Baby Frederico, Scientist!

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*Every Thursday we introduce you to another quick bedtime story (or book review or movie) from our family’s favorite resident reptile – Baby Frederico. His backstory can be found here.  Enjoy!

Baby Frederico loves his Momma Mia and Papá Frita, his buddy Grenelda the Grasshopper, blue crayons, popcorn and…science night. Here’s his story:

From the moment his Papa began teaching his “science for kids” courses at a nearby college, Baby Frederico wanted to be a part of it. He was constantly asking his Papa, “When is science night? How much longer until science night? Is it science night yet?”

Science night was the final event of each semester and was a time for Papa’s students to create all kinds of physics, chemistry, and biology projects for kids to enjoy. There were things like homemade race cars and medieval catapults, live animals like roosters, snakes and sugar gliders, paint and liquids of all kinds to mix, ramps and balls, microscopes and magnifying lenses.

The best part, though, was becoming a Science Detective. It was amazing. Every student created their project around this one idea – how to help the kids (Baby Frederico included!) learn the ways that scientists think. There were hypotheses to discuss and investigations to consider, experiments to think through, and conclusions to make.

Baby Frederico loved this class and he loved his Papa’s students. They were slowly but surely teaching him just what it might feel like to be the Sherlock Holmes/Albert Einstein of his day!

And one day…someday….that just might be who he would become.

The Coolest Maps of Childhood

This week in the teacher education class that I teach at our local college, we are talking about geography – what it looks like through the perspective of young children between the ages of around 4 or 5 to between 8 and 10, and how to teach it to them in a vibrant way. Our goal in any type of instruction is to start with what the learner knows and then bring them along in teaching them something we want them to know.  A map does much the same thing – it shows us where we are and where we want to go.

Map Winnie the Pooh

This is why this evening’s lecture is among my favorite subjects for one reason – these incredible maps!  When you think about it, it is really astounding how much maps are a part of our lives. Whether it is the three or four apps for maps that I have on my cell phone or the Garmin navigator in our car or the bookmarked map website on my desktop or those peculiarly large and colorful maps at the mall – we use them all the time.

Incredibly, some of your favorite books from childhood probably included a map.  For example, think of the classics like Winnie the Pooh, The Hobbit, My Father’s Dragon, and Treasure Island. Each of these books has the most elaborate and childlike map on their end pages or mixed among the chapter titles. Their illustrators inherently understood the powerful use of maps in the lives of children and books.

Map treasure-Island

And if you haven’t read the original Pooh books in years or haven’t looked over the wonderfully detailed maps of My Father’s Dragon, this is the weekend to do such things!

Here’s why – maps give children a sense of place in the world that exists around their home and in the world that exists around their imagination. So take them on a walk around your world this evening. Show them on a big map some exotic far-off place you want to visit with them before you die. Make your own map of the Land of Oz or Journey to the Center of the Earth this Sunday afternoon. Bury some treasure-filled shoebox in the backyard and make the coolest old pirate map drawn with crayons on a brown paper sack. Or instead of drawing it, build your map with blocks or clay or legos or even old fruit from the fridge! Your kids (and you) will love every word and every memory and every map you make of it.

Map My Fathers Dragon

Are you sure this is true?

Girls Little House Prairie

Outside of my life as a dad and husband, there are few things I love more than teaching students in our education department at the local college here in town. Most of them are nearing the end of their degree and about to receive their teacher certification when they enroll in the course I teach on social studies and science in early childhood education. They are so energetic and passionate about their upcoming life as a teacher, and the things they learn out there in real classrooms during their field experiences and practicums and student teaching are truly a treasure to all of us in the department.

Among the assignments included in my class is one about learning what children already understand about a particular subject. We ask our students to get out there in real classrooms and talk with young children about a topic and see what they know and what they want to know and what they need to know about that particular topic. This kind of information, a pre-assessment, is very helpful to us as classroom teachers when we go about putting together units and lesson plans for young children today, and it is always eye-opening and one of my favorite assignments to grade because the responses are always different and funny and interesting to hear the honest talk that children so happily and freely give in such assignments.

