Feature: Who Needs Cursive, Anyway?

As we write less and tap more, the results are not necessarily what we expect.
By Kim J. Gifford

The name “John Hancock” and his distinctly large script on The Declaration of Independence have become synonymous with the word “signature.” But, according to some educators who are proponents of cursive writing, if Hancock were a child growing up today, he might not be able to write his own name in cursive — let alone read it.

Indeed, the dominance of technology in schools has led to a decline in cursive writing. But is it truly a dying art? Conversations with educators around the Upper Valley suggest that cursive handwriting is far from doomed; in fact, most schools teach cursive handwriting through the 5th grade.

The Teachers’ View

“We are teaching it,” says Bill Hammond, principal of the Marion Cross School in Norwich, Vt. “It is not as prominent a subject as it used to be, but we are still teaching it…. It is not just about being able to write in cursive, it’s about connecting letters and recognizing connections between letters — using these letters to get a sense of words.”

Even in 6th grade, students at Marion Cross School are required to keep handwritten journals, says Hammond. “I think part of the compromise is we don’t teach cursive handwriting in as much detail as we did 30 years ago.”

Jonathan Fenton, a 5th grade teacher, believes that the death sentence pronounced on cursive writing comes, in part, from the fact that a majority of people “have just assumed — without much pause, reflection or quality research — that it’s an obsolete skill.”

Lisa Floyd, an 8th grade English teacher in Randolph, Vt., and vice chair of the Bethel School Board, explains that schools today have 6½ hours “to teach everything from adaptability [and] respect for yourself and others as well as math, science, music, English, world languages and art.” It’s no wonder cursive isn’t taught anymore!

Floyd acknowledges that students “will spend dramatically more time typing than they will writing,” but still sees a benefit in teaching cursive writing — primarily for the ability to decode handwritten letters and read historical documents. Unfortunately, she notes, a growing number of students cannot read her handwriting when she provides feedback in cursive.

Does It Really Matter?

Why all the fuss when kids today have access to all sorts of writing implements from tablets to laptop computers? Martha Langill, principal at Lebanon Middle School in Lebanon, N.H., advocates for cursive because “it is a more efficient way of writing.”

Others, like Andra Mills, a professionally certified educational and dyslexia therapist, believe that in addition to keyboarding, it is imperative to teach students to write in cursive for a myriad of reasons.

MRI studies reveal that the act of cursive handwriting “actually activates massive areas in the brain involved in thinking, word rendering and language. Cursive handwriting has been proven to help students who have difficulty reading and spelling because, when you write in cursive, an entire word becomes a unit and the letters are not separate entities,” says Mills.

Fenton believes that recent MRI research may have instituted “a budding awareness and appreciation” for handwriting. He cites his daughter’s high school English and humanities teachers, who are now requiring handwriting annotations and the use of handwritten Post-It™ notes in response to this research. On his part, Fenton has his 5th graders compose poetry by hand and uses spelling and vocabulary tests and instruction as an opportunity to practice cursive while anything longer, like essays, are done on the computer.

Mary Fettig, educational support coordinator at Upper Valley Waldorf School in Quechee, Vt., feels handwriting “is one aspect of how we integrate movement and thinking. Learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development as it activates both sides of the brain and strengthens hand-eye coordination.”

Losing Grip

Mary Blake, an occupational therapist, wholeheartedly agrees. She feels that a lot of children today lack the foundation skills that kids had 20 years ago, “such as picking up a pencil and knowing where to put their fingers.”

Blake feels that handwriting uses muscles in the hands in the way they were intended, allowing each finger to touch the tip of the thumb and utilize tools such as a pencil, scissors, knife, and fork. She has visited less technologically advanced countries and noticed that children there are better able to pick up and hold pencils in a way that American children cannot.

In fact, Derek Tremblay, headmaster at Mount Royal Academy in Sunapee, N.H., notes one of the differences between his established students and new kids coming from other schools is the strength of their grip.

Scribe Anxiety

As they progress through school, the requirement to write in cursive can produce anxiety for some students. Harvie Porter, a SAT supervisor at Randolph Union High School, in Randolph, Vt., notes that, historically, students were instructed to write the certification statement on the SAT in cursive. In recent years, this caused anxiety for test takers who could not write in cursive. And now, the College Boards no longer require students to write this statement in cursive.

At the same time, administrators at many post-secondary institutions find it challenging to read the handwriting of recent high school graduates. Office staff members at a local technical college bemoan the poor legibility of students’ signatures. An administrator at a local private elementary school complains about the ability to decipher the signatures of college interns.

Take It Home

Writing tutor Jane Friedlander of Thetford Center, Vt., says there is an alternative to incorporating cursive into teachers’ busy workload: setting aside small amounts of time at home for children to practice cursive.

Some parents even seek outside instruction for their children. Area teacher and artist Maryann Davis confirms that she was been hired by one parent to teach cursive to her son as an art form. “She came to me concerned because she saw the research that validates that cursive writing should be taught,” Davis says.

Upper Valley homeschool mom Meg Pillsbury demonstrates how attitudes toward cursive have changed over the years. Pillsbury, who has taught all seven of her children at home, admits to “diligently” teaching her first four children to write in script. By the fifth, she was “less diligent.” The last one now writes in script for three minutes a day.”

