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2020-07-24-disability-doll

Photo: Sam Butler
“Two-year-old Lula-Belle Butler-Wenlock-Simpson, who was born with heart problems and underwent open-heart surgery, poses with a Special Friends doll whose scar mirrors her own,” explains PRI.

At Public Radio International (PRI), a distributor of some of my favorite shows, I recently learned about personalized dolls for children with disabilities and other big challenges. Bianca Hillier reported the story at PRI’s “The World.”

“Dolls have come a long way since the 1950s. One of the first TV commercials for Mattel Inc.’s Barbie doll sang: ‘Barbie’s small and so petite. Her clothes and figure look so neat.’

“While modern-day dolls aren’t confined to quite as rigid looks, the industry still has room to expand its inclusivity — especially for children with disabilities.

“That’s the challenge Victoria Band faced when her son was growing up. He is deaf in both ears and uses hearing aids. When he was younger, she wanted to give him a doll that also used hearing aids to show that he was not alone.

“ ‘When he went to his [medical appointments], he’d say, “Mommy, it’s a scary place at first. You don’t know what’s happening. You don’t know what [the hearing aids] are going to look like,” ‘ Band said. ‘So if [only] there was a doll there and they could say, “Oh, look, this is what you’re going to have in your ears. Look at all the different colors you could have.” ‘ …

“Band, who has always been crafty, started making her own dolls last year. She called the business ‘Special Friends.’

Working from her home in Dewsbury, England, she now makes dolls who have scars, cleft lips, hearing aids, oxygen tanks, or anything else that matches a child’s special needs. Many of the dolls are custom-made. …

“Band’s handmade dolls have since helped hundreds of kids, including a little girl named Lula-Belle who was born with heart problems and had open heart surgery at 14 weeks old. Lula-Belle is 2 years old now and has a scar down the middle of her chest. Her mom, Sam Butler, found out about ‘Special Friends’ on Facebook. …

“ ‘When she got her first doll, she was like, “Mommy, scar! Scar! Scar! Me scar, me scar!” ‘ Butler recalled. ‘And she pulled up her top. And she was matching scars with her baby.’ …

“Special Friends has been up and running for less than a year, but Band has already sent dolls beyond the United Kingdom to Germany, the US, and Australia. She says seeing the reactions come in from around the world is priceless.

“ ‘You can’t ask for much more than seeing a child really happy,’ Band said. ‘That’s worth more than anything.’

“Band added that the dolls can also be used as an educational tool to teach kids about medical equipment, surgeries, and conditions they may not know about. People need to be ‘more aware,’ she said, so that other children aren’t made to feel different in the first place.”

More at PRI, here.

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Image: GamesRadar
This video game for children is all about joy, love, peace … and being silly.

I know almost nothing about video games, other than that my grandchildren are fascinated by them. But a recent article in the Los Angeles Times opened my mind to how important they can be.

Todd Martens writes at the Los Angeles Times, ” ‘Meow!’

“Artist and unconventional game developer Keita Takahashi has just overheard a feline through the telephone line. He laughs and begins asking questions about said cat. It’s the moment Takahashi seems most comfortable and chatty during our long-distance interview, a detour from discussing his latest game, which is about explosions, golden poop and, ultimately, how to be better people.

“ ‘Wattam,’ the long-awaited work from the developer behind the endearing cult smash ‘Katamari Damacy,’ itself a jubilant celebration of fun and optimism, is also about seeking out the joy in the everyday, namely the objects that surround us and can sometimes be taken for granted. If it existed in the world of ‘Wattam,’ for example, a random cat’s meow would be cause for celebration, a reminder that beauty and joy is not only everywhere but too often fleeting.

“Yes, that’s heavy stuff for a game in which a walking and talking mouth might devour an anthropomorphic apple and then turn the latter into a human-like piece of feces that wants to spread love, but Takahashi’s metaphorical approach to game-making is one in which play is utilized as an expressionist tool. …

Objects are simply excuses to explore interactions, to show that a toilet, a telephone, an acorn, an octopus toy, an onion, a nose, a castle-sized cake and a bounty of other random things can and should live in harmony.

“ ‘Wattam,’ Takahashi says, was inspired by watching his two younger children play. He wanted to create something that presented a more hopeful view of the world.

