Planting Pansies

For my daughter, Aurora, spring means planting pansies. When she was four-years-old my mother came for a visit. My mother (Aurora’s Granny) announced to Aurora, “Wait until you see what I have in my car.” With excitement and anticipation Aurora and Granny walked to the car. On the floor of the backseat were 2 six-packs of pansies and a spade. The pair spent the next hour planting beautiful purple and yellow pansies in a big wooden planter at the front of the house.

Mother’s Day is approaching and I am thinking about pansies. Most Mother’s Days, I buy my mother pansies. I have never questioned it. It’s just something I do, something I have always done. As I remember the sight of Aurora and my mother carefully planting their happy little harbingers of spring, I am reminded of another pair of gardeners. My young, dark-haired mother and me, crouched at a garden bed with spades in our hands and the sun on our backs as we planted pansies.

Happy Mother’s Day

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A late day hike

My friend, Caryn and I took a hike late in the afternoon on a recent spring day. It’s a beautiful time of day for a hike. On a sunny day, the sun rakes across the trees casting long dramatic shadows and illuminates the greenery. Caryn took the best photograph of the day.

ferns unfurl

photograph by Caryn Paradis

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Cute little Critter

Photo by eaglemoon

If you are quiet and still, amazing things will appear.

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Books to Ring in Spring

Two of my favorite books to read in the spring are Possum and the Peeper, by Anne Hunter, and and then it’s spring, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead.

possum and the peeperIn Possum and  the Peeper, possum is roused from his long winter sleep by a loud and constant noise. “Peep! Peep! Peep!” He decides to leave his cozy winter nest and find the source of the inconsiderate racket. As he searches she is joined by a pair of catbirds, a bear, a muskrat, and a turtle, who all agree that the noise needs to stop. The animals’ search takes them through the woods, by the “trout lilies blooming along the path,” and then down to the marsh. Among the reeds of the marsh they find “a speck of a thing” that is the source of the “peeping.” In his loud voice, the unapologetic little frog delivers a spring message, “Rise and shine!” Read the book to hear the frog’s other spring messages.

and then it's springAnd then it’s spring, is that wonderful combination of beautiful artwork and wonderful words. This team created a lovely book.

Think spring. What color comes to mind? Green, right? Spring is the arrival of green… or, if you flip it, it is the disappearance of brown. And then it’s spring, starts with brown: “First you have brown, all around you have brown.” The author then adds seeds and anticipation, and takes us into spring. The simple, measured text articulates the hopeful, watchful anticipation of spring.

The illustrated characters—a boy, a dog, a turtle, and a rabbit—stand in a brown field, plant seeds in a garden, hope for rain, march in mud, and wait. While the characters wait, the reader waits. The images

of the little boy and his friends are sweet, playful, and timeless. Erin E. Stead uses woodblock printing techniques and pencil sketching to bring this story to life. The stage is set with a big tree in a fenced field, a small red farmhouse set on a distant hill, and sky—big, cloud-filled sky. The characters of the story move within this stage to play out the celebration of spring.

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Hiking and Singing in the Rain

On a recent Monday, the Explorers took a hike in the rain. Earlier that morning, I emailed the parents and asked them to bring in boots and raincoats for their children because we hoped to take a hike before the heavy rain settled in. The Explorers arrived properly dressed. (Thank you parents!) We did morning activities while we watched the puddle in front of the school for signs of rain. It looked pretty light. Naya, one of our Explorers and I checked the radar. Rain was suppose to get heavy around noon. We ate a quick snack, dressed in our rain gear and walked out of the school. The rain was coming down heavier than we hoped for but we forged on. Kelly, co-teacher, and I decided on a short hike close to the school in case the rain got heavy. “Let’s walk to the magnolia tree and look at the buds. Then we can observe the changes and developments through the next few weeks,” I suggested.

We made our way to the magnolia tree on the hill as the rain fell heavier. The Explorers didn’t seem to mind the rain. This was a new twist on our typical outdoor routine and they were ready for it. We looked closely at the fuzzy gray buds, Kelly, pointed out how the rain collected in droplets on the branches. We cut a branch from the tree to bring back to the classroom so we could observe and record the changes. Then we made tracks for home, the rain now committed to ending all outdoor activity. The children were wet but smiling; enjoying the adventure and pleased with themselves—true Explorers!

