That hair……

the hair

“Am I a beautiful girl?” I asked the Grade 1 class. (These are six-year-old children). The response may surprise you. The occasion was my first visit to XYZ school, after the students received reading books on an education project that I was managing.

So…..I excitedly announced to Grade 1 that my favorite book among those they received was the one with the girl and the ‘big hair’ on the cover. You see, I have similar hair and could relate to the story.

So, I held the book high above my head and asked, “Isn’t this a beautiful girl?”

“No Miss,” the class answered.

Surprised? Yes, I was surprised. So, I asked another question. “Am I a beautiful girl?” I asked.

“No Miss,” the class shouted.

“Is my hair beautiful?” I asked.

“No Miss,” the class responded.

I had to admit that I was making no progress to get some affirmation regarding my hair, and my beauty. You see, I looked like the girl on the book cover. We both had big, curly, frizzy, kinky, beautiful hair. However, to this Grade 1 class, our hair was not beautiful. So, I continued to ask more questions.

“So, who is a beautiful girl?” I asked. “Show me a beautiful girl,” I demanded.

In the blink of an eye the class turned around and the girls pointed to the girl with the less dark hue, ‘not-so-brown’ girl in the class and said, “She, Miss.”

(Please notice my struggle to describe the shades because all I knew before I started the conversation is that this was a Grade 1 of black girls and boys).

Surprised? Yes, I was surprised. I realized that I had some work to do in this Grade 1 classroom.

I called three girls to join me at the front of the classroom and I declared that all four of us were beautiful girls. Afterwards, I invited the ‘not-so-brown’ girl to join us, and I declared that we were all beautiful girls.

So… I asked my famous question another time. “Is my hair beautiful?” The class reluctantly responded in the affirmative.

For the remaining minutes spent in a Grade 1 classroom at XYZ school, I spoke about ‘loving self’. I asked the students to tell me why they thought they were not beautiful. Who made them believe that lie?

They were honest. Parents did. Teachers did. Many significant adults did.

I left the Grade 1 classroom at XYZ school hoping that maybe, just maybe, the day would come when those children remembered our conversation about ‘being beautiful’ and I hoped that they never attempt any experiments change ‘that hair’ or that skin in order to gain acceptance. The children were all beautiful.

Talk soon……. Claire Spence




Self-Esteem and Learning


“Three-legged dog,” was Peter’s answer to my question, “What was the worse name your mother called you?”

Peter[1] was a participant in the group of thirty adolescents who signed up for my session, ‘Building Self-Esteem.’ The question was part of my unfreezing exercise for the training, and one of the objectives of the session was that at the end of the session, each participant would change his/her unflattering nickname to one that matches his/her personality.

Peter’s answer along with many others made me reflect on my own childhood. What were the names our parents called us especially when we missed the mark? The answers from the adolescents helped me to set the foundation for the session I prepared so well to deliver. I knew I had to make some changes to the script. I was unprepared for such graphic responses.

I know that many parents refer to their children in extreme negative terms; many not fit for sharing in this medium. However, I am not sure that some parents are aware that childhood hurts carry over into adulthood. Hurt words, physical abuse, mental abuse, unleash untold damage on our children’s sense of self and affect their well-being for many years, unless these children engage in structured interventions to restore their positive self-esteem

Self-esteem! What is that? Does self-esteem affect how we think about ourselves? Does it affect how we relate to each other? Will low self-esteem damage one’s self confidence? Will low self-esteem cause us to give up more easily than others whenever we are faced with challenges? Could low self-esteem impact negatively on happiness and quality of life? Does low self- esteem impact a child’s learning negatively?

The definition of self-esteem that follows is from the Department of Sociology, University of Maryland. “Self-esteem is a positive or negative orientation toward oneself; an overall evaluation of one’s worth or value. People are motivated to have high self-esteem, and having it indicates positive self-regard, not egotism. Self-esteem is only one component of the self-concept, which Rosenberg defines as “totality of the individual’s thoughts and feelings with reference to himself as an object.” Besides self-esteem, self-efficacy or mastery, and self-identities are important parts of the self-concept.[2]

I am writing this post because I want to stimulate thinking/conversation around the notion that low self-esteem continues to affect our children in several ways. Whenever a seven-year-old is not bothered that he/she is placed last after the exam results are announced; something is wrong. Whenever an eight-year-old feels that he is not good enough to become a teacher; he would rather become a beggar, something is wrong. Such low aspirations are often linked to low self-esteem issues. I met that seven-year-old and that eight-year-old.

