I love summer break. One of the reasons teaching appeals to me is summer break. My calendar runs June - May in my recently created bullet journal. I. Love. Summer. It is a time to take a break from school and learn just for the fun of it. Did you catch that? Not take a break from learning, just a time to take a break from formal learning. Summer is the perfect time to learn, grow, and explore in ways that just aren't possible during the school year.
For the past several summers Logan and I have had a themed summer bucket list and a hashtag to go with it. We've had The Summer of Adventure, The Summer of Go and Grow, The Summer of Exploring, and The Summer of Progress. As you can see, I put some big things like trips on the list, but I also plan little things, like make paper airplanes or play Old Maid. I started it because I don't like the days passing and feeling as though we've accomplished nothing. We never complete everything on the list but we have fun trying.
Earlier I wrote about the importance of experiencing things. The more children are exposed to the more they will be able to learn in a classroom. Standing in the Wright's Bicycle Shop is way different from seeing it in a textbook. At their childhood home actors put a on a show called "Coming home from Kitty Hawk" which is quite inspiring. I usually cry, but I'm weird like that. Don't believe me? Well, go to Greenfield Village and check it out for yourself. The Wright brothers' father strongly believed in the power of play and encouraged his children's curiosity by giving them educational toys, including a propeller toy and you see where that lead. No, building paper airplanes isn't usually encouraged in the classroom, but this is summer. Look up different designs then build a airplane landing strip to see which fly the best. You don't have to make it super educational by explaining the science behind the aerodynamics, but when your child studies physics and learns about lift, the lessons they learned through play will help the ideas click faster.
One of the saddest things I saw as a teacher was a lack of REAL outdoor experiences among my students. If you know me, you know I'm far from outdoorsy, but I do enjoy walking and taking easy hikes. If your child has done some hiking, they can relate to the mountain stories they will be reading about in literature. Students can tell all about building a shelter in a video game, but send them out to try to build one with whatever they can find in the woods. Suddenly Hatchet by Gary Paulsen gets much more intriguing. Once, on a walk on the I&M canal trail we saw a tree that had been chewed down by a beaver. That experience was priceless and way more valuable than only having read that beavers chew down trees. The time we've spent exploring the Morton Arboretum or the Stage Nature Center has helped Logan understand forest growth and decomposition in a way that is more comprehensive than he could gather from a book. Trust me, I'm not saying that ONLY experience is necessary, but that it lays a strong foundation for academic learning.
This summer we have big plans. We are calling it "The Great Summer of Adventure" and using #greatsummerofadventure2018 to track our activities. I would be honored if you would join in our adventures. Come over and swim, visit a museum with us, join us on a walk at the nature center, but let's get out there! If you can't be with us in person, join in by making and displaying your own Great Summer of Adventure bucket list and hashtaging along with us. I'm waiting to reveal our list until Monday, the official first day of summer break for Logan, but if you would like a copy of my "Great Summer of Adventure" bucket list poster please contact me. I can't wait for the fun to begin!
Did you have a favorite coming-of-age movie? There are so many to choose from so your favorites will likely depend on your age, background, and interests. Popular titles include The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, Grease, and 10 Things I Hate About You. While there are many movies and musicals that wound their way deep into my heart, only one powered its way into my imagination so deeply that it still holds a sizable chunk of my heart. One night at a friend's sleepover birthday party someone pulled out the newly released to VHS movie Newsies. We watched it, and watched it, and watched it, and watched it. Literally. We watched it four times that night. I barely slept and as soon as I was picked up I was on a mission to get the soundtrack. The music, by Alan Menken, is catchy and thrilling. It starts out with Max Casella's unique voice, "In 1899, the streets of New York echoed with the voices of Newsies . . . " and tells the story of the newsboys strike that year. I even went to the library to research the story but was disappointed to learn that Disney had added to the story, so while it was based on a true story, the based is what should be emphasized, not the true. (I quickly learned that this was normal after seeing Disney's White Fang then reading the Jack London book.)
I look back on the movie with cringy delight. I was SOOOO into it. I was team David and my best friend was solidly team Jack, but that didn't stop us from going gaga over the story together. My parents never let me get too over the top in my obsessions, but they did tolerate a lot of talking about New York, The New York World, and Newsies in general. (Thanks mom and dad.) Newsies first introduced me to people like Joseph Pulitzer, and William Randolph Hearst. Since then I've read several Pulitzer Prize-winning books and I've visited Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. No, the stories weren't entirely accurate, but they whetted my appetite for more. And, just like in so many things, I found new words.
