Saturday, March 12, 2011

Teaching With Glue Sticks and Glitter

Acrostic Name Poem
I recently finished teaching an eight week afterschool class called “WordArt”. WordArt evolved as the answer to that perplexing eternal question: “How does one teach writing to children who can’t even read?”

Like most things in my life, it started in a typically half-baked way. I answered an ad for volunteer creative writing teachers. Because I’m a big believer in the learning and therapeutic power of teaching, and because I’m an incorrigible “help them all”, I volunteered. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at my first class to find that the student body comprised a two year old, a three year old, a genius level six year old,  two illiterate eight year olds and a socially withdrawn girl of indeterminate age.


Another Acrostic Poem
I improvised.  I whipped out the glue sticks and paper, blunt ended scissors and glitter. WordArt was born.  The kids loved it. They loved cutting out words and pasting them together to make poems and pictures. They loved writing the only words they knew how to spell over and over in the blank cartoons I brought.  Several moms and grandmothers took part. I won’t say it was a huge success – attendance was terrible and eventually we all gave up – but it was an interesting experiment.

Found Poetry/Collage Poem

Then I was hired (for pay!) to teach a similar course to “grades two to four”. Imagine my surprise AGAIN when I found my class was in fact grades one and two, only half of whom could actually read! I quickly adapted my program and dove in. This time attendance was great and the kids really seemed to enjoy it.  The movie posters, family crests and found poems were a huge success. Some activities were more challenging (for me as well as for the kids) but we muddled through.

As is usual with teaching writing, I felt sometimes that I was learning more than the students.  I learned, for example, that some glue takes forever to dry. I learned that cardboard swords are great motivators. I learned that kids are much more eager to write sentences if they can make them come out of the mouths of cats, polar bears and moose.
Boys play with family crests
and swords bearing family mottos
Another Collage Poem

I learned that child writers are no different than adult writers in many ways. Each writer has their own obstacle. Some can’t focus.  Some focus so much that they can’t move onto another task. Some lack confidence. Some have buckets of confidence but can’t speak English! Some kids have problems, and might always have problems, with reading. Some kids have no trouble reading, but refuse to do the assigned work. Some struggle with handwriting, barely able to copy a simple word. Some don’t listen. Some don’t try.

A proud Student holds up his Collage Poem.
This student had very little confidence in reading and
 writing so this project was a big accomplishment for him
Movie poster and CD cover
"Movie Posters" and Album Cover

But I also I learned that all child writers need, and flourish with a little encouragement, (just like all adult writers) and that this encouragement can and should start BEFORE the writing starts. Growing a writer is just like growing a reader, or a flower; there is a lot of work that needs to be done on the soil before anything will pop up. 

Finally I learned that glitter makes good writing better, something I plan to immediately incorporate into my own writing practice.

I will be sure to keep you all posted on the result.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Why Christmas SHOULD include gifts

Many people are affronted by the orgy of gift giving at Christmas. Some, Christians, think it should be more about remembering the birth of Jesus  - a solemn, pious occasion. Others, left-leaning, usually, don’t like the capitalist hype – buy buy buy – who can blame them?  Still others, misanthropes, curmudgeons, don’t enjoy Christmas at all, the pressure to spend time with families, the requirement for merriment, and worst of all, the expectation of giving the perfect gift. They prefer to wallow in their misery.

To all the above I say – you are missing the point.

First of all, Christians. Now I have admitted I’m an atheist, but I come to atheism from an informed position. Raised a Catholic, I can spout gospel with the best of them. I know the deal.  Yes, it’s true that gifts are mentioned in the Biblical Christmas (Matthew 2: 1-12) but that’s not the point either. Gifts should matter to Christians because of what they encourage you to do. Stop, think about someone, a friend, family member, a workmate, even someone you don’t know that well. Stop and think about what they might like, want, need. That moment you spend thinking of someone else is the real Christmas gift.

Now capitalism, well, that’s a cop out. Don’t like capitalism? MAKE a gift you useless pinko turd. (Oops. Did I say that out loud?) Is it really so hard? I love home-made gifts.  I love them for how they make me feel. I love them because every time I look at them I imagine that person making that picture frame, hand painted card, pair of earrings for me. I know at that moment they are thinking of me. And that makes me feel good. I think of you thinking of me. What could be more socially progressive than that?

Finally to all you curmudgeons, Scrooges, misanthropes and Grinches: the reason you don’t like the pressure to find the perfect gift is because you don’t like thinking about anyone other than yourself. I would suggest that if you just tried it, you might find you are no longer a miserable sod. You might find yourself with nothing to wallow in but goodwill toward all men.

Finally, spare a thought for those who love Christmas in all its gloss and glitter and would love to give a Christmas gift or two, but can’t because they can’t afford the money or time.  If you don’t like choosing gifts for people or don’t like the commercialism of Christmas, or want to put a little Christ back into Christmas, march yourself down to a charity and give time, money, handmade or store bought gifts. You will enjoy thinking of how lucky you are that you are giving to instead of relying on these charities. Someone will enjoy giving them on your behalf and at that moment, they will be thinking of you, whoever and wherever you are. If that’s too much for you, and you prefer pain to panis angelicus, roll up your sleeve, give blood, and think about how good it is to be alive.

