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These curious little balls commonly known as water pearls (I prefer my name) are in a word...captivating.
Their usefulness in exploring science and math are obvious and you can find tons of great ideas all over the Internet for incoroprating these little gems into your learning adventures.
Or maybe simply playing with and marveling at them holds just as much educational vaue.
Sometimes poetry can be found in the most unexpected places.
So this past week, I walked into our living room and saw my son reading The Great Divorce—the brand new copy I bought him a couple days earlier, the one now missing its cover with a bite out of the spine reminiscent of Jaws. I burst out laughing, “What?”
“Um, yeah, the dog ate my homework. But don’t worry mom, it still works.”
“Classic!” I managed to squeak out between sobs of laughter. Once I gained my composure, I plopped myself on the couch beside my son, and launched an investigation.
“So how was the dog able to get hold of your book?”
“I don’t know.”
“Remember what happened to your Vans?”
“And your basketball?”
“How did the dog get those items?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you leave them within the dog’s reach?”
“What was our plan after the dog chewed your bike helmet to shreds?”
“Put things away out of the dog’s reach.”
“So how did this happen to your book?”
“I wonder how many things the dog will chew before you remember.” And with that motherly comment, I stood up from the couch and walked away counting backwards from 10 slowly.
Of course I’m discouraged by the excessive financial loss that my son’s forgetting represents. A new pair of shoes, basketball, bike helmet, and a book is not a small change loss. But honestly what discourages me more than the monetary loss is the ongoing struggle to impart the value of personal responsibility.
My son is not alone.
As a teacher, I receive countless excuses why math lessons are half completed, why science research is not conducted and why reading is not accomplished. These excuses range from absent-mindedness to outright blame shifting.
I’ve stood by many a parent who, like myself, with knee-jerk compassion offers a hug to a tearful child, “I’m sorry mommy. I forgot.”
Now don’t get me wrong it’s not the compassionate hug that I object too. No. Loving our children when they stumble is good grace. What I am saddened by is what often follows the hug, “That’s okay darling.”
I think many of us are guilty of this pat-on-the-back-and-off-you-go style of parenting. Only because I find myself slipping on the slope along with my apprentices, have I been able to contemplate the long-term ramifications of this careless habit of shifting blame.
Whether we are shifting blame into the ether or shifting the blame onto someone else, I believe blame shifting, even the tiny absent-minded kind, is not a healthy habit for the soul.
So as I was counting slowly backwards from 10 I remembered a recent opportunity I had to encourage personal responsibility. At the Guild we have a clearly delineated play area. The other day the older boys in our group decided to Parkour the stairs up to the sidewalk one floor above our cement lunch area. They were just about to jump, “Noooooooo!”
This is not the first time the boys were bit by the PK bug. And, between you and me, I was tempted to turn a blind eye. Being a mom of three teenage boys, I can’t relate, but fully recognize the need for adventure. But that’s another post and in this case, at that moment in time it was completely the responsible thing to stop these boys who are not trained in the art of PK from cracking their skulls on my watch.
“Boys, where are our play yard boundaries?”
I watched them look at each other and shrug, “Don’t know,” in solidarity.
“Okay, come on, what’s the rule regarding scaling walls and jumping?”
“Oh, we forgot,” came a dissonantly symphonic response.
“Well, since you forgot, I’ll remind you.” I walked them around the perimeter of the small slice of asphalt we call the play yard. Ah, life in the city, “Now get a piece of paper and write an essay or a short story or a poem or song that communicates the value of personal responsibility.” That’s how I do it with my writing teacher hat on.
I walked away wondering if it might be possible to hire a visiting specialist to lead PK Day at the Guild. Not a bad idea. And afterwards we’ll write about the experience. Maybe make a film. Always planning lessons...
But the true take away? Somehow, my being forced into the responsibility of keeping my apprentices cognizant of personal responsibility, I am empowered as a mom to do the same.
So in the end, after counting to 10 backwards very slowly and composing this little contemplation, I stumbled upon a quote to hang on our refrigerator, words to help us remember that puppies love to chew:
“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month.” -Theodore Roosevelt
PS...Did I mention that our puppy is named Theo after Roosevelt
A: Why an Ars Poetica of course.
