We joke that Gracie earned a PhD in 4th grade this year. It was an unexpected PhD in every way: while most families that attend the school where she goes have years in advance to prepare themselves for the looming 4th grade Alabama History Portfolio project, we had the distinct disadvantage of having it sprung on us in August as the new family in town. And really, I didn't fully grasp what it all entailed until open house night, when all these ginormous examples were spread throughout the classroom for parents to gawk at.
IT WAS A BIG PROJECT.
The ending first: in many ways it was a great project, and Gracie is feeling both huge waves of relief and accomplishment from finishing. It was just A LOT. 9.3 lbs, 135 pages a lot.
She was required to complete a minimum of ten entries in the following areas: Maps and State Symbols, Notable Alabamians, Transportation (both past and present, 10 total), History, Government, Places and Events, Current Events, and Journal Writings (based on field trips they took—she actually has two more to include but those field trips aren't until next week). A summary and table of contents were also required. Most everything needed to be written in cursive. The majority of journal writings were completed at school, and everything else was an at-home endeavor. It didn't replace homework or other at-home projects, but was on-top-of.
I didn't do a good job taking work in-progress photos throughout the year, though I do have this one—taken before the first of four checkpoints, when both Gracie and I were close to nervous breakdown. We both learned some time management after that one.
So here's the thing: with a handful of exceptions, I kind of loved this project, even though I think some of the sections could have been smaller and some bigger. I love Alabama history. In college, my (puny compared to this) capstone project for my methods class was a comprehensive unit about the Civil Rights Movement, and it has always been one of my favorite eras to read/learn about. This portfolio was not just about the Civil Rights Movement, but she did spend a lot of time learning about it and I think it made a big impression on her. The other thing I loved: we went A LOT OF PLACES, and she went to even more with her class. Dauphin Island! Huntsville Space and Rocket Center! Peach Park! Edmund Pettus Bridge! Governor Bentley's Inauguration party! The Shakespeare Garden! Tuskegee National Forest! Alabama Book Festival! and so much more. We turned a whole lot of our year here into sightseeing for her portfolio, and that was fun. There is a lot to do in Alabama.
Stories always seem to circulate (partially because there's always a true one) about parents who do their kids' homework/science fair project/Alabama History Portfolio/whatever for them. Let me tell you: it would have been easier to do Gracie's project for her, indeed. She used pictures from my camera, and I helped her print things, we paid for supplies and gas (I'm glad I didn't keep track) but otherwise—this project was all her. The key: it was important for me to teach her how to do stuff, then walk away. That cool Alabama title up there? She had to make a computer-generated cover. We talked about ways she could do it, and she liked the idea of making the letters include photos of places we'd been. So, I taught her how to do that with a set of letter frames from Design Aglow that I've used for other projects. And she did a great job. I taught a number of mini-scrapbooking lessons that really sunk in: namely, that you don't need to reinvent the wheel every single time. We worked on sketching out page designs, how to flip and rotate them for variation, how to choose a color scheme that can apply to an entire section, etc. What's the point of a project of this scope if you don't learn some new tricks? It is possible to be involved and useful and hands-off at the same time.
It also taught us a few things about ourselves. For Gracie: that big projects are like a big bag of bricks hanging over your head all the time. (See? She is totally ready to write a dissertation.) This made for some great days of productive-Gracie and some truly horrid days of I-CANNOT-DO-MORE-Gracie. This was magnified by the fact that she is at gymnastics so much, so she really had to follow The Mama Plan of Time Management to work here and there to avoid leaving too much until the last minute like we did in October. I should note: I am not the best at distributing a giant project over a reasonable timeline, so I had to really work at developing my skillset on this.
I, on the other hand, learned in a much more intense way how much work it is to provide an environment in which the kid can do the work independently and successfully with a parent as resource. It made past science fair projects and The Giant Architecture Project of 2010 pale in comparison for sheer amount of work that needed to be done. We both did some throwing up of hands in frustration with each other this year, but in the end, she was just so happy to see what she managed to pull off.