Among the group of thirty adolescents I referred to earlier in this post, all felt badly about themselves. All were reading three or four grade levels below their existing grade levels. Several experienced living on the streets. None knew how to change his/her dire situation. Many did not care. Their low-self esteem was affecting their learning and much more.

My session, ‘Building Self-Esteem’ went very well. The participants engaged in several activities through role-play and simulations. They had fun, and at the end of the day, they felt good about themselves. The organizers of the training knew that they had a lot more work to do with these adolescents, and I was confident that they would.

Peter, who I referred to at the beginning of the post, said that instead of ‘three-legged-dog’, he was now ‘a five series BMW’. We all had much fun and laughter listening to the new nick names.

In preparing to write this blog post, I read the book, 100 Ways to Build Self-Esteem and Teach Values by Diana and Julia Loomans. I would recommend this book. This mother and daughter team provides practical suggestions and exercises that may be used by parents, children and teachers to build self-esteem. The book is a valuable resource, filled with practical suggestions, some of which is light-hearted and illustrative. I want to highlight the list, ‘Ten Caring Ways to Connect with Children Each Day’[3] on page 2 of the book. The list offers practical ways that are easily implementable. The ten ways are: compassion; clear communication; creativity; consistency; challenge; cheerfulness; confidence; calmness; clear agreements; and commitment. This list may be used immediately. Happy reading.

Talk soon……. Claire Spence

[1] Name changed for this article.

[2]  3/26/2018 (

[3] Loomans, Diana and Julia, 100 Ways to Build Self-Esteem and Teach Values. California: H.J. Cramer, 1994. p.2

Top 10 Reasons to Create Little Free Libraries in Your Community by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan

If you are having second thoughts about setting up your own Little Free Library… are ten reasons why you should think no more. Just do it!!

Nerdy Book Club

We often support schools and communities with promoting summer reading.  We want students to continue their “readerly lives” over the summer.  A few years ago, we were researching ideas to get books to students in different communities and we came across Little Free Libraries.   We immediately feel in love!  We were so enamored by this idea we decided we had to give it a try ourselves.  We put a Little Free Library in Tammy’s yard.

Tammylittle free library

After several years of having a Little Free Library in Tammy’s yard, here are our top 10 Reasons why we plan to create more Little Free Libraries.

  1. Share Your Books – If you are like us, you have books sitting on your shelves collecting dust. Instead of dusting, share your books with your community.


  1. Meet Your Neighbors – I can’t tell you how many neighbors I have met thanks to the Little…

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Those little free libraries


Do you love books? If you answer, yes, then I know that you would appreciate the little free libraries that are carefully placed close to sidewalks in many cities where you live or where you visit. I just learned that there is indeed a Little Free Library Organization and although I am uncertain of its origin, I accept the comment by Danny Lewis writing on the website, All the little free libraries seem to have as their mantra “take a book, leave a book,” and I like that, because this concept allows the reader to contribute without having to construct his/her own library.

If you are interested in contributing to this community of readers and lovers of books, you may want to set up your own little free library, providing you do your research and determine that this is something that would be acceptable for you to do in your neighborhood. Visit the website at and learn how to start.

Danny Lewis writing, ‘Build Your Own Library at the First-Ever Little Library Festival’ on stated that, ‘The Little Free Library organization began when a resident of Hudson, Wisconsin, named Todd Bol built a little model of a one-room schoolhouse, filled it with books, and installed it in his front yard as a tribute to his late mother in 2009.’ (See link below).

The following are some benefits of little free libraries.

  1. As a reader, you are able to contribute in this ‘community book exchange’ without paying a joining fee.
  2. Little free libraries bring neighbors together around a similar interest – reading. You may even successfully strike up a conversation with a stranger.
  3. Little free libraries come in many shapes and sizes, thus allowing the owners or ‘stewards’ to be creative.
  4. Children are encouraged to read and contribute books from their collections, thus enhancing their reading, communication and comprehension skills.

I am enjoying these libraries. Whenever I am uncertain that I may pass that place another time, I stop, browse, and read a few chapters, without borrowing a book. One thing I am sure about, and it is, whenever I am planning a trip, I will pack a few books so that I may contribute to the stock of books in these free libraries. My dear reader, I invite you to do the same.

