Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hidden Poetry Project

One challenge in teaching very small children to write poetry is that they don't really know what it looks like -- its literal or even imaginary shape. Children hear stories of a certain length and "shape" regularly. There are reliable forms and predictable elements that a child can make their own. Once upon a time, there was a princess. Once upon a time there was a lonely shepherd. In the end, the monster was defeated and the princess married the prince. From that jumping off place, a child can bring in the talking potatoes or the underwater bicycle or whatever they bring to the form, because they mostly know what to expect, and what is expected of them.

Poetry is different, because its forms are so varied. There are traditional pieces that look very organized and rhyme and maybe fit on a page in a sonnety way. There are more freeform pieces with different line lengths and interesting breaks and punctuation. A child encouraged to write a poem may not immediately know the scope -- two lines, twenty lines, twenty pages? This project was a way that my kindergardener could visualize her poem and get a sense of the space she was going to fill, before she wrote it.

I found this cool painting technique on Scrumdilly-Do and decided to modify it into a poetry prompt for teaching the junior class in Phi Bensa Zoe Academy. Phillip is five, Sadie is four, and they both did really well with this.

If you click on this link for the painting idea, you'll see very excellent how-to pictures, much much better than mine. The basic idea is that you fold up a big piece of paper in a staggered accordion fold. You just put little ripples in it so that when it all lies flat there is a new surface for the paper , with lots of hidden little strips folded up into it. Then you paint on this new surface:

Then you let it dry for a while and stretch it out:

This is where the poetry comes in. After the kids had these neat staggered strips of color and these white strips in between, I had them dictate a poem to me, and I wrote each line in a white strip. Very cool. They could see how many lines they needed and about how long the lines would be, so I think it looked somehow doable for them. Anyway, they did it:

Here's Sadie with her finished project. It is a poem about ballet and karate and I think the theme of it is that she really likes to leap around the house yelling and making muscles at us but that doesn't mean she can't still call herself a ballerina.

The coolest thing about this is that you can fold the paper back up, hiding the poetry, and it becomes a painting again. It's a secret poem. Possibly a magic poem. The magical properties have not yet been tested yet. If I wake up and the sink is empty of dirty dishes, I will let you know. It certainly was cool to put it back together, and unfold it, and fold it up again, etc.

Many skills involved here: folding, paper-clipping, painting in one direction (you want to paint in strokes perpendicular to the folds so you don't get any into the white strips) Sadie enjoyed herself, and so did Phillip. So, good for kindergarten. But would this exercise have value beyond the paste-craving years? An older child, or even an adult, might find this an interesting way to integrate writing and art. The pre-defined line limit could be seen as a constraint or a challenge -- kind of like making yourself write a sestina or even a haiku. Give it a try and see what you come up with. And props to Scrumdilly-do again.

We're part of the Book Arts Bash. Are you?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Choo Choo at the Zoo: Developments at the Virginia Zoo

Every zoo needs a train. Thanks to Norfolk Southern, I guess the Virginia Zoo is about to have one. Did you know about this? Apparently we haven't been to the zoo for a while. We also didn't know about the piglets and about the new eagle roosts and a whole bunch of other things. Shade garden! Whoa! Step back! HOLD ME DOWN.

The zoo is torn up in preparation for the train -- they're laying tracks and providing stations and whatever else a zoo train needs to be happy and successful. Enlightening.

I remember when the zoo had a building with giant glass walls where the elephants and rhinos lived, and they had fenced paddocks to run in and those cement and glass cages to eat in. I remember thinking that the rhino was really completely huge. Unexpectedly so. I mean, I would have thought a rhino was the size of a couple of horses, but not eight horses. That was when I was pregnant with Benny and before I became a homeschool mom and educated myself on the relative size of rhinoceruses and equines. Now I know everything about everything and would never be caught off guard on such a mundane topic as the mass of a rhino. Obviously.

The zoo train looks AWESOME. I can't wait to ride it. Another change:

Benny was delighted to find that there are new signs at the crossroads.

He took great pains to elaborately explain these signs to Sadie. He also went through the entire zoo "playing" the animals, making them talk to Sadie in different funny voices. She never got tired of saying, "My name is SADIE!" when the monkey or meerkat or buffalo said "Hey, there, little girl. Welcome to my exhibit! What's your name?" It was so darling and charming, it made my heart ache to hear it. He's such a good big brother, such a great playmate for her, so entertaining and also educational. Well sort of...

Benny: Look, Sadie, it's a LIZARD! A lizard from South America!
Some Girl Standing Nearby (with irritation): It's a gecko. A gecko.
Benny (kindly): Oh, it's okay. She doesn't know that word. It's just easier for her to hear the word lizard, because that's what she knows.

Thanks Benny. Thanks for shielding your sister from strange and disturbing words like "gecko."
One issue I have with the universe:

I'm really irritated with that one person who is always at the zoo, and always trailing my family, you know the I AM A ZOO MEMBER AND A MEMBER OF THE ZOO person? Who, like, calls all the animals by their proper names and remarks on the growth of each plant and tree and sighs fondly and refers to the lion as "Oh, my baby!" There was this woman, and she descended on the piglets with her smug daughter in tow, and she was all, "OH, look at our babies! See how they have grown! Now where's my favorite? Where's my favorite one? Oh THERE he is! There is my favorite!"

It's like translation this: "I am a zoo member and visit often because I am a member of the zoo and so in my frequent, frequent visits I have become very familiar with all aspects of this zoo of which I am a member!" You know what, lady? No one cares. Homeschoolers get in free at the zoo. Side note: The exact same behavior in a person under the age of 16 would not be intolerable -- in fact it would be adorable.

