Hands, fingers, eyes, oh my! When it comes to writing an idea, students are often thwarted by the complex activity of coordinating the minute muscle movements of the hands and fingers holding a pencil, with the sight of the eyes and the idea stirring in the mind’s eye!
Stitching is a wonderful way to switch it up, setting the pencil aside (temporarily) to strengthen small motor ability. Not only does sewing by hand require the pincher grasp that requires coordinating the thumb and pointer, but it requires coordinating the eyes in the process. Stitching by hand is a quiet, slow activity that requires patience.
Stitching leaves strengthen’s fine motor skills.
Many years ago I cut some very simple pinnately parallel, leaf-like shapes in calico fabrics. I popped the raw “leaves” into a little basket with pre-threaded (with embroidery floss) needles and carved out time during fall for leaf stitching—half an hour would easily stretch to an hour with my little ones contentedly choosing two leaf shapes and stitching them together tenaciously. This seasonal tradition began with me teaching the running stitch, re-threading all the needles and moving quickly to my children confidently whip stitching and blanket stitching, even threading their own needles!
And guess what? Writing an idea became less painful. Skills gained during sewing transfers directly to the stitching of ideas crafted with pencil on paper.
Pumpkins are everywhere this time of year! Time to harvest, right? Following are three ideas to help you “switch it up” with pumpkin activities that will surely keep the fall mood stirring!
Read (or listen to) a pumpkin story, or two! How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, is a wonderful story that integrates math and inquiry. We love this story so much that weve included it in our Hatchling for Kindergarten Collection! Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson, photographs by Shumel Thaler, is a terrific book that takes the reader on a beautiful book through the life cycle of the pumpkin. Continue the pumpkin science by observing two different pumpkins from various perspectives. Discuss discoveries. Talk about color. You might even compare colors to paint chips from the hardware store! Count the lines. Compare weight. Observe the stem and the bottom of the pumpkin. Cut the pumpkins open. Count the seeds. You might even pick up a sugar pumpkin and make a pie or some muffins! The possibilities are endless.
Stitch a pumpkin. This one was made years ago for little hands to learn the running stitch. The pumpkin is a simple drawing cut onto fabric fused with Wonder Under, a material that allows the design to stick with heat to the background fabric. The outer frame, the bordering crooked strips of fabric, are optional. Without these, no sewing machine is necessary. Of course, if you have access to a sewing machine, by all means create a border!
Begin like this:
Have your child look at and draw a pumpkin.
Trace elements of drawing to the select fabrics prepared with Wonder Under—stem, body, inner shapes.
Cut out the shapes, place on the background, and heat with an iron to adhere to the background.
If you have a sewing machine, run a stitch around the pumpkin to add strength. If not, run a stitch by hand.
Provide your child with a needle and embroidery floss in bright coordinating or contrasting colors to decorate.=
Try to yarn bomb a pumpkin! Several years ago, I bought a white pumpkin and a skein of orange yarn. I set out scissors, glue, and the yarn in a basket next to the pumpkin. Together with my four elementary and middle school aged children we created this fun activity, one length of yarn at a time. Pant the pumpkin with glue, cut a length of yarn to reach from the stem to the underneath of the pumpkin, and attach, one by one. This slow, contemplative work is a terrific activity to set up during October!
Cézanne said: “Everything is about to disappear. You’ve got to hurry up if you still want to see things.”
What does he mean?
I think he means: “LOOK!”
This little painting by 9th grader, Kingsley, was accomplished during Session 1 of Pages online live! Under the expert tutelage of Mr. Taylor, inspired by the colorful still life paintings of Paul Cézanne, in five happy, peaceful hours over the course of five weeks, this student painting took shape.
How did she accomplish this beautiful feat?
By engaging in the slow work of observation.
The skill of observation enables us to recognize, slow down, perceive, decide, appreciate, and ultimately, to know. Observation engages all the senses. Yes, we can see with our hands. And it is through the senses, that we will make sense of the world. But don’t take my word for it, Da Vinci, master of observation says it with eloquence: “All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”
In the kitchen, reading and writing and thinking is delicious!