“ ‘Kids are so great,’ the Japanese developer says. ‘They can enjoy everything, even small things. They can run around and be happy and then suddenly cry or get angry. But they can get that happy feeling back so quickly. That’s unbelievable. That’s like a different creature.’ …

“In ‘Wattam,’ as in ‘Katamari Damacy,’ there’s an underlying sense of rebuilding the world, of correcting a past generational mistake. … Objects are drawn in the bold, rounded colors of infant toys sprung to life; they slowly and awkwardly wobble, bumping into one another and even crawling and climbing all over one another.

“There are occasional missions — retrieve a receiver to stop a telephone set from crying, or create a body of water to prevent the season of summer from being sad — but mostly ‘Wattam’ is about wonder: What happens if I climb a tree? What happens if I explode? What happens if I get eaten? …

“When he lays it all out, it becomes clear why one of the core abilities of ‘Wattam’ is holding hands. Solutions in the game can come just from creating giant dance circles, of watching the hand of a flower touch that of a crown. But be careful of the latter: ‘[inventory] descriptions tell us that those who wear a crown — those who flaunt their power — are ‘susceptible to losing it.’

“Upon arriving in Vancouver and discovering its diversity, Takahashi marveled that the city functioned without everyone warring with one another.

“ ‘For me, it was very impressive,’ he says of the shift in cultural points of view. ‘There were so many different races of people in Vancouver. They speak different languages, like different Asian or European languages. They speak English. They work together. …

” ‘I just believe that while differences make so many problems, it’s differences that make our cultures more deep, more nice, and make our perspective more wide. I just wanted to make a video game about our differences, but a game that would get over our differences.’ …

“While Takahashi’s ultimate goal for ‘Wattam’ may be to strengthen communication between us, he’ll be content, no doubt, if the game’s audience simply finds a greater appreciation in all that surround us.

“ ‘When I find a very nice very small object — beautiful fruit at the grocery store, or nice plants in the flower shop — I’m just happy,’ he says. ‘I don’t need to go on vacation. … I’m happy to just be in a peaceful environment. I’m happy to walk around the city and take the bus.’ ”

More here.

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2019-11-04-nest_51

Photo: Erin Siegal McIntyre/the World
Three-year-old Kevin, whose family fled cartel violence in Michoacán, Mexico, plays at the light table with magnetic blocks at the Nest Tijuana, an informal preschool set up by a California educator.

Speaking of migrant kids who can’t register for school at the border, here’s a related story about an informal preschool that kind hearts have set up in Tijuana. The story comes from a show I like called the World at Public Radio International (PRI).

Sasha Khokha reports, “Classical music plays, silk curtains blow in the wind, and comfy couches offer a place to curl up with a book. There are wooden toys, colorful magnetic blocks and crayons organized by color in glass jars. Children use light projectors to make patterns and shapes on the walls.

“It may sound like a high-end early childhood education center in California, but this is Tijuana.

“Most students and their parents come from other parts of Mexico where there have been recent surges in drug cartel violence. They are waiting for their numbers to be called to enter the United States at the San Ysidro port of entry and hope to lodge claims for asylum. For many, the wait can last several weeks or longer, during which children have little to do.

“Alise Shafer Ivey, a longtime early childhood director from Santa Monica, California, opened this informal preschool, the Nest, in September. It’s attached to a migrant shelter in this Mexican border city. Nothing else like it exists. …

“Patricia’s 2-year-old daughter is one of the new students at the Nest. On the journey to Tijuana, Patricia said her two girls kept asking where their dad was. But how could Patricia tell them? They couldn’t even go to the funeral. It was too dangerous to show up to bury her husband, she said. …

“‘These kids have seen things no child should see,’ Ivey said. ‘They’ve been stripped of their homelands, they’ve left their families behind. They’ve been stuffed in trunks of cars and crossed over borders. … To think we’re going to deliver them to a kindergarten in the US and think it’s going to go well? Not necessarily.’ …

“The idea for the Nest began with a trip Ivey took to Lesbos, Greece, after retiring from decades of directing the Evergreen Community School in Santa Monica. She met a relief worker who invited her to visit a refugee camp, which then housed mostly Syrian refugees.

“Children were ‘digging in the dirt, playing with nails in their pockets,’ Ivey said. ‘They had old cigarette lighters that they had found. There was nothing for children.’

