March 1, 2012 - Great Day for Animals

Anniversary of the Creation of the First National Park in the World!

On this date in 1872, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law a bill that created the world's first national park, Yellowstone. This 2-million-acre park fills one corner of the state of Wyoming and spills a bit into Montana and Idaho as well. It is famous for its many geothermal features, such as bubbling mud pots and stunning geysers, but another thing people count on when they go visit Yellowstone is seeing wildlife.
And not only is Yellowstone important for wildlife, the whole concept of a national park is crucial and has helped to keep some wilderness areas...well, wild! Now more than 100 countries have set aside land in national parks, including China with its 208 national parks, and Australia with its 685 national parks!


Yellowstone is one of the best places in the U.S. (aside from Alaska) for wildlife, including the wildlife that people most want to see: large mammals. There are 60 species of mammals in the park, including the gray wolf
grizzly bear
black bear
mule deer
white-tailed deer
mountain goat
bighorn sheep
and mountain lion.

She-e-esh, huh?

Trust me, you're going to see a few of these—but mostly herds of bison and elk, and a few deer. If you're lucky, you might see a mountain goat or a bighorn sheep. You'd have to be VERY lucky to see a moose or one of the carnivores!

Yellowstone has the largest public herd of American bison in the U.S. It also has large herds of elk. As a matter of fact, there used to be too many elk, until the gray wolf was reintroduced to the area.

Of course, there are many other smaller mammals, plus fish, birds, reptiles, and insects, in Yellowstone. It's a great place for animals—and therefore a great place to go see animals!

For info on Yellowstone's geysers...

...check out this earlier post

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Did you know...?

February 29, 2012 - Leap Day!

This day only comes around once every four years (mostly)—so I bet you're glad you weren't born on February 29th! Think of how few birthdays you would've had!

Leap Day is added to February every Leap Year, making those years 366 days rather than the normal 365 days. We do this so that our calendars keep pace with the solar year, which is about 365.242199 days long. Here is a short, clear explanation of why we need—and how we calculate—Leap Years. 

Some of the Leap Day traditions seem very odd to us these days. For example, in Europe during the middle ages, women were “allowed” to propose marriage to men on Leap Day—but not any other time of the year! In some localities, if a man said “no” to such a Leap Day proposal, he had to buy the woman 12 pairs of gloves. In other places, there were other gifts that must be given with the “no," such as a silk dress and a kiss.
These two old postcards made
light of the idea that women
could propose on just one day every
four years...

According to the Guinness Book of Records, there is a family who has had three consecutive generations born on February 29. Peter Anthony Keogh was born in Ireland on this day in 1940, his son Peter Eric Keogh was born in the U.K. on this day in 1964, and his granddaughter Bethany Keogh was born in the U.K. on this day in 1996. Another weird record is held by a Norwegian family named Henriksen, who had three children born on Leap Day—in the years 1960, 1964, and 1968. W-o-w!

Speaking of being born on Leap Day, apparently kids born on February 29 are called “Leapers” or “Leaplings”! They are invited to join The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies.

February 28, 2012 - National Tooth Fairy Day

In some cultures around the world, there is a Tooth Mouse who scampers around town and steals children's teeth in the middle of the night. Sometimes the Tooth Mouse leaves money in exchange for the tooth. (Sound familiar?) In El Salvador, the creeping creature who makes those nighttime exchanges of money for teeth is a rabbit, and in America, it's the Tooth Fairy.

Some cultures have other traditions. In Costa Rica, lost teeth are made into charms for the children to wear. In many places, they are burned or buried in the ground. In the Dominican Republic, they are thrown onto the roof. A Yupix Amerindian would wrap a lost tooth in food and then feed it to a female dog!

Check out Throw Your Tooth on the Roof, by Selby Beeler, for more about these worldwide traditions. 

Celebrate the Tooth Fairy!

Make a special pillow with a pocket to use for the lost-tooth exchange. 

Here are some stories about the Tooth Fairy:

My favorite book about losing teeth is Little Rabbit's Loose Tooth, by Lucy Bates. 

Make a Tooth Fairy box or tote

Teaching Heart provides an entire website on Dental Health. 

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February 27, 2012 - Help for a Leaning Tower?

On this date in 1964, the Italian government made an announcement: please, world of engineers and architects, help us prevent the Leaning Tower of Pisa from collapsing.

Almost as soon as construction started on this grand bell tower, way back in 1173, the building started leaning one direction. When only three floors had been built, construction stopped for almost a century. When work resumed, the chief engineer decided to compensate for the visible lean by making the new stories slightly taller on the short side. In 1278, workers reached the top of the seventh floor—and the tower was leaning nearly three feet! Construction stopped again.

In 1360, builders decided to finish off the tower with an eighth and final story. Again, a cheat was used to counteract the lean—this time, the bell chamber was built with a slight slant in relation to the rest of the tower. By 1370, the structure was declared finished and declared an architectural wonder. People came from all over to admire it. Look at the six external arcades! The 200 columns! The very distinct lean!

