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Bittersweet Story of Milton S. Hershey School

Cookie Exchange at Milton S. Hershey SchoolIt was unlike any cookie exchange I had been to.  No Christmas carols playing.  Minimal decoration.  And most of the adults in the room were complete strangers to each other 24 hours earlier.  Although no celebrities were in attendance, camera flashes were going off almost as frequently as any red carpet event.  This is what happens when a dozen bloggers exchange cookies with children from the Milton S. Hershey School.

Mere hours earlier, 11 other bloggers and I had been in the Hershey test kitchen, getting an insider’s peek into how recipes on the back of Hershey’s products and in those colorful recipe cards and cookbooks are created.  We were divided into teams and dutifully followed (or tried to) the directions of some of the most beloved holiday cookie recipes.  The sweet results were combined with additional batches of cookies for an exchange with two houses of children from the Milton S. Hershey School (MHS) — essentially a boarding school for underprivileged children, which gives children as young as 4 and as old as graduating high school seniors a second or better chance at life.  The average income of the families the children came from is approximately $15,000 a year.  Some of the parents choose to send their children to the school, in the hopes of breaking the cycle and providing their children with the education and life skills training they aren’t able to provide themselves.  But some children arrive at the school under protective custody, their families completely unaware of where they are.

In a two-and-a-half day trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania and an opportunity to learn about The Hershey Company and its sister company, Hershey Entertainment and Resort, I have learned so much about chocolate, the attractions in this small Pennsylvania town of 21,000 people, and the fascinating failures and then successes of Milton S. Hershey.  There is much to digest (physically and mentally!) from this trip, but one of the most heart-rending is the story of this school and the ideaology behind it, with very few modifications, that has survived the test of time for nearly a century and changed the lives of 9,000 people.

An Opportunity of a Lifetime

Milton Hershey and his beloved wife Catherine, aka “Kitty,” were unable to have children.  November 18, 1909 they created the Deed of Trust that created the school originally named the Hershey Industrial School.  Four students were enrolled the following year, beginning in a classroom in Milton’s original home.  At the time of its creation, the school was for white orphaned boys, since then the school has expanded its student population to include underprivileged children of either gender and all races.  Back in 1909, the idea was not only to feed, clothe, and educate the pupils, but also to teach them a marketable trade so they could make their own way in life after graduation.  Three years after his wife’s death, Hershey donated the majority of his vast fortune to the school which to this day operates on funds provided via the trust and sales of Hershey’s chocolates, and does not accept private donations.

The school currently houses and educates 1800 students, with plans to expand to serve even more.  The children live in group houses under the watchful eye of married couples who serve as Houseparents and who make sure the children not only are cared for, but go to school, extracurricular activities, and church, and also enforce a very structured way of life that includes chores and bedtime. Children have the option to go home for school breaks and five long weekends, but some of them don’t.  Some families are very involved, maintaining regular contact with their children.  Sadly, some don’t.  The homes are divided by gender and level of school (elementary, middle and high school).  High school seniors live in transitional housing that allows them to learn about managing a modest budget, shopping for and cooking their own food, and learning the lessons they need to know before striking out on their own — either in the work world or college.  They earn scholarship money for college by maintaining good grades at MHS.

Although the campus itself is open, rarely are people given the opportunity to go inside a group home.  Before the cookie exchange, my fellow bloggers and I were divided up and given the opportunity to dine with the children in selected houses to gain a better understanding of what life inside MHS is like.

Pizza and Perspective

The Hughes family, a married couple and their 15-year-old daughter, were the housefamily for the home of boys in grades 4 and below that I had the pleasure of joining for dinner.  As a Hershey trolley dropped off two other bloggers and a Hershey rep, the young boys politely lined up just inside the entryway and extended their hands for a firm handshake while introducing themselves.  My own son is a first grader, and I felt a lump in my throat as  I realized that some of these boys were the same age as he is.

I did a double-take as one small boy introduced himself as Nugget.  I later learned this was not his given name, but his preferred moniker, which reflected his small stature.  Luis, the largest of the boys, was less talkative, and had only been at the school for four weeks. 