Once upon a time we had a little wooden step stool in our kitchen that my four would climb up to help me stir up whatever was cooking. In the kitchen, everything your little ones are learning is applied—counting, fractions, addition, subtraction, reading, writing, sequential thinking and so much more. In the kitchen, children experience the complexities of chemistry. They will witness right before their eyes the difference between a mixture and a compound. They will watch matter change right before their very eyes! Like magic, chemical reactions lead to yummy treats!
Let’s talk kitchen words: measure, cup, spoon, knife, pan, water, sugar, butter. Encountering words in the realm that they belong is an excellent opportunity for students to put their language arts skills to task. I used to make moveable labels on 3 x 5 index cards and place them on kitchen nouns. After cooking (and clean up!) I would have them draw pictures on the back of the cards so they could have fun reading and spelling words using the moveable alphabet. The kitchen list of words is endless and will provide your little ones hours of academic fun. One word that is very important in the kitchen is dozen. This wonderful word is also an important mathematical concept introduced in kindergarten.
About a dozen years ago, Sara wrote her first post. She imagined cooking from scratch akin to educating a child. This brilliant extended metaphor rings true all these years later:
I believe every child is like a blank recipe card and that our job as educators is to teach them how to bring their unique spice to a bland world. Each child possesses a unique cabinet brimming with flavor. One might be like chili powder (which you really need to make a good pot of chili), another cinnamon mixed with sugar, yet another oregano (which gives a great background flavor to many dishes).
And she left us with a brilliant question:
What if our job is to challenge our children to explore the potential of their flavor? Let’s help our children develop their unique recipe for life.
The phrase “summer slide” is one of my pet peeves. This phrase (used for as long as I remember) describes the essential skills that are supposedly lost over the summer when children are out of school.
Summer is the time for hands in the sand, hikes on the mountains, digging into a city garden, swimming in the community pool, trips to the library. Summer is an extended time of experiential learning. And these experiences will provide fodder for learning all year long. These experiences will pay richly into your child’s fund of knowledge, the knowledge that sparks ideas. Think of summer as an opportunity to mostly unplug from electronics, to engage with nature, family, friends, community, and books!
Let’s talk learning loss. Being deprived of something is loss. When it comes to language arts, I’ve sadly crossed paths with scores of children struggling to write who have simply been deprived of the opportunity to imagine their ideas. Is summer the culprit? I think not!
Review Tip Number 2.
What is your BIG idea?
When it comes to writing: Form always follows function.
When learning an art form—and writing is an art form—the rule to follow is: form follows function. This means that language arts should not be approached or taught the same way that we teach math. We can not simply give our children a mountain of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization rules and expect them to compose their ideas eloquently. In this case we are giving children “form” (building blocks) without any concept of “function” (purpose). Function is key to using form effectively.
Without ideas, writing becomes a meaningless chore.
Before the pandemic, literacy levels were in decline. But global shutdowns pushed close to 1.5 billion students out of school. And these disruptions gave us all an opportunity to see that perhaps our approach to teaching language arts is broken. It gave us an opportunity to make a change. Truth is, on average nationwide, 66% of 4th grade children in the U.S. could not read proficiently in 2013, seven years before the pandemic! And children who do not read proficiently, do not write effectively!
Lacking basic reading and writing skills is a tremendous disadvantage. But lacking the ability to value ideas, well, that is tragic.
Literacy not only enriches an individual’s life, it creates opportunities for people to develop skills that will help them provide for themselves, their families, and humanity at large. Literacy is the ability to read, write, and think in ways that enable us humans to communicate effectively and authentically. Literacy helps us make sense of the world.
Tip Number 3.
Slide of Imagination
If we are to use an education phrase, let it NOT be the “summer slide” or the “COVID slide”.
Please let it be the: Slide of Imagination!
When children engage with ongoing spelling lists, endless grammar exercises, and cookie-cutter writing exercises, they will become exhausted and disheartened climbing an endless ladder.
When it comes to writing an idea, at first, children (even adults!) might see the blank page and feel a little frightened, like getting on a two-wheeler for the first time. But with a bit of encouragement: “You can do this!” the pencil in hand will begin to fill the page. The climb up will always be UP, but the slide of imagination will never disappoint.
