My infant son plays with his feet with confidence. He received a toy set from a dear friend that allows him to use his feet to play with a toy piano. When we initially introduced him to the toy at around 1 month of age, he would just sit there and not interact with it. Granted he was still making sense of his world after only just leaving a dark womb 30 days ago and so his interactions with everything were very minimal. But recently and now at 3 months of age, I introduced the toy set to him again and he was in love. His eyes lit up to all the colors of the toy piano. He became determined to master the toy and boy did his determination pay off. It helped him learn to play with his feet, and he played over and over again, playing tunes on the toy piano. Truly, how he make sense of his world fascinates me, especially how he learns, and how he adjusts to life playing with his feet. And he is playing away.

My first undergraduate research job at Penn State University was for the Family Life Project, a longitudinal study of the biological, individual, family and community influences that affect rural children. As an undergraduate researcher, I was trained to code how children interacted with the toys they were presented with. Specifically, I coded an interaction whereby a child was presented with a jigsaw puzzle and watched for certain cues like; did the child reach for the toy immediately or did the child simply stare at it? Did a parent assist the child with the toy in anyway he or she chooses? The idea behind these coding was that how children interacted with a variety of developmental competencies even with something as simple as toys may lead to later success or failures not just throughout childhood but also in adolescence and adulthood. So early acquisition of skills necessary for interaction or play are in turn important for interaction with peers as well as adjustments to tasks in schools.

This study as well as my overall background in human development and family studies thanks to my undergraduate years at Penn State, is one of the key reasons why I remain fascinated with how children make sense of their world. Research from the Family Life Project would suggest that my son’s interaction (albeit one small data point) with toys are necessary for self-regulation. I say that it’s is simply delightful to watch his determination with play especially his vigorous playing with his feet. Keep playing in life or with your feet as the willpower to learn, to make sense of your world, is in you.

We learnt about the letter ‘I,’ my son and I this past week. It was the perfect letter for a son who adores ice-cream. He also got the perfect math assignment to count with his favorite thing, ice cream cones. Homeschooling has been grueling the past few weeks and we finally did our first set of parent teacher conference this past Thursday and Friday. As I reflected with each teacher, as I listened to their assessment about this experience with learning, as I looked back on my children’s achievements this past quarter, as I even argued with one about a letter grade in art (I had to bring out the researcher in me for this one) I can’t help but smile. Their resilience, their courage, their determination, their perseverance, and even their ease with making learning work in the middle of an ongoing pandemic has been mesmerizing.

Homeschooling for all its difficulties and it is extremely difficult to homeschool 3 children while also nursing a baby and maintaining your own work-still, all of it is worth it. I have learnt so much from my children this past few months and I have slowed down a lot. Homeschooling forced me to focus on what really matters. Of course I love my job, but I love my family more. Of course, I want to make an impact in the world, implementing sustainable solutions that will improve people’s health in limited resources settings, but my family makes this passion truly worth it. Because if I can succeed with homeschooling, if I can make sense of the rugged difficulties at times like with homeschooling a child who has 1-5minutes attention span on Zoom, or the rugged ease at other times like with learning the letter ‘I’ with a three year old who adores ice-cream, then I can continue to refine my ideas about the rugged complexities associated with implementing sustainable health solutions. It’s all rugged in a way, homeschooling, global health and yes I love the word ‘rugged.’ But the ease of it all when it makes sense is sublime and truly worth fighting for.

Our letter ‘I’ assignment

As maternity leave slowly comes to an end, in the middle of a pandemic that shows no sign of abating, I will keep the rugged ease of learning with my children that homeschooling has taught me this year. It’s my mood for now, this ‘rugged ease’ with life and homeschooling three young children. I hope to continue to reflect on why as our experience with learning continues.

I grew up in Nigeria watching a series on TV called ‘Tales by Moonlight.’ In the series, an aunty, gathered children around and told them traditional folktales or stories that inculcate societies values into children. She began by stating these words that made a deep impression on my mind: ‘Story, story.’ The children replied: ‘Story.’ Then she stated; “Once upon a time.’ To which the children replied ‘Time, Time.’ Then the story began. The stories were mostly about societal norms, respect for authority, unity with siblings, and morals heavily laden with lessons on how to live, how to act, when to speak, or when to talk and what was expected from every child even in childhood. The stories were inseparable from every aspect of life in Nigeria and used to tell children what to do and how to do it.

In turn, the show became an exemplar on how to transmit and continue values that make society and family systems whole. An exemplar on how values of a society enhance unity, group solidarity and cooperative effort rather than individualism, how values foster understanding between generations, how values teach the proper role of everyone in a society, and how values vividly imagined in our minds, in informal, serene and unruffled ways, highlight the essential conflicts between what is right and what is wrong in any given society. Tales by moonlight with its stories full of lessons for life, was valuable to me.

As a mother now to four little children, I am always in search of materials that teach life lessons in informal, serene ways, especially through stories that allow my children to vividly imagine for themselves, the things that are of value in any given society. In fact, some nights we end the day in the same way aunty began her stories on Tales by Moonlight, ‘Story, Story.’ In the absence of the show Tales by Moonlight, book helps my children imagine and gain practical lessons in values of our society. Enter the book, ‘Anansi the Spider.’

The book Anansi The spider.

As part of our weekly reading series for homeschooling, we read Anansi the Spider to my junior kindergarten. His sister made a spider for her class work last Friday and so today’s reading was a perfect fit.

Anansi the Spider is a tale from the Ashanti People of Ghana adapted and illustrated by Gerald McDermott. It was a 1973 Caldecott Honor book for its vibrant, stylized realization of this classic and timeless folklore from the Ashanti people.