We sat down to a dinner of pizza (a treat provided by the PR team) and were riddled with even more questions from the houseparents than we had for them or the boys.  Guests are infrequent, and they were curious why women who had no apparent connection to each other would travel from states far and near to come share Wednesday night dinner with them.  We, had lots of questions, but speaking for myself, felt like it would be indelicate in such a short time to delve deeply into them — the most obvious being, what brought each boy here?

Several of the boys from the home I visited.

Instead, we asked what their favorite subjects were (math seemed to be the predominate favorite) and what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Watching my own boy grow in his obsession with Star Wars over the past few months, I asked if any of them were fans, and was met with questioning looks.  “They are a little young for that,” Mr. Hughes replied after a brief silence.  It was just one of the moments that drove home to me how different their lives — even before arriving at MHS — had been from my son’s.  Upon noticing the missing baby teeth of several of the boys, one of the women made a remark about the tooth fairy, and once again an awkward silence fell.  “Who is the tooth fairy?” one of the boys asked.  The tooth fairy had not visited them at their original homes, apparently.  While friends of mine volleyed back and forth on Facebook about the going rate for the tooth fairy in their respective neighborhoods, these children had never even heard of such a creature.  Remembering that the average family income of the pupils was approximately $15,000, I could see why the tooth fairy had not come by.

The most enthusisasm seemed to come with the discussion of sports and extracurriculars.  Just like my son, many of them enjoyed playing soccer.   A couple of the boys were enrolled in tap dancing classes.  And just like my household, Mrs. Hughes found she needed to write everyone’s schedules down to make sure everyone arrived at the right place (and came home!) at the right time — although I only have our family of four and she could have as many as 12 MHS kids as well as her own family to keep track of.

A bedroom at Milton S. Hershey School

A bedroom at a group home at Milton S. Hershey School.

Both houseparents ensured all the children had eaten all they had wanted, and then the boys quickly cleared the table.  Luis gave us a brief, but matter-of-fact tour of the house, which included a well-organized laundry room and mud room, a neat living room complete with a decorated Christmas tree and display case of Mrs. Hughes’s personal collection of Hershey memorabilia, and a large, shared bathroom.  Each bedroom could hold up to two boys, who were provided with a twin bed, a dresser, and a desk with a hutch.  The linens on the beds were themed by room — one room had football players on the bedspread.  We silently took note of how unadorned the rooms were.  One boy had a photo of himself as a baby with a woman I presumed to be his mother.  Luis had three posters – two of WWF wrestlers, and the other an advertisement for Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  In most cases, the shelves over the desks were empty.  A PR rep later told us that was because the children often arrived with virtually nothing more than the clothes on their backs.  Though there were plenty of books in the common areas of the house, few children come to the school with their own personal collection of books, or even a single beloved one.  Their clothes are provided for upon arrival, but memorabilia and cherished items, those are things a child acquires over time through gifts and treats — a luxury few of them ever had.  Clutter is a problem that comes with middle class or higher status, not with poverty.

And while I still felt shell-shocked at the idea of a parent sending such a young child away to school (even if in some cases, it was an act of purely unselfish love), the story of MHS seems to be predominately happy.  Both in a documentary and via clips on the school’s web site, one can see and hear over and over again how MHS transformed lives.  There is a light in the eyes of these alums as they talk about how the school changed the direction of their lives that tells even more than their stories of leading healthy, productive, successful lives.  Many students return to work or volunteer for the school in some capacity later in life — grateful for the love, education, and opportunities provided to them.  And that is the sweet part of the bittersweet story.  Listening carefully to their words, I realize that more than anything, what changed the course of their lives was the understanding that someone — including the long-deceased Milton S. Hershey — believed in them.  Someone cared enough to create this school and to expect them to make something of themselves.  This gave them the power to believe that they could achieve more than their original set of circumstances might have allowed.

