Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys? Huh?

I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might … Continue reading "Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys? Huh?"

I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might include a roasted turkey.  So, I’ve been thinking about turkeys.

One of my first thoughts led me to wonder where the word “turkey” originated. Why are they called turkeys? An article in the Atlantic Monthly had a good explanation. You can read it here. I was pretty surprised to find that the origin of the word is debated by etymology experts.

Then I was wondering if turkeys can really fly and I started to investigate. Sure enough, they can fly! This investigation led me to thinking about the wishbone in the turkey at our family Thanksgiving celebration. It’s the “wishbone” that is the bone that connects the wings of birds allowing them to fly.

So what do Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys all have in common?  I was amazed to find out that many dinosaurs, including the newly found “Mud Dragon” had wishbones. Yep! The wishbone is actually called the “furcula” and is found in birds and in DINOSAURS!

Next time you eat a turkey and find the furcula, remember that scientists have found that the wishbone dates back more than 150 million years!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Hibernation & Torpor

Photo Credit: Kelli Larkspur

Thanks to Oak Meadow’s K-4 teacher, Sarah Antel, for this wonderful addition to our blog. 

As autumn finally settles in Vermont, I always notice mental and physical changes in myself. I am found in the kitchen making soups, stews, and bread, I pick up the handwork I abandoned last spring with renewed interest, and I often feel fatigued as the early evening darkness falls; a purring cat on my lap helps this state of calm occur more easily.

Even though it may seem many plants have died outside with a morning frost, I see this season as a time of rest and ultimately, renewal. A good rest often helps one to rise refreshed and ready to work. Winter is nature’s time to rest. The trees have dropped their leaves and stored the food they made in their roots, plants of all kinds have scattered their seeds, and many animals are nesting in warm places, preparing for the winter respite.

As winter draws near, people often remark that animals are getting ready to hibernate. This statement is only accurate for a handful of animals here in the Northeast. If animals do not migrate or stay active in the winter months, many enter a state of torpor, or light hibernation during the colder weather; most do not hibernate.

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke

An animal that is considered a “true hibernator” stores fat reserves, their breathing slows to as little as one breath a minute, their heart rate often registers at four beats per minute, and their body temperature lowers close to the temperature of the surrounding air. Often, these creatures will not awaken, even if they are handled. The only animals that are true hibernators in the North East are bats, groundhogs, and jumping mice. Many other animals, including bears, go into torpor. These animals’ bodies stay very close to their normal temperatures. Additionally, their breathing and heart rates do not slow. They are easily awakened and will often be found foraging for food during a warm spell. Reptiles, like snakes, can be found in dens in a state of torpor, but they will sometimes be seen warming themselves when the sun’s rays beckon. Amphibians bury themselves in the soil, often at the bottom of a pond. But these creatures also can awaken during the winter as some people have spied them moving about below ice.

Although the winter season may seem like a silent time for nature, there is still an abundance of activity and life beneath the blanket of snow. If you live in a place where snow falls in the winter, you may want to set up a subnivean zone board so you can observe some activity that happens below the snow. Once there is some snow on the ground, lay a wide piece of wood like a large piece of plywood, over some seeds you sprinkle on top of the snow. In a few days, gently lift the board to peek underneath. Many of the seeds may be gone and you may see a network of tunnels under the board. The subnivean zone is the area in and underneath the snowpack where some small mammals like mice, voles, and shrews live out the winter and forage for food. Staying in the subnivean zone helps to protect them from predators and insulates them from the cold winter air. Sprinkle more seeds throughout the winter so these creatures can have a place to find food and you can make scientific observations all winter-long.

This post was written by Oak Meadow’s K-4 teacher, Sarah Antel. 

