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Photo: Landfill Harmonic
Tania Vera Hertz showing off her recycled violin in a documentary about poor kids in Paraguay.

Today’s story is about people in Paraguay who built instruments out of recycled materials and taught the children of impoverished landfill scavengers to play. That is the nugget, and a lovely nugget it is. But as I learned at Wikipedia, fame brought conflict among the adults involved. You can read about both aspects of the story below and see what you think.

Ken Jaworowski writes at the New York Times about the documentary Landfill Harmonic, which “starts in Cateura, Paraguay, an impoverished town outside Asunción, the country’s capital. There, at an enormous landfill, thousands of slum-dwellers support their families by sifting through trash to find things to sell.

“Favio Chávez, an environmental engineer, came to the area to help with a recycling program. That failed, but he stayed to teach music to children. Instruments were so scarce that Mr. Chávez, with help from a resident, Nicolás Gómez, created them from materials found in the garbage heaps. Those include violins made with metal cans, a cello built from an oil container and a drumhead fashioned from discarded X-ray film.

“Mr. Chávez and his students formed the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura and gained fame once video of their playing these scrappy instruments went online. Soon, children who’d never left their town were traveling the world to perform.

“It’s an inspiring tale — if it were fiction you’d dismiss it as unbelievable — and Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley, the directors (Juliana Penaranda-Loftus is listed as co-director), capture some endearing moments. …

“The children of Landfill Harmonic are wonderful to watch. A section in which David Ellefson, bassist for the metal band Megadeth, comes to visit them is downright adorable. (The orchestra later performs with the group at a concert, and it’s excellent.) Here and elsewhere we see barriers disappear — those between genres, cultures and languages become meaningless. For everyone involved, there’s nothing but joyous music.” More at at the Times, here.

Wikipedia adds history and describes an ongoing controversy about who started what when.

“The orchestra originated in the ‘Sonidos de la Tierra (Sounds of the Earth) program (created and directed since 2002 by Luis Szarán) and Procicla a recycling project of the Alter Vida NGO. Szarán founded the Sonidos de Cateura (Sounds of Cateura) music school on July 7, 2006, and its first workshop, sponsored by the geAm NGO to build recycled instruments, was held on May 24, 2007, luthier Carlos Uliambre. …

“The music school began with the recyclers’ children after Szarán donated ten guitars bought with proceeds from a tribute he received at Salemma Mall. A group of children between 8 and 12 years old from the Sounds of Cateura school was presented at the regional seminary of Youth Orchestras of Sounds of the Earth in Acahay [in 2006]. …

“The first group of Sounds of the Earth musicians with recycled instruments made their debut at the former Sheldonian Theater in Oxford, England as part of the Skoll Foundation’s World Forum of Social Entrepreneurs on March 26, 2008. …

“In October 2011, Sounds of the Earth announced on its Facebook page that Orchestra of Recycled Instruments coordinator Favio Chávez had left the program. Chávez announced the formation of the Recycled, with Sounds of the Earth musicians from Carapeguá and Cateura playing recycled instruments, two months later.” Lawsuits were in their future.

Wikipedia may have more information than you want about the ins and outs, but if you are interested. click here.

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The result of my grandson’s class in Japanese marbling technique. Suminagashi, or “ink-floating” on paper, has been around since the 12th century.

Not long ago, my older grandson’s class, which is studying Japan, went to the Boston Children’s Museum. The museum features an entire traditional home that was shipped from Japan years ago and rebuilt indoors.

While there, the 8-year-olds practiced an ancient painting technique, Japanese Suminagashi, which uses the unpredictable swirling of water to create one-of-a-kind images.

I love the idea of one-of-a-kind. Children are one-of-a-kind, too, all wonderful in their own way, and I like to hear about them getting a break from standardized-testing molds.

According to the website Beyond the Chalkboard, in which the Boston Children’s Museum helps teachers with enrichment activities, “Suminagashi, Japanese for ‘ink-floating,’ is a paper marbling technique that was practiced in Japan as early as the 12th century.  Creating these beautifully marbled pieces of paper encourages children to relax, focus and observe the changing swirls in front of them. …

“It is very important that everything used in this activity (the brushes, trays and jars) be as clean as possible. The trays or tubs you use should be at least 2 1/2” deep. Tupperware containers and some aluminum pie tins will work. Make sure that the paper you are using is smaller than the width and length of the trays.

“Fill each tray with 2 inches of room-temperature water, making sure to keep the water free of dust, oil or soap. Pour a small amount of sumi ink into each empty baby food jar, and have pairs of students share a jar.”

