The Military Child

sometimeswewerebraveSometimes We Were Brave, is TOPS among illustrated picture books dealing with the emotionally-charged and extremely-difficult issues of military service and sacrifice.

This jewel’s author, Pat Brisson, a former elementary school teacher and librarian first became interested in this subject when she traveled to Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Panama and Guantanamo Bay as a visiting author. She tells me that she was struck “by the sacrifices expected of these children, who didn’t volunteer, but are still giving service to their country by doing without the presence of a parent at very important times in their lives,” which accounts for her uncanny ability to tackle the deployment of a parent head-on, with grace and sensitivity. Telling the tale first-person-narrative style lends authenticity and credibility to the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of a boy (and his dog) trying to show courage, but struggling with missing their mom. It’s just SO real: sometimes they have bad days, sometimes they get surprises, sometimes they have accidents, sometimes they get treats, sometimes they are afraid.

Complemented by amazingly gentle and strikingly soft illustrations, Sometimes We Were Brave will comfort and validate students whose parents are on active duty and serving in scary, far-away places and will undoubtedly stir up compassion and caring in the hearts of their friends and classmates. We cannot do enough for these families while their parent or loved one is away. At Westwood, we offer preschool free of charge to kids like Jerome. Last year, we partnered with Starbucks to send a shipment of coffee to Luke’s dad, who was serving in Iraq. Trained by the Military Child Education Coalition, I offer counseling support for these students. We also pair them with a high-school Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL) student for weekly mentoring visits.

We recently partnered with FHS to send New Year’s cards and supplies along with a local businessman who travels to Afghanistan for work. He took a Suitcase for the Soldiers, which helped them feel connected to home, if only for a little while. Their favorite items? Ramen noodles, crystals to flavor their water, toothbrushes, and Starbucks coffee! We often write letters and draw pictures to send to soldiers overseas to salute, honor, and thank them for keeping us safe and free; around Veterans Day, we collect boxes and boxes of supplies to send through our Santas for Soldiers campaign. A few years back, our third graders actually wrote letters to local families of fallen soldiers so that they, too, could be comforted and know we will always remember.

Check out this beautiful book; it’s the perfect companion for any or all of these ideas!

Taking A Stand
imogenes_last_standImogene’s Last Stand by Candace Fleming caught my eye at our book fair this spring in part because I’m always looking for ways to infuse historical heroes into my citizenship lessons, but also because I wanted to know more about the flag-bearing heroine illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.  I recently heard it said that character is who you are when nobody’s watching AND what you’ll stand for when everybody is. Meet Imogene, a passionate little historian who just wishes that someone were watching when she takes a stand against a shoelace factory in order to save her favorite historical site in town.  This must-read will excite and engage conscientious citizens as they experience Imogene’s patriotism, activism, and perseverance; check out this book and consider the following enrichment activities, a few of which were inspired by a book review at commonsensemedia.org:

  1. Talk about the historical figures that Imogene quotes throughout the book. Using the front and end pages, research the source of the quotes and the context in which each statement was made.  Encourage students to select their favorite adage and write about what they think it meant at the time it was said and what those words mean to them today.
  2. Take a field trip* to your own local historical society or museum. What kinds of things have been preserved and are on display?  Who decides what has historical value and what doesn’t?  What is a docent?  *No field trip funds?  Invite a traveling trunk with museum-type artifacts to come to your class.
  3. Talk about genealogy. Trace your family roots and draw a family tree.  How do we keep our family’s stories in tact and why?  Have students explore the concept of a family crest.  Does their family have its own crest?  If so, what does it look like.  If not, have them create one.  What will they put in the design and why?
  4. Discuss ways that people can peacefully protest when they strongly believe in something. Why do people protest? Does it work? Why or why not?  Talk about a current controversy; use the Wisconsin teachers versus the Unions if you want a timely topic.
  5. What’s in a name? The author uses some unusually interesting names for some of her fictional places and characters. Use the book as a springboard for a discussion about names.  This could be a good time to have students create an acrostic poem using their names.  Ask students about the historical significance of the book’s title, too.
  6. Host a Heroes In History wax museum.  Our second graders have used this activity with great success.  Students select a “hero or shero” that they want to study; after their research is complete, the unit culminates with the students dressing as that person and putting on a wax museum for our other students and ultimately parents at Open House.  At the wax museum, students stand still as statues until someone pushes the button on the name card that they’re wearing.  That brings the statue to life and the museum-goers get to hear all about what your student learned of that famous person and his/her contributions in history.

Click here to visit the author’s webpage and get even more follow-up activity ideas.  From this site, you can also contact Ms. Fleming if you want to tell her what you thought about Imogene’s Last Stand!

