The last time I subbed at my son’s school, I took along my Very Hungry Caterpillar birthday party kit. I told the first graders in the class that this familiar book was first published 50 years ago. As soon as I finished reading the story aloud, one of girls began singing “Happy Birthday” to the very hungry caterpillar. The whole class joined in with gusto. At the end of the day, I passed out temporary caterpillar tattoos. Some couldn’t even wait until they got into the dismissal line – they had to put the tattoos on right then and there.
This week I got a shipment of 100 books with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) themes, and I’ve made arrangements to go into my son’s third grade class to pass them out for kids to keep, along with a special STEM story time and activity. These are just some of the titles I get to share with kids during Diversity in STEM Week, sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association and First Book:
When my third grader found out about my upcoming visit to his class, he said, “By the end of the year, you’re going to be known as the fun mom.” While that’s hardly my goal, I do hope my own kids and the others with whom I interact pick up on the idea that reading is fun and fulfilling and can open up worlds of possibilities.
My kids don’t believe me when I say it’s good to get bored, but they’re improving at their ability to transform a blank page or an empty afternoon into something interesting. This month, they’ve been using their creativity and resourcefulness to find their way out of boredom, which I’d posit is an important life lesson. Below are some of the fruits of their unstructured days.
For the library’s summer reading program, my eight-year-old collected leaves from nearby trees and looked up the name of each one. He documented it in the following manner:
We can now tell you the difference between a sugar maple and a silver maple. After he finished this, we have found and looked up the names of four other leaves as well. The learning continues.
Word has spread that we have some Lego artists in this household, and so my two sons were enlisted to help finish up a Lego mural. They ended up reworking the whole thing. Don’t you like that eagle?
Then there was the chalk dinosaur, ready to gobble up all cars coming toward our home on Cumberland Street. He’s wearing away little by little, but the remnants still give us something to talk about.
Our 11-year-old has been working on creating his latest game, “Battle of the Fort.” He sometimes complains about the limitations of Tynker and how he can’t code all the things he’d like to. Most of the time I don’t fully grasp what he’s talking about – coding is a language all its own – but I’m glad he’s been developing his abstract reasoning and problem solving skills. With animation, the picture below occasionally has some lightning in the background.
We’re also making memories, with many of the typical activities of summer like pick up soccer games at Lexington Park, swimming at Como Pool, and weekly visits to the library. They make me smile when they can’t even wait till we leave the library before they start in on their new book selections (though also a bit concerned about their safety due to an apparent lack of awareness of their surroundings when walking while reading).
brightening our afternoon
just by being there
signaling spring’s arrival
and sparking smiles.
Our ten-year-old has become known for devouring thick books, but he has very definite ideas about what he likes to read. He’s recently made it though the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and has moved on to Heroes of Olympus. A few weeks ago he was a bit agitated when he was out of said reading material and still had one more day to go before his next library visit at school. His affection for 500-plus page tomes sometimes leaks out as scorn for picture books, a sentiment that his younger brother has picked up on. Not to be left behind, our seven-year-old has also expressed a preference for chapter books. Trouble is, he can’t read too many of those himself.
So, I’ve been adding more chapters to our read-aloud times. I insist the older boy put down his other book when I’m reading a chapter book aloud. He’s been known to express his displeasure about this, but he is often drawn into the story more than he’d like to admit. We recently finished reading Caddie Woodlawn together and both of the boys have brought up topics from it for discussion later. My younger son even retold the Pee Wee story from the book at a recent family story time. (His dad and and an aunt who was here hadn’t heard it before.)
But I’m not ready to give up picture books, so I still scan the shelves at the Rice Street Library during most of our visits. Sometimes I even find a book that pulls both boys in. Last week, I was reading The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt aloud to my seven-year-old, and about half way through, the ten-year-old joined us. He’d been listening, I could tell, because there was no request to turn back or start over. Both boys had had their imagination captured as we read this story set in an “ancient and distant kingdom” in which three great warriors each sought “a worthy challenge” and hoped to prove themselves in “the glory of battle.”
I considered it a victory for the picture book, a subtle reminder of the power of a good story to engage, amuse and provide fodder for conversation.
