Thursday, April 26, 2007

Festivals & Food

Yesterday I gave the children egg rolls with sweet and sour sauce and baby corn for lunch. They also got Chinese snow peas with their dinner. That was really all we were able to manage for "school" but that was fine. Today during our school time Natalie and I got to spend a larger chunk of time together and we did a real organized lesson! Hurrah! We began by reading China from the Festivals of the World series. This is a non-fiction book. We looked at the pictures, didn't read the text. It shows pictures of Chinese families celebrating the different festivals throughout the year. In the back there is a chart of the different animals of the Chinese Animal Zodiac which she was especially interested in so we stopped and spent some time with it and we discovered that we are all different signs: I am a dragon, Steve is a rabbit, Natalie is a horse, Leah is a sheep, and Rebecca is a rooster. Brief descriptions of each personality were included so we talked about that a bit.

My main goal for this unit is that Natalie understand that not everyone is like us. That there are people who live far away that have different clothes, eat different foods, speak in different ways, etc. She is very interested in the idea but I am trying to keep it light. She has grasped the idea that the pandas in the zoo didn't come from here but had to be brought here from far away and so now she is asking what else China has given us. I told her that they were the first people who learned how to make silk and that they were also the first people who learned how to make paper. She is processing this. I think she is finding it very interesting. Anyway, in one of the pictures a family is eating a big feast, and it shows them using chopsticks so that was a good transition for us and I showed her how to use the set I have. We washed and cut some strawberries into pieces and then she got to practice.

After this snack we read a book about a specific Chinese festival, Chinese New Year. It is called New Clothes for New Year's Day and is a SUPER book. It focuses on all the clothes the little girl is given for the new year, she puts them on slowly and explains how each is worn, you get to see lots of pictures of her bedroom, and it ends with a new snowfall for the new year. It's like she is chatting with you child-to-child, it is very subtle and doesn't scream, see, I am different from you! Look at me! See how my life is different?!? Natalie really loved it and was talking about Chinese clothes and I told her that the name of the place we live in is called America and our clothes are called American clothes. I think that was the first time she had ever heard that, at least, somebody saying, the name of the country you live in is called America. Maybe we'll actually talk about flags. She doesn't know anything about the American flag -- I keep wondering when it's going to come up, when she will see one flying on the roadside and ask about it. Maybe we can end the unit with a look at flags and talk about how this is one way people show their pride in their own country. The Montessori curric. has flag work for every country but I haven't done that because unless she understands the idea of a country, she'll never get what a flag is. This is the first time we've really discussed the concept of a country in any way. Anyway, we really enjoyed the Chinese New Year book and the illustrations are beautiful. To wrap up the "Festivals & Food" portion of our China week, I promised Natalie that we would stop and eat at a Chinese restaurant on our way to Ohio this weekend. So that should be a lot of fun!

After the entire Asia unit is done, I will post a complete booklist.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Class Play Notes

The rest of our school year in Sunday School is devoted to preparing for our Class Play, to be held May 20th. I teach a combined 3rd/4th/5th grade class at our Methodist church and have been using lots of Waldorf ideas, with great success! The play is working out so well that I am already trying to think about making it an annual event. Of course, for Sunday School, that means I am mostly looking at the Waldorf 3rd grade curriculum Old Testament Stories for my material. I'm working on a list of books which promise to have plays in them, so that I can purchase them over the summer. Suggestions are welcome!

So far I own:
  • Plays for Grades One through Four by Michael Hedley Burton -- we are using "Saul and David" this year

  • All Year Round (short plays for Christmas and Epiphany)

  • Whittle Your Ears by Barbara Betteridge

  • Books I have on my wishlist:
  • Class Plays for Grades 1 through 7 CD by Eugene Schwartz

  • Let's Do a Play! by Colin Price

  • Two other books I want to buy while I'm shopping at Bob & Nancy's are Journey to the Promised Land and We Will Build a Temple, both by Jakob Streit. (We will be starting next year with We Will Build a Temple, since we finished our lessons this year with the wisdom of King Solomon.) I already own And There Was Light -- I snapped it up when I heard it was back in print. This book is mentioned in a great watercolor painting resource: the Watercolor Painting workshop by Kelly Morrow available from Waldorf in the Home. She specifically demonstrates some of the first few paintings for the Creation and mentions that her storytelling is based on his book.