The instructions include advice on first discussing what swirls are and also what children already know about Japan.

Here are the instructions, in part.

“1. Make sure your hands and the water tray are CLEAN while you fill it with water. Keep the water and the papers free of dust, oil and soap.
“2. Find a steady place to lay your two brushes, wooden skewers or toothpicks.  Place one brush or skewer on the left side of the water tray and one on the right side.  Dip the left side brush or skewer into the ink.  If using a brush, you only need a little bit of ink!  The surface of the water will pull ink from the brush.  …
“3. Carefully touch the very tip of the inked brush or skewer just to the surface of the water in the middle of the tray.  …
“4. Lay down the inked brush and pick up the other brush (the un-inked one on the right side of the tray).  Touch the end of this brush or skewer either to the side of your nose (your nose has lots of oil on it), to a bar of soap, or (just barely) to the top of a detergent bottle.  Touch the tip of this oily or soapy brush/skewer to the water INSIDE THE DOT of ink (or the center of the tray, if you can’t see the ink yet).  You might see the ink that is floating on the surface of the water move away from where you touched. …
“5. Repeat, alternating between brushes, and always touch the brush tips in the middle of the ink circle on the surface of the water. You should soon see many concentric circles. Once you feel you have enough, you can gently blow across the surface of the water to start creating swirls. …
“6. When you like what you see on the water, pick up a piece of paper, holding it from the sides.  Bring the ends together a bit so the middle of the paper bends down toward the water — now you can lay the paper on the water, starting from the center and quickly laying down the sides and letting go. It may take some practice to get this to be a quick, smooth motion. …
“7. Now lift the paper off the water (if there seems to be a wash of ‘loose’ ink on the surface of the paper, try gently, quickly rinsing the paper under the faucet). The ink that actually printed will stay on the paper.
“8. Lay the your print on the newspaper to dry.”

More here and at Suminagashi.com. My grandson also alerted me to a Japanese anime called My Neighbor Totoro that he saw in school, and my husband and I got it from Netflix. We like Japanese animations.

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Photo: Playhouse Records
Back in the day, Jim Copp (right) “made recordings [with Ed Brown] that offered children funny fables replete with sound effects, and were literate and charming enough for adults,” says the
New Yorker.

Years ago, the older of my two younger brothers received a record player that looked like a jukebox and flashed colored lights. It was the beginning of his long romance with records. Neighbor kids came over to see this wonder, and we listened not only to music on the records but also to stories. Call it an early podcast platform. David Owen has a bit of history at the New Yorker.

“When my wife was a kid, in the early nineteen-sixties, she and her siblings listened, over and over, to records by Jim Copp. … Copp made nine records between 1958 and 1971. They contain stories, poems, and songs that he wrote, performed, and recorded with the help of his friend Ed Brown. …

“Stories involve a family that takes a cross-country car trip with a cow; a duck that, with excruciating effort, manages to speak just enough English to warn his housemate, a carpenter, that their kitchen is on fire; a dog with the longest name in the world who goes to Yale; … a nearsighted heron; and a feeble-minded old man, Mr. Hippity, who thinks his chicken pull toy is sick. Copp may be the reason that my wife and her siblings and both our children have always had good vocabularies: destitute, vituperative, locality, inauspicious, gauche, megalomaniac, union suit. …

“Not long after my wife received [tapes] from her brother, she noticed a tiny advertisement in The New Yorker for rereleases of Copp’s records, on cassette. She called the telephone number in the ad, and eventually realized that the person taking her order was Copp himself. … In 1993, I [interviewed] Copp in his home. …

“In 1939, friends whom he was visiting in Chicago dared him to enter a talent contest at the old Edgewater Beach Hotel, whose ballroom was popular with movie stars and mobsters. He performed several humorous pieces that he’d written as a student — ‘Arabella and the Water Tank,’ ‘Peaches and Myrtle’ (about two showgirls, one of whom murders the other), ‘The Mystery of the Revolving Tree Trunk’ — and won. …

“Copp got hooked on performing. During the next three years, he appeared, as James Copp III and His Things, in some of Manhattan’s most famous night spots, among them the Blue Angel, Le Ruban Bleu, the Rainbow Room, and Café Society. … In 1941, Liberty released six of his night club pieces, on a set of three 78s.

“He was drafted a year later, and became the adjutant of an intelligence unit that took part in the Normandy invasion. … He returned to the United States in 1946, but decided that New York and its night clubs had changed in ways he didn’t like.