After the tour, we bundled up in coats and made the short trip to a group home of similar aged girls to have the cookie exchange party.  Some walked, a blogger named Linda and I ended up driving over in a van with Mrs. Hughes and her daughter.  This gave me an opportunity to ask what life was like as a Houseparent.  Our time was brief and the answers were unsurprising, but it helped fill out the picture.  After 18 years of serving as a Houseparent, Mrs. Hughes has seen a few changes — at one time kids stayed with the same housefamily throughout their school career, rather than “aging out” of a home by a certain grade as they do now.  She feels like she was able to form a deeper bond with children under that model.  Recently a child had to leave the home because his emotional state was questionable and he needed to be somewhere where he could get the assistance he needed.  While her fifteen-year-old daughter has known no other life, her older children — now on their own — had a harder time adjusting to the new way of life when they first became Houseparents.  When I asked about how involved the students’ parents were, she said some were very involved, others barely communicated with their children.

Though she had no hard statistics, she did think the issues of bullying and drug use were significantly lower at MHS than in the town’s public schools due to the regimented schedule of student life at MHS.  Since she took care of younger boys, she didn’t know much about teen pregnancies but said she only recalled about hearing of one case in recent times.

Although the children referred to the houseparents at both houses quite formally as Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so, I also noticed how often they would come up to their houseparents for a quick hug.

A Holiday Party Like No Other

“Are you ready for some cookies?!” asked one of the PR firm representatives.  The ensuing squeals of delight were nearly deafening.  After a brief discussion of who should go first, the boys or the girls, the boys politely deferred to the girls.  They picked up plain tins and lined up for their allotment of six cookies and were instructed that they could decorate the tins at the craft table.

A young girl named Angel struggled with tying a ribbon onto the round tins, so I stepped in and asked if she’d like some help.  We selected a sticker to secure the ribbon on the bottom of the tin and I tied a clumsy bow for her and showed her how to fluff it for maximum effect.  I then asked if she’d like some glitter glue, and when we found the glue pen a bit tough to squeeze, I offered to do the squeezing while she put her little hand over mine and guided it into the shiny swirls she desired.  She turned down the offer of Hannah Montana stickers, opting instead to adorn the tin with smaller Tinkerbell stickers.  Then she selected a T0:/From: gift tag.

“Are you going to eat the cookies or are you saving them to give to someone?” I asked.

“I’m going to give them to my Grandma!  When I see her at Christmas Break!” she said.  The crafter nearby, a pretty blonde named Grace, joined in, “that’s just in 10 days!”

I asked where her grandmother lived.  In Dover, RI. 

She asked for help in spelling “Grandma” and in her best handwriting carefully filled in the To: section of the gift tag. 

“She’s going to really enjoy this,” I said.  Angel smiled.  It struck me how many of the children were using their tins as gifts for loved ones, rather than immediately gobbling up the enticing sweets.

Kids from the Milton S. Hershey School

The children enjoyed being in and taking photos.

The children also made cards and seeing that there were plenty of cookies, were invited to a second round of adding cookies to their tins.  Angel sought me out to re-tie the bow on her tin.  After doing so, I asked if she would be willing to take a picture with me, and she was.  Remembering how much I loved to take photos as a child, I entrusted my beloved digital camera to another girl, and showed her how to take a photo.  Quickly other children asked for turns both to have their picture taken with me, and to hold the camera and take photos.  Though my camera is rarely far from my hands, I knew that if they should drop it, it would be far less painful for me to replace it than it was meaningful to them to hold it.

Grace came up to me and handed me a homemade card and a bag of cookies.  I oohed and aahed over them and reached out to hand them back.  “No, I made those for you!” she said.  I tried to protest, letting her know that I had some cookies of my own from earlier that day, but she reiterated that she had filled the bag specifically for me.  Decades ago I learned that there are times when it is far more appropriate to accept a gift graciously than to try to refuse one out of principle.  I thanked her enthusiastically and both items carefully made their way home with me the next day.

I have no idea if the day the women from many states arrived on their doorstep will have any meaning to these children next week or even years from now, but I know that I will forever remember this evening, this school, this sneak peek into a world I didn’t know existed prior to my trip.  And while yes, I did actually receive some cookies at this cookie exchange party, for me what I received was far greater.  I got to see a spirit of generosity that has survived a century, and the proven results of what can happen to young lives when someone — or many, many someones — decide to make it their life’s mission to make a difference.  That is the best gift I’ve ever received at Christmas time in my life.

It certainly was unlike any cookie exchange party I’ve ever been to.