“Ivey offered to set up a space for refugee kids to play. She returned to California and raised $10,000 through a nonprofit she helped found, the Pedagogical Institute of Los Angeles. She went on to set up Nests on another Greek island called Samos, then two more in the Congo. …

“The Tijuana Nest got its start after Ivey visited the shelter across the street, where Patricia and her girls sought refuge. Ivey said she instantly connected with Leticia Herrera Hernández, who runs the shelter. They’re both believers in prioritizing the needs of children, especially when parents are going through trauma, Ivey said. …

” ‘The kids would just spend their days playing on their parents’ phones, having tantrums, and we’d be trying to get them to play to entertain themselves,’ Herrera said in Spanish. …

“At parent orientation night at the Nest, Ivey did what she would do back at her former school in Santa Monica: She laid out a spread with wine and cheese. She talked to the parents about brain science and neural pathways, and explained why memorizing ABCs is not enough.

“ ‘The more we talk to children about their ideas and ask them “I wonder how that would work?” Not quizzing them, but just wondering with them, the more all of those parts of the brain are activated,’ Ivey told the parents, many of whom had never been able to send their kids to preschool in their hometowns. …

“Julieta and Kevin fled cartel violence in Michoacán. When they arrived in Tijuana in August, he had a really hard time accepting the shelter as home. He would hit other kids, yell at them. The Nest has helped him to adjust.

“ ‘Now he doesn’t fight. He plays with the other kids,’ Julieta said in Spanish (The World isn’t using her real name to protect her identity since she is fleeing violence). ‘I used to have to grab him so he would turn and listen to me. Now he turns and looks at me. He reaches for my hand.’ …

“Waiting, watching and letting kids problem-solve has been eye-opening for some parents.

“ ‘I’ve learned to be a better dad,’ said Alfredo, another asylum-seeker who has been volunteering at the Nest (The World isn’t using his real name to protect him from being located by a cartel he said had targeted his family). ‘I used to tell them, “No, do it this way. Because I said so.” And I learned that I was wrong. Having them do things on their own gives them more confidence in their decisions.’ ”

More at the World, here.

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Photo: Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe
Dana Mendes held his niece, Izariel Brown, 5, as he walked around Boston’s annual Christmas in the City, a happy event for homeless children.

The other day, I was talking to a woman about her idyllic-sounding childhood on the island of Dominica in the West Indies. One thing that she mentioned really struck me. No one was homeless. People looked after each other, she said.

That is how it should be, I thought. In a country like the US, where there is enough wealth to house and care for everyone if we have the will, I’m naturally grateful that homeless children get a joyful day in December but can’t help wishing that their happiness didn’t get rolled up and put away afterward.

In this update on the giant Boston Christmas party that started small in 1989, we learn about the illness of event founder and lead organizer Jack Kennedy, who wouldn’t miss this party for the world.

Naomi Martin writes at the Boston Globe, “The children and parents awoke Sunday in homeless shelters around Greater Boston and boarded school buses, some with no idea where they were going other than to a Christmas event.

“As they entered the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, solemn faces broke into wide smiles and dropped jaws as they stepped onto a red carpet toward people waving and applauding them, along with extravagantly costumed characters — Disney princesses and Superman, Star Wars storm troopers and the Incredibles — all there to welcome them. Snowflake confetti fluttered. Lights sparkled. Parents dance-walked to the upbeat Christmas tunes, filming their children’s faces on phones, some with tears in their eyes.

“ ‘Wow, it’s beautiful!’ said Aylajoy Dufresne, 5, who wore a pink tutu, as she ran to princess Elena of Avalor and hugged her. ‘Elena!’ …

“Thousands of volunteers rallied this year to serve more than 6,000 people from dozens of shelters at the 31st annual Christmas in the City, which has grown from a small gathering at City Hall in 1989 to a massive party thrown for families struggling with homelessness.

“The event featured performances by the Blue Man Group, a gospel choir, and an Afro-Caribbean band, as well as a petting zoo, amusement rides, Santa Claus photo booths, face paint, manicures, haircuts, dental screenings, flu shots, and white-clothed tables holding pizza, chicken tenders, and gingerbread cookies.

“This year took on particular poignancy because the founder and lead organizer, Jake Kennedy, 64, has been diagnosed with ALS, which took the lives of his father and brother. Kennedy’s son, Zack, a neuroscientist at University of Massachusetts Medical School, has dedicated himself to researching a cure for the lethal disease. …

“Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston stood onstage beside Kennedy and his wife, Sparky, and expressed his gratitude and admiration of Jake Kennedy.

