"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, May 25, 2012

If you build it, they will come...


I've just finished reading Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood into a Place for Play by Mike Lanza

A word before I begin. I am biased.  

Well, not in the way that requires me to remove myself from writing about this book.  I'm biased because Mike Lanza wants for all children what I had growing up and what I tried to create for my own children: a neighborhood where children play, a Playborhood.

I want to like this book and I do!  Mike Lanza wants to help recreate neighborhoods where children play, not through play dates or other manufactured means, but a real neighborhood, where children can walk down their block and find other children out playing. From my experience as a parent and from what I see as a teacher, this is not happening. The traditional neighborhood community is disappearing.

"We need a road map for solving this problem now. That’s what I promise you here."  

Mike Lanza delivers. This book is not only an effective argument for bringing back the neighborhood where people play (Playborhood), it is also an instruction manual for how to do it.  

Lanza begins by providing compelling statistics and information about the importance of free play. 

"By playing freely, children discover intrinsic motivation and “acquire the skills and attitudes required for successful adulthood.”
"The who-when-where restrictions end up constraining play quite a bit, and besides, a parent or other caregiver is always within earshot. Their presence diminishes the risks kids are willing to take, and some parents demand that kids stay inside so they can keep close tabs on what’s happening. These factors make play dates very different from free play, and they greatly diminish their value."

Lanza demonstrates the value of free play by recalling his childhood experiences and showing how they lead to igniting the Playborhood philosophy.

Thus, kids of today are far less healthy emotionally, and they have far fewer opportunities to develop social skills, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, independent thinking, and creativity."

“So, the vast majority of young children have no village of their own. They have no place where they can feel comfortable and safe, while not under the gaze of their parents.”

Having primed the pump, so to speak, the reader is now ready to see examples of Playborhoods.

Lanza presents varied and diverse examples of existing and recently established Playborhoods in rural, suburban and urban neighborhoods. Each Playborhood is unique.  The organizers have found and capitalized on the strengths that the neighborhood can offer residents, whether it be a place to gather, the resources for play, or the local geographic features, like a river! 

The last section of the book offers tips and tricks for creating a Playborhood; some are more general, along the lines of: tear down fences, reciprocate care giving of children, create a community garden, host a neighborhood summer camp, plan block parties, while others are more specific, such as: play in the front year where other children and their families will see you and hopefully join in the play.

The obstacles (traffic, crime, and suburban sprawl among others) to creating a Playborhood are discussed but not allowed to deter the desire to establish.  Lanza doesn't dismiss the obstacles, but wisely offers concrete suggestions for overcoming them, some as simple as putting a "Children Playing" sign right in the middle of the street.

The vignettes offer the reader the opportunity to reflect on his or her own childhood play experiences and those of his or her children.  These vignettes engage the reader in the current need for a Playborhood along with facilitating and growing the desire for change.

Make it a beautiful day in your neighborhood! Create a Playborhood! If you build it, they will come...

Why do I think creating a Playborhood is important?  I think they are important because of the opportunities for free play -- unstructured and unsupervised play -- that affords time and space for exploration and experimentation.

As I read this book, I kept thinking of the connections to my life. I grew up in the city where we played hopscotch on the sidewalk, played catch in the street, used alley ways to play hide and seek and thought the local park was ours. 

Despite my great upbringing in the city, I choose to raise my children in the the suburbs.  I still grapple with this decision. There were definitely pros and cons.  The biggest con was the lack of a cohesive neighborhood where my children could walk out of our house and find friends to play with. They subsequently spent a lot of time together.   
My children meeting friends for fishing at the local river.
I was home in the afternoons and summer and could provide that safe place to play or be the house where my children and their friends could base their activities, autumn raking always brought a crowd because we would create huge leaf piles for jumping!

I ran "Camp Reed" one day a week in the summer.
Sometimes the camp moved indoors.
My husband and I created a play oasis in our yard.  We made a swing set (later replaced with a manufactured one) and sandbox and my husband rebuilt our neighbor's playhouse.  We collected all manner of sports and recreational equipment: hockey sticks, roller blades, wiffle balls and bats, footballs, soccer balls, hula hoops, jump ropes, sports nets, croquet, badminton.  Later we added a basketball hoop.  

We didn't let the fact that we experience all four seasons deter our outdoor activities.
Lunch outside in the late fall? Sure!
Our yard is where other children come to build igloos, tunnels, snowmen, and forts along with taking advantage if the back hill for sledding, tubing and skiing.

Winter fun.

"I hope readers of this book will re-evaluate the relative budgets for the inside and outside of their homes."   

Although I am an outdoor enthusiast, I am not sure inside versus outside is the issue.  I think the issue is purchasing items, furniture, toys, etc that will create a Playborhood no matter where your children are.  My children would trip over Lego, Brio trains, Playmobil, Maple Blocks, puzzles or art supplies long before they got to a TV.  I would often leave these creations up for weeks and watch them grow into elaborate worlds as the children added to them. 

Here's my piece of advice to along with Mike Lanza's. 

Give it Time.  

Give it time to unfold and develop.  I hate to steal the line from Field of Dreams, but I will... 

"If you build it, they will come."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

One Tuesday Morning...

Sharon Creech came a visiting...

Apologies to Uri Shulevitz, but this was a very One Monday Morning experience, just as the young boy's day is brightened by royal visitors, both my day and my students' day were brightened by a visit with Sharon Creech.

Brightening my day!

And my students' day!
I loved watching my students' faces react to her stories.  It was a beautiful moment..or moments as it were. They loved seeing her Newbery Medal and seeing the covers of her books in different languages and hearing the stories behind the stories.

When I asked a class today to describe the visit, I heard words like inspiring, thought-provoking, awesome, cool, helpful and special, just to name a few.

I opened up the blog to comments:

Sharon Creech Comes a Visiting...Virtually

Check out these comments on the thank you card:

I'm creating a bulletin board display of the visit:

One Tuesday Morning...Sharon Creech Came a Visiting...

...and what a gift it was.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wherein "Your Reader, Kate" Sends Me a Letter

I opened my email today to discover this letter from a student about the books by Chris Rylander, The Fourth Stall and its sequel, The Fourth Stall, Part II.  Wow!  This was completely self-motivated and self-directed. This year continues to be one where each day is better than the last.  Check it out.

Dear Ms. Reed,

This author Chris Rylander is really very unique, his words twist and turn your brain around until it's almost confusing as the vein in the human body.  He writes with a lot of discrepancy too!  For example,"A bear wearing a pretty dress angle wings and a halo would still eat you if it were hungry enough" and "This whole thing was turning into a black hole, which is a thing that consumes all matter, something from which nothing can escape, where no light can existed at all.", "... he was acting like he was more tightly wound than a fishing reel with a 20 foot,to ton shark on the other end."  These quotes are just the beginning,  the characters are so thought through it takes the whole book just to find the true secret hidden beneath all the stones of secrets, if I may.  My favorite character is Trixy, and Hanna Carol, but not wanting to kill the story I won't exploit her third name. But Mr. Dewey Louie-Booey would be so cool to have at our school.  

I read the uncorrected proof and even though the story was misspelled at times or grammatically incorrect, it was enthralling and exhilarating to read.  I was so happy when you brought it to me but I do have a few questions.  First, I finished the book but Anna and Ellen, having read book one, really want to read part two, so do you want it back or can I pass it along to them?   Second, if any of the other teachers read book one, did they have any comments and do you need it because I think it would be a great read-aloud for my or other classes!  I understand that you wanted the book before the vacation so I could have them (Anna and Ellen) read it really quickly or just give it back to you.  We can talk in class tomorrow or I could come after school if you are busy.

Your Reader,

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Have you seen what I've seen?

Encouraging Students to be Scientists and Wonder about the Natural World.

I am in the midst of an author/illustrator study of Steve Jenkins with my first graders.

I love this author study.  I always begin it the same way, I pass out the books and have the students do about 10 minutes of inquiry -- I tell them that they are researchers (They are coming fresh off their Animal Adaptations Research Unit).   I ask them the explore the books -- conduct a picture walk, look at the illustrations, read a few pages, etc.

