Tag Archives: co-op

Teaching Poetry

This month, my junior high/senior high writing class is participating in the Young Writer’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Because they’re busy at home typing out their novels, I decided to use our class time to talk about another form of creative writing: poetry.

Now, my poetry consists primarily of rhyming poems that children would enjoy. But, since poetry is much more than that, I decided to look online for some extra help in teaching the subject. And I found some really great lessons.

One of the best sites I came across is PBS.org. Here, you’ll find a great page to introduce students to poetry. With Rules, Tools, and Form,  you’ll cover what differentiates a poem from other literary works, as well as a summary of why tools and rules are important in writing poetry.

From there, you’ll be directed to two more helpful links: Poetic Forms and Examples and Poetry Devices and Examples. Print out the page of Poetic Forms and Examples for your students, and they’ll have examples in hand of various types of poems, including acrostics, haikus, tankas, couplets, cinquains, limericks, diamonte poems, proverbs, shape poems, rap, and free verse. The page also contains the “rules” so students can create their own.

On the Poetry Devices and Examples page, you’ll find information about and examples of similes, metaphors, personification, alliteration, hyperbole, symbolism, onomatopoeia, idioms, puns, lyrics, feet, meter, rhythm, and mood. This page, like the Poetry Forms page, is clearly laid out and easy for both teacher and student to use.

These three pages proved to be a perfect introduction to our poetry unit. For a class without any true poets (myself included), these pages take the mystery out of writing poetry and turn it into something fun that everyone can do.


Photo by earl53

The Year of the Taxi

This fall is our first venture into organized sports. We live in the country, and it takes us about 15 minutes to get to the closest grocery store, or 25 minutes if we’re going to do any other shopping. Because of this, I knew that signing one or more children up for a sports program would require quite a bit of driving. And time. And driving… and driving…and driving…

But my daughter Cassie wanted to take the plunge. She loves meeting new friends, so we signed her up for a volleyball skills session in June. Twice a week, she met with other girls to learn how to play volleyball. I figured it was a good sport to learn, as that’s the game of choice when extended family gets together. Next reunion, she’d be ready.

And she loved it!  So when the teams form and she was placed on the middle school girls’ volleyball team, it was hard to say “no.” As soon as we received the schedule, I marked everything on the calendar — times and places of practices and games. And then I wondered how I was going to juggle it all.

All four of the kids are taking music lessons of some sort now, and my oldest son is also teaching piano to some young friends. That was already four places I had to be. We also have co-op classes twice a week. Then there are the spontaneous get-togethers with friends (especially for my 10th grade son).. Still do-able, except that when the school year started, my husband began part-time work most weeknights, so he’s not available to help run anyone around.

So far (and with extra help!), we’ve made it. We share rides with some friends to/from co-op, which cuts out one trip for me. Some other friends who also have a daughter on the team have been able to give Cassie rides to some of the practices and even a couple of games that were far away.

It does get complicated, though. Monday’s are the trickiest, and I actually have to write it all down so I don’t miss anything. On a typical Monday afternoon, this is the plan:

  • 2:30 pm – Co-op classes end
  • 2:40 pm – Take Cassie and her friend to volleyball practice
  • 3:00 pm – Pick up son John and 3 friends (we carpool with them) from co-op
  • 3:10 pm – Pick up daughter Lillie from friend’s house where she went there to play after her classes were done
  • 3:30 pm – Drop off John at the home where he’s teaching piano lesson
  • 4:00 pm – Drop off John’s 3 friends, pick up son Luke who’s been playing at the friends’ house with their little brother
  • 4:15 pm  – Drop off Lillie and Luke at their grandmom’s house (next door to ours)
  • 4:30 pm – Pick up John
  • 4:45 pm – Pick up Lillie and Luke, take all home
  • 5:00 pm – Leave to pick up Cassie from friend’s home
  • 5:30 pm – Arrive home and start supper

So far, so good, though I almost forgot to pick up Lillie last week. And since we only have about a month to go until volleyball season is over, I can soon take a small break from the taxi service.

But then, John’s wants to try out for basketball….


Photo by K Rosseel

A Bad Day — Or Not?

cohdra100_3137Today started out like a typical Thursday — we rushed around this morning, trying to get out the door in time for my oldest son to get to his co-op class. There wasn’t much in the cupboards for breakfast,  so we left a couple of minutes early to go by the grocery store for some donuts (the kids didn’t mind). I dropped of John, then took the other three on some errands while we he was in class.

