Thursday, December 24, 2009

HeliumMath games for the elementary school classroom

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Poem: SNOW by Kathy Stemke

The breath of the crisp air is light
The bitter sky is full and white
I dance and twirl around so slow
Then on my knees I pray for snow
Waltzing along
For flakes to fall and sing their song

Snow gathers and laughs in the sky
Then falls like angels whirling by
Pure crystal flakes make my heart glow
I give thanks and welcome the snow
Dashing, go
Swirling down on the earth below

Snow covers the troubled, soiled streets
And hides much pain under the sleet
Each flake will soon fade out of sight
And melt like mist in morning light
Healing woe
Merciful God! Your love I know

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Selecting Great Non-fiction Books for Kids

Giving children many sources of informational books will stimulate growth in general knowledege, vocabulary, and reading comprehension skills. It is essential that we choose challenging, quality, high-interest books for young children. Many reading experts agree that including non-fiction books in primary education experiences will make for a smoother transition into middle and high school level reading. There are several keys to picking great informational books for your children.


The cover of a book must invite the reader to come inside an exciting new world of learning. A good cover should include brightn and intriguing illustrations or photographs that grab a child's attention. The title needs to be short and understandable with large clear font. But the main job of the title is to ignite interest in the topic.


The topic should be age appropriate and relevant to the child's world view. For example, you might have a funny bumble bee teach children about flowers. However, it is important that the information is accurate and backed by reliable referrences. To hold the attention of children the topic should have an element of mystery and be full of surprises. In fact, there should be at least one surprise on every page.


Each page needs to contain a balance of beautiful illustrations with clear, easy to read captions, and informational text. The illustrations should explain and enhance the factual information. For instance, photographs or diagrams on a light background can add a pleasing contrast to a good book.


Many good non-fiction authors use sub headings to help the young reader understand and retain the information. These subdivisions guide the children effortlessly through the information like a treasure map leads you to a pirates chest. A table of contents, glossary and index will help them browse through unique topics. Fonts should be large, consistent in spacing and placement and easy to read.

With today's wide selection of non-fiction books available it doesn't have to be difficult to pick the right books for your children. Inspect each book for the four key ingredients listed above and you will glide through the selection process.


Family Pictures / Cuadros de Familia
by Carmen Lomas Garza
Children's Book Press, 1993
Grades pre K-4

Author: A True Story
by Helen Lester
Houghton Mifflin, 1997
Grades K-4

In a Circle Long Ago: A Treasury of Native Lore from North America
by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Lisa Desimini
Knopf, 1995
Grades K-5

Eric Carle's Animals, Animals
By Laura Whipple (compiler), illustrated by Eric Carle
Puffin, 1999
Grades pre K-6

Hottest Coldest Highest Deepest
by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin, 1998
Grades pre K-3

Children of the Wild West
by Russell Freedman
Clarion, 1990
Grades 3-8

We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History
by Phillip M. Hoose
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2001
Grades 5-12

The Sum of Our Parts Series

Academic Wings
Author: Bill Kirk
Artist: Eugene Ruble
Guardian Angel Publishers

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Saturday, December 12, 2009



The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear..
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at 'Pearlon a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.."

" So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.."

PLEASE, would you do me the kind favor of sending this to as many
people as you can? Christmas will be coming soon and some credit is due to our
U.S service men and women for our being able to celebrate these
festivities. Let's try in this small way to pay a tiny bit of what we owe. Make people stop and think of our heroes, living and dead, who sacrificed themselves for us.

LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN
30th Naval Construction Regiment
OIC, Logistics Cell One
Al Taqqadum, Iraq

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Thursday, December 10, 2009


Concrete Poetry Projects by Sharon Blumberg

With a Concrete Poetry Project, the selected word could be illustrated into the concept that it signifies. For example, the word fire in Spanish – fuego – could be illustrated with flaming letters of orange, yellow and red, surrounding the letters in the words. So the word fire would appear as if it were on fire. Young adults enjoy creating these artsy projects because they can symbolize things that are meaningful and personal to them. They can also utilize their creative talents. Students enjoy working on these projects either alone or in small groups. As they work among their classmates, they talk, unwind, and express their unique or common interests. For example, the word for friends in Spanish is AMIGOS. I remember a small group of friends taping silly pictures together and displaying them along a sheet of construction paper or poster board.

