May 1, 2010

May Day

In some places around the world, this is celebrated as the first day of summer or as a day of fertility—lots of flowers and dancing and so forth. In other places, this is celebrated as Labor Day, a day in which to think and talk about workers' rights and working conditions.

(Interestingly enough, Labor Day is associated with May 1 because of an event that happened in the U.S., the 1886 Haymarket Affair, in which a general strike for better working conditions ended up with some tragic violence and loss of life. Many non-U.S. countries took on this date for a day to honor workers—and sometimes, still, to protest on behalf of workers—and this included the Soviet Union. Because of this association with communism, the U.S. doesn't celebrate Labor Day in May, but instead does so on the first Monday in September.)

Let's loo
k at one colorful May Day tradition, from Kingsand, Cawsand, and Millbrook in England:

People wear red and white clothes and decorate their houses with flowers. A model of the ship The Black Prince is covered in flowers and is paraded from the Quay at Millbrook to the beach at Cawsand and then cast adrift. After the Flower Boat Ritual is over, there is Morris dancing and May pole dancing.

Morris dancing is a kind of folk dancing apparently performed by men. It has rhythmic stepping and choreographed figures (doesn't all dance?) and it is sometimes performed with sticks, swords, handkerchiefs, bells, or even tobacco pipes.

A May pole
is a tall wooden pole decorated with long colored ribbons that are attached at the top, and also with festoons and wreaths of flowers and greenery. The May pole dancers weave the ribbons in and out and in this way make patterns.


Celebrate with May baskets.

An old tradition that could easily be revived is making May baskets. Make small baskets filled with sweets or flowers (real ones are great, but they could be paper or chenille flowers), and leave them anonymously on your neighbor's front porches. If you make several, you could use inexpensive materials such as plastic strawberry baskets and shredded-paper or “Easter grass” to hold the sweets or flowers.

Here are some cute paper “baskets”—and lots of other May Day crafts!

Do some crafts.

Check out the Crayola website for more May Day crafts.

Color some pictures.

Illustrator Jan Brett has some really great coloring pages to print out and color. Here is one with Hedgie the Hedgehog and spring flowers, and here is one about a springtime bike ride.

Make May Day a play day!

Little Kids' Games Online has some cute May Day game suggestions.

Did you know...?

  • May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii.
  • In the United States, May 1 is also Law Day, Loyalty Day, and Save the Rhino Day.

So, do your best to celebrate: workers and labor, flowers and summer, leis, law, loyalty, and rhinos. Whew!

April 30, 2010

Queen's Day (Koninginnedag)

the Netherlands, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacau, Sint Maarten, Saba, and Sint Eustatius

For two generations, Queen's Day was celebrated on the birthday of the queen of the Netherlands. However, the current monarch, Queen Beatrix, decided that her birthday, at the end of January, would be too cold for a nationwide celebration. She kept the day on her mother's birthday—April 30—which also happens to be the date on which Queen Beatrix was crowned. (So it is an anniversary-of-coronation day rather than an anniversary-of-birth day.)

The day is known for the “freemarket”—everybody is allowed to sell stuff on the streets—and also for the “orange craze”—lots of people wear bright orange to honor the royal family, which is called the House of Orange—Nassau. 

(Some people paint their faces and hair orange, too!)

There are also children's games and musical concerts. Apparently, this is one of the largest holidays on the Dutch calendar.

Some photos of Queen's Day can be found here. (Notice the color orange!)

Aside from the Netherlands, this holiday is celebrated on the Caribbean Islands associated with the Netherlands. Let's look at one of them:


This island is located just off the coast of Venezuela. The first people to live on the island
belonged to an Arawak Amerindian tribe, but in the 1500s it was colonized by Spain. Because the island is very dry, no plantations were created there, so the island was spared any association with slavery. In 1636, Aruba began to be ruled by the Dutch. Starting in 1933, Aruba applied to the Dutch government be given independence, but World War II interrupted the process, and the island became first a British and then a United States “protectorate.” Finally, in 1986, Aruba was granted independence from the Netherlands, although it remains a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

This complicated history made me ask, “What language is used in Aruba?” The answer is...umm...complicated!

