The History — and Magic — of Outdoor Play

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

It’s summer and NAEYC’s publication, Young Child, has a compelling and seasonally appropriate article about the history of outdoor play.

Written by Joe L. Frost, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and John A. Sutterby, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the article starts with this poetic quote from Frost’s 2012 article “Evolution of American Playgrounds:”

“Good play environments have magical qualities that transcend the here and now, the humdrum, and the typical. They have flow qualities — qualities that take the child to other places and other times. They are permeated with awe and wonder, both in rarity and in imaginative qualities. Bad play environments are stark and immutable, controlled by adults, lacking resiliency and enchantment. Few dreams can be spun there, and few instincts can be played out. The wonders of…

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Guest writer: Jennie Fitzkee – The Spider Story

I was a guest blogger today sharing one of my infamous “Jennie Stories” on Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo blog.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

“Oh, Sue. I need to tell you “The Spider Story”, one of the ‘Jennie Stories’ for my preschoolers. All true. That’s why children are glued when I say, “It happened like this.” The spider one beats them all, ” wrote Jennie in a recent comment.  As we are all children at heart and still ready for storytime, I asked Jennie to come over and share her Spider Story with us…

Children know when I tell a story, that if it begins with “Once upon a time”, it is pretend.  If it begins with “It happened like this”, it is real- something that happened to Jennie.  During lunchtime at school, children beg “Can you tell a Jennie story?  Please?”  Begging is probably an understatement.  When I begin, fifteen children are glued.  You could hear a pin drop.  I have at least fourteen stories I tell, and this one is a favorite.

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Childhood, and Train Whistles, and My Grandmother

Summer evenings on the porch are quiet, except for the occasional  sound of a train whistle in the distance.  I love that sound.  When I was a little girl, a train whistle meant excitement and memories.  I was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia.  It’s “the big city”, and the central downtown area was the train station.  There is something majestic about a grand, old train station with polished brass and wood.  It was history, kept alive.

Trains were prevalent throughout the state.  With a countryside of enormous rolling hills and dramatic landscape, it was the trains that people depended on to transport people and goods from the cities like Huntington out to the country.  Roads?  The interstate didn’t exist, and most roads were more of a roller coaster than a highway.  But the trains had been there ‘forever’, it seemed.  They could go everywhere.  Dependable, and oh so exciting!

My first childhood memory is the sound of a train.  I was sleeping in the family log house in Lowell, West Virginia.  This was way out in the country.

   The Log House   

The house today is known as the Graham House and is on the National Historic Register.  But, back then in the 50’s, my family still owned the house.  The history is thrilling; it is the oldest two-story log house west of the Appalachian mountains, built in the early 1770’s.  My grandmother, Nan, lived in the house until she was married.  She told me many times the story of Indian raids.  On one occasion the children were in the summer kitchen and ran to the house.  The boy did not survive and the girl was kidnapped. It took the father eight years to get his daughter back, trading horses with the Indians. Family stories; so important.


Nan

The sound of the old steam engine train whistling by as I slept at the old log house is one of my fondest memories.  That was what I heard every evening as I fell asleep.  I loved it, and I loved that old house.  Hearing a train again today in the evening on the porch takes me back to those childhood days.  I stop to listen, not wanting to miss one whistle.  Wonderful memories.

In 1964, I boarded the train in Huntington with Nan and my cousin Laura to return for a long summer visit in Lowell with family, and of course the Log House.  We always called it “The Log House.”  I remember the excitement of the train ride, and the feeling of going past places and vistas that people never get to see from a car.  The first thing I did when we arrived at the Log House was to run upstairs and find my bed; the one I slept in as a child.  I remembered.  By then, 1964, the house was no longer in the family, so we slept at our cousin’s house next door.  And, I still heard that train whistle, even though many years since my childhood had passed.

When I recently visited the house with my husband, my first visit since 1964, I immediately recognized everything. I ran up the stairs and felt along the wall beside my bed, as there had been holes for rifles to go through when fending off an Indian raid. The holes were still there, just as I remembered, and just as Nan had told me.

Is it the sound of the train that makes my memories crystal clear?  I think so. On the playground at school the far away sound of a train goes by in the morning. Often I have the children listen carefully, and then I tell them about sleeping in a log house and listening to a train.  Stories are the keepers of words and memories.

Jennie

Posted in Early Education, geography, history, Imagination, storytelling, Teaching young children, trains | Tagged , , , , , , , | 53 Comments

Quotations on Reading

Thank you Charles French for remarkable quotes on reading.

charles french words reading and writing

Ray_Bradbury_(1975).jpg

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

                                                                           Ray Bradbury

Joyce_carol_oates_2014

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”

                                                                          Joyce Carol Oates

carl-sagan-647717_960_720

(https://pixabay.com)

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.”

