Guiding the future: Toss bouquets of praise to moms and teachers

The merry, merry month of May pays special tribute to mothers and also recognizes the singular influence of teachers. A beloved musician and an acclaimed international activist two generations removed, offer up beautiful accolades to how these two groups of future-shapers help kids blossom.

Stevie Wonder once said, “Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love, and fearlessness. If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love.” Malala Yousafzai, who in 2014 became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient, emphatically proclaimed, “Let us remember: one book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”

The proximity of Teacher Day (May 8) (part of Teacher Appreciation Week) and Mother’s Day (May 13) makes perfect sense! After all, few people influence the next generation like moms and teachers. (Dads, of course, too, but their moment in the spotlight arrives a month later.) Stevie Wonder’s mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, was credited as co-writer on some of his best-known hit songs. Malala Yousafazai is the Pakistani education and women’s rights activist, who, according to biography.com, began blogging for the BBC when she was 11, survived a Taliban assassination attempt at 15, when she was shot while traveling home from school, and in 2013 presented to the United Nations and published her first book, I Am Malala. The following year, Yousafazai, then 17, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Clearly, mothers and teachers are instrumental in welcoming kids to the world of words and ideas, walking with them, and helping them navigate that world. So a wonderful way to honor and support their efforts is to encourage reading, writing, exploring, and inventing at home.

To help instill a lifetime love of reading, the Start to Read! Complete Early Reading Program 18-Book Set is a 3-level series of storybooks that are fun, relatable, easy to follow, and colorfully illustrated. Level 1 is for the first-time reader, and Levels 2 and 3 continue adding on to those starter skills. Similarly, to develop early writing skills, Write & Reuse workbooks, give lots of great try-it-again practice. They are even available in a 5-book collection. With a dry erase marker in hand, your child will enjoy practicing the alphabet, numbers, printing, and tracing over and over again. Along the way, kids also improve perception, focus, fine motor skills, and eye-hand coordination.

Want to encourage kids’ creativity, critical thinking, and inventiveness? Take a look at the clever building toys from Brackitz, a company that aptly bills itself as “connecting imaginations.” Their cool “connect-anywhere” building toys let kids “connect at any point, any angle,” to “design any structure they can imagine.”

Anything, really, that builds on the skills kids are learning in school strengthens the important partnership between parents and teachers. In a guest post on the Encourage Play site titled “The Challenges and Opportunities of Parent-Teacher Communications,” Jennifer Miller, M.Ed., offers “some specific ideas for ways parents can get involved and better communicate with their child’s teacher.” They include “start by assuming the best intentions,” “begin conversations with words of empathy,” and “reach out sooner versus later.” Miller also notes “That partnership of the key caregivers in your child’s life can be a critical support not only during easy times but also when difficult times come your way.”

Many parents are genuinely supportive of their kids’ teachers, but some lack a full appreciation for what happens in the classroom or the many challenges today’s teacher face. PBS Parents, in a post titled, “The Parent-Teacher Partnership,” quotes Diane Levin, Ph.D., professor of education at Wheelock College, as saying, “A positive parent-teacher relationship helps your child feel good about school and be successful in school.”

Mothers and teachers: Give each other props and gold stars! And help kids say, “Thank you” as well.