“Copp decided that his best chance of preserving his night-club material was to rework it, slightly, for children. He experimented with a wire recorder — a tape precursor, which recorded magnetically on steel wire. He sold one piece, ‘The Noisy Eater,’ to Capitol Records, which Jerry Lewis recorded, in 1952. … He decided that from then on he would make his own records. He … would record a single character or instrument or effect on one machine, then play that tape in the background as he recorded another on one of the others. For some pieces, he ‘ping-ponged’ as many as ninety layers. He sped up some voices and slowed down others, all without fancy equipment, and he added homemade sound effects.” For the long read, check out the New Yorker, here.

The story brought back memories, especially of my father’s wire recorder. He had a couple of his recordings made into actual records, and when I grew up, I found someone to turn a record featuring my squeaky voice (“The Birth of Willie”) into a cassette tape.

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Photo: Ryan Donnell/Sesame Workshop
Grover from “Sesame Street” in a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh. The Lego Foundation will provide $100 million over five years to the makers of “Sesame Street” and their partners for a program for refugee children.

Most of what we know about the situation of Rohingya refugees — expelled from Myanmar (Burma) for their Muslim beliefs — is pretty dire. But here and there we see positive efforts to lessen the pain of living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, especially for children. Read about this partnership among humanitarian relief organizations, Sesame Street, and Lego.

Karen Zraick writes at the New York Times, “Can play help refugee children heal from trauma?

“That’s the belief behind a new partnership formed by the Lego Foundation, Sesame Workshop and organizations working with Syrian and Rohingya refugees. In its first major humanitarian project, announced [in December], the foundation will provide $100 million over five years to the makers of ‘Sesame Street’ to deepen their work with the International Rescue Committee in the countries around Syria, and also to partner with the Bangladeshi relief organization BRAC.

“The aim is to create play-based learning programs for children up to age 6 in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Bangladesh. The programs will teach basics like the alphabet and numbers, but will also emphasize social and emotional development to counter the effects of stress and suffering. They will be offered both to displaced children and to some of their potential friends in host communities.

“Officials at the organizations involved said that helping children’s brains develop during their first years — when they are absorbing information like sponges — is crucial to helping them become healthy and successful later in life, and that play is an excellent way to do it.

“ ‘We know from child development research that the best way for children to learn is through exploring their world and play,’ said Sarah Smith, the senior director for education at the International Rescue Committee. …

“The families’ needs are great. In addition to basics like adequate food and shelter, children need to foster ties with nurturing caregivers to heal from what they have witnessed and endured, said Hirokazu Yoshikawa, a director of Global TIES for Children, a research center at New York University that will conduct testing and evaluation for the program.

‘Part of the magic of human development is that very few experiences doom a child to ruin,’ Dr. Yoshikawa said. ‘But we have to address the risks early. This is particularly critical in these first years.’ …

“Erum Mariam, a program director for BRAC, said that many of the 240 play labs the organization has created for refugees were built by the children’s fathers and painted and decorated by mothers and children.

“ ‘We place a lot of emphasis on culture and on strengthening community engagement,’ she said. Within those centers, trained facilitators focus on providing enough structure to make children feel safe, while allowing for spontaneous joy.

“ ‘When a child enters the humanitarian play lab, we want the child to feel very happy and very connected to their culture and heritage,’ she said.” More here.

You may recall I wrote about Sesame Street helping Syrian refugee children, here.

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Photos: Evan Frost | MPR News
Cats are only one of the unusual features of Minnesota’s Wild Rumpus bookstore, which Publisher’s Weekly named the 2017 Bookstore of the Year.

In August, John and family visited friends in Minnesota and, among other adventures, checked out the award-winning children’s bookstore their friends love.

At Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), Tracy Mumford reports on a visit she made to the store in April 2017.

“At the Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis, Neil deGrasse Tyson is strutting across the floor. A crowd gathers, but this striking figure is not the world-famous astrophysicist — it’s a chicken.

“In addition to over 34,000 books, the children’s bookstore boasts a menagerie that includes Tyson the chicken, one ferret, two doves, two chinchillas, a cockatiel and a tarantula named Thomas Jefferson. (Jefferson’s in a cage, as are several of the other furry and feathered inhabitants.)

“This week, the shop was honored for its long history of serving up children’s books with a side of animal chaos. Publishers Weekly named it the 2017 Bookstore of the Year, making Wild Rumpus the first children’s bookstore to receive the honor.

