as a parent and teacher are very interesting.
    Many people say that children nowadays spend too little time with their parents. I, on the contrary, think that they spend way too much time with adults but rather very little time with their peers (especially those who don’t have any siblings).
    In my own childhood memories, walking alone to school or Sunday school and meeting your classmates on the way was fun. I would have been quite annoyed if my parents had accompanied me. But then that’s probably because helicopter parents are not uncommon in my country, and children usually wish that parents would let them be sometimes 🙂

  9. I love the concept of roots and wings. Thanks for sharing this, Jennie

  10. Ritu says:

    Such beautiful thoughts, Jennie ❤

  11. Teaching our children independence is one of the greatest gifts we can give them as parents. I love this post, Jennie, and you’re right, it’s hard to watch them test those wings, but so worth it in the end ❤

  12. Roots and wings! 💞 Every child needs them…every adult has the power to help if they’re willing. Thanksk for inspiring so many in so many ways, Jennie! xo

  13. quiall says:

    Roots and wings. I love that concept. I have always maintained that my parents allowed me to make my own mistakes. They didn’t try to re-create their own and they were always there when I needed a hand. I can remember the days when my mother would open the front door and say “Have fun. Be home before the street lights are on”. I went on to have experiences they had never dreamed of. And they were proud. What idyllic days.

    • Jennie says:

      Your parents gave you the gift of roots and wings. Hooray! While times have changed, there are many ways parents can ‘let go’. Giving roots is easy, giving wings is not so easy.

  14. Great Post Jennie, ‘Roots and Wings’ allowing them strong foundations of confidence within themselves while giving them space to fly making their own choices.
    Brilliant parenting. 👏 💕

  15. joyroses13 says:

    Wonderful post! Roots and Wings, what parenting is all about! And yes it can be hard watching them take their wings and fly, but rewarding as well!
    I love Italy!!! Beautiful country! Hope your daughter had a good experience!

  16. Carla says:

    What a great letter and gift to give children and their families. Roots and Wings, what a great mantra.

  17. Dan Antion says:

    This is a wonderful post, Jennie. “it’s all the little experiences…” There’s so much truth in that.

  18. petespringerauthor says:

    This philosophy is another thing we agree on, Jennie. Experiences give children of all ages confidence. Our son grew into an independent young man who isn’t afraid of new experiences. He typically solves problems independently because that is what he is used to. Parents who do everything for their children aren’t doing their kids any favors in the long run.

    I must have shared this with you before, but we used a reading program called Success for All in our school district for a time. The two main groups were called Roots and Wings.

    We rarely have thunderstorms in California. I remember staring out the window on stormy nights, fascinated by the power and beauty of lightning as a boy growing up in the Dakotas.

    • Jennie says:

      This philosophy runs deep with both of us. Just look at Ryan, and the children you taught who return as confident, independent young adults. I don’t think you told me about Success for All. They sure picked two great names for the group.

      You know the first thing I thought of in the Texas tragedy? That boy’s elementary school teachers. We both know when a child is troubled. No roots for sure. My heart is heavy.

      Watching lightening across the plains of the Dakotas at night must have been wonderful and very exciting!

  19. lesserpath says:

    “Remember, it’s all the little experiences, over and over again, that we build upon. It’s not the big things that make a difference”

    Absolutely profound. The most amazing thing is this applies to both kids and adults. Thank you for your post. I look forward to reading many more. Keep up the good work.

  20. TanGental says:

    Hear hear. I was fortunate to be able to afford to buy the children all sorts of gizmos but told them early I’d probably not but if what they craved was an experience then I’d do my best to make sure they could. Any trip a school was a must and when they wanted to travel I did my best to help. Wave them off at Hesthrow, hold my breath for three months and pick them up. By 21 my daughter had visited over 40 countries some alone some with friends. I think it’s made them the people they are.

  21. beetleypete says:

    There ought to be a new educational philosophy name after you. I am going to start things off. ‘Jennieology’, or ‘Jennieism’. You choose your favourite. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  22. It’s amazing how we remember different things about our childhood. I remember sitting on the roof of the garden shed making people and other things from shells.

    • Jennie says:

      Our childhood memories are strong. Yours is so interesting and vivid. I can picture you on the roof making pictures with shells. Thank you, Robbie.

  23. A beautiful post, Jennie. We don’t have thunderstorms out here (or at least rarely) and I miss the excitement. Finding that balance of providing our kids with safety and freedom is a delicate one. I grew up without a hovering parent, and I know that it prepared me well for today’s adventures. I was a bit more of a worry-wart over my daughter, but she’s pretty adventurous, so I think I did okay. Enjoy your storms!

  24. dgkaye says:

    Beautiful post and memories Jennie. I think we have the same weather. Yes. the heat came early this year! ❤

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  26. bosssybabe says:

    Parenting is harder than I ever thought it would be.. it’s such a fine balance of keeping your child safe but also in order to teach them howww to be safe, you need to let go a little bit here and then a bit more there… It’s a juggle but one that I will not give up on or sacrifice as I want Charlotte to grow up to be brave, strong and resilient! Roots & wings!!

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, it is so hard, but you are a shining example of what parents need to do. And you do it so well. It was really hard for me to ‘let go’, especially when no other parents around did that. Charlotte will reap the rewards. I know, because my children did, too. Roots and Wings!

  27. Well said, and i love it
    Roots and wings

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  29. This shows really who you are ,and its great, Jennie! Thanks, for sharing these experiences, and what parents maybe should keep in mind. Best wishes, Michael

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Michael. Yes, it really shows who I am. If I share these experiences with parents, I hope it helps. They know I was a parent, just like them.

  30. Ren says:

    Wonderful post. Thank you!! Reminds me of when we would sit on the front porch with our parents in Michigan as we watched tornadoes go by.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Ren. Michigan. One of my favorite books I read to children is “Thunder Cake”, by Patricia Polacco. You know I am picky about good books, and this is one of the best. It’s about being on her grandmother’s farm in Michigan when a thunderstorm rolls in. After reading the book, I can imagine you sitting on the porch and watching tornadoes go by.

  31. Thotaramani says:

    TQ dear for uploading valuable information 👍🏻👌.

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