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Journal

Holidays Around the World

Holidays Around the World

I just finished an exhausting but totally-worth-it week in my classroom kicking off what is probably my favorite unit of the year: Holidays Around the World.

This unit spans the entire month of December and provides children with rich exposure to geography, multicultural folktales, and winter holiday traditions around the world (avoiding belief systems since I teach in a public school, but of course you could go into that in different settings or at home). It is organized around the Gingerbread Baby’s travels around the world en route to the North Pole. Anchored in literature and social studies, the full unit spans the curriculum, integrating art, technology, science, math, and music, as well. It packs a powerful punch in terms of the Common Core Curriculum.

The unit begins with a study of my favorite gingerbread stories, including: The Gingerbread Man, The Gingerbread Boy, Gingerbread Baby, and The Gingerbread Girl. When we get to the last page of Gingerbread Baby, we find that the Gingerbread Baby has jumped out of the book and left a note in his place with clues regarding his whereabouts. Thus begins a search around the school for the Gingerbread Baby. Finally, all clues lead back to our classroom, and as we get closer to the room, the smell of gingerbread (room spray) becomes stronger. When we return to the classroom, we find the Gingerbread Baby’s house and the Gingerbread Baby inside it sleeping on a pillow of cotton snow!

Children holding down the roof so the Gingerbread Baby wouldn’t escape while I got some tape

This year, we put a scarecrow out front to keep watch, and the children insisted on putting up a sign to ensure nobody would disturb the house and let the Gingerbread Baby out.

Despite the safeguards, by the time we return the next morning, the Gingerbread Baby has escaped and left a note telling us he plans to run, run, run to the North Pole and send us mail along the way.

This segues into a study of winter celebrations around the world.

Throughout the month of December, we receive a letter, postcard, or email nearly every day from the Gingerbread Baby telling us about various multicultural celebrations taking place at this time of year. He is directionally impaired to say the least and even ends up in Antarctica at one point! He is a curious cookie who just loves a party!


We read stories and do art projects related to many of the different countries, cultures, and traditions. The places where the Gingerbread Baby stops any given year vary depending on the ties my students have to different geographical locations or traditions.

Poinsettias (Mexico), faux stained glass (Italy), menorahs (Hanukkah), and an Australia display


Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am able to show my students videos of these diverse celebrations taking place far and wide via our large SMART Board screen. I also use Google Earth to show them the Gingerbread Baby’s route by “flying” from one place to the next. We touch down at various places to see landmarks or just navigate down a road to see what it actually looks like in different countries. For example, the letter we receive from Mexico references monarch butterflies (which we released in September), and we are able to touch down and see actual monarch butterfly sanctuaries! It takes a little research to find interesting locations and attractions, but the connections are so rich and entirely worth it in my opinion!

Each time we read a letter from the Gingerbread Baby, we use Google Earth to determine whether he is getting closer or farther away from his destination. We notice what kind of land masses or bodies of water he travels over, determine what mode of transportation he may have taken, discuss the different seasons occurring in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, notice how climate is a factor in the way holidays are celebrated in different places, and more.

It is so much fun.

I have spent many hours searching YouTube for the best videos related to multicultural celebrations and have created a Pinterest board that I am thrilled to share with you. (Note: I have found that researching the terms used by those cultures and locales yields some really great search terms that lead to authentic videos of community celebrations!) I’ve included videos from Thailand, The Philippines, The Netherlands, India, Sweden, Mexico, Italy, Israel, Australia, Finnish Lapland, and even Antarctica. I’ve really tried to target places and traditions to which my students have personal connections, and therefore the list is by no means comprehensive or balanced. It is a work in progress, and I love adding to it!

Click this link for my Pinterest board:
http://pinterest.com/susantara/holidays-around-the-world/

Watching these videos really puts me in the spirit, and I appreciate how so many of them focus on beautiful traditions and festivals featuring light. If I had access to these videos when my own children were younger, we definitely would have enjoyed them together. I just love sharing them with my kindergartners! I don’t know who is more excited – they or I – to see a whole community gathered to witness the festive arrival of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) in The Netherlands aboard a steamboat from Spain! We learn that there are so many ways to celebrate at this time of year and that children around the world are a lot like them. Being able to see the expressions on the faces of children across the world is quite powerful.

