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Jeri Bollman: books bring pleasure to local educator

After a long day serving as director of the Claremont United Methodist Preschool and then traveling to Chaffey or Citrus College to teach classes in child development, you might think Jeri Bollman would be eager to get away from the subject of kids.

Instead, the bulk of her reading centers on how best to nurture children, whether it is the latest child development textbook or a best-selling title shedding light on how children learn.

“I read to keep current in my field,” she said. “I’m a lifelong learner. If I don’t continue to read, I’ll become stuck in my old ways.”

Ms. Bollman, who has helmed the local preschool for 8 years, is particularly impassioned by the subject of Dr. Stuart Brown’s Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul. Dr. Brown asserts that play is vital for the cultivation of problem-solving skills and for emotional health.

“From our play, we learn how the world works and how friends interact,” he notes. “By playing, we learn about the mystery and excitement the world can hold in a tree house, an old tire swing, or a box of crayons.”

By contrast, many people view idle time as wasted time, Ms. Bollman said. As a result, some parents rush their kids from one activity to another—from school to sports to dance or karate—in an attempt to ensure that free time is spent productively. 

“We’re over-scheduling our children so much that they don’t have time to think,” Ms. Bollman said. “Downtime, unencumbered time, is when we process all the things we’ve learned. That quiet time is when we are coming up with ideas.”

When kids are allowed free time, many spend the bulk of their play immersed the digital world, she noted. This precludes 2 areas of play Dr. Brown feels are crucial, object play, such as building with Legos, and solo imaginative play.

“Our kids are losing the ability to be divergent thinkers and to tinker and fix things. They may be getting A’s but they don’t have any practical experience,” Ms. Bollman said.

 Social play is especially vital to mental health, Dr. Brown says. He points to a study of the perpetrators of mass shootings, which found they lack a history of healthy interactions and spontaneous play. Ms. Bollman agrees that playing with peers is a foundational experience for children.

“Friendships are what hold us together when everything seems to be falling apart,” she said.

 

Who wrote the book of love?

Helping to hold Ms. Bollman’s family together is an understanding of the different temperaments of each of its members. To this end, she has found Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts to be powerful. 

The 5 Love Languages details the many ways people show affection. While we show care in various ways—through touch, words, gifts, service and time—each of us, Mr. Chapman says, has a primary love language.

“The bottom line in failed relationships is that we keep trying to love someone the way we want to be loved,” Ms. Bollman said. “If you keep buying your kids presents but their love language is the gift of time, you’re missing the boat; they’re not feeling loved.”

 

Boys will be boys

Other nonfiction titles she has found enlightening are Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps—And What We Can Do About It by Lise Elliot and The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian.

There has been a move in the past few decades to explain gender differences as a matter of nurture vs. nature. Ms. Elliot, however, says that anyone who has been a parent has seen firsthand the innate differences in boys’ and girls’ dispositions. Once these are acknowledged, she asserts, parents and educators are better able to lessen any gender gaps in academic performance and life success.

These books have made Ms. Bollman more aware of the pitfalls of suppressing boys’ boisterousness. In recent years, the time devoted to recess and outdoor activity has lessened in our schools, she noted. What’s more, boys who are viewed as unruly are often made to stay inside as punishment.

“One thing we definitely know about boys is they are made to move. Having them sit too long doing this,” Ms. Bollman said, miming writing, “is physically painful for them. We’re taking away recess when we should be putting them outside, letting them run around.”

Just for fun

Given that she’s a proponent of play, it is only fitting that Ms. Bollman occasionally makes time to read for sheer pleasure. She finds John Grisham’s legal thrillers irresistible and plowed through The Help this past summer, enjoying it immensely. She also has found Francine Rivers’ A Lineage of Grace: Five Stories of Unlikely Women Who Changed Eternity to be compelling reading.

“She creates a whole story so you can imagine what it would be like to have been Ruth, for instance,” Ms. Bollman said. “While there’s a piece of history, it’s clearly the author’s perspective. But it’s such an incredible vision of how it might have been.”

When the COURIER stopped by the preschool to chat with Ms. Bollman recently, she was surrounded by display racks stocked with kids’ books for the preschool’s annual Mrs. Nelson’s Book Fair.

“I love kids’ books!” Ms. Bollman enthused.

Her personal favorite is The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado, which tells the story of a lamb with a disfigured leg who feels left out because he can’t play with the rest of the lambs in the herd.

When the herd moves on, leaving the Crippled Lamb behind, he takes refuge in a stable, which turns out to be the site of Jesus’ birth. At that moment, he realizes his purpose is to help keep a very unique baby warm. As the description for the 2011 book, beautifully illustrated by Liz Bonham’s oil paintings, says, “God had a very special plan for Joshua’s life, as He does for all who feel alone.”

“I just love the message that we all have a place and a purpose,” Ms. Bollman said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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