Board Games = Fun!

Scrabble tiles

via Public Domain

PLAY, PLAY, PLAY!

After the holidays, the one memory that lingers the longest for me is the fun my family had playing a board game together. There is something about sitting together, watching each other smile, laugh, grimace, and pout!

I’m not talking about a video or online board game. I’m talking about an actual game that has a board that one unfolds from a real box. I like to play a real board game in which one can feel the pieces and move them with one’s own hand. I like a game with a lot of pieces that has to be set up before the game can begin. I also like a game in which I could choose to be two or three players, and I also like a game with a bit of intrigue! Catan is a front-runner, and the games of Clue and Monopoly happen to be favorites of my family because they can take so long to play. We start a game and take a break for a snack or lunch and go back to it when we’re ready. Sometimes we even finish a game the next day.

A board game is a lot more than fun. It’s imagining strategy, thinking through moves, and creating logical outcomes. It is also practice for some important skills that we all use in our daily lives. We practice cooperation, we learn how to compromise, we work together through collaboration. Playing a board game with family and friends also gives us time to practice sympathy, compassion, and empathy with our fellow players.

I’ve played so many fun games! I love Scattergories, Apples to Apples, and the new game Sagrada is quick and fun! What games are your favorites?

Favorite Holiday Traditions (Shared by Oak Meadow K-8 Teachers)

Photo Credit: Michelle Menegaz

If I only had one holiday tradition that I could carry out, it would be quality time with my family and friends every year! I asked my colleagues to send in their favorite holiday traditions, and the responses were fantastic. I would like to share their stories that prove family time is the true joy of the season.

Kay Gibson: I love the idea of sharing traditions.  I tend to celebrate the season.  I usually go to a solstice gathering where we have a bonfire and lots of good hot food and drinks.  Hot apple cider and a warm bowl of chili in the glow of a fire is a great tradition for me.  It is especially fun when there is snow on the ground, as it brings more light into the darkest part of the year (here in the northern hemisphere). 

Photo Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:6KolaceCookies.jpg

Sarah Antel: Foods connected to my family’s heritage have always been important and taken a center stage especially at the holidays. Growing up and into present time, Hungarian lekvar cookie dough was rolled out on my great grandmother’s wooden board, systematically cut, filled with prune butter, rolled around the filling, and baked. At some point during my childhood, Christmas Eve dinner consisted of Polish peirogies, shrimp, and a light mushroom soup. I’ve continued this tradition in my own home on Christmas Eve. And now that Sicilian traditions are also a part of our life, Christmas Day includes an abundance of seafood, eggplant parmesan, and Italian wedding soup.

Photo Credit: Meg Minehan

Meg Minehan: Our family has a few favorite holiday traditions. Ever since my kids were quite young, we have decorated a tree for the animals. We create edible ornaments, such as birdseed and peanut butter pine cones and popcorn cranberry garlands. We choose a spruce, pine or balsam fir that is “just right.” It is especially fun during a snowy December when we can go back a few days later and inspect the visitors tracks!

Another favorite tradition we’ve incorporated in more recent years is our family, homemade gift exchange. We draw names, and the only rule is you must make the gift. These gifts are simple and fun. Sometimes treats are concocted in the kitchen or treasures are created with wood scraps, paper, or yarn.  It is amazing how much thought goes into these presents. One year my son made his oldest sister a rustic birdhouse because he knows how much she loves birds. 

Of course, food is always a part of our holiday gatherings. Even though most of the year we try to limit ourselves to more wholesome treats, this time of year, we bring out the white flour and colored, sanding sugar for holiday cutout cookies. These are in addition to the other traditions… i.e. Santa, our Christmas tree, etc.

Photo Credit: Andy Kilroy

Andy Kilroy: Our family does advent calendars, but a little differently. In Denmark, there are little elves called Julen. These little guys wear big red hats and the night of November 30 creep into the house and put chocolate on the calendars, which are embroidered and hung up on the wall. They then go and help themselves to sugar in the sugar bowls or canister leaving tiny footprints in the sugar they spill. In the morning of December 1, the children wake up and fly down the steps and discover 24 pieces of chocolate hung on the calendars – one for each day before Christmas to count down to the big day. Here is a picture of the calendar I made years ago for my son. 