When we learn that the Gingerbread Baby finally has made it to the North Pole, the unit culminates in a Polar Express party.

This is a magical time of year! I love it!


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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Savoring Light: Leaf Lantern Tutorials

Savoring Light: Leaf Lantern Tutorials

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”  -Eleanor Roosevelt

The days are noticeably shorter and colder all of a sudden! The sun sets earlier now, and by the time I get home from work, it’s already getting dark. I have a wonderful commute home through lots of cornfields and down a hill with a great view of the setting sun. The colors of the sunset are so soothing, featuring orange-rose toward the ground gradating into a soft blue higher up. There’s also purple in the mix. I love seeing the bare trees silhouetted in front of the rich, gradated colors.

At this time of year, I am in search of light – savoring the sunrise and appreciating the way the rising sun interplays with water in its various states.

Sunrise coming through the window

Frost crystals coating leaves and plants become prisms reflecting the sunlight in a variety of colors, glowing like lights on a Christmas tree.

It thrills me to see the world fill with light each morning and to see the light shine through leaves and other natural objects, making them come alive with vibrance.

Drawn intensely to light as the sun travels a path lower in the sky, this is also the time of year when I become motivated to make lanterns to illuminate the darkness. This week, I made two different kinds of leaf lanterns. The first is a transparent, wax paper lantern that I have adapted over the years from a wonderful, Waldorf-inspired book called Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children by Carol Petrash.

Materials:

  • Some pressed autumn leaves (gather some fallen leaves from the ground, and press them inside a thick book for about a week)
  • Wax paper
  • Cylindrical oatmeal or ice cream container (such as Edy’s)
  • Iron and ironing surface
  • Scissors
  • A piece of orange or red cardstock or construction paper (I used painted watercolor paper for the pictured lantern)
  • Glue (either hot glue gun or white tacky glue)
  • Hole punch
  • Handle from a paper shopping bag or brown- or green- wrapped florist’s wire from a craft store (or you could use a pipe cleaner)
  • Tea light (LED or real flame)
  • Glass votive holder or jar (if using a real tea light)
  • Thick, cushioned double-sided tape (if using a real tea light)

Step 1: The Base

Cut off the bottom 3/4” of the cylindrical container, and recycle the rest. This will be the base of the lantern.

Step 2: The Body
 
Cut out two 18.5″ wide by 9″ tall pieces of wax paper. Place one piece on top of an ironing board (or  a pillowcase-covered table surface). Turn iron to lowest setting. Arrange pressed leaves on the wax paper, with their most colorful side facing you.

When the leaves are arranged as you want them, carefully place the second piece of wax paper on top of the leaves. Carefully iron over the wax paper, to fuse the two pieces together. At this point, you may want to trim the edges so they’re even and straight. (A paper cutter is handy!)

Step 3: Putting It Together

Cut a few 3/4”-wide strips from the cardstock. (I had on hand some pretty paper painted with acrylic inks that I used instead of cardstock.) Glue a strip along the entire bottom and top edges of the wax paper, making sure the strip is glued to the side that shows the leaves’ brightest colors. Although you can’t tell from the photo, my strips weren’t quite long enough, so I used pieces of another strip to extend them to the edge.

Next, attach the wax paper to the base by lining up the bottom of the wax paper flush with the bottom of the base. (Make sure the side with the cardstock strips faces outward.) Carefully glue around the edges of the base, and roll the wax paper around it. (A hot glue gun makes this step easier, but you’ll have to work quickly.) You’ll end up with some overlap between the two wax paper edges, so run a thin line of glue from bottom to top at the overlap, to close the lantern into a cylindrical shape.

