Thursday, July 28, 2005

Telling Stories

Our family had the opportunity to see children's author and illustrator Steven Kellogg give a presentation at our county library last night. You may be familiar with his Pinkerton books, like Pinkerton, Behave about a large black and white great dane or one of the other 110 books he's published since the 1960's.

He started by talking about how he got started in writing and how he loved telling stories. He told us how Pinkerton entered his life and then the cat, Second-hand Rose. What the room was enthralled with, however, was when he started drawing sketches on big pieces of paper and telling a story. This is how he works in his studio. The words, ideas and lines came so fast and furious. As the plot of the story takes a turn, he adds a line or two and facial expressions change, a character dons a hat or a sail fills with air.  Then, he stops the story, "And if you want to find out how it ends, you'll have to read the book."

He finished by showing slides, some of the real dog (click on the link in the middle of the page to see the real Pinkerton) and cat that inspired many of his stories. Others were of books he had done recently. He also took us through another story and left us to beg the librarian for a copy so we can find out how it ends!

There were books to purchase (they were discounted and very reasonable, $4 per softcover) and he stayed to sign and draw a picture in each one. He did the illustration for our PA library reading program this year. My daughter was wearing one of the t-shirts, so he drew a picture of Pinkerton on the back and signed that.

If he's coming to your area and you have grade school children, you'll want to attend.

Monday, July 25, 2005

More on Math

Since my post, Math in the Real World, a few days ago, I went to the library and checked out some of the recommended books. One book in particular, It's The Story That Counts: More Children's Books for Mathematical Learning, K-6 by Whitin and Wilde, has been full of ideas. So many that I may have my ten year old's math curriculum for this year. She loves stories and hates math, I'm hoping a literature approach to math will help her get over the math hurdle. Some books they recommend highly are:
It's not just about reading them. But reading them several times and then drawing the child out to discover their own mathematical thinking. For instance, Frank in Counting on Frank wonders all kinds of things. How long a line will an average ball point pen draw? Whitin and Wilde give examples of different directions kids go with this kind of mathematical thinking. Some wonder how long a line chalk will draw. Some want to figure out the answer in miles instead of yards. Some might wonder how many pens it would take to draw a line around the earth. The children then draw their story. All kinds of mathematical concepts are being played with, but it is more focused on what is already going on in the child and their reactions and questions than a traditional text full of problems would be.

I'm really having fun with this. There will certainly be more later.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Math in the Real World

Cynthia Clack at Graceful Journey had a wonderful post this evening chockful of resources to make Math come alive. If you are an unschooler except in the area of Math, you will enjoy her insights. But her post is inspiring because she and her daughter see how math works and are thrilled by it. It's here.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Homeschooled Author Visiting Philly

I was at the Free Library today and found out about an author visit. Christopher Paolini is coming on August 26th at 7pm. Admission is free and no reservations are required. He was homeschooled and grew up in Montana and graduated high school at age 15. He is working on a trilogy about a boy and 2 dragons (complete with elves and an elven language from what I gather). The first book, Eragon was published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in August 2003 and is being filmed for a movie version. The second book in the trilogy, Eldest, will be released August 23, 2005.

Visit his website for more information about the books. With over 1000 reviews on Amazon, the first book rates at four stars by Amazon readers.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Gardening Connections and Free Poster

In June I blogged about the botanical interests that my daughter was demonstrating. Today I found some really cool connections that classroom teachers have made with herbs, history and culture. The one that I particularly liked was herb gardens for different cultures and times. For example, the Ancient and Medival Europe garden is filled with good smelling herbs like mints that were used to mask the odors due to poor hygiene and food spoilage.  The site's ( May newsletter is like a mini-unit study on how plants have been and are still used in many ways.  There is even an article entitled "Growing a Musical Instrument"- a gourd rattle. Too late for this year, but lots of ideas for next!

Oh, and I almost forgot.  They have a free poster about pollination for classrooms and homeschools (we even get mentioned by name).  It is beautiful, shows insects at work day and night. Only 2000 available, so click and go now. If you are involved in a community organization or a co-op be sure to scroll down and take a look at the funding resources. You just might be able to get yourself a grant. Let us know if you do!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The "A"mish - learning about culture

Visitors with kids from Boston want to learn about the Amish. Which way do I direct them? There are two routes to "Amish Country" from my house. One way takes you through all the typical tourist stops; Dutch Wonderland (an amusement park), the Amish farm tour, restaurants with appropriately contrived Dutchy names advertising shoo fly pie in neon colors. The other way has none of that; farms, country stores and farmstands. Although, in a lot of ways it isn't particularly Amish. Most people don't realize that there are many denominations (I think that would be the right word) of plain folks in Lancaster and Lebanon and other Pennsylvania counties. The non-tourist route is just people living their lives; farming, shopping, visiting. It's the way I take to my hometown. More Mennonites than Amish, I think.