Try this writing exercise (yes, you):
Look at the photo above. What did the little girl think climbing the ladder to the top of the slide? What did she think when she reached the top and looked down? What was going through her head when the photo was snapped?
You are seeing blank lined-paper, right? It’s not easy to begin, right? Is your imagination holding its breath?
Sometimes, in this moment, I give my students permission to pretend!
If I were in the room, teaching you, I might encourage you to dictate your idea so that your first draft would simply involve copy work. For reluctant writers, dictation is akin to training wheels.
When students are really intimidated by the page, I might offer a few “hooks” and let them choose how to begin. Here are some examples: At the top of the slide, she was so delighted by her favorite color that she burst into laughter. Arms up, feet down, head back, big smile, you go girl! She’s committed now!
Sometimes all it takes is getting a first sentence on board for the idea to flow.
Now it’s your turn. Write your idea. Write through all the stages: Idea brainstorming, first drafting, re-reading, editing, polished copy. And once you’ve completed this exercise, teach someone to write through the prompt. You can do it! You be a writing coach!
Encouraging your students to write their ideas is inviting them to climb the ladder into their imagination and slide into the art of writing joyfully.
Instead of worrying about catching up this winter, think about gathering around-the-campfire. Around the campfire we warm up, roast marshmallows, make s’mores, sing songs, and best of all, we share stories.
Enter to win an easy light up fire pit built for the backyard and beyond from our friends at Solo Stove – plus, a Blackbird & Company Yeti Thermos (2 total)!
This can mean different things for different families. Some families may be part of the regular brick and mortar school. This means no longer having to wake up early and rush out of the house. Other families who homeschool, summer days may look similar with a few more beach activities or road trips added into the mix. For some summer may mean just more open-ended time with warmer weather!
What we have noticed in my family is that there is more downtime, less plans, more togetherness. Sometimes summer starts out rough with a little restlessness. I’ve learned through all the different seasons with my children, that I’m better with a schedule. I like to know what to count on when. I like to communicate this to my children.
Recently I read a blog post that talked about two things that really hit home:
1) being intentional with those we love, and 2) creating a rhythm of the day.
So how do we be intentional?
The author talked about deciding how you want to feel and looking at what’s going to get you there. This is really a family discussion and reflection. Intentionality might be scheduled downtime each week or each day. It might be quality time spent together. It might be read aloud storytime.
In our family, my children really appreciate time alone with my husband or me. Especially as they get older, they really want time to talk. For my son this usually involves some kind of activity; walking the dog, bike riding, gardening, or doing yoga. For my daughter it’s cuddling up on the couch or in her bed sometimes with a really amazing cup of coffee. For my very youngest it is playing pretend or reading books together. Sometimes it’s enjoying a delicious snack. My husband and I need time too, so we have been taking walks together, watching a show and doing a regular date night with another couple. These are all things I now put on the calendar along with the kid’s regular swim day. And the beauty I’ve discovered is that you can still leave things loose and open ended while having regular routine.
What about Rhythm of the day?
Take a moment and imagine yourself in yesterday.
What feels easy?
What feels hard?
How could it flow better?
When my kids were little and done napping the hours of 4-6pm were always the hardest. We all felt a little pent up and crazy. This is when I started taking walks. At the time we lived right next to a small zoo we could walk too. We would get there right before 4pm, when they stopped letting people in. We would walk around the zoo the last hour it was open, and it was when the animals were the most active. We would walk slowly and watch all the animals come alive.
As the kids got older this rhythm changed. We no longer had that pent up feeling, but we did have a window when we all needed quiet time. Our 4-6pm moved to 3-5pm. I always hit a tired slump at 3pm, I had the same slump when I was working full time. I saw it in my kids too. I started mom’s reading corner during this time. It’s a corner in our living room that my favorite part of the house. I sit in a cozy corner of the couch, soft pillows and a knitted blanket. My favorite art is on the wall, my bookcase straight ahead. Next to the bookcase are a wall of glass windows and doors. I see outside to our beautiful backyard see the fruit trees and I can hear the birds that started a nest there. I just started siting there one day. We have moved over the years, but it has always been a consistent comer, my view just changed. My kids at first didn’t know what I was doing and would come asking me for help or for an activity. I would gently set my book down and say, “This is my quiet reading time.” It took time and consistency but my children started finding their own quiet reading spots. My son Liam would be in his big wide chair in the corner of his room. My son Grady would be on his bean bags talking out a story as he looked at pictures and watching his hands become characters. My beautiful Ella would be cozy in her bed. Sometimes they would join me on the couch and we would cozy up in my corner. This rhythm worked for us and still does on our long summer days. We can hit the ground running and know that we have a place and time to rest. And when we miss it, it becomes even more special. My corner hasn’t changed but my stack of book has, and the pile has grown. I often start one to three books at a time, my minds retreat.