Lesley Arnold: When my kids were little we invited all their friends and parents to our house for a production of “The Night Before Christmas”. Our friend, a music teacher, interspersed the show with Christmas songs we all sang. Each family brought a present (in secret) wrapped with their own child’s name on it. (We tried to have it be a small gift so none were “outdone” by someone else’s gift.) I read “The Night Before Christmas” and my husband and friends acted out the poem. It was a big production with costumes and all! We even had a tiny sleigh and reindeer that we made and put on a pulley across the ceiling. The big event, though, was Santa Claus arriving. We put a picture of a fireplace in a doorway and he arrived through that! My father played Santa Claus and no one even knew it was him. In his big bag were all the presents for the kids. He called out each name and they came up and got their present. What a celebration it was! We still talk about my oldest daughter playing the sugar plum fairy at age 4! A wonderful event and the memory is the best gift!

Anna Logowitz: My sister and I were always in charge of choosing what color Chanukah candles we wanted for each night, and as we got older we also learned how to melt the ends so that they would stay upright in some of our shakier menorahs. The family menorah was simple dark metal, but over the years we accumulated two more. Our Aunt Nancy died when I was 9, and she had a flat little menorah, which became my sister’s and is now with me. My parents also went on a trip and brought back a beautiful one from an art school fair that branched like a tree and had birds sitting in it. We came up with different candle patterns, new ones each night, and watched to see which candles would last the longest.

My mother grew up Christian, and she repurposed two of her family’s traditions for us: Christmas cake became Good Luck Cake, to be eaten on the new year, and every year we made cookies – using Jewish and secular cookie cutters and a lot of very colorful homemade icing – to take to a party that we had with two other couples who had all been in a mixed marriage group with my parents before we were born. We ate them for dessert after latkes and corned beef, over a very large game a dreidel. That party is still going on after 35 years, I believe. 

We usually managed to do at least one special thing every night, whether it was being out and about or doing something at home, and we would always pick one night to do Chanukah full out, i.e. make latkes, which are a lot of work and leave the house smelling like oil and onions for days! I used to love to go to school the next day with the smell still in my clothes, because it meant that this was a special time of year. 

Photo Credit: Michelle Menegaz

Michelle Menegaz: We have started a new tradition based on an old one. Every year we had the most beautiful poignant Advent Spiral celebrations in a beautiful round healing sound temple. We used our own apples, drilled holes for candles and made a spiral of greens, stones, shells, small wooden animals, wild berries of winter, etc. Along the path, we placed large golden yellow paper stars. Children would walk alone (if old enough) into the center of the spiral, light their apple candle from the lit pillar in the middle, and then walk back out, placing their apple on one of the stars. We had quiet singing and music as they traversed this highly symbolic journey of traveling through the dark to find light at the center of it all, then bringing their light back out to the world.

Over the years my growing daughter got tired of this and we got tired of the huge effort of making it. For a few years, there was nothing and it felt sad. Last year, we had an impromptu gathering of about 7 teen girls, some of whom helped me create a huge labyrinth of greens outside in the snow atop our pasture hill. We had a campfire down below and when it was dark and the mood was right, each girl trudged up the hill, took up an unlit beeswax tea light in a pint mason jar, walked the snowy path between the greens, and lit their candle from the same pillar in the middle. Those waiting sang songs of light and joy. They headed back out and nestled their jar amongst the greens, and cavorted down the hill. There was more laughter, more shouting, more action, more unbridled LIFE so it had a different tone. But every single girl thanked me profusely and said it was the best thing they had done in a long time and that they missed this sort of thing. We will be doing this again this Solstice!

So, review the essence of what you treasure about your traditions and see if you can bring that to meet your growing children, even the young adult ones, in a new way that feeds them still.

We will love to hear from you! What are your favorite holiday traditions?

 

Favorite Family Traditions

Photo from the Vannucci Family, baking gingerbread cookies

December has arrived, which finds most of us in the full swing of holiday activities that connect us with seasonal rhythms of nature. Many of these festivities are surrounded by family and food, and a time for celebrating traditions. The most important tradition for the holiday season isn’t purchased at a store or doesn’t come wrapped in a package. Instead, it is spending time with family and friends. The memories made with those most precious to you can last a lifetime.

