2.11.2018

Ideas for Using Your Instant Camera

I've always enjoyed taking pictures, so I was thrilled to receive a new Instax instant camera last December! I have lots of sweet childhood memories of eagerly waiting for the image to materialize on a Polaroid.  But, in the modern era of digital cameras, it takes a bit of a mentality shift in order to find the right occasions to break out your hip new instant camera and shake it like...well you know.
Check out these ideas that will get you using your real-film camera right away!

1. Fun photo display.

A quick Pinterest or Instagram search will yield tons of ideas for creating a beautiful photo display in your home or learning space using instant photos and other simple items.  Clip some photos onto a string of twinkle lights using small clothespins or arrange some photos on the wall in a grid using washi tape.  When the small photos are arranged neatly together, they will create a big visual impact and give you the opportunity to change out the images frequently for an ever-fresh look.
2. Party favors.
The next time you host a birthday party, you can use instant photos of guests with the birthday child as party favors.  Attendees will get to take home a memory of the party instead of a cheapy toy that will likely break almost immediately.  You can use special films like the pretty pastel Instax Macaron Film that match your party theme.  Another option is for party-goers to create their own frames as a party activity.  Offer a variety of stickers, washi tapes, or small objects like buttons or shells for guests to adhere around the edges of the photo.
3. Gift tags.
Make gifts extra special with instant photo gift tags using this idea from Polaroid.
4. Hostess gift.
When you are the guest at a party or other occasion, you can surprise your host by breaking out your instant camera to take a photo you can leave behind as a thank you.  Since tangible printed photos have become relatively scarce, a photo in hand has become a special treat.  My girls and I recently visited a new baby cousin in our family on her first day home from the hospital.  Before leaving, we took a photo of the new baby with her big sister and mommy.  This special memory took very little preparation on our part (just remember to bring the camera), but it was a unique momento for the newly expanded family.
5. Travel journal.
An instant camera can be a super fun journaling tool.  Adding instant shots of your vacation to a blank book can be fun way to remember the journey.  The opportunity to use the camera will motivate kids to get busy writing about their experiences and will keep little hands and minds busy during long road or plane trips.

2.08.2018

Love Stories for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is fast approaching!  I have recently discovered some lovely new read-alouds to share during this celebration of sweetness.

Love, by Matt de la PeƱa, is a beautiful picture book that describes love through metaphors such as "love, too, is the smell of crashing waves."  This story is a fantastic example of figurative language that students can use to inspire their own writing about abstract concepts like emotions.

Diane Adams' book, Love Is, uses metaphors to illustrate the complex feeling of love.  In this book, the touching text describes many of the sacrifices made in the name of love.  The illustrations indicate that the story is about a young girl and her relationship with her pet duckling, but adult readers will feel the emotional parallels with their own relationships with the children in their lives.

Even the littlest listeners can explore metaphorical descriptions of love through Amy Novesky's Love Is a Truck and Love Is a Tutu which compare the complicated feeling to play experiences familiar to young children.

After reading some of these stories, ask students to think of and write about what love is to them.

1.29.2018

Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics will begin in Pyeongchang, South Korea just over a week.  This international sports competition provides exciting, multidisciplinary opportunities for learning. Starting with a story is an engaging way to introduce the topic.

Elympics, by X.J. Kennedy is a fun book of poems about both the Summer and Winter Olympics.  Sharing the winter-sport poems with my warm-climate students helped them understand what happens in several of the unfamiliar events.  Other fiction stories that can also work to introduce your Olympic learning theme include Tacky and the Winter Games by Helen Lester and Snowman Paul at the Winter Olympics by Yossi Lapid.

Students will also enjoy perusing a pile of non-fiction books about Olympics, Olympians, and Olympic events.  A few good titles to share are A Kid's Guide to the 2018 Winter Games by Jack L. Roberts, Z Is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet by Matt Napier, Freeze Frame: A Photographic History of the Winter Olympics by Sue Macy or the latest issue of Sports Illustrated Kids magazine.  Students may also be interested in reading Paralympic Sports Events by Robin Johnson to learn how athletes with disabilities are involved in the Olympics.

To get your own copy of the world flags I used in the book display shown above, visit Mr. Printables.  Print two sets, and you'll have a beautiful flag matching game that can be used even when the Olympic season has passed.  Older students can enjoy the more challenging activity of sorting the flags by continent.  The flags can also be used in a large bar graph where students can tally the medals earned by each country.

