Archive for December, 2008



With the threats of ice storms raging, we began this day talking about “the Olden Days.” (This is always an interesting discussion as I am asked if there was color photography and cars when I was a child. And yes, I remember asking the same questions to my parents, even when they were in their 30s!) We spoke of food and hunger, and the importance of people who live in tune with the earth and think about canning, drying, and storing food for the long winter. Most of those present understood all the processes we spoke of, although there was a discussion about the market and liking to see all the food they we have available in there.


We spoke of Sweden and its place in the northern hemisphere, and the presence of long days of darkness at the winter solstice. We spoke of the importance of farming and the sea to feed the people of Sweden. I told a story about St. Lucia, an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light and food in the dark Swedish winters:


Long ago, a Swedish village came upon hard times. The winter was long and cold, and those who had lived many winters knew that the food stores they had put away after the harvest would not sustain them if winter continued as it was. The villagers got together and collaborated, making soups from their last root vegetables, and making brown bread with their last stores of flour and wheat. After a day of cold fishing, the village once more gathered around bon fires, roasted what little they had caught, and discussed how they would all survive until the summer sun. As the children listened to the serious discussion, one or more would interrupt every few moments, pointing to strong light out on the water. Many of them whispered St. Lucia, claiming they saw a beautiful woman in the prow of the boat. She had on a crown of light was holding a basket filled with bread for the village. After a few of the children were scolded by parents, the villagers turned their attention to the sea, for there was, indeed, a light coming toward the shore. Four Italian fisherman pulled up to the shore with their boat laden with all kinds of food for their village. (It seems someone had made contact with a distant relative.) The villagers were relieved with the food delivery, but from that day forth, the village worshipped St. Lucia as their guardian angel. The children were the only ones who were said to be able to see her, but to them she was as real as the nose on my face!


One of the most popular songs about St. Lucia is:


The night treads heavily

around yards and dwellings

In places unreached by the sun,

The shadows brood

Into our dark houses she comes,

Bearing lighted candles,

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.


Our finished Haiku poems were put together today and written on the board. These poems were inspired by books about winter and the solstice, each loaded with beautiful pictures. We talked about the “images of winter”—curtains of icicles, rolling hills, warm fires glowing out windows depicting cozy dwellings. Friends called out words and images and we worked putting them into five and seven syllable phrases. Here are the results:


Short, sunlit, cold days

Darkness black and velvety

Solstice almost here!


Full moon shines, crisp, cold

Snow curtains hang in the air

Cozy in our homes!


Sparkling white shimmers

House blanketed in smooth snow

Half moon, stars all ‘round


Three Artic sisters

Surprised by shimmering white

A bright snow island






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Zoe began a short morning meeting after a continuation of working on our Peace Travelers Alphabet Book (PTAB). Our journey through Sweden continues. Today we read about Sami people, the original people of Sweden, who herded reindeer as they migrated with the seasons. We read “Ollie and the Troll” (in Sweden: The Culture by April Fast and Keltie Thomas) about a boy who is kind to a troll and turns around a whole village’s luck.


After snack/lunch, and some outdoor time, we headed in for lessons and more collective haiku writing. Our afternoon stories were An Elf for Christmas by Michael Garland about one of Santa’s industrious helpers who falls asleep in a plane that he’s helped build. He winds up wrapped and send to a boy named Joey who believes this elf (who pretends to be a toy!) is part of the gift. The elf must find his way back to the North pole, and uses the plane he made to fly home. (It was a hit last year, and it was, again, enjoyed!). The other story, The Quilt Maker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau, is about a very greedy king who discovers the joy in giving. Our plan is to bring this story to life in a short play at the Winter Solstice Gathering on Friday evening, Dec. 19th.




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Zoe began our morning meeting leader. We took some time to talk about our Thanksgivings and the things that we enjoyed most about them. (It seems that food was definitely a focal point!)

Maia: Having yummy cheesecake and vanilla ice cream. My grandma made the cheesecake.

Jayden: Eating the ice cream.

Annika: It was special, the turkey. It was tofu in the shape of a turkey.

Zoe: Fia and Liam came to Gina’s house. I’m excited to have a play date with Liam today.

Sebastian: Louisa came over for Thanksgiving. We had pumpkin pie and cheesecake. We called it squeeze cake because it had squash in it.

Elias: Seeing a bobcat in California.

Leora: On the way home we stopped at Pizzarama. I got to see my Aunt Kate.

Kate: Seeing all my family members. I especially liked seeing our newest family member, Noah, again.