Today's Word: Conflagration
Four syllables. Pronounced [kon-fluh-GREY-shuh n] Noun- defined in the OAD as a large and destructive fire.
After striking a business deal, Jack is trying to teach David and his little brother how to sell papers. Jack adds drama to the story about a small trash fire on Ellis Island that scared seagulls by saying, "Big conflagration! Thousands flee in panic." The way he (Christian Bale) yells out CON-FLA-GRAY-SHON in his New York accent was just enough to draw me to Team Jack momentarily. David had been reading literal headlines and selling nothing, but with Jack's hype, the papers sell quickly. Incidentally, if you think that "fake news" is a 2016 thing, you are sadly mistaken.
Keep listening for those amazing words that connect with you because they are all around us. And remember, it is absolutely possible to say big fire instead of conflagration, but which will sell more papers?
It is the unofficial start of summer or, here in Michigan, the date which we can plant flowers without the threat of frost. Stores have Memorial Day sales and families gather for backyard barbecues. But that is not the intended purpose for Memorial Day. It is not a day we honor those who have served, although it is kind to acknowledge their service, and it certainly isn't a day that "Happy" should be placed in front of. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country, and this year marks the 150th anniversary of this important day of remembrance. The staggering numbers of lives sacrificed in the service of our country should be enough to give pause to anyone. The chart below is from a post dated 2015 so the number in the Global War on Terror category is sadly higher than listed here. The bloodiest battle in US history was the Battle of the Argonne Forest that claimed 26,277 American lives and left 95,786 wounded, according to the military.com. Setting aside a day to remember seems to be a charitable but feeble attempt to express gratitude for the many men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.
I recently had a conversation with a member of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). After I gave a small donation he offered me an artificial poppy. I told him about our visit the Flanders Fields in Belgium and the continuing gratitude of the people there. He was moved by their appreciation for the sacrifice of Americans during both World Wars. We discussed the work the VFW does for veterans. He proudly told me about his work helping local veterans and serving on the honor guard that participates in veteran's funerals. He told me about local memorials and the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly. We talked and talked and I look forward to talking to him again, hopefully soon. He still serves veterans and he actively looks for ways to help because he made it home. Not everyone he served with did.
A take away from our conversation is that there are people who are concerned about caring for and showing continued support for veterans. Unfortunately, their resources aren't as limitless as their gratitude so the good they can do is limited. There are also organizations that are dedicated to honoring the fallen such as the National Cemetery Association and the American Battle Monuments Commission, but they too have limited resources.
This Memorial Day set aside some time to pray and reflect upon the sacrifice that others have made so that you can enjoy the sweet freedom we all hold dear. Consider donating to a memorial fundraiser like The United States World War One Centennial Commission. (They are trying to raise enough money for a World War I monument in Washington D.C. The donation amount $11.11 is in remembrance of the end of the war on 11.11.1918.) Look for events that honor the fallen and attend with family and friends before heading off to that barbecue. Together, we can look back with gratitude so we can look forward with courage and optimism.
I'm having a hard time deciding what word to choose this week. Not because I've run out of words, but rather because I've been reading a lot of poetry lately and poetry is so full of wonderful words that I get overwhelmed. For years I thought that I didn't like poetry because I tried reading it in the way that I read prose, but once I began slowing down and reading it aloud I fell in love. Robin Williams character in Dead Poets Society, Mr. Keating, influenced my understanding of poetry more than any class or study I have been part of.
"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?" (Dead Poets Society)
Today's Word: Harbinger
Three syllables. Pronounced [HAHR-bin-jer] Noun - defined as a person who goes ahead and makes known the approach of another; herald or anything that foreshadows a future event; omen; sign.
This is another example of a word that must be spoken aloud. Do it. Say it aloud right now. Isn't that satisfying? Don't worry if people are looking at you weird. Harbinger is just that good.
My strongest memories of this word are from Macbeth. Macbeth offers to go to his wife and tell her that Duncan is coming to spend the night at his house. Macbeth: "I’ll be myself the harbinger and make joyful, The hearing of my wife with your approach." Of course, Lady Macbeth's joy at the approach of Duncan will lead to a less than peaceful night for Duncan, but still Macbeth fulfills his duty as a harbinger.
