Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Year in Review

Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for reading Polliwog this year. 

Today I'll recap some of my favorite posts 2011. 

Travel Tuesdays

Wordless Wednesday

On Nature

This and That
  • Drum to the Beat A wonderful drumming experience for children. My family has been drumming away on our new Djembe.
  • Hive Detectives A fantastic non-fiction book for older elementary students.
  • Happy Earth Day 2011 The post that got me started with Travel Tuesdays. Several readers asked me to share more travel stories after seeing this post.
  • RACE-Are we so Different? An important traveling and on-line exhibit.
  • Shurit Ads (Egyptian Lentil Soup) I posted this during the Egyptian Revolution. Google Analytics showed that the day Mubarek left Egypt, a reader in Cairo spent 11 minutes on my blog reading this plus 5 other posts. I just thought that was so cool- I was watching history in the making in their country and they were reading my blog.

Thanks again for reading. I'll be back with a Travel Tuesdays post this week.

In the meantime, please drop me an email at michelle(at)michellecusolito(dot)com or leave a comment to let me know which kinds of posts you enjoy or find useful. I'm hoping to build my blog community this year so I want to know what works for you. If you have particular content you'd like to see me include, please let me know.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays

I'm taking a little break from my blog to spend quality time with my family and friends. I'll be back after the New Year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Keep a Journal

You've heard it before-keep a journal when you travel. It seems a simple enough idea but most of us don't manage to do it. Or if you're like me, you start out well and fizzle out as the trip goes on. Over the years I've forced myself to make time for my journal and I'm always glad I did.

I took a journal to the Philippines when I was 16. I wrote in it sporadically but never captured the really important details I wish I had now. My next big trip after that was to Ecuador and I did keep a daily journal.  I even managed to include a few sketches of local plants. It was easier on that trip because I was in a remote field station with lots of down time in the afternoons/evenings.

I pride myself on having a good memory but even I forget the important details over time. I realized this recently when I wrote a non-fiction story about my encounter with a poisonous snake in the rain forest of Ecuador. I recounted that first meeting, which, frankly, is emblazoned in my mind. But, by the time I related my meeting with the 4th poisonous snake, I got some details wrong. Luckily, I had my trusty journal to reference and I corrected the details. Now, maybe you're not a writer, so you think these details don't matter so much. I'd say they do.

At some point in the future when you go back and meet your former self in a journal you'll be glad you recorded the details.

Here's a tidbit from my Ecuador journal:
 "I'm amazed by the clothes I now consider clean. If they're not totally covered with mud...they're wearable! Things take so long to dry (and even then they're not dry- they're still damp) that it's not worth washing anything. I keep wearing the same yucky clothes over and over again and keep everything else closed up tight in my bag."

Another important result of keeping a journal is you get to know yourself better as you learn and grow from your travels. My early journals are more record keeping of my trips- you know... what I did, saw, ate. That sort of thing. Over time, though, they've become more important records of me as a person. My last travel journal from India is rich with personal expressions of my feelings and responses to the trip.

Here's one excerpt I'm willing to share publicly:
 (For context, our friend Lisa was marrying Aravind in Hyderabad India. Lisa's parents couldn't make the trip so my husband, Rick, and I stood in for them during the ceremony).

"...I was seated on the stage with Rick facing Aravind and his parents. I was so overcome with emotion at the enormity of what was happening that I welled up. Was I really part of a Hindu wedding? Was I really playing such a significant role in this rite of passage for Lisa? I was glad I was seated with my back to the guests so they couldn't see my face. (It was only later when we switched sides that I realized a video camera was facing us and projecting everything onto a large screen for everyone to see).

I was in the moment. I was overwhelmed. I was happy and excited and awestruck. Rick and I looked at each other and acknowledged that this moment made all of the challenges of traveling with young children in India worthwhile."

There are many more personal and thoughtful entries in that particular journal. I developed as a journal keeper and moved from record keeping into being more reflective.

If you haven't kept a journal during travel, I encourage you to do so. It can be on paper, in your computer, or on a blog. The sky's the limit nowadays. (Just make sure you back up digital journals). Ask your children to keep one, too. Our son kept a journal when we were in India. He was only 5 at the time, so his journal consists of roughly one page per day. In typical Kindergarten fashion, he drew a picture and wrote a sentence below the picture. He wrote about whatever was important to him at the time so it's a wonderful record of who he was then. He focused on the plane ride, playing with Aravind's nephew and the henna that decorated my hands.

Have you kept a journal during travel. How have you benefited from it?

