Yesterday, we decorated our house for Christmas—put up the tree and all that other stuff that makes me feel warm, cozy, and slightly claustrophobic. What was I thinking?! Why did I let this happen?! Just because the family is coming to our house for Thanksgiving this year, was it really necessary to make the ridiculous snap decision that we need to have a Christmas tree backdrop? Arrgghhh! Have I really allowed myself to fall prey to the annoying idea of a perpetual Christmas? I’ve been brainwashed! Every holiday deserves its own personal space, without being bullied by the next! My family always does all this decorating the Sunday AFTER Thanksgiving, not the Saturday before. This is beginning to feel like a downward spiral. What’s gonna happen next year? Turkey BEFORE Halloween candy?! A Charlie Brown Christmas BEFORE It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? I’ve always sworn I’d never give in to this insanity. Somebody, please, help me before it’s too late!
Hmm . . . box it all back up and wait until next Sunday, you say? Are you KIDDING me? Do you know how LONG it took to get all that junk out? I guess I’ll just ignore all the lights and glitter-covered floors and focus on my classroom, where we are actually going to be focusing solely on the Thanksgiving holiday for the next two days. Well . . . um . . . that is . . . except for those letters to Santa the local newspaper wants BEFORE the end of November.
Every year, in the fall and winter, I try to fit meaningful lessons on the history of Thanksgiving within a sequence of social studies teachings about government, history, world cultures, and tolerance, beginning around Election Day in November and ending sometime in February, after Presidents’ Day. It’s important to me that students leave my second grade classroom with a better understanding of the people and events that have shaped the wonderful world around us. Thanksgiving is a natural time to learn the importance of tolerance, since the Pilgrims had to leave their familiar homeland and risk their lives to continue to practice their faith in their own way, which leads to more discussion about the birth of our nation and our independence from British rule. Plus, it has been my experience that most second graders LOVE history (even if they don’t always quite grasp the time perspective)! They really latch onto some events and figures of the past, asking questions that lead us to dive in even deeper and, occasionally, to their own independent research. Sometimes, perhaps, we may dig in a little more than is expected at this level, but as long as I fit in all the required standards and the kids are excited about learning, who really cares if we take a few historical detours in the curriculum here and there? (expressed with the utmost respect for all of my school administrators—past, present, and future)
Remember when you were a little kid and all you knew about the world was what was happening in your own community and what you saw on TV? I do. My world knowledge and understanding of others’ experiences were very limited. Since becoming a teacher, I’ve been determined to provide my students with a smidge of extra insight into the world around them that they can build upon in the future. They may not retain it all, like some can never seem to remember that they’ve actually been taught to use capitalization and punctuation. But, I do try. And, to be completely honest, I still enjoy learning about history and different cultures when searching through new resources to prepare lessons and find answers to kids’ questions.
I haven't had much time to post about the cute things kids say in class lately, but there have been a couple of recent Thanksgiving highlights. One day last week, I did a little informal preassessment to see how much they already knew about the history of the holiday. On white boards, I asked them to quickly sketch the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Thanksgiving. After about 3/4 of the class finished tracing their hands to symbolize rainbow-colored turkey feathers, we were treated to dry-erase masterpieces of cooked turkeys and large hams. In the discussion that followed, it was shared that the holiday exists so that we can give thanks to the pilgrims. Soooo, after that, we had some fun learning about the real history of the holiday (which, surprisingly, doesn’t actually include Rainbow Brite turkeys).
We talk about our country's beginning under British rule and I always try to make it clear that the King of England was "the boss of us," even though we were living thousands of miles away and trying to build a new home. A couple of years ago, I realized the importance of making sure the kids REALLY understand that this period in history was over 200 years ago and that we have long since been allied with the British. Two kids came to school and told me that they had been having nightmares about a monsterous king and that they and their families were being chased around by Redcoats.
Tomorrow begins our Thanksgiving Break and, first thing this morning, I noticed a pile of stuff a student accidentally left on a chair yesterday afternoon. I walked over to clean it up and this was written on a folder lying on top. How sweet is that? I'm thankful for our class too.