Homeschooling and Joy

Photo Credit: Lisa Kates White

“The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.” – Fra Giovanni

The following article, “Homeschooling and Joy”, was written by Oak Meadow co-founders, Lawrence and Bonnie Williams. It was sent in a newsletter to the Oak Meadow teachers and staff in October 1991. After personally experiencing a joyful occasion with homeschooling families, friends and fellow colleagues at last month’s Oak Meadow Open House, I am reminded of the true value of the message in this archived article. Twenty-six years later, these words of wisdom are definitely worth repeating and sharing with all of you.

One of the best tools a homeschooling parent can use for successful teaching is Joy. Joy is as natural to a child as talking and walking. When there is joy and laughter in the home, children will quite naturally want to enter into learning relationships with their parents. Not only does laughter create an atmosphere of receptivity toward learning, it also triggers the productions of chemicals in the body which have positive health effects. 

Joy can be expressed through singing, dancing, funny stories, and poking fun at ourselves. It’s very important not to take ourselves too seriously. Life can be serious enough at times without adding our own weight to it. When we are able to poke fun at our own mistakes and idiosyncrasies, children will be more likely to admit their own mistakes and weaknesses – an important first step in the learning process. 

At times, however, the challenges of life seem to be too great, and joy seems out of the question. How can we experience joy in such times?

Photo Credit: The Zietz Family

First, it helps to put the affairs of our lives in perspective. Most of what happens to us is not nearly as serious as we make it out to be. What makes it seem so serious is that it shatters our concepts about how things should be. If we can let go of our expectations and just embrace the experience as it is, we can usually find joy hidden in the very heart of that experience. 

Second, we have to remember that joy isn’t something that happens to us – it’s something we create. Visitors to third world countries are often surprised to find children laughing and playing games in the midst of oppressive poverty and hunger. Even in the midst of the most crushing circumstances, joy is always alive within us, but it remains hidden until we make a conscious choice to express it. When we do this, not only do we bring it to those around us, but we experience it ourselves. 

As we experience more joy in the homeschooling environment, we will find that we have more energy as well. Researchers have found that laughter actually stimulates the adrenal glands and triggers the chemical production of endorphins in the brain. These endorphins act as tranquilizers, which leave us feeling calmer and less anxious about the events happening around us. So we can see that laughter is not only beneficial for us emotionally, but physically as well.

As Lawrence and Bonnie Williams emphasized in their article, a healthy learning environment should be full of joy. Therefore, as each new day springs forth, we need to keep our hearts open to the gift of joy.

Thus, take joy and enjoy…with joy!

 

Place and Space

In my high school journals, I often wrote about where I wanted to be when I grew up. Looking back on these entries with the distance of a decade, and the knowledge of what I’ve pursued in life, I am in awe that my essential self is still the same. It’s comforting, but it’s also empowering. It means that the person I became at 17 is still the person I am proud to be – just with more experience and more tools for how to accomplish the things I used to dream about from inside the decorated, forest green (my favorite color, then and now) walls of my high school bedroom.

From my high school journal: “When I think about ‘what I want to do’ when I graduate, I think of these things: I want to be the most approachable English teacher at an independent high school for unconventional young people, and I want to have a cabin on a lake with bookshelves everywhere filled with books, and I want to wake up every morning and find the passages I underlined in all my favorite books and remember what it felt like to be that age and read those words for the first time.”

Today, I live beside a river in a cottage full of books. I teach English at an independent high school for pretty cool young people (that’s you guys), and every morning, I wake up and flip through the passages I underlined ten years ago in my favorite books. I think about what it felt like to be 17 and reading those words for the first time.

In college, I learned about the concepts of Place and Space. Place was a physical location, while Space was an ambiance that could be evoked in a building or room. In a Place, one performed their public persona; in a Space, one could be their most private, interior self.

This reminded me of my high school bedroom – that place where I had engaged in journaling, daydreaming, painting, drawing, writing, singing, dancing – activities and rituals that gave the place a certain ambiance; that made it into a space.

I am writing these words in my office, the front room in my cottage. My desk faces the yard; the trees; the mountain. This is the room in which I design curriculum for the courses I teach through Oak Meadow; chat with students; communicate with my faculty peers; read submissions for my poetry journal; write these blog posts, and a hundred other outward-facing things.