The most spoken lan
guage on the island is Papiamento, a mixture language that has words from Dutch, English, French, many different African dialects, and most importantly, from Portuguese and Spanish. The official language of the island nation is Dutch. Many of the people speak Spanish, and because of tourism many people also speak at least some English.

Aruba is dry and warm and sunny. There are apparently no rivers on the island! Tourism is one of the most important parts of the economy.

  • Look at the sightseeing attractions of Aruba. (Click each one to see a larger photo and other pictures of that attraction.)
  • Some of the biggest attractions are the beautiful beaches. See them here.

This is a drawing by Dutch
artist M.C. Escher.
Learn about the Netherlands

Much of this country is very low
actually lower sea level!—and the Dutch rely on canals and a system of dikes to keep the land from flooding. The Netherlands is known for windmills, tulips, wooden shoes, and ice skating, including speed skating. Its national color is (can you remember? I already mentioned this!) orange.
  • Here are some coloring pages that feature some of these things.

Learn about Dutch Art
  • Some of the most famous artists in the world come from the Netherlands. Right off the bat, I thought of Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Vincent Van Gogh, and M.C. Escher. Here are some coloring pages (online or print-and-color) from Dutch artists. Plus, don't miss the activity about Mondrian's art, found here.

  • Here's a really fun website that takes off from paintings by Dutch artists. It is a Dutch house. Open a door, choose a room, and click around and explore. I made tiles, colored the floor, and designed much more!

  • Here is a kid-friendly bio of Vermeer. Here is one of his famous paintings in jigsaw puzzle form, and here is an art lesson inspired by him.
Did you know...?

The language of the Netherlands is called Dutch in English, but it is called Nederlands in the language itself. “Neder” is like the English “nether,” which means “low” or “down” (and remember, the land of the Dutch is so low, it's mostly below sea level!) “Land” means the same thing in both Dutch and English.

Neder = Nether... Land = Land...
What's going on? Why are Dutch and English so similar?

Actually, Dutch and English, along with German, are all part of one language family. (That doesn't mean that Dutch is super easy for English-speakers to learn, though.)

April 29, 2010

Anniversary of Publication of Roget's Thesaurus (1852)

On this date in 1852, the first edition of an English-language thesaurus created by Dr. Peter Mark Roget was published. It included 15,000 words. Since that year, Roget's Thesaurus has never been out of print, and the words inside have steadily grown—with more than a quarter of a million words by now...

A thesaurus is a list of words organized by concept, with synonyms and sometimes antonyms listed together. It is not a list with which writers and students can simply swap words, because often the meanings or the feeling-tones (in other words, the definitions and the connotations) of various words are different. People using a thesaurus can browse a list looking for just the right word.

Here's an example: in one section of Roget's Thesaurus we find market, emporium, open air market, marketplace, flea market, auction room, street market, shop, store, depot, warehouse, bazaar, trading post, arcade, trading center, department store, chain store, trade fair, exchange, exhibition, boutique, supermarket, grocery store, superstore, cash and carry, convenience store, stall, booth, stand, corner shop, kiosk, newsstand, counter, vending machine, shopping center...
Each of these words has a particular meaning and tone. A J.C.Penny's isn't a boutique or kiosk, and the tiny floral shop on the corner isn't a grocery store or trading post.

Dr. Roget started his word list in 1805, two years before Daniel Webster started writing his dictionary. Dr. Roget used his list privately for almost 50 years before publishing it. He lived a long life (until age 90!) and was able to see his work through 28 printings (and, of course, there have been many, many more since then).

Rate the following words for their connotation.
Which one is more positive (or less negative) than the other?