“ ‘Many of you in this room might not know him personally, but he does this because he loves you,’ Walsh said. ,,,

“Offstage, Kennedy struggled to speak, though he made a point to say one thing.

“ ‘When you ask people what they like best — the winter wonderland, Santa, the food, the Blue Man Group — they all reply,

‘ “This is the first time in our lives we’ve been treated with dignity and compassion,” ‘ Kennedy said. ‘That’s because of the volunteers.’ …

“Many parents said they were thrilled to see their children laughing and having fun with activities they can rarely access.

“ ‘I don’t want to miss anything; this is beautiful,’ said Anthony Raye, as he and his son, Antonio, 10, plotted their next moves: face-painting and visiting animals. …

“By a ‘salon’ sign, hairstylists buzzed, cut, and blow-dried the hair of parents and kids. Aaron Lauderdale, 7, received a mohawk, his face painted like a green Grinch.

“ ‘This is the one and only time I’ll let him have a mohawk,’ said his mother, Natashia Lauderdale. ‘This is his day. I’m just along for the ride. I feel like a big little kid all over again.’

“A parade led by men playing bagpipes filed through the room, followed by Santa Claus on a raised platform. The Kennedys led a countdown, prompting a red curtain to rise on one wall, leading to a winter wonderland of amusement rides and a petting zoo. Children clamored for a carousel, flying chair swings, bouncy castles, super slides, trampolines, and a rock-climbing wall. …

“Amelia McCauley pushed her 2-year-old, Lauryal, in a stroller. ‘I feel special,’ she said. ‘I don’t know when something like this is going to come by again, so I just want to enjoy it.’ ” More here.

 

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Photo: Wikimedia
Paper theaters like the one above were popular with children in England in the 19th century. Robert Louis Stevenson never forgot his.

Children love to put on plays. I know I did, and I see my own grandchildren acting out stories as if on “The Stage.” One form of children’s theater, popular in England in the 19th century, involved paper cutouts.

As Amelia Soth writes at JSTOR Daily, “In the Regency era (early 1800s), live theater was so popular that it regularly inspired riots. In 1809, when the Covent Garden Theater tried to raise ticket prices, audiences were so incensed that they revolted. For more than two months straight, they shouted, shook rattles, rung bells, and even brought pigs into the theater to drown out the actors. The protest was successful, and the administration gave up on the price hike. …

“People were hungry for entertainment. And in this time before Netflix and YouTube, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring entertainment into the home: paper theaters. For ‘one penny plain, two cents colored,’ you got a tiny cardboard stage about the size of a paperback book, complete with a proscenium arch, curtains, and sometimes even a paper audience. The characters were laid out on sheets of paper, frozen in dramatic poses: villains brandish revolvers capped with clouds of gunpowder, jolly sailors hook arms and dance, clowns emerge from barrels. …

“Then there are the sets, storybook illustrations of extravagant palaces and howling wildernesses, to be slotted in and out of the back of the theater, behind the cavorting characters. The scripts that came with them were as miniaturized as the stage, heavily abridged and censored for children’s ears and attention spans.

“Despite the scripts, it’s easy to imagine how these stories would have expanded in the hands of the children who played with them — how the plots would zigzag, how the characters would migrate from one story to another, how scribbled additions would enrich the pre-drawn scenery.

[When] Goethe’s son August put on shows in his paper theater, the family cat always served as one of the performers. …

“The magic of the paper theater was not that it allowed children to replicate a beloved play in their home; it was that it provided them with the raw materials either to copy or create, to follow or subvert, as they saw fit.

“Perhaps this is why this short-lived children’s toy left such an enduring cultural legacy. Before Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, before Jean Cocteau directed his iconic, dreamlike Beauty and the Beast, before Wagner composed his Ring Cycle, they each acted out their big stories on these tiny stages.

“As the literary scholar Monica Cohen points out, Stevenson’s Treasure Island reads almost like a paper-theater drama writ large. Pirates were an unshakeable cliché of Victorian melodrama, and the grim tales of cruelty and violence that featured on the Victorian stage were brightened into candy colors in their miniature theater editions. Likewise, Stevenson’s dashing pirates come to us filtered through a sunny lens. ‘As a toy theater pirate,’ Cohen writes, ‘Billy Bones is a copy of a copy.’