Q: A what?
(Now the fun begins…)
A: Well, being a Latin phrase “ars poetica” is translated “on the art of poetry” in English. And art by definition allows the imagination to speak. Art shows.
Q: So how does poetry show?
A: Let’s explore.
To begin, compare a poem to the unexpected and you will begin to see the art of poetry:
A poem is an orange balloon against the blue sky.
A poem is a gift-wrapped pair of well-worn sneakers.
A poem is a baby crying at the end of a nap.
A poem is a collection of musical notes.
A poem is a silver spoon diving into vanilla ice cream.
A poem is honey on the tongue.
Think about how the poem infuses the senses and you will begin to “show” the art of poetry. Generate ideas by answering the following questions:
How does poem sound?
Example - A poem is river tumbling stones.
How does a poem look?
Example - A poem is a glass tower in gloaming.
How does a poem feel to the touch?
Example - A poem is nestled in velvet and fingertips stroking bark.
How does a poem taste?
Example - A poem is cayenne smothered in chocolate.
How does a poem smell?
Example - A poem is honeysuckle on a warm spring day.
Where does a poem take the reader?
Example -…to stars hanging in night sky.
Gather more fodder by imagining a series of “what if” scenarios…
If your poem was on the moon, how would it
If your poem was on stage, what would it wear and how would it act?
If your poem was a bird, what would it see?
What if your poem went exploring?
Keep imagining until you have a page of ideas.
Now, began by crafting your ideas to single sentences that describe the art of poetry and the essence of a poem:
A poem is the clap of rain, the trumpet of thunder and takes me to stars hanging in the night sky.
Next, break each sentence into poetic phrases. Feel free to make little word adjustments as you craft your line breaks:
A poem is
clap of rain,
trumpet of thunder,
and painter of stars
clinging to the night sky.
As you see, each sentence will be crafted to a single stanza. Try another and another. Soon you will have your Ars Poetica.
Archibald MacLeish "Ars Poetica" (1926)
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,
As old medallions to the thumb,
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown --
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind --
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
A poem should be equal to
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea --
A poem should not mean
Chemistry is much more than a table of elements, complicated theories, and experiments in the lab. Chemistry is the foundation of literally everything we know. But for our children, chemistry is at best a daunting subject, at worst downright boring. Mention the word chemistry and they will run! That’s why this year I chose to introduce my elementary and middle school apprentices to the subject before it was too late.
Honestly, chemistry is no more daunting than any other subject to be mastered. And chemistry is certainly NOT boring! Developing an imaginative view of chemistry is the key to unlocking its wonders.
Here are some ideas to get started.
1. Transcend the Textbook
There are all sorts of wonderful books available to help simplify this expansive subject. Chemistry: Getting a Big Reaction, by Simon Basher, is a really good introduction for children.
In his book, The Periodic Kingdom, P.W Atkins transforms the periodic table to a fictitious kingdom where we can explore the potential of its topography. This is the perfect, albeit heady, way to move beyond the mundane and journey into the wonderful territory of chemistry.
2. Go Digital
One of the best resources available on the web is hosted by The University of Nottingham. Trust me, The Periodic Kingdom of Videos is AMAZING, crazy-haired scientist and all! Your apprentices will want to watch every single video and once they do, they will never be bored by chemistry again.
3. Demonstrate Virtually
These ChemDemos from James Madison University help kids to visualize chemical concepts. (The Gummy Bear Sacrifice is particularly dramatic.)
Experiencing the wonders of chemistry is to experiment. But keep it simple. Focus on the concept of chemical reactions. Teach the budding chemist to hypothesize.
Or purchase a book of experiment recipes like, Janice Van Cleave's Chemistry for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work, by Janice Van Cleave
The Elements Puzzle: 1000 Pieces, by Theodore Gray
The Periodic Table of Elements Magnets, by Smart Memory Art
Elementeo Chemistry Card Game, by Alchemist Empire, Inc.
