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Posts Tagged ‘children’


Art: JRR Tolkien
An Oxford exhibit will feature decades of illustrated letters from “Father Christmas” to the children of Middle Earth wizard JRR Tolkien.

This is more of a Christmas post, but as the exhibit won’t go up until next summer, you have time to plan a trip to Oxford, England, to see JRR Tolkien’s illustrated Father Christmas letters. They will be on display from June 1 to October 28, 2018. If you can’t go, there is a heavenly array at the Guardian.

Maev Kennedy writes at the Guardian, “In December 1920 Father Christmas wrote a letter to a modest house in the Oxford suburbs, enclosing a watercolour sketch of his own rather more exotic domed snow house, approached by a flight of steps lit by ice lanterns. ‘I heard you ask Daddy what I was like and where I lived,’ he wrote to three-year-old John Tolkien, and as the family grew to four children, he continued to write every Christmas for 23 years. …

“The illustrated letters continued to arrive every Christmas Eve, sometimes delivered by a postman who had been persuaded to include them with the more boring letters and cards, sometimes materialising on the hearth rug with a handmade stamp. Some years Father Christmas was evidently very busy, and could only pass on the briefest snippets of news, and other years, when he had time on his hands, he could include elaborate multi-layered paintings. One showed his reindeer and sleigh arriving over the Oxford skyline – ‘your house is just about where the three little black points stick up out of shadow on the right.’

“Many recount the adventures of his friend and helper the Polar Bear – in 1926 he accidentally switched on all the Northern Lights – or the goblins who attempted to steal the stored presents in 1932. In one letter Polar Bear ‘found a hole in the side of a hill & went inside because it was snowing.’ He slid down a rocky slope, more rock fell on him, and he could not climb back: ‘But almost at once he smelled goblin & became interested & started to explore. Not very wise for of course goblins can’t hurt HIM but their caves are very dangerous.’

“The snow, the entrance to treacherous caves and the smell of goblin will be instantly familiar to readers of the book Tolkien was working on at the time, The Hobbit, the first of the adventures of Middle-earth. …

“Catherine McIlwaine, Tolkien archivist at the Bodleian, [says,] “There couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of how important his family was to him. He was orphaned from the age of 12, when his mother died, and then he spent years boarded out in lodging houses in Birmingham.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Rahmat Gul/AP
Characters from the Afghan Sesame Street. A MacArthur Foundation grant will enable the Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee to roll out a version for Syrian refugee children.

Even if they make it to relative safety, children often suffer the most from wars and dislocation. In addition to the trauma, there is the problem of education, which is unavailable or spotty in refugee camps.

That is why people of goodwill are reaching out with programs that can both comfort and teach. Jason Beaubien reports on one example at National Public Radio.

“The MacArthur Foundation will give $100 million to Elmo, Big Bird and their buddies to massively scale up early childhood development programs for Syrian refugees.

“Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee won a global competition by the MacArthur Foundation seeking solutions to what the judges called ‘a critical problem of our time.’

” ‘The most important thing to remember is that the humanitarian system is designed to reach people’s immediate needs — to keep people alive, feed them, make sure that they have shelter,’ says Sarah Smith, senior director of education at the IRC. The global humanitarian system, she says, isn’t very good at supporting displaced children. ‘And the fact is these children are likely to stay as refugees for their entire childhood.’ …

“The IRC and Sesame Workshop plan to launch what they’re describing as the ‘largest early childhood intervention program ever created in a humanitarian setting.’ …

“It will be distributed over traditional television channels, the internet and mobile phones. It will also serve as an educational curriculum for childcare centers, health clinics and outreach workers visiting the shelters where refugees live. The workers will deliver books to kids and caregivers.

“Sherrie Westin of Sesame Workshop says … ‘These Muppets will be created to reflect the children’s reality so that children can relate with them. … One of the Muppets may have had to leave home. She may live in a tent. She may become best friends with her new neighbors.’ …

” ‘We know that in their first years of life the trauma that children are experiencing has the greatest impact on them,’ Westin at Sesame Workshop says. ‘And yet they receive the least support.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Ben Fractenberg
Jason Reynolds is a 
New York Times bestselling author, a National Book Award Honoree, a Kirkus Award winner, a Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors.

Some children and teens who think they don’t like literature can really open up to it through poetry that is less intimidating. That’s the view of Jason Reynolds, author of the young adult novel Long Way Down, among others. Recently, he talked to PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff about using poetry to capture the attention of reluctant readers.

“Woodruff: While Hollywood has figured out how to get boys to watch movies, the formula is trickier for getting boys to read, especially among those who have already expressed frustration and boredom with books.

“Reynolds: If you were to tell me that you were afraid of dogs, I wouldn’t then return to you with a pack of pit bulls. … What I might do is casually walk with you by one of those doggy day cares. The ones with the pups small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Yippy little fur balls that get so excited, their tails wag the entire back halves of their bodies. The dogs that grin and want nothing more than to lap your skin with fervent affection. …

“So then, why, when it comes to young people who don’t like reading, who feel intimidated by literature, do we answer that cry with an onslaught of the very thing they fear? Why do we show up with a pack of pit bulls in the form of pages, and expect them to stop running away?