Self-Expression Is the Bottom Line

Blake cautions that there is a need to step away from the computer in order to gain perspective. Tremblay agrees, “Our culture right now is all about expression — even if it means adversely affecting someone else.” In his opinion, cursive allows students to slow down and think before saying something that might be hurtful. He adds that early exposure to technology at home might suggest that children do not need immediate computer instruction at school. “My 2-year-old boy can navigate an Amazon Kindle just fine,” he says.

Yet, keyboarding is obviously also essential. Eloise Ginty, principal of Mount Lebanon School in West Lebanon, argues, “I don’t think cursive is the end all in terms of developing fine motor control. There are all kinds of other ways we can get kids involved with that, and I would hope this would happen before 3rd and 5th grade — which is when cursive kicks in.”

Ginty feels that technology offers children new forms of expression. “Kindergarteners can now get thoughts out on paper with dictation or drawings or by creating digitally, which I really believe is the definition of writing, getting their thoughts on paper,” she says.

Kim J. Gifford is a writer, photographer/artist, avid dog lover and blogger. Her Bethel, Vt., home is always filled with nieces and nephews and her three pugs: Alfie, Waffles and Amore. Find her at pugsandpics.com

Spring 2017

Wellness: Lice – A Real Head Scratcher

Lice do not reflect lack of cleanliness or hygiene -- they are as happy to live on a sparkly clean scalp as one that hasn't bathed for a week.What should you do if your child comes home with this uninvited guest?
By Julie Davis, M.D.

After a summer of sleepovers, overnight camps and days at the beach, September brings not only the start of school but also — sometimes — the ever dreaded lice outbreaks. If you see evidence of lice on your child, don’t panic! There are good treatments for lice.

Lice are small mites that live on the scalp and cause itching as the child develops sensitivity to them. They lay their eggs (nits) on the hair shafts. Most commonly, they spread from person to person by close contact of heads, sharing hats, hair brushes or hair ties.

Got Lice?

If you suspect that your children have lice because they are scratching their heads or have had contact with others with lice, take a close look at their scalps. Lice are a whitish-grey sesame-seed sized mite that is usually found on the scalp or hair close to the scalp, often behind the ears or at the base of the back of the head. Nits look like little white pieces of sand or sugar but are well attached to the hair and don’t just flake off.

Start at the Top

First, wash the hair with an over-the-counter shampoo that contains permethrin and/or pyrethrins, commonly available as Rid or Nix. When you purchase the shampoo, get a good nit comb, too, ideally metal. Scrub the hair and scalp for 15 minutes or as directed. Remember, lice live on the scalp, so every inch of it must be scrubbed to be well-treated. Because these products may cause skin irritation, rinse the hair in a sink to minimize contact with skin.

A Labor of Love

After rinsing out the shampoo, comb every single strand of hair at least a few times, wiping the nits off on a tissue in between each stroke. A good cream rinse/conditioner will allow the comb to pass easily. It works best to comb one small section of scalp at a time, like when getting a haircut. There are nit cream rinses that help loosen the nits on the hair, but vinegar also works well.

One Day at a Time

Comb again daily for at least 3 or 4 days until there are no nits on the comb and there are no nits or lice seen on the scalp. If you find any live lice, treat with the shampoo again. This process is a labor of love. It could take an hour or more if you are doing it thoroughly, especially if your child has long or thick hair.

Look Around

Consider treating anyone who shares a bed with your child. For other family members, it is okay to just carefully look at their scalps and treat only if lice or nits show up. Wash sheets, towels and clothes in the hottest water possible to kill the lice. Place items that cannot be machine washed in hot water — things like blankets, stuffed animals and headphones — in sealed plastic bags for three weeks. This should kill any nits and lice on these objects. Vacuum floors and furniture where possible to remove lice; permethrin sprays in the house are not necessary.

When to Call the Doctor

Most cases of lice will be cured with this regimen. Occasionally lice are resistant to permethrin shampoos but most of the treatment failures are from not getting all the nits out. If you keep combing out live lice several days after what seems like adequate treatment, call your doctor as there are other prescription lice treatments available.

If you experience this parenting rite of passage, keep in mind that lice do not reflect lack of cleanliness or hygiene — they are as happy to live on a sparkly clean scalp as one that hasn’t bathed for a week.

Lousy Myths
  • Shaving the head has not been shown to get rid of lice; it just makes treatment easier.
  • Children with lice do not need to stay home from school.
  • Oily household products like Vaseline, butter and olive oil have not been shown to suffocate lice.
  • Do not use flammable products like gasoline or kerosene as they are dangerous and not effective.
An Ounce of Prevention
  • Encourage your child not to share hats, helmets, brushes, barrettes, hair bands, or headphones with other kids, especially during known lice outbreaks.
  • Keep long hair tied back or braided to help prevent hair-to-hair contact.

Julie Davis, M.D., is a family physician at White River Family Practice in White River Junction, Vt. She lives in Lyme, N.H., where she enjoys playing outside with her husband and two kids.

Local: Where to See Trains

Playgrounds, museums and festivals offer a variety of options for locomotive lovers.
Caboose in Andover, N.H.

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

There’s lots of things for kids to like about trains. They have wheels. They move. They have sound. They are powerful. They are fascinating to watch. If kids are able to sit on a train, there’s much more to like: hidden compartments and big windows. They can climb, explore, imagine and travel. Perhaps, for children on the autism spectrum, there’s comfort in order: a line of trains, one after another, all in a row.