  • Slim....skinny
  • Obese...sturdy
  • Immature...young
  • Timid...cautious
  • Communicative...babbling
  • Gossipy...newsy
  • Fanciful...untrue
  • Precise...fastidious
  • Deceptive...unrealistic
  • Idiotic...foolish

My Answers: I think that these words are more positive (less negative): slim, sturdy, young, cautious, communicative, newsy, fanciful, precise, unrealistic, foolish. Do you agree?

BrainPop has some activities about synonyms and antonyms.

April 28, 2010

Understanding “Heavenly Bodies” Day

Over the years, we have had some April 28 heroes who have added to our understanding of the solar system.

Here are three:

On this day in 1686, the first volume of Isaac Newton's Principia was published in London, England.

The two-volume work had a Latin name that translated into Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; when we call it Principia, we are just shortening the title to “Principles.”

The masterpiece explains Newton's laws of motion and his law of universal gravitation, thereby setting out the foundation of “classical mechanics,” or classical physics. The word classical here means physics before Einstein's special relativity and before quantum mechanics.

Newtonian principles are mathematical, but they are easier to understand than relativity or quantum physics because they generally deal with things that are medium sizes and that go medium speeds—and we're used to that medium world. When we hear about relativity's effects of super-fast speeds, they just seem wrong, and when we learn about the quantum world of teeny-tiny particl
es, that seems confusing and wrong, too.

Apparently, one reason we even have Principia is because of a bet among three intellectuals. Architect Christopher Wren, “naturalist philosopher” Robert Hooke, and astronomer Edmund Halley made a wager about who could get Kepler's laws about planetary motions from a law of gravitation. Wren offered a prize of 40 shillings (which was about two weeks' pay) for the winner.

Hooke claimed he had the proof but didn't want to spoil the others' fun by showing it to them. He never did show them, though, and we can assume that he had never proved it. In the meantime, Halley really wanted to solve the problem, and finally, about half a year after the wager was made, he visited his friend Isaac Newton and told him about the bet.

Newton had already done the math and had computed the elliptical orbits of the planets. He'd done it 20 years before and had never published it or even shown it to anybody!

Apparently Newton found it hard to find his notes, but he came up with the equations again, and a few months later he showed Halley the equations. Halley was so impressed that he begged Newton to publish. Newton holed up in his house and wrote for the better part of two years, and Principia is the result.

The funding for publishing Newton's book had dried up because the Royal Society had had a very costly flop called The History of Fishes the year before. Halley paid his own money to get
Newton's book published—and he was paid back in copies of The History of Fishes!!!

On this date in 1900, Jan Hendrik Oort was born in the Netherlands.

He grew up to be a physicist and astronomer who is most famous for two hypotheses: he suggested that the Milky Way galaxy was rotating (evidence has since shown that this is the case), and he suggested that there is a cloud of comets and other material at the outer edge of the solar system. Now called the “Oort Cloud,” this gigantic area may contain several trillion icy objects, and every once in a while, something comes close enough to the solar system that its gravitational influence “bumps” one of them out of the Oort Cloud and down to inner solar system, where we can see it as a comet traveling around the sun in a very stretched-out oval orbit.

On this date in 1928, Eugene M. Sh
oemaker was born in Los Angeles, California.

He grew up to be a planetary geologist who contributed to our understanding of the moon, asteroids, and comets. He discovered the Shoemaker-Levy comet, and he named the moon's layer of soil and broken rock regolith. He studied impact craters and the impact of “his” comet with Jupiter in 1994. While looking for impact craters on earth, Shoemaker tragically died in an auto accident in 1997, and in 1998 a small capsule of his ashes were launched aboard Lunar Prospector to the moon. The brass foil wrapping of the memorial capsule has a quote from Romeo and Juliet:
“And, when he shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars

And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with the night

And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
So far, Shoemaker is the only person “buried” on the moon.