Here are ten ways to enjoy your holiday season with favorite family traditions:

  • Start a Family Memory Book – Everyone loves something made by hand, so why not create a family memory book? Every year, have each family member draw a picture of a favorite holiday activity, or even add a special photo to the book. These will be treasured as the pages and years grow in numbers.
  • Play Family Games – Holiday-themed charades can fill your home with laughter and joy! Playing a new board game every year is another enjoyable way to share quality time together.
  • Camp Out in the Living Room – Enjoy a family campout right in your living room. Light candles or a fire in the fireplace, play holiday music, sing songs together, and cozy up for a night with visions of sugarplums dancing in your head.
  • Share Stories – Read one of your childhood’s favorite holiday stories aloud as a family. Telling stories about your personal childhood will especially delight your children.
  • Act Out Stories – Acting out a holiday story can be a memorable tradition. Writing your own family play and presenting it to extended family members and friends is always exciting. You might even like to videotape it, start a new videotape every year, and then plan to watch the video of your family’s past year’s performance.
  • Be Playful – Your imaginations can soar with creativity and playfulness! Hide some of the holiday gifts instead of putting them in their regular place. Write out little clues and follow footprints made by the elves.
  • Be Secretive – Children love secrets! Make some extra traditional holiday cookies or special treats and secretly place a plateful at a neighbor’s door. There is nothing like making everyone smile as this little mystery is unfolded and solved!
  • Learn About Other Cultural Traditions – Go to the library and pick out stories of holidays in other cultures. Make a traditional meal or complete a craft project related to one of the cultural festivities.
  • Gift Yourself by Giving to Others – Have your children pick out one of their own toys, games, or clothes – something they like and think would be a joy to share with others. Go together to a local shelter to hand out the presents.
  • Invent Your Own Family Tradition – If you’re looking for a special way to bring your family closer this year, come up with your own favorite family tradition. The most valuable and long-lasting traditions start in the heart of your family.
Photo Credit: Spreading a Little Kindness

Birding!

https://feederwatch.org/blog/

This time of year I start thinking about the birds in my area. The temperatures are dropping close to freezing. I see birds in great flocks swooping into the bird bath and landing on the feeder. Last week there were about 15 Common Grackles splashing and crowding into my bird bath. The winter is upon us here in New Hampshire. The birds need to eat quite a bit of food to keep up their energy for traveling south. Those that stay will need food all winter. I often look out the kitchen window in the winter to see a little black -capped chickadee at the feeder, and I wonder how it can keep warm. The tiny little feet and the skinny little legs look so vulnerable. They need high energy foods and lots of it! I know there are Oak Meadow students that enjoy watching and feeding the birds. If you do also, then you might like to join the Project FeederWatch that is a program of the Cornell University Lab of Orinthology.

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Project Overview, FeederWatch.org

Interesting bird facts can be found at: http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Birds_Kamm_Kuss/Pages/PAGE_HOME.html

Here’s one: The Common Grackle often allows ants to crawl over its body so that they may secrete formic acid, which is thought to kill parasites, a practice called anting. Besides formic acid from ants, the Common Grackle has been observed using various other substances, such as walnut juice, mothballs, lemons, limes, and choke cherries in similar ways.

Do you watch the birds? Do you keep a list of the birds you’ve seen? Let us know!

 

The Nutcracker Ballet

Edgar Degas painting - "Dress Rehearsal of the Ballet"

One of my favorite traditions during this time of year is watching the annual production of “The Nutcracker Ballet”. This grand holiday tradition dazzles and delights the audience with spectacular choreographed dancing, beautiful costumes, glorious scenery, and pyrotechnical magic as the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music is brought to life. “The Nutcracker” production is a very special performance for me, as it always brings back warm and wonderful memories of a magical family event during my children’s early home schooling years.

If taking your children to see “The Nutcracker Ballet” is a part of your holiday plans, then I highly recommend filling your home with the amazing orchestral soundtrack before you attend the performance. Since the performance is “told” in the form of music and dance, I also recommend reading aloud the story so your children can better understand the storyline during the performance. There are many books written about the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. One of my favorites is the original tale of Nutcracker, written by E.T.A. Hoffmann (in 1816), translated by Ralph Manheim, and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

If you are also interested in sharing a little history of this special ballet with your children, then I recommend the book, The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Cathy Gendron.

