The Art of Wandering

On a weekend trip to Québec City, we visited sites recommended by a travel book— Montmorency Falls, the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupré, the farmer’s market, art galleries and cafés, all lovely and worth experiencing.IMG_3997

Sometimes, though, an itinerary needs to breathe.

My husband and I set off one evening to roam the cobblestone streets that overlook the great St. Lawrence River. Wandering of any kind invites the unexpected, and that’s what happened.

A wisp of song curled down a hill. The melody drew us up a narrow street and around the corner of an ancient stone building. There, in the shadow of Louis XIV, a quartet of singers sang opera.

One beautiful piece after another rippled forth in the sun. There was something for everyone, sort of an opera’s-greatest-hits program. And I melted right into it, shoulders and all. My imagination relaxed and soared.

Here’s a lovely wander for your imagination, the Intermezzo from the opera “Cavalleria rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni.

Grandparents and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes

Your two granddaughters come to visit while their mother copes with a new baby. Every morning, you pour mountainous bowls of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes for each one before they come downstairs.

Did you know Kellogg's Corn Flakes has been around for over 100 years? (K.Nollet, 2015)

Did you know Kellogg’s Corn Flakes has been around for over 100 years? (K.Nollet, 2015)

You set out spoons and the yellow milk pitcher. You have firm ideas about the propriety of leaving the cereal box on the table, so you put it back in the cabinet.

Years ago, I was one of those little girls and severely disappointed.  Why?

Because I’d been deprived of one of life’s pleasures–reading the cereal box while eating.

Have you noticed how we all read cereal boxes over and over? It’s entertainment and learning, something today’s grandparents love to provide.

Lots of preschoolers can read plenty on the box because they recognize the logo, colors, shapes, and easy words. Older grandchild will notice the kayaking and Kellogg’s free cruise contest. Why not help them enter?

Do your grandkids know Corny the rooster? (K.Nollet, 2015)

Do your grandkids know Corny the rooster? (K.Nollet, 2015)

The nutrition information alone is full of math and science possibilities—percentages, measurement, minerals, vitamins—and you can practice Spanish and English at the same time.

On the back of the box, there’s a message just for you. “Discover the possibilities” the next time you serve a bowl of corn flakes.

Pluto: A Girl, A Grandfather, and A Teacher

Eighty-five years ago, 11-year-old Venetia Burney sat at breakfast with her grandfather, who was a university librarian at Oxford.VenetiaBurney
He talked to her about the latest exciting news story, that a new planet had been discovered. A suitable name hadn’t yet been found, he pointed out.

Venetia’s teacher had taught her students that the other planets were named for Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. The teacher had taken the students outdoors on a “nature walk” to make a model of the solar system. Clumps of dirt were placed apart to show the planets’ relative distance from the sun.

PlutoWhen Venetia’s grandfather asked her what she’d name the new planet, she replied, “Pluto,” the Roman god of the mythological, dark underworld.

Impressed, he relayed this suggestion to an astronomer friend, who brought the name “Pluto” to his colleagues, who voted in favor of it.

[Listen to a 2006 interview with Venetia here.]

Venetia’s grandfather rewarded her with £5 and wrote a note to her teacher, recognizing the “capable and enlightened” instruction and the value of the “nature walk…[where she learned about the] gloom of distance.”

What does this story teach us? First, when grandparents talk with their grandchildren about current events, it matters. Conversation knits generations together and helps children learn to think.

Second, when students learn interdisciplinary topics like mythology and science, they put together their learning in wonderful ways we cannot predict.milkyway

Third, when a grandparent writes a letter of thanks to a teacher, it is not only recognition, but also a gracious act of goodwill and appreciation.

 

 

 

 

Credits:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html

http://mentalfloss.com/article/48673/venetia-burney-11-year-old-girl-who-named-pluto

http://facts.randomhistory.com/pluto-facts.html

http://nineplanets.org/news/an-interview-with-venetia-burney-phair/

 

A Shiver of Sharks

“It’s Shark Week!” The radio voice awakened me with this news, which I thought was an awesome way to start the day.

