What We’re Reading at Roots: On The Importance of Everyday Whimsy and Magic

I’ve been reading aloud the chapter bodownload (1)ok, Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones,  to the kids at Roots lately.  Many afternoons with a few minutes to spare after tidying up at the end of the day, you’ll find us in various states of lounge listening into the little girl, Twig’s, adventures with Elf and Mrs. Sparrow.  From the number of times they request its reading, the kids seem as delighted in this sweet book and her characters as I am.  The gentle adventures with the magic of talking animals and a spell that shrinks Twig are whimsical, light-heartIMG_5126ed and seem to inscribe on the pages the spirit of a natural childhood.  Twig is a mashup of simple everyday things that become part of play, like a tomato can and a drainpipe, and trust in a magical world where the lines between pretend and reality are smudged.

It’s rather perfect to me because that’s exactly where I want to live myself and where I see the Roots kids playing everyday.  Like Twig they take simple, open-ended toys, natural materials and found items and create stories, worlds and relationIMG_4482ships.  Having or retaining or realizing the ability to transform our own lives into something that feels exciting,  challenging and magical is a pretty fine objective for all of us.  This is what I mean by wanting to be in this zone myself.  I think adults who have a sense of playfulness are able to be creative, flIMG_4558exible and inspired.  We can see challenges as opportunities to play with and change the rules we are living by and we can see the magic of knowing our powers to create our own world.  Just like Twig.

A friend asked me about this book tonight and it got me thinking about what makes Twig and other books  like it so special.  So here’s a short review of some great read aloud books for young children that I think sparkle with whimsy and are gentle enough to suit young children who adore longer stories, but often are not ready for some of the suspense and intrigue of many children’s chapter books.

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The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Ryland

This is a sweet little book about a girl, Clara, and her father, whose lives are intwined with a magical little diner, The Van Gogh Cafe.  I love the expectation of magic from the characters in this book.  They just know that something interesting is going to happen!  I like that outlook 🙂

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Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

This is one that my six year old has listened to as an audio book no less that a hundred times in the last 6 months.  He listened to it three times through on the snow day this week!  It’s funny, set in the 1930’s and full of quirky adventures for the Popper family and their pet penguins.  I like that things seem to happen to the Poppers “against the odds,” and that they live in the moment, going on instincts for adventure, care of others and the flow of opportunity that presents itself.

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Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt

This is another favorite audio book of my kiddo and has been since he was 4 years old.  Fredle is a house mouse who ends up adventuring outdoors and meeting lots of new friends and foes and friend-foes.  What draws me so to this book is that it shows a really complicated picture of what it means to change and what it means to be known as “bad” or “good.”   In fact the main journey of Fredle is his own realization that he can change himself and that to do so his own independent mind is important, just as are the relationships he forms with others.

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Angus and Sadie by Cynthis Voigt

This is the prequel to Fredle, which stars the two dogs on Fredle’s farm, Sadie and Angus.  We loved the way Voight showed the dogs’ thinking so vibrantly, humorously and realistically.

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Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

This is a rare little book to me and one that is great for children who are also exploring poetry.  It’s a really meta book written in free-verse poetry about poetry all from the perspective of the main character, Jack.  The death of Jack’s dog is a main feature of the book.  I really like that death is taken up here in a way that is caring, natural and up front.  The sense of poetry can’t help but permeate the mundane, as Jack narrates his world in verse.

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Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The first book in the Little House series is the best to me.  Children love the descriptions of life in the woods, the way daily life is described and Laura’s perspective shared with such an authentic voice.  You really get a sense of the rhythm of life that is captivating for me and the young kids I’ve read or listened with.

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I love this whole series of books, though the first is the only one I have so far read to a younger audience.  I love the mix of science and mystical adventures and especially the importance of Charles Wallace, a young child himself, as an intelligent protagonist.   The end of the book cuts close to the edge of what might feel scary or too suspenseful for some young children, but the climactic un-battle scene at the end is carried off with such love that I’ve noticed most children remain positively connected.

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RIght now I am reading The Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy download (5)(yep that the guy from The Decemberists 🙂 (Thanks for the recommendation, Nicci!)  I adore this first book in the series so far- especially the awesome mix between magic and everyday, the girl protagonist, Prue, and the setting in Portland 🙂 I am curious to find out what the role of the parents in the story will be (Oh, that’s another thing I love about A Wrinkle in Time– the parents are active participants in the story, even as the children take the lead in adventuring.)  And I am curious to find out how dark the tale becomes in terms of thinking about younger kiddos listening in.  So maybe a Part II to this post to think more about Wildwood, stories and play about darkness.

Please comment with other favorite whimsical and magical books for children!

 

You Can Take It (Nature, Your Interests, Life) With You (To School) AND Book Club Anyone?

The icy days at home this week put me a mood to write, ponder and get jazzed about new ideas and connections.  I had the opportunity one day to email a bit with another Charlotte mama and blogger who just got to visit Cedarsong Nature School in Washington state, the quintessential Forest Kindergarten in the US.  We both have an interest in nature based play/learning/being, and with just a tiny bit of connection, I got totally excited about creating more community around this thinking by gathering some others to read and play with me.

Since the roads were covered in ice and Amazon will take a few days to deliver the used copies of Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, and Forest Kindergartens the Cedarsong Way that I bought, I eventually ended up on my front porch with my daybook and some of Luke’s watercolors.

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For the past few weeks I have been reading a beautiful book of nature journaling, Drawn to Nature, by Claire Walker Leslie and I realized I have a great desire to do my own nature journaling.   I have kept a journal or daybook (a little messier, a little more well rounded, a little more like a writer’s notebook than an everyday journal) for many years and have spent a lot of time working with kids and other teachers on thinking about how this tool can support our writing lives.  Seeing the pages with snippits of beautiful nature watercolors surrounded by scrawled notes, observations and bits of poetry in Claire’s book really resonates with me.  These are little pieces she has found in the moment and saved through her words and visuals.   I bought the book because I thought it might be an inspiration to invite the kids to do some nature journaling… and now I am even more eager to try this for out myself!