We are bidding farewell to Mexico, and on our way to Sweden. We decorated miniature “Day of the Dead” skeletons with tissue paper clothing for our passports. We talked about “leaving” the warm climate of Mexico, and venturing to the cold darkness of Sweden. We used our globe to examine all the places that we have “traveled” this year—America, India, Mexico, and Sweden. We spoke about the winter solstice, and the darkness that now enfolds us. We read The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer.


We began our Peace Travelers Alphabet Book that chronicles our stories, our travels, and specific concepts we have learned in each of the countries to which we have “traveled.” These books are an ongoing project to be taken home at the end of the school year.


We have been working in our math workbooks, exploring the concepts of more, less, over, under, and between. We’ve used dice to practice sums to twelve, and we’ve been practicing “counting up.” Older students have been decoding numbers and letters. We work side by side, and I read directions and explain concepts to those who need it. I encourage students to help each other, and collaborate. Most of the time they are able to figure out problems together, and then I check them. I believe they feel empowered when they work together, and we’ve been working on fostering these social skills throughout all of our activities during the day.


We began reading about Sweden with two stories: “The Old Woman Who Was Right” (Grandmother’s Stories: Wise Woman Tales from Many Cultures retold by Burleigh Muten) and Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve? By Jan Brett. The former is about women’s invisible labor, and the ease in which it is performed when practiced on daily, weekly, yearly basis. Ofcourse, the man in the story thinks it is nothing to care for a home, animals, and grandchildren, and takes on the job for the day leading to quite a series of hysterical events! The latter is about two Scandinavian children outsmarting a pack of raucous trolls trying to confiscate all the delicious foods of a Christmas feast.


We’ve continued our story of Desperaux, and have begun the fourth and final book in the story.


Finally, we’ve been working on the concept of syllables. We’ve explored the number of letters in our names and the number of syllables. Sometimes, a shorter name (Zoe) can have more syllables than a longer name (Kate)! The friends have had fun spelling, counting letters, and counting syllables for their first, middle, and last names. We’ve also begun writing collaborative haiku poems after looking at winter pictures and reading books on crisp, cold air, coal black nights, villages blanketed in snow, and cozy homes with warm beds.




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img_3779Today we finished our Day of the Dead skeletons by dressing the skeletons in bright Mexican tissue paper costumes. They will embellish our parade of elephants (India travel) and totem flags (American Indian travel) in the front cubby area. Tony(a)  brought maps of Mexico and the Mexican flag for us to color for our Peace Travelers Alphabet Book that will be a picture journal of our travel and creations over the course of the year. It will be worked on over the course of the year and assembled at the end of the school year.


We cut and pasted Thanksgiving flags for our friend Ruth Craft using reduced drawings from the book Giving Thanks by Chief Jake Swamp. Each friend put their handprint on one of the flags and wrote their names on it. Ruth was very pleased to receive it. She has all the book marks she was given by friends displayed on card tree in her living room.


We have much to be thankful for in this beautiful place that we live. Thank you for the gift of your children, and sharing them with me. Happy Thanksgiving!


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Jayden lead our morning circle, and we gave thanks for all that we have. After visiting Heifer International, I believe the friends understand how much each of us has living here. The realization that the gift of a goat (or two!) can change a family’s life is an amazing concept. There is a lot of thanks to be had!

We again read Giving Thanks: A Native American Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp. In response to “What are you thankful for?” the friends gave these replies:

Annika: I’m thankful because my Aunties come here or I go there. And for the life of the turkey.

Maia: I’m thankful for Thanksgiving and all the yummy food.

Leora: I’m thankful for Thanksgiving because I’m going to see my Aunt Kate. I don’t usually see her because she lives in Colorado, so I’m excited.

Zoe: I’m thankful for Thanksgiving because I’m going to Robin’s house, and then Mindy comes over to my house, and then we go to Gina’s.

Jayden: I’m thankful for my birthday party.

Kate: I’m thankful because I get to see all my family, and my littlest nephew, Noah.

We finished our projects for Mexico. For those who needed to, we finished assembling our “Day of the Dead” skeletons. I was very impressed with friends’ ability to work together. At first, some resisted working together. The thought was “I can do it myself.” I modeled with another student that we could quickly accomplish the assembly, so we could move on to the creative portion of the lesson on our next meeting day. That seemed to quell any resistance. Literally, it took 5-6 minutes for friends to put together a life size 15-piece skeleton plus a calavera mask (that we had decorated last week.) In truth, the collaboration these friends partake in is very special. Perhaps it is because they know each other pretty well as almost all are returnees to the program, or maybe it’s our small size. Each of them does well pitching in and helping others, and they’re very proud of themselves. These are the social skills that are so important to building community, and I believe they are normalizing this collaboration which “feels” really good to all of 

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Jayden led our morning circle, and we learned a new song about the glorious colors of Mexico. Although our study has been surface at best, the friends have had had lots of opportunities to look at books and artifacts that encompass the Aztec, Mayan, and Spanish cultures found in Mexico. Bright, splenderous colors are definitely a theme here!