Here they are during this phase: 

After the ten minutes, the students think-pair-share what they have observed and then we share as a whole group.

For this part of the unit, I use the Steve Jenkins' books that focus on animals, which is the majority of the books.  

I won't go into great detail, but we end up where the students talk about his books being about animals and  ask them what they think he liked to do when he was a young boy and they always come to the place where a students says, "He liked to watch animals and nature." I then ask, "What is the name for someone who observes nature?"  and they always answer, "A scientist!"  

Embedded in this lesson is a spine label/call number/Dewey Decimal Classification realization -- after having the students locate the spine label sticker and looking at the number, I call on a few students to share their call number.  The students quickly see the pattern and we go from the 500s and natural Sciences into the 590s and animals.  Fun stuff!

The author study goes on to explore this idea as well as explore his collage illustrations, which the students describe as "textured" or "realistic" along with other adjectives.  

During this part of the lesson we watch video clips on TeachingBooks or visit Steve Jenkins' Website to view the video clips.  The video of him making the illustration for Move! is wonderful.  I play it twice and stop it as often as needed to allow for student questions and clarification.

I then pull out Move! and we explore the illustration in the movie along with a few others.

This eventually brings us to Steve Jenkins' wish (and I am paraphrasing here),  he wants all children to be scientists and observe nature and ask those important questions, such as "Why do butterflies wings have cool patterns?" or "Why do some birds have long beaks while others have short ones?"

Steve Jenkins' books become a GREAT model for this discussion.  I gather the titles that pose a question and we talk about how research starts with a question. I then have students make up questions for the other books. I can't tell you how much fun this unit is!

After this part of the unit, I show Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest and Biggest, Strongest, Fastest. We have a discussion about scale and perspective and spend a raucous time looking at some of these very interesting and engaging places on the Earth and at some incredibly cool animals.

Yup. Next to Leo Lionni, whom I begin the year with, and Brian Lies, whom is next, and Cynthia Rylant, whom I introduce mid-year, and Denise Fleming and ....okay, you get the picture...but Steve Jenkins is one of the most fun authors to study in first grade!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Read. Reflect. Communicate. Connect.

I started a new student blog...Today!

Read. Reflect. Communicate. Connect.

I am trying out new ways for my students to connect with each other about the books they are reading (or have read).

The thing that tells me I am on the right (write!) track?  My phone buzzed at 7:45 to tell me a student had posted a comment.  

There are only five comments on the blog thus far, but for day one, I am pretty happy.  

I'd love other teacher's comments or feedback about their tools and experiences with student blogging. Please share!

"My Favorite Library Moment..."

"...was when I made my library card."

Sometimes it's the little things, right?  

As I shared in the last blog post, today, I revisited some technology tools with my students.  

There was a slight glitch in the embedding of the Wallwisher sites, so this one is a conglomeration of reflections on books and library lessons.

I love these comments.  

I realized today that it is too hard for my 5th grade students to recall lessons from their six years at the school.  I always reflect with each class at the end of the year, but in the future, I think I will share those reflections back with the students as a way of helping them realize and remember what they have learned and enjoyed. This though, was not a bad start.  They recalled lessons from 3rd and 4th grade!

"I can't wait to read more of the great books in life!"

I decided to revisit some technology tools, like Wallwisher, today.

What continues to make me smile is the fact that these students are rising to the challenge and not only using technology tools acceptably and appropriately, but are also re-engaged and excited to express themselves and communicate their understanding.  

How cool to read, "I can't wait to read more of the great books in life!"  

Why does this make me smile?  

Mainly because I feel like my students and I are developing a community of trust and from that great things are beginning to happen. I love playing the footage on my video camera (student interviews about books), listening to a VoiceThread discussion, or reading comments left by students on one of the other tools because my students are not just talking, they are thinking.  Wallwisher doesn't lend itself to as much depth, but I did have a great time looking back over their comments -- see the next post to read more of their work.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Of crayons and students

For the past few years the art teacher and I have combined our efforts during the school raffle fundraiser and offered a joint teacher excursion.

Our "excursion" is usually spent moving about the art room creating books, making paper or engaging in some other book/art related project.