One of my favorite responses to this assignment occurred just last year. A student read to us her wonderful interview and assessment of the children in an elementary classroom where she was working that semester. Here’s what she wrote, “I asked the children to close their eyes and…imagine not having any electricity, running water, iPods, TV, and transportation. I then talked to them about Laura Ingalls Wilder and gave the class background information about her. I gave the children directions by asking them to draw a picture or write down any things that they found interesting [as I read] an excerpt from Little House On the Prairie. After I finished reading, the children asked me different questions and one [child said], ‘Are you sure this is true?’ I assured them that it was.”

To open up a dialogue as this gifted teacher did and have a child respond, “Are you sure this is true?” – what a conversation starter! I don’t think we could ask for more from a book.

As much as I love reading books to my children that are clearly fiction, this child’s response makes it clear that we need to be reading all kinds of things with them and that includes great historical novels and intriguing non-fiction works from the past and present. For me, the Little House series revolved around Farmer Boy. I loved that book, still do, and I remember my 6th grade teacher, Zola Evans, reading a chapter to us every day just after lunch and recess.

Every good book holds a moment of opportunity for its readers. Whether you are a child or an adult, there will come a subtle minute when you pause in the middle of a great paragraph and look up from the page and wonder – could this really be true? No wonder people like books.

 

 

Words to Laugh By

Christmas Cookies

As I was helping our daughter gather up the things in her room that would make the journey with her to college earlier this week, I picked up a copy of Homer’s Iliad (circa 760-710 BC) from her bed. This ancient classic marks her first official college text bought for school.

And here’s the funny thing about it – it reminded me of the first book that she really fell in love with around age 2 or 3. It was a tiny little board book entitled Christmas Cookies by Wendy Lewison and illustrated by Mary Morgan (1993, Grosset and Dunlap). It would also be the first book that I remember her ever pretending to read because she had memorized what I read to her from it so many times. She loved this book, but mostly it was a sentence right in the middle that was her favorite. I would read along about these little mice and how their mother suggested that they make Christmas cookies because it was too cold and snowy for them to play outside.

We would read together through the short narrative as it rolled along in that great board book style of simplicity and sing-song rhyme. And then we would arrive at this page with the phrase, “In go the eggs now, crack, crack, plop. Oops! I dropped one. Get the mop!”

In the moment those words would leave my lips, our daughter would begin to laugh that deep, belly-laugh that only a little child can produce. It would light up the room and she would laugh so much about that phrase that we could rarely move on for several minutes. I am still not sure what it was that was so funny, but the mixture of just the right words and these little mice children having to clean up a mess were all she needed to laugh every single time we read it. To this day, all I have to do is quote that particular sentence and we fall into a fit of laughter. No idea why…

I am not sure she will laugh with that kind of abandon as she labors through Homer’s Iliad, but Lewison’s Christmas Cookies remains the first book that ever really got her attention and stirred something deep inside of her. Here’s hoping the same happens for all the books to come.

Iliad

The Beginning of Fatherhood

I once read a book about a family…

Emily empty chair

It was a dramatic weekend for us, though nothing that unusual in the grand designs of history and humankind, the day our first daughter was born. The short drive home was so quiet, none of us completely certain of what to do and still happier than we had ever been about anything else at all. When we pulled up in the driveway of our home that late Spring night, all was right and we were suddenly a dad and a mom and a baby.

Of all things, I can still remember the way the front of our house looked as I turned off the ignition and tried to think of what to do next. The soft orangey glow of the evening lit the sidewalk and front door in such a way that an Academy Award for Best Lighting Design would surely have been in order.

We were two when we had walked out that door and down that sidewalk two days before, and now we were three – this little person, her mother, and me. And something made me realize in just that moment that this was the beginning of fatherhood.

It was a dramatic weekend for us, though nothing that unusual in the grand designs of history and humankind, yesterday when our first daughter left home for college. The short drive there was so quiet, none of us completely certain of what to do and still happier than we had ever been about anything else at all.

Of all things, I will never forget…well, everything.

We were three as we had walked up the sidewalk and unloaded the car and said our goodbyes – this grown-up, her mother, and me. And something makes me realize once again that this is the beginning of fatherhood.