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Yesterday, my son's fourth grade class took a field trip to the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts. There are several impressive exhibits. The first you notice upon entering is the baleen whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling. (Yes, they're real!)
This one's a fetus.

There's also a toothed whale:

The first part of our visit was a session that looked at food webs and food chains, specifically those that include baleen whales and toothed whales.

My son's favorite session (mine, too) was in the afternoon. We explored the different cultures whalers encountered during their 3 to 5 year whaling trips. Various students were called up to try on traditional clothing from the people the whalers met, such as people from the Azores, Cape Verde, and Hawaii. The students recorded their journey on a world map. Here's my son trying on a coat like the inuit/inupiak of Alaska wore.
And here are their "sunglasses." The sunlight on a snow covered landscape can be blinding. The slits limit the amount of sunlight let in.
 We then toured specific parts of the museum. Our first stop was a life-sized model of whaling ship sleeping quarters. Students were able to lie down in a bunk while our docent described life on a whaling ship. (Unfortunately, it was too dark to get a good photo). We agreed that their lives seemed hard and tedious.

We also toured exhibits of various artifacts from the cultures whalers encountered. The grand finale of our tour was a model of an actual ship that sailed out of New Bedford. The model is 50% the size of the original. We were able to climb on board and have a tour.

If you live or vacation in our area, I highly recommend you visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

What great museums or cultural spots are in your area? Please share them in comments so other Polliwog readers can visit.

Related Posts:
2011 Cranberry Harvest Celebration
Museum of Science Overnight

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: I'm Traveling Today

We're traveling home today after roughing it in Florida at our niece's wedding. I'll be back with a new Travel Tuesdays post next week.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Question Quilts and Mystery Items

Last Friday I blogged about finding objects in nature to observe with your children or students. A question quilt offers a new way for kids to engage with the objects. (Note: I learned this strategy years ago at a teacher workshop. I thought science teacher Allan Harris had taught me but he has since told me it wasn't him. I cannot remember the teacher who created it. If it was you, please tell me so I can credit you!)

Materials needed:
Large piece of poster sized paper
colorful assortment of square sticky notes (3" x3")
nature object


  1. Display the natural object you or the children collected. 
  2. Ask students to write their questions on sticky notes and arrange them on the poster paper in a pattern (Like a quilt. Get it? A "Question Quilt!" This part is really just for fun- creating a quilt pattern helps keep some kids engaged in the process). Only one question per paper. In my classroom, I asked my students to initial their questions so I could monitor their engagement and understanding. The quality of questions will deepen over time. The depth and detail of questions helps you understand what they understand. ("What is it?" is not a deep science kind of question). 
  3. If any students think they know the answers to classmate's questions, they can answer them under the appropriate sticky note. The challenge is for kids to answer their classmates without giving away so much information that the investigating stops. (For example, I often display a mystery item- that is, an item they can't readily identify. Students are not allowed to write the name of the item even if they know it. Rather, the challenge is to make suggestions that help their classmates come to the answer, too). 
  4. Once the item has been out for a while (a couple of days or so) I place some appropriate resources nearby and encourage them to start looking for information. Usually, by this time, they can't wait to learn more about it. Those books fly off the table as kids race to identify the objects and learn more about them. Some tell me they're going to sneak and ask their parents for information or "Google it" at home. My response...Go for it! That's not cheating. Scientists share information with each other. See what you can learn." (I do tell them no book/internet research for at least a couple of days. I want them to engage with the object first, before they see what others have to say about it.
  5. Since I usually placed an item out on a Monday, by Friday we'd debrief their learning and identify the object. I often tied the objects to what we were learning in class (e.g. A trilobite fossil during a rocks and minerals unit) but other times they were random items that just turned up. If they kids were interested in them, we might dig deeper, but often we'd do a week of questioning and investigating and move on.
So, in the case of the wasp nest I shared last week, I would put it on the table on Monday and let them start asking questions. Some students might call it a bee nest, a wasp nest, or a hornet nest the first day. I'd let them keep asking questions and begin investigating. Perhaps on Wednesday, I'd place books about bees, wasps, and hornets on the science table. That's it. Just place them there and the kids would dig in. By Friday, we would have identified the insect that built the nest and learned some facts.To wrap up, we'd review the questions on the quilt to be sure all of them were answered.

One final note: I use this exact strategy in the graduate science course I teach. The adults get into it just as much as the kids.

Do you have any unique strategies you use to investigate natural objects? Will you try this one? Please share.