Periodic Table Playing Cards, by Les Entreprises SynHeme
6. Sing Along
I provided each of my apprentices with a frame from my local craft store—only $1.00 each—and gave them specific instructions to stain the frame with a color that would best represent or compliment their element (I, of course provided the watercolor). They were to put periodic table information on the front of the frame and amazing facts on the back of the frames. The frames would not only guide them in an oral presentation of their research, but in the end become a larger than life game for our guild, “Scramble them up and see how fast you can order them!”
Here are some wonderful resources to have on hand
during the research:
The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, and The Photographic Card Deck of The Elements: With Big Beautiful Photographs of All 118 Elements in the Periodic Table, by Theodore Gray, and The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Simon Basher.
PS – And just for a little more Periodic Table fun!
About a dozen years ago, a friend came to me who decided that she would bypass handwriting with her children and jump straight to keyboarding. She and her husband would allow their child to learn manuscript printing, but when it came to mastering a cursive form, their firm response, to this day, holds a prominent space in my long-term memory, “This is the computer age. Handwriting is archaic. Why do the work?”
Forget the obvious, “What happens if the computer is inaccessible?” The attitude of this parent was a reflection of a broader ignorance bubbling to the surface. My friend’s utilitarian reasoning was naive. This was my first encounter with creative illiteracy.
When I pressed her, my friend agreed that handwriting is an art form. She simply did not see the value of her young children expending effort to master an art form that would not be useful in college a decade or so in the future.
Mastering the art of handwriting fosters the ability to concentrate, to contemplate, and to communicate confidently.
Let’s face it. We are a distracted people. We are technology-centric, and our children are at risk. We are obsessed with digital signals that tickle our attention.
But we all, somewhere deep down know the difference between a personal, handwritten effort and a computer generated one. And we long for the personal touch. Check for yourself. There are countless sites on the World Wide Web that offer fonts simulating hand-written text. We download them for free. Sometimes we even pay for these fonts. But can the illusion of personal really fill the void?
Technology is here to stay. We all need to be technologically literate. I’m connected to my iPhone because I value the many benefits this technology offers. But what if a technological world without the balance of human artistry is shrinking individuality?
My eldest son is a composer who is now studying at the college level. He writes all his pieces by hand on archival paper. Last semester the Dean of the Applied Music Department pulled him aside and praised his melodic compositions that are equally beautiful to the eye and the ear. However, while he crowned Taylor one of the last “by-hand” composers, he suggested that purchasing a notation program such as Sebelius is imperative. This is not because the program will make Taylor’s work easier, but because most musicians who will read his work have never played from music that is handwritten and the foreign individual nuances are challenging to interpret. Taylor will purchase the program, but assured the Dean he will always begin the process of composing by hand hoping to, in the end to also be known for the individuality of his hand on the page. This got me to thinking, how many times do children come to me and say, “I can’t read cursive.”
Voice is the fingerprint of the writer, that one-of-a-kind something that no two writers have in common. Even though C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien encouraged one another in their craft, their voices on the page are vastly different. As a writer, I believe the hand is connected by the voice. Handwriting is an extension of the writer’s voice. When it comes to handwriting, we are known by the whisper of our loops and on the page.
I often remind my writing apprentices, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” That’s Hemingway of course, from, A Moveable Feast. This week in the guild, we’ll spring from Hemingway and embark on a back-to-handwriting adventure. We will carve out fifteen minutes a day to compose one true sentence, but not just the truest sentence we know, the truest-most-beautifully-handwritten sentence we know.
We’ll begin with these things in mind:
Choose the right writing implement and the right paper. The feel of the pencil or pen on the page is a personal choice. The balance of resistance and flow has to be just right. Take time to explore the options.
Consider grip and posture. While I don’t believe there is a right way to grip the writing implement, I do believe the pressure of the grip matters. The grip should always be relaxed, not cramped. The posture should be upright, comfortable, and the arm should rest on a table so that the arm directs the stroke, not the wrist.