We went to two different stores and still had enough time to go to one more. I didn’t realize where the entrance was, though, and I passed our last stop, so I just turned in at the next store. Fortunately, there was a exit behind the store onto a small road that went to the one we missed. All was clear in my lane as I was turning right, until…

A small car suddenly shot out from behind a large truck in the other lane, crossing the double yellow line. I slammed on the brakes just in time, and it squeezed through, speeding between our van and the truck without hitting anything. It was quite startling for all of us.

I tried to reassure the children. “We weren’t hit, and everyone is all right. God was certainly watching out for us.” We all caught our breath and went on with the day.

Later, in the afternoon, I went out again with my daughter Cassie for a consultation with an orthodontist. She had been looking forward to it for quite a while, as she’s ready to get her teeth straightened out. We had traveled for 20 minutes and had about 10 more to go, when we came to a stop light. As we were sitting there, our van just shut off.

I tried a few times to start it, but to no avail. We were the first ones in line at the light, so I put on the hazard lights and everyone started going around us. I wasn’t sure if I could push the van out of the way, or if my daughter (only 11) would be able to steer it off the road. I was able to reach my husband at work, but he was at least 15 minutes away.

About that time, I looked up the road in the direction from which we had come, and a saw a young lady with a large shoulder bag walking our way. She looked to be in her early 20’s, so I thought she might be walking home from a  branch of the local university about a half mile away. She walked right up to us and asked us if we needed help.

“Sure,” I said. “Could you steer while I try to push the van off the road?”

“Yes,” she replied and got in the car. My daughter and I got behind the car and started pushing. To my surprise, it moved very easily, and within moments it was out of the way of traffic.

“Thank you,” I said as she got ready to leave. Before I knew it, she was walking back up the road. I watched her for a few minutes, waiting to see which house she would turn in to, as there were several between our van and the campus. But she never did. She kept walking and walking, all the way back towards the campus until she was out of sight.

When my husband arrived, we told him about the woman.  “Maybe she was an angel,” he said.

“Maybe,” I had to agree. She certainly came to our aid at just the right time.

We missed the appointment, and spent the next hour arranging everything so we could get the van fixed. My daughter was quite disappointed — it had not been a good day.

“But,” I told her, “even though things didn’t go well, we still saw how God takes care of us. We didn’t crash, even though the man was speeding and driving in a crazy way. And we had help — almost from nowhere — just when we needed it.  There is certainly a lot to be thankful for. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad day after all.”

Nuts and Bolts

This week, our Five in a Row story for the K-5/First Graders at co-op was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. It was a little harder coming up with a craft to go along with the story, but with the help of my oldest son, John, we came up with one that was a big hit.

The story is about Mike Mulligan and his out-dated steam shovel, Mary Ann. In the story, they take on one last job, digging the cellar of the new town hall in Popperville. As we read the book, we talked about the different machines depicted, and how Mike Mulligan used his machine Mary Ann to dig faster and better.

The project? The children had to think up and sketch their own time-saving machines.


  • 1/2 sheet of posterboard (one per student)
  • Pencils
  • Markers, crayons, and/or colored pencils
  • Hot glue gun
  • Hot glue
  • Collection of misc. nails, screws, nuts, washers, bolts, etc.

Each student was given 1/2 sheet of posterboard and a pencil and instructed to spend a few minutes thinking about the kind of machine they would design. What would their machine do? How would it be helpful? What would it need to do the job?

Next, the children drew their machines on the posterboard. After they were satisfied with it, they colored them in with crayons, colored pencils, or markers.
While they were working, we plugged in a couple of low-temp mini-glue guns.  When the students had finished their drawings, they were given a handful of various nuts, nails, screws, bolts, etc. to choose from. They would then place them on their pictures where they thought they should go. We then used hot glue (a lot for the heavier items) to affix them to the “machine.”

The children really enjoyed it — and they enjoyed telling about their machines, too! Later that day, they stood up one by one with the drawings of their machines and explained just what their machines were supposed to do. They were all so proud of their ideas — and I was too!

