Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pirates vs. Cowboys, Learning & Laughing

Pirates vs. Cowboys brought some old fashioned fun to the speech room this week. My students have been in love with Aaron Reynolds’ storytelling talents ever since I read his book Creepy Carrots last October. This latest book has further established his place in their hearts. And the kids loved David Barneda’s engaging illustrations, especially the expressive pirate crab and cowboy cactus.

Pirates vs. Cowboys

When Burnt Beard, the Pirate, swaggered into Old Cheyenne, the pirate-cowboy showdown began (and so did the student-giggles.) The kids had a hard time deciphering what those rascally pirates and cantankerous cowboys were trying to say to one another. It was no wonder that cowboy Black Bob McKraw didn’t realize he was not being insulted when Burnt Beard said,

 “Ahoy there, me hearties! Be ye knowin’ where we’d be findin’ a fair scrub and a swish?”

Black Bob rode up real close to Burnt Beard. “What’d you call us, ya yellow-bellied varmints?” was Black Bob’s reply. “Why don’t ya mangy hornswogglers beat a trail of dust right back out of Old Cheyenne!”

My students couldn’t figure out what those colorful characters were trying to say but they laughed at the sound of these words and then took a guess at their meaning.  We had a nice conversation about communication and the importance of the words we use.  When I read,

None of them cowboys spoke Pirate, and none of them pirates spoke Cowboy! And that’s a recipe for trouble.

Joden called out, “None of those cowboys.” And after listening to,

“You rootin’-tootin’ critters better head fer the hills, or yer gonna get horsewhipped and hogtied like there’s no tomorrow!”

Haley said, “That means get out pirates!”

This story may not model appropriate grammar or typical vocabulary but it inspired my students to notice both and it opened a good discussion on communication.  It also inspired some creative endeavors. In a kindergarten group, one student dictated his own story, full of thieving pirates, stolen animals, and a treasure – one puppy, bright gold, the color of a gold-covered chocolate coin. 

I asked a group of first grade students to replace “pirates” and “cowboys” with different characters and we had an enthusiastic brainstorming session. Before long, they began creating their own stories. Zayd told a tale of Ninja vs. Robots, Madisyn started one about Ballerinas vs. Fairies, and Joden (ever the comedian) began a tale of a Dog-person vs. Cheetah – “a big one doing the happy dance.” I’m curious to see how that one comes out. Actually, I’m curious to see how they all come out; they are off to a good start. I feel privileged to see such creative minds at work and to have the opportunity to introduce them to a good story, like Aaron Reynolds, Pirates vs. Cowboys.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spring Break!

This past week our schools have been closed for Spring Break and on Tuesday I hiked to a nearby waterfall for a time of quiet contemplation. I’ve been extremely busy for the last month – reports and meetings at work, new financial responsibilities at home, and self-imposed writing and blogging “obligations.” And so, in keeping with my “intention” for this year (think resolution but with less guilt), which was to strive for balance, I decided to tip the scales in the opposite direction and enjoy a time of leisure.

There is a lovely waterfall in Russian Gulch State Park, not far from where I live. I drove inland to catch a shortcut and hiked through the redwoods, breathing in the scent of new spring growth. Lush fog-tended ferns lined the trail and wild rhododendrons reached their spindly branches through a canopy of Douglas fir and redwoods. 

Western Trillium brightened the forest floor and the path was padded with last year’s needles and bark.

I brought my iPad along so I could take a few pictures. (Perhaps one day I’ll buy a camera.) I wanted a few shots for this blog post but I planned to slip the iPad into my backpack and ignore it for the most part. After all, the idea behind my hike was to retreat from responsibilities – self-imposed or otherwise.  But I got wrapped up in taking pictures and thinking of how I might use them on my blog or with my students. That made me start thinking of school and the reports that I’ll need to write next week. My mind skipped around between jobs to do at home and work, books I planned to read, friends I wanted to spend time with, and projects I planned to work on during my break.

When I arrived at the waterfall, I was delighted to find I had the place to myself. There are a couple rough hewn benches and I settled onto one, then grabbed my iPad to snatch a few pictures of the falls. 

I moved in for a close-up and the roar of the water spilling over rocks and around fallen trees was almost musical.

No, actually it was very musical. At first I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, but no, it was actual music I was hearing. I was disappointed, thinking my solitude was about to end. I assumed there were hikers approaching with a blaring radio but I was wrong. When I held the iPad up to get one last shot, the music grew louder. It was coming from my iPad.

Now I must tell you, I’ve never listened to music on my iPad before. I have over one hundred educational apps so I reserve the space for those and for photographs. But somewhere along the line, I must have downloaded this one album, Come Darkness, Come Light by Mary Chapin Carpenter. And somehow, with the glare on my iPad I didn’t notice that, out of my one hundred-plus apps, my finger hit the music icon, and started playing the third song on this album, “Still, Still, Still.” Those were actually the only words I could hear, “Still, still, still, (roar of water,) still, still, still.” It was a message I needed.

My scampering thoughts had crowded out any chance for contemplative ones, but that word, “still” stopped the internal whirr.  I walked over to the bench, turned off the music and slipped the iPad into my backpack. I sat for a moment before pulling out my journal. When I opened it, the first thing I saw was a quote I’d copied several months ago,

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

That was enough. I didn’t need to read further. I wrote a few notes in my journal and tucked it away so I could sit and enjoy the stillness.

Whatever your belief system, whatever your religion or lack thereof, we all need times to be still and enjoy the beauty of nature, time to reflect so that we can bring a richness to our relationships with others. Our students, children, families, readers and friends will all benefit when we nourish our souls.

Spring Break is almost over but my hope is that I’ll carry some of this stillness into the coming weeks. And I hope the same for you.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

From My Pocket to Theirs - Year 2

Poem in Your Pocket Day falls during our Spring Break this year.  I couldn’t let the day, April 18th, slip by without bringing it to the attention of my students, so we started celebrating a bit early. I brought out the “pocket” I created last year and my students helped fill it with poems.

Yesterday, they emptied the pocket and shared poems with classmates. They carried them in their pockets as they left school on Friday and who knows, they may have them in their pockets again on the eighteenth.

When I looked for poems to share with the students, I found some fabulous ones in the book, National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar!
National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar!

J. Patrick Lewis, U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, edited this book. I’m grateful to our school librarian, Allison Brown, who loaned me her personal copy. From Jack Prelutsky to Emily Dickinson, there is a poet and poem for every taste. The focus on animals appealed to my students, especially with the accompanying photographs - they were spectacular! What child wouldn’t love a photograph and poem about a piranha or a panther? There is even a poem by one of my favorite poets from the past – Christina Georgina Rossetti.
Hurt no living thing: 

Ladybird, nor butterfly, 

Nor moth with dusty wing, 

Nor cricket chirping cheerily, 

Nor grasshopper so light of leap, 

Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat, 

Nor harmless worms that creep.

The kids were enthusiastic about our pocket activity and loved claiming a poem as their special one for the coming week. They left inspired. And who knows what poetry may come from these students in years ahead. I’m hopeful, on some future “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” I’ll be carrying one of their creations.