“For co-founder Collette Morgan, finding out that she’d won was a too-excited-to-even-speak moment. Her tight-knit staff gathered around her when she got the call. …

“Every afternoon after school lets out, the store still fills up with young readers browsing the shelves, which run from picture books through young adult novels. Bookseller Jean Ernest, who has worked there for 20 years, says she has watched the customers grow up right in front of her, transforming from kids into parents who bring their own children into the shop. …

“Amid all the store’s success, and its fast approaching 25th anniversary, Morgan has a message to her younger self, opening the store on its very first day.

” ‘You did the right thing. You did the right thing,’ Morgan said. ‘At the time it was: … Why am I doing this when everybody else is closing? But it’s just been the love of my life.’ ” More at MPR, here.

If you are in Minneapolis on November 10, you can hear author Sheetal Sheth read her book Always Anjali at 11. Book blurb: “Anjali and her friends are excited to get matching personalized license plates for their bikes. But Anjali can’t find her name. To make matters worse, she gets bullied for her ‘different’ name, and is so upset she demands to change it. When her parents refuse and she is forced to take matters into her own hands, she winds up learning to celebrate who she is and carry her name with pride and power.”

Some of Wild Rumpus bookstore’s resident cats eat lunch while a book is gift wrapped for a customer. If you visit, you can also meet Neil deGrasse Tyson the chicken, one ferret, two doves, two chinchillas, a cockatiel, and a tarantula named Thomas Jefferson (in his cage).

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Photos: Indonesian Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministry
Children on the island of Bangka in Indonesia receive free goggles in a bid by the maritime affairs minister to engage them early in caring for endangered reefs.

It’s never too early to get children interested in nature. And anyone who has contact with young children can help provide experiences that will one day make them want to protect the environment. I’m sure reader Will McM. does that in his Making Music Together classes, and I know my kids and their spouses do that.

Meanwhile across the world, a maritime affairs minister sees hope in her country’s very youngest. Kate Lamb reports for the Guardian, “Indonesia’s maritime affairs minister has come up with an unconventional way to help preserve precious reefs from marine pollution: distribute boatloads of free goggles to children in the archipelago’s remote coastal regions.

“An avid snorkeler who is known for blowing up illegal fishing boats, minister Susi Pudijastuti said she wanted to give the next generation of Indonesians ‘the eyes’ to fully appreciate their marine environment.

“During visits to Indonesia’s remote eastern areas, home to the ‘Coral Triangle’ and some of the most diverse marine life in the world, the minister said she noticed Indonesian children watching tourists snorkelling for hours, not fully understanding what they were doing.

“ ‘I just realised in one moment: how can we ask them, how can we push them to take care of the beauty of the underwater world if they don’t even see how beautiful it is,’ she said, ‘I realised, what we see, they don’t see.’ … Visiting Banggai Laut in Sulawesi, one area where goggles had been distributed, the minister said children were swimming and jumping around, amazed by their reefs. …

“In a country suffering from chronic maritime waste, the minister hopes the initiative will encourage young Indonesians to appreciate their reefs, and in turn inspire them to protect their marine environment. Indonesia is the world’s biggest marine polluter after China, discarding 3.22m metric tons of waste annually. …

“Susi said she was angered when she saw plastic ‘at the beach, on the shore, on the reef, everywhere,’ and took measures to reduce usage in her own ministry. Single-use plastic is banned at Indonesia’s maritime affairs and fisheries ministry, and at all its ministerial events.

“Susi told the Guardian she looked forward to the day when Indonesia could ban single-use plastic altogether.” More at the Guardian, here.

Speaking of single-use plastic, I have recently learned that straws are dangerous to sea turtles and intend to stop using them. But recently at an earthy-crunchy juice bar, plastic straws were all they had. Disappointing. Everyone needs to do their bit.

Indonesian students on the island of Belitung receive free goggles.

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I once read a mystery called Tip on a Dead Crab about a gambler. The title refers to the gambler’s decision to place a bet on a crab race after someone gave him a tip that one of the crabs was dead.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a crab race, and an annual one has been organized for children in New Shoreham. It is the cutest thing ever.

Here you see people catching the crabs from a dock, a little boy wearing his yellow crab-race hat, crabs marked with different colors (pick your own to cheer, win an ice cream), the wooden. blue race track, and the crabs scattering as fast as they can.

I always wondered whether crabs were somehow supposed to race in a straight line like a horse — crabs being what they are. But no. Here’s how it works. The master of ceremonies dumps a bucket full of crabs on a racing board, and when the starting signal is given, he sweeps the bucket off the crabs, and away they go.

The winning crab in Sunday’s race made a beeline sideways and fell off the edge as everyone urged their own crab to go, go go.

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