The third and last tip, I gleaned, was running the “I’m bored” experiment. I would hear this a lot from my children, especially over the summer when things felt slower. I never knew what to do when I heard this. I didn’t want to preach. I had often heard growing up “Bored people are boring people”. I didn’t believe this was accurate. I didn’t want to create a list of activities, that all would be shot down! I did want them to be heard and I did want them to find something they could be wildly creative with! So here is the suggestion, just listen, acknowledge and walk away. It might be something like this, “I’m bored”. You respond, “Oh, I hear you”, then excuse yourself to the bathroom or to get a glass of water or make a quick call. Give them time to sit in their boredom and see what it leads too. You might be surprised and so might they!
We live in a society that is always running, always busy. The more activity the better! We become human doers, not creators. Sitting still with ourselves helps us to really feel, to become in tune with ourselves and others, and to create beauty. That quietness might feel like boredom at first to those of us on the go, but maybe it’s really peace. I think that’s a good place to be. I hope your summer is filled with connection, rhythm, rest, play, adventure and most of all peace!!
The next time your student gets tackled in the I CAN’T zone, share a story of your own.
Yesterday I was shopping at Trader Joes, contemplating an almond milk purchase when a good friend approached me and said quite simply: “Why don’t you make your own?”
This suggestion set off a cascading thought process in me that went way beyond the situation at hand. All in a millisecond I thought about the many times I had thought about making my own, the videos I had watched, and the numerous blog posts I had read. Still I had never “pulled the trigger” so to speak. Now, I’m smart enough to know we all have “stuck” areas in our lives. There are things we aspire to in life, but we often get overwhelmed OR SOMETHING and are stopped in our tracks. Who knows all the things that hold us back. I suspect the problem has myriad roots.
Anyway, back to Trader Jones, what happened this time is that my friend continued: “Just soak 1 cup nuts (any nuts) overnight in water and in the morning drain the nuts, add 3 cups of water in the blender, and blend to liquify.”
There was something in that moment. I think it might be that the process was presented so simply to me that I thought: “Okay it’s time to do this. I have almonds. I have water. I CAN do this…!”
And so I did. I added a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla too. And the result was delicious—you don’t even have to strain it if you don’t want too! There were no additives so MY almond milk tasted so good!
I think sometimes the moment becomes right to make a move into the stuck zone. It’s so easy to over complicate things in our minds, to Pinterest an idea to death! In the case of almond milk, you know, make it all pretty with mason jars and ribbon and chalkboard labels,etc,etc, etc. when the true beauty is in the MAKING (and consuming) of the scrumptious drink itself.
It felt SO good to FINALLY just do it! And the icing on the cake? This is going to save me a ton of money!
So back to education… What if I had failed? Would I have learned something? YES! and I would have had strengthened my tenacity to try in the process. I would have learned some right and wrong strategies. I would have been learning.
Thing is, a growth mindset is NOT always easy. Students are NOT always successful when they try, but they ALWAYS learn something that is useful. Something that will help them in the future when they are faced with something new to learn. So the next time your student shrinks into the “I CAN’T” zone, share a story of your own, hum Dory’s song, and just keep swimming!
PS By the way, my friend said the roasted unsalted hazelnuts from Oregon at Trader Joes makes an incredibly good milk. No fixed mindset here… I’m making some!!
