DIY Preschool: Literacy Activites

(This is the third in a series of posts about Worcester-area educational activities for preschool-aged children.)

Our approach to literacy has been a bit more organic than what we’ve done for science education.

I highly recommend all parents read The Read-Aloud Handbook.  If you weren’t already committed to reading to your kids every night, this book will make you a convert.  I’ve found that being an overtly avid reader has made people more open to sharing their stories about reading to children.  The nurse who assisted in many of my platelet donations told me that he was reading to his son up until high school, which is something I aspire to.

To aid in reading aloud, we go to the library at least once a week and also own a lot of children’s books.  We shop at thrift stores and library book sales.  (Our favorite part of a library book sale is when we find a book that we’ve taken out repeatedly and now can own.  Our elder son seems to be inheriting our bibliomania.)

There are also a bunch of free or low-cost Worcester-area events that can improve literacy:

  • Library story times at Frances Perkins or the Main Branch of the Worcester Public Library.  The library used to offer pajama storytime one Friday night a month (though they no longer do) and we would go there if we had sufficient napping to cover staying up a bit later than usual.
  • Higgins Armory Museum offers a CastleKids Story Hour (for a small fee which includes a snack and craft) on many Wednesdays in the early afternoon.
  • The Greendale YMCA Branch offers a Little Cricket Story Time for family members a couple of times a week.
  • Our elder son participates in the Alphabetivities class at the Tri-Community YMCA, which introduces him to letters and gives him lots of practice with writing.

Though our older one is not quite reading fluently yet, he would probably also recommend the website Starfall — he loves practicing reading on that site!

Also in this Series:

DIY Preschool: The Background

DIY Preschool: Science and Natural History

My Love is Like a Red, Red Rosalie

I don’t think it’s any secret that I abhor sloppy journalism, even when that sloppy journalism is in the guise of a blog-post-cum-future-InCity-Times-column.

Here’s a tip for Rosalie Tirella: don’t throw rocks from a glass house.

Alcoholism is not the Irish (with Wasp thrown in, so that she can also insult Allen Fletcher) disease she portrays.

Ireland has a teetotaler percentage of 21%.  Contrast this with Poland and Italy, each of which have teetotaler rates of 18%.

Also, see page 63 of A Natural History of Alcoholism (in the above link):

Unlike Ireland, Italy has a problem with alcoholism in children. … Indeed, Italy is the only country of which I know that has an alcohol unit associated with a department of pediatrics!

Whatever issues the Irish may or may not have with alcohol, I don’t see what bearing they have on the drinking habits of American teenagers, who may or may not be of Irish descent.  Perhaps the package stores Rose frequents do genetic testing to justify her claims.

I would suggest that Rose also look at the work the Amethyst Initiative is doing on the binge-drinking problems that are happening in colleges all over the country.  This is not a Holy Cross thing, this is not an Irish-American thing.  Our society is utterly failing to teach young people how to drink in moderation.

Also, I’m not sure what city Rose has been living in, but WPI has had neighbor relationship issues.  I’ll be interviewing a member of the ATO fraternty at WPI early next week regarding the work his fraternity has done to repair their relationship with their neighbors.

Another tip: Robbie Burns was Scottish, not Irish. Please mention Yeats the next time you want to insult the Irish.

Library Books of the Week

There’s been a great decline in book reviewing in daily and Sunday newspapers.  (The Christian Science Monitor is one of the few exceptions, and my consistent source for great book recommendations.)  There are a lot of great books blogs, but I figured I would do a regular feature of books I’ve taken out of the library (or bought at a library book sale).

I started becoming a little bit obsessed with the Mutiny on the Bounty a few months back, and it was fortuitous that I have a husband who knows a lot about the South Pacific in general and the Mutiny in particular.  It’s been one of the few cases where he and I have read the same books nearly simultaneously (or, more appropriately, where I start reading the book on the shelf in the bathroom and consistently move HIS bookmark to where MY bookmark should be, once again proving that he is the most patient man on the planet).

I found a beat-up paperback copy of the Nordhoff & Hall Mutiny on the Bounty on the free shelf at the library and I haven’t finished it, but I keep it in the car as a flood book.  I find Lieutenant Bligh to be a surprisingly compelling individual.