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Disclosure:  This experience was part of an expenses-paid behind-the-scenes tour provided to me by The Hershey Company, Hershey Entertainment and Resorts and their PR company.  However, this was not payment for writing nor did it unduly influence what I wrote about.  I plan to write additional posts based on my experiences during this trip.  You can see my tweets and tweets of other bloggers on the trip on Twitter using the hashtag #Hershey.

Legos: Organizing the Obsession

Legos seem like they’d be the easiest thing to organize (they snap together, so modular, so neat!) and yet they are the cause of so much playroom clutter, both by my own informal visual inspection and according to online anecdotes.  Somehow they morph from the initial single bin or box into overflowing containers, toppling towers of boxes, or complex filing systems of kits or worse — a floor littered with teeny, tiny (and painful to step on!) Lego pieces.

Since JavaBoy had acquired several kits between Spring and Summer, in the grand back-to-school room cleaning, I sought advice via my personal Facebook page from friends about the One True Solution for organizing Legos, and found there really wasn’t one.  But there were several good ideas.

The Great Kit Debate

One of the first things to decide when organizing Legos is your kit philosophy.  Do you think those kits with their zillions of tiny pieces (perhaps I overstate) need to remain intact?  Or are they put together once and then disassembled and the pieces should join in with the rest of your Lego collection?  This is not a simple question.  My Facebook thread on this became quite heated.  There were those who felt it was essential to keep kits whole and even this group divided into those who believed in building once and never taking the piece apart and those who believed in building something and taking it apart but keeping the pieces in a single container together (the original box, a Ziploc bag with the instructions, etc.)  Then there were those who felt that the kits stifled creativity and that the whole point of Legos was to dream up your own creation.

After much thought and internal debate, I came to decide that I liked that the kits taught JavaBoy how to follow instructions, how to visualize both the small parts and the big picture, and even taught him the simple basics of construction and architecture and that by doing so, he was then learning valuable skills for planning and building his own creations with the “loose” Legos we kept in another container.  In other words, I see value in the structure of the kits and I see value in the freedom of unstructured play with Legos.  This means I’m going to be spending a lot of money on Legos.

Bins, Drawers, Cases, and Bags

sorting LegosNow that I had our philosophy down, just how was I going to organize all that stuff?  My friend Daisy had a beautiful system for the kits.  “Large freezer (like these because they are thicker) ziplock bags for individual sets with large numbers written in permanent marker on the bags. The large numbers correspond to a Lego 3-ring binder that has pages laminated with pictures from the cut up boxes for individual sets with each set page labeled to match number from ziplock bag. The ziplock bags in turn are combined together in larger clear rubbermaid storage boxes by similar themed sets. If sets get mixed up, I don’t fret as the kids can look at the pictures and simply find alternative pieces to make up sets. I like encouraging as much creativity as possible and my boys seem to prefer this too.”

Well, we haven’t quite gotten to that level of organization.  The kits were mostly still in their boxes with *most* of their pieces in the boxes, but the boxes were taking up too much space.  We spent some time putting them into plastic bags and trying to see if we had all the pieces but haven’t finished that project yet.  I would say it is about 85-90% done.    Other things like our beach trip, school starting, soccer starting and so on have taken over, but I consider it a good start!

We store our “loose” Legos in an Iris cart drawer, as I use Iris carts for Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs as well — no more stacked up bins to deal with, easy to open and close and they can roll out of the way if I need them to.  This works great for those regular brick pieces, but the itty-bitty pieces and specialty shape pieces tend to get lost in a big drawer.  Which is why I adore a tip from my friend Susan, “I use a few of those divided notion-sorters from the sewing aisle at Wal-Mart to sort all the tons of little pieces that you end up with… that way it’s super easy if you need to go back and find a specific piece. I use the same kind of divided container to sort lego figurine pieces (each piece in its own section: heads, hair, torsos, legs, accessories, etc). I found that the boys enjoyed playing with legos much more after doing this… they love making their own characters.” 

Brilliant! 

I immediately ran out to our closest Michaels art supply store and in the beading area I found that there were different sizes of divided containers (and different prices — the ones that were perfect for our needs were actually the really cheap ones) and we turned sorting the pieces into a family project.  JavaBoy LOVES having the little Lego bodies sorted.  He also liked having the small pieces sorted out such as the “one-bumps” and “two-bumps” and so on.  These boxes then fit into the Iris cart drawer, so it didn’t create any space issues, just made it easier to find the smaller pieces.