Tuesday was this year's excursion day and amongst other things we made crayons.

Here's the connection my brain wanted to make -- now, I know I am stating the obvious  -- homemade crayons are an incredible expression of individual identities or personalities

  So, wherein lies this obvious connection to their individual identities?

These crayons were not only unique - like each child - they were also different depending upon one's perspective!
...and herein lies another obvious point:  these crayons are a cool reminder that each of these students (and every student) is a rich conglomeration of thoughts, ideas and interests...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Maurice Sendak Rocks My Wordle...

I ran a Wordle for my blog...

What a wonderful surprise!

What a wonderful surprise to open my District Google Docs account and see a folder from a fifth grade student.

"What was in the folder?" You ask?

Why, something incredibly special.  Writing, but not just any writing, poetry.  Poetry inspired by Sharon Creech's Love That Dog and Hate That Cat.


With his permission, I share them with you.

Wally The Cat
   By Jason
   (Inspired by Sharon Creech and Valerie Worth)

   On the heated warm lap on the couch
   My cat rests down
   Moves around
   his body,purrs,
   and licks and scratches himself
   as I stroke and pet him
   looks up,opens up eyes
   moves his head all around
   the fallen cushion
   closes his eyes,rests his head down
   purrs and meows
   and he sleeps,
   for the rest of
   the day
   in his furry  and warm coat.


Wally Shaped Poem

By Jason
(Inspired by Sharon Creech and S.C. Rigg)


The Cat’s Couch
By Jason
(Inspired by Sharon Creech and Robert Frost)

I’m going to sit on the couch with my cat
And I’ll brush and pet and rub his fur around
(And I’ll watch him move around and clothes his eyes and rest)
And I will not be gone long-just getting some kitty treats for you if you come too.

I’m going to fetch one of the small stuffed toy
Their lying by my cat’s main resting place
It’s is his favorite toy because when I throw it he catches it and licks it and plays
And I will not be gone long-just filling your bowl of food and water if you come too.


Love My Cat
By Jason
(Inspired by Sharon Creech and Walter Dean Myers)

Love my cat,
like he loves to play with toys and chase them
I said love my cat,
like he loves to to be on people's laps and get scratched and petted and loved.
I love my cat,
like he loves to be curious and see new things
I call him in the morning
to give him his treats and to be together
and say and call,
“Kitty treats,Wally!”

He walks on his front paws
in his orange and yellow colored
fur and brown stripes
and brown eyes and a pinkish nose
and whiskers
he purrs and meows when he is happy
and closes his eyes and rests to sleep
I said he walks on his front paws
in his orange and yellow colored
fur and brown stripes
purrs and meows when he is happy
and closes his eyes and rests to sleep.

I like to hold him and make him happy and good,
and feed him his special little flavored treats
I said I like to hold him and make him happy and good,
and feed him his special little flavored treats
My sister,mom,and dad now get to be with him,
They’ll help him by and be great to him
just like me.

He’s got a long road to walk down
Before his setting sun.
And before he is gone,
from my life and world and everything in it.
I said He’s got a long road to walk down
Before his setting sun.
And before he is gone,
from my life and world and everything in it.
He’s a long paw walker
and a good cat before he’s done,
for good,
and goes away.

 Cat Sounds
By Jason
(Inspired by Sharon Creech and Arnold Adoff)

T h i s   h o u s e :
T h e
a l w a y s
 p u r r s
u p   f r o m   t h e
l o v e d  a n d  r e s t e d  
f r o m  b e i n g
p e t t e d  a n d  s t r o k e d  a n d  s c r a t c h e d
a n d  b e i n g  
r e s t e d  w i t h :
being played with
and using toys or mini stuffed animals
and being moved all around closing
his eyes and twitching his whiskers
and are partly sleeping.

V o c a b u l a r i e s
resting cat  l a n g u a g e
c o m b i n a t i o n s:

as  I
O v e r h e a r
        s n o r e s

a n
o r c h e s t r a
of cushions moving
and blankets ruffling
flying to
                   my ears
w i t h  
t h e
a l w a y s
  n o i s e  o f
t h i s  h o u s e:

cat sounds.