Match 'Em Up, Up, Up

For millennia, people have been looking up, up, up into the night sky and wondering about the wheeling and wandering lights they saw there. Match up each of the “heavenly bodies” below with their definitions:





A. an enormous ball of gas undergoing fusion or burning
B. a relatively small body, usually rocky, that circles the Sun

C. a body that circles a planet

D.a body that circles a star that is round and that is large enough to clear its orbit of other bodies

E. a relatively small body made mostly of ices, usually on a long oval orbit around the
Sun; when it nears the sun, it displays a “head” and “tail” made of the ice burning off into a gas
F. a huge collection of stars held together by gravity, often in a globular or spiral shape

G. a “cloud” of gas in space


1.B - 2.E - 3.F - 4.C - 5.G - 6.D - 7.A

Play space games on NASA's website.
  • Here is a fun “slider” puzzle with beautiful photos of nebulae and galaxies.
  • Type space words in this tricky but fun game.
  • Try this quiz game about comets.
Read a space book about the planets of the solar system.
There are other space books to read here.

April 27, 2010

Freedom Day – South Africa AND Birthday of Coretta Scott King

On this day in 1994, South Africa held its first post-apartheid elections. To commemorate the day and celebrate freedom, the day is a public holiday.
Apartheid was a formal system of segregation and discrimination along racial lines. Ironically, on this very date in 1950 the Group Areas Act was passed, formally setting up apartheid.

(Segregation and discrimination had been occurring before this tim
e, of course, but this act made it the law of the land and allowed forcible removal of “blacks,” “coloured,” and “Indians” to achieve segregation.)

Under the apartheid regime, non-whites had only limited rights to vote, but in the 1994 election, everyone of voting age (over 18) from any racial group was allowed to vote. Nelson Mandela, a black man who had been imprisoned for 27 years for resistance to apartheid, was elected president.


April 27, 1927, Coretta Scott was born. She grew up to marry Martin Luther King, Jr., and of course was widowe
d in 1968.

Before and particularly after her husband's assassination, Coretta Scott King was active in the civil rights movement in the United States. She dedicated time and energy, not only to ending racial segregation and discrimination, but also to rights for women, world peace, equality for people of all sexual orientations, and opposition to apartheid.

Scott King participated in protests against the South African apartheid regime and urged U.S. president Ronald Reagan to approve economic sanctions against the government in an effort to end the regime. She also traveled to South Africa to meet with Winnie Mandela, wife of then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela.

Scott King died in 2007.

Learn more about Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King, and South Africa.

  • Watch the movie Invictus. This excellent movie stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon and concerns Nelson Mandela's efforts to unite South Africa after years of violence and segregation. It's both heartwarming and inspiring. We don't see the violence and injustice that preceded the events in the film; instead, we are offered visions of forgiveness, growing understanding, and sport. (The film is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.)

  • Read The Day Gogo Went to Vote, by E. B. Sisulu. (Gogo means “grandmother” in Xhosa and Zulu.)

  • Listen to an interview (well, a chunk of an interview) with Coretta Scott King.
Quotes from Coretta Scott King and Nelson Mandela
“Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated. “ – Scott King

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Mandela

“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'" – Scott King

“It always seems impossible until its done.” – Mandela

April 26, 2010 keeping with this week's conservation theme, what with John Muir Day and Earth Day:

Happy B
irthday, John Audubon

Born on this date in 1785 in Haiti, and raised mostly in France, Jo
hn Audubon always liked nature and especially birds. He came to America at age 18, where he lived on his family's land and spent time hunting, fishing, drawing, and playing music. He tromped through woods and wilderness, often dressed in frontier clothes and moccasins.

Audubon decided to find and paint all the birds in the eastern United States. To that end, he spent even more time in the woods, observing, hunting, and sketching birds. He collected eggs, banded birds to learn about their nesting habits, took notes on his observations, learned taxidermy, and honed the craft of painting.

Eventually, after several years of effort, Audubon had made 435 paintings that included more than 1,000 birds!