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    The Importance of Rhythm

    Looking at my earlier post, it seems to me that I should also add that there IS a time to bring kids in from outside -- and it can be when they are still running around -- because you can sense as a parent that another 5 minutes of running around will overstimulate your kids, meltdowns will occur, and your entire afternoon will be thrown off. So remember that there is a balance between expansion and contraction and you ARE the parent so you decide when to transition into the next. I don't believe in the school of thought that children know what is best for them and so should be a part of every decision. The Waldorf method, also, is strictly against this viewpoint. I decided we would go inside for half an hour of quiet activity before lunch and we came in at 11:30.

    For more on rhythm and childhood, see the article "Rhythm: The Pulse of Life" by Tracy Harrington. Also check out the Daily Rhythms page at, which contains links to many pages of verses -- an essential part of Waldorf early childhood! I also like this page of Verses and Songs for Steiner/Waldorf Classrooms. Many Waldorf books are filled with them; in fact, some contain little else (for wonderful seasonal collections, try the Wynstones Press Kindergarten series below). In First and Second Grade this love of verses turns into Recitation, an important part of the Language Arts curriculum, and there are collections strictly of recommended pieces of poetry for these grade levels, such as these books by John Miles.

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    My New Mantra

    We didn't get to the chopsticks "lesson" yesterday. Or today, for that matter. Rebecca, my youngest, had to be woken at 11:30 am. 11:30 am!!! According to my husband last night she didn't eat dinner. So I'm guessing she's sick. This meant that we tiptoed around the house finding things to do all morning that were quiet. Natalie and Leah first got a special breakfast in Natalie's bedroom, since it is downstairs, of granola and chocolate milk. Then I let them hand wash my pile of dishes (generous of me, huh?) :-) After playing in bubbles and running around on the deck, we headed outside to climb fallen tree trunks (we have two which fell together during a storm and lie parallel, so even though they go quite high up -- having landed on the branches of some other trees, they are stuck diagonally in the air -- you can safely climb on one by holding onto the tree trunk which is right next to it). Then the children played "digging worms for the toad", demolished a bale of straw with a rake and spade, blew dandelion seeds all over the yard, and climbed into the doghouse. Meanwhile I was pacing the yard, checking Becca's window for any signs of movement on her part, and worrying about her. I was also thinking about my lesson plans. Monday was supposed to be the chopsticks lesson, Tuesday papermaking, and so on... But you know that children that age are really supposed to be spending the majority of their time just running around in free play (see "What Are the Needs of Five Year Olds?" by Joan Almon for more on this) and so what am I worrying about "lessons" for? As the article says, it's hard to have the confidence in the face of all the pressure on early education to just let your kids be. I use our themes in school quite loosely -- I believe -- and it is a guide for me as to what of the hundred thousand free time fun things you can do we should be doing. Otherwise the choices are overwhelming. Like making paper for example. Great free time fun activity. Especially good for school since Natalie will help Papa build the screen and then she and I will do the rest of the project together. This makes it more of a family effort. Ditto with the bamboo tipi covered in morning glory and moonflower vines. She and he will go out together to cut down the poles. Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that I am working hard to look at my children run around the yard in circles and not think, "I should be doing something more." How ridiculous would it be to take two happy thriving children and force them to stop what they are doing to come inside, sit quietly on a carpet, and try to learn to use chopsticks???? So my new mantra to repeat when watching them play: "This is a happy childhood."

    Tuesday, April 24, 2007

    China and Korea

    Last week our Asia study was focused on the countries of Cambodia, Viet Nam, Thailand and Laos. Now we are doing China and Korea. (Next week, in case you are wondering, is Japan and India.) Today we listened to a song in Korean called "My Puppy" which I happened to have on one of my CDs of children's music (from Becca's Musikgarten class). I think this helped Natalie really understand that people speak different languages. I wish she had some more multicultural friends; I guess this is one of the advantages of public school. Her current peer group, comprised of children at the church, is definitely all of one ethnicity. Anyone know a way around this?