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This is a page from Clare’s book, Drawn to Nature. You’ve really got to flip through this to see the amazing ways she visualizes.

So I decided to jump in and see what it would be like.   Mostly I just played around with getting the colors to resemble the colors of the leaves on a “red tip” bush in my front yard, figuring out the ice that was beautifully clinging is like 4.0 to my .06, but it felt really good to try.

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Exploring this tiny bit of nature journaling myself reminding me of an aspect of school I am finding so joyful.   I am finding the space while being with the kids to take up things that I have long wanted to be part of or more part of my life- being outside, doing handwork (making things with my hands), and visual arts.  I am becoming more and more cognizant of how my home and school lives intertwine.  So while a snow day or other day away from school gives me the time to linger over my reflections by myself or with other adults  long enough to let things slowly collide together into inspiration, I don’t need days off school to work on most of my interests and passions- I get to do these things at school and the kids sometimes join or they just see an adult trying out something new or practicing at something to work on her craft.

So my new-to-me books are on the way.  Wondering if any Mosaic, ALC or other folk want to read and talk some more about nature based playing/learning/being with me and/or maybe join along in trying my (or maybe for you extending your) hand at nature journaling.   Who’s in?

Either way, you’ll find me sitting alongside these writers in the woods at Roots, maybe adding a little watercolor to our words 🙂

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Tinkering with the Maker Movement in the Early Childhood Years

In the late fall five year old Izaiah spent weeks recreating and IMG_4192extending scenes from the game Angry Birds by building small block structures and knocking them down with the toss of another small block.  Eventually he decided to construct a catapult to launch items into his structures.  He had already spent some time playing around with the catapult idea when for about an hour on this day he used various materials and the support of a thinking partner (me :)) to try to get the catapult to work in the way he wanted.  First he tried a zig zag arrangement of yarn.  Then he hot glued popsicle sticks as a platform.    When this didn’t create much forward motion, he backtracked and tried just one piece of yarn and Catapultadded support blocks to keep the catapult stable.  As he worked, Izaiah and I talked about the materials he was using.  We talked about how the yarn seemed tight, but then would loosen and become slack.  Izaiah decided he needed something stretchy.  I offered the idea of elastic and fished a piece out of the sewing basket.  This worked a bit better and the block did get some launch movement.  Another child came by and offered that we needed something like a rail to keep the block on the platform during launch.  So we tried to attach pipe cleaners to get this effect.  With each small adjustment Izaiah tried launching a block.  Usually with little forward movement, but with a lot of joy IMG_4194in building a structure to knock down, making noises to launch the block and storytelling about what was happening with the pieces. We got some okay launches in by the end, not perfect launches, before Izaiah decided to turn his attention elsewhere.

This story of Izaiah and I working with the catapult is a story of tinkering.  We tried a lot of different things, we didn’t adhere to a set of directions, we did try out advice offered, we worked with various materials and tools, scrapped ideas, started over, enjoyed the process, added details and talked to each other in both technical (“This side is too wonky… it needs to be stable.”) and fantastical (“Kerzoom!!  I’m the launcher, you’re the bird!”) terms about the story of the catapult we were creating.  We were tinkering with making a catapult.   And tinkering is one of the big ideas of…. dun dun dun…. the Maker Movement.

“Tinkering is not a field like chemistry or physics, yet it is worthy of study, particularly by those who want to engage kids as makers today.  Tinkering is to making as running is to sports, as tapping your foot is to music.  Tinkering is a process.  It is an attitude.  It is the means to fix, make, change, modify, and customize the world.”(Doughtery, 2013 in Gabrielson)

Tinkering is one of those words that hits the sweet spot for describing what the maker movement is all about.  The maker movement is and isn’t about creating a product.  In fact it’s that rather squishy and happy place in the midst of both process and product that tinkering describes so well.  The place where a sharable product is a goal but not the end goal, the place where the process rules and yet doesn’t become naval gazing (so entangled in reflective and meta processing that you never get to the sharing. 

And in fact, this idea of tinkering and being in the midst of process and product is totally aligned with what play is like for young (and old) people.  As children play they change the rules all the time, tinkering with reality, they intermingle process (“Now I’m the sister, okay?”) with product (“Hello, my dear.  Would you like to go to the park?”) in a way that requires no pause or definition between the two.  This being in the moment, in the middle of, is what tinkering is all about.  And I guess this is why I feel so at home in Make.

Funnily enough when I first heard about the Maker Movement through my work with the Connected Learning community,  I was momentarily irritated.  After all, I am a deeply rooted play-based early childhood teacher, having spent the last decade (at the time) advocating for play in the primary grades.  I was a little hot to see that suddenly play seemed like a good idea when adults and older students are doing it!   Pretty soon I was excited to see how play was being made visible and uplifted by Make.   I got to know what was happening in the world of Make and saw the way this movement could bring together the early childhood play-based cause in collectivity with other important interests, like informal learning and open-sourcing.

Ultimately it felt juicily right up my alley.  The maker movement is about thinking of yourself as a maker rather than a consumer; make is a culture and a communal mindset that encourages creativity, failure, products, mentors, innovation and tinkering.   So this year as I have had the opportunity at Roots to partner with Discovery Place educator, Carla, we have intentionally brought our own interests in make.  We have also tuned our senses towards noticing the way the kids acted as makers of their own accord.  What follows is a photo curation of some experiences in make from this year so far.