Always on the lookout for new ways to expand students’ awareness of the world around them, last year, I started one of those secret Facebook pages for my class. We call it “Second Graders See the World: Oh, the Places You’ll Go” (thank you, Dr. Seuss!). The only members are 40-or-so FB friends of mine who live in other countries, who live in a region of the U.S. that would interest my class, or who travel a lot. We had several posts last year and kept up with the places we visited with flag pins on a wall map. We were able to go surfing on a freezing river in Berlin, Germany, on January 1; we traveled on a motorcycle tour and watched bungee jumpers in New Zealand; we visited several fascinating ancient sites in England; we learned that they eat reindeer for Christmas dinner in Norway; we traveled to the desert in Nevada; we learned about some cultural differences between Australians and Kentuckians; and we listened to the calving of glaciers in Alaska. Maybe it takes up too much of our time, but my hope is that students will see something that will inspire them to visit some of these places when they grow up. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet taken the time to introduce the page to my current class this year, but I’m hoping to remedy that within the next couple of weeks. So, if you’re a member, watch out, because I’ll probably start hounding you for photos and multicultural holiday stories soon!
Some of our classroom FB friends are people I’ve met while attending concerts, a favorite pastime of mine. Mrs. Ellis is an old Rock ‘n Roller who has attended lots of, mostly classic rock, concerts over the years and, sometimes, travels to do so. Along the way, I’ve had some fabulous adventures and have encountered many wonderful people. This can lead to interesting classroom conversations, and some of my classes have learned some songs that their grandparents (or great-grandparents) probably rocked out to when they were kids.
One of my favorite classic rock bands is the Moody Blues (I’m sensing a few sarcastically shocked faces on some of you who may be reading this right now).
At school today, the kids wanted to know about my latest Moody Blues Cruise trip and were asking me all kinds of questions. Their favorite part was when I told them about all the wild chickens roaming the streets of Key West (we had to Google photos of that). But, the funniest thing was when one student raised a hand and said exactly this: "But, the real question is, WHY would you want to go to ROCK concerts when you could easily have gone to COUNTRY concerts?"
One wonderful friendship my classes have enjoyed the past several years has an incredible Moody Blues connection. Mr. Ray Thomas, a founding member of the band who retired in 2002 after 40 amazing years, and his wife, Lee, have formed an ongoing relationship with my classroom that all started on the spur of the moment, when my writing plans needed some revamping . . .
In late November 2011, during the two lonely days before Thanksgiving break, my second grade classroom writing plans needed an instant makeover. A few students had left early for the holiday, so I decided that it wasn’t the best time to begin the new unit I had planned. Somehow, in that moment, I remembered that a FB friend was trying to collect a pile of birthday cards to surprise Mr. Thomas on his 70th and the deadline to send them to her was fast approaching. So, I made a snap decision and told the kids that we were going to join in on the surprise and design birthday cards for some friendly note writing practice. I shared with them what I had learned about Mr. Thomas’s interests (cooking, fishing, music) and assured them that his favorite color must certainly be blue . Then, I showed them a couple of concert videos and had them create construction paper cards. Little did I know at that time, my classroom was gaining a Fairy Godmother and Godfather from across the Atlantic. In the years since, we’ve continued to celebrate Mr. Thomas’s birthday, integrating it into our curriculum. We’ve learned and illustrated some of his beautiful songs; have tried to sway his opinions with some persuasive letters; and have written to ask him 1,000,000 questions about music, food, fishing, English history, American independence, etc. Personally, I still wouldn’t be surprised if some of my students from a few years ago end up on the Thomas’s front porch, as adults, asking them to join in on a day trip to Stonehenge. My kids were OBSESSED with it that year and, at the time, I think they thought that the Thomases must live right next door to the site. They live in England, so they MUST be neighbors, right?