Add in mechanics (wheels, tracks, pistons, axles) and engineering (steam, coal, diesel, bullet) and history (models, types, uses), and you’ve got an educational activity the whole family can enjoy. Here are a few places to see trains in New Hampshire and Vermont.


On Route 103, near the information booth, there’s the Bell Cove Historic Caboose Museum. Even if it isn’t open, kids can climb all over the refurbished B&M train car and peek in the windows.

If one train isn’t enough, head on down to the Velie Memorial Playground located next to the Newbury Public Library (also on Route 103). The playground equipment, designed to reflect the lakes and mountains of Newbury, includes a plastic train.

>> newburynh.org


Driving on Route 11 from Andover to Tilton, you will pass a train station on the right. The historic freight station, built in the late 1800s, has been restored into a function hall. Beyond the building, there are two rows of antique rail cars and cabooses. You can’t climb on them, but they are fun to look at.

The trains mark a section of the Winnipesaukee River Trail, which winds its way through Franklin, Tilton and Northfield. If you continue on the trail, you will see mill ruins, remaining portions of dams, an old railroad trestle and the Sulphite Railroad Bridge (an upside down railroad bridge on the National Register of Historic Sites).

>> merrimackvalleyrailroadstation.com

>> winnirivertrail.org


At one time, Andover was home to five train stations serving local passengers and tourists as well as carrying goods from local businesses. The Andover Historical Society has preserved one of those five: the Potter Place Railroad Station. There’s a stationmaster’s office and a red Northern Railroad Caboose. Down the road a bit, you’ll see a freight shed, given to the society in 2003 by the R.P. Johnson family, and a blue B&M freight car that was moved to the site in 2008. On days when the society is open (Saturdays and Sundays, mid-May to mid-October) or during special events, children can go inside the red caboose to see what travel was like “back in the day.”

>> andoverhistory.org


Want to see working trains? Head to the Amtrak station in White River Junction. You can check the online schedule to find out when a train will be pulling into the station, and park nearby so kids can see the flashing train signs, hear the wheels clacking on the ties, and wave to the passengers. Green Mountain Railroad offers a few special events like Kids Day with train rides and the Glory Days Festival provides hourly excursions up and down the Connecticut River.

>> amtrak.com/train-schedules-timetables

>> rails-vt.com

>> vtglorydaysfestival.com

Laura Jean Whitcomb lives in Grantham, N.H., with her husband and two children.

Why Do Kids Love Dinosaurs?

And why it’s okay to be an adult who still loves them.

By Marcos Stafne

From Sept. 24, 2016, to Jan. 1, 2017, the Montshire Museum of Science is hosting Dinosaur Revolution, a unique experience that merges two awesome things: dinosaurs and mazes! This visiting exhibition gets kids to explore new dinosaur discoveries, experience dinosaur movement through full-body activities and imagine themselves as paleontologists.

I love dinosaurs. Always have. Always will. I flirted once with being a paleontologist (a scientist who studies dinosaurs), but an internship at a dinosaur lab in Arizona taught me that I was much better at appreciating and talking about dinosaurs than performing technical research on dinosaur footprints.

My enthusiasm for dinosaurs started with the smallest type of dinosaur that currently exists: dinosaur erasers. Each time I visited my local museum with my dad, he would purchase one small dinosaur eraser for me as a memento of our trip. This collection grew into my own veritable Jurassic Park, complete with reference books that I pored over for countless hours. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite quench my thirst for dino-knowledge.

So what was it about dinosaurs that make kids so passionate about prehistory? I asked a few other adults who know a thing or two about ancient life why they thought dinosaurs + kids = a perfect match.

Dustin Growick, team lead for science at Museum Hack and known to the world as @DinosaurWhisperer on Instagram, finds creative ways to imagine what would happen if dinosaurs were still living today:

“Dinosaurs are the stuff of which dreams are made,” says Growick. “They’re huge, incredibly crazy looking, and new ones are discovered all the time. They inspire awe. Any child who is curious and observant can dream up their own ideas about what these extinct creatures looked like and how they may have acted. In this sense, this child is ‘doing’ science.”

A paleoanthropologist and associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, Jeremy DeSilva spends a lot of time thinking about ancient human ancestors and apes, but is no stranger to the wonder of dinosaurs — especially through the eyes of his children. “I think kids take their love of dinosaurs to a new level when they have this realization that dinosaurs are different from some of the other magical creatures they may have met in books and movies during childhood. Dinosaurs actually existed,” he says. “Science often gives us a world even more spectacular and amazing than our imagination can ever create.”

So, how can you keep up with your budding young scientist when exploring dinosaurs in a museum? As Growick notes, “Kids know WAY more about dinosaurs than their parents. How often are 6 year olds the ultimate experts on something?!”

DeSilva offers a few key questions that we can think about together with our kids. “Because we only have their bones, kids feel welcome and empowered to wonder what dinosaurs looked like and how they behaved when they were alive. Some great questions to ask are:

What color were they? How did they interact with one another? What did they eat? How did they move? Did they take care of their babies? Some of these questions we have decent answers to, but others we don’t and kids may feel like they can contribute to our understanding of dinosaurs as much as anyone else and imagine what they were like.”