Words move us to do great things. The world itself wouldn't exist if God himself had not spoken it into existence. Perhaps you will never find yourself reading or writing poetry, but that doesn't mean that beautiful, well chosen words can't be part of your speech and writing. Listen to music, TED talks, and well written articles and you will hear figurative language and be moved by its powerful effects.
Okay, I know the title of the post sounds totally anti-God and anti-Bible. That is not all what I am intending to say, but I got your attention, right? I am referring to the danger of using the Bible to get what we want as parents rather than actually parenting our children and teaching them what God's Word has to say. Ephesians 6:1 has been used and over used to the point that some kids can quote it backward and forward, but inside their spirit is angry and resentful.
Mom: "No, you can't wear that outfit."
Child: "But WHY? "
Parent: "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."
Child: "I can't wait to grow up and get out of here so I don't have to obey you anymore!"
(Verbally stated or held internally.)
This is not the only verse that is overused or used out of context.
Child: "I can't understand my algebra homework."
Parent: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
Child: (sarcastically) "Thanks, that cleared everything up."
The examples could go on, but hopefully you get my point. Child is arguing, complaining, or disobeying and the parents response is to throw out a verse and move on like it was a magic phrase that fixed everything. The child has learned nothing other than they needed help from a parent they trusted and that help was not given. Instead they got a quick quote that was empty and lacked love behind it.
This is wrong. So what do we do? Should you not teach your kids scripture or avoid quoting it to them? No, but I would assert that there is a way to do it that is gentle and graceful. It will teach them to love God's Word rather than to hate it or twist it to be used for their own purposes.
We can do a great deal of damage when it comes to our handling of scripture and it's presentation to our kids. We can also ruin our testimony by our rants on social media and behavior toward other adults. For now all I can do is try to live out the gospel every day and when I fail, ask forgiveness of my heavenly Father and those around me.
During my time as an English teacher, I had the opportunity to introduce students to many new words. Some curriculum had LONG lists which I loathed, because who can add a whole list of words to their vocabulary in one week? At least I assumed vocabulary acquisition was the goal. If it was just to revel in the number of words taught then I view that as absolutely pointless. What is the point of teaching something that isn't meant to be retained? I also loathed having to teach spelling because I can not spell. It's always been awful for me. I might memorize it for a test, but very few words stick with me. I am so eternally thankful for spell check and for Google when my spelling is so bad that I need to Google the word to know how to spell it. "Did you mean _____?" is an absolute lifesaver. Bad spellers, you know what I'm talking about . . . Okay, it appears I've gone a little off track. Moving on to the word -
Today's Word: Superfluous
Four syllables. Pronounced [soo-PUR-floo-uh s] Adjective - Defined in the OAD as "more than is needed; unnecessary." I would give you the definition provided by Dictionary.com, but that would be superfluous. (See what I did there?)
I remember around 2004, trying to teach this word to a group of ninth graders. It was on our vocab list, but they were having none of it. "Why do we need to learn another word for extra? Why can't I just use extra?" (You can add in a whiny tone and accompanying eye rolls.) I tried to explain the benefits of having a vocabulary with depth, without much success. Then I remembered a scene from the recently released Pirates of the Caribbean when Jack Sparrow uses the word. After pointing out that Jack Sparrow used superfluous it got so much cooler and they were willing to give it a go.
That's the marvelous thing about learning new words. They can come from any number of places and even pirates know it's wise to have a wide vocabulary.
I am the youngest of six children. There is a substantial gap between myself and my siblings. Three of them were out of high school when I was born. Often I am asked if I was a mistake, which for the record is kind of rude and everyone should stop saying that. Unplanned is a better way to ask the question without implying that someone's existence should not be. Anyway, according to my mother, I was not unplanned. But unplanned or not, my birth, according to The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman, started a new family. In his book Leman states that after a seven year gap without children being born, a new family begins. Thus according to his research, my behavior is more similar to an only child rather than one raised with five siblings.
I am closest in age to my sister Gwendolyn, who is just eleven years older than me. The next closest in age is Paul whose lap I'm sitting on in the picture. As I grew my siblings moved away to various locations around the country. My parents took me as we traveled around the country to visit them. We went to Pennsylvania then Arizona to see Sandy, New Jersey then Virginia to visit Dana, Chicago to visit Paul and Robert, and Northern Michigan to visit Gwendolyn who eventually moved to the Chicago area. I am leaving out their spouses and children here to make things simpler, but our family is wonderfully large.
My mother did many admirable things for me as I grew up, but there are two that stand out as life altering and which I see as immensely influential in my life.