Not only have Mr. and Mrs. Thomas been gracious enough to respond to our wonderings, along the way, they have supplied us with a number of books for our classroom library. They’ve added books about Stonehenge (as well as a fun model of the monument we can build), fairies, salamanders, etc., along with a most precious story titled The Bear and the Piano, by David Litchfield. Just a few days ago, we received another package, in response to a FB post I made about a boy who wrote about his boredom with our library and who wanted to sell our old books to earn money to buy new ones. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas sent us three biographies that are currently popular with kids in London. Of course, at the ripe old ages of 7 and 8, we are always OVERJOYED to get a package in the mail, especially one with all the international markings. Immediately, we browsed through each book and I read aloud the one about Agatha Christie. They couldn’t get their hands on that one fast enough—it’s not everyday we get to read about a murder mystery writer and see an illustration of a dead guy in a pool of blood. We also read the one about Marie Curie, which led to a lengthy discussion about not acting like big babies when it’s time for vaccinations, since any alternative could be so much worse. This week, I’ll read aloud the one about Maya Angelou as well. They love the new books!
I am so appreciative of the fact that there are people out there who know how important it is for kids to have new, quality literature in their hands and we are absolutely blessed by the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. Also, knowing that they have friends in other countries opens up the world a bit more for my students in the tiny rural community in which I teach. I know it sparks their curiosity about traveling and seeing the world. Thank you so much, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas! This was such a nice surprise! You're the best!
Our unlikely 1960s British Invasion partner in education has patiently responded to a multitude of questions about a number of topics over the years, but my favorites have always been the questions and opinions my students have had about America’s history with Britain. They tie in perfectly with our study of the history of Thanksgiving, which occurs just before we need to send off Mr. Thomas’s package for his December birthday. Many of the following quotes could—possibly—have been taken from letters written in the year of the Stonehenge obsession:
What is going on in England right now? In America we are getting ready for Thanksgiving. Probably you don’t have it because the king didn’t know about it when the pilgrims and native americans had it first. Does Stonehenge have any moss on it? Old stuff has moss so I think it might. I wonder what it’s like to live in England. I wish I could live there because I want to see if Stone heng is in the ground or on top because there is a game (National Trust website) and it says under the ground. I want to check that.
Do you think the Americans had the right to be free? I think they did because the king made them pay taxes on things that really didn’t need to be taxed like tea. They didn’t need to pay those taxes. Why couldn’t they make their own tea?
I am so excided my birthday is coming up soon. But lets talk more about yours. When were you born?
Do you know about Pilgrims? My opinion is that the Pilgrims were right to come to America because the king didn’t want to let them worship God the way they want to. And that isn’t really worshipping God if they can’t do it their way and have to do it the kings way. I wonder what your opinion is of this since you live in England and not America.
Me and you are fans of singing. . . .Me and you are fans of fishing. . . . Me and you are fans of cooking. . . .Me and you should be twenzys.
Mrs. Ellis said you live near Stonehenge and I wonder if you know the secret about how the people brought the stones. My opinion is that they brought it from far away with some kind of mashean.
I heard you like to sing. We are hearing your concert right now on you tube! I love to sing! My teacher said I have a beautiful voice. I’m good at singing “Annie.”
Since you live in England, do you have a accent? I know you must be a nice guy because you look like one. If you were mean we wouldn’t be sending cards to you.
Mrs. Ellis told the class you live near Stonehenge. Do the people in England know how Stonehenge was really built and keep it a secret or is it really a history mistory?
In my opinion I think the king was not exactly fair. He was a little bossy and mean in my opinion. I would like to know if you agree with me or disagree with me. Do you think the American colonists should have obeyed or disobeyed the king? Please let me know if you can.
Mis.Ellis told me you live near Stonehenge have you ever seen it in real life? I have only seen it on a picture and video on the national Trust website. When I tried to build my Stonehenge I built it a lot of times and every time I tried to build it fell. It tells you what stuff you got wrong and what stuff you didn’t. You should try it. Maybe you will do better since you live in England.
Do you like Americans? Did you know that the England people came here to be free and have a better life. My parents came here from Honduras and Mexico to have a better life too. My uncle came with my mom and my god uncle came to live with us when my dad found him walking one day.
