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Sharpening Pencils


When Hannah was five her best friends were twin boys. The trio devised all sorts of amusing
activities. One sunny afternoon I noticed they were spending a significant
amount of time gathered round the child-sized picnic table that Hannah’s father
built. “How cute, they are conversing,” I thought to myself as I went for my
camera to capture the moment.


When I zoomed in I spied a couple Willie’s screwdrivers and
a little pile of screws in the grass. I zoomed in closer. Yep, the trio was seated
around what would soon be the once-upon-a time-child-sized picnic-table. They
had spent the better part of the afternoon disassembling not conversing. Still,
they were so focused, such dedicated little carpenters, that I didn’t have the
heart to stop them. Instead I rehearsed the speech I would deliver to my
husband, “…it was all very, well, Montessori …and after all we can easily
re-build, right?”

Okay fast-forward about fifteen years. Last week my
mother-in-law assigned Liam the task of sharpening fifteen dozen pencils that
she would be taking to an orphanage in Uganda this summer. I appreciate how she organizes these
perfect child-sized humanitarian activities for my children.

Liam got to work immediately. At a minute per pencil, 180
pencils, the task would take about three hours without a break! The task took
Liam most of the morning. At one point he came in and asked me if he could use
the manual pencil sharpener.

“The electric one might be faster.”

“But it’s clogged.”

“Okay Liam.”

“Thanks mom.”

A couple of hours later Liam came bounding into the kitchen
with a pencil stained grin holding in the sharpened pencils safely tucked back
into their original packaging.

“Wow Liam, all these pencils!”

“I hope the children in Uganda are happy when they write!”

I choked back the lump in my throat, “I hope so too Liam, a
job well done son.”

Later that evening I went into the studio to tidy up, there
it was, a brand new installation: The manual pencil sharpener had somehow been
removed from its perch in the pantry and re-attached with screws to our antique
Craftsman desk. I caught my
breath, mortified, then after a moment of letting the shock settle, enjoyed the
smile cracking. My son set up shop, got the job done and I must admit, I’m

I pulled out the speech and began rehearsing, “…very
Montessori and after all…”

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Exploring Haiku & Tanka

What better way to whittle away the sunny summer days than by writing poetry? Even if you don't fancy yourself a wordsmith, haiku and tanka are two short forms that can provide a fun, creative, and addicting challenge.

Haiku and Tanka are very old forms of Japanese poetry. 

Haiku are 17-syllable
poems that paint a single image in three compact lines. Haiku were
created for beginnings to a longer work of poetry. Haiku rarely rhyme.

is simple: one
short line, one long line, and another short line

first line begins
a b o u t   7   s y l l a b l e s
end the poem with

crickets, well I have
a lizard named nick who loves
crickets at midnight

          – Hunter (age 15)

Tanka are 31-syllable
paint a single image in five compact lines
. While Haiku were created for beginnings, Tankas were created for
Tanka rarely rhyme.

is simple: one
short line, one long line, another short line then two long lines

first line begins
a b o u t   7   s y l l a b l e s
use five for line
a b o u t   7   s y l l a b l e s
a b o u t   7   s y l l a b l e s

dark clouds curl above
sails thrusting through a summer storm
an unexpected
sunset drops behind the splish splash splish
splash splish sounding of the waves
                            – Jonathan (age 12)

Now pour your children a glass of lemonade, find a shady spot and have fun with haiku and tanka. Their poetry can be about anything at all, just have them take a look around and write! After they have filled a page or two, pick a favorite and share it with us here by leaving a comment.

If you are interested in exploring these fascinating forms of poetry more with your children, we highly recommend the following two books:

Haiku (Asian Arts and Crafts For Creative Kids), by Patricia Donnegan

Cricket Never Does: A Collection of Haiku and Tanka, Myra Cohn Livingston

For a strong introduction to the forms and fundamentals of poetry for 5th grade through high school students, check out our Exploring Poetry unit.

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With a bingo ball and a Lego block, that’s how summer begins.

It is a typical shopping day:

Hop in the car. Back out of the driveway. “Who has the
list?” Oops… forgot the list, back into the driveway. Søren is chosen for the
journey there and back again. I
watch him up the driveway… there he goes, two minutes later back again clutching
the list triumphantly. My youngest son jumps into the car and we’re off…

 We arrive at Trader Joe’s in nothing flat. In summer we
don’t have to battle traffic patterns.

Splitting the list into five sections, we scurry in five
directions, grab the goods and get in line. It’s a little game we play, our
version of Beat the Clock. I get a kick out of the items slipped into the cart
by my frenetic shoppers: Crispy Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Altoids, frozen
pizza, Hansen’s Soda, lime popsicles, and even rice milk when they’re
desperate. Sometimes I smile, let
them see me turn a blind eye, but mostly I draw the line, “Put it back please.”

On this particular day, the first shopping day of summer, we
are fast, no doubt accomplished our trip in record time. The five of us want
nothing more than to be home doing nothing, that’s right n-o-t-h-i-n-g.

Continue reading Summer…

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Launch Commit


Hurrah…Our first post ever! This moment has been a long time coming and we’re so excited to begin this conversation with you.

We originally intended for this blog to be a place to meet, dialog and help customers get to know and utilize our Blackbird & Company product better but as we started planning it became overwhelmingly clear to us that there was so much more to share. Looking back over twenty years of educating and mothering, the
“hours & days” have certainly been sprinkled with the miraculous—delightful, inspiring, humbling, disappointing, hilarious,
and enlightening curiosities. It’s in these stories where the heart of all we do lies, and where the heart of our business lies. At the very core of these stories is our belief in the potential of each child, the value of family, and the power of the creative pursuit.

We’ve found our blogger footing and invite you to explore, linger, share and learn with us on this four&twenty journey.

Here we go!

(The awesome rocket sculpture was created as a final project for our Level 2 Literature Discovery Guide: The Wonderful Flight to Mushroom Planet.)

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Artful Educating

The art of learning is much more than amassing knowledge. For children to acualize their own unique creative genius, they must be encouraged to engage in the work of discovery.

Blackbird & Company curriculum encourages the child to acquire academic skills and, along the way, practice using these skills to bring shape to their original ideas. Over time, children will develop rhythms of routine culminating in the development of Habits of Being that enable them to accomplish long-term meaningful work. As learners, children are capable and strong, with the potential to tap into the satisfaction of intrinsic rewards. Children are complex beings, and so we strive to offer strategies for individualization within each of our offerings including foundational and explorative quests designed to help the child tap into his or her strengths. The work of weaving connections between education and the child’s purpose in the world at large is the art of learning.


The Artful Educator

recognizes the extraordinary in each child

believes that children are capable of self-directed learning

adapts to the brilliance of the young mind

inspires the student toward purposeful action

presents authentic tasks

provides scope for meaningful exploration

emphasizes discovery

whets curiosity

offers depth rather than breadth

encourages personal responsibility in learning

…is a sailing instructor

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

                                                            -Louisa May Alcott

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Meet Kim



What if I told you that the day my grandmother gave me a dinky white portable typewriter I made each of my family members mailboxes for The Friday Night Flash out of a Captain Crunch cereal box? What if I told you that I can still feel the tin keys, hear the comforting “plunk, plunk, plunk” as I whiled away childhood? What if I told you that the day the typewriter came into my life was the day that I became a writer?

What if I told you that when my grandmother died I stumbled upon a box that contained a sizeable archive of those newspapers that continue to twitter, “imagination matters” … what if I told you this is why I decided to set off on an incredible journey into the world of education?  

Would you believe me if I told you that I became a teacher at a tag sale, transformed 100-square feet of our flat roof bungalow to a one-room school house, invited 7 families to join my Guild, and delivered my third child a week before the first day of class?

 True story.  

Fast forward…  

The Guild Method has been taking shape for over fifteen years. Though we’re not housed in the flat roof bungalow anymore, my guildschool is still a cluster of cozy spaces where children engage in their important work. Often I pause to soak in the glorious hum. Founding academics on creativity is at times chaotic, often loud, but it affords our students ample opportunity to bring shape to their ideas. And this is worth every bit of the swirling motion, every single elevated decibel!  

I suppose you’d say I’m a visionary, the founding director of an academic amalgamation.  

I’m a wife— 33 years and counting. I’m the mother of four amazing adult children.

Long ago I received my bachelor’s in biological psychology and fine art, graduate training in clinical art therapy, and later in life chased down an MFA in writing.  My book, Habits of Being: Artifacts From the Classroom Guild recounts the many observations and ideas that sprang from schooling my children and others.

I’m a founding partner of Blackbird & Company and love bringing shape to the curriculum we offer.

I’m often puzzled when asked, “How do you keep all those plates in the air?”

My response? “It’s either that or stand barefoot in shards of porcelain.”

Guess I see life teeming with possibility. I’m with the Red Queen on this one, “Why sometimes I’ve believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

So that’s me.

I suppose it all boils down to that dinky white portable typewriter.         


Kim Bredberg has been an advocate for reform in education for nearly four decades. She is a founding partner of Blackbird & Company Educational Press, an ELA curriculum expert and author. Her book Habits of Being: Artifacts from the Classroom Guild is currently in its second printing. Her writing and visual art students have won numerous awards, have been recognized on the regional and national level by the Scholastic Alliance for Arts & Writing, and have been published in international writing journals. Kim has been recognized nationally for her role as an arts and writing mentor. The California resident, mother of four, long ago received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara in biological psychology and fine art, graduate training in clinical art therapy from Loyola Marymount University, and received her Master of Fine Arts in  writing from Antioch University.