One reason
people want to
visit the tower
is to take
advantage of
this photo op!
The tower leaned just a little more each and every year—although of course that only made people even more interested in seeing it!

In the 1500s, the top was 12 feet south of the base. In the 1800s, an architect was ordered to excavate the part of the base that had sunk into the ground—and water came up out of the ground, and the tower lurched another few inches to the south. In the 1900s, Mussolini ordered engineers to pour concrete into the foundation to reverse the tilt. But the tower leaned even more inches southward!

Recently scientists have discovered that the tower was built over the remains of an ancient river estuary, on ground filled with water and silty sand. No wonder the building has been sinking!

After the 1964 call for help, two different attempts to stabilize the building resulted in even greater leaning. Finally, in 1990, the Italian government closed the building to visitors out of safety concerns. Plastic-coated steel tendons were built around the tower, a concrete foundation with counterweights was created on the north side of the tower. These measures helped reverse a bit of the learn but were a bit “unsightly.” 

Lead counterweights, 1998.
This is what I saw when I visited Pisa.

This 2004 photo shows no cables--
when I went, there were lots of
cables!--and shows people at the
top of the tower--which wasn't allowed
when I was there.
 In 1999, engineers began to very slowly extract soil under the north side of the tower—just a gallon of soil a day—using massive steel cables to stabilize the tower during the process. By the end of 2001, 18 inches of lean was reversed, and the tower was reopened to the public.

Of course, the only time I visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa was during the 11 years it was closed! Rats!

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February 26, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Victor Hugo

He wrote such works as Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and a whole lot of poetry.

Born in France on this day in 1802, Victor Hugo grew up at a time when France was in a fair amount of chaos: Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor when he was a toddler, and his father was a high-ranking officer in Napoleon's army. However, Hugo's mom was a Royalist who apparently hung out with people who tried to oust Napoleon! When Hugo was a teen, a Bourbon was crowned king once again. Years later Napoleon III took over as ruler of France in a coup d'etat. (Napoleon II, son of the Napoleon, never actually ruled France.) At that point, Hugo exiled himself to Belgium and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. He only left Guernsey when Napoleon III was kicked out of power.

In addition to being one of the most famous authors in history, Victor Hugo is listed as being a visual artist, statesman, human rights activist, and promoter of the Romantic movement—the revolt of artists and writers against aristocratic ways and also, to some extent at least, against the scientific viewpoint of nature.

Read some of Hugo's words:

  • A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.”
  • All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
  • As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled.”
  • Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.”

Celebrate Hugo!

  • KidsFreeSouls offers a short Hugo biography and online versions of his works. 
  • One of Hugo's most famous books is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Watch the Disney movie...or enjoy these coloring pages from the movie.

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February 25, 2012 People Power Anniversary

– Philippines

Today Filipinos commemorate the non-violent People Power revolution that restored democracy in their nation in 1986.

LABAN, the political party that challenged the corrupt dictator Ferdinand Marcos, used yellow as its official color. That's why many Filipinos are wearing yellow today. People also raise their hands to make an L-shape with their fingers, as almost two million people did during the massive 1986 rallies.

People will gather today in the capital city, Manila, to raise the flag, unveil a statue of hero Jaime Cardinal Sin, and honor volunteers who helped victims of Typhoon Sendong. The day's activities will be capped by a concert.

Learn about the Philippines

Mr. Donn has gathered some resources. 

Hands-On Crafts for Kids offers four Filipino-themed crafts. 

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February 24, 2012 - Independence Day in Estonia

You can see the modern
city behind the old-town
buildings of Tallinn, Estonia.

There was a lot of chaos in Europe during the first part of the twentieth century. World War I was killing millions of soldiers and civilians. In Estonia, which had been ruled by the Russian Empire, Russian troops were retreating and German troops were advancing. Estonia declared its independence on this date in 1918, but Germany ignored the declaration and occupied Estonia. Later in the year, in November, Germany formally handed over political power to the Estonian government, but the Bolshevik (Communist) invasion followed. It took another year and a half before The Republic of Estonia was able to establish peace with Bolshevist Russia.

Estonia was a republic for 22 years.

And then World War II broke out, and the same two nations tore up Estonia's land and people again—Russia (now the Soviet Union) and Germany fought over, and occupied, Estonia. When that war was over, Estonia was (unwillingly) part of the Soviet Union. It took until the end of the twentieth century, when the Soviet Union collapsed, for Estonia to regain its independence—which it re-declared in August of 1991.

The best part of all this freedom fighting might be the Singing Revolution, on June 10-11, 1988, when more than two million people created a human chain that stretched through Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, singing illegal patriotic songs all night long. Actually, massive sing-alongs sprang out in Estonia for six nights in a row! The Singing Revolution was non-violent—a much better symbolic, defining event than the destructive Boston Tea Party or the violent storming of the Bastille.

Singing is still important in Estonia. Listen to the crowd singing “The Most Beautiful Songs.”