“Remembering the shop where he purchased toy theaters in his youth, Skelt’s Juvenile Drama, Stevenson wrote: ‘Every sheet we fingered was another lightning glance into obscure, delicious story; it was like wallowing in the raw stuff of story-books. I know nothing to compare with it save now and then in dreams, when I am privileged to read in certain unwrit stories of adventure, from which I awake to find the world all vanity.’

“He continued, ‘What am I? what are life, art, letters, the world, but what my Skelt has made them? He stamped himself upon my immaturity. The world was plain before I knew him, a poor penny world; but soon it was all coloured with romance.’ ”

Read more here.

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Abstract Expressionist artist Mark Rothko had strong opinions on how to teach children art without dampening their natural creativity.

The little I know about modern artist Mark Rothko is from a theatrical production called Red that I saw in Boston. It was pretty comprehensive, but I don’t believe it covered Rothko’s views on teaching art to children. That is something I learned about from an Artsy editorial.

Sarah Gottesman wrote, “If you’ve ever seen Mark Rothko’s paintings — large canvases filled with fields of atmospheric color — and thought, ‘a child could do this,’ you’ve paid the Abstract Expressionist a compliment.

“Rothko greatly admired children’s art, praising the freshness, authenticity, and emotional intensity of their creations. And he knew children’s art well, working as an art teacher for over 20 years at the Brooklyn Jewish Center. To his students — kindergarteners through 8th graders — Rothko wasn’t an avant-garde visionary or burgeoning art star, he was ‘Rothkie.’ ‘A big bear of a man, the friendliest, nicest, warmest member of the entire school,’ his former student Martin Lukashok once recalled.

“Rothko was a thought leader in the field of children’s art education. He published an essay on the topic (‘New Training for Future Artists and Art Lovers’) in 1934, which he hoped to follow up with a book. Though he never completed the project, he left behind 49 sheets of notes, known as ‘The Scribble Book,’ which detailed his progressive pedagogy — and from which we’ve taken five lessons that Rothko wanted all art teachers to know.

“Lesson #1: Show your students that art is a universal form of expression, as elemental as speaking or singing

“Rothko taught that everyone can make art — even those without innate talent or professional training. According to the painter, art is an essential part of the human experience. … For Rothko, art was all about expression — transforming one’s emotions into visual experiences that everyone can understand. And kids do this naturally. …

“Lesson #2: Beware of suppressing a child’s creativity with academic training

“As Rothko saw it, a child’s expressiveness is fragile. When art teachers assign projects with strict parameters or emphasize technical perfection, this natural creativity can quickly turn to conformity. ‘The fact that one usually begins with drawing is already academic,’ Rothko explains. ‘We start with color.’ …

“When children entered his art room, all of their working materials — from brushes to clay — were already set up, ready for them to select and employ in free-form creations. No assignments needed.

“ ‘Unconscious of any difficulties, they chop their way and surmount obstacles that might turn an adult grey, and presto!’ Rothko describes. ‘Soon their ideas become visible in a clearly intelligent form.’ With this flexibility, his students developed their own unique artistic styles, from the detail-oriented to the wildly expressive. …

“Lesson #3: Stage exhibitions of your students’ works …

“For Rothko, an art teacher’s premier responsibility was to inspire children’s self-confidence. To do this, he organized public exhibitions of his students’ works across New York City, including a show of 150 pieces at the Brooklyn Museum in 1934. And when Rothko had his first solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum a year earlier, he brought his students’ works along with him and exhibited them next to his own. … Rothko wanted critics to see that fine art only requires emotional intensity to be successful.

“Lesson #4: Introduce art history with modern art (not the Old Masters) …

“With 20th-century art, children can learn from works that are similar to their own, whether through the paintings of Henri Matisse, Milton Avery, or Pablo Picasso. These iconic artists sought pure, personal forms of visual expression, free from the technical standards of the past. … But while exposure to modern art can help boost children’s confidence and creativity, it shouldn’t interfere with the development of a unique style. Rothko discouraged his students from mimicking museum works as well as his own painting practice. …

“Lesson #5: Work to cultivate creative thinkers, not professional artists

“In addition to fanning students’ creative instincts, great art teachers can help students become more self-aware, empathetic, and collaborative — and this generates better citizens in the long run, Rothko believed. At the Brooklyn Jewish Center, he hardly cared whether his students would go on to pursue careers in the arts. Instead, Rothko focused on cultivating in his students a deep appreciation for artistic expression.