Do you like Stonehenge? We do. I wonder how did they pick the stones up. We played a game. My Stonehenge didn’t fall down.
Well am I correct about your opinion that you like fishing? You know I all ready know the anser and the anser is yes. You know why I said yes? Because my teacher told me.
I don’t think more persons should come to America because America will be so crowded! That is my opinion.
I am interested in Stonehenge. I was playing the Stonehenge game on their website, but it fell down.
About the revalation war I was happy to figyer it out but I was not alive wen it happened by Ms. Ellis tolled me that America won it! Thar’s a song we’re learning in music called God Bless the USA! What do you think about us winning the war? Since you live in England, you might have a different opinion.
My mom’s family came from England so I wonder if you ever meet? . . . Sence you live near Stonehenge I wonder if you know how it was built?
I saw you playing the flute in a video. I know how to play my flute at home. I know how to play Old Mcdonald and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Did you ever now about the revewshilary wore? I’m glad the Americans won because they could get a new home. I wonder what is your opinion since you live in England. Some day I want to meet you. Maybe, when I go to Stonehend.
Why do you not have a british accent when your singing?
Do you know about the Mayflower? We got our freedom from England. Are you free in England too?
I hear that you live near Stonehenge. I would like to know more about it. Its so cool how many things they find underground. It’s a mistery. Oh and there is a Stonehenge game its my favorite game on the computer. My class has been studeing them and I have some questions to ask…how big are the stones and have you seen the blue stones? I would like to know.
So, typically, we inundate the ever-patient Mr. and Mrs. Thomas with our opinions and questions through persuasive letters, along with a birthday gift based on some of his song lyrics. When we’ve had time, the kids have learned songs and we’ve sent videos of them singing. Here are some pages from a book we made to illustrate Mr. Thomas’s whimsical song, Nice to Be Here:
Mr. Thomas’s song “Floating” inspired the design we created on this apron we made to celebrate his birthday and newly remodeled kitchen. The image is of a hot air balloon “Floating” over the scene from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, in which the Moody Blues participated with a fabulous performance. If you are unfamiliar with the IoW Festivals, think “British Woodstock.” The kids helped me draw all the scaffolding and, then, made the balloon and people on the ground below with their fingerprints dipped in paint:
Here is our Mr. Thomas, an ocean apart, wearing his new apron.
To keep with the cooking theme, the letters we sent along with the apron were persuasive pieces to attempt to encourage Mr. Thomas to try whipping up some of our favorite foods in his new kitchen, such as . . . for example . . . greas:
Mrs. Thomas is a contributor to our Second Graders See the World FB page and that’s where she posted the photo of Mr. Thomas in his new apron. In response to the kids’ letters, she said that they were wondering exactly what my students supposed that people actually eat in England. So I asked them and it sounded as if some thought England must be on another planet, culinarily speaking:
We finally had a few spare minutes to visit our FB page yesterday, so I could get a chance to show this photo to the kids. They love knowing that their fingerprints traveled all the way across the ocean to England! Also, as far as what they think Brits eat, we had some discussion about that. Overall, they think you eat a lot of seafood, because, looking at our world map, they see that Britain is a big island (I liked their logic with that one). Also, they think you live in the woods, due to the trees in the window of this photo, so they're convinced you go out regularly to hunt for deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys (remember, we live in rural KY—hunting central). They know you must eat hamburgers, tacos, noodles, and burritos, as they do, but they have no idea where you would get them. One child is certain that you eat a LOT of candy, because he once saw a Youtube video of a guy eating candy and he had a British accent. Finally, one child said he's pretty sure you eat, "pumpkin pie, corn, and all that other stuff we eat for Thanksgiving, because, they're thankful for that thing that happened in England, . . . you know . . . with the Mayflower."
After a couple of whirlwind school days in the coming week, our Thanksgiving break will begin and end in the blink of an eye. I am always thankful for the incredible kids I get to spend my time with and hope they all have a wonderful holiday with their families. Then, before we teachers know what hit us, it will be time to get back to school and create our detailed plans for December: