Listen and Learn with Spooky Stories

When you teach children to listen and learn with spooky stories, consider using my favorite, a performance by the Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air. Listen to a sample here.

Image from www.wmht.org
The tale’s terrifying chase. Image from http://www.wmht.org

You remember the tale about a schoolmaster with a strange name…a ghostly night…and a frightening, headless horseman. Accompanied by evocative music, it’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving.

We know that learning to listen is a life skill, but it takes loads of patience to teach. However, when you start with a topic of high interest to children—like spooky stories—it becomes easier. And radio theater is an art form that includes dramatic readings, sound effects, and music to engage the imagination.

1974 U.S. postage stamp. Image from neatocoolville.blogspot.com
1974 U.S. postage stamp. Image from neatocoolville.blogspot.com

I’ve taught children to listen toThe Legend of Sleppy Hollow many times.  I wrote key phrases on the board for children to think about and to listen for in context. Some children liked to draw during a learning to listen lesson–and you wouldn’t believe the terrific results!  Reenactments of favorite scenes followed the story. A good extension activity students explored was about creating sound effects.

When we work at teaching children to listen and learn, it doesn’t have to be drudgery.  Engage children through their interests and you are halfway there!

Piano Month and Chopin: Developing the Mind

September is National Piano Month and taking lessons is a great opportunity to help your child to develop her mind—think problem solving, listening, analyzing, focus, grit. I studied the piano for years and tenacity was one of the biggest skills I learned.

The first months, even years, of learning the piano is fun. The pieces are easy to play and the practice demands are few.

Chopin as painted by his once-fiancé, Maria Wodzinska.
Chopin as painted by his once-fiancé, Maria Wodzinska.

However, once a student gets to the third through fifth years, the fun turns to work and discourages many students from continuing. A lot of children take piano lessons (did you?) but lose interest after they reach the intermediate level.

Help your child stick to it when the going gets tough. Listen to piano music together. Play the works of incomparable composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) to wash your home in piano music. Load the dishwasher as you listen to a Chopin piece, or sit with your eyes closed and relax.

You’ll then be ready to enjoy the International Chopin Piano Competition in October!

School Dress Code Wars

Back to school and new beginnings feel exciting, except for one thing—the dress code wars! I wonder if parents know how much time teachers and administrators invest in enforcing these rules. We want our children to dress safely and “appropriately,” a word that has different meanings for many.kids getting dressed  I hold two perspectives.

When principal of a K-8 school, I enforced a dress code of uniforms that were part of the school’s mission. Parents loved the uniforms because they were affordable and the parents associated it with high standards, belonging, and pride. However, many children came to school with shoes, shirts, pants, and other items that were not dress code.

Much of my communication with students became about what they were not wearing and to fix it. Go to the nurse, call your parents, borrow the right item out of the lost and found. As the year wore on, so did these tiresome, negative conversations.

Callout-round-leftIn contrast, my daughters attended a junior-senior high school with no dress code. Saggy pants? Go for it. Tank tops with spaghetti straps? Perfect. Shorts and flip flops in the snow? No problem.

Except that “belly shirts” were the fashion and my younger daughter fought me mightily over wearing them. It was extremely hard being a parent and holding the line.

What began to change her mind? A teacher, who began a conversation with the students in his class:

“What message are you sending with your clothes? Why?”

This teacher kept the conversation going for a few weeks, until the students had taken enough time to talk and really understand the issue, and from many points of view.Callout-round-left

That school’s mission was to teach students how to think. Doing this takes time and thought.

A teacher’s relationship with students should be deep enough to talk them through struggles that affect them daily. Let’s think about this. Consider the message. Is it one we want to send? Let’s think about who we are. How do we want to present ourselves?

A dress code may not be part of the curriculum. Teaching students how to think? It’s never out of style.

Military Family Stories

Veterans of World War II rarely speak of their service.  In the case of my father, humility is part of the reason.

SSgt Morgan P. Molloy, Sr., age 91. Tail gunner who flew on B25 "Rhode Island Red."
SSgt Morgan P. Molloy, Sr., age 91. Tail gunner on B25 “Rhode Island Red.”

 “Everybody did it,” he shrugged, referring to his peers in the 1940s.

He is one of a handful of remaining WWII veterans in his town. Read his story, published this week in the Metrowest Daily News.

 If you are a veteran, or have a family member or friend who served in the military, record the story.  Videotape it or take notes as you talk.  Ask to see what pictures or memorabilia they have from that time–that helps to prompt remembrances.

Get your children involved–sometimes they come up with the best questions–because this is how they learn about family history, world history, democracy, and making peace.

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.

Birds, Music, Classroom Management

No one has ever put together music with nature’s music like Robert J. Lurtsema.

If you love classical music and lived in eastern New England  from the 1970s to the 1990s, Robert J woke you every morning with these incredible sounds.

He used his own recordings of birds to create a soundscape using, in this case, Ancient Airs and Dances Suite by Ottorino Respighi. At the 5:15 mark, notice the fade from birdsong to Respighi.

Set the mood for your students to settle themselves, focus their minds, and to start the day’s journey on a calm, thoughtful note.

 

 

Thanks to John Lester at http://becunningandfulloftricks.com

 

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.

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/

 

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.

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!