Sunday, September 14, 2014

Amazing Sunflowers

"Keep your face to the sunshine 
and you cannot see the shadow.  
It's what sunflowers do." 
Helen Keller

Emmy and I recently explored an amazing sunflower field at Colby Farm in Newbury, MA. This field is planted annually and tended to by the Colby family.  The sunflowers were absolutely gorgeous.  Emmy couldn't believe how tall the flowers were and how many of them were in the field. We estimated in the 1,000's.  There were so many honey bees busy at work collecting pollen to take back to their hives and beautiful butterflies resting on the sunny heads of the flowers. We spent a long time exploring this field taking in the beauty and relishing the quiet.

After our visit, I was inspired to show Emmy Vincent Van Gogh's paintings of sunflowers.  This allowed us to talk about Van Gogh's technique of using vibrant colors and swirling brush strokes (post-impressionism) as well as still life painting.  Emmy and I will be working on our own still life paintings of a vase of sunflowers and will share them at a later time.
Still Life: Vase With Twelve Sunflowers 1888

Emmy has always been interested in Van Gogh's paintings especially his most famous work The Starry Night (1889).  In a previous post, I talked about how we kept a picture frame in Emmy's bedroom that held a different postcard each week of a famous painting. She always wanted The Starry Night to be in the frame.  With our renewed interest in Van Gogh, we decided to check out a book about Van Gogh from our library.  I had learned of a series of books by Laurence Anholt (Anholt's Artists Books For Children) that focused on stories of real children who had actually met famous artists. There are nine books in the series and we would like to read them all, but we began with Van Gogh and the Sunflowers.  This story focuses on Van Gogh's time spent in Arles, France. A young boy named Camille befriends Van Gogh when he moves into the yellow house at the end of his street.  Camille brought sunflowers to his new friend and watched him paint.  Others in the town thought that Van Gogh was odd and that Vincent and his paintings didn't fit in with the town.  Emmy and I appreciated Camille's father's explanation,
"People often laugh at things that are different, 
but I've got a feeling that one day 
they will learn to love Vincent's paintings." 
Not only are Anholt's illustrations wonderful to look at, but the book also includes reproductions of works by Vincent Van Gogh.   For another recommendation of a book about art, check out this post.  

A wonderful book celebrating sunflowers is Eve Bunting's Sunflower House.  This story shares the lifecycle of the sunflower beginning with a boy planting sunflower seeds into a circle which creates a sunflower playhouse to the flowers wilting and the seeds dropping to the ground.  The story is told in rhyming verse and the illustrations, by Kathryn Hewitt (who also illustrated Bunting's book Flower Garden), are exquisite. Emmy's favorite part is when the boy and his friends sleep in the sunflower house.  She is determined that she will plant a similar house and have her friends over to sleep among the giant flowers.  

Whenever the topic of gardening with children comes up, I always suggest Sharon Lovejoy's books as resources. In her book, Sunflower Houses: A Book for Children and their Grown-Ups, the pages are filled with terrific suggestions of flowers to plant and projects to make and also with Lovejoy's beautiful drawings and whimsical poems. I remember making clover chains and firefly lanterns when I was a child.  I also remember picking dandelions for my mom. Emmy and I enjoy stringing dandelions together to make crowns to wear and bouquets to give.  Gardening is not something that is easy for us as we live in an apartment building in town, but I am determined to create an indoor garden with Emmy.  If you are interested in other books about gardening, check out this post or this one or this one.  

Here's a song that Emmy and I have been enjoying since our visit to the sunflower field...
Sunflower ~ written by Neil Diamond and recorded by Glen Campbell in 1977.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Celebrating Poetry and the Outdoors

Being outdoors has always been Emmy's favorite thing to do.  From a very young age, her curiosity led her to explore nature in wide open spaces and in little nooks and crannies. Today Emmy still enjoys being outside, but I am starting to see a difference in how she relates to nature.  The magic of fairies and gnomes hidden amongst the flowers and leaves is disappearing and in its place is more of a scientific approach to life around her.  I hear things like, "Did you know that sand is made up of millions of tiny rocks?  Did you know that the anther is the part of the flower that produces pollen?  Did you know that there are more than 1,500 active volcanoes on Earth?"  I know that these facts are important and am grateful that she is interested in learning these things, but I am a believer that life is magical and will continue to encourage her to look at things in a variety of different ways (not black or white).  For example, we know that an orb web is made of spirals and is used to catch prey, but seeing an orb web in the early morning mist is magical as the first rays of the morning sun hit its spirals and creates shimmers of gold.