And what about the “E” word: extinction?

“Extinction can be upsetting, but it is an important topic to discuss with children given the impact that humans are having on the Earth,” says DeSilva. “But, it is not all doom and gloom. As my daughter said to me the other day after I said the dinosaurs were extinct: ‘Dad, dinosaurs didn’t completely go extinct. Some of them had feathers and they changed into birds!’”

Experience your own Dinosaur Revolution this fall at the Montshire Museum to learn more about dinosaurs — and just try to keep up with your 6 year old! And remember, it’s okay to keep loving dinosaurs, no matter your age.

Marcos Stafne, Ph.D., is the executive director for the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt. His three favorite dinosaurs are Deinonychus, Triceratops and Stegosaurus.

Platinum ½ Pint Puzzles are learning toys, but the kids will never know!

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

Science abounds on the benefits of puzzles: enhanced visual perception, improved coordination, better memory and heightened creativity. There’s left brain (logic) and right brain (creative) powers at work when you try to put together a puzzle. Puzzles are even a learning toy, encouraging children to follow simple steps to (successfully) solve problems.

But kids don’t care about any of that research. They just know that puzzles are fun. Parents and grandparents, on the other hand, like to know that they are giving more than a toy; they are helping a child’s brain grow and develop. “When you give a puzzle to a child you are giving more than a fun toy,” says Dee Rogers, co-founder of Platinum Puzzles in Canaan, N.H. “You are fostering skills that children will use all their life.”

For all ages

Dee and her husband Steve have been making custom wooden jigsaw puzzles for more than 20 years, and founded their company, Platinum Puzzles, in 2006. They started with adult puzzles, ranging from nostalgia to fantasy, limited edition to really tricky, and worldwide to local artists. A few years ago, they designed and made their first children’s puzzle. “We were hooked,” says Dee, and Platinum ½ Pint Puzzles was born.

“Steve and I both came from large families; Steve has five brothers and sisters, and I had seven. We found growing up in large families taught us skills, like how to compromise, share, and problem solve so there was harmony,” says Dee. “By the time our youngest was 11, I was working at Stave Puzzles, and there were always puzzles on our dining room table waiting to have just one more piece placed in. You learn a lot about an 11-year-old boy while sitting across from him working a wooden jigsaw puzzle!”

As the Rogers attended craft fairs and art shows, they made sure their puzzles were available for play. “When children play with our puzzles, we watch closely,” says Dee. “Very young children are just having fun, the image on the puzzle makes them happy, but school age children are on a mission. Their total focus is on the task before them and they block out the rest of the world as they strategize their moves.” This market research helps the Rogers develop ideas, such as adding a deliberate clue (a shape or solid color) to help a child solve a tricky area.

With a twist

Dee and Steve make two types of puzzles: an art image cut up and ready to be put back together, and puzzles they design to have a twist. “You get to pick how many pieces are in your puzzle — no one knows your child better than you and how many pieces they can confidently work,” says Dee. “You also get to pick whether or not to have the image in the bottom of the tray (great for young tots) or no image in the tray (great for 3 and 4 year olds) or no tray at all (great for 4 and up).”

Because all the puzzle pieces are hand cut, Dee and Steve are apt to add a bit of whimsy. A puzzle piece may be shaped as an animal (a butterfly, cat or deer), or it may be an umbrella (their logo). Not only do they help a child solve the puzzle, the shapes are fun to find.

The puzzle images come from artists all over the world, and the Rogers also design puzzles as well. “We have touch and feel puzzles with textured material,” says Dee. “Some puzzle pieces are shaped as an animal that can stand up and be played with on its own. Our ‘Mommy’ puzzles are layered puzzles, three layers, containing a mommy, an egg and a baby. To be able to develop and create wooden puzzles for small hands is so rewarding for a designer.”

Safe and nontoxic

No worries when your toddler picks up a puzzle piece and starts chewing. When it comes to safety, Platinum ½ Pint Puzzles goes above and beyond. The Rogers start with birch plywood made with soy based glues and no added formaldehyde. They cut large, roundish pieces so no one gets poked and nothing gets swallowed. They sand edges and finish the back with handmade beeswax paste. “We always suggest adult supervision, but if one of our puzzle pieces ends up in the mouth of a child — and we know they will — we want to make sure nothing will hurt them,” says Dee.

With all the thought put into art, piece design and materials, the end result is a puzzle that will be passed down from generation to generation.

All children’s puzzles cost under $30. Learn more at platinumhalfpintpuzzles.platinumpuzzles.com

The Building of Beck

Kid Stuff is excited to announce our first GreatKids Award recipient: 16-year-old Beck Johnson! Beck was nominated by several people who have witnessed his outstanding achievements, first hand. Throughout his many accomplishments, the common denominator is one great kid who dreams big and works hard. He was nominated for a variety of reasons: personal talent, eco-awareness, family/peer support, mentorship and academic excellence.

Beck Johnson, GreatKids Award Winner – Fall 2016

By Leigh Ann Root

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. Beck Johnson dreams of ice cream and so much more. At the tender age of 9, visions of an ice cream scoop shop swirled in his head. This dream would materialize sooner than anyone could imagine, as Beck’s passion and determination fueled the transformation of the family’s old sheep barn into a homegrown success. Sanctuary Dairy Farm Ice Cream was born in 2009, and this would prove to be one of several triumphs for this talented young man.

As a 10th generation dairy farmer, Beck was destined to continue on in the family business. He led the charge in diversifying the family’s occupation. “Unlike most generational businesses, it was the youngest of the family, Beck, who had the vision,” says his mother Susan Deane Johnson. “He took the initiative to train the rest of the family, including his siblings, mother and grandmother. Beck’s secret recipes are passed up from mother to grandmother and those recipes support local farmers, like blueberries from Bartlett’s Farm and strawberries from Peachblow Farm.”

When asked where his drive comes from, Beck says, “I was told when I was younger to ‘learn with my hands’ because of some learning disabilities and that started it all.” Beck says his parents are hardworking people and this is where his work ethic comes from.


As the scoop shop’s success grew, so did the demand for more production. Beck’s response was to add their 1st batch machine, then a 2nd machine and next a commercial kitchen.

Beck’s focus soon turned to renewable energy. Mike Nangeroni of New England Solar Concepts says, “Beck purchased energy efficient equipment with the intent to preserve our natural resources, but he wanted to do more. He began researching ways to reduce the dependence on the energy resources that powered his growing ice cream business. Finally after many hours of research, Beck decided a solar PV system would be his best option.”

In the fall of 2011 he hired New England Solar Concepts and in March of 2012 the project was complete. The electricity runs the scoop shop, farm stand, commercial kitchen and the family home. “We all have a social responsibility to conserve energy, save natural resources and reduce waste,” says Beck.

Academic Endeavors

Beck’s ice cream education includes a Penn State University certificate for ice cream science, he is ServSafe Certified, and he graduated from the Ice Cream University. He traveled to Italy with his family in 2013, where he learned from the masters in the field. Another trip in 2014 to research ice cream production using local produce was made to the Galapagos Island. This has all happened as he attended Sunapee Middle High School.

Beck’s cap feathers include the Best of NH Ice Cream Producer in the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee Area in 2015 and 2016. In addition, he was nominated for a Business Excellence Award in 2015.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

A simple stop at Sanctuary Dairy Farm Ice Cream delivers deliciousness and an experience, too. You can fill your belly, climb a tree, go for a hike, or simply sit and enjoy the views. “I am impressed with his passion for wanting to succeed and the positive impact he is having on the community by creating a good environment for families to go and have a good time all while eating ice cream!” says Nangeroni. “It’s great that kids have the opportunity to see and feed farm animals, like goats, donkeys and puppies. They can play volleyball, Frisbee, soccer, dig in the sand, and climb in the play house. It’s a place to go and have some good old-fashioned fun!”

The heart and soul of this business is quality ingredients, a sustainable future and producing the highest quality ice cream with purees and pastes from scratch. This early aspiration continues to deliver the community frozen delights and more. The business is also the home of a year-round farm stand offering an array of locally made products; fresh eggs, pints and gallons of ice cream, meats, cheeses, veggies, fruits, fudge, jams, jellies, maple syrup, honey and beverages.

The Family’s View

“Beck has always been an outstanding individual, eager to help in any way that he can. He goes out of his way to be helpful and encouraging. He started out with an idea and built a business. In doing so, he has shown leadership, mentorship and what a lot of hard work does. Beck is a manager of his peers, which at a young age is very difficult. He shows by example and is not afraid of hard work,” says his grandmother Edwina Deane. “I have seen and worked beside him at fairs where he mans the ice cream cart for more than eight hours at a time, never complaining, showing by example what a great businessman can be.”

“My biggest accomplishment is having a successful business in economically depressed times and building it from the ground up. I work for goals and meet them. I pay for everything as I go along, debt-free,” he says. “I love the people and making people happy.”

Making people happy, is indeed what he has done. Well done, Beck Johnson!

Preschool Ambition: 1,000 Books before Kindergarten

New Hampshire early literacy program rewards families for reading to toddlers and preschoolers.

By Emma Wunsch

In I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, Dartmouth College alumnus Theodore Geisel — Dr. Seuss — tells us, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn the more places you’ll go.” And thanks to the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, New Hampshire residents need to go only as far as the local library to take advantage of this free early literacy program.

The program operates basically the same way everywhere — families record all books read to children under 5 — but each library is free to create incentives. Judith G. Russell, director at Converse Free Library in Lyme, N.H., and treasurer of Children’s Librarians of New Hampshire (CHILIS-NH), says the beauty of the program is how “straightforward and simple and easy it is to get families excited and involved with local libraries and with reading.”

The Fiske Free Library in Claremont, N.H., began its 1,000 Books program in January. Children’s Librarian Brenda Tripodes says the book program is “a little extra reason to come to the library.” For every 100 books read, participants earn a sticker; when they reach between 300 and 350 books, the prize is a book tote; and at the 500 and 800 count, free books are awarded. Upon reaching 1,000 books, the family receives a certificate of completion and signs their name on a special door dedicated to the program.

Within six weeks of the start of the Lebanon, N.H., Public Libraries’ 1,000 Books program in February, tote bags were flying out the door to the nearly 100 enrolled children. Retired First Grade Teacher, Story Time Leader and Substitute Librarian Francine Lozeau loves seeing how proud the children are coming into the library with their totes full of books. Lebanon libraries reward stickers for every 100 books and a free book and certificate upon completion of the program.