Photo by Naomi Washer

On the ceiling of my office is a drop-down ladder that leads to a secret loft; intimate, with slanted walls. I can stand upright in the center, but otherwise have to crawl. Pillows and cushions line the floor. One wall is a balcony, overlooking the living room below. Against the railing are my bookshelves. Photographs of places I’ve lived and the people I’ve known line the slanted walls. On the exterior wall is a tiny square window looking out to the mountain and the yard, just above where I sit at my desk in my office below. Up here, I am curled into a nest; I am closer to the mountain; I have my books and mementos and journals scattered around me. Below, the office is light, bright, and open, inviting all the work I do that connects to the outside world. Above, I enter the interior space of my mind – the space where I dream up creative projects and muse over the big questions of life and the world, my beliefs, my values, and who I feel myself to be.

Photo by Naomi Washer

The place of my office and the space of my loft are both necessary for the work that I do as a teacher and a writer. But I have to wonder if I would have ever discovered that these were the best places and spaces for me if I hadn’t dreamed about them in high school.

High school is not only the time when you begin to state your goals and ambitions – it is also a crucial time to dream. It is the most important time in your life to ask essential questions about who you are, what you believe, and what kind of path you see yourself pursuing in life.

By “path,” I don’t just mean career. Careers are your public persona – your exterior self. You will accomplish great things in the public places of your careers – I’m sure of it. But if you allow yourself the space of interior dreaming, musing, and questioning, then you will also become a person you’ll be proud to be – someone who lives by the virtues you believe in.

Photo by Naomi Washer

You can’t know where you will be ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. If you did, that would take away half the fun of the discovery. But what you can do is think about the kind of place you want to be in; where you can be productive by offering your skills and knowledge to your community.

And you can think about the space you want to have around you: what kind of weather and landscape make you feel grounded and at home? Do you want trees and mountains around you, or skyscrapers? Do you want to live on the road, in a tiny house, an apartment building in a big city, or a rambling old country house on a farm? If you ask yourself these questions now, you’ll find out what kind of person you are, and the kind of person you’ll be down the road, when the dust has settled, and the air has cleared, and you open your eyes: what do you see?

The Nobel Prizes

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

In November of 1895, Alfred Nobel passed away and left a very large amount of his money to go toward a variety of prizes. The prizes became known as the Nobel Prizes. It was a generous beginning to yearly honor work in the sciences, literature, and those people working for peace throughout the world.

I am always most interested in The Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel’s will stated that the Peace Prize would go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

The 2017 award went to an organization, rather than one person. The Nobel Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This is a world-wide partnership of organizations dedicated and focused on a nuclear weapon ban treaty for the world. What an honorable intention to free the world’s people from the use of a nuclear weapon.

In 1904 Ivan Pavlov won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Some of you may have already studied about him and his ideas. You may be studying Pavlov’s work in the Oak Meadow curriculum. On the Nobel Prize website there are educational pages that have some fun facts and games to play. The one about Ivan Pavlov is great!

It is also fascinating to watch the lectures and the award ceremonies. You can view them at: http://www.nobelprize.org/

My Dictionary is My Best Friend!

dictionary, collegiate, college, book

A classic dictionary, photo via Wikimedia Commons

“I’m very sensitive to the English language. I studied the dictionary obsessively when I was a kid and collect old dictionaries. Words, I think, are very powerful and they convey an intention.” Drew Barrymore
https://www.brainyquote.com

For those of you in 5th-8th grade, I hope you have your very own dictionary! I don’t mean a digital one. I mean a dictionary that you can hold in your own hand, turn the pages, mark it up, and carry it around with you. Get a dictionary to keep next to you as you study. Make it your constant companion and it will serve you well!

With a dictionary you can find the proper spelling of a word, what a word means, how to pronounce it, the part of speech that it is, and where the word originated. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years and into high school, find a Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent addition.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus. Both the dictionary and the thesaurus will become your best friends as you go through the year.