A crater made
by a meteorite.
Here's a challenging puzzle showing the old-town portion of an Estonian city. (Click the words “Compose Puzzles” to play. You have to enter a nickname—NOT your full name or even, necessarily, a nickname you actually use—and choose your country in order to play.)

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February 23, 2012 - Mashramani in Guyana

Mashramani (Mash for short) is Guyana's patriotic holiday that commemorates the day that it became a republic in 1970. There are parades, music, games, and cooking—the most colorful festival of the year—with floats, masquerade bands, and dancing in the streets, elaborate costumes, calypso competitions, and the crowning of a Mash king or queen.

Guyana is one of the smallest nations in South America. Its official language is English, although it was a Dutch colony before it was taken over by Britain, and the largest group of people living in the nation are descendents of immigrants from India! Other Guyanese groups include descendents of the following groups: enslaved Africans, Amerindians (the peoples who lived in the area before the coming of Columbus) such as Arawaks and Caribs, Portuguese and other European settlers, and Chinese immigrants. With all this ethnic diversity, it is perhaps not a surprise that Caribbean languages, Spanish, and Portuguese are spoken by small minorities; but I was surprised to read that a national language called Guyanese Creole is widely spoken.

A creole language is a stable language that is created by the mixing of two or more parent languages. Scholars who study languages (linguists) tell us that a creole language is created by children in mixed-language locations, just naturally as they play together and try to communicate with each other. A creole language can become the primary language for many people.

Guyanese Creole is based on English with African and East Indian syntax (grammar).

Explore Guyana

Here is a super-short tourism video of Guyana. 

This five-minute video is much more informative. 

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February 22, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Frederic Chopin

Ah, the Poet of the Piano!

Frederic Chopin was a virtuoso pianist and a composer of piano music. He was born in 1810 in Poland, but when Russia suppressed Poland in 1830, Chopin moved to Paris. (You may notice that his name looks French, not Polish—and indeed, his father had immigrated to Poland from France. When he was born, his name was Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin—but he used the French versions of his first and middle name once he moved to Paris.)

Chopin had a light touch on the piano, so he wasn't suited to playing grand music in a huge concert hall. Still, he became popular playing in the private salons of the rich—and he made quite a bit of money teaching piano to the children of the rich.

Sadly, Chopin died quite young—at age 39—of tuberculosis. It is quite appropriate that it was on his birthday, almost a century later, that Dr. Selman Abraham Waksman made an important announcement:

A Cure for Tuberculosis!

Waksman was a Ukrainian-American scientist who studied microorganisms that live in soil. One of his graduate students (Albert Schatz) realized in 1946 that Streptomycin, an antibiotic isolated from an organism Waksman studied, was effective against tuberculosis. (Waksman's studies led to the development of more than 20 different antibiotics useful for treating a variety of other illnesses, as well.)
I saw Chopin's lovely
grave when I went to Paris.
What I didn't know is that his heart
was removed before he was
buried--and it resides in an urn
in Poland!

Celebrate Chopin!

At Hey Kids, Meet Frederic Chopin, the composer's birthdate is given as March 1. Indeed, all his life, Chopin claimed March 1 to be his birthday. However, his baptismal record says his birthday is February 22.  Links below the short biography allow you to hear some music, so be sure to explore the webpage.

Piano Lessons 4 Children offers an amazing array of videos and audio files to help you learn about and enjoy Chopin's music! 

Classics for Kids also offers a “Hear the Music” button. 

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February 21, 2012 - Mardi Gras

Other names for this celebration of food and fun include Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Carnival, Fastnacht Day, Pancake Day, and Paczki Day. (Both fastnacht and paczki are names for delicious pastries.)

The origins of all these holidays is the Catholic practice of Lent, giving up pleasures or habits, with fasting and penitence, for 40 weekdays before Easter. I know it doesn't seem like a holiday of feasting should have anything to do with a long period of fasting—but today is the last hurrah, the day before Lent begins!

Many people these days celebrate Mardi Gras or Carnival separate from its origins. There are elaborate parades, sporting events, music and dance concerts, and (of course) joyful eating and drinking.

Match the holiday tradition with one of the places it is celebrated:

1. Fastnacht Day
2. Mardi Gras
3. Paczki Day
4. Carnival
5. Pancake Day

A. Latin America
B. Poland
C. Switzerland 
D. New Orleans
E. England (U.K.)

Have some Mardi Gras fun!

  • DLTK has some fun crafts, games, and coloring pages. 
  • Activity Village is another website with ideas about celebrating Mardi Gras with kids. 
ANSWERS: 1.C – 2.D – 3.B – 4.A – 5.E

Did you know...?
  • In some towns in England, women do a special pancake race. They have to run to a church while holding a frying pan and flipping a pancake at least three times! The winner gets a “kiss of peace” from the church's bellringer!
  • In Belgium, hundreds of men wear colorful costumes with jingling bells and towering ostrich-plume hats and dance through the streets, hurling oranges at the watching crowds.

For more on Mardi Gras and Carnival, see this earlier post

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