In Newport, four children have completed Richards Free Library’s 1,000 Book program. For the other 39 children currently working on their 1,000 books, the library has some unique incentives. In addition to getting stamped at every 100-book interval, participants write their name and decorate a paper star to display in the library. Moriah Churchill, who kicked off the program in August 2014, says they “make a big deal of putting the stars on our 1000 BB4K bulletin board.” Upon completion, participants receive a tote bag and two picture books. Churchill says one of the best parts of the program is how “absolutely simple this program can be. All that’s needed is a way for parents to record their books and a barrel full of enthusiasm about reading.”

While the thought of reading 1,000 books might be daunting, all the librarians interviewed insist it can be accomplished. And, rest assured, if your 3 year old insists on Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site five times a day, each reading counts! Audiobooks, story times and other readers count, too! If you read just one book a day, your 2 year old will finish his 1,000 books in just three years — right in time for kindergarten!

Emma Wunsch lives with her husband, two daughters and large dog in Lebanon. Her young adult novel The Movie Version was published in October, 2016.

Starry, Starry Night

 Shorter days of autumn provide more time for stargazing at observatories or with the naked eye.By Laurie D. Morrissey

If you like stargazing, you’re in the right place. The Upper Valley has little light pollution, making it one of the best places to observe the night sky. On a clear night, you usually have a good view of the heavens simply by looking up.

If you want to get a better look at the stars and planets — and learn more about the solar system we live in — head to an astronomical observatory or planetarium. With the benefit of powerful telescopes and your own guide through the cosmos, you can expect to see the moons of Jupiter, Saturn’s rings, star clusters and distant galaxies.

New Hampshire and Vermont have a wealth of resources for amateur astronomers. In addition to two public planetariums (Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vt., and McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, N.H.), there are several observatories and numerous astronomy clubs that welcome members and hold events such as public stargazing nights.

Local Luminary

Vermont has a special claim to astronomical fame: the Stellafane Observatory in Springfield. It is the home of the Springfield Telescope Makers, founded by polar explorer and astronomer Russell Porter in 1921. The clubhouse and observatory on Breezy Hill Road are designated as a National Historic Landmark and hundreds of amateur telescope makers and astronomers attend Stellafane’s annual convention every August.

Every September, Stellafane sets up solar telescopes on the grounds of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H., to co-host the park’s annual star party. In October, Stellafane hosts a Star Party on its home turf, drawing astronomers of all levels and backgrounds, including curious parents and kids. Amateur astronomers share their telescopes and their knowledge and visitors can climb a ladder to enter the reflecting telescope mounted on a rotating pedestal.

“It’s very cool,” says 12-year-old Felix Davis of Temple, N.H., who attends the party every year with his father and brothers. Austin Davis, 15, says, “It’s nice to learn about the different telescopes people make, and see the stars through them.” Nine-year-old Paul Davis says, “You think you’re looking at one star twinkling, but when you look through the telescope you see there are really thousands of them.”

To Paul Davis, their dad, the view through the powerful telescopes is “just jaw dropping” and he likes the star party camaraderie, “There are people there with every level of experience from utter ignorance to top innovators and everyone in between. Anyone will talk to you on whatever level you need.”

Satisfy Their Stellar Curiosity

Some of the most high-tech astronomical equipment in the area is at the Northern Skies Observatory in Peacham, Vt., where a 17-inch PlaneWave reflecting telescope is housed in an automated, rotating dome. The observatory offers daytime tours, star parties and other events.

At the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, presentations for visitors age 6 and older are offered daily in the Lyman Spitzer Jr. Planetarium. Guests may also get a firsthand look at a 17-pound meteorite that fell to Earth about 5,000 years ago.

New Hampshire’s McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center offers planetarium shows and children’s programs for kids as young as five. During the day, you can observe sunspots and other solar activity.

Many schools and colleges also have observatories, including Pomfret School, Middlebury College, Bennington College and Dartmouth College. Middlebury and Dartmouth have free public viewing nights and welcome families with children. The schedule is subject to change depending on the academic calendar, season and weather, so check their websites before planning a visit.

Reading books together is a great way to prepare kids and parents for a visit to an observatory. Classics include two by Curious George author H.A. Rey: The Stars and Find the Constellations. Although written in the 1950s, The Stars is updated to include the latest information, such as Pluto’s dwarf planet status. Another good choice is Michael Driscoll’s A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky: The Story of the Stars, Planets, and Constellations — and How You Can Find Them in the Sky.

Young astronomers and future astronauts can attend astronomy camp led by Brad Vietje of the Northern Skies Observatory each summer. Kids build and launch their own telescopes — and maybe, who knows — take the first steps to a lifelong interest or career.

If you cannot visit an observatory, one event to put on your calendar for low-tech, naked-eye sky watching is the Orionid meteor shower. Clear skies permitting, you may see up to 25 meteors per hour during the nights between Oct. 16 and 30. Maximum density of meteors will be on Oct. 21. Whether you are interested in the science of astronomy or simply the beauty of the night sky, it’s a great celestial (and free) show.

Laurie D. Morrissey’s starry skies are in Hopkinton, N.H., where she writes nonfiction articles and poetry.

