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It Begins with Red, Yellow, and Blue


We teach our children that letters have sounds, that sounds combine to form words, that words combine to form sentences, that sentences grouped in just the right way form the stories we all know and love. We teach our children to read and write.

Last week it hit me as I was helping my students mix color wheels. I was teaching color literacy, an equally important academic (and life) skill.

Color is scientific. Color can be harmonious or not harmonious. People who understand this can use this knowledge to their advantage—artists, painters, designers, people just trying to get dressed in the morning.

We teach color because we see in color.

We teach color because human beings feel color.

Color affects us so profoundly.

Why wouldn't we teach our children about color?

– Sara

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Spring Into Poetry

This time in the school year can be particularly difficult—a sort of doldrums. Everyone has been working hard for many months and summer still feels quite a ways off. You're starting to feel the pressure of all that you haven't accomplished…or wanted to. Standardized testing may be looming. The weather around Southern California becomes a confusing mix of sweater days and t-shirt days and at least for me, the urge to purge kicks in strong with garage sale season right around the corner.

With April being National Poetry Month, why not infuse your last weeks of school with a focus on the wonder of words. Poetry is at the same time economical and extravagant. It has the power to unlock a child's voice and encourage writing skills in ways that prose and essay writing simply cannot. My own daughter has a stunning gift for poetry that would never have been unearthed had we not delved into reading and writing poems at a young age. Don't be intimidated, jump in, be creative and have fun. Try to incorporate a little something into everyday.

• Revisit past four&twenty posts for some ideas. A personal favorite uses chocolate bars as inspiration for writing poems about place and taste!   

• Participate in Poem In Your Pocket Day on April 14. I love the idea of having a poem on hand to sponatneously share with family and friends throughout the day.

Great Poems to Teach lists important poems, some with audio readings. Poetry 180 also has a compiled list of poems geared towards high school students—one for every day of the school year. Both are helpful for getting to know famous poets and various forms.

• Start a book club with friends using our poetry-focused, litertaure discovery guides. Younger students can explore animal poetry with our Douglas Florian guide while Love That Dog and Locomotion both tell profound stories through the use of verse.

• Use technology to share poetry with the world! Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, PowerPoint, Flickr, iMovie, digital cameras….the possibilities are endless.

• Here are some really creative ideas for word play from The Crafty Crow. Click through to Austin Kleon's inventive newspaper blackout poems. What a great exercise in eliminating words to find the poem that was hiding there all along.

• Embark on our Exploring Poetry unit. Read about it here from a blogger-mom who did!

• For a creative lesson idea, read The Poetry of Words recently written by Kim for Heart of the Matter.

• Plant a PoeTree.

Most of all, enjoy learning, exploring, discovering, and creating with words!

– Tracey

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Q&A With The Girls

Q. What sticks with you from your research of famous women?

A. Hannah: I remember clearly being confused about Polio when we read about Wilma Rudolph, but so impressed that she did not let this mysterious physical handicap stop her from winning gold. I remember making prairie bonnets and dresses when we read about Laura Ingalls Wilder and being thankful that she bothered to share her recollections of pioneer life with me. I remember wishing I could have been a stowaway in that plane with Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt. I remember thinking how awful I would have felt in Faith Ringgold’s shoes when that teacher told her to give up her dream of becoming an artist because she had no talent… imagine that! Vivid among these memories is having the privilege of meeting Faith Ringgold and being able to share this thought with her in person. I remember making an appliqué wall hanging of Faith Ringgold inspired by her many quilt-paintings hanging in museums like the one I saw at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I remember my mom reproducing my quilt in miniature so I could cut and paste the images onto greeting cards. I remember handing a stack of these cards tied neatly together with a bow to Faith Ringgold and showing her the quilt I made. I remember that the artist not only autographed my copy of her brand new book, The Invisible Princess, but also applauded my artwork. Research of famous women was an ongoing elementary assignment. That was more than ten years ago. After all this remembering what I remember most is that the assignment still matters.