Also really useful will be a good atlas for discovering new places in the world. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!

While you are using the dictionary, why not make a dictionary of your own? Keep track of the new words you looked up or found while you were reading:

Get a notebook or put some lined paper into a binder. 

Mark a page with each letter of the alphabet leaving about 10 pages in between each letter.

Make a beautiful cover to your dictionary.

Start filling in those pages with the words and their definitions!

Enjoy learning new words~

 

 

Dia de los Muertos

Photo by Sara Molina

This post and the photos come from Sara Molina, our Spanish teacher, who splits her time between Vermont and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Thanks, Sara, for introducing us to this wonderful and colorful cultural celebration of our ancestors!

Skulls, death, skeletons: these items often inspire fear, or at least negative feelings. But in Mexico, and many other countries that celebrate the Day of the Dead, it is quite the opposite. ‘Día de los Muertos’ is a colorful holiday of joy and festivities based around honoring the lives of loved ones who have died. This is a time to celebrate and remember these loved ones through parties, dinners, altars, and parades.

This celebration has a history of thousands of years, starting with a month-long holiday in the time of the Aztecs and then evolving to be celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 with the arrival of Catholicism.  November 1 is generally for celebrating infants and children who have passed and November 2 is to honor adults. Offerings play a large role, where the deceased are honored with their favorite foods, drinks, pictures of them, and other colorful decorations. Celebrations are often held in cemeteries, at the graved of loved ones, with music, food, and drink. As opposed to the somber tone often felt at cemeteries in the U.S., the feeling is festive and happy at these Day of the Dead cemetery celebrations.

 

Papel Picado in Mexico
Painted skulls and altars in Mexico
Evening Festivities for Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

Skulls and skeletons are an integral part of the Day of the Dead. The Catrina is the main skeleton seen, she is elegantly dressed and was created in the early 20th century by an artist aiming to poke fun at the high society ladies of the time.  Some of the Catrina creations are stunning, with elaborate face painting and gorgeous and colorful costumes.  Another fun tradition that just began last year in Mexico City, was a Day of the Dead parade. This was modeled after the Day of the Dead parade in the recent James Bond movie, ‘Spectre’.  The opening scene features an impressive parade in Mexico City, and some leaders in the city decided to make it a reality this Day of the Dead.

Feel like getting into the Day of the Dead Spirit? Create an altar or offering (ofrenda) for a loved one (pets too!) who has passed. Include flowers, their favorite foods or drinks, music, symbols of activities they enjoyed, pictures of them etc.

Or if cooking is more appealing, create the traditional Día de los Muertos dish: pan de muertos (bread of the dead).  This is a basic sweet roll that is often molded into various shapes: angels, animals, or of course on this holiday – skeletons!

And if you’re a crafty person, try making a traditional decoration of this time: Papel Picado. This colorful paper is cut with patterns, and hung around the altar, and all over streets during this time.

Regardless of our level of celenration of the holiday, pausing for a moment to fondly remember loved ones no longer with us can bring a smile to our faces.

Additional Resources:

National Geographic site about Day of the Dead (good for general Day of the Dead info and activities. A clean and well organized site)

BBC documentary about Day of the Dead in Mexico (a 20ish minute documentary, one of the better ones I’ve seen about Day of the Dead)

Recipe for Pan de Muertos

Directions and Template for Papel Picado

Mexico City Day of the Dead parade video

All Hallow’s Eve

Photo by Petr Kratochvil

Many thanks to Andy Kilroy,

 Oak Meadow teacher of grades 5-8,

for this terrific blog post!

Halloween began as the Gaelic festival Samhain (pronounced SAW-win), which was celebrated on the British islands among the Celtic population who were eventually converted to Christianity during the period of the Romanization of Britain, probably in the fourth or fifth century C.E. The Celts had many festivals to honor their gods, but the four most important, called the “four quarter days,” were Samhain, Imbolic, Beltaine, and Lughnasa. These festival days were times of meetings, games, feasting and sacrifice to the gods, and they lasted about a week, three days before the actual holiday and three after the holiday.

