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Reading resolutions

Growing up, New Year’s was never my favorite holiday. I don’t know if it was because school started again right after the holiday or because sleeping is one of my favorite activities and staying up late has never been fun for me, but I didn’t look forward to New Year celebrations. This year, though, my attitude toward New Year has started to change. For the first time, I appreciated the chance to reevaluate my life and make goals for the future. One of the most important of those goals is to read more.

 

Last week, EveryDay Learners posted a blog post at the United Way of Utah County site about the importance of setting reading goals and suggesting some simple reading resolutions that we can all make. This week, I want to suggest some ways to help us keep those resolutions (and keep reading!) throughout the year.

1.      Write down your resolutions where you can see them easily

One thing that helps me remember my resolutions is writing them on my mirror so I see them every morning. If your resolution is to read for ten minutes during breakfast each day, put a note on the cereal box or the refrigerator to remind you!

2.     Partner up with a friend and share your plan

Changing habits is always more fun to do with someone else. If your resolution is to read to your kids more often, find a friend to pair up with and take turns reading to both sets of kids. Then you only need to read to them every other day and they still get the benefits of reading daily! It’s a win-win!

3.      Have a reward

I don’t know about you, but I’m always more motivated by the thought of earning something. This year, why not reward yourself for keeping resolutions by buying a new book? Or by giving your kids an extra ten minutes of read-aloud time?

4.     Record your progress

It’s easier to keep going with resolutions when we keep track of how far we’ve already come. If your resolution is to start a reading group, write down the books that you want to read and then the ones that you end up reading together. Keep track of who hosts the event each time. At the end of the year, you’ll not only have a great record of books you’ve read, but you’ll also be able to remember the meetings you had with your friends!

5.      Make it a habit

It’s important to remember that keeping resolutions is challenging. Changing habits takes a lot of work. So don’t worry if you miss a few days of reading to your kids or one week’s trip to the library. Keep going and eventually you’ll have a whole new reading habit that can last a lifetime!

By making reading resolutions, we can help our community focus on education. This year, let’s all read together!

For more ideas of reading resolutions you can make, click here or here. And for some funny ways books can help you with all your other resolutions, check out this list from Barnes and Noble!  

Christmastime and A Christmas Carol

On Monday I attended a local one-man performance of Charles Dickens’ beloved story, A Christmas Carol. This story is one of my favorites to read during this time of year—and experiencing it along with other community members was a fantastic start to the week. I love this story. I love reading about Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from misanthropic miser to generous and good-hearted gentleman. Scrooge is the perfect example of how change is possible on a personal and on a community level.

One of the major themes of the novel is Scrooge’s reluctance to take action in his society. When he is confronted with the suffering of people in his city, he merely replies “Bah! Humbug!” and ignores the problem.  Even at Christmastime, a time “when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices," Scrooge refuses to act—even though he has more abundance than anyone else he knows. It is not until he is visited by four spirits that he begins to understand the wonderful opportunities he has been given and the desperate need that exists in his community.

It is during Scrooge’s time with the third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, when one of the most powerful scenes of the novel occurs. Together, Scrooge and the Ghost have visited people of all economic classes and seen how goodwill and kindness can be found among all people. The Spirit has spread warmth and hope at every place and to everyone, but is now preparing to leave Scrooge to the Ghost of Christmas Future. Before he leaves, he shows Scrooge two starving, miserable children that he cares for.

Horrified at the suffering he sees, Scrooge asks the Ghost who they are. The response? “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” Scrooge is shocked (as anyone would be on hearing such an explanation), and cries, “Have they no refuge or resource?” Instead of dismissing their suffering as nothing to do with him, Scrooge has finally discovered sympathy. I think that this scene is Scrooge’s turning point. He still doesn’t believe he can change, but he has discovered the desire to change.

If the novel ended at this scene, it would be terribly depressing. But fortunately, Scrooge learns that it is indeed possible to “sponge away the writing” of the future. It is possible to change the course of society and improve lives. It is possible to provide for Want and relieve Ignorance.  How? By recognizing the impact that one person can have.

