Monday, September 10, 2012

Art Primer (7 months later than planned)

...So, have you ever gone back to the post manager page on your blog to see an almost-finished post that is all kinds of awesome, only to realize you hadn't thought about it/remembered it in approximately 7 months' time? I can't be the only one! So here's my shining example of such a discovery from February of this year. I would just like to point out that technically, Khary was still 6yo and Khalil was 3. Carry on. 
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(originally written in February 2012)

The boys and I have been expanding on the "Five in a Row" concept and using books as an introduction to further studies. Sometimes it's as simple as a bunch of books about snow, winter, animals, and snow forts. Today, we began reading "art" books for kids. Not craft books. Not "how to make a picture like this" books. But books about collecting art, appreciating art, famous artists, famous works of art, art museums. Apropos because we were going on another field trip to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art the following morning.

We started with an art appreciation book, The Art Collector, by Jan Wahl an illustrated simply and gorgeously by Rosaline Bonnet.

In it, a little boy is inspired to try his hand at creating art by his great-grandmother, and that spawns a lifelong calling for art appreciation. He begins his own collection and eventually it fills a museum. The cover hints at the beautiful and artful contrast of simplistic, clean, kid-friendly illustration with the complex and sometimes abstract artwork he collects and displays. Using action verbs, Wahl poignantly conveys the lure of appreciating paintings of various styles. My boys were entranced and talked about how different paintings made them feel in the book. I also love how the story hints that one needn't be a gifted creator of art to really love it--probably because neither my husband nor I seem to have inherited a gene for realistic drawn depiction--and therefore neither have our children. But they have shown an ability and interest in looking at paintings and sculpture...so this book was very fitting for them.

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Another book on the "art appreciation" theme is Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka with illustrations by Lane Smith (and many notable artists of the 20th and 21st Centuries!). Scieszka takes readers on a tour of New York's Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, by following a little boy who was to meet his friend Art at a nearby street corner and gets directed to MoMA to "find art." Van Gogh's "Starry Night," some Andy Warhol, surrealism, cubism, one of Monet's Waterlilies, Kahlo, postmodern commentaries, sculpture...the book's "tour" is thorough and varied. Scieszka also includes a guide to the art featured within the story. One of our favorites was a Henry Moore sculpture, "Family Group," because Moore worked in Kansas City and the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum features a number of sculptures and models, both inside and out. I must say, I was proud when Khary saw the sculpture in the book and immediately recognized it as "just like the ones we see at our museum!" 

Khalil, too, was fascinated by the works within. Perhaps that's one of the best things about modern art--kids get something out of it, even if it's not what you or I would take away. He was so taken with a pair of paintings in the book that he diligently worked on creating a similar image of his own.

The Beautiful Bird ...

Joan MirĂ³


Number 20

Bradley Walker Tomlin


 
Khalil's abstract line drawing


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We also read Paris in the Spring With Picasso by Joan Yolleck and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Priceman's illustrations are vibrant ink and watercolor--and playfully abstract (not to mention a bit cubist in nature themselves). Yolleck's treatment of the Gertrude Stein's cadre of artists is light and conveys the excitement of that culturally incredible time and place. It is also heartening to see her approach to Stein's relationship with Alice B. Toklas is no different from any traditional romantic relationship in which the partners share a flirtatious affection for one another.


In one series of pages, Yolleck and Priceman imagine Picasso's creation of "Two Nudes." Upon my closing the book, Khary, age 6 and not normally taken to impassioned artistic creation, immediately grabbed a flesh-toned marker. With it, he very carefully--and with a light hand I don't think I've seen from Mr. Brute Force before--sketched out a blocky body, then outlined it with thin black marker not unlike the illustration's version of "Two Nudes." Now granted, most people wouldn't recognize that it was a copy of Picasso's interpretation of a strong female form, but it was so different from any previous version of his stick people--"bigger...and squarer, so that they look very strong"--that I have no doubt that's what he was recreating. Above the figure's head, he drew a bright yellow and orange sun like that featured on the cover of the book. See for yourself:


Two Nudes

Pablo Picasso



Khary's Picasso Nude (plus the sun image from the book's cover)


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Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Homeschooler's Chalice Lighting

I attend All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City. At the beginning of each service, a member is asked to read a Chalice Lighting to essentially open up the service and set the tone after the minister's introduction. It can be an already-published reading or a personal account. I prefer the personal accounts, so when I was selected to offer up the Chalice Lighting for today's service regarding lifelong learning within our congregation, the words came easily. After having a couple of friends look over it with impartial eyes, one asked me to publish it on my blog. So here you are. I could expound on the ideas as they apply both individually and to my congregation, but the Chalice Lighting is a short reading, so you get an edited-to-the-bones essay from me. (And that is rare!)

A chalice image similar to the one used at All Souls KC

As I grow as a homeschool parent, I am learning as much as my children about our shared universe. How can that be, given my distinct educational advantage over a 4 year old and 7 year old? It’s because I get to learn more and to watch my children suss out answers for which they hadn’t even developed questions just moments before. It’s because we get to experience discovery and wonder together and to inspire one another. There is an educational philosophy called Unschooling, which holds that learning is a natural part of living and takes place throughout life. It includes the concept of Lifelong Learning--that I have just as much responsibility to pursue self-education regarding my own interests as I expect of my children. And can’t we all learn more...about the world, about ourselves, about our roles within our relationships and communities?

Another parenting philosophy to which I subscribe is free range parenting, or resisting a societal belief that: Our children are in constant danger, and the role of a parent is to shield our children from all threats. I was a free-range kid; I daresay virtually all of us of a certain age and older were raised similarly. We explored at  will, played outside our caregivers’ awareness...We were trusted to come home with as many fingers and toes as we had left with in the morning. By extension, we learned to make decisions for ourselves...and yes, some of those decisions were poor ones...but we learned that failure was okay; we found our personal boundaries; we learned to trust ourselves--and to trust others.

I try to allow my own kids similar freedom, and although they are young, they often prove themselves more capable than I would have guessed. They problem-solve, adapt, accept challenges with enthusiasm and humility--making themselves vulnerable to failure while trying to meet those challenges. When one considers any personal or shared endeavor, aren’t those are the attributes of successful learning and growth?

I light the chalice this morning for the humility and shared trust--in both ourselves and our proverbial villages--that are hallmarks of successful lifelong learning and growth.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Grasping Racial Identity...At Six Years Old

I'm white. My husband is black. Our children happen to be very light-skinned boys: Khary is 6 and Khalil is 3. We've discussed race, discrimination, slavery, segregation, integration, the Civil Rights Movement, how Mommy and Daddy wouldn't be allowed to be together or married or live as a family with our kids...the whole shebang. They've heard me say that if they had lived in their Gram's (my mother's) time, they wouldn't be allowed to do many of their regular activities, play with many of their friends, and would generally have a second-class life simply because of their racial heritage.
Family portrait from May, 2008
courtesy blessed life photography
But it's never really sunk in before. For instance, when my son was 5, he drew a picture for our neighbor's 8th birthday. Our neighbor is dark-skinned, as is his niece, age 6 at the time. Khary drew a really fabulous picture of the three of them playing on our playset in our backyard--neighbor and niece were brown, naturally; Khary was white. As in, he used *white* crayon "because [he] couldn't find the 'other' pink kind" to depict himself. When I asked him to tell me what was going on in the picture, he said they were playing and that "D and A are brown like Daddy, and I'm light like you." Hm. So I try to explain again that he's a mix of Daddy and me, and yes, he has light skin that is just a little darker than Mommy's, but neither of us is really white like the crayon. He says he understands and runs off to play and give the picture to D. [note: we now have the Crayola "Multicutural" crayons and markers!]
The infamous birthday drawing (those are flowers under Khary, by the way)