Audubon had to put a lot of time and effort into finding publishers for his work. He had no success with U.S. publishers, so he went to Europe, where he became a bit of a star telling frontier tales and displaying his paintings. Still, it was hard to get enough money to print his wonderful bird book. Eventually he succeeded in publishing and selling his book, but it sounds like finances were always a challenge for Audubon.

Audubon's Legacy

Audubon made a difference in the world, and not just with bird lovers. He influenced other naturalists, such as Charles Darwin, and he influenced taxidermists and wildlife artists, who had previously relied on stiff poses but were now inspired by Audubon's natural style. Audubon seemed to capture birds mid-action: feeding their young, making nests, catching prey.

After Au
dubon's death, the National Audubon Society was formed to conserve wildlife and wild spaces, and many parks and a few towns and counties are named for this artist and ornithologist (bird scientist).

Check out the Audubon Society's kid pages.

  • Learn about animal tracks, make stamps, do a scavenger hunt, compare flying habits of birds and wingbeats, and more.

  • Here are several fun games and pictures to print and color.

  • And the Great Backyard Bird Count is a valuable way for amateurs to contribute to science! Notice that there are some fun games, jigsaw puzzles, and activities listed under GBBC for Kids, on the blue side menu!

Here are some of Audubon's paintings of birds.

Here is a quickie video about Audubon. Find out why most of the original copper plates from Audubon's paintings were melted down!
Here is a how-to video about drawing a hawk face. The textures this artist achieves with his pencil can help you appreciate some of the techniques that Audubon might have used to achieve his lifelike paintings. (Here is a video that shows a more basic and cartoonish approach to drawing several different sorts of birds.)

April 25, 2010

First Seeing-Eye Dog in U.S. – 1928

Seen above is a Seeing Eye dog and
its owner consulting with Santa.

On this date in 1928, a blind man named Morris Frank was presented with his trained guide dog. The German Shepherd dog named Buddy had learned how to pull in harness, stop at curbs, and disobey orders when it would be dangerous to follow them. Buddy enabled Frank to be more independent as he could get around his community of Nashville, Tennessee, without other assistance.

Was Buddy the first dog used to guide a blind person? Of course not. Who knows how many blind people, over the years, utilized dogs to help them in their day-to-day life?

However, we do know that, in the early 1900s, people in Switzerland and Germany were training German Shepherd dogs to guide blind World War I veterans. An American dog trainer named Dorothy Harrison Eustis saw such training and wrote an article about it for The Saturday Evening Post. She called her article “The Seeing Eye.”

On the basis of that article, Morris Frank wrote to Eustis and asked her to train a dog for him. And so began the Seeing Eye organization, which became and still is the best known guide dog school in the world. The school is so widely known, in fact, that many people use the term “seeing eye dog” as a generic term, using it for ANY trained guide dog, including those who were trained by other organizations and schools.

(It's the same sort of thing as people calling any facial tissue “Kleenex,” although that is the name of just one brand of tissue. Another genericized name is “Xerox,” which people commonly used as a noun or a verb—even when using another brand of copier.

If you love dogs...

...consider r
aising a puppy who will become a guide dog. Loving homes provide environments in which puppies can be socialized and learn good behavior. These puppies need to go everywhere that guide dogs go, including grocery stores, school, workplaces, stores, and restaurants—plus onto planes and trains!

Learn more about guide-dog puppy raising here or here.

Imagine being blind.

Have a friend blindfold your closed eyes and then guide you as you take a familiar walk. How easy is it to trust someone else? Did you bump into things?

Learn more here. (Learn about Braille, Helen Keller, and more!)

All Sorts of Service Critters!

There are assist dogs who help people who are deaf and who have other disabilities. Plus there are other sorts of animals who assist. Find out more here

Learn about dog training!

  • Here is a website on the “basics.”
  • Do you know what a German shepherd looks like? Here is a jigsaw of a cute German shepherd puppy!

