Sunday, September 30, 2007

Secrets of Droon - book club

Last week my first through third grade book club read The Hidden Stairs and Magic Carpet by Tony Abbott which is the first in The Secrets of Droon series. My kids are fairly active so here is some of what we did...

As they came in everyone got a nametag with their name written backwards (like the code Princess Keeah uses). After two kids ruined nametags, it was easier for me to write the nametags out.

Quick vote:
Who would go down the stairs? All of my kids decided that they would go down the stairs...

Introduce yourself
We said our names, our ages, and if we had the head of a person and the body of something else (like Max the spider-troll), what would your body be?

Discussion Questions:
  1. Would you have gone down the magic stairs?
  2. What sport do Eric, Julie and Neal play? What sports do you play?
  3. Eric, Julie and Neal work together as a team? How?
  4. When do you work with other people as a team?
  5. Max is a person’s head and the body of what? (Spider). If you could have a person’s head and an animal’s body, what animal would you choose?
  6. Where would you go and what would you do if you had a magic carpet?
  7. There was a bird following Keeah, do you think it was a good bird or bad one? Why?
  8. What did the Red Eye of Dawn disguise as? (A jewel) How would you disguise a magical object?
  9. How do you think that Eric, Julie and Neal could tell that Keeah was the good guy and the guys on the lizards were the bad ones?
  10. In this book, they fly on giant flying lizards, what sort of animal would you fly on if you could?
  11. Why do you think they can’t leave anything behind in Droon? (If they do something from Droon will appear in our world…) How could that be good? How could it be bad?
  12. How do you think Lord Sparr learned about our world from the soccer ball? What do you think he learned?

Activity: Droon Bingo
I used words from Droon (such as groggle, keeah, etc) and made bingo cards. Then we just played regular bingo. Bingo Card Maker

Activity: Droon match/memory
I made two sets of cards up with words from Droon (though not necessarily magic words) such as soccer, stairs, carpet, etc. On one set the word was written forwards, and on the other set they were written backwarsd (like Keeah's code). Both cards had the same clip art on them to be identifiable. The kids played Go Fish with them and also the memory game. (The one where you lay the cards out in a grid and turn over two at a time until you find matches).

Magic Candy Dust
We had some leftover Sandy Candy supplies (test tubes and the candy) from the Harry Potter party so we used that to make our own tubes of "magic dust" (just like Keeah used to heal Eric's ankle).

I didn't do anything specially book related for the snack. Nor did we do a craft since we made the candy tubes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

9/11, books, and children

September 11th is never going to be an easy day. On our calendar it is printed as Patriots Day. I like that title well enough. On the second and fourth Tuesday of every month I do a bookclub for 1st to 3rd graders (theoretically, we've got homeschoolers so some 5 year-olds sneak in there, if they read the book and participate, they're fine). This September 11th was a second Tuesday. Normally I choose a simple chapter book, occasionally a non-fiction book. They read it before book club, we do some discussion, a game/activity, and often a craft. Then over a snack, I read the first few pages of the next book and they take it home with them. When I realized my book club would fall on September 11th, I had two choices, ignore it or do something about it. I am me, so I chose do something about it.

I chose three books that dealt around the topics raised by 9/11, the children were encouraged to read any two of the three. The books I chose were September Roses by Jeanette Winter, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein, and The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter. The first book most completely talks about the 9/11 tragedy, but in a way a child can understand. The second book tells the story of how in the 1970s a tightrope walker walked and danced between the towers with a rememberance to the fallen towers at the end. And the final book tells the story of an Iraqi librarian who helped to save books from her library (which eventually burnt) during the war.