    At nap Natalie got the Hearthsong Matching Memory Game to play with. She really likes this game, and it has tiles for some of the animals we saw at the zoo as well as ones which live around our home. It should serve as nice reinforcement, in a low-key way. In the afternoon we're supposed to be learning how to use chopsticks. This is one of Gini Newcomb's suggestions. She recommends using them to transfer styrofoam "peanuts" from one dish to the next but I think we will try something else, something more natural. I might even take the kids out to a Chinese restaurant for dinner tonight. I bet they would love that!

    When we were in Williamsburg I got a copy of Time magazine -- not usually my favorite but an article about global warming was on the cover. This is one of my big personal campaigns so I couldn't resist. Anyway, on their list of 51 things you can do, they suggest planting a bamboo fence in your yard. Now, I have personally experienced the rapid growth and spread of bamboo and I have to say it is a terrible suggestion. I'm sure there are botanists all over the country up in arms about this, as it would completely crowd out native plants. But I do wonder if it is possible to plant bamboo in the highway median strips. Presumably the roads on either side would keep it from spreading (although I don't know how far the root system can go, so you'd have to check with a professional) and this would be a very inexpensive filler for the medians. Bamboo can grow up to 4 feet in a day! Gotta love that growth (as long as it's contained), which is great for absorbing carbon dioxide and they are now saying that if you're going to plant a tree make it a tropical one. Something about the light-colored leaves; I think it serves to bounce the sunlight back out into the atmosphere instead of absorbing it. In addition to being cheap in the start-up realm, this idea also saves money in the longterm since mowing the medians would be a thing of the past. Not to mention the savings on fuel used by the gigantic county mowers. AND local governments could harvest the bamboo and sell it to people who make things of bamboo. It is a very popular material right now because it is so sustainable. Bamboo flooring is apparently trendy in kitchens since it is springy and reduces the strain on your legs and feet as you tramp about while you cook. Does anyone out there have a position in municipal government and can suggest this to the highway people? Or should we all start a gigantic letter writing campaign to Time magazine? If a thousand people write in with the same idea, they'll be sure to print one of the letters. I don't know if it's possible -- although I think it's worth looking into -- but it is definitely better than suggesting that every homeowner plant a yard full of bamboo!

    Monday, April 23, 2007

    Frog and Toad

    We've been running another theme parallel to the Asia thing which I didn't plan but that's fine... homeschooling thrives on flexibility, right? Well, actually, it doesn't -- there's such a thing as going in too many directions at one time -- but I thought this one was fun and it's nice for Leah and Rebecca to be able to experience something which is closer to home for them. I guess you can say that our Kindergarten "unit" is Asia and Preschool is Frog and Toad. It all began last week when we went to a "Make a Toad House" nature program at Kings Landing Park. N and L came home with little clay pot toad houses which we set under the large root ball of a fallen tree in our yard, facing North (as the teacher recommended) and in a shady cool place which is often damp. By the way, if you are doing this, you don't have to break a chunk out of the pot to make a door, which is what I had always thought. You can just set the pot ajar so that the toad can squeeze under and in. Surround it with a bank of dirt except for the little opening. Our Park Ranger told me that she gets a lot of her activity ideas from a book called Fun With Nature: Take-Along Guide. I bought a copy of this book and it's actually pretty neat. The project ideas are few and far between; the bulk of the book is a nature guide for small children which helps them identify all different kinds of animals which they may see. Categories include Frogs, Toads, Turtles, Lizards, Salamanders, and more. No birds. I guess there are plenty of bird guides out there! But if you're in a habit of seeing a caterpillar and wishing you knew what kind it was, check out this book. It also has blank journaling pages after each category so you can make your own sketches and notes.