April 24, 2010

First American Newspaper – 1704

The Boston News-Letter published its first issue on this date in 1704, thus becoming
America's first continuously-published newspaper. (Another Boston effort, Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick, was published even earlier, in 1690, but there was only one edition before the colonial government squashed it.)

Even though the News-Letter was only published once a week, it was small compared to today's newspapers. At first the entire publication
fit on just one sheet (printed on both sides). It included news from London about Europe's political events and wars, plus notices of ship arrivals, accidents, deaths, and other useful info.

Soon after the Boston newsletter began, weekly papers were started up in New York and Philadelphia. By the end of the 1700s, the first daily newspaper began to be published in Philadelphia.

Get the Scoop!

While Boston's News-
Letter was still the only newspaper in the colonies, a famous pirate named Blackbeard was killed in hand-to-hand combat on the deck of a ship. Naturally, the News-Letter got the scoop on that particular story, publishing a sensational account of the battle.

With c
omputers, printers, copiers, and word-processing software, these days it's easy to make a newspaper!

Back in the olden days, it was hard and expensive to create a news-letter or newspaper. Printers with hand-set type gave way to typewriters and copier machines, and then to computers and easy-to-use software. These days it's easier than ever before to create a school newsletter, a family weekly, or a community newspaper.

But would anyone want to? The really new thing is to do without the "paper" part of newspapers. A lot of young people get their news from TV, the radio, and especially the internet. Social networking and e-mail have replaced—to a great extent—hand-written letters. Instead of buying opinion pieces in newspapers, people are turning to blogs.

people think that it is a really bad thing that newspapers are going to die, but if you think about all the cutting-down-of-trees, making/bleaching/shipping paper, printing newspapers, and then trucking and driving the papers all over the town or nation—and even then, when the newspapers are finally in readers' hands, there is more fuel and energy to be spent picking up all the old, trashed newspapers and recycling them. For the sake of the environment, it really does make a lot of sense to just beam information to people's phones or computers (or i-Pads or e-readers or...?), skipping the paper part entirely!

Here are some internet “newspapers” for kids:
Here are some ideas about using newspapers (the old-fashioned print-on-paper kind) in educational ways.

Reuse newspapers by doing these crafts!
Create a family newspaper.
Make it on paper by hand, or on paper but using all the bells and whistles your computer system offers.

Or make a digital newsletter to e-mail to family and friends or that will posted on a website. (Note that there is free clip art available on the internet!)

April 23, 2010

The Day of the Rose and The Day of the Book – Catalonia

(El Dia de la Rosa o El Dia del Libro)

Catalonia is a part of Spain (actually, one of the “autonomous communities” of Spain) that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pyrenees Mountains, borders on France, and includes the city of Barcelona.

From medieval times, this day has been associated with roses, and more recently with books. People in Catalonia buy roses and books for each other as a sign of love or respect, and an article in Wikipedia states that thousands of stalls selling roses plus “makeshift bookstalls” line the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan towns. Millions of roses and hundreds of thousands of books are sold on this day!

Why April 23?

This whole thing started as Saint George's Day. Saint George is the patron saint of England, Catalonia, and many other places; he was a Roman soldier and priest who lived a looong time ago and who supposedly slayed a dragon. Saint George is said to have died on April 23, 303 A.D. (or C.E.), so that is why his “feast day” is today. Red roses became associated with his feast day, probably because England's flower is the rose and because the cross associated with Saint George is a red cross on a white field.

(Note: Saint George probably had no connection to England!...But...King Richard the Lionhearted is said to have brought back the red-cross-on-white from the Crusades.)

Okay, I get the connection of April 23 and roses.
But...why books?

Well, two other people died on April 23—both in the year 1616:

William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes.

Hopefully you know that these two men were both authors. Shakespeare wrote plays and son
nets and narrative poems, with Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth some of his most famous writings. Cervantes wrote plays and poems, too, but he also wrote novels. Don Quixote is his most famous work.