Some of the parents were nervous, one mother wanted her son to start book club, but decided to wait until after this session. I understand. I was nervous about it too. During the summer my numbers had dwindled to about 11 or 12 kids per session. This session I had 17! A lot of them were new, or this was only their second time. So it was really chaotic. We talked (very briefly) about 9/11. I let them volunteer what their parents/teachers/etc had told them, and summed it up as a "very sad day". (They said the towers fell down, it was a cop out, but it was fine.) Our introduction is always "your name, your age, some random fact". This week's random fact was when was the last time you did something nice for someone without being asked. Then I talked about how the events of that day six years ago made a lot of people think about how we could change our world for the better. And we talked a little bit of that. They all shared ideas about how doing little things in their area (pick up litter, etc) can help make the whole world more peaceful. Around the Gerstein book we talked about civil disobedience (it's a stretch, it's against the rules for the tightrope walker to go between the towers), and when it is okay to not follow the rules (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, jr., stressing that most of the time you should follow the rules). We were going to talk about remembering things and memorials, but we never got to it because we spent so much time on how we can be peace people and change our world.

Then we played a game around The Librarian of Basra. I held up a variety of books two at a time. In each hand there was a different book, and the children had a split second to decide if they could only save one, which one would they save. They ran to the side of the room to indicate their choice. It's fun, very visual to see how the group splits, and they loved it. The hardest choice for most of the kids was Harry Potter versus Magic Tree House. Next we made peace people out of pipe cleaners, ate snack (which sometimes relates to the book and this time was just yogurt in those little tubes kids like), and read from the next book (The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet by Tony Abbott). It was a crazy thing, but it went well. I don't think anyone would have minded had I ignored the holiday, but I think the parents felt that this handled the situation properly for a group of children who were toddlers when the towers fell.

It's funny because even with this plan, I let myself forget a little that it was 9/11. When I was in the car, with the radio on, and they were replaying some coverage of that day set to music, than I remembered. And I allowed myself to mourn again a bit for all those lost.

I wrote up in our library's email newsletter a little thing for parents about using books to help your children deal with tough events. I worked hard on the wording because I didn't want to be condescending (you MUST talk to your child about 9/11 and this is the ONLY way to do it). Read below if you would like...

Many of the children we see at the xyz library were too young to understand what was happening on September 11, 2001, or they were not even born. However that day started a series of events that forever will shape their lives, even as it continues to shape the world climate. As another anniversary draws near, we recognize that talking to children about this and other disastrous events such as the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean or the continuing conflict in Iraq can be difficult It is our hope that some of these books might be helpful in your conversations with your children.

For the youngest preschoolers:
Mama: a true story in which a baby hippo loses his mama during the tsunami, but finds a new home and a new mama by Jeanette Winter
In this d eceptively simple book that only contains one word of text (“mama”), a small hippo is separated from his mother during the 2004 tsunami and eventually adopts a giant tortoise as his mother. Based on the true story of Owen and Mzee. Even young children can undertand the anxiety of being separated from your mother and the joy of finding a home again – and this book uses that to show the struggle faced by so many after losing their homes to natural disaster.

September Roses by Jeanette Winter
In the simplest of text with basic but beautiful illustrations, this little book tells a big story. Two sisters journeyed from South Africa to New York for a flower show. After the attacks of 9/11, they found a new use for their roses and a beautiful tribute is made both by their flowers and this lovely book.

For older preschoolers and early elementary students:
A Mama for Owen by Marion Dane Bauer
Here the story of Owen and Mzee is more fleshed out with beautiful watercolor illustrations that illustrate a young hippo who loves to play hide and seek until the day he can not find his mama at all. Eventually he finds a new person to cuddle with and a new hide and seek companion. While parts of the story are sad, the warm tones of the illustrations and hopeful note of the text present a comforting image.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
One sunny morning in 1974, a young street performer took to the skies in a daring act as he walked a rope stretched in between the two towers of the World Trade Center. This Caldecott Medal winning book tells his story in breathtakingly beautiful illustrations and fold out pages, as he dances and plays suspended in the sky between two of the highest towers ever built. And at the end, we are all reminded that though the towers are gone, their memory is still with us as is the memory of a young man dancing up in the sky.

For more advanced children:
Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff
Here is a non-fiction book that tells in wonderful details and incredible full page photos the story of Owen and Mzee. Readers can follow the trek of young Owen as he is painstakingly rescued and relocated to a refuge where he meets Mzee. This is perfect for older children who always want to know “what really happened”. For those who want to know what happened next, they can also read Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff

The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Witner
As war threatened Iraq, one librarian worried about the library in her charge. Slowly she moved the books to her house, and then, with the help of her friends, to safety. Based on a true story from Iraq, here is one librarian who understood her duty to protect the books and valuable cultural treasures. As war rages, and danger, fire, and bombs come closer, still she protects the library’s collections. The book ends on the hopeful note of telling us that the librarian will continue to protect the books as she dreams for a peaceful day and a rebuilt library.