    During the Nature program, the teacher read a chapter called "The Garden" from that perennial favorite, Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. I pulled out the books, since I have most of them, so Leah could look at them and she really liked the chapters we read. I wasn't planning on doing much with the theme, but it keeps coming up, like when we saw lily pads on the surface of Lake Anne during our Nature walk to look for bamboo. Then there was the fact that one of the gifts my mom had brought back from her trip was a set of frog drums in different sizes, one for each child. So we played with those and enjoyed their different sounds. Finally, yesterday Steve and I were walking around in the yard yesterday and I practically tripped over a large toad which I promptly captured and he just as promptly peed all over me in retaliation. The children hadn't been able to see a live toad as part of the nature program because it was an unseasonably cold day and they were all in hiding. So I thought they would enjoy this one. Luckily, I have a very nice LARGE terrarium which has a heavy wooden lid with a mesh screen insert from when I had Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches in my 4th grade classroom. :-) So toad went in there, we named him Guiseppe, and set him up with a house, some dirt, and a few dishes of water. That means that this morning I got to -- in addition to feeding three children, myself, the dog, and the cat -- wake up and go dig worms for the toad! It took me right back to my childhood, actually. We had a pet toad when I was growing up which my mom had found during a fishing expedition. Danny Dunn (our toad) had only 2 1/2 legs, presumably because he had been attacked by an animal and mom didn't feel he would survive in the wild. So she brought him home. And I can't count how many times I heard my mom say, "I have to go dig some worms for the toad." I guess it's true... you really do turn into your mother! :-)

    Actually, I don't plan on keeping this toad forever. I just want to have him for the duration of The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad. This is one of the books by Thornton W. Burgess. Natalie had been getting chapters from The Adventures of Grandfather Frog as her bedtime story last month, to follow up on us seeing tadpoles in the pond at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp. I know that these books are usually part of the 2nd grade Waldorf curriculum but I thought I would try it for bedtime, especially since I was looking for something to follow up on frogs. Well, right when we finished that one came the Make a Toad House Day so I told her we'd do the Adventures of Old Mr. Toad next. And now we have a Mr. Toad living at our house so we'll keep him for the duration of the book to be sure and then probably let him go. Right now, though, the children are fascinated with him and every hour or so I hear little feet thumping down the hallway and voices shouting, "I'm just going to go look at the toad, Mom." Leah was especially interested in watching him catch and eat his morning worm and thoughtfully remarked to me, "When I have cereal for breakfast, Old Mr. Toad has worms."

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    The National Zoo

    Friday morning we headed to the library to look for books about Asia. But -- and this is something I ought to remember but always forget -- all the libraries in our county system are closed until noon on Fridays for staff meetings. So we went to the Annmarie Garden instead. This is a beautiful sculpture garden which operates in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution and has lots of works on loan from them as well as their own permanent installations. I remember when the garden first opened, with its first piece called The Tonger. That was a long time ago! It's 30 acres which you can just wander. The children have been for their events (such as Artsfest, which is full of vendors) but never noticed the art before because it was overshadowed. So when we went Friday afternoon and just walked the paths, they were noticing everything and really into it. We had a blast! It really tired out their little legs, too. :-) Friday afternoon we did go to the library and also played outside with sidwalk chalk.