Because that’s what giving at Christmas is all about. At Christmas it really IS the thought that counts.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I'm Just a Jersey Girl

It started with a pattern. This one from I made it with a little polyester jersey remnant I've had for about ten years.

I was so pleased with the result, and with the fact that I can, after all, sew with knits, that I jumped back on the web to several great free patterns for jersey skirts. Next thing I know, I created the three way skirt.

Jersey is super comfortable, can be dressed up or down and is suitable for summer or winter because it's light and breathable, but also looks great over tights and leggings.

But here's the real reason I love jersey - it fits.  It fits in the morning and it still fits at night.  It fits in the middle of the month the end of the month and the beginning of the next. It fits my waist, my butt, my hips and my thighs, even my troublesome calves fit into all my leggings and yoga pants. Jersey is the miracle fabric that makes all my bits look good.

There's a fashion edict - "buy tailored clothes that fit." To blazes with that, I say. Buy what is comfortable and looks good.  I get that stretch pants, for some, are the beginning of the end, but for me they are the end of the insanity. Since I decided to forgo fitted clothes all together and wear almost exclusively jersey I've lost nearly twenty pounds, without trying at all!

I look good, and feel good in well made jersey bottoms with fun jersey dresses, skirts or tunics over top. Add a cardigan, a funky necklace and a scarf and that's my signature look. I only took me 43 years to figure it out, but I'm a jersey girl. Stretch or die, dude.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

In Praise of Aprons

I know; it’s hardly a fashion statement, and even if it was I seem to have discovered pretty late in life, but I LOVE wearing an apron. Now, as I’m sure everyone has already figured out, I have a fabric addiction. And apart from patchwork quilts, nothing suits medium weight, good quality printed cotton like a pretty apron. Therefore, of late, I have made a couple – simple designs with a little ruffle here a little eyelet there. Nothing fancy. A fun little project I could finish in half an hour. And note the I-pod pockets!

I was completely unprepared, however, for the sense of power these aprons give me. When I have my apron on I feel as though I can do anything. I guess I didn’t realize that I’d been going through my domestic life afraid of getting gunk on me. But now that I have discovered aprons, no sludge, no damp coffee grounds, no peanut butter or craft paint can stop me. I’m INVICIBLE! I’ve got my phone and I’m ready to rumble.

Of course, they’re also easy and fun to make. I found some great heavier weight cotton at IKEA, of all places, for $5 a meter. In fun polka dots too. I bought the blue and white, green and white and black and white, one meter each. At 60 inches wide I can get three aprons for each meter. So far I’ve only made two, but watch out at Christmas time!

I’m going to try to make aprons for all my sisters and friends. I hope they wear them and discover, like I did, the magical power of the apron.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

HandMade: The Next Generation

I'd been avoiding it all year. My daughter's kindergarten, that is. Parents (mothers mostly, lets face it) are welcomed, encouraged, well EXPECTED to volunteer in the classroom. Now, I had only one child for a reason. To me, children are like flying volleyballs – manageable in singles, but not multiples. So joining a classroom made up of nine 6 year old girls and 14 (that’s right 14!) boys filled me with dread. But what was to be done? I couldn’t face the other mothers. I’d been whatever the female word for emasculated is by their sheer INVOLVEMENT. I had to step up.

Naturally, I suggested I lead a craft project. At first I thought I might do an actual fabric quilt – you know, maybe have the kids crayon on fabric, then I could take it away and sew it up etc. Then I woke up. Realistically was I going to sew a quilt together before the end of the school year? It was a week away for crying out loud. So I decided on a paper quilt. I spent several evenings cutting up decorative and kid friendly wrapping paper. I cut brown paper shopping bags into 12 inch squares. I bought some rickrack and ribbon from the dollar store.

The day came – first I showed Lucy’s class some quilts that I made. The kids were cute; when I put the quilts on the floor for them to look at they all took turns laying down on them. It really shows how tactile kids are, especially boys. They like to EXPERIENCE things. Then I demonstrated the project: “Cover your 12 inch square with colored paper.” They got the concept quickly and were eager to begin immediately.

It was interesting to see how some kids were very precise and made very neat little quilt blocks, and some were more abstract and unrestrained, even pasting paper well over the edges of their brown paper bases. They all liked choosing the embellishments and, not surprisingly, the dinosaur paper was the most popular.

I had been planning on trimming the squares to make them evenly sized but when I saw how much they had put into pasting things over the edges I couldn’t do it. One kid even made a little peaked roof on her block. Some kids included photos on their blocks which was also lovely.