Step 4: Attaching a Handle

Next, make two holes with a hole punch or a pencil point close to the top of the lantern. The holes should be opposite each other. Attach whatever type of handle you’re using through the two holes. If you’re using a paper shopping bag handle or wrapped wire, either twist or glue each end together to fasten securely.

If you intend to light the lantern with a real flame, attach a votive candle holder or jar to the lantern base by using a small piece of double-sided tape, and put a tea light inside.

Here’s what this kind of lantern looks like when it’s lit:

And now for the second kind of leaf lantern, which I made this week with my kindergartners.

Earlier in the fall, I had my students do watercolor crayon-resist leaf rubbings. First, they rubbed the watercolor paper with crayons to reveal the texture of the leaves underneath the 9″x12″ paper. Then they covered the entire paper with fall-toned watercolors. The crayon markings resisted the watercolor and stood out. These masterpieces were displayed in the hallway for a while until we converted them into leaf lanterns. In other words, we repurposed their art work!

Materials:

  • Painted watercolor paper, at least 9″x12″
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Pressed leaf (smaller is best)
  • Wax paper
  • Iron and ironing surface
  • Razor-type paper trimmer (or scissors)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Hole punch
  • Handle from a paper shopping bag or brown- or green-wrapped florist’s wire from a craft store (or you could use a pipe cleaner)
  • Tea light (LED or real flame)
  • Glass votive holder or jar (if using a real tea light)
  • Thick, cushioned double-sided tape (if using a real tea light)

Instructions:

On the back side of the painted watercolor paper, use a ruler and pencil to draw a line going all the way across the long way about an inch from the edge. Cut 1″ wide fringes up to the line, all the way across the paper. (The fringes will be about as tall as they are wide; see second picture below.)

Iron a pressed leaf between two pieces of wax paper on the lowest heat setting. Then trim the fused-together wax paper so there is some space around the leaf.

In the center of the painted paper on the back side, trace around the wax paper piece. Using a razor paper trimmer, make a cutout inside of the traced shape, leaving at least 1/4″ all the way around. (In other words, the opening in the lantern needs to be somewhat smaller than the wax paper shape. Save the painted paper cutout; it will be the bottom of the lantern.

Put a line of glue around the edges of the cutout (still on the back side), and adhere the wax paper leaf so the duller side of the leaf is facing you. Since hot glue dries very quickly, you’ll need to do the gluing in quick, small segments.

Roll the paper into a cylinder with the fringes at the bottom. Glue the overlapping edges by running a thin line of glue from bottom to top to hold the cylinder together. (Again, work quickly, gluing a small segment at a time.)

Fold the fringes inward toward the center so they almost form a base (with some space at the center). Then cover them quickly with hot glue, and press the painted paper cutout on top (with the painted side facing you). Quickly turn it so the base is resting on your tabletop surface, and press down with your fingers to adhere the base to the fringes. Trim the base for a neat, finished look.

Next, make two holes with a hole punch or a pencil point close to the top of the lantern. The holes should be opposite each other. Attach whatever type of handle you’re using through the two holes. If you’re using a paper shopping bag handle or wrapped wire, either twist or glue each end together, to fasten securely.

If you intend to light the lantern with a real flame, attach a votive candle holder or glass jar to the lantern base by using a small piece of double-sided tape, and fit a tea light inside.

Be careful not to leave your lit lantern unattended, or use an LED tea light for no worries! The lanterns bring such beautiful light and ambiance to a room! Enjoy!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 
Practicing Gratitude

Practicing Gratitude

This morning I got up in time to experience the sunrise, and while I was waiting to witness the first rays of this new day, I was inspired to share with you how a simple practice of gratitude has transformed my life. But first, the sunrise. Ahhh – such peace.

 

I have kept a journal on and off throughout my life, but several years ago it occurred to me that I tended to use it as a tool for venting my frustrations – and that if someone were to read it someday, s/he might get the impression that I was a very unhappy person, which was not the case. I didn’t want to leave behind that kind of legacy in print.

Somewhere I came across the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. The idea was to spend a few moments at the end of each day writing down five things for which I am grateful. It is simple to do and only takes a minute or two. However, this practice has had profound effects on my life over the past five or more years that I have been doing it.