Huge bonfires were lit, some historians think for purposes of sacrifice, but perhaps to keep away the harmful spirits,and there were many customs around fire for this particular holiday. One of these was lighting up carved turnips called jack-o-lanterns by the Celts. Another popular aspect of Samhain was “mumming” or dressing up. The mummers would dress up as various spirits like ghosts and ghouls and go house to house and perform little songs or skits. In return, they expected to be fed by the householder. One of the most popular costumes was the hobbyhorse, where a man would cover himself with a large piece of cloth and carry a decorated horse skull before him. If all this sounds familiar, it should, because this is also a very good description of the way Halloween is celebrated today.

It must have been a great relief to children when the pumpkin came to Europe during the Columbian exchange in the 15th and 16th centuries and they no longer struggled to hollow out a hard turnip to make their jack-o-lanterns. Pumpkins are bigger, softer and the cavity is full of seeds that are easily scooped out (and are also tasty when roasted!). Modern people still put on costumes and go from house to house expecting to be rewarded with food. We call this trick of treating and usually only children participate in this activity, and the food they seek is usually candy.

We still have bonfires, and spooky creatures are still said to walk the streets during this scary holiday, although they are usually just other children dressed up too. Halloween kicks off the holiday season that starts with Halloween and ends with New Year’s Day with roughly one major holiday a month to brighten the darkest months of the year.

Children every year look forward to this uninhibited holiday where they race through the dark, running through mounds of fallen leaves, feeling delightfully frightened out in the dark, and carry out the age-old customs that come to us from an earlier time in history, and for which we can thank the ancient Celtic civilization. Thanks to the adaptability of the early Christian church, converts to Christianity in ancient Britain could now embrace the new religion with its promise of eternal life, but still enjoy a cold, dark night at the end of October, when spirits walk the streets and demand to be fed, even if the spirits are just children asking for candy door to door.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

P’Chum Ben

In the U.S., Halloween is a spooky holiday full of horror films, scary masks, fake blood, and haunted houses. It takes place at a time of year when many regions of the country are undergoing that seasonal shift from crisp, early autumn to the bare, dark branches welcoming winter. The air turns colder, the wind … Continue reading "P’Chum Ben"

In the U.S., Halloween is a spooky holiday full of horror films, scary masks, fake blood, and haunted houses. It takes place at a time of year when many regions of the country are undergoing that seasonal shift from crisp, early autumn to the bare, dark branches welcoming winter. The air turns colder, the wind seems louder, and one can almost hear voices in the air…

But in many countries outside the U.S., this time of year is not as much about how well we can frighten each other as it is about taking the time to commune with one another and honor the cycle of life – birth, death, and return.

Halloween is certainly connected to ideas of death and return, but it manifests in gory images of witches and zombies wandering suburban streets. In other cultures, particularly ones rooted in the many strands of Buddhism, autumn is a time to pause in remembrance for our loved ones who are no longer with us, and gather for meals and services with those who are.

In Cambodia, the holiday P’Chum Ben (which translates to Ancestors’ Day) is a 15-day celebration which takes place at the end of September each year. It is one of the most important holidays in the Cambodian religious calendar. During P’Chum Ben, it is believed that the souls of relatives who have passed away come to the temples (called pagodas) to receive offerings of food and prayers from their living family members. P’Chum Ben is not to be missed, and much time is taken by all to visit the pagodas and to show respect for their relatives and ancestors.

As with the American Halloween, there is one spooky element to P’Chum Ben: it is believed that some of the dead receive punishments for their sins and suffer in hell, far from the sun, with no clothes to wear or food to eat. It is believed that those souls who are suffering have become hungry ghosts whose tiny mouths cannot take in all the food they need. Those who greet spirits at the pagodas believe that the food they bring can be directly transferred to the dead, and some people throw the traditional sticky rice into the fields as a way to reach the ghosts. Ultimately, P’Chum Ben is an opportunity for these spirits to commune with their living relatives by receiving the offerings, and hopefully gaining some relief for their pain.