Emmy has attended a Montessori school for the past six years (pre-school through second grade). Going out and exploring nature has always been a part of her school day.  It is understood that fresh air along with children's natural desire to explore their surroundings is beneficial to their growth and learning. Montessori believes that to delight in the wonder of the natural world at a tender and impressionable age is to become a steward to the earth in the years to come. I will be forever grateful to all of her Montessori teachers for gifting Emmy with the awareness that nature doesn't belong to us, but rather that we are responsible for its care.  

This past school year, Emmy spent a lot of time immersed in poetry.  It wasn't just a unit to teach, a box to be checked off, but rather a time to delve into the beauty of words - sweet, juicy, interesting words.  Through read alouds, the poems came to life begging Emmy to dive in.  Through writing, poetry became a way for Emmy to express herself.  By using mentor texts, Emmy began to understand the different ways that poets put words together. Through reciting poems, Emmy realized that the rhythm and rhyme of poetry was a fun way to play with words.  Through drama, Emmy took her love of poetry to a dramatic level by creating little skits to go along with the poems.  In the spring, the children helped to organize a Poetry Tea as a celebration of all that they had learned.  From the invitations to the set up of the classroom, the children were involved in the process.  It may have been lacking a smoky atmosphere and the adornment of berets, but it felt very "beatnik" anyway.  The children each took a turn reading from their hand sewn poetry books where they had written five types of poems such as a couplet and a diamante.  The look of pride on their faces as they stood before a large group of adults and read their poems was a joy to witness.  Also part of the Poetry Tea was food and drinks.  When we arrived, Emmy greeted us and showed us to our table.  She then went and got the snacks and served us hot tea with honey, lemon and/or sugar.  It was such a sweet celebration.  Emmy continues to find poetry wherever we go from noticing words that rhyme to making very poetic remarks such as, "Doesn't the color of the sun have a shade as deep red as a beautiful Poppy in spring."  When she carries what she has learned in school into her day to day life, I know that learning has really occurred. A love of poetry has truly been instilled in her being and I, again, thank her teachers for helping to facilitate this love.  Please take a moment to watch this video of Emmy as she reads her poems at Inn Street Montessori's Lower Elementary Poetry Tea.


Ever since her work with poetry at school, Emmy has become interested in books that hold collections of poems.  We have quite a collection of poetry books including Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Shel Silverstein and Mattie Stepanek.  Stepanek has been described as a peacemaker, a philosopher and a prophet.  He suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy and died in 2004 at the age of thirteen. His poems are full of messages of peace and love.  Stepanek called his poems heartsongs.  
"A heartsong doesn't have to be a song in your heart, " he said.  "It doesn't have to be 
talking about love and peace.  It can just be your message.  It can be your feeling.  
Some people might even call it a conscience."  
At a very early age, Stepanek developed his personal life philosophy summed up in the following quote,                                              "Remember to play after every storm."  
You can read more about Mattie Stepanek and his books of poetry and essays titled, Heartsongs, (all NY Times bestsellers) on his website.  

With Emmy's love of the outdoors,  I searched for poetry books that focused on nature. These two books stood out as winners.

The first one is A Stick is an Excellent Thing (poems celebrating outdoor play) by Marilyn Singer with illustrations by LeUyen Pham.  
This book of poetry celebrates universal types of play that are timeless and engaging no matter what generation is participating.  From organized games like jumping rope, hop scotch and hide-and-seek to imaginative games like making mud soup and turning sticks into magic wands, the poems held within these pages invite children to join in the fun.

A Stick is an Excellent Thing

A stick is an excellent thing,
If you find the perfect one.
It's a scepter for a king,
A stick is an excellent thing.

It's a magic wand, It's yours to fling,
To strum a fence, to draw the sun,
A stick is an excellent thing,
If you find the right one.  

(Click HERE for our post about the book Not a Stick)

The second one is Outside Your Window (a first book of nature) by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld.  Hearld's juicy layered collages bring the poems to life.  Davies, a zoologist and best known for writing books about science, finds a way to bring amazing facts and fun things to do in her poetry writing. The book cycles through the seasons with a good number of poems focused on each one.  I like that the poems do not always follow a rhyming format, but instead bring about vivid images through colorful language.  
Buzzzzzzz zzzzzzzz
It's coming from the beehive
It sounds like sweetness
And the sleepy, sleepy summer

Hmmmm mmm
The bees bring nectar from the flowers
For miles around and in the hive,
They make it into honey.