Descendants of the mutineers (including Fletcher Christian) continue to live on Pitcairn Island, and the island, which is extremely remote, continues to fascinate many people worldwide.  The writer Dea Birkett traveled to Pitcairn Island and wrote an absorbing memoir of her time there, Serpent in Paradise.  She was welcomed into residents’ homes (without their knowing she was a writer who intended to publish a book about her experiences) and lived there for at least a year.  You really get the sense of Pitcairn as a place where people are utterly dependent on the grace of God and on each other in order to survive on a daily basis.  At first, people hoarding food in refrigerators and on shelves seems like collective insanity — until you realize that they have no idea when the next ship will come to their island, and what provisions the ship’s crew will be willing to barter or sell to the islanders. 

Living on a 1.7-square-mile island with a population between 50-200 people also means that everyone knows your business.  In some ways, living on the island is extremely remote — all you can see is the Pacific Ocean stretching in every direction — but in other ways, it’s extremely confining.  Everyone is related to everyone else, and there are no real secrets that can be kept for any length of time.

Some of these secrets are the basis for the book Lost Paradise by Kathy Marks, which we were able to take out from a Western Massachusetts library.  Marks was one of six journalists who reported on child sexual abuse trials on Pitcairn Island.  It appears that many men on the island considered girls fair game once they turned twelve.

So, many of the people you met in Birkett’s book are now on trial or in some way complicit in Marks’ book.  And it raises all sorts of questions: Do the islanders have a legitimate cultural claim to this practice?  Can the island survive if most of the men need to serve jail terms after conviction?  Is it acceptable to condone certain behaviors because you are dependent on other residents of the island for your very survival?  Can you live  a good Christian (in this case, Seventh Day Adventist) life in an essentially wild place?

I recommend both Serpent in Paradise and Lost Paradise, but I think the latter is a better-written book. 

I feel I should also recommend a children’s book, but it’s a little tough after just discussing child rape.  My son loves Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor by Mervyn Peake, which we picked up at a library book sale.  The illustrations are delightful and the plot is weird, but it does involve pirates and the weird inhabitants of an island.  If you know a boy who loves pirates and drawings of really bizarre fish, he will not be disappointed by this book.

Does anyone have Albert Southwick’s ear?

First, if you didn’t read his column about legalized gambling, you should, if only to experience the following quote:

“Colorful” is a term used by newspapers when they want to avoid lawsuits.

Albert Southwick needs to write a column about Dr. John Green, the founder of the Worcester Public Library.

He’s written at least two columns about Samuel Swett Green (here and here), who was John Green’s nephew and a great proponent and innovator of the library.  And, really, if you’re going to have a middle name, Swett is a pretty awesome one to have.

The reason I want Albert Southwick to write about Dr. John Green is that he’s usually portrayed as this kindly looking old dude.  You can find some basic information about him here and here as well.

Walk into the Worcester Public Library’s main branch and look at the two portraits on the left, right before the circulation desk.  The one on the right is Samuel Swett Green.  The one on the left is Dr. John Green.

I am not lying when I say that the guy on the left is a total hunk.  Seriously.  Go there and take a look.  (If you’re not a library-goer, I may even take my camera to the library tomorrow and take a picture of him to prove it to you.)

Now, I’ve read pretty rare books from the library’s closed stacks that were donated by a fund he established, so I’ve always had a special spot in my heart for him.  But when I saw his portrait for the first time (funnily enough, in the Dr. John Green conference room), I was like, “No man who owns 7,000 books has a right to look that good.”  (I look at men who own books in the thousands the way other women look at Brad Pitt and George Clooney.  Alberto Manguel — feel free to call me ANYTIME!)

But I’m also the kind of woman who was reading this column over her husband’s shoulder yesterday morning and said, “If Albert Southwick were 70 years younger, you would have no shot with me.”

So — if anyone knows Albert Southwick — tell him I will pay him to write a column on Dr. John Green.

More Music

There seems to be a lot of family-friendly musical activity the weekend of December 4/5/6.  Unfortunately, that’s a crazy weekend for me (though I will do the Energy Barnraising at the Woo Church on the 5th).

December 4 – Maria Ferrante & Will Sherwood – Christmas Memories, to benefit Jericho Road, at the First Unitarian Church.

December 5 – Dance It Up! presents the Nutcracker at Worcester Technical Vocational School.

December 4/5/6 – specifically for children and families, the New England Conservatory presents the opera Hansel and Gretel.  (Speaking of H&G, you should really look at this, because Lady Gaga is really scary.)

December 6, 12:30pm, at Wesley United Methodist Church – Pipes Alive!