To the tune of “Are You Sleeping Brother John?” with the ASL signs for all the colors. !Yes (si), this is a “tri-lingual” experience!


Red is rojo, red is rojo

Blue’s azul, blue’s azul

Yellow’s amarillo (ahm-a-REE-oh),

yellow’s amarillo

Verde’s green, verde’s green.

Brown is cafe, brown is cafe

Negro’s black, negro’s black

Purple is purpura (poor-POOR-ah),

purple is purpura

Blancho’s white, blancho’s white.

Gold is Oro, gold is ora

Rosa’s pink, rosa’s pink

Orange is naranja (nah-RAHN-hah),



We had a wonderful visit with Ruth in the afternoon. We read a few chapters of our read aloud book, Desperaux, and sang some songs. We presented Ruth with autumn bookmarks which each of the friends had made. On the back, each friend wrote their name with their photo. She was very thankful for them, and she stated this this will help her remember all our names as we visit from month to month! She also shared pictures of her first great grandchild, Clayton, named for his Great Grandfather, Ruth’s husband who passed last February. We played outdoors in her yard before it was time to meet parents at Elmer’s. (Thank you for sharing your children with Ruth. She loves listening to their stories, answering their questions, and sharing her life story with them. If you don’t know her, you should! She is sharp as a tack, and quite an amazing jewel who has lived in Ashfield for a long time…Acutally, she’s lived in Ashfield since her birth, but she says, “not yet!” to the statement, “her whole life!”)




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Our study of Mexico continues. Annika began our morning meeting. After reading a book of giving thanks from a prayer of the Iroquois (or Six Nations known as Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora) called Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp, we spoke of all that we are thankful for. At morning circle we were able to give words to our experiences at Heiffer International.


Sebastian: I liked seeing all the houses in the global village.


Leora: I liked it when Abu Dabi (the camel) kissed Elias on the head.


Elias: I liked milking the goats.

Zoe: I liked visiting the bamboo house in the Village, and I liked the hayride.


Maia: I liked when Elias was surprised when Abu Dali kissed him on the head.

Annika: I liked everything!

Liam: I liked walking across the fields to look at the cows. And I liked Abu Dali the camel, and how he was swaying to the music.


After talking about our experience at Heifer International/Overlook Farm, we read the story of a young girl, Beatrice, who was the subject of the video we viewed when we arrived at Overlook Farm. (It’s called simply Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier.) It brought home the idea of how much wealth we have as Americans, as we are rich in bountiful land and plentiful animals. Beatrice is a young girl from Uganda, who first went to school at nine years old, thanks to the Heifer International program. Her family received a pregnant goat (that delivered two kids instead of just one!), and the milk provided the family with nutritional wealth and the opportunity to send Beatrice to school. (She is now in college here in Connecticut!) Selling one of the kids enabled her family to get a new home with a steel roof that didn’t leak in the rain. The story ends with one of her close friends in the village receiving a goat with the hopes that his family will be impacted for the better.




We also began our study of Peace Traveler, Cesar Chavez with the book, Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull. Many of the stories of Peace Travelers we read together (or I tell) are very moving and I must confess, I do well up with tears. It is my practice to let the tears fall and explain my feelings to friends, and they are always loving and receptive to me, in my feelings. At times, I explain, “this is a very sad story, and I feel compassion for this person,” or else I may say, “This is the happy part of the story where the workers have won a victory after a long struggle and these are happy tears.” It has been interesting to be “in it” with them, and have them talk about their feelings when they think about other people. We process a little, talk about people struggling to be free, work for justice, and be treated fairly. Then we move on to lunch or the next activity. (I had just been pondering this wellspring of emotion and its impact on small children with a teacher mentor. She mentioned that some of the research about working with teens especially is about teachers and other leaders being able to model emotions–especially the more difficult ones–and stay present in them, talk about them, and discuss them in the context of the classroom “work.” Thus far, I have noticed friends talking about their own emotions during the time of our Peace Travelers reading, and I believe it to be beneficial and above all, secure. I welcome your input with these events. It is important for you to know that the tears well up because the stories are moving and often quite sad. I also feel that friends trust that I am “okay” and just feeling my feelings so I can tell them what is happening. (I thought it important to mention if it comes up at home, as we all have our ways of dealing with deeply felt emotions.)




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