Talk soon…..Claire Spence
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When grandparents are supportive……


“I used to think I was too old to fall in love again. Then I became a grandma.”[1]

After the birth of my first grandchild, my world changed. I volunteered to assist my son and daughter-in-law during the afternoons, so I could see my grandson every week day. I started reading to him at six weeks. I was excited, and I convinced myself that my grandson was happy to see me. As he grew older, I looked forward to spending more time with him especially on those occasions when his parents wanted to spend evenings together. After his sister was born, we spent even more time setting up camps in the living room and reading in the Reading Corner.

Grandparents want to be supportive, but sometimes they misunderstand their roles. In this post, I will share some suggestions for supporting children and grandchildren without being overbearing.

There are many courses on parenting. Has anyone thought about writing a training course on grand parenting? Do you think that grandparents should have any problem in getting this grand parenting thing right? Perhaps! But, what if grandparents got parenting wrong? Then perhaps they may mess up grand parenting as well.

Some of my friends are baby boomers and are presently experiencing the joys of grand parenting. In fact, some of us wished we could have had the grandchildren first. You see, we can give grandchildren love, pamper them, spoil them ‘a little’ and then return home with a good conscience.

I believe that:

  • grandparents do mean well;
  • grandparents have some material and financial resources that they want to share with their loved ones; and
  • grandparents need to understand and to be understood;

I also believe that:

  • grandparents need to admit that sometimes they get the grandparent’s role very wrong;
  • grandparents need to give their children and grandchildren some space – no smothering – no overbearing attitude;
  • grandparents need to be observant; and
  • grandparents should know when they have overstayed their welcome.

Whatever side you come down on, grandparents are very important to families. They have lots of experience, enthusiasm, time and resources. Grandparents are necessary to help to grow and nurture well-rounded, well-adjusted grandchildren. Grandparents know folklores. Grandparents give piggyback rides. If you are a Jamaican grandmother reading this post, are you the one to tell your grandchildren Anansi stories and Miss Lou’s (Louise Bennett)[2] poems? Maybe you are. So here are a few suggestions:

  1. Help your grandchildren connect with the past by telling stories and answering questions.
  2. Offer your grandchildren practical suggestions about life.
  3. Offer to help with babysitting. You will benefit emotionally and psychologically.
  4. Spend time with your grandchildren so that they learn to love and appreciate old people.
  5. Teach your grandchildren some skills. These could be skills such as those related to gardening, knitting, embroidery, crochet, pottery, sewing and small-scale woodwork.

For my readers who would like to read some more, please see a link from below.

Talk soon….. Claire Spence


[2] Louise Bennett is a Jamaican poet, writer, actress and folklorist who wrote her songs and poems in Jamaican Patois or Creole.


Redefining the ‘Absentee Parent’


Why am I writing this blog post? I am writing this post because I realize that many roles played by parents in the lives of their children are being diminished by the influence of their busy lifestyles and by the influence of social media. Selected roles played by parents are: teacher, friend, confidant, playmate, disciplinarian, caregiver and comforter. I realize that an absentee parent may be challenged to play several of the roles I just mentioned.

OOPs!! I got it wrong again!! I used to believe that when parents are absent, they are not physically in the same place as their children. However, I know that parents are not as ‘present’ for their kids even when they are physically available because of the influence of social media. I therefore needed help as I tried to redefine the term ‘absentee parent’.

So…. I went in search of a definition. In the article ‘Absentee parents: Why would some neglect their own blood’, by Donah Mbabazi and Dennis Agaba (July 10, 2015, The New Times, Rwanda), the following is written:

‘Experts describe an absentee parent as a parent, who either wanders in and out of the child’s life providing a disruptive, inconsistent presence, or one who was an active part of their child’s life before abruptly ceasing contact or a parent who has never been involved in the life of their child.’

I like the above description of an absentee parent. However, if the flip side is to be considered as the definition of a parent who is present, then I must admit that there are many parents who are physically present who are neglecting their children. These parents are constantly on social media sites; constantly speaking with friends on their telephones; often continuing office work at home; and often studying or completing their assignments for their advanced degrees. So, these parents are at home. Are they absentee parents? No, they aren’t. Yes, they are. How do you answer?

I needed a new definition for ‘absentee parent’. I needed to expand the definition above to include those parents who are physically present but who are continuing to neglect their children due to the negative effect of social media associated with too much phone/or computer use.

Parents – when your social media engagement starts affecting effective parenting, you need to stop and do some introspection! If your child asks you to pay him/her some attention because you are too busy texting or checking Facebook and Instagram, you need to do some introspection!

What happens when a parent continues to reduce his/her interactions with his/her child? Your child will miss out on valuable conversations. You, the parent, will miss out on several of your child’s developmental milestones. Children like to tell stories. Without conversations, they are unable to tell their stories. Encourage conversations by telling your stories.