A. Evelyn: I loved doing art projects to go with our write-ups on each famous woman in history. I clearly remember working on my watercolor of Amelia Earhart one night and showing it off proudly to my brother and his friend. I remember when Hannah and I sat together and traced drawings from the book about Wilma Rudolph and learned about her inspiring story of perseverance. I remember working on my art project for Faith Ringgold—it was a canvas divided into three sections depicting things I love—cooking, my friends, and art—and illustrating scenes that were important in Faith’s life. I remember specifically learning about how an art teacher told Faith Ringgold she could never become an artist because she didn’t know how to paint mountains. I thought that was so unfair because Faith had never even seen mountains before. Getting to actually meet Faith Ringgold and show her my art project, well, how many kids get that kind of opportunity? I was recently reading my college art appreciation book and I noticed artwork by Ringgold and I said to myself, “I’ve met her!” I remember learning about the first black woman millionaire, Madam C.J Walker. I liked learning about how she created beauty products for women. Entrepreneurial success stories have fascinated me ever since. I remember painting a portrait of Princess Diana and on “Person I Admire Day” dressing up like her. One not so fond memory is when I spent what seemed like hours crafting my write up on Louisa May Alcott and then accidentally feeding it through our paper shredder! These things happen! When we read about Rachel Carson, we participated in a coastal clean up day. I still carry with me striking memories from our research and art projects.

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Researching Famous Women

Did you know that March is Women's History Month?

I stumbled upon one of my prized possessions the other day, paper and pencil in hand, a writer looking for creative inspiration. As I unfolded the mass of faded-yellow legal pad and saw Sara’s profuse notes staring back at me, I felt the smile stretch from ear to ear and was taken back to the summer of 1997. Who needs a time machine?  

Amelia6 Detail of Amelia Earhart project – pen, watercolor, corrugated cardboard, oil pastels

For the coming school year our desire was to continue to provide opportunities for directed year-long research. The intrinsic reward of this type of activity is that children discover over time to value work that is not instantaneous. Beyond that, the objective is to develop the muscle necessary for independent discovery, which will have a direct connection to critical thinking. But there’s always a twist.

Back in time, Sara and I are in my kitchen. Where else? Chattering away we are brainstorming. We want to inspire our young girls (then first and third graders) to follow the thread of perseverance to its logical conclusion. What if they engage in research of famous women from history who will model the skill? What if we use great picture books and incorporate sophisticated art materials? Yes! And of course it will be great fun! And, think about it, I mean, we will be exploring literature, and this is history too, right? Ah, the glory of cross-curricular activities!


So, with a baby on my hip stirring up dinner in a pot on the stove, I imagined with Sara, her legal pad in hand chock full of bibliographic lists of famous women biographies she had researched to get our girls started, we constructed a series of research questions that the girls would use to guide them in their research and developed a presentation format. We decided that, for each book read, our girls would write a report and craft a creative project depicting the famous woman.

Amelia2Detail from Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan

Looking back, the trick to this kind of research is to be prepared. Because we had a plan, we were able to sit with our girls, take turns reading aloud with them, and guide them as they developed the skill gathering just the right tidbits about the famous woman’s life to include in their simple research paper. We had time to help them explore art materials such as paint and canvas, chalk pastels, and textiles. We were able to encourage them as they endeavored to craft a creative project that would not only celebrate each famous woman, but also would propel them into the process of seeing a creative work from the start to the finish line.

Set as a two hour per week activity, generally speaking, we read and wrote about one book per week unless the book was long, in which case this leg of the activity could take a couple weeks or more (the “there is no hurry” truth applies here), and we completed the artistic activity in two or three weeks. From there, it’s all, well, history.


Only looking back do I see the great pay-off, our girls, all grown now, Hannah is 21 and Evelyn is 19, are women that turn heads not only because they are lovely, but because they are busy following the thread of perseverance to its logical conclusion and are consequently girls who dare to dream.

– Kim

Faith6Detail of Faith Ringgold project – fabric wall hanging

Faith2Spread from Dinner at Aunt Connie's House by Faith Ringgold

Elenor1Detail of Eleanor Roosevelt project – acrylic on canvas

Elenor4Eleanor by Barbara Cooney

Wilma1Detail of Wilma Rudolf project – colored pencil, pen, acrylic, collage 


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More Than Dessert


Leonardo da Vinci said, “All our knowledge has its origin in our perceptions.”

Well, Kim sent me this photo of the beginnings of an apple crisp that Taylor made and I just had to write about it! I immediately thought of Escher! It looks like an Escher!

All at once I could see the amazing back-story.

I see a 16 year old who is very artistic for one thing. But this image seems to be born in a musical brain, a brain that has been trained to carefully observe. Taylor’s musical brain is trained to see what is happening under his hands.

Now, my 16 year old would have just dumped the bowl of apples into the pan (as I would have).

I'm sure Taylor didn't have a preconceived picture in his head when he started making dessert. I bet he cut the first apple, observed the crescent shape, and began to ponder, “What would happen if…?” This is a mind that has been trained to step out and risk, to explore.

I taught Taylor when he was in Kindergarten in our home school co-op. He was a child who always appeared to have his thoughts in a cloud. You could just see the wheels turning and I remember thinking that I wished I could know what he was thinking about!