Honoring Our Military

nightcatch200wWe’ve selected Citizenship as our pillar for November because it coincides with Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving, both of which allow us a glimpse at what good citizens do for one another, serve and give thanks! Each year, our first graders study the branches of the military, research people in their family who have served our country, and invite local Veterans to come to school to be celebrated on their special day. They perform patriotic songs in their honor and present the Veterans with letter of thanks for their sacrifice. We create a Wall of Fame to post pictures and information about all of the special service men and women with whom we have a connection.

This fall, our Santas for Our Soldiers service project will support the military on active duty overseas. Of course they love to get goodie boxes, but I’m told that our cards and notes of thanks and encouragement mean just as much to them. We are asking for the names and addresses of local soldiers whom we can adopt from our Westwood family. If you do not have a connection to anyone in particular but you’d like to support the military, visit Operation Gratitude to find out how you can join forces to make a difference.

Want a book to heighten awareness of what military children go through? Check out Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut. When a soldier dad leaves on duty, he figures out a way to stay connected using the North Star, offering hope and comfort to his family while he’s away. My Dad’s A Hero by Rebecca Christiansen and Jewel Armstrong is also a gem on this sensitive subject.

Recycling Matters

ccbb2A huge part of our citizenship pillar asks us to take care of the earth and conserve resources by reducing, reusing, and recycling. GO GREEN is a common theme these days as people are carry reusable grocery bags to the store to reduce the need for plastic grocery sacks. A recent local news article featured Stadium Stewards, a group of teenagers from Friendswood High School actually cleaning out the stands in the stadium after a football game so that they can recycle the bottles and cans. Does your school have a recycling club? If not, why not start one now! A simple bulletin board to generate awareness and a call to a recycling company like Abitibi so you’ll have some recycle bins out in front of your school and for use in your classrooms is all it’ll take to get started. Soon you’ll be recycling not only paper and cardboard products, but also old cell phones and ink jet cartridges. What else can you and your students do to support the ‘go green’ movement and show just how much recycling matters?

Got Citizenship?

There are SO many great ideas on how to reinforce citizenship oonline; click here to see what Counselor Leah Davies, M.Ed. suggests to foster citizenship in children. Still not sure what to do? Turn up the heat and have your students create a podcast to post online with ideas of their own on how to show good citizenship and make their home, their school, their community, and their world a better place to be.

PB&J v. Hummus
ssgraphicWhen I first saw this book, I put it on the chopping block because I didn’t want to plant any seeds about a food fight. The students in this tale also use a few ugly words, and I tend to avoid that in a book, too. But sandwiched between those two small hurdles in this little morsel is a story that’s well worth it, so I returned to the bookstore and bought it for my shelf.

Based on a royal nursery school memory, The Sandwich Swap, by Queen Rania Al Abdullah with Kelly DiPucchio, is a delectable delight revolving around two simple sandwiches. Fast friends Salma and Lily find themselves with a dining dilemma: Each silently thinks that the other’s sandwich is “weird and yucky, strange and gross.” It’s not until they tell one another what they think that “hurt feelings turned mad,” bystanders took sides, insults started flying, and so did food. The food fight lands the friends in the Principal’s office not once, but twice; first to make restitution, then to make a suggestion. And so began their International Day, so that the children could showcase foods from different ethnicities and expose one another to new and tempting textures and tastes.

Let this story serve as a springboard for hosting your own Cultural Cuisine Celebration. Start with students interviewing their grandparents or parents and researching where their ancestors were born and grew up. Weave some geography into your lesson. Locate Jordan, where the author is queen and track the mileage between there and where you students’ ancestors lived. Then ask students to gather recipes to create a cookbook to share with the class. Compare and contrast the recipes. Make a T chart with common ingredients on one side and unique ingredients on the other. Fix a few of the dishes together as a class if possible. Let students decide which recipe they’d be willing to try at home and bring to school to share. Host the celebration at night if you want to include families in this ethnic extravaganza. Ask for follow-up reflections about the new foods they’ve experienced.

If you’d rather just host a sandwich swap of your own, two other books that would nicely piggyback your event are Carla’s Sandwich by Debbie Herman and The Peanut-Free Cafe by Gloria Koster. In the former, Carla combines all sorts of fun and unique ingredients in her creative concoctions and teaches her friends about acceptance in the process. Click here for a fun taste-testing activity idea. In the latter, children learn to be sensitive to Grant’s peanut-butter allergy.

All this talk about food makes me want to set some dough for a batch of my grandmother’s Danish Kringle. Velbekomme!