Beautiful handwriting begins with beautiful lines. Remember, our alphabet is a set of symbols developed by human beings to represent spoken sound. The symbols, from an artist’s standpoint, are simply arbitrary looped and curved lines that represent the spoken word.
Be the tortoise. Slow handwriting is nimble. Slow and steady is non-chaotic. Fast handwriting is mindless, awkward. Fast and rickety is chaotic. Consider the metaphor. An investment of time practicing the art of handwriting will generate much more than beautiful strokes on the page.
The Many Health Perks of Good Handwriting, from the Chicago Tribune.
Why Handwriting Is Important, from the National Handwriting Association.
Why Handwriting Makes You Smarter, from Reader's Digest.
Yesterday one of my apprentices brought me a gift. She simply handed me the sunny little package and smiled. Actions really do speak louder than words, but in this case the action was sparked by the whisper of words. And that whisper was echoing all the way from Elizabethan England, a whisper from the Bard himself.
This particular apprentice has been part of my high school literature and composition workshop for three years. When her parents came to me for help at the beginning of her sophomore year, she was on her school’s “at risk” list. But, after meeting this girl, I knew she was not at risk. This girl was not interested in words—not the reading of words, not the writing of words, not the speaking of words. This girl was not interested because she could not imagine what in the world words had to do with her.
I receive calls on a regular basis from parents deeply concerned by apathetic, and often dangerous, behavioral tendencies in their uninspired adolescents.
My heart breaks each and every time.
The solution to this dilemma is a complex choreography that can only be accomplished longitudinally, one step at a time. But the dance can’t begin until I teach the dancer to read. I’m not talking about phonics—this is not about learning to decode language on the page. Truth is, illiteracy is much more than an inability to decipher letters on a page. I’m talking about the insidious kind of illiteracy that begins with three small words, “Books are boring.” This is the kind of illiteracy that shrinks possibility.
Choosing to read is courageous.
More than one parent has asked me, “What have learning to read and write got to do with promoting individuality?”
Great stories are chock-a-block with possibility.Possibility has the potential to spark curiosity.
Curiosity leads to imagination.
Imagination fuels dreams.
Over the years I’ve mentored countless young people whose GPA does not reflect their potential. And this particular apprentice was no exception. So I began as I always do, I handed her a book.
Great stories contain the potential to be instructive and experiential. For those who know how to use them, books will spark curiosity, evoke imagination, and foster creative critical thinking. Because the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual components of a story are inseparable, a single story can profoundly impact an individual. A great story may encourage us to revel in the beauty of creation, coax us to embrace heroism, fight injustice, may inspire us to love our neighbor as ourselves. No matter the case, great stories hold the potential for the reader to glean wisdom. Great stories encourage us to persevere in the complex tasks we encounter while reaching for life’s potential.
I took this high school sophomore by the hand and stood with her at the first page of a book, “In this particular story, as seventh grade comes to a close, Allegra Leah Shapiro has been selected as a finalist in a prestigious violin competition and this stirs up all sorts of inner conflict…”
Why does summer have to be so hectic?
What does it mean to be half Jew and half gentile?
Why is soprano, Diedre, crying?
How can I be a twelve-year-old violinist and have time to be a friend?
Why is my brother so annoying?
How has Mr. Trouble lost his song?
What is this gift from Bubbe Raisa?
And what of this great-grandmother I’ve been named after?
Will I be able to dig deep enough for Mozart?
Can I undo what has been done?
I read this to my apprentice believing with all of my heart that Allegra, might be able to inspire her, if she dared to read between the lines and listen, “You are not alone.”
“The Mozart Season,” I tell her, “is a quiet story, one filled with resounding music that just might change your life.” I leave it there, hand her the book and ask her (well, okay, require her) to read a bit so we can discuss the story in a week.
I’m always hopeful, but when a week has passed, I know she might still be at the starting blocks. This particular type of race is never a sprint.
A week later I ask, “So have you completed the reading?”
“Well, no, not really, I mean, well…”
“This was required reading.”
“I just really don’t get it.”