Apparently, in 1923 a Catalan book seller was struck by the fact that both of these world-famous authors died on Saint George's Feast Day—and he decided to promote the idea of people buying books, instead of or in addition to roses, for their loved ones. His idea caught on, and now half of all book sales in Catalonia are made on this day!

So, Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the same day? Weird!

Wait! I didn't say that William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died on the same da
y—I said that they both died on April 23, 1616!

They actually died 10 days apart. Do you know why both of these statements are true???

Oh, yes, the confusion of different calendars in the world! Cervantes died on April 23, 1616, according to the Gregorian calendar (used by most countries then, and by everybody now). Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, according to the Julian calendar, still used then by Britain and its colonies. So really, Shakespeare died 10 days after Cervantes.

Shakespeare died on his birthday!?? Weird!

Many places list William Shakespeare's birthday as April 23, 1564, and everybody agrees his death-day as April 23, 1616.

So that means that he died on his birthday, right?

Again—wait a minute! In actual fact, there is no evidence for what day Shakespeare was born. We do have record of his baptism—and it was on April 26, 1616. So maybe he was really born three days before—or maybe a day or two after that, or a week before, or...?

An idea that spread...

The U.N. picked up on this regional holiday and has declared April 23 as World Book and Copyright Day.

Celebrate Saint George's Day, Day of the Rose, and Day of the Book!
  • Here is a cool St.George/dragon picture to print, redraw, or color.
Here is a simpler and easier coloring page. And here is a rose to color.
  • Make a red fun-foam rose. Learn how here and here.
  • Start a book club. Get your friends to agree on a book and a meeting time. Everyone reads the book before the meeting—and then you can discuss, debate, and pow-wow about the characters, the plot, the symbolism, and the theme of the book!
  • Read a book with a rose or a dragon or a George!
Some suggestions for little kids:
Robert the Rose Horse, by Joan Helibroner
The Knight and the Dragon, by Tomie dePaola
any book about Curious George, by Margret and H.A.Rey
Saint George and the Dragon, by Margaret Hodges

Some suggestions for older kids:
The English Roses, by Madonna (yes, that Madonna!)
Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia Wrede
, by Christopher Paolini

George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt, by Lucy and Stephen Hawking (yes, THAT Stephen Hawking! – and this book is dedicated to Rose! So it's a great choice for a day like today!)

April 22, 2010

Earth Day

Today is the day to consider the environment—in other words, EVERYTHING about Mother Earth, from the air and water, to the living plants and animals, to the resources and the microorganisms.

There is a lot to learn about what we already know about the interconnections between these living and nonliving things—and there is certainly a lot more to be discovered, as well! There are a lot of things individuals can do to make a difference in either cleaning up the environment or preventing damage to it. And we can all help manage resources by reducing, reusing, and recycling!

Here are some websites to help you celebrate the day:
  • Kaboose has articles on green crafts, green foods, and green living. There are games, lessons, quizzes, and coloring pages.
  • DLTK has a list of online jigsaw puzzles appropriate to Earth Day and a few slider puzzles as well.
  • Planet Pals has a lot of activities, clip art, and lessons.
Did you know...?

The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. Suggested by Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson, it resulted from efforts by people from both parties and many different walks of life to have
a giant “teach-in” about ecology and taking care of the Earth.

This famous recycling symbol is called the mobius loop. The symbol was invented by an architecture student named Gary Dean Anderson. This USC student designed the symbol for a contest that asked people to create a design that would represent paper recycling. The contest was part of that first Earth Day in 1970. Anderson's design won, but even more important, it was adopted for many different uses concerning recycling.

The mobius loops has been drawn in many different colors and many different versions. Some of them appear on this website. (NOTE: These symbols are free for the printing or cut-pasting.)

April 21, 2010

John Muir Day

The naturalist and conservationist John Muir was born in Scotland on this date in 1838. He came to America with his family when he was 11 years old, and they settled on a farm in Wisconsin. He went to the University of Wisconsin - Madison for a few years, paying his own way and studying botany for the first time.

