Monday, October 14, 2013

Beginning on Paper

This is my first post to Ampersand this year.  It has been very rewarding  to see how well the space in the building serves the various ages each area was readied for and to realize each classroom as it is peopled with children and teachers.  We welcomed to Lake and Park three new teachers this autumn:  Quyhn Cao, Kristina Johnson, Morgan Padgett.  They join our existing faculty,significantly broadeniing our ability to insure that the teacher/ratio throughout the school remains low.  The increased permeability across the grades allows us to be more responsive to each child each day.
Camille Hayward

Beginning on Paper

We began the year with looking at the alphabet.  We began the alphabet with looking at our names.  We began looking at our names with the seminal poem that follows:

Beginning on Paper

on paper
I write it
on rain

I write it
on stones
on my boots

on trees
I write it
on the air

on the city
how pretty
I write my name

Ruth Krauss

  This poem captures the proud moment when the young child learns to write her or his name.  Ruth Krauss was a colleague of Margaret Wise Brown's  (of Goodnight, Moon renown).  I wish I could find the old Scholastic Books poster that I used to put up in my kindergarten and first grade classrooms when I first started teaching, back in the 80's.  The pastel drawings by an artist whose work I recognize but cannot name caught the proud moment that the poem expresses.  Children are shown drawing their names on sticks, in the dirt, and on chalk on their shoes.  The sense of mystery that the poem offers:  on trees, on the city--the one little rhyme--how pretty--that was all conveyed within the warm pink and violet tones that the poster set forth.

This year each child in each room at Lake and Park worked to see his/her name in a fuller light, to know the letters in it, to recognize it both as a gestalt and as a configuration of individual letters.  The older children did much with the meaning of names;  that led them to the alphabet as a whole, which led to history of illuminated letters and much more.  (Please see  the companion article by Kim Buchanan that precedes this one and  that specifically refers to the connections that the older children made to the subject.)

Now, in October, the trajectory of this study leads us to learn about the making of paper and on to the making of books. The making of books brings to light various techniques--the hand-scripted books as recorded by monks in the Middle Ages, the early books on the early printing press, the move toward modern printing.  Children will visit a working printing press in a shop on Beacon Hill and the artisan who operates it.  A natural progression from paper to book is to library.  Students will explore the Seattle Public Library's Central Branch.

This linear study has been undertaken most deliberately by the teachers and students in The Big Room, but the interests of the younger classes, as well as the rhythm of the fall season have led us all to various other motifs which in turn have provided a range of "here and now" experiences which all of the children have benefited from.    The younger classes in turn keep being led back to the bigger topic at hand.  It continues to provide a framework for serious thematic learning across the grades.

Our initial foray as a school into Cross Country provided us with a short term exposure to an individual sport as well as fostering teamwork.  Kudos to Tom McQueen and Eileen Hynes for spearheading this new and well received activity.  Children competed in matched gender and grade level events with other independent elementary school children on Sunday afternoons from mid-September to early October.  They practiced three afternoons a week, running with children across the grades at Mount Baker Park, down the Boulevard, up and down the Horton Hill Climb.

As children noted the changing of the seasons from late summer to early fall, classroom activities began to reflect their awareness.  Books about squirrels, apples and pumpkins and sunflowers appeared on the shelves. Chestnuts gathered at the park now fill the sensory table.  Several weeks ago, the North Room invited everyone to an Apple Festival in exchange for the invite to the Big Room's Alphabet Film Festival.  We made apple crafts, had our faces painted, and took home caramel apples at the end of a recent Friday.  Sponsored by the children in every way, our thanks go to Kristina Johnson and Quyhn Cao for all their efforts in making the event such a spontaneous success.
   A "chapter book" about a "little twig person" with a head made of a hickory nut, Miss Hickory, holds the attention of the youngest children as they read a chapter daily;  her leaf skirt, made of pinned together pine needles, led us to look at the artistic work of Andy Goldsworthy who fashions art of nature and has done some very intricate leaf art using the same pine needle technique as the fictional Hickory.  Children are continuing to have an opportunity to make art with leaves involving melted crayons, pressed leaves, and wax paper.  These are hanging in the Downstairs room and will likely find their way throughout the school.

Other topics have come up this fall.  We enjoy the daily presence of a guide dog in training in our classrooms as Kathi Titus brings Greta to school each day.  Kathi held an assembly for the North Room and Downstairs students so she could explain to them the role of guide dogs in helping those who have limited vision.   The dog's presence provided the opportunity to look at the Braille alphabet, making another tie-in to our earliest theme.
     American Sign Language is often incorporated into activities.  Morgan Padgett presents it to the children in a variety of ways throughout the day.  Kathi leads us all at Sing Alongs through the consonants in concert with The Alphabet Song, a tongue twisting ditty that all those who have a child at Lake and Park should ask to be song to them.