Why Does It Matter?

After I straightened out the Legos a bit, both kids had renewed interest in the Legos.  In fact, it reminded me that we had the large base plates and since JavaBoy has a Lego table in his room, I took those base plates and put them on the table in JavaGirl’s room so she now essentially has a Lego table in her room.

More importantly, Legos are the ultimate toy.  Both low-tech and yet highly-linked to generating interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Legos are toys that turn grown-ups (notice I didn’t say just men) into kids again, and stimulate the logical and creative sides of the brain.

The only people I know who hate Legos are people who have to clean them up!

So I wanted an easy-to-maintain system so that JavaBoy (and as she gets more obsessed with them, JavaGirl) can pull them out and put them away as he wants to and I don’t have to worry about lost pieces or injured bare feet.  And most of all, I wanted to be able to encourage the kids to play with them instead of relegating the Legos to the basement because I was sick of dealing with them.  They are just too good of a toy to hide away.

A Few Fun Things to Know About….

  • Lego Stores Monthly Mini Model Build  Lego Stores have a time to when kids ages 6-14 can build mini-kits for free (these kits are not for sale).  The McLean store does this after 5pm on the first Tuesday of the month, check your local store for details.
  • You can have a birthday party at the Lego store — contact your local store for details, but it includes a little Lego kit for the attendees.
  • There are programs intended to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math that begin as early as age 6 and continue on through high school.  They begin at age 6 with Jr. FIRST Lego League and increasingly move from working with Legos to working toward serious robotics.
  • The National Building Museum in DC has a special exhibit (meaning you have to get tickets for it — and they sell out, so get tickets early) called Lego Architecture: Towering Ambition  featuring 15 world famous buildings recreated in Lego bricks by Lego Certified Professional Adam Reed Tucker.  Not only is it amazing to look at the buildings, but the room immediately following the buildings is a Lego free-play area where kids (and grown-ups) are invited to create their own masterpieces at what I can only describe as a Lego bar!  Our entire family enjoyed this, in fact it overshadowed seeing the rest of the museum.  Tickets are $5 each and the exhibit is here until September 5, 2011 (yes, NEXT year.)
  • There will be more Lego fun to be had at the Lego booth at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in DC October 23 and 24.  (If you happen to go there, please also stop by the booth for the Children’s Science Center!)

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Iris, Lego, Lincoln Logs, Michaels, Rubbermaid, Tinker Toys and Ziploc are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of their respective companies.  I am affiliated with the Junior League of Northern Virginia, a major contributor to the Children’s Science Center.

Local Reading Program Really Pays Off

Ice cream, admission to The Water Mine, a game of bowling, a round of miniature golf — these are just a few of the things this year’s Fairfax County Public Library Summer Reading Program participants can get for free by completing the targets set for their age group.

The program runs through September 5 and encourages kids preschool through sixth grade to read 15 books.  (Younger children may have the books read TO them.)  Kids in grades 7-12 read eight books.  In my experience, they allow children even younger than preschool participate, because the ultimate goal is to develop the habit of reading or being read to — so no need to leave out that younger sibling.  The young readers record the books read in a log, which you can pick up at the library or use one of the forms from the Summer Readingweb site.  We prefer going to the library, first of all, because we love going to the library, but also because it makes it a big, festive occasion.  The kids walk up to the SRP booth, staffed by student volunteers, and give their name and receive their very own reading log.  The printed reading logs include two bonus coupons, one for a free student ticket to a Nationals game on Sunday, August 9, and one for a free DC United ticket with purchase of one Adult ticket for a summer game at RFK (must be purchased in advance of the game).

JavaBoy and JavaGirl have enjoyed selecting their books for the reading program, particularly since they knew that once they completed their 15 books, they would get their coupon books, which provided lots of fun adventures last summer.  We immediately selected some books and started reading right there at the library and then checked some others to take home.  JavaBoy (5) is learning to read, so we’ve devoted part of the list to books he could read to us, and then we read some books to him.  JavaGirl is 3, so we read books to her, but after we read them, she tried to “read” them back to us.  JavaBoy also wrote most of the book titles on the log himself, so it became an exercise in writing as well — good practice for Kindergarten.