Parents – do not diminish the influence you should have on your children. When you are at home, put down that phone. Spend time with you children. When you are out at dinner with the family do not place the phone on the table. Leave it in your pockets and pocketbooks. You will never regret this. Happy trying…..

P.s., for those who want to read a scholarly document on the topic, I found one at the link below.

Talk soon……..

Claire Spence











Suddenly…..What is wrong with our boys?


Suddenly, I got cold feet just when I thought I had enough information to write my newest blog post on male marginalization.

I wanted to write about ‘male marginalization’ so that I could further tease out my thoughts regarding the reasons why boys underperform when compared to girls in the Jamaican education system. I had seen enough to know that boys are not being marginalized. I had seen that boys ‘over performed’ when compared with girls. That was especially true whenever boys were given the same opportunities as girls and whenever teachers addressed their learning styles in the classrooms.

Suddenly…. I am questioning my beliefs. I believed some of what I read. However, I have seen enough to put aside some of what I believed. I believed that children, especially boys would not be able to do well academically, socially and emotionally if they had little or no father influence during their formative years. I believed that such a lack, contributed to their being marginalized.

I am familiar with the writings of Professor Barry Chevannes, Professor Errol Miller, and Professor Hyacinth Evans, all erudite professors who served at the University of the West Indies. Like Professor Barry Chevannes, I do not believe that Jamaican males are being marginalized.

Professor Barry Chevannes, in the 1999 Grace Kennedy Foundation Lecture entitled ‘What we sow and what we reap – Problems in the cultivation of male Identity in Jamaica’ said that males are not being marginalized. He wrote, ‘ARE MALES BEING MARGINALIZED? Certainly not, if the main factor being considered is power. Despite the increasing percentages of women at the University of the West Indies, it is the men who are elected to the seat of student power. At community level, whether the issue is dons or youth club leaders, there is no marginalization of males. And as far as the churches are concerned, women’s over-representation in the membership and ministering groups, but under -representation in the leadership echelons is well-documented (Austin-Broos 1997; Toulis 1996). The marginalization discourse always ignores these facts.’

Professor Errol Miller’s Marginalization of the Black Jamaican Male (1986) discussed the feminization of the teaching profession in Jamaica, and he placed some blame for marginalization of males on the effects of the retentions of slavery and colonialism. He further discussed the feminizing of the teaching profession and its negative effects on boys.

Professor Hyacinth Evans in her study of ‘Gender Differences in Participation, Opportunities to Learn and Achievement in Education in Jamaica’, found that although boys and girls entered Grade I with similar abilities, fewer boys were chosen to write the Grade Six Achievement Test. Evans explained that teachers “had a lower expectation for boys than girls, and through their discourse, displayed gender bias which in the overwhelming majority of cases favoured girls” (Evans 1998:8). I worked alongside Professor Evans and appreciate her scholarly excellence. On one of the education projects I worked on, she advised that boys showed greater responsiveness to “activity-based methods and to those that require some problem solving.”

I thought about the 1957 book My Mother who Fathered Me, by Edith Clark. In this book, Clark discussed the complex dynamics of marriage and family life in three different communities in Jamaica.  The title of the book gives the impression that single mothers can carry out the duties and responsibilities of an absentee father. Sometimes single mothers are blamed for boys/male marginalization.

Finally, in Under-achieving Caribbean boys Marginalisation or gender privileging? by Mark Figueroa. Mark wrote the following:

‘In considering the changing relationship between gender socialisation and school experience it must be noted that the position that boys find themselves in relates to the historic male gender privilege. In the home, boys are less well prepared for school because of the freedom they have to roam the streets, the lower levels of responsibility and self-control that are required of them. They get fewer chores that give them an opportunity to learn the process skills that are required for schooling. In school, the harsh treatment they receive relates to the notion of males being stronger, in need of less protection and required to fend for themselves.’

Suddenly, I can re-think my position. I see more of the light. There are many reasons why Jamaican boys under perform when compared with girls. As a mother of two sons and a grand mother of a grandson, I have a parental task to ensure that the boys I influence cultivate a high sense of responsibility. I must ensure that they learn the skills to become responsible adults; that they are able to contribute in a meaningful way to their children, their families and their countries. If you are a male reading this blog post, be resolved to change the narrative that men are marginalized. Occupy your space, show up and contribute. If you are a parent/grand parent, go ahead and contribute positively to influence the boys/men in your life.

Talk soon…………….

Claire Spence