Yeah, I'm probably just cranky. After all, I haven't been at the zoo since all this train madness erupted. Maybe I *am* missing something. I'm so totally unaware of the piglets' names. But I do know that one of them pooped in their water pan. So, they're not my babies. Not really.

In other news, read about what we did today at Shez's Homeschooled Twins.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Suzuki Summer Camp

Maybe someday we'll be brave enough to attempt a Suzuki Institute with both the children, but for now there's the Academy of Music's Suzuki Camp. This year Sadie was able to go too:

She was, in fact, the tiniest one:

She was very excited to get her camp t-shirt and even submitted to the indignity of wearing PANTS in order to match the rest of the kids and wear her t-shirt today for the final show.

The teachers are very patient with Benny's behavior. With Sadie, they don't have to work so hard. For every Netzer that drives you insane but flies through the material, there's another Netzer that delights you with her model behavior but moves through the material at an apathetic pace. Something for everyone. Do you want to struggle with getting the kid to play or getting the kid to stop playing?

Summer camp is over for this year. We did Hurrah Players, Princess Dance Camp, Young Chef's Academy, and Suzuki Violin Camp. It's been a long few weeks for these homeschooled children who aren't accustomed to dealing with so many other people, so much structure. It was a learning experience for all of us.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Treasure Island Homeschool Seminar: Literary Lesson Plans and Nautical Worksheets

It's here! The Treasure Island unit study you've been staying up nights longing for! Ready to download and use in your homeschool family, your co-op, or even your regular old classroom! Get out your eye patch and saw off your leg -- it's time to launch the Hispaniola and go search for Captain Flint's lost cache of Spanish gold! Since the book itself is so full of pirates being skewered and shot in their pursuit of financial gain, I'm giving away the lessons for free. Free is the new ARRRRRGHHHH!

This printable 35-page PDF includes twelve lessons to take you and your student through Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. You'll learn ancillary skills like boxing the compass, reading signal flags, and telling time with ship's bells. Write your own pirate story, make an oilskin treasure map, and learn the songs from the novel. Six vocabulary worksheets, one for each section of the book, introduce nautical terms like hawser and capstan along with regular old words like incongruous and dexterity. Click right here to get the PDF from Google docs. No charge.

Where do you get it? The link again: Treasure Island: A Piratey Literature Seminar for Kids

This seminar was written for use in our homeschooling co-op and classroom-tested on a group of eight 6-9 year old boys. They approved of it, especially the knot-tying, the skits, and the shouting "Yo Ho HO."

Enjoy! Send me pictures! Long John Silver awaits!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dance Recital Videos

Well, eventually I do deliver. Here are Benny and Sadie's contributions to the "Let's Go to the Hop" show at the Art of Dance Academy, filmed during the dress rehearsal by their unlikely-to-hop but happy-to-watch mother.

Benny as Elvis:

Sadie in a poodle skirt:

The most horrifying sewing task I have ever attempted modelled by the most awesome tap dancer in the known world and his beloved ballerina sister:

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Approximation of Old Jerusalem

Those of you who know me will remember that in early June I went through a short period of hair-pulling insanity and mouth-foaming angst as Ahno and I were constructing the decorations for old Jerusalem at church. Ms. Charlie's summer program for the children involves learning about the culture and custom in Jerusalem in Jesus' time. They are learning to say Hebrew words, recognize objects in the home, and practices in the synagogue. They're going to make bricks, dye fabric -- yesterday they worked on using a stylus to create Hebrew words in a block of wax.

Ahno and I are not responsible for the awesome lessons, but we did make the backdrop for it, and here's our work:

The "in the home" set with Ms. Barbara teaching the children:

The "in the synagogue" set:

More synagogue:

Two homes, or a home and a market stall, or two market stalls, depending:


Ahno and I worked together, but she did all the conceptualizing, drawing, etc. I did the lifting and carrying the backdrops up from the basement and around the room. :) I did the backdrops in the homes/market stalls and she did the sheep and donkey and the angel in the synagogue -- the picture of the donkey was blurry but he is a very fine specimen. Anyway, whatever it is, it's done, which is more that can be said for the dishes.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Science of Cooking at Young Chef's Academy

One of the prizes at the GUESS Homeschool Science Fair was a class at the Young Chef's Academy in Ghent. Sarah Horne at YCA donated a "Science of Cooking" class for the 10 winners of the Emil Fisher Award for Sweet Experimentation.

I must admit I had a few misgivings about the wisdom of teaching all those age groups together -- she had a 4-year-old all the way up to an 11-year-old. I was also wondering how she could keep ten kids in their seats, safe, patient, and engaged with such a personal, hands-on thing as cooking. The parents were encouraged to drop off and come back later, but I stayed to take pictures of the class and also to help if needed. I was sure I would be needed.

I did NOT need to worry like that! Sarah Horne is a BRILLIANT, GIFTED teacher. Her deft handling of the activities and the students was incredible to watch. I ended up being richly entertained during the hour I spent watching her teach, and completely indelibly impressed.

In my experience, there are two types of "funny" teachers -- the type who are actually engaged with the kids, and the type whose true audience are the parents watching. Sarah played straight to the kids, and they found her completely hilarious.

One of the students, Michael, was so totally informed on all the issues she discussed (floating eggs and active yeast, among other things) that he was answering all the questions. He even knew what albumen was. Shocking. She teased him mercilessly but affectionately, and he spent the class modestly pleased with himself. Another teacher would have felt annoyed or intimidated by a kid who knew the answers before they came out of her mouth -- Sarah just worked him into her act. It was a beautiful thing.

I highly, highly recommend the Young Chef's Academy in Ghent -- a master teacher in her element is a sight to behold. Your children WILL have a fantastic time, and there is still time to get in on their Olympic-themed summer camps.

You can see all my pictures and another video in my YCA Flickr Set.