Working With Polymer Clay

sculpeyIn my art classes the past couple of weeks and for one of our recent co-op classes, I’ve had the students work with sculpey. Sculpey is a brand of colored polymer clay that becomes hard when baked in the oven — and the kids have been so creative with it.

I purchased a variety of colors for both classes. The clay comes in 2 oz. blocks, and you can sometimes find it on sale at your local hobby or arts and crafts store. You could also purchase the plain white sculpey, which comes in a larger size; after you mold and bake it, you can paint the sculpture with acrylic craft paints.

Before class began, I did an Internet search for “polymer clay” images and printed off a few to give the students some ideas. You can also find ideas in polymer clay craft books at your library.

Then they let their creativity go, and I helped them along if they needed it. They made small sculptures of everything from horses to roses to beetles to fruit and candy. Even my five-year-old was able to make a strawberry without assistance using a picture as a guide.

You can also vary this project to suit your lesson. Because our co-op class was reading stories about snow, winter, and Christmas, we used the sculpey to make simple Christmas ornaments. The children formed simple shapes, such as triangles for Christmas trees, circles for snowmen, hearts, etc. We then cut a small piece of floral wire, bent it into a “U” shape, and pushed both ends into the scupley, making a “hook” for the ornament. Because the wire was metal, it could be baked along with the clay.

After the sculptures were complete, we followed the directions on the package for baking them, and they turned out great! If you decide to try working with polymer clay with your children, though, be very careful not to over-bake it, as it does give off fumes. A well-ventilated area is best for baking.

Now get started molding that clay — and have fun!

Planning, Preparation, and Improvisation

bear 2This past weekend, my husband and son were out of town on a scout camping trip, so I planned out the projects to be done while they were gone. One of them was preparing for co-op on Monday. Besides the story and activity, I needed to have a snack ready — preferably one that related to Another Celebrated Dancing Bear.

Time slipped away, though, as it always does, and by Sunday afternoon all I had was the book and a plan. My plan was to have the children make their own snack: yeast roll teddy bears. I was going to try a test-run with the rolls Sunday evening — not the best time, but still, enough time.

Or so I thought. It turned out we had purchased the wrong kind of dough (already baked), and I didn’t have the ingredients to make dough from scratch. So Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m., I headed to the store where I developed a new plan. I would prepare the dough for Russian teacakes (cookies), then have the children help me bake them. While we were waiting, I’d bring out some bear-shaped sugar cookies for them to decorate.

I arrived home and went to work. The sugar cookies didn’t turn out at all — they ended up as huge blobs without any bear qualities. Some of them broke, and I didn’t have enough for the class.

I decided just to make the teacakes myself and serve them as a snack and come up with a separate craft. I thought we could make our own dancing bears from paper plates, and I found a good template online for the arms and legs. I’d leave the house early for co-op and make copies of the pattern, as our printer was out of ink. Another plan…

That didn’t quite work. I woke up early and made the teacakes. As I was carrying them in two small containers out the door, the doorknob caught the sleeve of my jacket, and I stumbled over the outside mat. Both containers flew from my hands, one opening and spilling some of the teacakes onto the ground.

I gathered up the rest and headed back to the house. It didn’t look like it would be enough of a snack anymore, so I filled one of the containers with the non-bear sugar cookies and pieces. FINALLY in the car with everyone and everything loaded up, we started down the road. Until…

I realized I had forgotten my purse!  We turned around, now running out of time to make the copies. John and I ran inside to get extra paper and a marker — I’d have him trace the templates in the car. On our way again…

But I still had no purse!  We went home again, and John ran in to grab it. We got as far as the end of the driveway, when we realized he had forgotten a map he had drawn for class!  We went back one last time, then started on our way. We arrived…

Just in time. And class went well — the children made their dancing bears, and they liked the teacakes. Besides, I don’t think they noticed I was so flustered that I couldn’t locate Russia on the map!

Mr. Grumpy’s Motor Car

Mr GumpyToday in the K-5/First Grade co-op class, I read the story Mr. Grumpy’s Motor Car by John Burningham. The funny thing was, his name is actually Mr. GUMPY.

I’m not quite sure how I misread it, but from the time I first read the story at home until I read it out loud to the class, I called the main character “Mr. Grumpy.” During the story, I mentioned to the children that I couldn’t figure out why he was called Mr. Grumpy. In most of the illustrations he was smiling — an unusual response to a difficult car ride with a cow, a goat, a chicken, a sheep, a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a boy, and a girl. I would certainly be grumpy after such a ride, but this character wasn’t at all.