Buzzzzzzz zzzzzzzz
Hmmmmm mmm
The sound of sweetness and the smell of flowers
Of sunny, sleepy summer -
The sound of honey.

Emmy and I hope that we have inspired you to enjoy the poetry of nature!  I leave you with a quote by one of my favorite philosophers and the person that my Emmy is named after, Ralph Waldo Emerson.    
"Nature always wears the colors of the spirit." 

Sunday, July 27, 2014


It's Summertime!
Plum Island ~ Massachusetts

What Emmy loves about SUMMER...lazy days, flip flops, 
chocolate ice cream, juicy watermelon, swimming pools, walks in the woods, bike riding, 
the ocean:  the smell of the warm sea breezes, the sound of the crashing waves, 
the warm sand between her toes and so much more.  SUMMER!  

With more time spent outdoors during the summer, we find ourselves working to create moments in the day for reading and creating indoors (quite different from wintertime when we work on creating moments to be outdoors).

When we first wake up and right before bed seem to be the best times for reading and creating in our household. I recently restocked Emmy's paint supplies and set up her art table with an "invitation to paint." When she woke up the next morning and saw her table, she was so surprised and very motivated to get back to painting.
Emmy's art table and her painting of a sailboat at sunset 
inspired by the view outside of our living room window.  

We've also been motivated to keep reading thanks to our local bookstore and library.  Both have fun summer reading programs going on right now.  At The Book Rack, children are given a passport to Find Waldo in Newburyport.  Local businesses have a small cutout of Waldo hidden somewhere in their store and it's up to the child to find him. Emmy is much better at this seek and find game than I am. She gets so excited when she can ask the shopkeeper to sign her passport.  We have two more Waldos to find and then we can enter our name into the grand prize drawing (a set of Where's Waldo books).
The library's Fizz, Boom, Read program has Emmy reading books for prizes like a coupon to her favorite frozen yogurt shop - Orange Leaf, a free book (she choose Gingerbread Friends by one of her favorite authors Jan Brett) and a free Topsfield Fair ticket!  Emmy fractured her wrist six weeks ago so I've been helping her to fill in her reading log with the titles of the books.
Here are a few books that we've been reading to celebrate the season of SUMMER! (books are listed from a more difficult reading/listening level to an easier one)

Time of Wonder, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, won the Caldecott Medal in 1958 for the gorgeous illustrations which depict the Maine landscape in summer.  This is McCloskey's second Caldecott award the first being for Make Way For Ducklings. Time of Wonder revolves around two sisters who spend the summer with their family at the seashore.

When the Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant illustrations by Steven Gammel  You can just feel the family love as soon as you open this book about distant relatives coming to stay for the summer. Many people will relate to the connection one has with relatives that you only see once or twice a year ~ you make the visit worthwhile filling each other up to last until the next gathering.
Summersaults and A Summer Day by Douglas Florian...the first is a collection of poems that shares the joys of summer and the not so joyful things - annoying flies! The second is the story of a family that leaves the sweltering heat of a summer day in the city to spend time exploring in the country.  Emmy and I love it when a book shows a family that lives in an apartment since that is home to us.
Summer Days and Nights by Wong Herbert Yee  I love the nostalgic feel of this sweet story. Emmy loves that the main character is the same little girl from one of our favorite winter books Tracks in the Snow (check out our post here).  Yee creates a summer day that is full of wonder and magic from sun up to sun down.  

I See Summer by Charles Gigna, better known as Father Goose, thrills us with his lyrical rhymes. This book is one of four in a series of books about the seasons. Emmy's favorite part is when the children are chasing fireflies in the dark. Such fascinating little creatures.

Summer by Gerda Muller - This book is one of four in a series of wordless picture books about the seasons.  We have enjoyed this set of books since Emmy was a baby first talking about what we saw as we slowly turned the pages to telling a different story each time we opened the book using the beautiful detailed pictures.  Now we use the books to inspire creative writing about the seasons.  Here's an example of a recent poem inspired by the book...
by Emmy
hot and sweaty, sunny and rainy, 
biking and swimming, chilly and juicy
splashing and diving

We wish everyone a summer full of fun adventures and relaxing days!