For science, students can simulate ramps used in sports such as luge, skiing, snowboarding, and bobsledding using classroom supplies and toy cars or figurines.  Learners will have fun observing races using diffent ramp heights and textures as variables.

The official Olympics webpage offers many additional educational materials that may be helpful in your classroom or learning environment.  Useful items include Healthy Body Image videos, The Olympic Journey (an interactive tool that traces the Olympics from its ancient roots to its modern incarnation), and Time and Sport (a multimedia timeline of Olympic history).

1.03.2018

The Snowy Day

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, was published in 1962 and became the first children's book to feature a black protagonist in a positive light.  The beautiful book received the Caldecott Medal in 1963.  This winter, the US Postal Service issued a series of stamps to commemorate the classic book.

Reading this story provides inspiration for several fun activities. On a recent but rare snowy day here in Texas, students and I discussed ideas about how to save snow. We could all relate to Peter's desire to keep a snowball stashed away for later, but of course, keeping snow in a pocket just doesn't work. Instead we decided to draw scenes from our snow day to remember later.

Another great message in the story is that we should enjoy and explore whatever weather we have.  Try to embrace Peter's curiosity as you try new ways to interact with the outdoors. If there is no snow where you are, you can purchase artificial snowballs Fake Snowballs to toss and catch or even host your own friendly snowball fight.

After all that active play, you'll have the perfect opportunity to wind down with a movie. In 2016, Amazon released an animated movie version of The Snowy Day with excellent narration and voice acting as well as new scenes and music.  Students can compare and contrast the two versions of the story.

Students can learn more about author Ezra Jack Keats through Andrea Davis Pinkney's 2016 book, A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day.  A biography in poem, this book pays tribute to the important author and illustrator while providing detailed context about his life as well as the book's era.

9.04.2017

After the Storm: Cleaning up the Collection

If you have a personal or professional collection of books that was affected by Hurricane / Tropical Storm Harvey's rain or flood waters, here are some resources that may be helpful as you begin to clean up.

The Texas Library Association has assembled an extensive list of disaster relief resources ranging from food and safety services to library clean-up guides.  If you will be cleaning up a damaged collection, be sure to view the Mold Remediation Guidance document prepared by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Biblio.com has a guide for cleaning books that show signs of mold and mildew.  This resource will be especially helpful in collections that have been exposed to wet air but not inundated with standing water.  Some books may just need minor treatment to remove the musty smell left behind by excessive humidity.

If you are looking for ways to support Gulf Coast libraries as they clean up and rebuild, check out this resource list developed by Karyn Lewis, a librarian in Katy, Texas. 
One fun option if you want to support damaged libraries is to purchase the Texas Library Association coloring book which includes 50 drawings by talented illustrators such as Judy Schachner and Rosemary Wells.  Proceeds support library disaster relief efforts.

8.31.2017

When the Creek Does Rise: A Hurricane Harvey Reading List

My great grandmother used to answer a lot of questions by saying, "if the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise."  This week, a lot of coastal Texans have been pondering what to do and how to feel when high water does come.  Since Hurricane Harvey came ashore one week ago, Houstonians and our neighbors have been on pins and needles awaiting one threat and then another.  With the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the collective memory (and experience for many), the fear and anxiety around this weather event has been extremely high.  The discomfort has not been unwarranted.  Trillions of gallons of water have inundated the city, chasing people out of their homes and businesses at all hours of the day and night.  Rescues by helicopter and boat have been ongoing.  Additional neighborhoods have continued to be evacuated even in the days since the rain has stopped falling.
Traumatic and uncertain events such as these are at least as confusing and upsetting for children as they are for adults.  As area communities begin to attempt a return to normalcy, children will need time and opportunity to reflect on and resolve their feelings about the storm and its effects.  Literature can be a helpful tool in the process, allowing readers to hear and see stories of experiences like their own.