Town-Gown, November 27 edition

Not one but two Holy Cross stories in the Telegram today.

First, plans to raze the empty buildings they own on Caro Street. Because vacant buildings encourage people to party, but empty lots drive them away.  Hint to college: put up a fence.  Also, ban bolt cutters on campus.

At my alma mater, about five years before I attended, there were things called free speech zones.  So, you could make racist remarks in your dorm room, but not in a class or the cafeteria.

In the same vein, maybe Holy Cross needs to create designated party zones.  So – grassy knoll formerly known as Howard Johnson’s would be the designated party zone.  Minimal neighbors to complain, grass is softer on the feet (and head) than the asphalt of Caro Street.  Sounds like a win-win to me.

The second story sounds like Bronislaus Kush was already talking to Barbara Haller about the building demoltion and figured he could get another story in about someone yelling at her.  Normally, I can’t imagine that someone yelling at Barbara Haller is newsworthy, but when it’s a member of the HC administration, I guess it is.

The saddest part of that is that Mr. Vellaccio (‘Mr.’ because the T&G style sheet will not call you ‘Dr.’ if you have a PhD., unless you are Craig Mello) had a lot of good points.  This is not just the college’s problem to solve.

Bottom line: don’t yell at Barbara Haller in the lead-up to a slow news week.

Doug Chapel Leaving Worcester?

It seems like I always pick up the In City Times a week late, so I’m a bit late getting to this. 

Not only did Rose T. clarify that “very Italian” means to move into your mother’s house with your as-yet-unconfirmed-except-by-some-random-ICT-reader girlfriend, but Cheez Wiz now seems to have some sort of regular column-ish assortment of random thoughts.  I think I speak for every reader of ICT when I say — more Cheez Wiz please!  His ramblings combined with a four-page-spread of Dorrie Maynard’s new store (Blackstone Vignettes) pretty much encompass everything the In City Times is about.

But the biggest news was in the cartoon.  The latest Action Geek cartoon is not (yet) posted on the web, but it sounded like Doug Chapel was considering leaving Worcester.  (Exact quote: “Worcester…I’m putting you on notice.  I’m getting out.  It won’t be immediately but the plan has been set into motion to escape.”

So, not to harp on the Worcester “One in Five” thing, but where is Kate Toomey?  If there’s one thing Worcester needs, it’s creative people who are willing to put some halfway decent content into the In City Times so I don’t feel completely embarrassed when I pick it up from the library.  These are the people who spice up the city so the rest of us homebodies don’t have to.

Literary Links that lead to CVS

Great post on Safire and Buckley.

Digital treasures, a Central & Western MA Digital Library Project.

Our copy of ickle and Lardee’s Grand Adventure came in the mail yesterday.  My elder son wanted to know if there were more books in the series.  “There’s a whole website,” I told him, to his great delight.

I know Liane’s the local girl, but I still prefer Scott Simon.  (I also recommend Pretty Birds on audio, from the library.)

This has nothing to do with books, but you might need a snap or two at the Thanksgiving table.

Ray Bradbury’s comments about libraries were from a while ago but are still relevant.

Found this wonderful short story site via the Worcester Public Library Twitter feed.  (If you don’t do Twitter, you can still subscribe to Twitter RSS Feeds!)

Also, regarding the library, the deadline for applications to be on the library board is Friday at noon.  I’ve been tempted, but I don’t know if I’d have the time to be on that board now.

We’re only a week away from Great Books Discussion Group!

I’ve been thinking about CVS from two perspectives: one, the almost-as-ubiquitous-as-Dunkin’-Donuts conglomerate, and two, the way Nicholson Baker describes the CVSes of my youth, in the mid-1980s or so, in the wonderful book The Mezzanine:

“This was the kind of important and secretive product that CVS stores sold–they were a whole chain dedicated to making available the small, expensive, highly specialized items that readied human bodies for human civilization. Men and women eyed each other strangely here–unusual forces of attraction and furtiveness were at work. Things were for sale whose use demanded nudity and privacy. It was more a woman’s store than a man’s store, but men were allowed to roam with complete freedom past shelves that glowed with low but measurable curie levels of luridness. You slip by a woman reading the fine print on a disposable vinegar douche kit. She feels you pass. FRISSON!”

Seriously, if Baker had written nothing but The Mezzanine, he’d already be in the running for best living American writer.  Request that book from the library NOW and savor all the ridiculously long footnotes and disturbingly accurate commentary on CVS and office routines and shoelaces.