This week of October 14th will see us making "slurry" to make handmade paper, reading chapters from Pippi Longstocking, anticipating field trips to the Seattle Children's Theater  (Downstairs and North Room on October 22nd) to see its production of "Pippi, The Musical".   Our recent effort at Cross Country running will see new fruition as we begin all participating in daily runs as we join the Kids' Marathon by running a half mile a day.  Children cut apples into slices with wooden knives and began making a second batch of applesauce.  We had our school photos taken and played at the park together.  Sing Along saw us working with rhythm sticks to accompany "This Old Man" with coordinated clapping in partners.  Our collection of manual typewriters is being put to good use in The Big Room as children, inspired by I, Freddy, a novel about a hamster in a classroom who gets to work a typewriter.

Soon, our attention will shift to the coming end-of-October holidays, to Halloween and The Days of the Dead.  We will look at bones and skeletons, skulls and cultural attitudes toward life and what comes after.  Because we work with topics that provide us with many opportunities to make genuine connections, we will be on the lookout to hear what our children have to say as they engage in this rich interplay of objects and ideas.  I look forward to pulling out the Alphabet Skull Book  at the end of the month and to imagine how much we will be able to make of it:  a book, made out of paper and fashioned on a modern printing press, with an alphabet orientation, this one about "head bones" those calaveras, that hold such prominence during the celebration of El Dia De Los Muertos. 

Friday, October 11, 2013


An Alphabetic Exploration

The Big Room Looks at The Twenty-Six Letters
From Many Perspectives

By Kim Buchanan

Kim teaches children in our oldest grouping;  she co-teaches with Eileen Hynes and Kathi Titus

We began this year exploring the alphabet, which has been a very rich exploration.  

Time was devoted to studying the history of books and bookmaking in the Middle Ages  We were inspired by the monks of Europe and their dedication to preserving history and culture through script and its often accompanying illuminated letters. For eight hundred years they preserved the writings of the ancient civilizations and the teaching of the prophets until the work of scribes became a secular trade.

We took our first field trip and bused to Epiphany Church in the Madrona neighborhood where we were able to turn the pages of the first handwritten Bible to be produced in 500 years.   Several books of the St. John's Bible were there on temporary display.  The Bible is the only modern era illuminated version of Scripture and is housed at St. John's Benedictine Monastery in Minnesota.  A few copies are available worldwide.  These travel by appointment to various sites.

In the photo above, Lake and Park children look at actual copies of the St. John's Bible in the Epiphany Church library.

Influenced by the text at Epiphany, children began to adorn their own writing with extra flare. Signatures took on an entirely new look.

Eileen read a book that identified virtues. After thoughtful consideration, each child chose one to illuminate that expressed a virtue that that child deems one of her/his best qualities.   Names and virtues were illuminated by the children and put on display alongside self-portraits.

Self portraits by Franklin and Sadie
Additionally, children wrote alliterative sentences, one for every letter in the alphabet.  

A yak ate yucky yams and yogurt yesterday.      The purple polka-dotted pony ate a pancake while prancing the Hokey-Pokey. 

The skill of alphabetizing was practiced.  Dictionaries, indexes, and other alphabetized resources were used to assist the students in their writing.

Autumn alphabetizing word cards; Delphine and Luke involved in dictionary work.

Kathi brought in "hundreds" of alphabet books from the Seattle Public Library. After reading many of these, children worked in partnerships to create a "scroll movie" complete with an alliterative sentence for each letter, later edited and illustrated by a line drawing.

Kaitlin and Anya's ideas in draft form.

 Each uniquely reflects the creativity and chosen theme of its author.


Camille at work with her "movie" project.  Kaitlin and Anya's page appears above.

Our selection of "movies" includes those featuring families, pets, and forest animals.  One tells of alphabet letters suffering from one malady or another. Another is written backwards; yet another describes people in school.

Franklin reads each of his "film segments" to the audience, while Kim turns the manual "movie projector".  Battery powered lights illuminate the "screen".  Jonah waits his turn to read next.

Delphine and Jonah welcome attendees to the festival.

The idea to share our "movies" with the entire school led to the creation of The ABC Movie Festival. Posters and directive arrows lined the hallways.

Andersen ready to collect chestnuts.


Chestnuts, which had been collected at the park, were in abundance and were used as currency to purchase tickets and popcorn. Tom supervised the preparation of the popcorn making. Ushers escorted our guests to their designated rows.

North Room children in the front row, enjoying their popcorn: George, Ruby, Olivia, Sophia, Finnian 

Children who attended Lake and Park last year recall learning of Egyptian hieroglyphs from last year's comprehensive study of Ancient Egypt.   As we concluded this unit, they learned about  pictographs of the Ancient Phoenicians.  Camille took them through two sessions where she introduced the Big Room to an alphabetic evolution, From early pictographs of the Phoenicians, they followed a handful of letters as they were adapted into Ancient Hebrew, followed by adaptation into Greek and, finally, adaptation into the Roman Alphabet  that is employed, in capital letter form, the world over.  Camille met with the North Room children as well, introducing this same line of thinking to them.