Thinking ahead, Naya asked what we were going to do with the soggy rain gear when we reached the school. Kelly made a plan, “We’ll leave our wet jackets in the foyer and head into the cozy warm classroom.” I stayed back in the foyer to hang up the wet jackets. As I returned to the classroom, the Explorers were still buzzing about the hike in the rain, showing off their dripping clothes and hair. And Kelly was talking about, “a famous actor who danced and sang in the rain.”
What happened next? Yes, we found the video of Gene Kelly dancing in the rain in the movie Singing in the Rain and played it for the Explorers. In order for everyone to see the video, I held my laptop up at an angle. This meant I watched the children while they watched Gene Kelly dance. I saw amazement and delight in their smiling faces. And then, when Gene Kelly stood under the rainspout and stomped in the puddles, I saw shock and mischievous joy on those same faces. It is so much fun to share with children!

Jeanie, our Director, came in to see what all the laughter was about. The Explorers answered all at once, that they watched a man dancing in the rain. As if planned and rehearsed, Jeanie started dancing and singing: “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again….” On cue, Amy, a teacher in the preschool, enter the room and joined Jeanie, “I’m laughing at clouds, so dark up above. The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love. Let the stormy clouds chase, Everyone from the place. Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face. I walk down the lane with a happy refrain. Just singin’, singin’ in the rain.” They finished the song and the class erupted in applause and laughter. A great way to spend a rainy day!

Kelly and I wanted to focus on the joy and adventure of being out in the rain. We could not have imagined how much fun we would have! Below is the video. (We skipped the goodnight kiss at the beginning.) Enjoy!

P.S. The video was shared with our preschoolers who reacted with the same delight. Teachers noticed a dramatic increase in puddle splashing that week!

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Running Water, Running Dog

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Monarch Magic

img_0031What happens when four monarch caterpillars are given to Schoolmates preschool? Monarch magic! Butterfly books are pulled out of storage and displayed on shelves.
Laminated photographs of the stages of metamorphosis are put on the table for the children to look at and put in the correct order. Yes, they know the correct order. Yellow, black, white, and green paints, crayons, colored pencils, and markers are used to cimg_0036-1reate representational artwork that quickly fill the walls. Magnifying glasses are placed near the caterpillar containers, and students are encouraged to observe our guests. The fingers are cut off bright yellow gloves and the Explorers add black and white stripes. Voila, finger puppets! And then we all, children and teachers, start singing songs about caterpillars, butterflies, and metamorphosis.

There is an egg, an egg that changes,
Into a caterpillar, that catimg_0024erpillar changes
Into a chrysalis, that chrysalis changes
Into a butterfly at last.
That’s what we call metamorphosis, metamorphosis, metamorphosis,
A certain kind of change, that is what it is
When it’s a metamorphosis!

Jeanie, Schoolmates owner and director, found a new song this year, that has become my favorite. It is sung to the tune of La Cucaracha. Jeanie came dancing into our classroom to teach us the song. Lots of fun!

caterpillar-in-j Caterpillar, Caterpillar
Crawling on your tiny feet

Caterpillar, caterpillar
Getting bigger as you eat!

Caterpillar, Caterpillar
Changing to a chrysalis

Caterpillar, Caterpillar

Doing Metamorphosis

Caterpillar, Caterpillarcrystalist
Letting summer days go by

Caterpillar, Caterpillar
Changing to a butterfly!

got-to-go-to-mexicoOne of the many books we read during this time was Gotta Go! Gotta Go! by
Sam Swope and Sue Riddle. This
clever book follows the journey of one caterpillar who knows img_0853
where she needs to go: Mexico. The illustrations and story are charming. The author and illustrator created a book that is fun, engaging and holds true to the science of the caterpillars’ mission. What a feat. After we read the book, children in caterpillar and butterfly character crawl and fly through the classrooms and playground saying, “I gotta go, I gotta go, I gotta go to Mexico!”
butterfliesJeanie coined the phase, “Monarch Magic.” She was so right. Four caterpillars arrived in the school, and “Abracadabra!” teaching opportunities galore. A firsthand experience with the incredible transformation from caterpillar to butterfly for each and every child. “Presto!” wonder, curiosity, investment, and knowledge. “Look, the caterpillar is making its J.” “He’s going to make his chrysalis.” “The chrysalis is getting darker. That means its getting ready to hatch.” “It’s hatchinggot-to-go-page!” “Now the wings have to dry. Then it can fly.” “It’s going to fly to Mexico.” These are all statements we heard from the preschoolers and the Explorers during the caterpillars’/butterflies’ stay at Schoolmates preschool.