At the end of the school year when I ask, “Who would like to have their projects laminated?” students say, “I do!” Then, when the projects are no longer displayed along the classroom walls, students make sure they take their projects home. They enjoy owning these projects as keepsakes because of the social nature of creating them. There is a personal connection to the assignment when friends are dancing, jumping in the air, or making silly faces together.

Another related project that I enjoy having my homeroom students work on in the beginning of the school year, is what I refer to as Name Bubbles. This is a wonderful idea that I borrowed from one of my colleagues.

Name Bubbles

Name Bubbles are creative projects in which students write out the letters of their names or nicknames to encase a theme. For example, let’s take the name Ali. Within the A, students could write about their favorite vacations. Within the L, students could write about their favorite movies, and within the letter I, students could list their favorite books to read. The students have the choice to make up their own themes, use whatever name – first, last, or nickname – that they desire. Some students even ask if they can stand up in front of the class and talk about their name bubbles, while explaining what each letter stands for. What I love about students creating Name Bubbles is that the theme categories they select from are endless, and the projects make beautiful student work displays.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

TWO WINTER POEMS by Robert Louis Stevenson

Picture Books in Winter
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Summer fading, winter comes--
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books.

Just click on the Christmas tree puzzle to enlarge and then copy it.

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake.

Use this jigsaw template for any winter picture. Just click on the image to enlarge and copy. Have fun!

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Poem: Father

This is a first draft of a poem I'm thinking of sending to Chicken Soup for the Soul. It's free verse. Do you think I should rhyme it? Do you get the meaning? Do you think that fathers will relate to it? I'd appreciate any comments you could give to me. Thanks for your help.

by Kathy Stemke

His sanctuary’s found at sea
With nature he is one

He sails with the wind on silent waves
And his spirit is free

Eyes bluer than the bluest ocean
Gaze, lost in thought

Wistfully, he ponders unfulfilled dreams
And questions the success of his life

If only he knew....
How I feel

Shakespeare, Einstein, Da Vinci, Bach,
To name just a few great men

Their merits are meaningless and trite
when compared to you.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009


The holder of a Bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation from Clemson University and a master’s from the University of Maryland in Kinesiology, Ms. Martha Swirzinski has more than 15 years of experience working in the field of movement with children. She is also a certified personal fitness trainer. She currently lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband and two daughters.

“More and more research is being developed about the rise of obesity in children,” notes Ms. Swirzinski, who teaches movement education in a local pre-school and offers teacher training workshops and customized consultations. At the same time, numerous studies continue to link increased brain function and movement, she explains. “Being active grows new brain cells!”

It is along this vein that Ms. Swirzinski has published three children’s books focused on movement. Using entertaining rhymes and charming pictures, these developmentally based books offer fun and creative ways for children to move while also providing mind stimulating activities on each page. Here's an excerpt from Leap...Laugh...Plop.

Physical fitness is the key to success.

Moving and stretching keep you at your best.

So get up and move, stretch and play.

Your body and brain will thank you all day.

By following the suggested activities, children can engage in 30-60 minutes of their recommended structured daily movement, as well as enhancing other mind/body skills. Designed to be enjoyed again and again, the pages of these books are filled with laughter, learning, movement and more.

Leap...Laugh...Plop concentrates on locomotor movements. Here's another excerpt.

Jumping is something you do with two feet.

You bend your knees and push up high from the street.

Ms. Swirzinski also challenges kids to think. Take a look at this excerpt.

Walk up high, now down low.

How about fast. How about slow.

Name some animals that walk high. How about low?

Can you pretend to be those animals?

Tell me your favorite animal and why.

Martha’s books are:
Leap…Laugh…Plop works on all of the locomotor skills
Guess…Giggle…Wiggle… has the children doing creative movement
Kick…Catch…Buzzzz.. addresses the manipulative skills
Her website is

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