I have some posts brewing to illustrate some of the cool things we did and learned this year. I'm still hoping very much to make it to Gee's Bend before we move, as that is a place I've wanted to go since I became a quilt appreciator back in college. Gracie gets to go to the Hyundai plant next week (no parents, hmph) and we're going to at least one Biscuits game before we move. Thank you, Alabama, for being such an interesting place to spend 4th grade for Gracie. And New Mexico—I better not find out that you do state history in 5th grade.
p.s. All three of these pictures are totally inside her finished portfolio. HA HA HA!
Gracie recently completed her research and presentation on a notable Alabamian: Zelda Fitzgerald, who was born in Montgomery, graduated from Lanier High School in 1918 (which is the same building where Maddie goes to school now) and for a short time, lived in a stately home on the (still) grand Felder Avenue. She was a complicated woman—born of privilege and fond of fun, but also full of creative vision that was generally overshadowed by her famous husband. There was some remarkable dysfunction in their lives, and they didn't end happily ever after.
The Fitzgerald home on Felder Avenue, Montgomery; I took this photo last week. Long live post-processing!
I encouraged Gracie to focus on the part of Zelda's story that helped to shape so much of young America in the 1920s. She has been called "the first flapper," after all.
Gracie definitely would have been a flapper, what with all the dancing-the-Charleston-on-taxis and flagpole sitting and dancing until the bitter end of a 1920s dance contest. (Just replace "1920s dance contest" with "2014 dance contest" and she's already checked that one off as a win)(as in she and her friends won a dance contest at the Christmas dance in December)
The best part? She worked in two photos of her people for her presentation.
Namesake great-great-grandma Hyacinthe Laura Belle, out doing silly things with her friends—we have a giant stack of photos to prove that girls and boys in the 1920s were out doing silly things and taking photos of it... kind of like today.
I never gave much thought to either Zelda or Scott until we moved to Alabama; I read Great Gatsby for the first time last fall and now I think I might read a little Zelda, too. Though truth be told, I actually think Scottie is the most interesting Fitzgerald of them all : )
p.s. We bought this flapper dress on clearance (and in the wrong size because that's all the sizes there were at the last minute in January, add "alter a fringe-y costume without knowing how to do it" to my skillset) from HalloweenCostumes.com. Is dressing up as a famous person in 4th grade a thing? Should we start thinking up people for Bridget so we're not so last minute on the costuming for her? Ha ha.
Want to know one of my big pet peeves?
When well-meaning adults imply that picture books are too babyish for elementary school kids; that they outgrow picture books at the same time they gain reading skills, and are then pointed toward the leveled beginning readers full of words and shooed away from the low shelves full of stories.
I think leveled readers are important. We had a ton of them in this house as the girls were learning to read, and they served their purpose well. At the end of the day, though, only a few of them hold staying power enough to keep them in our library (Elephant & Piggie FOREVER). But I think the value of the picture book—the rich story arc, the humor, the vocabulary, the illustrations—it's something that builds better readers and learners, I am convinced. Plus, they're just FUN. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books read in the last (nearly) thirteen years makes it impossible for me to believe otherwise.
I still read to Gracie and Bridget almost every night before they go off to read their own books way past their bedtimes. I've never been much of a read-chapter-books-aloud kind of mama (though we've done a handful) because mostly I just want to read picture books. Luckily, they still want to read with me. When I suggested that we tackle the entire Caldecott Medal list last year, they were all in; looking back, we couldn't have done it at a more perfect time. Their ages (now 10, 7.5) are just right to enjoy (most) of the stories, but they're also the perfect ages to play Beginner Literary Critic with the list.
They were able to identify how much children's literature has changed (we didn't read in chronological order, but the trends are still stunningly obvious), how certain types of books were highly prized in certain eras (i.e. my own childhood is filled with memories of traditional folklore from other countries, which can be verified by the Caldecott Medal winners in that era), and they paid attention to the differences in illustration styles from one year to the next, and from one generation to the next, too. When my girls can identify an illustrator's work (not just a Caldecott winner!) it ranks high on the list of my proudest mama moments. Ha!
We definitely had a lot of opinions about the Caldecott list, though I wish we had kept a little journal to record our thoughts in the moment a little more. But I think we all would agree on the following:
+ Animals of the Bible, man. Oh my gosh. This nearly did us in. I'm sorry, but it's true.