Obviously this is not about decoding the words on the page. This girl knows how to read, thing is, she has no idea how to be inspired by a story, has no idea how to embrace the universal truths, let alone apply them to her life. This girl has no idea how to animate a character like Allegra.
So I read the opening paragraph on the first page of chapter one: “In Mr. Kaplan’s studio is a needlepoint pillow, on a chair. On one side of it is a violin. The other side says, A teacher is someone who makes you believe you can do it. Somebody who took lessons from him a long time ago made it. When I was little, I couldn’t read it clearly because needlepoint letters have odd shapes.”
“Seems to me Virginia Euwer Wolff is using pretty plain language. This is not Shakespeare!”
“Um, I don’t know.”
“Has anyone ever told you that a great story is a mentor?”
She is about to roll her eyes, but surprisingly trusts me instead, “What?”
With I sigh of relief, I don’t miss a beat, “If we dig deep enough into the heart of a story, dig to its very core, we always discover a treasure. And I believe that this treasure has the power to inform our life. A book leads us by the hand on an exploration of discovery that will make us a richer person.”
“But my mind wanders when I read.”
“Yes. I’ve worked to slow down when I read, worked to build habits that help me ponder words, phrases, passages, peculiar shape, sound and meaning. And this work, this habit of being, has enabled me to value reading. Truth is, I’ve learned to love stories because I’ve discovered that stories enrich my individuality. I know you can too. I want to help you through this book because there is embedded treasure just for you. I want to help you do the work of extracting that treasure because your individuality matters. You matter”
She is beaming, but only for an instant. Then the work began.
That was three years ago. We made it though The Mozart Season in much the same way that Allegra got through the violin competition, gathering strength along the way. We read Pictures of Hollis Woods. We read Milkweed. We read another and another. Last fall we read The Screwtape Letters. This fall we tackled Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet.
So when my apprentice handed me the bag of snacks smirking the slogan, “Much ado about Mango,” I know she’s learned to read, really read. I hear the violins and see Allegra smile, “Remember, what’s down inside you, all covered up—the things of your soul. The important, secret things . . . The story of you, all buried, let the music caress it out into the open.”
Up until recently I thought that the Twelve Days of Christmas were the twelve days before Christmas. Not so. These twelve days, The Twelve Days of Christmas, are twelve days after Crīstesmæsse, the Chrsitmastide.
Twelve days came down to us from centuries past to represent the timing of the Magi, the Wise Ones from the East who followed stars and discovered something unimaginable—the Christ child in a stable.
And so this year, here in the 21st century, we are celebrating for twelve days after Christmas anticipating Epiphany or Three Kings Day.
Here are some ideas how you might too…
Here’s to keeping our hearts contemplating the curiosity of days, hope and joy for the New Year.
- The Whole Blackbird Team!
My son Taylor has remarked more than once that Danny Champion of the World is his all time favorite elementary read. Having a dad who is a real life inventor, I’m my son could really relate to this story. But like many young readers, I’m sure Taylor was simply drawn into Roald Dahl’s clever tale of the antics of Danny and his loving poacher/inventor dad.
Obviously Taylor did not build a habit of being for reading and writing over night. The arduous process involved days upon days of providing my son with the tools that pressed him into the work of becoming literate—in the not just able to read and write sense, but in the able to apply and create sense. The work was complex and the process was longitudinal. Looking back, providing consistent opportunity for Taylor to participate in a series of small steps, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other over time while incrementally increasing the complexity of the reading and writing expectations was key.
Still, sometimes the task of helping Taylor learn to read and write was like a game of limbo. Increase expectations too much and the pole was knocked down. Increase the expectations too little and Taylor would knock the pole off just for fun. The game all said and done, I’m pretty sure that my son’s investment in learning to not only read great stories closely, but to mine for applicable riches and learn to communicate his spoil in the form of words has strengthened his ability to bring an original idea to fruition. Taylor built a habit of being and that habit of being keeps him on his toes.
A habit of being is forged over time as our children engage in the work of learning to tackle complex processes, processes such as exploring literature and the process of mathematical problem solving, such as the process of crafting a poem or an essay or a fictional story. Establishing habits of being, best achieved slowly over time, is like transforming coal to diamond.