Who would ever have thought that during WW II, three small-town Utah boys interested in ballet would have  started this annual holiday tradition? “The Nutcracker Ballet” has retained its freshness because it appeals to the sense of wonder in both children and adults. It is a memorable and magical event that every family should enjoy together at least once, if not every year as a family tradition.

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. 

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. 

Monarch Migration

Photo Credit: US Fish & Wildlife

Monarch Migration

Oak Meadow’s science coursework in grades k-4 includes various studies of the butterfly. In addition to the suggested lesson activities, you might include a guidebook, such as Robert Michael Pyle’s book, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Perhaps you would enjoy sharing a butterfly story, such as Alan Madison’s Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly or Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Bruce Coville’s The Prince of Butterflies. 

Help track Monarch migration!

Photo Credit: The Liljegren Family

Awareness of the threats to pollinating insects is growing, and these beneficial pollinators need our help now more than ever. The Monarch butterflies have seen a population decline over 90% in recent years. Researchers and citizen scientists have been tagging the beautiful, graceful Monarch butterflies for many years. In fact, back in the late 1970s, tagging led to the discovery of the Monarchs’ wintering ground in Mexico.

Oak Meadow students have the perfect opportunity to participate in a Citizen Science project that can help to monitor an important population of pollinators. Here are a few sites that offer ways to assist in this exciting Monarch migration:

https://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/AboutFall.html

https://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/citizen_science.pdf

Photo Credit: The Liljegren Family

Stamp Collecting!

“The word ‘philatelist’ means a person who practices philately or stamp collecting. It comes from the French word ‘philatelie’, which was derived from the Greek words ‘philos’, meaning loving, and ‘atelia’, meaning exemption from tax which also came to mean ‘postage is prepaid.’.”

American Philatelic Society

The American Philatelic Society is the largest, nonprofit organization in the world for stamp collectors.

When I was little and traveled with my family, we didn’t have computers for emailing and so we wrote lots of letters to family and friends. We also made a tradition of mailing ourselves letters to our own home! We would go to a post office in a country or town that we were visiting, and purchase a special stamp. (You can ask the post master to show you what stamps he/she has available.) Then, using the stamp, we would mail the letter home to ourselves. It was fun to see the letters and the stamps when we arrived home. I don’t have a very big collection of stamps, but the ones that I do have hold some wonderful memories for me.

This year a really cool stamp is going to be offered! A first of its kind! Some background first:

You may have read that there is going to be a total eclipse of the sun across the United States this summer. (Monday, August 21, 2017.) People from all over the world will be coming to different spots in the United States to witness this solar eclipse.

Solar Eclipse
Photo Credit: Public Domain

What does a solar eclipse have to do with a stamp? Well, the Postal Service will be offering a first-of-its-kind stamp! It changes when you touch it! The Postal Service announcement says: “The Total Eclipse of the Sun, Forever® stamp, which commemorates the August 21 eclipse, transforms into an image of the Moon from the heat of a finger.”

You can read the story of how the stamp was designed here.

If you would like to view other stamps that have commemorated eclipses, you can view them here.

So, as you travel to new places, or even stay in your hometown, take a look at the many stamps that the post office has to offer!

P. S.  Looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse can be dangerous; here’s a way to enjoy the eclipse without hurting your eyes: http://hilaroad.com/camp/projects/eclipse_viewer/eclipse_viewer.html

 

National Get Outdoors Day

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” Rachel Carlson On Saturday, June 10th, the Defenders of Wildlife organization will celebrate their 10th annual National Get … Continue reading "National Get Outdoors Day"

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

Rachel Carlson

On Saturday, June 10th, the Defenders of Wildlife organization will celebrate their 10th annual National Get Outdoors Day. This national event encourages families to go outside, visit a park or refuge, and renew a personal connection to nature, as well as regenerate a commitment to leaving a healthy planet for future generations. There’s nothing better than introducing your children to the wonders of nature, especially since it’s only a matter of time before the future rests in their hands. Here is a list of all 198 National Get Outdoors Day locations. There might be one near you!

“What do parents owe their young that is more important than a warm and trusting connection to the Earth…?”

– Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth

Every grade level in Oak Meadow’s k-4 coursework suggests environmental awareness activities and exercises. We also feel it’s important to introduce and teach young children about the natural environment. So, go ahead! Make summer plans, get outdoors, and let Nature be your teacher!

“As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the soughing of the trees.”

-Valerie Andrews, A Passion for this Earth