+ Many Moons was one of our favorite finds. My handy chart from 1980 proves that I read this one a long time ago, but I didn't remember it at all. It was delightful.
+ We have long loved The Hello, Goodbye Window and its wonderful illustrator Chris Raschka; we reread it specifically for this project but it's one that has been read scores of times in the last few years. But we'd all like to hear from someone on the committee about A Ball For Daisy. Why, committee, why?
+ The Little Island might have been in the running for the weirdest book on the list... except it was saved by Arthur Yorinks' Hey Al which definitely takes the cake. As Arthur Yorinks always does for me. He also (not coincidentally) wrote my least favorite picture book OF ALL TIME.
+ The saddest book by far: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. I had to stop reading it to Maddie the first time I checked it out of the library in 2006, and I had a hard time finishing it this time, too. But oh, it's a glorious story, until it becomes the hardest story. The transition doesn't give the reader any time to prepare for that.
+ One of the greatest masterpieces on the list: The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It was the last one we read, and at over 500 pages, the very longest, too. Bridget was scared to death to read this one because she saw the movie at the wrong age and it has haunted her ever since, but in the end—she could hardly bear to split this one over a couple of nights. It is so good. I felt the same way about it in 2008 as I did reading it aloud in 2015: it is just so good.
What a job it must be to serve on this committee each year.
Speaking of which, I have updated the list with the 2015 winner (announced yesterday!) in case you want to try it yourself. Just click the image below to download!
+ Maddie has to get up so early again this year. And by default, so do both her parents; last year, only I had to get up in the pitch dark with her but this year, Matt is driving her to school (because the other option isn't really an option at all, leaving the house at 5:55 to drive to a 6:10 bus). So, 6:30 out the door it is.
+ Maddie's shirt color choices this year are white and purple, plus the green t-shirt she gets to wear on Fridays.
+ Gracie and Bridget will be wearing burgundy, navy blue, white, and this plaid combo.
+ Gracie and Bridget also have to be driven to another location to catch a bus to school; the neighborhood bus option would require them to leave the house an hour and 45 minutes before their first bell rings + a bus transfer, so 7:30 out the door it is.
+ If you are gathering that the logistics of this school year are going to be crazy, you would be correct. I won't even try to describe the afternoon craziness—suffice it to say, we will be putting thousands and thousands of miles on the van this year.
+ Nobody cried after the first day of school, so there's an improvement over last year.
+ We named Maddie MadeLINE (like the little girl in the book) with a long "I" sound in her name, and have been correcting people ever since who always assume she pronounces it MadeLYN, which is a fine name, just not hers. She usually goes by Maddie at school these days to save everyone the trouble, but her French teacher assigned her French name to be Madeleine this year in class. So now it's official. We will arm her with alternate French names to offer up next year...
+ Gracie is in a near panic about this ginormous year-long Alabama State History portfolio assignment she has to do, but I think it will be great fun. Though we have to giggle, because the poor thing is being hit yet again with the state history year. Louisiana state history is for 3rd graders, Alabama state history for 4th graders... it will be just her luck if we move to California and she has to do the notorious California Mission history project. Ha.
+ Bridget and Gracie will have Spanish, P.E., music, counseling, and science lab as their specials this year (no art, booooooo). They both are Very Excited about the science lab; I haven't met the teacher yet, but Gracie said they get to save up some sort of stamp reward thing they get and use it toward a special prize at some point in the year—one of the prizes is to attend a potions class. To say they were excited about that would be a big understatement.
Enjoy summer, all you people who start school at the end of August when it's supposed to start : )
1. This girl turned 12 last week, and I am feeling all sorts of panic about SIX MORE YEARS and kid time is up. She is smart as a whip, happy to play in the mud, missing her French horn terribly, checking out far more books from the library than any normal human being can possibly read, working on Für Elise for piano, and proud of her multiple bruises and rips and scrapes earned at gym. We celebrated her birthday by eating crawfish for lunch with live Zydeco in the background, and are extending her birthday celebration by going to see Maleficent tomorrow with some friends. I made the best invitations but they are totally in violation of copyright so I will not share them here. Heh.