This tooth is more than an inch long and still quite sharp. (K.Nollet 2015)

This tooth is more than an inch long and still quite sharp. (K.Nollet 2015)

Sharks thrill us with wonder, curiosity, and fear. Once you learn more about sharks, though, the fear usually turns to respect. That’s how I feel when I visit the beach in Venice, Florida.

Notice the different colors. (K.Nollet, 2015)

Notice the different colors. (K.Nollet, 2015)

Prehistoric sharks’ teeth wash up everywhere. One look at these shiny dark triangles and my mind starts organizing a math lesson. Or a science project. Or writing and art. You get the idea.

This summer, why not collect objects from the natural world to bring to your children? It doesn’t matter if they’re from your local park or someplace exotic. Display your finds at a child’s level, add a few books, and watch their curiosity grow.

 

 

N.B. Shiver refers to a group of sharks.

High Stakes Kindergarten

A recent story about kindergarten and the Common Core in The Boston Globe got me steamed enough to write a letter to the editor.

We teachers and administrators must speak out when articles like this one appear. I take seriously my responsibility to cultivate social justice in the world. The Common Core and other state standards do no harm as a road map. It’s when we set children up for high stakes testing that policymakers go awry.

Make no mistake, test prep is everywhere and in every grade. If your kindergartner comes home with piles of worksheets, well, there you have it. Just because a five-year-old can learn to multiply doesn’t mean they should spend time on it. No body of research on young children supports this type of learning.

Children from privileged families in well-to-do areas don’t attend worksheet kindergartens. Children from generations of poverty and illiteracy do. Yet they are the ones who need play the most, to help them develop into socially and emotionally healthy people.

All kindergartners deserve creative, loving, well-provisioned kindergartens—complete with wonderful play areas that include small furniture, blocks, dress-up supplies, tools, and homemaking areas with pots and pans.  It’s hardly an understatement to say that our society depends on it.

Do Pets School at Work, or Work at School?

To mark Take Your Dog to Work Day (June 26), I offer this piece from 2010, published at Lesley University as “The Magic of Mario and G Force.” Learn what a difference pets make in the classroom.

It’s a steamy spring afternoon in a city school. Twenty-six hot first graders in navy polo shirts plop onto the rug to hear their teacher read a story.Brown and white guinea pigs Afterward, she asks her students to write a journal response from the perspective of hamsters Mario and G-Force, the class pets.

Then the magic of this lesson unfolds. As students drift to different areas of the room to write, many of them choose to sit in the camp chairs arranged around the large hamster cage. It has tall rolling legs, bringing it right up to student level—perfect! This means Mario and G-Force participate as full members of the class, offering viewpoints from all 4 sides as they nibble, groom, and snuffle around.girl writing

Students who gather around Mario’s and G-Force’s cage sit as easily in their camp chairs as if they were adults sitting around a campfire, except they have journals in their laps. Voices drop to a murmur as students read Mario’s perspective aloud to themselves or review G-Force’s opinion with a partner.

Where is the teacher during this half hour of student writing? Not at her desk, which is practically invisible. She’s working one-on-one with two or three students as the rest of the class handles the writing on their own.

And their writing is terrific! Children show me some of their journal responses and I see spirited and imaginative writing, wonderful vocabulary, and students who love to write. Mario-G-Force-and-camp-chairs-as-writing-center is a blueprint for success if ever there was one.red guinea pig

For first graders only, you say? Not by a long shot. I’ve been in secondary classrooms with pets and comfortable chairs and they are the kinder, gentler places our adolescents need to support their growth and development.

Try some Mario and G-Force in your classroom. The results won’t disappoint.

Math on National Fudge Day

When I heard that today was National Fudge Day, I dug out my grandmother’s recipe book to find “Fudge Without Cooking.” Grammy reused and recycled many things, including two pieces of plywood from her friend Mrs. Bagelmann’s husband, a pharmacist. Inside, she handwrote, typed, or taped recipes on stiff manila cardboard pages.

The first page recipes begin with “Mrs. Potter’s Sponge Cake” and end with “Amalia’s Yum Yum Cake.” (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Following a fudge recipe with children creates the perfect opportunity for practicing math skills. It’s a great way for students to help build confidence using math. Recipes involve other skills, too, like reading, comprehension, vocabulary, planning strategies to solve problems, thinking, rethinking, timing, and lots of measurement and estimation.