I select a journal that strikes me as beautiful and feels good in my hands. I prefer journals with pages that can lay completely flat. The one shown below has a pocket in the back that is handy for holding ticket stubs, photos, notes, etc. I also use a pen that writes smoothly and feels good to hold. The experience of keeping a gratitude journal needs to be inviting. It may or may not involve a cup of herbal tea. (Usually it doesn’t, but I like the idea.)

 

Pausing to recall positive experiences and impressions is a lovely way to end the day. I fall asleep focused on happy thoughts rather than anxieties. This makes for better sleep.

I write down anything that struck my fancy or uplifted me during the day: Conversations with family members, the earthy smell of a homegrown tomato, the proud smile on a student’s face when he showed me how he learned to write the number five, comfortable clothes, eating a pomegranate, holding my husband’s hand while taking a walk, a smile from a stranger, the sound of my children’s laughter, heated car seats, the aroma of bread baking, having a washing machine – anything at all. When feeling down, it is comforting to open up my gratitude journals and remember all that has brought a smile to my heart. Some days (for example, when I am tuned to the “overwhelm” channel) it is more difficult to think of things for which I am grateful, and the list may consist simply of: good health, electricity, warm house, plenty of food, and a steady paycheck. But think about it: These basic things are tremendous blessings! Consider food: 47% of the world’s population doesn’t have food security! Sometimes it’s useful to acknowledge and appreciate these fundamental blessings that may go unnoticed on other days. Doing so is a surefire antidote to feeling sorry for oneself.

 

I find that when I set the intention to write in my gratitude journal each evening, my mind is busy looking for examples throughout the day. The result is that I notice more of the good stuff than I did prior to keeping a gratitude journal. Noticing is the first step. When you are able to notice, you can more fully savor the positive elements of your day. I literally find myself stopping frequently to smell the flowers or take in a beautiful sight. My mind is being trained to catch the fleeting moments and really experience them as they happen. The journey is one of joy.

 

After practicing gratitude for several years, I find that I am a happier, more peaceful person. Even in the midst of a difficult situation, I can glance out the window and appreciate a bird flying by or a leaf twirling gracefully to the ground. They are like little teachers reminding me that beauty is all around, even when I’m knee-deep in muck. Attuned to gratitude, it is easier to put challenges into perspective and not give them too much weight. Most of the troubles with which we burden our minds are so petty!

At this point, keeping a gratitude journal is no longer necessary in order to more fully savor and appreciate the goodness of life; the compass of my awareness points in that direction. However, I still try to maintain this daily practice. I also focus on gratitude as I drive to work each morning.

 

Some people develop a grateful heart as a result of some kind of wake-up call in their life – perhaps an illness, injury, or loss of some sort. For me, I think it was financial hardship. At some point when my children were young, I came across the book, Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel, which helped to put things in perspective for me. Although it was published in 1994 and is now somewhat dated, it remains on my bookshelf, and I pull it out (along with my gratitude journals) when I feel my life situation is somehow deficient. This book features portraits of families from 30 different nations outside their homes surrounded by all of their possessions. In some portraits, there is little more than a few pots or jugs. Some families live in war zones with mortar shell holes blasted through their walls. What an eye-opener. After spending a few minutes with this book, I realize how privileged I am. Peter Menzel has a number of books out, and all of them are wonderful.

I remember hearing my friend, Al, tell me about a trip he took to Calcutta and how he saw children who were impoverished beyond belief radiating great joy while experiencing simple pleasures. Al, himself, is one of the most content people I know, despite having very few material possessions aside from an extensive record collection that brings him great joy. Likewise, my friend, Trish, and my daughter’s friend, Dionna, remind me to be truly grateful for good health.

Our lives are full of blessings that are often taken for granted. Something magical happens when we become more aware of the big and little things for which we can be grateful. Speaking from my own experience, life becomes a more joyful journey. Gratitude gives a buoyant quality to life.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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