Now--his whole life, he's played with a veritable rainbow coalition of kids--including the children of our neighborhood and of course my husband's family, but naturally in our daily lives of secular homeschooling and Unitarian Universalist Sunday school, the majority of kids with whom he interacts are "light like Mommy." (I do make a concerted effort to ensure a more diverse experience when seeking out extracurricular activities.) However, I noticed a curious thing when he was around age 4 or 5: anytime we were with other (black + white) biracial children, he gravitated to them. We'd talk about K or M and note that they and Khary looked somewhat alike--had the same hair, skin tone, etc. Maybe it's the adoptive families with whom we play and learn whose children don't necessarily look like their parents--or like one another, for that matter--that sort of kept that genetic heredity thing from becoming evident. Or maybe it just doesn't occur to kids by this age, though I seem to recall "knowing" it by this time.


Whatever the reason, it had never before sunken in for Khary that he is both "brown" and "light" at the same time. So tonight, as I was tucking them in, I answered the ever-present question of what we're doing in the morning with, "Going to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. You remember, it's near where we went for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Rally?" After jarring his memory with a reminder of what snack we ate on the sidewalk afterward, he recalled the day and then asked, "Who was Martin Luther King, Jr. again?" (Totally forgiveable, as we've been reading a goodly number of biographies lately, and he's as bad with names as his mother.)  "You remember, he was the man who helped lead the Civil Rights movement so black people and white people could be equal?" I turned off the light. Then came his worrisome reply: "Oh, yeah. I'm glad he did that. And I'm glad we're white so we wouldn't be treated bad."


...parenting.FAIL


I flip the light back on, go over to his bed, and the conversation ensues thusly:


Me: Honey, you know you're part white like Mommy and part black like Daddy, right? [He nods.] So at the time of Dr. King, you'd be considered half-black, which was the same as anyone else with dark skin like Daddy's or D's [neighbor] to many people of that time. And you couldn't do the same things Dr. King couldn't do as a kid.
Khary, a look of astonished fear in his eyes: Oh. I'm really glad Dr. King worked to change that.
Me: Yes--me, too. We know it doesn't matter if a person is white or caucasian or black or African-American, that we're all the same on the inside. But it took Dr. King and a whole lot of other people to make sure the laws changed.
K: What's caucasian?
Me: It's a big word for people who have light skin like Mommy's--it's not really white, though, is it? I'm kind of pink, huh? And "black" is the same as what some people call African-American or "brown"--it's not really black, huh? There's a word from a really old language, negro [which I said with as much of a latin accent I could muster], which means "black," and so African-Americans were called "negroes" [said in that all-American way we all know and disdain today] by some people back then. In fact, we're going to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tomorrow. That's why it's called that.
K: Wait, they didn't even get to play baseball?!
Me: No, isn't that silly and sad? There was a separate baseball league for players who were black--we'll learn about it tomorrow, and some of the players were really fun--and they were all really good. It was totally unfair that they never got to play in the regular Major Leagues. Until Jackie Robinson. We'll learn about him tomorrow, too. He was the first black player to play in the regular Major Leagues. He was a very strong and brave man.
K: Why was he brave?
Me: Because a lot of people still thought it was wrong for black players and white players to play baseball together. How crazy is that? Those people treated him very badly; they were very mean to him, but he was brave, and strong, and he knew he was doing what was right, and he played anyway.
K: What kind of mean things did they do to him?
Me: Some people sent him angry letters, some people tried to spit on him at games and throw things at him, and people called him names and made fun of him while he was playing. But he stayed strong and showed what a great player he was. Like I said, we'll learn about some of the Negro Leagues players and Jackie Robinson tomorrow.
K: [looks thoughtful and somewhat dejected]
Me: Hon, you okay?
K: Yeah. So we're all brown--all of us?
Me: Yeah--all of us: Daddy, Me, you, Khalil. We're all just different shades of brown. I'm the palest [said with an eyeroll; I am really pale, about which Dawud teases me sometimes.] But you know our skin colors don't make any difference about us--we're all the same on the inside, and we all love the same, like I love you.
K: What's pale?
Me: It just means I don't have very much color in my skin--that I'm really light.
K: Oh! [then with a  chuckle:] Yeah, you don't have much color at all! I love you, Mommy. Goodnight.
[Many hugs and kisses. Khary still looked worried. End scene.]