“Perhaps they haven’t found the right style of book because, sometimes it isn’t about subject matter, or voice, or point of view. …

“For some kids, those words [on the page] — the amount of words — is equivalent to a snarling dog. So, why not start with the less threatening, palm-sized pup in the window? In this case, poetry.

“Poetry has the ability to create entire moments with just a few choice words. The spacing and line breaks create rhythm, a helpful musicality, a natural flow. The separate stanzas aid in perpetuating a kind of incremental reading, one small chunk at a time.

“And the white space, for an intimidated reader, adds breathability to a seemingly suffocating task. …

“With the incredible selection of poetry and novels and verse from past to present, this is an opportune time to use them to chip away at bibliophobia. Less words on the page, more white space, without necessarily sacrificing the narrative elements.

“And once young people experience turning those pages, once the rush of comprehension and completion laps at their psyches for the first time, perhaps they will know they need not fear a thing created to love them, and for them to love.”

Read a 50-word poetic narrative that Reynolds wrote to draw in kids, here. See also this post on “poetry slams,” another way to get young people engaged in language arts.

My thanks to poet Ronnie Hess for posting the Reynolds piece on Facebook.

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treasurehunt

Photo: No Strings Marionette Company
In this production,
Treasure Hunt, a boy called Jim is lured out to sea, where he encounters a mermaid, “a giant clam, a fish that swallows him whole, an electric eel and an angry octopus guarding his treasure.”

Tuesday night at the Trapp Family Lodge, my husband and I watched a charming puppet show about a fox called Sharp Ears. The show was created and performed by the Vermont-based No Strings Marionette Company. Our four grandchildren were too tired for theater after a day of skiing, but we were charmed — especially by unusual marionettes like the frog, the chicken and chicks, the rooster, the grasshopper, the cow, and the numerous butterflies and flying bugs. And in case the theatrical company’s title threw you off, the puppets do have strings.

We very much enjoyed hanging around afterwards to listen to the questions that children asked the puppeteers: how do you make puppets? how do you make them move? how did you make the bench? did you paint your sets or buy them? do you have other shows?

Puppeteers Dan Baginski and Barbara Paulson have about 12 other shows, which they tour widely, keeping them so busy that the story of Sharp Ears took them two years to create at night — instead of the four months in which they could have finished if they’d been able to work nonstop.  “Sharp Ears” is still new, not even up on the website yet.

The show was based on the Czech story called “The Adventures of the Vixen Known as Sharp Ears,” on which the opera The Cunning Little Vixen is also based. In this version, a henpecked woodcutter who’d rather hang out in nature than do his chores brings home a fox as a pet for his grandson, with unfortunate consequences for the farm.

Dan and Barbara, says their website, “have toured America together for over sixteen years.  Their traveling stage transforms any space into an intimate theater, where the seamless blend of movement, music and masterful manipulation captivates young and old alike.

“With puppeteers in full view,  the audience sees how the puppets are brought to life. These Vermont artisans lovingly hand craft the marionettes, props and scenery, whether for an original tale or an adaptation of a classic.

“Shows begin with an interactive song featuring audience members, and finish with demonstrations sparked by the audiences’ curious questions.”

More here.

Photo: No Strings Marionette Company
Puppet characters from
The Hobbit.

hobbit

 

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Photo: Lisa Nolan
A child called Melissa painted artist Lisa Nolan’s portrait of her at Lowell’s Making Art with Artists program in 2015. When artists work with children, freedom to create is the name of the game.

Did you catch the National Public Radio story about a free art camp in Michigan? I read about it at ArtsJournal, one of my favorite sources.

My friend and former boss Meredith Fife Day led a similar program in Lowell, Massachusetts, called Making Art with Artists. It was amazing.

Zak Rosen at NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday interviewed one of artists behind the Michigan arts camp.

“In Hamtramck, Mich., a working class city almost surrounded by Detroit, camp is not affordable for many kids. An artist has started a camp inspired by adventure playgrounds and neighborhood artists. …

“Hamtramck is formerly a working-class Polish city. But in recent years, there’s been a huge surge of other immigrants, many from Bangladesh and Yemen. Accompanying that surge have been lots of artists who work to put community at the center of their practice, people like Faina Lerman. [Lerman and her husband have] eight open lots.

“They garden on a few of them, but that still leaves plenty of space for other stuff. And in this part of the city, there aren’t any playgrounds. So this summer, Lerman and some neighborhood artists started a free, week-long day camp. …

“Camp Carpenter does not have a stated mission. If it did, it might be, let’s just do this and see what happens. And adults are here to help, not to lead.

“LERMAN: I feel like everything is just very over structured for kids. Like, they don’t have even the space to make their own decisions or to let their minds expand to different ways of learning or gathering information.