Habits of being spark imagination and imagination sparks curiosity and curiosity is the stuff from which we forge original ideas. And guess what? Bringing an original idea to fruition simply will not leave room for boredom.
Recently my seventeen-year-old son, Taylor, was bored.
Not for long.
One Cannon FD lens, one iPod, and a stack of cardboard. I watched my son think in threes.
The next thing I see can not exactly be captured in words. Think the bump and jolt of stop motion. Think the colorless blur of fast motion. Think the patience and precision of a piano tuner.
This mom moves into his kitchen studio on a pretense. I am not noticed scouring a counter or two to spy on his process. Soon the lens projects the screen of the iPod onto a white wall surface. Problem is the image is in reverse.
I see his interior voice utter, “Hmmm.”
Then I hear, “WAIT.”
I see my son scramble to the art cabinet and reemerge with a piece of tracing paper. He constructs a screen.
“I made an iPod television!” Suddenly my presence in the kitchen studio is acknowledged.
“Let's see if I can get the image bigger on the screen.” A few seconds later, “Whoa! Look Mom!”
And so, the next time your child is bored, slide a book across the table. And when they’re done reading hand them paper and pencil and ask, “Now what’s your idea?”
Letters are common ground.
Letters are a gift.
But our slapdash digitalized pace has fashioned handcrafted letters out of style.
Let’s face it. Letters are a gift we scarcely know how to handle.
As a writing mentor I’m at odds with the pervasive mechanistic approach to writing that cultivates dread and squelches the writer’s voice.
The work of writing is first and foremost an art form. I want my apprentices to marvel at the potential of language to transcend communication.
Words, crafted well, echo in the heart.
I am always seeking new ways to engage young writers with the finer of art of crafting words, making every effort to inspire through writing meaningful exercises. My goal is to cultivate curiosity and motivate young writers to engage in the complex process of writing that will produce something that echoes their heart. When young writers are empowered that their ideas are meaningful, they raise an authentic voice. Grammar and mechanics are secondary to voice.
I’ve come to discover in my own process as a writer and, after twenty years of mentoring, that writers who value their voice will not only focus on the difficult work of unpacking the rules of writing—grammar and mechanics—but will also integrate and apply that work.
Might the art of letter writing be revived?
This said and the Thanksgiving season upon us, I’m giving my writing apprentices a gift that I want to share with you, a gift in the form of a challenge:
This week, craft a letter of Thanksgiving. This week give words.
Here are some tips that will help your writing apprentices get started:
1. Riff on another writer’s work.
To begin the Thanksgiving letter, encourage writers to begin by listing some facts about Thanksgiving. Next, read Abe Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation. Think about these words being written in the midst of Civil War. How are these words relevant in 21st Century America? Now have them read Lincoln’s first sentence closely. Instruct writers to use Lincoln’s quote at the start of the letter and to do the work of translating the sentence, “I think Abe Lincoln meant ___________.” Finally, challenge the writers to use the phrases “blessings of the fruitful fields” and “healthful skies” to create a personal metaphor of thanksgiving. What might they represent in the apprentice’s world? Riffing on the work of a master mentor such as Abe Lincoln promotes specificity of language, here, the fruit will take the form of gratitude.
“The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.” – Abe Lincoln
2. Utilize parallel writing.
Begin with an interesting quote:
“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” – Henry David Thoreau
Find a pattern and craft a sentence of your own your own:
I would rather _________________________ than _________________.
I would rather consider the diversity in a pile of freshly raked fall leaves than wander aimlessly in a grumble of boredom.
3. Make your letter beautiful.
Writing is a process that begins with an idea.
Ideas must be forged to words on a page.
Never skip steps.
Rough drafts matter!
But once your drafting is done, once every word is as it should be, then (and only then) dive into the work of making your words shine on the page. Writing is gift and a gift is never wrapped until it is complete.
Once upon a time writers were apprenticed in the art of handwriting, were compelled to practice the basic shapes and orientation of letterforms. Once, writers were required to master a script, establish a hand—slant and flourish—one that was both legible and lovely. Now, there is not much value placed on this work.