As the one who was trying to get him to concentrate on the subject at hand, however, this was challenging. I remember when Taylor would go to the bathroom to wash his hands, he would climb up on the stool, and just stare at the water flowing under and over his fingers as he slowly, and I mean v-e-r-y slowly, washed his hands. This of course irritated me, being the impatient adult who wanted to get on with the important job of teaching math or whatever!

Hmmm…Now, looking back, I realize that he was thinking very hard about that water—what it felt like, how it sounded. Was there rhythm that only a musical child could hear?

Looking back, I realize that Taylor was doing an Observation Journal without a lesson!

Looking back, darn it! Did I miss the golden opportunity to let him be? I should have just let him stay in there for an hour until he was done perceiving that water.

Well, thankfully he survived me. See what he does now without even being asked?

And I say, “Bravo Taylor!”

– Sara

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Coinage is Not Small Change


“Neo” from the Greek is new.

“Logos” from the Greek is word.

Put them together and what do you get?


A new word.

So what better place to end our month of celebrating words. Yes, that’s right, we made up words… such fun!

I began the lesson introducing the group to three suffixes and some common examples:

» cosm
[From Greek kosmos, order, universe.]
Universe; world
microcosm, macrocosm

» esque
[F., fr. It. -isco. Cf. –ish.]
An adjective suffix indicating manner or style
Arabesque, Romanesque

» ism
[Greek -ismos, -isma noun suffix]
A suffix used to form action nouns from verbs, distinctive doctrine, system, or theory
skepticism, truism

…and then I set them free. Here are some of my favorites:








Lewis Caroll had the right idea. Words are Jabberwocky.

Count the neologisms.

– Kim

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Idea Share: Art Trays

Our new catagory, Idea Share will be just that…a place to share ideas that we love. Quick little posts about quick little ideas that will make teaching and learning a little easier or little more special.


The styrofoam and paperboard trays that are used to package many meats and vegetables from the grocery store are resuable as palettes for paint and glue, or catch-alls for small craft materials during project time.

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The Truth About the Color of a Tomato


We live in a colorful world.

It all begins with a never ending profusion of nuclear explosions in our sun. Eight minutes later all that radiation arrives at the earth in the form of electo-magnetic waves. Outside we are engulfed by white light. Thanks to Mr. Newton, who bent light with a prism—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet—we understand that all colors are physically contained in white light. Inside the eye, a curious thing is happening.

So, what color is this tomato?

No, it's really not red, it's black. 

If you were holding this tomato in the palm of your hand in a dark cave, it would be black.

Everything on earth is made of atoms which are full of invisible energy. If the energy contained in white light is compatible with the energy of an object, that energy is absorbed by the object. Energy that is not compatible is bounced off the object.


This tomato is absorbing, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet energy.

The pupil then allows just the right amount of light into the eye to detect precise color. Rods and cones on the retina of the eye pick up the signal and decode the electromagnetic waves via the optic nerve in a mysterious spot at the back of the brain.

And voila, the tomato is red!

– Sara

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Love is…


Love is a mouse with a big name, Wolfgang Amadeus Mouse, whose favorite pastime is listening to Mrs. Honeybee play the piano.

Love is Miss Agnes who packs away the old textbooks, hangs up the children’s brightly colored artwork, plays opera music, and brings stories to life.

Love is Perloo the peaceful scholar who has been chosen as leader of the furry underground creatures called the Montmers.

Love is Eben McAllister searching for Seven Wonders in seven days in Sassafras Springs.

Love is when Rose discovers that life with seven boy cousins isn’t quite what she expected, it’s so much more.

Love is a Ms. Marcus who teaches Lonnie a whole new way to tell the world about his jumbled life.

Happy Hearts Day Everyone!!!!

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Valentines & Vocabulary


Blake has been in a student in my writing workshop for 9 years. His hand goes up like clockwork each spring, "When can we have a spelling bee?"

My response in the past has been a nod and a smile, but this year something sparked.

Our group dedicated the month of February to words. Twenty students ranging from Kindergarten to 8th grade are collecting words. At the end of the month each student will offer their ten favorite words from their very own lexicon, just enough for a culminating mini spelling bee. 

We are having a blast.

I'm so glad for Blake's persistence.

Then when Tracey stumbled upon this recipe for handmade conversation hearts, we had the perfect activity for a valentine and vocabulary celebration. After all, one of our favorite books, The Boy Who Loved Words, teaches us that words are a gift! And what better gift than a sweet one.

Let our pictures tell the story of how much fun we had!

A "heartfelt" thanks to the fabulous Crafty Crow blog for connecting us to this inspiring and super-fun Love Day craft!