#70. Go to the offices of your most local newspaper, and see if there is anything you can do there as a volunteer

IDEA #70. Go to the offices of your most local newspaper, and see if there is anything you can do there as a volunteer. Hang out and be helpful, if they’ll let you. The more polite and positive you are, the better your chances.

The heart of public discourse in our nation has always been the newspaper. Although the number (and page count) of great city dailies continues to fall, many communities continue to depend on a local newpaper (or two) to chronicle local evprinterents and local issues. Display advertisements draw citizens to local businesses, classifieds keep jobs and personal goods in circulation, sports pages and education features herald the triumphs of local youngsters, and editorial pages (especially those renowned for courage or contrariety) lead and model public discussion on issues both great and small.

Newspapers come in all sizes, from city dailies with legions of writers, printers, and delivery drivers to one-person small-town weeklies. Many of the larger papers have internship programs, some quite formal and reserved for journalism students and others less so. Smaller papers may either want or resist a helping hand, even that of a volunteer, depending on circumstances.

Perhaps the aspirant can approach a particular office at the newspaper and inquire about volunteer opportunities. At the very least, ask if someone might be able to show the youngster around; larger papers may even have scheduled tours. If there are opportunities to become involved, take them, no matter how trivial they may seem. In earlier times, the newspaper business was often learned literally from the bottom up, with the young Benjamin Franklin inking type and pulling paper on his way to becoming the chief writer and publisher of the influential Pennsylvania Gazette.

For some people the figurative smell of printer’s ink has an irresistible draw, and young people who discover this about themselves at an early age may see a lifetime in the world of words and ideas beginning to unfold in the pages of their first newspaper.

Thoughts on the World Cup

Although world championships are played off in many sports throughout the year, the grand-daddy of authentically “world” titles is of course the World Cup–by which I mean, although it generally goes without saying, the World Cup of men’s soccer, or what the rest of the world calls football.


This year’s World Cup seems especially charged politically, what with questions about Brazil’s spending on tournament infrastructure and the general ethics of FIFA, the international body that sponsors the event. Globally, football is known for extreme fans whose behavior, sometimes tainted with racism, can give sports partisans in general a bad name. At least during the World Cup even “ultra” fans tend to be on their better behavior.

But in the end, we can reliably enjoy the spectacle of sixty-four high-quality 90-minute-plus games in which athletic and sometimes flamboyantly energetic young men will play their hearts out on behalf of their countries and the spirits of several billion(!) fans will rise and fall with the results of each game. If you enjoy soccer–the geometry, the energy, the cunning strategies, and the astounding skills of the players–the World Cup 2014 is pretty much guaranteed to please. And of course there will be controversy; a disputed call in the very first game, between Brazil and Croatia, already filled Thursday’s news reports.

For the Interested Child, the Cup offers lessons in geography, vexillology, culture, and of course the sport itself. Soccer itself spread across the globe with the British empire and was then adopted by populations far removed from British influence. The World Cup tournament teams themselves, often unexpectedly diverse, also offer little object lessons in both the history of imperialism–think of so many African players with surnames of European origin–and recent and contemporary demographics; think of the many European and American (North and South) players whose surnames bespeak the waves of emigration and immigration that are changing the face of many of the world’s more prosperous nations. The players may be wearing the uniforms of just 32 nations, but this truly is a World’s Cup.

The enormous geographical and climatological diversity of Brazil offers its own points of interest: the U.S. team will be traveling nearly four thousand miles just to get from venue to venue in its first three group games, from coastal Natal to Amazonian Manaus and back to coastal Recife. A search of various maps of the tournament cities can give a sense of the overall size and geographical extremes of Brazil. And some of the new-built stadiums themselves are architectural marvels, aesthetically exciting structures with breathtaking tensile roofs above the stands and open space above the playing surface, or pitch.

The child interested in numbers and statistics can also find a world of data to record and parse, and, thanks to the prevalence of gambling across the world, it’s not hard to find odds (ratios, of course) and other measures of probability relating to teams’ chances and overall outcomes.

And even if the politics or the big business side of the World Cup make it a bit different from, say, the Olympics, the tournament still marks a few weeks in which we can contemplate the idea that, with all our differences, we are one species and one planet, a great many of whose inhabitants seem to be fans of the sport of soccer. Or football–take your pick!

#69. Listen to an entire episode of On Point on public radio; call in with something thoughtful to say

IDEA #69. Listen to an entire episode of On Point on public radio. Call in with something thoughtful to say, and pat yourself on the back if you get on the air.