Related posts:
Paper Wasp Nest
Top 10 Ways to Promote Science Inquiry
Nature Observations With Young Children

Monday, December 5, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Top 10 Tips for Traveling With Children

Traveling with children is a very different experience than traveling alone. Advance planning will make the trip easier and more enjoyable.

Here's my top ten list of ways to make things go as smoothly as possible (in no particular order):

  1. If you're not staying with friends or family, try to book a hotel room with a small kitchenette or at least a fridge. You'll be better able to accommodate early morning hunger or mid-afternoon snacks. If your budget allows, a small efficiency or cottage will be even better. The extra cost may be worth it if you can save money by cooking in.
  2. Plan your travel based on your kids needs, not yours. (Ultimately, they are the same, after all. If they're miserable, so are you). If you have to take a long journey and your kids are very physical kids, plan a layover to allow them to move around. Or, maybe getting there as fast as possible is best, so book a direct flight. Also consider the best time of day to travel. My son can sleep anywhere, so red-eyes work well for him. If your kids won't sleep on a plane, avoid red-eyes at all costs!
  3. Set clear expectations for the journey (Your own expectations, that is). Do not expect the travel time to be relaxing. Sure, you may have slept on previous plane trips, but don't expect that to happen now. If you go in expecting no sleep and end up getting some, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
  4. If traveling by plane or train, book seats for your infants/toddlers if you can possibly afford it (even though they're usually allowed on your lap until age 2).  This is particularly true for long trips. Seriously, spend the money. You'll be glad you did. Many airlines offer discounted seats for children, especially infants. Bring your car seats and install them in the plane (make sure they are plane approved). The kids will be more comfortable and also be more likely to sleep in their familiar, supportive seat than in an adult-sized seat. We took our daughter's car seat to India solely for the plane ride, since there are no seat belts in most cars in India. But that plane ride was LONG and we wanted her to be as comfortable as possible. Caveat: One airline we flew with (I believe it was Alitalia) did not allow us to install the car seat. Check with your airline first.
  5. Plan and pack well for entertainment while traveling. Packing your carry-on is the most important part of successful airline (train) travel with kids. Remember to bring books, activity books, travel games or other items that your children enjoy. If appropriate for your children, have them pack a favorite stuffed animal or snugly toy for comfort. They also substitute for pillows.
  6. Related to #4, if you have an iPod or similar device, download audio books for your kids. Bring along headphones (and a splitter if you have more than one child). My kids will listen to the same audio books over and over again. It's educational and keeps them occupied for hours. If you're driving, you can play them through your car speakers, or choose to use the headphones and splitter so you can listen to what you want while they listen to their audio book. (Trust me... after hearing The Absent Author several times, you'll be sick of it!) You can probably download books free through your library.  If you don't have an iPod, check your local library for a "play away." The device comes with the book already loaded. You just provide ear buds/headphones.
  7. If traveling by plane, pack something to help with pressure in their little ears. For babies, nursing or sucking on a bottle, or pacifier helps. For older kids, gum works well but isn't the only option. Try chewy foods like raisins or dried cranberries. 
  8. Pack snacks for the trip. There's nothing worse than a hungry kid and the plane has no food left. Trust me, I've seen it happen, especially now that most airlines charge for food. You may try to order and find they only have the cheese box left which is filled with artisanal cheeses your kid won't eat. Fruit is always a good choice since it fills bellies and helps them stay hydrated. (If you're traveling to another country, pack a few familiar foods that your kids like- a box of mac-n-cheese, some dry cereal or granola bars. My kids loved the food in India but were ready for a break from the spiciness now and then. They also woke up hungry at random times due to the time change. Having familiar foods on hand for 3 am snacks provided some comfort to them and us. You can always purchase things like eggs, fruit, peanut butter, or bread once you arrive).
  9. Drink loads of water. Make sure your kids drink loads of water. You cannot be happy, patient people if you aren't hydrated. We bring our empty stainless steel bottles through security and refill them inside.
  10. Plan to relax when you arrive at your destination. For kids, that may mean running around outside or playing quietly with their LEGOs. Allow them to guide your relaxation. Don't try to rush off and go sightseeing.

Finally, as I've mentioned before... remember to pack patience and your sense of humor. You'll enjoy your children and have a much better time.

Do you have any tips to add to this list? Please leave them in the comments. 

Related Posts:
Travel Tuesdays: Pack your Sense of Humor
Travel Tuesdays: Holiday Travel
Travel Tuesdays: Affording to Travel