    Saturday was my Birthday Celebration and we went to the National Zoo. This is also part of the Smithsonian so it was free. All their things are. Well, it wasn't free, per se; it's just that there was no admission charge. But I spent $23 in parking because we absolutely could not find any place to park within a mile of the zoo (and I mean literally, we drove around for over an hour looking for parking) so we ended up at a parking garage at the Mariott which cost a lot but was convenient (3 blocks from the zoo) and had clean bathroooms, so there you go. I consider it money well spent. I guess everyone got up in the morning and thought, "what a beautiful day, we should go to the zoo." It was nice, though. We focused on just a small part of the zoo: the Asia Trail, the Bird House, and the Elephant House. The Asia Trail is their newest exhibit and just opened. It complements the Giant Pandas (always a draw) by showing other animals which live in Asia and I thought it was very well done. The Sloth Bear habitat was amazing. We also saw a Fishing Cat (just what it sounds like), Clouded Leopards, Asian Small-Clawed Otters, Red Pandas (which we couldn't spot) and, of course, the Giant Pandas. The baby wasn't on display, just the male and female. Apparently, she's pregnant again! Good for her, I say. We actually got an amazing 40 minute close-up of the Giant Pandas because we looked at them for a while and then went off to this odd triangle shaped dead end at the bottom of the exhibit and set up our picnic lunch on the benches. We were eating happily when suddenly we saw that the pandas had been put away in their enclosed part of the exhibit and the trainers were out setting out treats for them to discover... right in front of us! When they opened the doors, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian came out and starting sniffing around for the treats. Then they sat down right in full view of us and proceeded to snack away! We got an excellent view of them and watched for a long time. Natalie was particularly fascinated.

    After lunch we went to the Bird House and then ended with a visit to the Asian Elephants. The children were lucky enough to also see feeding time at the elephant house and got to see the elephants eat and the hippos get hosed down with water. When we left I hit the gift shop and got two panda postcards and an elephant postcard for our display table, plus Pi-Shu the Little Panda by John Butler (which we read Sunday) and Noah's Ark by Jerry Pinkney.

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    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    Happy Birthday to Me

    Yesterday was my birthday, the big 3-1. Yep, I'm a Bicentennial Baby. Things here are going well, in spite of the fact that my website bit the dust due to a hacker and I am trying to decide how to proceed. Hosting my blog here is a way for me to keep my steady stream of teaching ideas and What We Did Today online as I know a lot of people enjoy it. :-) I am new to Blogger, though, so I may take a while to figure some things out.

    For School, which Officially Began April 9th (I love to begin school years at Easter -- I don't know why but it just feels right... there's actually some Waldorf thing about counting Easters to begin first grade but I'm not sure what it is). Natalie is in Kindergarten now and we are using Gini Newcomb's A Guide for the Montessori Classroom (currently using the Spring book) to guide us, Waldorfizing it a bit. We began the school year with a bang, a family vacation to Colonial Williamsburg for a week. Upon our return, we began, loosely, to study Asia, her recommended theme for the second part of April. I set up a blank display space in the schoolroom for this theme and hung two Chinese paintings above it. Each day we will add something to the table to show what we are learning about. This is good for my hubby to see and also makes me feel proud that we are actually doing something for school! :-)

    So far, we have done:

    Monday - read People by Peter Spier to introduce the theme (this is a book Sonlight sent us)

    Tuesday - made "Authentic Pad Thai" from a Thai Pavilion boxed mix

    Wednesday - read postcards from Laos and Viet Nam which my mom sent during her visit. Looked at the souveniers she sent us, also the gifts my Aunt Janet has sent us from Cambodia over the years. Also called my mom to make an appt. to see her vacation photos.

    Thursday - took a Nature walk to Lake Anne to see the bamboo; cooked with bamboo ("Thai Green Curry Chicken" recipe from Thai Kitchen).

    And in the afternoon I plan to show Natalie some things we have around the house that are made from bamboo (placemats, bowls and other containers) and play Pandabo, which is also made of bamboo.

    We've done other stuff too, but that is the Asia part. One thing we did this week was to make Homemade Playdough and the directions for that were in the old Color unit which is no longer online, so I am posting it here.

    This is a very easy and fun recipe from Jazzy Jars: Glorious Gift Ideas by Marie Browning:

    Homemade Playdough
    Combine 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt and 2 teaspoons cream of tartar in a saucepan. Stir in 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon cooking oil. Heat on medium, stirring, until very thick and hard to stir. The mixture will resemble mashed potatoes. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes. Turn out on a lightly floured surface. Divide into three equal parts. Add 1 teaspoon unsweeted drink mix, such as KoolAid, to each part. Knead until pliable and an even color. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in an airtight plastic container to keep fresh.

    We did yellow (lemonade), orange (orange), and red (cherry) this time.

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