In this colorful retelling, we are introduced to Anansi’s sons: See Trouble, Road Builder, River Drinker, Game Skinner, Stone Thrower and Cushion. When Anansi got lost and fell into trouble, all his sons used their special skills to save him. When he wanted to reward the sons for saving him, he discovers an important lesson. Each son, from See Trouble who knew when he was in danger to Cushion who helped when he fell from the sky, is equally important. None of the sons are more valuable than the other. In other words, everyone one is valuable and has a role to play in this life.

Stories like Anansi play a role in fostering values of everyday life that matter. They impressed the traditions and values of my heritage deep into my consciousness. The essential goals of folktales like Anansi are admirable and remains sterling. We should all do our part to keep reading these folktales to children.

My son Olisadubem.

There is a shirt my little boy wears all the time. It simply reads ‘radiate kindness.’ That’s all. The 2 words on the shirt are more than information. Radiate kindness should be a way of life. The way people live, the stories they tell, even how we rise or fall, speak up or remain silent, should embody kindness.

There is a strong tendency to demand it from certain folks and not others. We expect those lesser than us to radiate kindness but not us. We get infuriated, demand kindness, forgetting it a force that radiates from our being. But the point is to be kind. Live it, pass it on. It will come back to you.

Every time my son wears the shirt, I become alert. I can’t be a parent if my being isn’t filled with kindness. Every time my children cry for the most mundane thing, I have to be kind. Like yesterday when my son cried because the Planetarium was closed thanks to the pandemic. Crying is an understatement. He knew the Planetarium was closed. We had passed by it numerous times and each time he asked about it, I reminded him that it was closed due to the pandemic. Yesterday was the climax. He was outraged. He screamed, he shouted. He cried, he grieved and no words could console him. Kindness was all I had. So I let it radiate from me to him. I allowed him to cry as we are all tired of the pandemic. I would cry too if I was a child as it has robbed them of their childhood this year. We all have the power to be kind. There are no winners or losers when we absorb it and pass it on. It is the right thing to do. Keep radiating kindness.

I love Toni Morrison. One of my greatest regrets for my life is that we never met. We never had a face to face chat about her brilliant, most sterling mind. We die, that may be the meaning of life, she once eloquently said, but we do language, that may be the measure of our lives, is probably the most poignant thing I have read. It is also my life’s quote. No one personifies this quote better than Ms. Morrison and boy did she do language during her life on earth.

For the past year since her death, I have been devouring any and everything Ms. Morrison has every written. Not her fictional literature that many of us love, whether it’s Beloved or Sula or the first book of hers I ever read, The Bluest eyes. No, her fiction was sterling, awe inspiring and downright brilliant. No, I haven’t been reading her fictional books. I have instead been reading everything non- fictional that this brilliant woman ever wrote. She wrote so many and my go to bible now, her last, ‘The source of self-regard’ is quite simply divine.

But the latest in my possession, a very short acceptance speech she delivered in 1996, on the acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, is by far one of the most brilliant essays I have ever read. This particular essay is a masterclass on brevity as well as the passion, pleasures, difficulties and necessities of the reading/writing life. It is the inspiration for this blog.

Toni Morrison’s The Dancing Mind.

In the essay, Ms Morrison speaks about peace, not just peace as a result of war, but the peace that comes with engaging with other’s mind when reading/writing. She described this as the dancing of the mind and asked all of us to become vigilant about preserving this peace from the peril it faces.

The real life work of creating and producing and distributing knowledge…the ability for the entitled as well as the dispossessed to experience one’s own mind dancing with another, in essence the real life work of the book world is a serious feat that warrants vigilance.’

When writing and writers manage to touch another’s mind through reading, the intimate, sustained surrender that is felt, without fear or interference, this dance of an open mind, fosters a particular kind of peace that requires vigilance. Securing that peace, the peace of a dancing mind, is our work. ‘There isn’t anybody else’ said Ms Morrison and I totally agree. She may be gone, but her words, are my source of inspiration. I hope to use this blog to help you experience your own mind dancing with my own. Securing this peace, the peace of the dancing mind, is now my life’s work. Rest In Peace Ms. Morrison. The dance continues…

I hate Zoom, especially for children. I hate that it’s the new way to teach. I hate that this pandemic has forced all of us to incorporate it into our daily routine. I hate Zoom especially for my children’s learning. It’s sounds contentious, I know, and hostile, I know, and defensive, I know and old-fashioned. I know that. But I am the parent that prefers learning the old-fashioned way. Not from tablets or online, but from books and outdoor exploration, like with butterflies perched quietly on a grass or books that make the mind dance.

I am not suggesting that Zoom does not have its benefit but I hate how it’s forcing my children to sit still and learn via a screen rather than from one on one interaction with their peers and teachers. Teaching my children is not something I take likely, it is the essence of their life and the tools I must use to do so must make sense to them. Zoom doesn’t. I can’t say no to tablets and somehow allow Zoom. No to TV or all sorts of distractions online, but then transport them to a Zoom utopia. Rational tools for homeschooling with our children during a pandemic are a necessity these days and it’s only September. Parents like myself eager to construct meaningful learning in the face of our country chaotic response to the pandemic must be nurtured, protected. And it’s our right to hate Zoom.

It’s vital therefore to know the consequences of the Zoomification of learning. The erasure of face to face learning, whether in math or social studies, recess altered or denied for fear of succumbing to a virus, canceled soccer games, unstaged children’s play, the peeling away of normalcy even for children, the thought of this pandemic never ending is frustrating. I hate Zoom, but I hate the pandemic even more.