2. While at the post office this morning in Shreveport I discovered that instead of cutting up my credit card (which had to be replaced after some tree lover mysteriously tried to charge $6600 worth of trees at a nursery in California) I cut up my debit card, which happened to be the same color. This can only mean one of two things: I am not getting enough sleep, or USAA ought to spring for another color besides blue for all its cards. Actually, it probably means both things. The post office lady was not really into hearing the story, even though I tried to explain it to her.
4. Bridget had what we hope was her last ENT visit for a while (forever?) this week. She was very excited, despite the fact that neither of us has ever had a single complaint about an ENT or audiologist she's seen in the last 5.5 years.
5. This week we learned that our house will be put up for sale and needs to be show ready and gussied up immediately, at the same time it needs to be torn apart and prepped for packers in three weeks. This makes my brain hurt.
6. I downloaded a free desktop app called Lost Photos tonight (and quickly paid $2.99 to get the full version). It finds every image buried in your email and extracts it into a folder. GOOD HEAVENS THERE ARE 2417 IMAGES IN THIS FOLDER ALREADY. Note: I only really delete completely worthless junk email and ads, so my inbox archive is enormous. But still—it's like Timehop exploded. I can only identify about 75% of the people and places pictured... huh. Here is a funny one someone emailed to me years ago:
7. I get to add ballpark #9 to the list next week! I will save that list for next week.
8. Summer gymnastics started this week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 8-1. While that sounds like a lot (and explains why I was at the Shreveport post office at 8:05 am) Maddie and Gracie are just loving it. And, they come home, eat lunch, and put themselves to nap like they did when they were little, which is kind of funny. We are all trying not to count how many days are left until they have to leave this wonderful gym. I have a monster gymnastics post percolating about our experience there this year...
9. I like this picture.
10. I wrapped up the last of the content for The Phone Photography Project 2 this week! I can hardly bear the wait until July 17... good thing I have house showings, packers, a moving truck, unloading a house two states away, and a trip to Disney to distract me until then. Hahahaha [thud]
Gracie and Bridget have been working on memorizing patriotic poems this month for school. They have to be a certain length by grade level, which was far easier to figure out for Gracie than Bridget, but in the end they both had the perfect poem: The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus for Gracie, and a little poem I found on Pinterest from the 1930s called Little American Citizens by Annette Wynne. It's been a fun thing to work on with them at home, as there is value in memorizing poetry—something people don't do much anymore.
Gracie was especially nervous last night after gym as she practiced in the Statue of Liberty costume she wanted to wear but was having second thoughts about at the last minute. Robes, torch, and crown in place, she needed a book to hold; she went straight to the bookshelves in our bedroom and grabbed one of Old Grandpa's books, from his collection of fancy Reader's Digest versions of classics with gold foil titles. I started to say "no, no, not one of those...." but then I stopped myself, imagining the eye-rolling I would have received from Old Grandpa had he heard me describe one of his books as too precious to take to school. Book in arm, she recited the poem one last time, just at the right pace, just at the right volume.
This morning she was even more nervous. Boys would laugh at her in the costume. She would forget the words. She didn't want people looking at her. We talked about what one of her dear life coaches, Wendy, would say about being teased about something she worked hard for and was proud of, and that helped a little. Suddenly it occurred to me that having Old Grandpa's book with her wasn't just a fun part of the costume, though. I told her how Old Grandpa would have loved that she was smart enough and brave enough to successfully prepare this poem to recite, because he was once a speech and debate competitor and loved public speaking and history. Holding that book in her arm? It might not help her remember all the lines at the right time, but it would be like he was right there with her, cheering her on proudly, like a secret invisible weapon against nerves. That helped a lot.
I don't know how she did yet, because she isn't home yet. But it doesn't matter, really, because today she did a hard thing with her great-grandfather's memory in her heart.
Taken during our recent trip to Red River Wildlife Refuge aka the feral hog farm; these two got out ahead of us and I had to be the hiking paparazzi, running as close as I could on tiptoe before they caught me. I had to decide to not be broken-hearted that I apparently can't run on tiptoe through the woods and take sharp pictures at the same time on this one.