Astronomy Clubs
Observatories and Planetariums

Feature: If the Shoe Fits

By Matt Golec

Melanie Michel of Norwich, Vt., misses The Shoetorium.

The venerable full-service shoe store in Lebanon, N.H., was where Michel used to take her two kids — Winston, 9, and Lily, 4 — to be fitted for shoes. But the Shoetorium closed last November after 45 years in the business, leaving parents like Michel searching for a footwear alternative.

There are other places to buy children’s shoes in the Upper Valley. But, as Michel found, “the customer service is not like the Shoetorium. The shoe fitting was like a science, and you always felt like they knew what they were doing.”

Many stores sell shoes, but not all of them ‘measure up’ in ensuring kids get a proper fit. Wearing the right shoes is important for healthy feet, experts agree, though parents can struggle to find the right fit. “I don’t have any background in sizing kids’ shoes, so I just kind of wing it and hope for the best,” says Michel.

Border Assistance

One place in the Upper Valley where parents don’t have to wing it is Stateline Sports in West Lebanon, N.H., which specializes in athletic footwear. There, customers can have their feet professionally measured, a practice that used to be commonplace. “In a lot of stores, there is a fend-for-yourself atmosphere,” says Stateline’s footwear buyer Dave Dupree. “Stores like the Shoetorium, stores like us, are becoming fewer and far between.”

Dupree recognizes that the vast majority of shoes are bought without assistance and, even at Stateline, customers are free to fit themselves and their kids. But a badly fit shoe can cause trouble.

Stumbling Blocks

Dupree says his store has seen “an awful lot” of kids with foot problems: shin pain or flat feet from shoes without enough support. Bruised heels from a lack of cushioning. Sprains and other injuries from inadequate traction.

Shoes that are too big can cause blisters. Shoes that are too small can cramp the toes and force the foot into unnatural positions, leading to muscle or tendon issues. Shoes bought online might not fit, as sizes vary from one brand to another, or even within a brand.

And not all shoes are created equal. Dupree calls out Asics, New Balance and Saucony as brands that make quality shoes for kids, with good support that mimics their adult counterparts.

“It’s a tricky thing,” Dupree says. “You just don’t know what you’re getting without the help.” But even with all the expertise in the world, fashion can sometimes trump function. “A lot of times with kids it comes down to color more than anything else.”

Changing Times

Mike Blickarz understands. The former Shoetorium manager spent 44 years getting to know kids as he fit them (and their parents) for shoes at the Lebanon shop before it closed in 2015.

Blickarz recognizes the draw of a cool-looking shoe that all the other kids are wearing, but he also remembers the classes he took from Stride Rite, a longtime player in children’s shoes.

“The number one thing they taught us is that you need to measure a child’s feet,” he says. Which is how most stores operated, back in the 1970s. “People’s feet got measured.” Blickarz now works part-time at Feetniks Footwear in West Lebanon.

Blickarz cites a number of possible reasons for why shoe stores have changed, including younger generations leaving family businesses, the rise of big box stores and online shopping.

“It’s a lost art,” Blickarz says of fitting shoes. Even when you find a good-fitting shoe, kids keep growing, and their shoe sizes become moving targets. From his experience, Blickarz estimates that kids change a half size every four months or so, but kids might grow faster or slower, depending on growth spurts.

Need for Speed

Gina Surgenor of Meriden, N.H., knows all about growth spurts. The mom of four athletic kids age 8 to 18 says her family goes through shoes “like mad.”

Surgenor took her kids to the Shoetorium when they were young to get their Stride Rites, though visits fell off as they grew older. “As a busy mom, I wasn’t always keeping up with that,” Surgenor says.

Sometimes she goes to chain stores for the speed and selection or for an inexpensive pair of shoes that won’t be worn much. Her older kids have begun buying shoes online for the sales.

Surgenor trusts Stateline Sports, especially when she has questions about fit, but she hasn’t found many other retailers that offer shoe expertise.

“That’s just the sense you get,” she says. “You’re on your own.”

Shoe Box

The Shoetorium may be gone, but here are some places to find kids’ shoes in the Upper Valley:

  • Farm-Way in Bradford, Vt., and Hubert’s Family Outfitters, in West Lebanon, N.H., have a nice selection of athletic shoes, sandals and boots.
  • Stateline Sports in West Lebanon, N.H., has sneakers and specialty athletic footwear, plus a well-trained staff.
  • Country Kids Clothing in West Lebanon, N.H., has sporty shoes for babies and toddlers.
  • Olympia Sports in West Lebanon, N.H., has a big selection of athletic shoes.
  • Feetniks Footwear in West Lebanon, N.H., offers fashionable shoes to fit older kids and teens.
How to Get a Good Fit
  • At a shoe store, ask if anyone there is knowledgeable about fitting children’s shoes. There’s a lot less training these days, but the store might have someone on staff that could help.
  • Make sure your child has on the socks he or she will wear with that shoe.
  • Measure both feet and fit for the larger one to give it the proper growth room. (“The smaller foot will kind of take care of itself,” Blickarz says).
  • Have the child stand up in the shoes. There should be 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of room between the toes and the front of the shoe.
  • For width, crease the material on top of the shoe between your thumb and finger. If you can pick up the shoe by that crease, it may be too wide for the foot.
  • Finally, have the child walk around the store. Make sure the laces or Velcro are properly tightened, and watch for heels flopping out or feet sliding around.