I had also planned to glue on the blocks down on a backing paper, but seeing how lovely they each were I decided to use painters tape and join them temporarily. On the last day of school their teacher, Mr Matthew, took the “quilt” apart so the kids could take their blocks home. I hope the parents enjoy these little works of art. I certainly enjoyed helping them get made.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Verbing Canada

Anyone with even a passing interest in winter sports of course knows that a few months ago our fair city was besieged by a kind of manic enthusiasm for all things cold, wet and fast. Yes, Vancouver recently hosted the Winter Olympics – did you hear?

Now I don’t normally care about sports much – I take a book to the cricket and I’ve played golf a few times. That’s about as far as it goes. My interest in winter sports is even lower. Why would I go out of my way to be cold when we have the technology, nay the manifest destiny, to heat our homes and workplaces to tropical temperatures even as a blizzard rages outside? Artificial heat is what separates us from the animals, after all.

Still, in the heat of the moment (well, in the COLD of the moment might be more apt) it was hard not to get caught up in the hype. All those little red mittens finally got to me. Yes, and Miga, Quatchi and the rest – I can’t resist an inscrutable mascot. So I did my part – I wore red, I dressed my daughter in red, despite the fact that it’s the only colour that doesn’t look good on her (why oh why can’t our national color be turquoise?). I even watched a few events.

Finally, and characteristically for me, I commemorated the whole strange experience in a couple of t-shirts.

So the little one is for Lucy of course. What could be clearer than a heart inside a maple leaf? I love Canada and (crucially) Canada loves me. My heart is in the maple leaf and the maple leaf is in my heart. The maple leaf forever…it could be a song…oh wait….

The other one, meanwhile, is a little harder to interpret. The “I *heart* NY” logo is so darn graphic and cool and timeless that I wanted to make an homage to it, but I’m not sure the result is successful. The subject and the object, the “I” and the “BC” (British Columbia to those whose Canadian geography is rusty) are clear enough, but what exactly is happening? What action does the maple leaf symbolize? In short, if Canada was a verb, what would it mean?

“I Canada you” – I fill you with peace and security? “I Canada Haiti” – I give Haiti medical care and a stable government? “I Canada NY” – I remove all the rough edges and dark corners and basically turn New York into Toronto (god forbid!)?

Canada represents many things to many people – peace, opportunity, freedom, security and of course, a certain blandness, mocked by many but secretly desired by all; because ultimately life was meant to be kind of bland. The first peoples of Canada lived a life that changed little from day to day and from season to season(as did my ancestors for thousands upon thousands or years). There were challenges yes, but mostly they were expected, even desired – seasons turned, tides rose and fell, the salmon, buffalo and caribou came and went year after year. There were skirmishes and territorial disputes, but nothing large scale, nothing apocalyptic. There was cultural and biological evolution, but it was slow and gentle. Life was, well, kind of bland. Then, one horrible day, a great ship appeared on the horizon…

And there’s the irony – that such a peaceful, beautiful country should have been built on the ugliest kind of war – quick and dirty and above all, unfair. Deep in our hearts all Canadians wear this wound like a maple leaf shaped hole of regret. Maybe that’s the answer; if Canada was a verb it would be “to apologize”. I apologize BC, I apologize for what my countrymen did to create the most livable city on Earth. I apologize for the sacrifices people were forced to make. I apologize for the imperfections still lurking in this most perfect of places.

I apologize BC, because contrary to popular belief, love means ALWAYS having to say you’re sorry. And I love you BC, I really do.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Advent" just means something's coming

Recently I was drawn into a discussion of why atheists such as myself and other non-Christians celebrate Christmas. Apart from the obvious questions (such as why do Christians celebrate it on December 25 which is actually the birthday of Mithras and not Jesus, who was likely born in September, if he was born at all) my justification is that as an Atheist, I can celebrate anything I darn well please. It's not like I'm afraid of going to hell for it. I love Christmas, and unlike some atheists, I go all out with the Christian mythology. I have a nativity set, I sing "Away in a Manger", I greet people on Christmas morning with a joyful "Christ is born!" What have I got to lose? After all, I've been known to cry "Expecto Patronum" in dark underpasses too. Does this have to mean I really believe in magic? I object to the silly terms bandied about today in the name of political correctness: "Festivus for the rest of us", or one I confess I sometimes use (and rather like, if truth be told): "Decemberific". I also find the multicultural retrofitting of Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Diwali as alternatives to Christmas to be a little sad. Christmas is Christmas people. Let those other holidays be what they are too. And if I wish you a Merry Christmas and you're not a Christian, don't feel bad; neither am I. I no more want to take the "Christ" out of Christmas than I want to take it out of Christopher Hitchens. Why does everything have to be so literal? I grew up celebrating Christmas and I like it. Enough said. For this and so many other things, I don't care what Christians think. So, that was a rather long winded introduction to my latest creation. Having been appalled and disgusted by the quality of the chocolate in last year's store bought Advent Calendar, I decided to make my own - one that can be reused year after year. I plan on tucking nice candies and little toys into each pocket so Lucy can pull one out each day leading up to Christmas. It was a great way to make use of some of my Christmas fabrics (which I have used to make reusable bags for wrapping presents instead of paper). Now I need to get cracking on some handmade Christmas presents!