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be --
I had a Mother who read to me.
I love words. Really. I get super excited about them. My excitement would sometimes illicit eye rolls or groans from students, but that didn't slow me down. If the teacher isn't enthusiastic about vocabulary instruction how can the students be? I've read multiple books about the English language, books about language development in children, even a book about the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary, who's title contained the words "murder and insanity" so that was a must read. My love language is words of affirmation. I even made a list of my favorite words, just to see them on the page. I adore the way some words sound when spoken aloud. The pronunciation and sound of certain words is just requires them to be spoken.
Have I convinced you I'm a big nerd yet? Anyway, I decided to share my favorite words with you each Wednesday. (Why Wednesday? Well, without doubt, I have a weakness for alliteration.)
Today's Word: Undulate
Three syllables, rhymes with rate or eight. It could also be pronounced to rhyme with lit or bit, but the first is my personal favorite. According to my handy dandy OAD (Oxford American Dictionary) undulate is verb with two meanings: 1) move with a smooth wavelike motion 2) have a wavy form or outline.
The first time I remember reading this word was in Jack Prelutsky's book If Not For the Cat, a collection animal riddles in haiku. He uses the word to describe the movements of the jellyfish and it is beautiful. I can't print his poem here, but really, just check the book out of the library or get yourself a copy.
Recently, I visited the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach California, which was stunning and packed with fascinating creatures. The creatures I couldn't get enough of were the jellyfish. All I could think of was UNdulate, UNdulate, UNdulate. It even sounds like wave like motion. Below are a couple of videos I took of the entrancing jelly fish at the aquarium. I tried to take photos, but it was their movements that made them so intriguing to watch.
Parents, when you are out and about with your little ones, look for times like these to teach new words. Your children are much more likely to remember a wonderful word like undulate because you said it while watching jellies at the aquarium or hearing the wailing of a siren. Children are never too young to hear big words. If they misuse them that can be corrected, but hearing more words even at very young ages can increase verbal understanding and abstract processing.
As we explore marvelous words together, I look forward to hearing from other word nerds about their favorite words and how they acquired them. Vocabulary doesn't have to be a boring class with memorized definitions. Word lovers unite!
I love to read. A lot. But for the sake of my writing here, I feel the need to define what that means. It seems weird to "define" reading, but there are so many viewpoints out there I just want to get my view point out there so we are all on the same page. Or screen. Or whatever.
Aparently there are debates among readers about what "counts" as reading. Doesn't that sound goofy? What counts. We aren't in third grade here, but according to Daniel Willingham the aggression aimed at audio books could be an elementary school hold out. When we think people are using a device that gives them an advantage we challenge them and get upset, but really, if information and ideas are spread, aren't we all winning?
I am a promiscuous reader. That may sound bad, but it doesn't mean I read smutty or inappropriate material, rather my reading is characterized by indiscriminate mingling or association with a variety of formats. When I say, "I read ______." I may be referring to any of the following formats. This is what I love to read:
“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn't carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.” ― Stephen King
One of the reasons I say that I read instead of I listened to is that often people will not discuss a book with someone who merely listened to it. On several occasions I've talked to people who feel uncomfortable calling themselves readers because they listen to audio books. Sometimes these people struggle with dyslexia or other learning disabilities yet still love powerful writing and moving storytelling. They've experienced Jane Eyre and The Devil in the White City, but don't feel worthy to participate in discussions about it because they've heard that listening doesn't count. I want to discuss ideas and books with all who love books instead of promoting snobbery.
Audio books are an excellent way to get kids lost in a great story without the stress of decoding text. Their brains are still breaking down information and making sense of the language. They can develop a love for stories before they gain the ability to read complex writing. When he was in second grade, Logan and I listened to the Lord of the Rings together and Logan followed every word. This was long before he could have tackled a book like this on his own and we didn't have enough time before bed to tackle the three volume masterpiece. Kids do need to spend significant time with text to work on those decoding skills, but audio books can be great companions on road trips or daily errands. (If you're interested in other benefits of audio books click here.)
I don't read because I enjoy the feeling of my eyes decoding text into words. I read because I love to gain the information and experience the sense of getting lost in a marvelous story. As I talk about things I've read I will not differentiate the formats of the books. If you are curious about my reading you can check out my goodreads account. I read a great variety and often I read things I do not agree with to challenge myself with new ideas and to make myself aware of opposing viewpoints. If you are curious about a particular book, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Matching books to people is one of my favorite things.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."