Photo of a P’Chum Ben celebration in Cambodia, courtesy of pkocambodia.org. Unlike the American tradition of wearing black to a funeral, Cambodians traditionally wear white – a lighter, more celebratory color.

I traveled to Cambodia in high school with a group of students and teachers, to learn about the country’s traditional art forms. On the trip, I developed a strong interest in Cambodian culture and a love for the country’s arts, landscape, and people.

Several years after my trip, a close friend who had also traveled there, and held his experiences in Cambodia close to his heart, unexpectedly passed away exactly one week before his birthday. In my grief, my confusion over why this talented poet, photographer, and humanitarian had died so young, I found solace in our shared connection to Cambodian culture and Buddhist beliefs in karma and reincarnation.

Each year on November 7th, the day Johnny died, I take time to look at his photographs from Cambodia and reread his poems about visiting ancient Khmer temples. A week later, on his birthday, November 14th, I connect with our mutual friends to speak about Johnny and draw attention to the ways he touched so many lives while he was with us, and the ways he continues to make an impact after his death.

No matter your belief system, or what holidays you celebrate when the weather turns cold, autumn is undeniably a good time to gather with friends, family, and loved ones, to celebrate life and others who lived before us. It is a good time to pause and ask yourself what you do believe, what brings you comfort, and how you can bring comfort to others.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer. Poem by John Harrity, from a chapbook of poems printed by his family. In the photo, Johnny is playing the chapei, a traditional Khmer instrument similar to a guitar.

Here are some ways you can integrate this attention into your daily life this autumn:

  • Make a meal traditional to your family, culture, and ancestors, and bring it to a gathering of loved ones to share
  • Look through old photo albums of relatives and take the time to learn about their lives
  • Journal about your feelings regarding the loss of your loved ones
  • Build a shrine with photos, candles, and objects for a loved one who has passed on
  • Research the ways other cultures, different from your own, celebrate and honor the lives of their relatives and ancestors

Samhain

The last of the harvest is collected.  Bonfires bring light into the dwindling sunlight hours.  Masks and costumes decorate the night full of merriment and somber reflection.  The cycle of the seasons mirror the cycle of life.  And festivals acknowledge these annual events.  Around the world different festivals are celebrated remembering those who have passed. … Continue reading "Samhain"

The last of the harvest is collected.  Bonfires bring light into the dwindling sunlight hours.  Masks and costumes decorate the night full of merriment and somber reflection.  The cycle of the seasons mirror the cycle of life.  And festivals acknowledge these annual events.  Around the world different festivals are celebrated remembering those who have passed.  Samhain, (pronounced  sah-win or sow-in)  in the Celtic tradition is one such observance.

Samhain means summer’s end, which celebrates the end of the harvest.  It is also a festival of the dead, where families and friends gather and light candles in honor of the departed.  The date of the festival is observed at the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, October 31 – November 1.

Samhain is celebrated in many ways including reflective nature walks; seasonal decorations; an altar for the dead; stories of the dead;  bonfires and feasting, and wearing of traditional costumes.  It is thought to be one of the original festivals connected to the Halloween traditions of many western countries, (All Hallow’s Eve).

Photo Credit: Liljegren Family

Whatever traditions you observe at this time of the year, keep your inner light shining, notice the changes around you, and listen to or tell stories of your ancestors or other important aspects of your culture.  

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…

For those of you living in the Southern Hemisphere, what traditions do you have at this time of year?

“Celebrating Samhain.”  Circle Sanctuary, www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/celebrating-the-seasons/celebrating-samhain, Date: October 21, 2017

This post was written by Kay Gibson, Oak Meadow’s Interim K-8 Director.