I came downstairs and relayed the conversation with Dawud, who only a little jokingly agreed with me that he may be waking some tonight with some scary dreams...


I know it's a struggle he's going to have for much of his life--figuring out where he fits in this country's crazy view of race--and I can only hope I can help give him the love and tools to feel comfortable in his own skin, no matter the color.
with Daddy at Thanksgiving 2011


with Mommy on her birthday, January 2012

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Football for Mommies

Recently, as my offering for a preschool (and parent) co-op, I held a mini-class called "Football for Mommies," wherein I tried to give a basic outline of what on earth is happening on the television on any given Saturday or Sunday in September-January. It was in google doc form, so I'm copying/pasting here, and adding some photos* in hopes that your eyes won't bug out of your head seeing so many words all together at once. (If you want an easy-to-print cheat sheet, go ahead and click on the above google docs link and do just that.)

Without further ado...

Football for Mommies

photo credit
The basics
(Probably the most basic fact is that each team has 11 players. That’s kind of important.)

If a football field is 100 yards, why do the yard lines only go up to 50? Yards are measured from the end zones, so the field is divided into two separate, 50-yard sections. Each team is assigned an end zone to defend. (End zones are each 10 yards deep.) A team scores by possessing the ball in their opponent’s end zone or by kicking the ball through the uprights of their opponent’s goalpost.

Keeping score in football can be confusing, as there are FIVE ways to score points:
1) Touchdown - Worth 6 points; the most common word associated with American football, and the goal of virtually any offensive possession. The offense must either run the ball into their opponent’s end zone or catch a pass in their opponent’s end zone. You will hear talk of “breaking the plane,” which means only that the nose of the ball must break the plane (when viewed from the side, straight-on) of the end zone in order to score a touchdown. There will be many a reviewed play, instant replay, and brouhaha over whether the nose of the ball crossed the plane before the player was “down.” (more on the two meanings of “down” in a moment)
2) Extra Point - Worth 1 point. After a touchdown, the offense gets one chance to add to their point total, starting from the 2-yard line; the typical choice is to kick an “extra point” because it is almost always successful. The offense must kick the ball between the uprights of their opponent’s goalpost.
3) Two-Point Conversion - Worth 2 points. After a touchdown, if a team so chooses, they can run a non-kicking play from the 2-yard line and score in the same manner as a touchdown, with an offensive player in possession of the ball in their opponent’s end zone. The likelihood of success is much lower than with an "extra point,” but the mathematics of the game can make it highly advantageous to attempt.
4) Field Goal - Worth 3 points; essentially a consolation prize if you can’t score a touchdown, but is easier because NFL kickers can often successfully kick a field goal from upwards of 50 yards away (a little less than half the field; the goalposts are located behind the end zone, which is an additional 10 yards). The offense must kick the ball between the uprights of their opponent’s goalpost.
5) Safety - Worth 2 points. This is the MOST confusing (and rarest) way to score. A safety occurs when an offensive team is stopped in its own end zone or possession of the ball is lost because the ball has gone out of play through the back of the offense’s own end zone. (Think of a mistake while the team’s “back is to the wall.”) 
Signaling a score. photo credit

Regarding that word “down”...Why are there two ways to use it in football? Probably because of vernacular shorthand, but it may also have something to do with a machismo disdain for the word “try.”
Down, defined:
1. (adverb) on or to the ground. When a player with the ball touches the ground with any part of his body except his hands or feet, he is considered “down,” and the play is dead. The ball is spotted where it was when the downing of that body part caused the play to end.
2. (noun) An attempt, a try. Each time a team gets the ball (called a “possession”), they have 4 tries to move the ball forward 10 yards (toward their opponent’s goal). If they fail to do so, the opposing team takes over possession wherever the ball is after that 4th try, or 4th down. Rarely does a team allow their opponent to take over possession, however. If the offense is close enough (typically at about the 35 yard line), they will attempt a field goal. If they are too far away for a field goal attempt, they will punt the ball to their opponent in an attempt to stop their opponent’s forward progress deeper in their own territory (ie, farther from the goal line which they are defending).