Picture books can be shared with children of all ages.
The Pink House at the Seashore by Deborah Blumenthal is a sweet story about a family who has to use creativity and to adjust their summer traditions after their beach house is destroyed in a storm.  I love this underrated book that can help readers imagine the innovative ways in which they can begin to feel okay again.
Yesterday We Had a Hurricane / Ayer Tuvimos un Huracon by Deirdre McLaughlin Mercier is a bilingual (English/Spanish) book written in simple text from a child's perspective about the events, such as downed trees and power outages, that children may experience during a storm.  The story illuminates some positive aspects of the storm experience.
Hurricane! by Jonathan London is set in Puerto Rico and describes a family preparing for a hurricane, finding shelter, waiting out the storm, and finally returning to clean up and repair their home after the storm.  The story reveals the protagonist boy's feelings throughout the process and shows that life does return to normal.
Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane-on-the-Bayou Story by Caroline Starr Rose describes the hurricane experience for animals beginning with their preparations for the storm, showing how they brace themselves during the hurricane, and finally how they return to explore their homes after the storm has passed.
Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner and John Parra describes the real-life everyman Cornelius Washington whose can-do spirit shined in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  This folktale-style story of a real New Orleans sanitation worker who helped others rebuild after they experienced a devastating hurricane is uplifting for readers who can imagine ways they can help their own city rehabilitate.
A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renee Watson is a free-verse story told through the eyes of four New Orleans neighborhood friends who must part ways as they endure Hurricane Katrina.  After the storm, the friends' resiliency and camaraderie show as they experience the restoration process in their community.
Rain Tonight: A Story of Hurricane Hazel by Steve Pitt is a historical fiction story about a family's experience during the 1954 Hurricane Hazel in Toronto, Canada.  The family was forced onto their rooftop by rising floodwater while winds still tore through their city.  The book is sprinkled with primary documents and photos from the actual hurricane more than 50 years ago.

Older children may appreciate longer, more developed stories about storm experiences.
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick tells the story of a boy who was visiting New Orleans for the first time when Hurricane Katrina separated him from his host and left him and his dog to survive the terrifying winds and rising waters that pummeled the Louisiana city.  This story explores the wide range of human behaviors that are exhibited during harrowing circumstances, ranging from lawlessness and opportunistic greed to heroism and generosity.


Teachers and parents along the Gulf Coast may be in search of additional resources.  More reading and teaching suggestions are available in the book, The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Educating Traumatized Children Pre-K through College by Dorothy M Singleton.

8.01.2017

To Zoo or Not to Zoo...Ethical Animal Experiences

Visits to zoos, circuses, aquariums, farms and animal theme parks are classic summer day trips and school-year field trips that allow children to interact with and learn about animals.  However, most of these experiences come at the expense of a free and natural life for the animals involved.  Lately I've been contemplating how we can give children opportunities to experience animals first-hand while respecting the lives of the animals.
It's always a good idea to start with some background reading.
 What's New? The Zoo!: A Zippy History of Zoos by Kathleen Krull is a fun historical summary of zoos written for kids.  The book highlights zoos throughout history including some designed for animal protection and others assembled purely for the private amusement of wealthy people without regard for animal needs or feelings.  Krull's zoo timeline helps readers consider the intentions behind past and present animal enclosures and can help begin a conversation about the probable goals of the zoos and other animal experiences in your town.

After considering the value of zoos, we are still left with the question: where can we ethically interact with animals? One Green Planet has several suggestions that fall into two major categories.

1. Sanctuaries, Rescues, and Rehabilitation Centers
These centers distinguish themselves from traditional zoos and theme parks by devoting themselves entirely to rescuing, protecting, healing, and when possible, releasing animals back to their natural habitats.  Centers exist for the protection of various wild and domestic animals, and they often offer tours, children's programs, and volunteering opportunities.  You can easily locate facilities like these in your area using a search engine.

2. Natural Habitats
Other options for animal experiences exist all around us.  Visit the beach to see ocean animals up close.  Head to a river, pond, or other nearby waterway to watch fresh-water animals and other critters that make use of the water source.  Grab your binoculars and visit a bird observatory or even just spend some time watching the animals in your own backyard.  Hike through a forest, drive across a desert, or stomp/splash/sneak through nearby areas with limited human settlement to see animals in their real homes.

3. Virtual Visits
Most families and schools have an easy third option thanks to high-quality video and the Internet.  If you want to experience animals that are difficult to locate in your area, watch a documentary about them or find a live-stream of animals in far-away places.  The Audubon Society has prepared a list of high-quality wildlife web cams.  National Geographic has a database of videos collected through their CritterCam and WildCam programs which allow viewers to see animals in their wild homes.

What are your favorite ways to learn about animals while respecting their rights?