Matt Golec lives in Norwich, Vt., where he does some writing, game design and light child care. Matt, his wife and son have lived in the Upper Valley for 10 years, though it doesn’t feel nearly that long. For more, visit mattgolec.com

Ask the Expert: What to Do If Your Child “Hates” School

Promptly identify the cause and nip it in the bud
By Susan Cowan Morse

It is autumn in New England, where we enjoy the happy return of crisp morning air, the honks of departing geese, the landscape’s changing colors — and a new school year. For many, a new school year is exciting and marked with new clothes and school supplies and eager anticipation.

For some children (and their parents), school is not a relished endeavor. A young child cries and begs to stay home. Older children are grouchy, negative bears every school morning. The teenager is impossible to wake up and then just drags through the day. As a parent, it is incredibly painful to watch your child have such difficulty with an endeavor that defines an entire childhood and adolescence: school. For a parent who enjoyed school, it can be quite puzzling to understand why one’s child “hates” school.

An Early Struggle

A child’s passionate distaste for school usually begins early on. Many parents can recall an event or moment in childhood that marks the turning point from like to dislike. A struggle of some sort develops but goes unidentified and unaddressed — for months or even years. If not addressed as early as possible, it will get worse year by year. The source of the struggle lies in one of four areas: social challenges, learning disabilities, sensory issues or lack of meaningfulness.

Social Challenges

Positive relationships are crucial to school success. Learning is a social endeavor and occurs in the context of interactions. When a child is struggling and failing to make positive connections with peers and/or teachers, then school becomes a source of pain in that child’s life. Addressing these social difficulties is imperative. Schools often offer support through the guidance department in the form of direct teaching of social skills, buddy programs for young children and support groups for older students.

If you see that your child is not developing positive peer relations, contact your child’s teacher to discuss options within the school setting. Outside of school, consider your options as a parent for helping your child engage in positive peer relations through age-appropriate opportunities such as play dates, team building experiences or community involvement.

Learning Disabilities

Academic difficulties are often obvious early on in a child’s schooling. The difficulties lie in the primary areas of communication (reading and writing), computation (mathematics) and concentration (attention and focus). In some children, the difficulty is subtle and grows to be more debilitating as the years pass. In others, the struggle is obvious and draws the attention of a special education team. Diagnoses range from learning disabilities to AD/HD to dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and others.

If you suspect that your child is struggling with communication, calculation and/or concentration contact the school and request a team meeting and an evaluation. Then, if you think that the evaluation misses something, seek outside professional advice to delve deeper. Though it may cost money, it is worth every dime to arrest the issue before it grows out of control.

Sensory Issues

More than ever before, we see children with significant sensory issues. These are the students who find school a difficult place to be because of the sensory overload. Some children can be super sensitive to fluorescent lights, carpet and furnishings, perfumes and environmental contaminants common in offices and in old buildings. Schools are noisy, boisterous places filled with active children. This noise can be overwhelming to some. And many children are overwhelmed by being in and around so many other people all day. They are sponges for other people’s emotions and energy and find it exhausting to be in a school building with hundreds of people every day. The child who experiences sensory overload often leaves school at the end of the day feeling utterly exhausted or intensely wired, reporting a headache and/or stomachache, and may report ringing in their ears and other physical ailments.

These children need to have their sensory issues addressed in order to be able to tolerate the school environment. This may mean a perfume free classroom, quiet time in a cocoon swing, ambient lighting instead of overhead lighting, and/or strategic placement with teacher(s) who can help them buffer the impact of stronger personalities.

Lack of Meaning

The child who struggles to find meaningfulness in school is the least understood. Often, this is the student who has no apparent social, academic or sensory struggles. Parents and teachers often repeat phrases such as “He can do it but he just refuses to do the work,” and “She can memorize the lyrics to her favorite song but she chooses not to study for her tests.” Sound familiar? This can be common for a teenager in a rebellious phase. However, when it shows up in your third grader you know you have a long road ahead.

These children crave meaningfulness in their life’s activities. They are often quite bright and see little use for activities that do not challenge their intellect. These students will engage in assignments that show obvious benefit. They often place high value on their connection to the person in the teaching role. They can be extreme examples of children for whom learning happens only in the context of a positive relationship. These students will gladly work for a teacher whom they admire even when they see no use for the topic or activity at hand. The deep relationship with the teacher offers the meaningfulness that they need.

If your child fits this description, an effective strategy is to do your best to request input into teacher selection. Do your homework about the teachers in your child’s school and figure out the best matches. If your child attends in conventional school (public or private), look into other options (like Montessori or Waldorf) or consider homeschooling. Make sure your child has opportunities outside of school to pursue activities that he finds meaningful (hobbies, sports.) Help your child relate the work she is doing in school to her personal interests.

Strategies and Support

The child who “hates” school rarely grows out of it without support and help to identify the struggle. A child’s reason for hating school is often straightforward and can be dealt with promptly when appropriate strategies are pursued. It is important to remember that placing blame is not productive. A school may work well for many children and a teacher may be effective for lots of students. However, that does not mean the teacher is right for every student or the school the best setting for every child. Childhood is a crucial time of life and there are many options for education.

Susan Cowan Morse is an educational coach and consultant in Wilmot, N.H. She may be reached at susancmorse@gmail.com