Gross Science Program

Now that summer is over, vacation is over, and I can finally recover, I would like to start posting some of my favorite and most sucessful programs from the summer. Having already discussed the Harry Potter event in great detail, I will move to my second favorite event of the summer - our Gross Science program.

Gross Science was held on an afternoon (2pm) for one hour. It was registration only, 30ish spots, filled up, and we did not take a waiting list. (Though anyone who showed up hoping to snag a no-show's spot was allowed in.) The program was aimed at boys ages 7-10, but anyone was allowed in. It was almost perfectly half/half gender divide, ages 6 to 11 attended (with the greatest cluster around 7 to 9), and about 35 kids came. Total supply cost is around $30.

Set up:
I had a large meeting room at my disposal. I put tables against all the walls and left the middle area empty. Each table (actually a wall with two or three tables pushed together) had a different station. No one was allowed in early (of course I was still setting up until the last second). When everyone came in, they all sat in the middle.

Getting the gross fun started:
All the kids are sitting in the middle, facing me and the "front" (In a room with stations on all sides, front is a relative concept, but they were facing the projection screen.) What could be grosser than poop? So that is how we started things. We did some fun facts about poop. How much do you poop a day? (There's a fun math formula to help you figure it out.) How does poop help us? How can we use it? Poop helped us fight WWII. (German soldiers fighting in North Africa believed it was good luck to roll their tanks through camel dung, so Allied soliders began hiding bombs under the dung.) Kids had fun with the facts and guessing which animal pooped the most, etc. However this was mostly short. I then held up a copy of The Truth About Poop and explained that this was the source of all of my facts. (See resource list below). At this point the parents who hadn't left (just unobtrusively hanging out in the back) were looking rather queasy.

Then we went into a powerpoint that was projecting on the wall of a "match the poop" game. Each slide had two pictures of poop and two animal pictures. First the poop would appear and the kids would shout out guesses. Then (when I raised my hand they went silent, mostly) the two choices would appear. We would vote on which ones we thought matched. With a click of my magic mouse, lines would be drawn connecting the animal and their droppings. Super fun.

Next we read a book about mealworms (A Mealworm's Life by John Himmelman).

Starting the stations:
At this point we were ready to start the kids on the stations where they would spend the bulk of the program. I walked from station to station explaining what they were and what they would do. (In an ideal world we would have one staff member or volunteer for each station, in my world we just had me.) All the kids were given a handout that explained some basic fun facts, stuff about each station, reading list, website list, etc. And they got a bag to carry things around in. Then I turned the kids loose. They could go to any station, in any order, and stay as long as they liked. I encouraged them that if one station was full they could go somewhere else and come back when it was less busy.

Station one: Owl Pellets
On the right side table I had some owl pellets set up for the kids to disect. I had information about what you could expect to see in the owl pellets (bones, hair, fur, etc). Owl pellets are paper plates with disection tools (plastic pointy things). I got the pellets from Operation Wildlife for a $1.50 sterilization fee each. Great deal! They are a local group here, check for a local group or find someone to ship to you. This was not as popular as I expected, but many of the kids had done it recently in school.

Station two: Fake Poop
On the table to the right, clockwise, of the front, this one I really spread out over three tables together so many kids could work at once. At this point, I had put up on the projector pictures of the different poop types. A few pictures on the tables would have been nice too. I made my own play dough and colored it brown. (I have a great recipe I will post later.) To color it brown I put in black food coloring (available separately from the rest of the pack) and added in some of the yellow and red for warmer tones. It was a rather grayish brown, but it was real looking enough to be gross. I also purchased a large bag of hamster food that had lots of seeds etc. Kids rolled these seeds, nuts, shells, etc into their poop pellets. Corn is a good filler (and often isn't digested and shows in feces). These fake poop pieces were then placed in ziplock baggies and into their carrying bags. Actually I already had the playdough divided into chunks in baggies to keep one child from taking it all, so they put it back in their baggie. It was a good system. Some children really got into making their poop look like a specific animal's poop. Lots of fun, especially after the owl pellets.