How does one come to understand a different culture, a different way of life? I believe it is by the casual observation and interaction that will take place off the beaten path over a long period of time. But, if you only have a few hours is the crash course acceptable, even preferred? Will the tourist trap actually give you more information in condensed form? You could garner by acute observation that the Amish meet at certain homes for worship and do not have a church building. You will see long shelters built specifically for holding many buggies. If you drive by on a Sunday evening, they will be filled with dark horses and black buggies. Or you could confuse the many Mennonite churches for Amish churches, you could assume the Sunday buggy shelters serve some other purpose, or not notice them at all.

If you visit Shady Maple (a grocery store) you will notice people dressed in many varieties of plain dress and coverings. You won't however know what they mean, why they chose that way to dress, what that reflects about their particular understanding of scripture. Unless you ask. You will hear people speaking PA German, but you won't know how is came to be. You will be able to buy shoo-fly pies, scrapple and whoopie pies, but is that experiencing Amish culture?

My hope is that our visitors from Boston go off the beaten path and come back home with questions. (A jar of chow-chow and a shoo-fly pie couldn't hurt either.) I think the tourist route is easier in one way, it is all wrapped up, neat and tidy. You come away thinking you understand. Questions will lead to more questions and a humility toward the complexity of human culture.
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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Where's Alice?

As you may have noticed, I don't take the daily part of blogging seriously. I could have filled in the last ten days with my favorite recipes for blueberry/cherry jam and raspberry chocolate brownies. They are good... well, maybe another time.

Alice, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and various other creatures (including me) were at our local community theater this week for the children's show. During the second act, Wonderland was gone but we all laughed at the Emperor who had no clothes. I've written about my daughter's experience with an adult community theater production last fall, she enjoyed it so much that we were looking for another (inexpensive) experience with theater. Who would have guessed it was just around the corner, literally.

The director chose 2 one-act shows and everyone, no matter what their experience got at least a small speaking part. She did a great job of keeping it low-key (in terms of costumes and sets) while demanding enough from the kids to make for a great performance. I watched Erin grow over the last six weeks. She grew more confident in front of a crowd. She learned how to project her voice and be BIG. Her roles were small, but she learned to appreciate the importance of each person on stage contributing their part. She learned how to take direction and how a director puts all the pieces of a show together. She also had the opportunity to enjoy others talents. I was most pleased to see her able to do that (now, to apply that with the siblings. ;) )

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Before there was Base ball,

there was town ball. We headed up to Fonthill in Doylestown on the Fourth for their "Old Fashioned Fourth of July". Admission was very affordable; $3 adults, $1 kids and it was good old-fashioned fun. We missed the bike parade, but were able to catch some of the decorated bikes. We did a cake walk, listened to some dulcimer music and made a patriotic craft. There were also sack races, a watermelon eating contest, pony rides and horse-drawn wagon rides, and OLD bikes. Most of our time was spent watching some exhibition "town ball".

Town ball is kind of like Rounders, a game from the UK, whose history reportedly goes back to Tudor times. The rules of town ball are varied, but the ones most exhibitions play by, and indeed this one did, are found here. Once I read over the rules few times and watched the play, it was understandable. What is most difficult is you keep thinking "baseball" but it's very different. There are 4 bases, but only one out per half-inning. You swing only at pitches you like and if you miss on the third swing you run anyway! Runners can be tagged out, but more often they were hit with the ball. And the bat is basically just a stick.

The players weren't dressed in period clothes, but they did have matching polo-like shirts and caps. They used a lighter ball with a rubber center, wrapped in cotton yarn and then covered with a "lemon-peel" shaped piece of leather, sewn together. Apparently there are several cottage and bigger industries making equipment like balls for vintage base ball players today. But at $16 to $25 each, we won't be buying one anytime soon.

After almost an hour of playing, the players invited kids that were watching to play. Erin and Julius had a wonderful time learning the game and Julius even got a hit. Erin didn't hit the ball, but because of the rules she made it to base anyway. She just ran really fast when she missed the ball the third time.

There are vintage base ball clubs all over the country with tournaments, championships etc. Some play base ball, some town ball. You can check this list to see if there are games near you. A Genesee Country Village and Museum near Rochester, NY has even constructed a vintage base ball park. They have 6 resident teams (2 women) that play every Saturday and Sunday in the summer with a national tournament in August. Closer to Philadelphia, head up to Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, NJ (which has great events every Saturday, btw) in the beginning of June to see or play with the resident teams. I know we'll try to make it next year!