“ ‘Most of these children will probably lose their imaginativeness and vivacity as they mature,’ he wrote. ‘But a few will not. And it is hoped that in their cases, the experience of eight years [in my classroom] will not be forgotten and they will continue to find the same beauty about them. As to the others, it is hoped, that their experience will help them to revive their own early artistic pleasures in the work of others.’ ”

More here.

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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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Photo: Social Candy
Milwaukee Ballet dancer and teacher, Janel Meindersee, tries out a wheelchair herself as she teaches her students. Parents watch with pride.

Heartbreaking as it is to see anyone make fun of a person with a disability, which does happen in these harsh times, it’s important to remember the advice that the mother of Mister Rogers gave him long ago: “Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

In Milwaukee, some unusual helpers are found in a dance company.

Amy Schwabe writes at Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel, “Nine-year-old Namine Eiche may be in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop her from being a ballet dancer. That’s thanks to Tour de Force, a partnership between Milwaukee Ballet and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin that’s been providing ballet classes to children with disabilities since 2014.

“Just last year, the opportunity was opened up to children in wheelchairs through the ‘Glissade’ class, very appropriately named since ‘glissade’ is the French word for ‘glide.’

“Janel Meindersee, a Milwaukee Ballet dancer who teaches Glissade, explained how the children are able to dance.

” ‘We teach a lot of the same things as a normal ballet class — how to spot your head when you move, the quality of arm movements, how to count music and how to stay in line when dancing together,’ Meindersee said. …

“Meindersee said that seeing kids in wheelchairs in other Tour de Force classes was the impetus for Glissade.

” ‘There was a girl in a wheelchair coming to one of our other Tour de Force classes,’ Meindersee said. ‘She was able to get out of her wheelchair sometimes, but she was most comfortable in her chair. We thought there had to be other kids who can’t even get out of their chairs at all. …

“After having taught two sessions of Glissade, Meindersee is ‘blown away’ by the skill, talent and strength of her students — especially when she gets in a wheelchair herself to try out the dance moves. She laughs with her students, pointing out that she’s not as skilled in wheelchair maneuvers as her students are.”

More at the Journal Sentinel, here. Just imagine the joy and self-confidence of these young dancers take home with them after a class. Perhaps some will join one of the professional wheelchair ballets someday. Or start their own company.

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Photo: The Human Rights Warrior
New study suggests that children exposed to music from other ethnic groups become more tolerant.

Numerous studies have shown that children pick up biases against other ethnic and racial groups at a very young age. Here’s a study suggesting that the music of other cultures can temper that process.

Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard, “Ethnocentrism remains a fact of life in both Europe and the United States. Combating it will require teaching a new generation to view members of different cultures as potential friends rather than threatening outsiders. But what mode of communication has the power to stimulate such a shift?

“New research from Portugal suggests the answer may be music. It reports schoolchildren around age 11 who learned about the music and culture of a faraway land expressed warmer feelings toward immigrants from that country than those who did not. What’s more, those positive emotions were still evident three months after this exposure to the foreign culture. …

“[The] study, published in the journal Psychology of Music, featured 229 Portuguese sixth graders, all living in greater Lisbon. Two-thirds came from blue-collar families.

“The students began by filling out a survey in which they were presented with 10 personal traits — five positive (including ‘hard-working’ and ‘honest’) and five negative (including ‘stupid’ and ‘lazy’). They were asked to pick those that applied to members of three ethnic groups common to the Lisbon area: Portuguese, Brazilian, or Cape Verdean people. …

“For the next six months, half of the students took part in a specially designed ‘cross-cultural music education program.’ During the 20 sessions, each of which was 90 minutes long, they learned about Cape Verdean culture, and listened and sang to both Portuguese and Cape Verdean songs.

“At the end of the program, all the students again filled out the survey in which they evaluated people of the three ethnicities.

“Among those who took the class, ‘prejudice towards Cape Verdean people was reduced,’ the researchers report. ‘Attitudes towards other groups were not altered.’

“In contrast, prejudice did not drop among those who did not take the class. A follow-up three months later found the same pattern held for all of the youngsters, meaning the prejudice reduction for those who took the course had stuck.”

More here.

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