On Point is one of a number of syndicated interview and call-in shows on public radio; there are also numbers of regional and local programs of the same sort. Most feature an interview with one or more experts on a particular topic; sometimes the interview is with a single author, public figure, or artist. At some point listeners are invited to call in with questions and commentary; most show like On Point screen callers to ensure a very high quality of discussion.

Like This American Life, programs like On Point assume and require a level of awareness of and interest in the “deep background” of events and issues, and the experts on tap do not condescend to listeners in the level of conversation or vocabulary. In a nutshell, such programs provide, along with certain magazines and newspapers, the raw material by which many knowledgeable, thoughtful people inform themselves and form opinions about the major issues of the day. They require a certain degree of intellectual discipline, and the beginning listener may even want to have at hand an atlas or a dictionary to chase down stray facts that arise—a program segment on world affairs may focus on Vanuatu or South Sudan or Nunavut, and the active listener will need to know where these places are.

Call-in portions of such programs do not represent a significant change in the level of discourse. Calls are screened for relevance and, it can be imagined, for tone and overall quality; seldom does one hear callers who simply spout unsupported opinion. But many callers are in fact asking questions of the participants, and there is no lower age limit on the ability to ask good questions—for clarification, for further information, or in response to speculation (what if?). Producers seem to favor younger callers who demonstrate a serious interest in a topic, and so the young listener should not hesitate to try, at least, to connect. A successful effort is a feather in one’s cap, indeed.

And if the idea of calling is daunting, if the young person’s schedule doesn’t quite fit the broadcast time, or if On Point is not available in your area, On Point and most programs like it are available as podcasts from their related websites. (On Point‘s is here.)

Celebrating Transitions and Interested Children

My school just finished its middle school-to-high school promotion ceremony, a happy event complete with student speeches, an eighth-grade class video, and a colleague fighting to hold back tears as she spoke about what she has learned from her students. It was a moment for all to remember.

This is the season for such transitional events, from scouts crossing bridges and flying up to schoolchildren of all ages leaving behind classrooms, campuses, and most of all caring teachers, leaders, coaches, and other adults with whom they have developed relationships of all kinds over the past year or more. My Twitter and Facebook feeds teem with photographs of happy kids, happy teachers, and happy families, and I get to feel just a bit older as my former students celebrate the transitions of their own children–including high school graduations. And this year I got to post one of those college graduation photos myself.

I like to think that each of these transitions marks, if not an Aha! Moment in a child’s life, at least a recognition of a changed, enhanced relationship with the world. I want to believe that kids making an upward leap to new challenges and new adventures are excited by the need to be a little more interested in, a little more engaged with the world they occupy–that each new challenge opens new doors of curiosity and maybe even passion, new perspectives on an existence rich with possibilities and connections.

And of course each of these new possibilities and connections carries with it just a bit more responsibility, a greater obligation to pay attention to the needs of those around them and the consequences of their own actions. This can be a wonderful and empowering thing, hard as it can sometimes be to shoulder those obligations.

It happens in our world that often we recognize and celebrate transitions and then take a break–summer vacation, now–before actually moving on to the next experience. I hope that as we send our transitioning children off, or maybe accompany them, that we take advantage of the moments we have to encourage and nourish their interests and take seriously their potential as active, engaged citizens of the world, whether they’re Brownies, Webelos, middle schoolers, or even college graduates.

Here’s to The Interested Child, of all ages!

#68. Go to an arts or music camp for a week; fine-tune some skills and make some new friends

IDEA #68. Go to an arts or music camp for a week; fine-tune some skills and make some new friends

This is one of the suggestions that sounds as though it might cost some real money, but many communities and non-profit organizations sponsor arts programs for young people at little or no cost, and even the more expensive may offer some form of financial aid.

Here is an opportunity for the young person to immerse him or herself in the creative process for a period of time, and to do so in the uninhibited presence of others. Local museums, art schools, and even colleges often run these programs, either as summer programs as implied in the suggestion or as Saturday morning classes; many programs will accept older children or teenagers into adult sessions. It makes little difference who runs the program or what the focus is, as long as the student is interested and excited about being a part of it.

“Music camp” often presupposes some knowledge of an instrument, but this is not always the case. In any event, most human beings are possessed of at least one natural instrument, the voice, and skilled teachers can turn even the froggiest of children into passable singers in a surprisingly short period of time; the will to sing can conquer all but total tone-deafness. The drum can also be picked up by aspiring musicians on the spot, although not every family will welcome their young drummer home again.

Programs in the visual arts usually focus on a particular medium, with courses leveled based on experience. Of these, courses involving technology—photography, film-making—may have associated expense, and a developed interest in ceramics may involve access to a potter’s wheel and a kiln. But cross such bridges as you come to them.

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