Why do the announcers keep repeating numbers after every play? They are telling the audience what down it is and how far the team must advance the ball in order to achieve another set of downs. It changes every play. As discussed, “1st and 10” means it is 1st down, and the team has 10 yards to go to earn another set of downs. For instance, “2nd and 6” means they are using their second try in that set of downs and must gain 6 more yards for a new set. “3rd and 15” is a tough position to be in, and if the team fails to move 15 yards on that one play, they may: a) “Go for it” (use their 4th down to try to advance the ball enough for a 1st down) and risk not converting; b) Attempt a field goal if they are close enough to their opponent’s goal; or c) punt the ball away so their opponents are father away from their end zone--and therefore less likely to score. If a team does not earn a 1st down on a possession, it is referred to as a “3 and Out,” meaning they had only 3 downs before punting the ball away.

Okay, a punt is a kind of kick a team does when they already have possession and need to get rid of the ball, but then how is it different from a kickoff? A punt can take place anywhere on the field (and is snapped directly to the kicker by the center), but a kickoff almost always takes place at a team’s own 20-yard line (and the ball starts off on a kicking tee; it is not snapped). While technically the kicking team has possession of the ball, they can’t make any play other than to kick it to their opponent for the opponent to begin their drive to score. A kickoff takes place at the beginning of each half of the game, and again after any successful score. (The scoring team kicks off to their opponent.)

A punt. photo credit
 
Line of Scrimmage - An imaginary line across the field where the ball is placed to start a play. Neither the offense nor defense can cross the line until the ball is snapped. (The players who line up “on the line of scrimmage” are called linemen.)
Snap - The ball is moved by the center from the line of scrimmage to either the quarterback or punter
Drive - A set of downs (a possession) by an offensive team in an attempt to score
Fumble - A player who has possession of the ball on a play loses possession of the ball. This sometimes results in a turnover (other team recovers the ball), but not always; the fumbling team can also recover the ball.
Sack - When the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in a loss of yardage. (And often a hurt quarterback!)
Penalty - A player or team violates a rule of fair play. Punishment is loss of yards and/or downs; if the defense commits a penalty, the offense moves forward and/or is awarded a first down. A referee signals a penalty by “throwing a flag”--quite literally throwing a yellow flag into the air. 
Holding - The most common penalty called, and sometimes it can be the hardest to see. Rules state that a player can only block another player not in possession of the ball with his body, straight-on; violating the rule (by wrapping an arm around another player, grabbing their jersey, etc) results in a holding penalty. Since it can be hard to see, players often “get away with it.” You’ll probably hear lots of protests such as “that guy was holding! Where’s the flag?!”
Offside - Another very common penalty called when a player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped.

photo credit




Knowing Your Offense From Your Defense

Why are there so many “backs”? A “back” is just a player who lines up behind the linemen; that area is called the “backfield.”

Offensive Linemen protect the quarterback from the defense, and are generally built like tanks. From the middle of the line, outwards they are:
Center - snaps the ball to the quarterback in addition to protecting him
Right/Left Guard - next to the center
Right/Left Tackle - Next to the guards
The Quarterback runs the offense, calling plays (or at least telling the rest of the team which play the coaches tell him to run). He receives the ball from the center and can pass the ball, hand it off to another player, or run the ball himself.
The Running Back’s job is pretty self-explanatory, right? They line up behind the quarterback and usually gets the ball from the quarterback in a handoff. When he’s not running, he’s blocking defenders for the person who will have the ball or pretending to have the ball to try to fool the defense. A Tailback, Fullback, Halfback, or Rushing back are all types of running backs.
Wide Receivers line up farther away from the ball and typically run downfield to get into position to catch the ball from the quarterback.
A Tight End can act as both a wide receiver and a blocker. (and IMO, the description typically fits players who play this position)

