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The Last Glorious Gasp (of Fall)?

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Plant More Trees

Plant More Trees

How do schools across Maryland celebrate exceptionally warm days in late November?  With fire drills, of course!  Evergreen, like all schools, is required to have one fire drill per month. It was 62 degrees this morning… so out we went.

But at Evergreen, being in nature is not relegated only to fair weather or fire drills.  Understanding the natural world is an integral part of our curriculum. Cynthia Brunold-Conesa, a Montessori teacher wrote, “Just as the real world is a vast interrelated network of living organisms and natural objects, ecological principles are integrated into lessons, activities, and projects. Emphasis on the natural world, and our place within it, is a central theme.” Evergreen students learn to appreciate the beauty and wonder of their world, and to see the inter-relatedness of life.  Today in the Rain Garden, Mrs. Liotta worked with a group of children removing some invasive plants while another group looked on from the sandbox.

As my family and I rode our bikes across the Capital Crescent Trail to the Georgetown Branch Trail yesterday, we relished the last gasp of glorious fall.  Will we still appreciate the splendor of nature during the inevitable sleet of winter?

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Where the Door Busting Sales Aren’t

November 19, 2011 1 comment

Here is something you will not see next Friday morning: a door-buster sale on children’s picture books.  Why? Because interest in these books—even your awesome childhood favorites, like those of Seuss, Silverstein and Sendak—can’t seem to compete In a world of Kindles and Ipads.  Without Borders in Silver Spring, finding great children’s books is becoming nearly impossible.  Even the publishing giant Scholastic is releasing 10% fewer new titles each year. And the Barnes and Noble in Bethesda has wrapped its children’s book area with a toy department.

What a loss for children!  Picture books have been proven to build early literacy through their combination of pictures and text. These books have more sophisticated vocabulary than children’s chapter books. And they encourage parent-child reading time better than anything on a computer screen.

A New York Times article by Julie Bosman from last October lamented the decline. According to Bosman, “Literacy experts are quick to say that picture books are not for dummies. Publishers praise the picture book for the particular way it can develop a child’s critical thinking skills.”

The article continues, “’To some degree, picture books force an analog way of thinking,” said Karen Lotz, the publisher of Candlewick Press in Somerville, Mass. “From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes.’”

All is not lost. If you are inclined to bust a bookstore door next week or even order online, you may be able to find some of my all time favorites, still in print. And maybe yours, too.  Please share: let me know your favorite picture book titles in the comment box. Here are mine:

Milo’s Hat Trick, Jon Agee

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau, Jon Agee

Miss Nelson Is Missing! Harry Allard and James Marshall

Strega Nona,  Tomie dePaola

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, William Steig

Brave Irene, William Steig

Doctor DeSoto, William Steig

King Bidgood’s In the Bathtub, Audrey and Don Wood

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China, Ed Young

Rapunzel, Paul O. Zelenski

Looking at a Zit

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Student Self-portrait

Student Self-portrait

Imagine looking in a mirror and seeing a large pimple on your forehead. How long will your eyes linger on that single blemish?  Shouldn’t your eyes spend time admiring the clearness of the rest of your face?  Or appreciating the intellect of the brain that sits behind that skin-deep zit?

What is it about human nature that makes it so difficult to appreciate the goodness and beauty that surround us?  For whatever reason, it seems, Thanksgiving can feel like an unnatural act.

Like many people, I spend more time thinking about what needs fixing, rather than enjoying what works well.  And that is too bad.  So let’s give thanks for the idea of Thanksgiving—and for the abundance in our lives and in our country. Thanks for our children and our children’s teachers.

Observations in a Classroom

November 9, 2011 2 comments
Observation at Evergreen School

Observation at Evergreen School

One of the joys of spending time in a school like Evergreen is watching children completely immersed in learning.  Evergreen parents saw that intensity of concentration during recent classroom observation days.  On these days, parents are invited in to watch the classroom in action.  While it takes considerable restraint to sit and quietly observe without intervening, interrupting or disrupting—the act of observation is key.  This is how we come to know each child.  And by understanding the child’s interests, needs, and ability, we are able to provide the right instruction, direction and support.

What were our parents looking for on observation day? What did they want to find out?  They focused on three things: was their child (1) engaged in learning, (2) demonstrating growth, and (3) enjoying his or her experience? These three simple questions, in a nutshell, are our highest goals—concentrated effort, progress and passion for learning.  It’s a beautiful thing to see.

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