“ROSEN: So here, the structure is intentionally loose. But by the end of the week, there is the start of an adventure playground, built in part by the campers. …

“ROSEN: One young camper, Jimmy Engalan, is learning how to use a hammer. A less patient adult may have allowed him a few whacks of the nail and then taken over — but not teaching artist Liza Bielby. …

“She watches Jimmy until he drives the nail all the way down into a wood pallet. It takes 258 knocks. I counted — 258. But he does it. …

“ANGILENA OMOLARA-FOX: I’m Angilena Omolara-Fox, and I am 11 years old. I made a pillow. I made a dress. I helped with the little fort thing over there.

“ROSEN: So would you come back to camp?

“ANGILENA: Yes, because I don’t really get a lot of chances to use tools and to make, like, things that I would like to make.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Milwaukee Public Schools
Sarah Wenzel and her class at Forest Home Elementary demonstrate a series of poses from the YogaKids cards, http://www.yogakids.com.

When I was in kindergarten, someone would come to play the piano and we children would walk in a circle pretending to be giraffes (re-e-eaching!) and elephants (swinging gently while bent over).

Just the other day, I realized that those kindergarten stretches were the same as stretches I’ve been doing for my back.

Decades ago, schools like mine were helping kids exercise for health. Now an increasing number of studies suggest that moving while in class helps children’s brains learn better, too.

Donna de la Cruz writes at the NY Times, “Sit still. It’s the mantra of every classroom. But that is changing as evidence builds that taking brief activity breaks during the day helps children learn and be more attentive in class, and a growing number of programs designed to promote movement are being adopted in schools. …

“A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that children who are more active ‘show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.’ And a study released in January by Lund University in Sweden shows that students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.

“ ‘Daily physical activity is an opportunity for the average school to become a high-performing school,’ said Jesper Fritz, a doctoral student at Lund University and physician at the Skane University Hospital in Malmo, who was the study’s lead author. …

“ ‘Kids aren’t meant to sit still all day and take in information,’ said Steve Boyle, one of the co-founders of the National Association of Physical Literacy, which aims to bring movement into schools. ‘Adults aren’t wired that way either.’

“Mr. Boyle’s association has introduced a series of three- to five-minute videos called ‘BrainErgizers‘ that are being used in schools and Boys and Girls Clubs in 15 states and in Canada, Mexico, Ireland and Australia, he said. A version of the program is available to schools at no charge. …

“ ‘At the end of the week, kids have gotten an hour or more worth of movement, and it’s all done in the classroom with no special equipment,’ Mr. Boyle said. ‘We’re not looking to replace gym classes, we’re aiming to give kids more minutes of movement per week. And by introducing sports into the videos, giving kids a chance to try sports they may not have ever tried before.’ ”

To read more at the NY Times, click here.

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One of my grandsons goes to a Montessori school where the four-year-olds make lots of maps. They use templates to trace the continents (above).

Which is why I was intrigued to see a delightful National Geographic article about the map juvenalia of professional cartographers.

Betsy Mason wrote, “So many of the cartographers I’ve gotten to know while writing about maps seem to genuinely love their jobs.

It’s one of those professions with a disproportionate number of people who are really happy to be there.

“I suspect that one reason for this could be that many of them have loved maps since they were kids, and they’ve managed to turn that love into a career.

“This collection of childhood maps made by eight professional cartographers backs up that theory. I interviewed each of them about their early mapmaking, how they found their way into cartography, and what they love about their jobs today.

“Their stories all have their individual quirks, but there are some common threads. Several of them recall spending family trips poring over a road atlas in the back seat, for example. And some can still recall the precise moment when they knew they would make maps for a living.”

Here is Mason’s report on one of the two female mapmakers in the article.

“A class assignment to map out a family fire-escape plan probably seemed like more than just an exercise to young Rosemary Wardley. A couple of years earlier, some sheds behind her house had caught on fire.

” ‘I’m sure that was in the back of my mind,’ she says.

“And that’s likely why none of the paths she drew for her family members went out the back door toward the sheds. On the other hand, she deemed it perfectly safe to direct her oldest sister to jump into a pine tree outside of a second-story window …

“The hallway outside of ‘Rosie’s room’ was covered in U.S. Geological Survey topographical maps, and this wall was often Wardley’s first stop after a drive or a hike.

” ‘I always kind of went back there and had my dad point out where we had gone,’ she says. ‘Thinking back, that’s definitely the biggest thing that influenced me as a cartographer. It just made me have that love of geography.’

“Today, Wardley works at National Geographic, where she says the cartography is very collaborative. She makes maps for stories such as a photographer’s trek across China, but a lot of her time is spent editing and working with the data that goes into the maps. It’s the variety that appeals to her most, she says.”

Click to see maps the cartographers made in childhood.

Thank you for putting the link on Facebook, Asakiyume. I wouldn’t have known about this otherwise.

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