“I don’t like poetry; I like non-fiction,” our first-grader said as I scanned titles in the poetry section of the library. “I like animals.” I took it as a challenge. It’s national poetry month after all. The first book I grabbed was a book of animal poetry that looked like it held promise: Some of the poems in this book qualify as nonfiction, though not all of them. But the pictures alone earned the book high marks with my two young book critics. Then I found a book of nature poems by an author we know and like, Jane Yolen: The poems are fun, and it too has outstanding pictures. It was a quick read with some memorable poems, as was a similar title by the same author: We’re likely to check both of them out again. Another winner was an anthology edited by Mary Ann Hoberman: This book has a lot of classics in it as well as contemporary poems, organized by topic. Some made us laugh out loud. I also appreciate the tips on memorizing poems, a skill too few people value these days. The book would make a great gift for the child in your life.
So last week when I suggested we read poetry, we had options. “Popcorn and poetry!” Our younger boy welcomed the idea but insisted that popcorn was a part of the package. We had my sister to thank for this, but I don’t mind a bit. There aren’t many things I enjoy more than sharing a book with my boys before bedtime.
We persuaded their daddy to join us. “Which do you like better – popcorn or poetry?” he asked.
“Both!” my four-year-old said.
This year, our leaf collecting was spurred on by story time. The librarian was reading books about fall. (No surprise there – everyone seems to be on the topic these days so we’ve been reading books about the season at ExploraTots and Kids at the Castle too.) Anyway, what caught my eye that particular day was one of the books the librarian didn’t read but had set aside. I picked it up and added it to our check-out pile.
Since then my boys and I have been collecting leaves.
We pick them up off streets and sidewalks whenever we go walking, press them, and turn them into art.
Ehlert’s book gives lots of ideas of what to do with the leaves. For example you can make a butterfly, fish or turtle.
Buildings and jet planes are fair game too. (Use your imagination- that top of the building below looks like an onion dome, doesn’t it?) Also notice the bird in the lower right corner. My older son was most pleased with his bird.
One evening I took the book and some leaves to share with friends from Burma. The eight-year-old girl in the family studied the examples from the picture book and made some lovely art. So did her brother and neighbors. They filled both sides of their papers.
The next day she began collecting leaves herself. I think she agrees with Ehlert and me that autumn leaves are some of the finest art materials around.
Last week we put a bar of Ivory soap in the microwave and watched it puff up like a cloud. We set it for two minutes, but it didn’t take that long. After allowing the soap to cool, you can crumble it and turn it into ghost mud, which is on our agenda for this week.
It’s April and in good Minnesota fashion, three out of five days this week are expected to involve snow. But, according to the good people at Gardening Matters, this does not have to interfere with spring planting. With six weeks till frost free weather (God willing), it’s time to get seedlings started. We’re trying a method from wintersown.org.
We made our own mini greenhouses using empty milk jugs. It’s a simple and fun process. My kids and I think you should try it.
Using a utility knife, cut a horizontal line about four inches from the bottom of each jug. Just cut around three sides of the jug. Leave the fourth side uncut so it can function like a hinge.
By the third one, ours were looking pretty neat:
Then cut at least four slits in the bottom to allow water to drain out. Add soil to the container, leaving about an inch of room at the top.
Sprinkle the soil generously with water. Sow seeds, spacing them as recommended on the package. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Flip the top of the jug back into place. Tape the container closed with clear tape. Label each so you remember what is growing where. Leave the lids off. Place the jugs on the east, west or south side of your house.
And here’s the reassuring part for those of us in northern climates: allow snow to pile on top. As it melts, it will add moisture to the soil. If the containers do not have snow on top and there’s no condensation, then water the seedlings to keep them growing.
So far we’ve planted broccoli, celery and cumin. Once we get another empty milk jug, we’re going to plant some spinach too.
“A polar vortex!” my son said as I opened the curtain on Thursday morning to reveal snowflakes swirling frantically in the wind. Even my kindergartener is using the buzz word of the winter.
Though the snow had already piled up on the roads and snow was still falling, no one was talking about cancelling school this morning. That was fine with me since we’d already had five days off in the month due to the great North American cold wave.
This time of the year we’re usually tired of winter, but it seems especially so this year because it’s been so cold we don’t even go out to play much. But if the weather ever remains in the above-zero temperature range long enough, we just might go exploring outside. Perhaps we’ll look for tracks in the snow. (Click the link to see my latest published piece.)