Station three: Mealworms
Continuing clockwise around the room, this was on the "back" wall, opposite the front, projector, and station one. This was also two tables or more. When explaining the stations, this one took the most time. Kids spent the most time here, enjoyed it the most, and in the past few months it is the one they mention to me the most when they come in. I bought mealworms (a hundred of them cost $5.99) at a pet store (when I was buying the hamster food for fake poop). They're in the refrigerator section (to be fed to lizards and what not). If you try to keep them in your fridge be careful, they can't get too cold without dying. I bought them the day before and just let them thaw overnight. I recommend this to get them more active. I learned just as much about mealworms from talking to the pet shop guy who raises them for his lizards as I did from books and websites. I bought them and then dropped some potato bits (for moisture) into the grain stuff they were in. They liked the dark and calm of my cabinet (which also kept my cat from trying to eat them). They were most active immediately after being removed from a darkened cabinet so I tried to keep them in something resembling that right up until I showed them to the kids.

We had "experiments" the kids could do with the mealworms. There were mealworms still in their tupperware (butter tub style) container from the pet store and some on paper plates. As well there were magnifying glasses and paper towels. They wrote the answers/observations with golf pencils onto their handout.
Questions to explore:
  1. Do you see any exoskeletons shed by the larva? Look at them under the microscope. What do you notice?
  2. Pick up a larva mealworm. Does it wiggle? Does it wiggle more when you hold an end instead of the middle?
  3. If you put your mealworm on a plate, does it move toward the damp side (wet paper towel) or dry?
  4. On the dark and light plate*, does your meal worm move to the dark or to the light?

*The dark and light paperplate had half of it covered up with paper taped down like a little "roof" for the mealworms to crawl under.

Next the kids got to make a "mealworm habitat" to take home. We had babyfood jars (with holes punched in the lids). They put some oats (regular oatmeal) in the bottom and a piece of potato. Their handout included some mealworm care instructions. They never need water, they'll get the moisture from the potato. Kids then placed a few mealworms in the jar to take home (but only if their parents approved). Even as the beetles they'll eventually turn into, they really can't escape. Kids were also encouraged to move their mealworms to a bigger container eventually (any sort of small butter tub or other washed former plastic food container such as a cottage cheese tub will work). I think every single kid took home some meal worms. The rest of them were set free in a compost pile and a garden. These mealworms were destined to be food so I felt not bat at all about giving them to children. One child has sucessfully bred a new generation of mealworms.

Station four: Fake Snot
This is on the next wall in our clockwise circle. Following the instructions here we made fake snot. I had big bowls of water and borax solution, gallon jugs of glue, spoons for measuring, and small cups for mixing (as well as craft sticks to mix with). It all goes into a ziplock baggie at the end. The neon food coloring is particularly fun for this. We went through two and a half vials of green food coloring.

Station five: Books and resources
Back on the "front" wall, on the left of the projection I had a table full of books for kids to check out. I requested every copy of these titles in my system and almost all of them were checked out. Usually at a program, one or two people take a book, here everyone left with at least one book, many left with multiple books. Especially popular were mealworm books (to care for their new pets).

A Mealworm’s Life by John Himmelman
Mealworms by Donna Schaffer
Mealworms: Raise them, watch them, see them, change by Adrienne Mason
Grossology by Sylvia Branzei
Grossology and You by Sylvia Branzei
Hands-on Grossology by Slvia Branzei
Gross Universe by Jeff Szpirglas
Gross Science Experiments by Q. L. Pearce
Truth About Poop by Susan Goodman
What Stinks by Marilyn Singer
Jurassic Poop by Jacob Berkowitz
Gee Whiz! It’s All About Pee by Susan Goodman

Web Resources
Learn about mealworms, interesting activity ideas

There is more out there, but I'll let you enjoy finding it. This was one of my favorite programs ever. I'll try to figure out how to get the handouts online or email me if you would like them.