Category Archives: Celebrations

The “Sloppy Copy” That Changed History

School kids learn that the first draft of writing is considered the “sloppy copy.” Rereading and revision is the writing process they are taught to use and it’s a good one. This summer you may see it, especially if a piece of writing is due on the first day of school.

This Fourth of July, tell your child about how thirty-three year old Thomas Jefferson authored the “sloppy copy” of the Declaration of Independence.  It was only after John Adams and Benjamin Franklin suggested revisions that one of our founding documents was ready to change the course of history.

Here’s one view of the Declaration of Independence in it’s “sloppy” form.

DEC. OF INDEP. 1

DEC. OF INDEP. 1

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, loc.gov

Flag Day’s Star-Spangled Banner

What do you remember about Flag Day celebrations (June 14) when you were in school?  You probably participated in a ceremony at the school flagpole.  Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts wore their uniforms on that day, and the Boy Scouts usually performed the honor of raising the flag.  This ceremony often included singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

If Flag Day fell on a weekend one of my grandfathers, a WWI veteran, made a solemn ceremony of putting out his flag.  During this task his attitude receded into silence and duty, which impressed me. We’d climb the stairs to the landing just before the third floor, where he’d lean out the window to attach the flag to the pulley.  The sound of the metal flag grommets clanking against the pole made a memorable sound to me.

In addition to Flag Day ceremonies, we school kids were drilled in the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner.  I’m not an educator who favors drilling to learn, but memorization has its place.

When you and your child put out your flag on Flag Day, see if you both know the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, written in 1814 by Washington, D.C., attorney and poet Francis Scott Key.

Thanks to the Maryland Historical Society Collection, all four verses of our national anthem are here.

What Does Leap Year Mean to You?

If you have a February 29 birthday, it probably means you have a celebration planned for Leap Year Day. Or, like Amy Adams in the movie Leap Year, you might be following an Irish tradition of proposing marriage to your boyfriend.

As you continue reading, listen to “A Leap Year Promise,”  by Randy Edelman. 

Your family can create a celebration, too.  Brainstorm ideas together about each family member’s life four years from now. This kind of thinking helps children to invent, imagine, wonder, and create—all top thinking skills.

Next, gather paper, envelopes, and writing materials. Have everyone write letters to themselves, to be opened on the next Leap Year Day.

Finally, seal the letters in envelopes and put them away, to be opened on February 29, 2020.

There you go: a new and fun family tradition!

Writing a Love Letter to a Child

Some time ago, my husband and I agreed to stop spending more than $2.00 on a card. Later on, we scratched even the $2.00 and resumed our note writing. I say “resumed” because back in college, we wrote love letters to each other every week for two years.

I saved every one of his. Forty years later, I discovered them bundled together in our cellar.

His handwriting hasn’t changed much. He used his own voice, wrote in his style, from his heart. His love sings clearly and he writes about specifics—what he’s thinking of me as he rushes off for work, how he feels as he drives home. The letters said things that were meant only for me. Above all, he took the time to send it in an envelope with a stamp, something rare today.IMG_4572

Believe it or not, there’s a parallel here to home and the classroom. We educators are taught to give specific praise to a child. “You chose an excellent synonym for ‘yellow’” helps the child more than the generic “Good job!” Not that “good job!” is wrong, but it can mean anything to anyone.

It’s the same thing with Valentine’s Day cards. Why purchase generic messages? Write a handwritten love letter to your child, full of specific things that only you know and notice.

Also, remember that the best love letters are personal.  In forty years, your child might even have a bundle of them, in their own cellar, to rediscover.

Unique Gifts for Children

 

You’re doing lots of gift-giving this month, no matter which holiday you celebrate.  Our family celebrates Christmas, but what I write here works for any December holiday of light and peace.

Wilcox

Painting by Jessie Wilcox Smith, who also illustrated The Night Before Christmas.

After each child of mine was born, I began a family tradition of giving and inscribing a Christmas book to our children every year.  Over time, they build up a sizeable library of Christmas books, with a different inscription to mark each holiday.

Adding an inscription—a personal message, signed and dated by you—on one of the first pages–turns a book into a unique gift.  I still have a few books given and inscribed to me before I could read. Reading an inscription from an older relative remains meaningful, even years later.