During the last Pages session we explored Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DiCamilo. The author’s journey continues to be on my mind. I am inspired by her resilience. Resilience, I am sure, makes her a courageous and successful writer. In the last week of the Pages class, the writing prompt for the rough draft was, “Write a story about yourself that you would like to tell someone someday.” This prompt leads to unlimited possibilities! As I read each child’s submitted rough draft, I realized they all decided to write about a struggle they experienced. That made me reflect on the books we have read for the Pages class this past year.
During our first Pages session we read Fish In A Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. This is a school story focusing on a new Teacher, Mr. Daniels, and 8 of his students. Like any classroom there is diversity—race, culture, socioeconomic status, intelligence, personality, family life, and more. The main character, Ally, struggles in school and is ultimately diagnosed with dyslexia. The author’s own struggle inspired this story. She was never officially tested for dyslexia growing up, but struggled with reading and self-esteem until she reached middle school, when she experienced her own Mr. Daniels who cared and inspired. Lynda has written two other books, both highlighting characters with struggles and how they successfully made it through to the other side.
Kate DiCamillo openly talks about her children’s books being a little sad. Her characters demonstrate how we readers can survive trials such as suffering or loneliness. In the end there is always a seed of hope, that ultimately things will work out. I mentioned in my previous post that Kate moved to Florida from Philadelphia when she was 5 years old due to chronic pneumonia. What I didn’t mention was that her father who was a dentist who had a practice in Philadelphia and never left. He visited over the years but kept his life and practice in Philadelphia. Opal, the main character in “Because of Winn-Dixie”, struggles throughout the book with understanding why her mom left her when she was 3 years old. Opal has no contact with her mother and is filled with many questions and a great longing that we readers feel deeply.
We as human beings are drawn to struggle. We see struggle every day in the world. We see it in the people around us. Reading about struggle helps us see our own and other’s struggles in life. Writing about struggle can help us figure out the world around us and the workings of ourselves as well. I have heard writers say “we write what we know”. I like what Lynda Mullaly Hunt says, “I think I tend to write what I’d like to know—things I long to understand but don’t.”
It takes courage to look deep within and write our struggles for the world to see.
It takes resilience and a long list of related traits to add hope to any struggle.
Struggle is part of our human condition; sharing is how we relate to each other. When we share our struggle in stories, we see the similarities in our humanity over our differences. There is always the thread of hope in struggle. The question is not whether there is hope but how we get there.
Keep writing courageously! I will get to the other side, understanding my struggle a little bit better, knowing I am not alone, that hope is waiting for me. Hope for me does not guarantee happiness, only the knowledge that things can be better or different then today. And that I believe, is enough.
Lore has it that Sandra’s high school watercolor teacher offered an automatic “A” to anyone in the class who anyone who could paint an egg—a trememdously difficult task to accomplish well.
Now I’ve never imagined this teacher’s comment as a dare, but rather something more like an Eeyore-under-the-breath-utterance that he hoped might someday come to pass. I’ve never imagined snarky, or cynical, but more someting akin to longing, the longing to motivate.
And I’ve never imagined Sandra’s tackling of this teacher’s offering as anything other than a response to the Muse, a delighted response to the spark of imagination. Sandra simply said, “I can.”
The sheer whimsy of the composition is my proof. There is not one guile puddle in sight.
Thing is, you might look at this painting and respond, “No, I can’t.”
But you probably said that about tying your shoe, reading The Cat in the Hat, or adding five apples and three plums. But you can, right?
Not all children will grow up to paint like Sandra. Not all children will grow up to hypothesize like Einstein.
But many children who might have will not because they are not inspired to try. All children have precious potential. And this is why I spend my days encouraging children to press into their important work.
Children who are encouraged to engage in the right kind of practice over time develop Habits of Being and habits of being give us the gumption to say, “Yes! Yes, I can!.”
Who would have imagined that, all these years later, a teacher’s nudge and Sandra’s creative response would continue to resonate, “You can.”
Too bad this photo is blurry, the moment was lucid …
One day at lunch Andrew and Hunter were hanging in the classroom. Andrew kept crafting and solving problems, over and over again (for fun). He would fill the entire whiteboard, erase, then start the process again. Hunter sat by amazed, longing to grab the nearest math book and tear it apart one page at a time for origami, or a possible bonfire.
Some students possess math genius. Some are comedians!