I finished the first story and began a second that I had found at the library entitled Mr. Gumpy’s Outing. Of course, I called him Mr. Grumpy, even though he was still smiling as all the other characters piled into his boat. About halfway through that story, I turned the book around to show them something on the cover. It was then one of the children called out (a K-5/First Grader, mind you), “His name is Mr. GUMPY!”

He had read the name on the cover, and he had read it correctly!  Was I ever embarrassed!  All I could do was laugh, and the kids laughed too. At least it made more sense. He was still an incredibly patient man, but now he had a name that suited him better.

I talked with another teacher from the class who covers the last hour. She usually re-reads the story to the children. As she began reading about Mr. Gumpy, though, some of the children asked her to call him Mr. Grumpy instead. 🙂

Gumdrops and the Renaissance

candyIn my son Luke’s K-5/First Grade co-op class, we’ve been using the Five In A Row curriculum. Because our co-op meets once a week, we choose a book for the week and center the class activities around it. This week, our book was The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola.

The story takes place in Renaissance Italy, so we talked about the Renaissance and the types of clothing people wore. We discussed Renaissance architecture, such as the buildings and bridges, as recommended in Five In a Row. Children this age really enjoy hands-on activities, though, so I wanted to find a craft they could all work at and have fun with. So we decided on building our own “Renaissance” structures — using just gumdrops and toothpicks!

Here’s how we did it:

Supplies (for 10 children):

  • Gumdrops (we used three small bags from the grocery store)
  • Toothpicks (we used two boxes with 250 toothpicks in each)
  • Sturdy paper plates

To start, we gave each child a paper plate on which to build his or her structure. We then placed the gumdrops on plates and set them in the middle of the table where everyone could reach them. We gave each child a handful of toothpicks to start with. I then showed them how to push a toothpick into a gumdrop and then connect it to another gumdrop by pushing in the other end.

The children caught on quickly, and were soon designing their own structures by forming squares and triangles. One even resembled a pyramid. Some of the children built their structures two- and three-“stories” high; when the buildings began to tip over (still held together with toothpicks), they turned into even more interesting shapes. It was fun to see how many different designs they came up with.

All in all, it was a good day for the Renaissance. I’m sure most (if not all) of the students will forget the word “Renaissance” before the end of the day (it’s a big one, after all), but they won’t soon forget building their gumdrop structures. Especially since they took them home to display. 🙂


contentmentRecently I reviewed the book Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham. This morning, as I was talking with my son John, I was reminded of a point Buckingham made. Buckingham contends that women are generally less happy now than 40 years ago because they have so many choices, and they’re afraid they’ll pick the wrong ones. While I’m not sure about the entire supposition, I think he’s right about the effect of having so many choices: it seems to naturally lead to discontentment.

As we were driving to co-op this morning, we passed by an elementary school; the school day had already started. John was sitting in the front seat, looked at the school, and commented on how it’s “too bad” for the kids who have to go to school. (I’ve been trying to make the point to my children lately that they have more free time than many of their peers).

I thought back, then, to my own school days. I remember complaining if I had a lot of homework or if I wasn’t ready for a test, but I never thought of myself as unfortunate. We went to school — that’s just what we did.

But now we have more choices. We choose to homeschool, and in doing so I choose the curriculum. We have more free time, so we choose from the many activities available. We do so many things during the year: music lessons, art lessons, scouts, library programs, roller skating, ice skating, PE classes, clubs, field trips, holiday parties, and meeting with friends. So why, then, do my children come to me with grumpy faces and say, “Why can’t we go bowling sometime?”

We aren’t limited in the foods we eat either; we can have pizza one night, chicken the next, then soup and sandwiches, then tacos, then spaghetti. Why then, after fixing a full meal each night, do my children come again with grumpy faces and say, “Don’t we have anything else to eat?”

I often feel like I should give my children every opportunity I can that comes along. That will ensure, I think, that they will have a well-rounded and productive childhood, helping them to grow into fine adults. Yet somewhere, among all those choices, we tend to lose our sense of gratitude and contentment. These, I believe,  are two of the key elements to a truly happy life — and a good lesson to learn.