Must the art of handwriting become yet another artisanal extracurricular? Engaging in the process of beautifying forces the young writer slow down to focus on words and phrases in a way that typing can’t, promotes the self-edit to a whole new level. I ask my apprentices often, “Isn’t a handwritten document more precious than a computer generated one?”
What is a fall morning without the scent of pumpkin pancakes tickling the kitchen?
Pancakes are quick breads and quick breads are great recipes to introduce little ones to cooking. With a little preparation before hand—pre-measured ingredients in portion bowls makes cooking with kids a very Montessori experience—cooking with little ones is quite academic.
First, assemble all the dry ingredients in a one bowl and the wet ingredients in another—a perfect task for little hands. Whisk the ingredients in each bowl (they are gonna love this part). Next, have them fold the wet into the dry, counting how many strokes it takes to just blend the ingredients. When it comes time to cook the pancakes, best for mom or dad to be in charge, but when it come to clean-up, by all means let them wash some dishes the old fashioned way in a sink of sudsy water!
- 2 cups flour (I use part whole wheat or nine grain flour)
- 3 T brown sugar
- 2 t baking powder
- 1 t soda
- 1 t allspice
- 1 t cinnamon
- ½ t ground ginger
- ½ t salt
- 1 ½ c milk
- 1 cup canned pumpkin
- 1 egg
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 2 T apple cider vinegar
The big idea was to study our state in detail for one full school year, learning its basic geography and all the state symbols. There was no pattern. We just designed it the way we wanted it as we journeyed through our study. We decided to spell C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A on little pillows to create a relief effect. Each letter was cut out of different fabrics that had Wonder Under applied to the back. Different embroidery stitches were used to embellish the ironed on letters. The pillows were then hung on little safety pins.
Along the left of the quilt are laminated hand drawn watercolored state symbols—state rock, flower, bird and so on. Our children were delighted to safety pin each symbol randomly.
The middle of our quilted California is made of muslin and is a quilt all it’s own with two sides and batting in the middle. Using a large state map as a guide, major features like deserts, mountain ranges, valleys and lakes were either applied using fabric or paints.
We had children bring in photos of themselves from different places in the state or just photos they had taken in different places. We cut them small, then laminated them and attached them with safety pins. All the quilters painted California poppies and signed their names.
For the finishing touch we used bright yarns to tie the quilt together at random spots. We entered our geography unit in the Mid-state fair and won a first prize ribbon!
It’s pretty obvious that a project like this takes hours and hours. Really, there was no rush... except the deadline for the fair!
That’s right, fun.
But fun—the true kind—is not a byproduct of easy.
Fun is hard work.
Developing reading fluency takes years. Developing writing proficiency takes years. One can’t really be accomplished separate from the other. Still, more often than not, we isolate the task of teaching the child to read from the task of teaching the child to write. Worse yet, we subdivide these tasks into smaller tasks—phonics, comprehension, grammar, capitalization, punctuation, syntax—until the disconnection is a grim mountain to climb. The joy of learning to read a great story should not be overshadowed by the work of learning to glean its riches.
The joy of writing should not be overshadowed by the work of learning the mechanical process of setting words to the page. Words on the page have the power to inspire, to inform, to exhort, to clarify, to persuade, but ultimately words on the page are a gift. When words on the page offer an expression worth expressing, the voice is authentic and the reader is engaged. Robert Frost himself reminds us, “No tears in the writer no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Words on the page are worthy on the giving and receiving end.
Blackbird & Company titles represent a selection of authentic classic and contemporary literature that are near and dear to our hearts. We’ve painstakingly created our literature discovery guides with an integrated approach to reading and writing in mind. Our goal is simply to help students engage in the work of loving to read and write.
Observation is a powerful skill. Not too long ago we were able to check out bird specimens from our local natural history museum. Sadly they've discontinued this service, but not before we were able to closely observe, sketch, and research more than a dozen species indigenous to our neck of the woods. Simultaneously, we studied the life work of Audubon. As we read, we embroidered original drawings of the birds we were researching.