Scrooge, as lonely and as mean as he was, changed. He impacted the lives of dozens of people in his city, including those of his own nephew and his employee. Because he changed, Tiny Tim survived. Because he changed, Scrooge made a difference.  “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”

Most of us aren’t exactly like Scrooge. We don’t horde money that we can never spend, we don’t reject friendship, and we don’t refuse to accept the warmth of human connection. But for all of us, there are opportunities to do good that we have neglected—often because we just don’t recognize them. The first step to changing our lives and our community is to recognize those opportunities and make use of them. After all, as Dickens said, “Any spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.”

This year, let’s recognize how much we can do, as individuals. Let’s make a difference in the lives of those around us. Let’s remember that our true business is the “common welfare” of humanity.  Let’s relieve Want and Ignorance by making reading a priority in our lives. By doing so, we will be changing the future for our community.

If you haven't read A Christmas Carol for awhile, check it out! You can find copies here. And if you have read it and don't want to leave Scrooge and co. quite yet, check out one of the fantastic film adaptations of the novel here.

Something small

Tutoring is something small that has great results

“It started with something small.” Last week, in our Daily Herald article, Jim Evans (former mayor of Orem, COO of Xactware, and member of United Way of Utah County’s Board of Directors) described the impact that something small can have on the community. Xactware is known for its community engagement, and great things are happening because its employees are getting involved. This year, Xactware started a new partnership with Traverse Mountain Elementary—a partnership that started with something small. “We discovered that Traverse Mountain Elementary School was having problems with the sound system they used in their school theater productions, and we were happy to help!”

From that small beginning, the relationship between the two organizations has grown. Volunteers from Xactware have helped at big community events at the school, including races. They also come in to the school each week to read with and tutor students. They are helping not just the students in the school, but the community at large. Tutors, parents, students, and teachers are all benefiting from that relationship. Something great has come out of something small.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Hanukkah celebration for many people. The story of Hanukkah, for me, is a powerful illustration of the impact of something small. According to the story, after a hard-fought battle with Greek soldiers over 2,000 years ago, Jewish leaders reclaimed their independence and religious freedom. As part of their religious ceremony of rededication, the leaders lit the seven candles of the temple menorah. However, there was only enough oil to keep the candles lit for one night. Miraculously, the oil that was meant to last one night lasted for eight nights—keeping the candles burning until more oil could be prepared. Something small became something great; an inadequacy became a miracle.

At this time of year, stress levels run high. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the holiday season. It’s easy to focus just on getting through the preparations and the parties. It’s easy to think that the little things we do don’t have an impact on our community. But the truth is, small things are powerful. Something as simple as helping out with a faulty sound system can lead to life-changing relationships between organizations in our community. Reading to your children every day, even for just fifteen minutes, can change the course of their futures by giving them the gift of literacy. Even simply talking about books can impact someone else’s life for the better. Your daily decisions, as small as they may seem, are making an impact. You are contributing to something great.

This holiday season, and all seasons of the year, let’s remember the importance of the small things. Together, we can make our community remarkable.

For some ideas of how to make a big impact doing something small, click here and here.

Happy holiday reads!

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is spending time with family members. Occasionally, my family will go out and do something festive like pick out a Christmas tree or drive around the neighborhood looking at everyone’s decorations. But most of the time, we like to stay home by the fire and watch movies, play games, or read together. There’s nothing better than snuggling up with blankets and hot chocolate and listening to a great story! This Christmas, why not check out a few of these great reads to add to your family’s list of holiday traditions? Click on each image for more information about the book!

‘Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Thong: This lovely retelling of Clement C. Moore’s beloved poem, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, lets you experience the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of a Nochebuena celebration!

The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg: Join a small boy as he experiences a magical (and lushly illustrated) journey to the North Pole on Christmas Eve.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto: Maria loves helping her mother make their Christmas tamales, but when she loses her mother’s ring their Christmas celebration takes an unusual turn.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss: One of the most well-known and best-beloved of Dr. Seuss’s books, this inspiring tale shows how Christmas is more than receiving presents.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel: Like How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, this Hanukkah tales shows how powerful goodness and light can be.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: Perhaps the quintessential Christmas read, Dickens’ short novel tells the story of miser Ebeneezer Scrooge as three Christmas spirits attempt to reclaim him from his greed and selfishness.