Ask students if this potato is right for the fudge. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Ask students if this potato is right for the fudge. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Plus, it’s fun to hear students hypothesize about why a potato is in the fudge.

Approach using this recipe any way you wish.  I’d probably provide the ingredients, tools, and a microwave and tell a small group of students that I had faith in their ability to figure it out.  Then, I’d assess them along the way.

For others who prefer to take it step by step, consider this approach:

1.  Students read the recipe.  Ask “What ingredients do you need and how much of each? What is your plan to obtain them?”

Shave a little chocolate off the block so children can experience the taste. (Photo K.Nollet, 2015)

Shave a little chocolate off the block so children can experience its particular taste. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

2. Student read the list of ingredients.  Ask “What units of measurement are used in this recipe? What tools will you need? How is unsweetened chocolate different from a candy bar?  How many potatoes do you estimate make 1/3 cup?”

3.  Students explain the tasks that the verbs indicate, including if they need tools to complete them.  Ask them about melt, blend, mix, sift, add, knead, turn out, press.

(I encourage teachers, parents, or grandparents to let the child talk more than you do.  It’s easy to jump in and tell the answer, but don’t.  The best hands-on learning lets students discover on their own.)

IMG_3889

(Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Continue and release the responsibilities as much as you can.  Click on the recipe to enlarge it.

This recipe was originally printed in Parade magazine, in 1971 or 1972.  The Parade Food Editor was Beth Merriman and the photo was by Walter Strelnick.

 

 

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Flag Day, Vexillology, and You

Did you celebrate Flag Day when you attended school? Perhaps classes gathered at a special assembly, or around the flagpole outside.  The program was short and centered on patriotic songs and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, often led by a scout or a local official.

Flag Day rarely requires an elaborate celebration and it is more powerful, I think, because of its simple sentiment: we remain loyal to our country, symbolized by its flag. The youngest of us understand this, too, especially when they see older children carrying out a Flag Day ceremony.

One person who collects United States flags and knows a lot of their history is John Andringa of North Carolina. Watch this short video with children and see what you learn from this vexillophile!

 

 

 

Music for Trust, Focus, and Clarity

My children attended a high school that encouraged its students to listen to music if it helped them focus on their work. Neither ear buds, nor phones, nor iPods were banned.

Do you prefer piano music? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Do you prefer piano music? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

I like this philosophy of beginning with trust. It shows both faith in a student’s ability to make appropriate choices, and then values the student’s choice.

Do you see the suggestion of raindrops in Chopin's score? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Note the suggestion of raindrops in Chopin’s score.(Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Students who were distracted by music received help or support depending on their needs. The teachers’ overarching goal was to help students learn what worked best and helped them concentrate.

For me, it depends on what the task is, so I adjust my environment accordingly. Favorite musical soundtracks, jazz, or early music are some of what I use. Today, I offer Frédérik Chopin’s (1810-1849) Prelude No. 15 in D-flat Major, also known as the “Raindrop.”  How does this piece work for you?

After Memorial Day

Memorial Day has its roots in the years following the Civil War. In the nineteenth century, on Decoration Day*, people honored their loved ones who died serving our country in war, by decorating their graves. In 1971, it was designated Memorial Day, a federal holiday.

Sarah Orne Jewett, author of short story "Decoration Day" (1892).

Sarah Orne Jewett, author of short story “Decoration Day” (1892).

I prefer the old name, though, because it conveys so much more. While some still decorate graves on Memorial Day, it has the feel of a day that is celebrated at-arm’s-length, like something that we watch on TV. That lulls us into forgetting that death—and great suffering—is part of war.

Perhaps you remember the controversial, reauthorized ban by President George W. Bush, on the media publishing photographs of our returning dead from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe that when we see the awful results of war conveyed by flag-draped coffins, we cannot hide from our responsibility to make peace.

What’s a parent or teacher to do with that huge agenda? After Memorial Day, teach toward peace. Teach children to write letters to representatives, senators,to the secretary of defense, and to the president, and express their opinions. Hang your American flag every day.

Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

Most importantly, teach children how to make peace with neighbors, friends, and family, and then set the example.  Our world has never needed this practice more than it does today.

*Click here to read “Decoration Day” by Sarah Orne Jewett