If you buy books for children this Christmas, here are four I recommend:

The Night of Las Posadas, Tomie de Paola (author and illustrator). Puffin Books. For picture book lovers.

Thomas Nast, Santa Claus

Illustrator Thomas Nast of the 19thc. gave us one of the most famous images of Santa Claus.

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore; I like the version illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. (“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!”).  The version edited by Daniel Sheely includes photos of Concord and Orchard House as well as fascinating annotations.  Remember that it’s a book for boys, too.

The Gift of the Magi, by O.Henry. in The O.Henry Short Story Collection. I like the 2009 volume published by Merchant Books.

Enjoy thinking up an inscription that’s special to the child and remember to date it. Whatever you write is unique because it comes from you, and will stand the test of time.

 

 

Summer Night Sounds

Right now, I’m sitting near an open window and listening to a nighttime chorus of katydids and crickets in huge numbers. Want to listen, too?

How many night insect sounds can you identify? Besides being relaxing music from nature, children find it incredibly interesting to learn about insects and how they create their songs.

Make learning about summer night sounds a memorable experience in your family.  Click here for plenty of insect identification info on a great site.

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!

 

 

 

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

Common Core Plus S’mores

Our daily conversations are full of fractions and estimation:

I’m half way there…The project is 75% complete…About a quarter of a piece

What fraction best represents this slice?

What fraction best represents this slice?

That’s why it’s important to thread these skills into teaching whenever possible. And since this Friday, May 15, is National Pizza Party Day, pull out all the stops!

Remember math worksheets with pictures of pizza showing how     ¼ + ¼ = ½ ? Without a visual, it’s hard for some students to understand that when they add fractions, the piece gets bigger but the denominators get smaller.

Guy Fiori's S'mores Pizza.  Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine

Guy Fiori’s S’mores Pizza. (Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine)

This isn’t just for young children, either. I’ve known many students who needed the help of visuals and manipulatives right into high school. Providing these aids is not babyish, nor is it some kind of crutch, nor should it be shaming. Knowing that you need tools to help solve a problem is smart.

When you have a pizza party math lesson, it’s an interdisciplinary feast! Allow students to make the dough and choose their own combinations and amounts of toppings.

Will you use 1/2 of the bag? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Will you use 1/2 of the bag?
(Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Next, students write out the recipe using fractions and demonstrate making their pizza, explaining their math along the way. You might even have a taste testing to choose the most delicious variations.

Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice.  (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

There you have it.  Common Core math and English language arts, plus a built-in assessment.

Our Boston Marathon

Our Boston Marathon is a glorious celebration every Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts.

Four time Boston  winner and famed American runner  Bill Rodgers (K. Nollet, 2014)

Four time Boston winner and famed American runner Bill Rodgers (K. Nollet, 2014)

Although I’m not a runner, the Boston Marathon has always been a rite of spring. In childhood, my father and I watched runners on Rt. 135, across the street from Tasty Treat in Ashland. I played the national anthem at the start as a member of the Hopkinton High School marching band. My family has hosted runners. Last year my father, a 90-year-old World War II vet, was honored at the starting line.

The Boston Marathon offers a spectacular teaching and learning opportunity for every teacher. You can practically invent a unit on the spot, both high interest and Common Core compliant.

The Boston Marathon includes every runner. (K.Nollet, 2014)

The Boston Marathon includes every runner. (K.Nollet, 2014)

Length, time, world and course records are just the beginning of the mathematics embedded in it. Runners’ compelling stories make excellent writing topics; an entire section of The Boston Globe pulls a unit together with reading articles, graphs, maps, and charts.

Runners arrive from all over the world, an excellent geography lesson. The Marathon’s history is rich in tradition, both Olympic and Boston. However, when we teach history to students, the darker stories are part of an honest picture.

What makes people cheat? In 1980, Rosie Ruiz  jumped in near the finish and was initially claimed the winner.

Why were women excluded from Boston Marathon until 1972? Jock Semple tried to physically push Katherine Switzer out of the race.

Elite runners have a separate start. (K. Nollet, 2014)

Elite runners have a separate start. (K. Nollet, 2014)

Why did the Tsarnaev brothers plant two bombs that killed 3 and injured over 260? This event still feels acutely fresh to us Bostonians, who have been watching the current trial.

A moment of silence occurs at 2:49 p.m. today, “One Boston Day,” observing the second anniversary of that event.