What books do you include as part of your holiday traditions? Let us know what your recommendations are for best holiday books!

Still working on the holiday shopping? Check out these cool stocking stuffer ideas that help kids improve literacy skills!

 

Giving before getting

The holiday season is finally here! December is usually a pretty stressful month for me, as it is for most people, but this year seems to be going surprisingly smoothly. Maybe it’s because I no longer have finals to worry about, or maybe it’s because I finally caved in and did all my Christmas shopping online on Cyber Monday. Maybe it’s because of both. Anyway, this year I think I’ll finally be able to take time to think about how I can give back to others (which is something that I should do every year, but that I haven’t always made a priority). Luckily for me, this year I won’t have to think very hard in order to find a way to help my community! 

For people like me who have some spare shopping time this month, Sub for Santa is a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference in the life of a local family. Last year, the Sub for Santa program provided Christmas gifts to 1,400 families in Utah County, thanks to generous sponsors. This year, you can sponsor a family and give a Christmas that the recipients will never forget! Even if helping a whole family is a bit beyond the budget this year, you can still provide Christmas gifts for children and other individuals in our community through the Angel Tree program.  Pick a name and provide some gifts; it’s that simple. But if your schedule is anything like mine was last year, you may not have time to do any extra shopping at all, no matter how simple. Don’t worry! You can still support the Sub for Santa program—and start a new Christmas tradition at the same time! This year, Provo City has produced a new Christmas album and all the songs are from local artists. If that weren’t cool enough, all of the proceeds from the album sales go to support Sub for Santa! It’s a win-win for everyone!  Seriously, though; I got my copy last week, and it is excellent.

And guess what else? This year, EveryDay Learners is distributing new (not used) children’s books to students in local schools for Christmas. If you want to make sure that the gifts you give this year will make a difference, consider donating some new books to EveryDay Learners before December 15. We’ll make sure that your donation goes to kids who really need it. You can donate as many books or as few books as you want; as long as they are new children’s books, they’ll be fantastic! Pick up a couple extra copies of the picture books you’re getting for your grandkids or the chapter books you’re getting for your brother and spread the book-reading love this season.

This year, there are a ton of ways that we can share some of our abundance with other people in our community. However you decide to give back this year, and however much time you can spend, you will make a difference in the lives of individuals and families who could use some holiday cheer this month. Before getting gifts this year, let’s all give some to others. The getting will be all the sweeter for giving something first.

If you are interested in donating books, send us an email at everydaylearnersuc@gmail.com or call 801-691-5310.

Giving thanks

It seems like each year at Thanksgiving, everyone is grateful for the same things. At my family dinners, everyone goes around and says what they are thankful for, and usually the top contenders are family, shelter, and food—the basic necessities of life. Those things are important, and we should always express gratitude for them. But this year, why not mix things up a bit and think about some other gifts that are equally important? One thing that I’m grateful for this year is the gift of reading.

Reading? A gift? Yes! Sometimes we think of reading as just a skill or a useful tool. Think about reading for a minute, though. What would our lives be like without that skill? We wouldn’t be able to read a recipe or a cook book. We wouldn’t be able to read the road signs we see while driving. We wouldn’t be able to apply for loans or read our bank statements. We wouldn’t even be able to send texts to our friends! Not to mention the vast worlds of imagination that would be closed to us if we couldn’t read.

How did we receive this gift? For many of us, we’ve been reading for so long it feels like second nature. But we weren’t born reading. Someone had to help us, to teach us how to access that wonderful skill. Someone had to give us that gift. Too often, the people who taught us to read go unnoticed and un-thanked. All the way back in 1708—only a few decades after the first Thanksgiving—an influential New England minister named Cotton Mather expressed his own appreciation for educators and his concern that they were under-appreciated. “If we were duly sensible how vast a concern, how vast a comfort it is—to have well taught children—we should study all the ways imaginable to express our thankfulness to the teachers of them” (“A Discourse on the Good Education of Children”). In other words, if we really understood how important education is, we would never forget to be grateful to those people who contributed to our learning.

