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Around the Campfire: Kitchen Tales

Let’s talk kitchen literacy.

That’s right.

Think recipe for fun and for learning!

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

So this winter, let’s get cooking!

~Kimberly & Sara

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Around the Campfire: Slide of Imagination

The metaphor “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.

Climb the Slide of Imagination

If we are to use metaphors, 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?

  1. Sometimes, in this moment, I give my students permission to pretend!
  2. 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.
  3. 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! 
  4. 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.

 

~Kimberly

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A Different Kind of Schedule

Summer is here!

Enjoy the view!

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!!

 

~Clare Bonn

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Growth Mindset: Just Keep Swimming

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!!

 

~Sara Evans

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Let’s Talk Struggle!

writing

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.

~Clare Bonn

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I’m Thankful for Sandra. What about You?

Eggs

This is not a typical high school project.

This is a watercolor composition, a gift from a friend.

This is the prized possession that hangs in my kitchen with Mona Lisa’s ubiquitous gaze following my paces patiently, “Kim, you can.”

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.”

I’m so thankful for my dear friend Sandra.

-Kim

 

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Individuality

Andrewmath

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!

The world needs both.

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A Little Inspiration

Hopesprout
There is always hope, or so they say.

I went out to check on my garden after being gone on vacation. I had asked my teens to water while I was away and for the most part they got it right. But alas, they missed the beautiful pot of mint that I had finally gotten to grow back after a long rainy winter.

It looked really dead but I watered it anyway thinking that maybe, just maybe, there might be life below the surface. There was! A week later a sprout appeared and I marveled. I just stood there thinking (always dangerous) about it and this led to my feeling hopeful about a lot of things.

Life isn’t always as it seems. It can look very bleak and discouraging, but there is often a turn ahead.

How many times have our children gone through a difficult stage where we think, how in the world is this going to work itself out?

The good news is that there are seeds of growth deep inside our children and they are moments away from erupting into change, into new life. There may be steps backwards, sure, but truly momentum is going forward.

Love and patience are like water, they can bring a miracle.

Hope.

– Sara

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Another Kind of Poetry

CAHISTCalifornia history projects

Our Waterhouse cooperative school began in Kim’s 900 square-foot, flat roof house. We hosted a diversity of characters during those early years. There was Mikalya, the darling recumbent student who taught us about her individuality as she practiced handwriting. Here was a six-year-old who could have been employed developing elaborate fonts. When it was time to journal she spent hours and hours crafting her name in script, but this was no ordinary script, this was script straight from her imagination. The term “fanciful letters” embodied the personality of the child.

Then there was Evelyn, my daughter the Kindergarten student who contentedly spent hours tracing illustrations from an entire book. Stopping to consider the academic standards involved in this task, Kim and I realized that in this single activity Evelyn not only met, but transcended certain state standards. Tracing complex illustrations, Evelyn developed her fine motor skills, strengthened hand-eye coordination, became aware of the connection between images and words, thought deeply about character and plot development and, perhaps most importantly, completed a complex task that was personally meaningful. Fast forward to high school, Evelyn would capture that certain something that made Mikayla Mikayla in the lines of a poem, “Dreamer Girl dangles / Her feet through downy clouds / Wiggles her toes over the earth / Beaming.” I have no doubt that her ability to make this profound observation about Mikayla’s individuality is in part due to the observation skills she learned to attend to as a child.

Reminiscing on our accomplishments during those first three years in San Luis Obispo borders on poetic:

• Pumpkin quilt

• Pysanky eggs

• Embroidery and soap making

• Rug hooking, and yes, basket weaving

• Ceramic snowmen

• That cool woven stool that took so much time

• Yarn dying and hand crafted knitting needles

• Pinwheels and the tee pee

• Lewis and Clark and US history quilt

• Little stone houses

• California quilt

• Woodshop class and glass mosaics

• Cooking cakes, breads and pies

• Taffy, cookies and Parker house rolls

• Crater experiment with marbles and flour

• Volcanoes and mapping the systems of the human body

• Bean sprouting and butterfly hatching

• Monarch field trips

• The rat maze and the rabbit’s chariot

• NASA launch and the Smithsonian

• The Saint Louis Arch

• Tide pools and deserts

• Piano keys plunking at all hours and the rat a tat tat on drums

• Pumpkin patch about a thousand times

• Elephant seals and beach clean-up on Earth Day

• Rug hooking

• Mark Twain’s childhood home

• Wilder girls in the hand sewn prairie dresses

• Visiting the pizza kitchen

• Over and over to the LA Science Center and the Natural History Museum

• Faith Ringgold slide show and giving her gifts

• Zoo trips and the whale watching boat

• Del Monte Café and the Santa Barbara Mission

• Teddy Roosevelt and the 13-year-old expert in NYC

• Civil War Sites, amestown and Williamsburg

• Clipper ships and Carnegie Hall

• D-Day and the beaches at Normandy

• Monterey Bay Aquarium

• Pigs, horses, goats, bats, iguanas, elephants

• THE GETTY!

• Misty of Chincoteague

• Mount Saint Helen’s National Park

• Timelines and maps

• Medieval history, War, and the ancient world

• Chinese history and the history of Israel

• Chumash Indians and the California Gold Rush extravaganza

I will never forget that first year we reserved the Community Room at our public library for a little open house, a time to help our students celebrate their accomplishments. My brother-in-law, Mark had one comment, ”Evelyn did more work in Kindergarten than I did in all of elementary school.”

– Sara

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I’m Me 101

Mikala

Today seven-year-old Mikayla, the youngest girl in our school, watched me climb on a countertop in high heels to fetch a pot for tea and observed, “My mom would never do that.”

“I’m me,” I replied. This gave me an idea, “So what makes you, you?” Everyone in earshot eagerly chimed in (simultaneously of course):

I like to run, other people don’t have to.

Different eyes and skin.

I like peanut butter, so does Michael, but Isaiah and Mikayla don’t.

Dirt and lizards and pretty flowers.

I can eat what I like and you can eat what you like.

Writing a poem.

Computers and cars.

I can like math.

Ducks and monkeys and piano and drawing.

I like to read.

When I asked them to think about how school helps them become more fully themselves, the room was struck silent. Then, hesitantly the youngest girl in our group whispered a reply, “Courage.”

“You are right,” I applauded!

This little student, brave enough to raise her voice to a whisper, reminds me of Mark Twain’s booming voice whispering through time, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”