Defensive Linemen try to tackle the ball carrier (typically the quarterback). They are also built like tanks, but tend to be a little faster than offensive linemen. From the middle, outwards:
Defensive Tackle - Besides trying to reach the quarterback, their job is to make sure no one runs right up the middle. A Nose Tackle is a defensive tackle who is in the middle of an odd number of defensive linemen and who is lined up directly across from the offense’s center. (Many teams don’t use the position of nose tackle).
Defensive End - Besides trying to reach the quarterback, their job is to make sure no one runs around the defensive line
Linebackers line up behind the defensive linemen and are regarded as the best tacklers on the team. They are not as big as linemen, but big, strong, fast guys. Often, one is more or less in charge of the defense based on which play the offense seems to be running. There are Middle, Inside, and Outside Linebackers.
A safety is one of two players who lines up even behind the linebackers. Their job is to protect against a deep pass.
Cornerbacks line up farthest from the ball, usually opposite the offensive team’s wide receivers. They also defend against the pass. (Collectively, the safeties and the cornerbacks are called the secondary. As in, a secondary line of defense.)

photo credit


fin.




I thought it might be helpful to have a “cheat sheet” for easier reference, so tried to format thusly.

*My apologies for the non-clickable photos; blogger's being glitchy for me. Please click on the captions below the photos for appropriate source credit. (all obtained legally via creative commons photo pool, I swear!)

Are there other questions a football newbie might have that I haven’t answered?

Monday, September 5, 2011

More Books We Love

While searching for something else on a library site, one of the results that popped up was this gorgeous (visually, lyrically, and spiritually) book we'd read together a few times in the Spring. All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon with mesmerizing illustrations (it did win a Caldecott Honor) by Marla Frazee is one of those really great books that we didn't even realize would touch us so deeply. And it's one I'd love to come back to time and again. In fact, I will check it out again this month to add to our celebration of the International Day of Peace which is September 21.


Another book we've checked out a couple of times now is Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studios. It creatively conveys the story (with a few embellishments) of the real-life events of 1987 wherein a Long Island town ran out of landfill space and loaded its garbage onto a barge which roamed the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for months looking for a place to dump it. I remembered the story from the news when I was a kid & was eager to share the surreality with my kids. Enter Red Nose Studio's captivating illustrations using a stop-motion-like photography* of handmade materials, and this book breathes new life into this green morality tale. The writing is good, too--and lends itself to accents (and you all know how I love to read in accents!). We most recently checked this book out because I was blending two units together--one on boats and one on household waste--and there was nothing more perfect than a boat with waste! We may check it out again for Earth Day (which was the first occasion we found it, thanks to a library display).
*Check out the Amazon page for an incredible look at the creative process from the author/illustrator. My kids were amazed at how the illustrations were created.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Children's Books We Love, Pt 3

I've been meaning to pass along some of our all-time favorite books...and some of the gems we've come across at our libraries.

One of the latter is Henry and the Crazed Chicken Pirates by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by John Manders.



I hesitantly picked this book when my 3yo was wandering around our local library branch, collecting books featuring rabbits on the covers. I acquiesced because we were also picking up the next chapter book I've been reading my 6yo before bed, How to be a Pirate (the 2nd in the "How to Train Your Dragon" series). I'm so glad I did--it's no award-winner, but it is a FUN book to read, to listen to, and to look at. The watercolor illustrations are bright, colorful, and engaging. If you do voice variation when you read, it's fun for that, too. (There are pirates, after all!) My 6yo requested I read this twice in a row one night--which he almost never does anymore--and then once AGAIN the following night. He loved it so much that he insisted I "write about it on the internet." Wish granted, Bubba.