There are many people who helped give us the gift of reading. Favorite teachers, helpful librarians, and generous neighbors all helped. Parents, grandparents, and siblings all helped, too. For me, the most important givers of the gift of reading were my parents. As my sister and I were growing up, my parents would take turns reading to us each night. We didn’t always make it through an entire chapter—often either the reader or the audience would fall asleep during the reading, which made for a lot of great memories and half-finished sentences. Spending that time together reading taught me to love reading, and I will always be grateful to them for that.

In our Daily Herald article this week, several community members from Utah County expressed their gratitude for reading and those who gave them that gift. While each story was different, the gift of reading changed each individual’s life. Who has changed your life? Make sure, before you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, that you thank them for giving you the gift of reading. As Cotton Mather reminds us, “they should be had in everlasting remembrance.”

Need some help finding ways to express your appreciation? Click here for a list of ways to thank different people in your life and here to check out some great ideas from Pinterest!

Great books about gratitude

Gratitude has always been recognized as an important attitude. Over 2000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Cicero argued that gratitude is “not only the greatest, but also the parent of all other virtues.” His claim that all other virtues are rooted in gratitude makes gratitude an essential characteristic for us to lead happy and productive lives. Recently, research has shown that this greatest foundational virtue is also hugely beneficial to our own health. Gratitude has many health benefits, including improved sleep, better relationships, healthier attitudes, and even improved grades. Gratitude is not just a virtue, it’s also a tonic! If gratitude is so significant, why is it so easy for us to forget to be grateful until Thanksgiving rolls around? I don’t really have an answer for that (I struggle with the same problem), but I do know that one thing that may help us remember to be grateful more often is reading books that emphasize gratitude. Here’s a list of some great (and grateful) books to read with your family this Thanksgiving season and all year long! For more information about each book, click on the pictures. And be sure to let us know what your favorite books about gratitude are!

The Thankful Book, written and illustrated by Todd Parr: Do you remember to be grateful for the little things all around you? This picture book will remind you and your family to appreciate even the smallest joys in life.

Don’t Say a Word, Mama!, written by Joe Hayes and illustrated by Esau Andrade Valencia: Rosa and Blanca both want to share their harvests with Mama, but what do you too when you receive too many chilies? This charming bilingual picture book (English and Español) shows how families lovingly give and receive from each other.

The Secret of Saying Thanks, written by Douglas Wood and illustrated by Greg Shed: This peaceful picture book explores how being grateful for the small things helps us to be happier. The connection between gratitude and happiness is clearly shown in this lovely book.

The Giving Tree, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein: While the boy in this story doesn’t show any gratitude for the tree who gives up everything for him, this beloved book is a great reminder to us to look at the sacrifices that others have made for us.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott: When the March family falls on hard times during the American Civil War, they learn to value character and family relationships more than temporal goods. What could be more appropriate for Thanksgiving than this American classic?

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: This novella is more appropriate for older children and adults, but its emphasis on the importance of looking beyond the self and appreciating the help of others are powerful reminders of how gratitude can expand our lives.

For a list of books geared more specifically to the Thanksgiving holiday itself, click here.

 

Staying involved

My grandma is amazing. She’s turning 86 in a few weeks, and last month she went canoeing on the Colorado River. Last summer, she rode the Alpine Slide in Park City. She has forty-one great-grandchildren, and remembers all of their names and birthdays. She keeps in touch with friends she made 50 or 60 years ago, and has a more active social life than I do. To me, my grandma is the perfect example of someone who has never slowed down. She is always finding new things (like canoeing!) to learn and experience. She has always stayed involved.

This week, our EveryDay Learners Daily Herald article spotlighted some other members of our community who have stayed involved. The tutors at the Orem Literacy Center, who are mostly retired, are giving back to our community by sharing their professional and life experience with students who need help. As they do so, they are discovering the joy that comes from serving. Ruth Pratt, the director of the center, explains that “community service is a wonderful use of time. It’s very fulfilling. Retiring with service is therapeutic. It’s uplifting and enjoyable.” The benefits of volunteering for seniors have long been recognized, and staying involved in the community can be a fun way to keep learning and growing even after leaving the workforce. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are six ways that anyone (but especially seniors) can stay involved in education in our community. Do you have any other suggestions? Let us know!

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