When I told my mother about all the monarch caterpillars at Schoolmates, she reminded me about the caterpillar William and I found when he was two and a half years old. During a walk with my friend Danielle and her kids, we found two monarch caterpillars. She suggested we each take one home and watch them transform. “We just need to take some milkweed leaves with us. That’s their host plant,” she said. And so began my education into raising caterpillars.

William and butterfly
William and I moved the caterpillar into our apartment. We put some milkweed branches into a vase of water and then put the caterpillar on a leaf. We watched the caterpillar munch on leaves and crawl around on the plant. It was great fun! Danielle told us the caterpillar would attach itself to a branch, take the shape of a J, and then form a chrysalis. When it started to happen, just as she said it would, William was so excited. I was shocked and amazed. Part of me hadn’t believed this endeavor would work out. “Will it transform if its not in the wild?”  “Will it eat leaves that have been cut from a live plant?” These questions and more flowed through my mind. But of course, William had no doubt. That’s the joy of sharing natural wonders with children. They believe in everything. We, the grownups, tell them something will happen or that something is true, and they run with it. If you want to experience magic, watch life through the eyes of a child.

William and I moved into a new house while our caterpillar was in chrysalis form. We planned to set the butterfly free in our new garden, which just happened to have milkweed in it. Perfect!

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Friday Photo


 This is a Queen leaf. It is taller than the others. The red is the crown and the yellow is the body. —Brayden

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Early Morning Frost


The first frost of autumn sparkles on newly fallen leaves.

The first frost of autumn sparkles on newly fallen leaves. Dazzling!

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Cycling out of Summer

acornEven when August was fairly new, signs of autumn were starting to appear. I have always thought of summer as the months of July and August—two months of the year boxed off with hot summer weather for everyone to enjoy. But this year, I began to notice signs of summer fading and autumn approaching in early August.

First, I spotted a newly fallen acorn on the trail while I hiked in the woods near my house. I spend the first months of the school year collecting, counting, and talking about acorns with the Explorers in my classroom. The exclamations sound like this: “Ann, looks at this huge acorn!”  “Look I found a double one.” “I collected about a million.” “I can hear them falling out of the trees.” For me acorns are an autumn experience. I don’t expect to see them on the ground in early August. Yet, there it was.

red-winged-black-birdsAnother favorite fall sight for me is the appearance of red-winged blackbirds in the wild rice of Pratt Cove, a tidal marsh in Deep River. The birds come to this cove to bulk up for their migratory journey south. (For the whole story of the red-winged blackbird and the wild rice read my post: Bon Voyage to the Birds.) On an early August day I walked past the cove and heard the familiar chatter of excited red-winged blackbirds flitting through the wild rice. As I watched the birds I thought, “But it’s August, what are you doing here?”

I have school-age children, which means I follow a school calendar. There is the school year and the activities that come with it, and then there is summer vacation—no school, summer programs, and a desire to use each long day to its fullest.

While watching the birds on that early August day, my thoughts shifted. I stopped seeing July and August as a suspended state in time. Nature doesn’t know about the school calendar. It has its own rhythm—a continual waxing and waning of natural events that is unconcerned with the activities and calendars of humans.

img_6073The number of birds in Pratt cove will increase as days shorten, nights cool, and autumn takes hold. The red-winged blackbirds will fly to warmer climates and wait out our winter. As the weather warms in the spring, they will return. And so goes their life cycle.

As the weather gets colder, more acorns will fall from the trees, the trees’ leaves will turn color and then join the acorns on the ground. The oak trees have their own cycle to complete and then begin again.

School started last month, the calendar fills with activities and commitments, and I take comfort in these natural cycles. The steady, predicable rhythm of nature grounds me as I navigate my busy, less predictable life.

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