                                                                          Carl Sagan

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The Art Museum

Museums are always a source of wonder and inspiration for me.  I introduce art in a big way to my preschool class, so when I’m inspired, they are, too.  This week I visited the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire.  A hidden gem.

Now, imagine one of the best art museums, such as the MFA (Museum of Fine Art) in Boston.  What if that museum were a little smaller (less overwhelming), yet had it all- from Matisse to Hopper to O’Keefe to Picasso to Sargeant… and more.  Oh, and of course if they also had beautiful glasswork, furniture, silver, and the best of modern art as well as 15th century art.

That is the Currier Museum of Art.

Their current exhibit is Monet, four pieces that depict his art from one of his earliest works of Impressionism to one of his later pieces.

There’s nothing better than ‘the real deal’, seeing it live.  Words escaped me, and I resorted to behaving like a child who was thunderstruck at meeting Santa Claus, and in a candy store, all at the same time.

It was that good.

In progression of Monet’s Art:


He painted this piece when he was 24 years old.  It is beautiful, yet at first glance you might not classify it as Impression.  This painting launched his career.

 

This was the Monet I knew, the one I had seen in so many books. This was the art piece I have shown to my preschoolers.  I stared at it in wonder, because I was seeing it live.  I got up close to look at the brush strokes.  Imagine that, looking at Monet’s brush strokes.

 


Monet had mastered Impressionism.  His comment on this painting was, “This will perhaps make the enemies of blue and pink scream a little because it is just this brilliant, this fantastic light that I’m trying to get.”  -Claude Monet- (1884)

 


This piece was done in 1900, Monet’s later and seasoned years of Impressionism painting.  He had achieved what he was looking to accomplish with light.  Four paintings over forty years, together by themselves in one space; it is a living biography.

I will need to return to the Currier Museum of Art again and again.  I can’t wait to share my enthusiasm with my students when the new school year begins.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” -E.B. White-

Jennie

Posted in art, Imagination, Inspiration, museums, Teaching young children, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 63 Comments

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.” ~Charles Dickens

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Being A Late Bloomer

I was a late bloomer.  It’s a term that is mostly used for flowers today.  Way back when, children who didn’t seem to grow as quickly as their peers were often called “late bloomers”.  I struggled to read.  I sucked my thumb until I was in third grade.  I clung to my Mother.

My garden is sprinkled with yellow sundrops, a flower that blooms early in the summer.  Before opening, they show their red encasement.  Going from red to yellow is a beautiful metamorphosis.  Most are now gone, yet as I dashed by my garden last week, I noticed one.  This one.

The flower still was still encased in red.  This little guy was all alone and had not yet opened.  Most of his brothers and sisters were long gone.  I was pulled back into my early childhood looking at this solitary little flower.  The feelings of being scared at something new swept over me.  Memories, and then a great wave of understanding.  I stayed with this little guy a while.  We talked.  Well, I talked.  He seemed to listen.

The next day I returned.  This is what I saw:

A bloom at last!  Like me, a late bloomer.  But, oh how beautiful, as if all that extra time had given him more beauty and strength than his brothers and sisters.  That’s exactly how I felt.

As years went by in my childhood, somehow my experiences seemed particularly memorable.  They were important.  I was living life with more wisdom and bigger eyes than many others.  All of those experiences seemed to pour into my heart.  I became a preschool teacher.  I began to tell stories and then to write.  Somehow I knew that my yellow bloom was a hallmark for me.

When I teach young children, I… understand.  I know those late bloomers simply need love and encouragement, and time.  A favorite picture book written years ago is Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus.

The simple and gentle text carries the message of giving children the time they need to grow.

Leo couldn’t do anything right.  He couldn’t read.  He couldn’t write.  He couldn’t draw.   He was a sloppy eater.  And, he never said a word.  “What’s the matter with Leo?” asked Leo’s father.  “Nothing,” said Leo’s mother.  “Leo is just a late bloomer.”

Children need to hear stories that reflect how they feel.  So do adults.  That’s what connects a reader and a writer, a teacher and a child.  Every child is different, yet they all need the same thing.  Like the sundrop that needs rain and sun, children need love and encouragement.  Roots.  Perhaps those late bloomers have stronger roots.  I do.

Jennie

Posted in Diversity, Early Education, picture books, reading aloud, Teaching young children, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 44 Comments