Today we picked up our coupon books — which JavaBoy has been quite anxious to do.  Memories of going to water parks and getting ice cream cones and free watercolor kits were dancing in his head.  This is what we found in this year’s coupon book (with many thanks to all the sponsors):

(Note:  in MOST cases, the coupon is for the reader, i.e. someone 18 or under.  Also, most of the coupons are specific to certain stores/locations, I’m not typing out all the fine print, just giving you an overview.)

  • $2 off a $5 purchase at specified library book sales from The Friends of the Library
  • Free game of bowling – AMF
  • 1 free adventure – Shadowland Laser Adventures
  • Buy one admission, get one free for the reader – The Water Mine
  • Free soft serve cone – McDonald’s
  • 20% off one item – Borders
  • $3 off half day row boat rental at Riverbend Park
  • 1 free child’s pass to Colvin Run Mill
  • 1 family pass to any George Mason University Varsity Club football game – GMU Varisty Club Football Team
  • 1 free 5×7″ color enlargement – MotoPhoto
  • $4 gift certificate with $6 min. purchase – Aladdin’s Lamp
  • 1 free admission to any RECenter in Fairfax County – Fairfax County Park Authority
  • 1 free after 3pm admission with one paid after 3pm admission M-F – Splash Down Waterpark
  • Free kids ice cream- Cold Stone Creamery
  • Free Mini Seed Starting Kit -Green Spring Gardens/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Free gift -Hidden Oaks Nature Center/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • $2 off admission – Mount Vernon
  • 1 free session at Wakefield skate park – Wakefield Skate Park
  • 1 Free ticket to a men’s basketball game and a women’s basketball game at George Mason University – George Mason University Athletic Department
  • 1 Free round of miniature golf (x2) – Lake Accotink/Lucky Duck Miniature Golf, Oak Marr, Burke Lake Park, Jefferson Falls, Fairfax County Park Authority
  • 1 complimentary child’s meal – Old Country Buffet
  • 1 free doughnut – Krispy Kreme
  • $2.50 gift certificate – Clay Cafe Studios
  • Free gift -Huntley Meadows Park/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Free Giant Ready to Eat Cereal 6 oz-20z pkg – Giant
  • Free Back Pack – sponsored by The Rappaport Companies
  • 40% off one item – Michael’s
  • Free gift -Ellanor C. Lawrence Park/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Free laminated animal track ID card – Hidden Oaks Nature Center/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Buy a large one-topping pizza gt a medium one-topping pizza free – Domino’s
  • Pay $24.99 +tax any day through Nov. 1, 2009 – Six Flags America
  • Free ticket to a men’s soccer game and a free ticket to a women’s soccer game any match in Sept. – George Mason Athletic Department
  • Free child’s admission to Sully Historic Site - Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Half-price tractor wagon ride at Frying Pan Farm Park -/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • One small cheese pizza free with purchase of a regular size Coke – Jerry’s Subs
  • Free brownie – Chik-fil-A
  • 1 free token for range balls with the cash purchase of one token – Burke Lake Golf Center/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Clean Fairfax and all the regional libraries are listed as sponsors.

So just in case my Summer Fun Guidedidn’t provide you with enough ideas for keeping busy this summer, running around and redeeming those coupons should keep you hopping!  Every time you redeem one, you get the added benefit of linking the reward to reading, “Gosh, we’re having so much fun at this water park today because YOU read all those great books!”  I really love this program because it gets the kids excited to go to the library (I really build it up beforehand — we have a countdown until the program starts), they feel a lot of pride in walking up and signing themselves up, and they look forward to selecting the books that they want to “count” towards their list.  They don’t want any old book, they really want special books for some reason.  Then we have so much fun redeeming the coupons and if I’m having a particularly blah Mommy day, I flip through the coupon book to see if there’s a mini-adventure in there we can embark upon — even just going out for a brownie at Chik-fil-A can become an adventure if you choose to make it one. 