This past spring, my daughter Hannah graduated from college. As she was a music performance and composition major, she had to write a significant body of original music. All of her music is experimental—Composition for Piano and Toy Piano, Piano and Hands, and so on. But it was the piece that she chose to play at her senior recital that made me smile, no doubt a nod to all the Observation Journal activities from her home school years.
This is what she has to say about composing the piece, entitled BirdTree:
I was inspired to write BirdTree when I stumbled across a video of a man who had created a record player that “plays” slices of tree trunks. The sound was transmitted as though a piano unlocks the music of the tree. In a thrift store, I discovered a book entitled, Field Birds and their Songs. These tools helped me imagine the diverse music of nature and inspired me to compose BirdTree. Reflecting now, all that luxurious time observing birds from the museum up close and personal on our own kitchen table must have somehow informed BirdTree. Without doubt this piece is a nod to Audubon! For this composition real melodies of birds are mixed with my personal interpretations of what different trees might sound like if I were wandering and listening to the forest like Audubon. You can hear a mighty oak, a sturdy elm, a weeping willow, and a tall pine interacting with a black and white warbler, the American robin, the blue jay, and the song sparrow. This piece is meant to echo the ethereal of forest life.
It is amazing how the past is stitched to the future.
Listen to BirdTree
Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream, Robert Burleigh
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon, Jaqueline Davies
During the course of our virtual traveling this summer, we decided to touch down in Times Square via a Ravensburger puzzle. The adventure took place on our dining room table until this past week when we decided some fresh air and bit of sunshine was in order.
We slid what little of the puzzle we had completed onto an unused presentation board so that it could be stored outside. The board allows us to leave the puzzle on the picnic table over night tucked safely from the family of four rambunctious raccoons and other neighborhood nocturnal wildlife who have adopted my boy's ninja warrior pool as a watering hole—check out the foot print!
So with only a few days of summer left, unplug in the great outdoors!
This summer we launched a visual literacy campaign inside my guild. We began with observational exercises. I call this close looking. The goal is to discover and decode the phonics of visual art—line, texture, value, shape, color. We began with Paul Klee.
Paul Klee wanted his make-believe faces to be truer than true ones. He wanted to portray complex emotions in his simple paintings, not just what the eye is able to see on the outside. Head of a Man, Going Senile or Senecio, is a perfect painting to learn just how he accomplished this task.
Spend some time exploring Klee's original.
Always use art vocabulary to guide the observation:
What is the personality of the lives in the painting?
What geometric shapes do you see?
Is the composition symmetrical or asymmetrical?
Is the texture smooth or rough?
Are the values bright or dull?
Is the color warm or cool?
Is the portraiture realistic or abstract?
This particular work was painted in 1922 while Paul Klee was teaching at the Bauhaus in Welmar. The painting now resides in the Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland.
Klee is famous for his experiments with bold color. In this painting, notice how the variations of color in the face contrast with each other and how the combined facial colors contrast with the bright orange background. Look closely, notice how the hot red eyes seem to jump off the canvas.
The simple, flat construction of the shapes is child-like—quintessential Klee. Klee used simple geometry to communicate complex mood and this is what makes his art unique.
The colors in this painting are warm and the shapes are simple. But this doesn't mean the composition is simple. Quite the contrary, the warm colors are complex, the simple shapes are constructed in a simply complex manner. And the best way to discover this complexity is to slow down, read the painting closely, and make a copy.
To copy the abstract face you will need:
- Acrylic Paints
- Paper Towels
1. Begin by mixing little tubs of paints that match the canvas, set aside.
2. Sketch Head of a Man onto the canvas lightly with pencil, paying careful attention to think proportionally.
3. Block in the colors using the paint in a thin manner with a bit more water.
4. Layer paint using a dry brush technique until the desired effect is achieved.
A close study of an abstract work of art takes time, cultivates patience and a host of wonderful character traits in the apprentice. But the most important benefit of a close reading of a painting such as this is the discovery that each line, each stroke of color, each simply constructed shape is certain phonics with vast potential to speak.