Muir left school to wander around Canada, collecting plants and, when he needed money, working in a sawmill in the Ontario area. In 1866 he returned to the U.S. and worked as an industrial engineer in Indianapolis, Indiana, but that ended when a work injury almost blinded him. After six weeks in a darkened room, Muir emerged determined to be true to his dreams of exploration and the study of plants.

So he walked about 1,000 miles from Indiana to Florida, going the “wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way” he could find. He wanted to go to South America and continue his wilderness
walk, but he fell ill with malaria, so instead he sailed to New York and then traveled by steamship to California.

As soon as Muir's ship landed in San Francisco, California, he made his way to Yosemite. He immediately fell in love with the place in a big way.

He lived there for years, studying the botany and geology of the area.
He suggested that Yosemite Valley was carved out by glaciers, rather than by a gigantic earthquake as theorized by Josiah Whitney. (Whitney's idea was widely believed at the time.)

Muir was often lonely and comforted himself, not only with the beauties of nature, but also with reading the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. After Muir had lived in Yosemite for three years, Emerson himself came to the valley. The two men were delighted to meet each other. Emerson offered Muir a professorship at Harvard, but Muir turned him down without even considering the idea.

Emerson and Ezra Carr, a former professor from the University of Wisconsin, urged Muir to write about his theory of Yosemite's creation through glaciation. Muir discovered an active glacier in the area, and a large earthquake shook the valley but didn't make it deeper, so more and more people turned to Muir's theory as the likelier. (Of course, a huge amount of evidence has since been found to pretty much clinch Muir's theory.)

Eventually John Muir moved to a more civilized area, Oakland, where he married, helped raise two daughters, and lived on a ranch. He continued to study and write about botany and geology and conservation. He took breaks by traveling to his beloved Sierras, and he also climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington and went on expeditions to Wrangel Island in the Arctic Sea and along the Alaskan coast. Later in life, Muir traveled the world talking about preservation of wild spaces, visiting England, France, Germany, Russia, China, India, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hawaii, and, briefly, Indonesia and the Philippines. He stayed in Arizona for a while, and he finally got to South America and even Africa!

As important as Muir's writings and scientific contributions were, he is best known for helping to start the Sierra Club, a conservation group, and for gaining protected status for Yosemite as a national park. Both the club and the national park were successes, but Muir also opposed building a dam at Hetch Hetchy, and that fight he lost.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt went to Yosemite and asked Muir to show him “the real Yosemite.” The two men camped in the back country, slept out under the stars and were even dusted by a bit of snow in the early morning. Muir was able to convince the president of the importance of Yosemite and of federal control of the park.

Later in his life Muir shrugged off the title “conservationist,” as he often disagreed with th
e land-use ideas of people who called themselves by this term. Muir began to call himself a “preservationist,” because he wanted to keep certain lands almost entirely untouched. He considered them of great spiritual value, more beautiful than the greatest temple or cathedral ever built by humans.

Muir lived to age 76 and died in Los Angeles, California, of pneumonia. Many places and institutions have been named after John Muir, particularly in California. My own sister went to John Muir High School in Pasadena. There are a bunch of other schools plus a college named after him, plus several mountains, a glacier, a wilderness area, several long hiking trails, a beach, a stand of redwoods, many parks, a camp, and even an asteroid!

Muir has been featured on several postage stamps and appears on the California state
quarter. Muir's birthday was declared John Muir Day by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004.

  • Read some quotes by John Muir, and think about the relevance of each to his life and also to yours. (Quotes selected by Harold Wood for the Sierra Club.)
  • If you want more Muir writings, the Sierra Club provides a great resource with selected passages, letters, eulogies, and the complete text of his books!
(Look for the blue drop-down menu called "Writings.")

This photo shows a bit of the John Muir
I have hiked several times in my life.

If you can, visit a wilderness area near you.
Even better, make a plan to preserve a bit of wilderness!