 The reading doesn’t stop after they have picked up their coupon books — we pick up the “keep on reading” logs from the library and keep recording what we’ve read.  Even today, as soon as the kids got their coupon books, they begged to go look at more books and JavaGirl brought me at least four to read to her and JavaBoy used his own library card to check out another book on his own.  That’s the ultimate payoff!

Super Why! Activities Day 4: Whyatt and Post-Assessment

This is the final Super Why!  post and the last chance to enter the giveaway for a DVD from PBS by posting a comment in any of the posts in this series!2009-05-22_super-why_0008

For today’s activities you will need:

For the final assessment you will need the post-assessment questions and your worksheets from throughout the week. 

My observations:   JavaBoy once again whizzed through the worksheets.  However, the extension exercise reminded me of a pad of paper I had bought him earlier in the year that allows you to draw a picture and write a sentence under it (apparently they are called “picture story pads.”)  This ended up leading into a lesson on punctuation rather than word switching as he had recently learned about commas and had gotten mixed up about how they were used so we… “looked in a book!” to see how commas and periods were used (he didn’t believe me that periods were used at the end of sentences, so I showed him in some of his favorite books).

JavaGirl knows the story of the Three Little Pigsquite well, but upon seeing one of her favorite animals, decided she wanted to have a big bad TURTLE instead.  Then she wanted to draw the turtle.  Then she wanted to know the turtle’s name.  And so on.  On the second page worksheet we ran into an issue because of her seeing the multiple pigs and to her, a large quantity of anything is “10.”  So we got into a debate about that.  Not that she’s stubborn or anything. She clearly delineated between the three pigs of the story and the ones on the lefthand side of the page, but she wanted to debate about how many were on the lefthand side of the page.

As for the assessment, I can’t say that I felt like there was much change between the pre- and post-assessments.  HOWEVER, I feel like that didn’t measure the changes we saw/experienced during the week.  We were all more engaged as a family in the total process by having the activities and the kids and I have been singing the songs together in the car and other places (yes, you tend to lose an inhibitions as a parent) since we’ve embarked on this journey.  I have come to learn that although I tend to like worksheets, that my daughter doesn’t.  And that we all enjoy the more full-experience type of activities like the games, dances, etc.

But best of all was when my daughter picked up JavaDad’s copy of  Bruce Catton’s Civil War and flipping through it after dinner tonight.  After listening closely, I realized that she was retelling the story of the Three Little Pigs while thumbing through the book, as if she were reading it from Daddy’s big hardcover book.  Look in a book, indeed!

Don’t forget to post a comment after this post or any in the series to put your name in the running for the giveaway!

Super WHY! Activities: Day 3 Princess Presto!

I apologize for careening back and forth between the PBS track and the recession track — I’ve had certain deadlines to meet with the recession stories — however, both discussion threads are germane to raising children, so hopefully it hasn’t been too jarring.

Back to the wonders of Super Why!  For today’s activities, you will need:

If your child does not want to watch the same episode again, that’s fine, just watch another episode of Super WHY! and pay special attention to Princess Presto’s role.  Frankly, at this point my kids were pretty fed up with the masks as well.  They were, however, quite interested in having wands, pretend or prop.

My observations: JavaBoy once again whizzed through the first worksheet, matching the correct letter to name of the object.  JavaGirl wanted to color the objects first, then do the letters.  In her artist’s mind, I guess, it was important that things looked “pretty” before they were appropriately labeled.  Then she was fine with picking out the letters of them — much more compliant than in the previous day’s exercise.

But the real fun was when we were able to put the letters on objects in the room.  The kids had so much fun with this (although I’ll admit that “G” stumped even Mom and Dad for a while).  Both kids thoroughly enjoyed this activity and we still have letters up now, some of which keep getting relocated.  They did a very good job of finding homes for the letters.

The “wands up” game was not really a hit because my son knows how to spell his name, and it is really long and hard to spell on paper much less in the air, and my daughter does not yet know how to spell her name.  But we changed it around to just spelling random letters and short words and that was more fun for them at this point.  JavaBoy is already an accomplished reader for someone not yet in K and JavaGirl is just barely 3 so there’s a bit of a gap between their abilities.

I think this might have been their favorite day!