Bannockburn Christian Academy - Austin Texas Private School

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Learning with Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Little House on the Prairie”

Little House on the Prairie is one of the four literary analysis units third grade enjoys each year. There are so many learning opportunities built into reading it. Students are able to compare their lives to that of children crossing the country by covered wagon to settle in Kansas in the 1870s. We discuss the difference between historical fiction and non-fiction, and we use Laura Ingalls Wilder’s excellent prose to identify the key elements of figurative language and to journal about her work and similar books in our Reader/Writer journals. We take our time, read the novel slowly, and use it as the launching pad for many discussions including American History and westward expansion, cultural contributions of Native Americans, tolerance, courage, and God’s abundant grace.
The culminating events of this exploration are our trip to Pioneer Farms, where students can compare their lives to that of early Texas settlers, and “Little House on the Prairie Day.” While Pioneer Farms gives us the opportunity to run around outside and possibly encounter lizards and snakes, “Little House on the Prairie Day” is perhaps the most cherished event for our third graders. They spend a day dressed in pioneer clothing and spend the morning and afternoon participating in a number of pioneer activities like washing dirty clothes with a washboard, making corn husk dolls, tasting molasses and cornbread, making butter, and playing prairie games. This year, out time in the garden may give the class a fuller understanding of what was involved in being self-sufficient and sustaining on the Kansas prairie. Our work on Little House on the Prairie begins following Spring Break! Watch for us as we learn.

– Melissa McDaniel, 3rd Grade Teacher

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Finding Poetry

I discovered poetry in the fourth grade when a student teacher, fresh from college, bravely undertook the task of leading nine year olds through the poems that are always included in the anthologies of best loved poems. At that time, it was hard to imagine anyone loving them. I don’t remember the teacher’s name, but, she had long brown hair, silver hoop earrings, and a patchwork skirt. She smiled… a lot. Our class teacher, Mrs. Stern, whose name tells you all you need to know about her, had admonished us to listen, behave, and learn something. Then, she excused herself and left the student teacher to her fate. I would like to say that it was at that moment I learned to love poetry, but like many love affairs, poetry and I did not hit it off at first. I came away from that experience with an understanding that not all poems need to rhyme and with a wish that I had a pair of silver hoop earrings and a patchwork skirt.

However, some of that experience must have made a significant impression, because in the 5th grade it was such a feeling of revelation when I discovered the humorous poems of Shel Silverstein. I was completely enamored by “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and began to write my own poems. I remember particularly enjoying pairing words and names. For example, Wyatt Earp and burp. Much can be written on the subject of a burping gunslinger. By middle school, I expressed my teen angst in a journal filled with poems that owed much of their inspiration to song lyrics and boys I liked. My poetry may not have been great, it may not have been original, but it made me feel both great and original to compose it. Once all of my teen moodiness had found a home on the page, I was a gentler and kinder daughter, sister, and friend.

Today, I enjoy reading, discussing, and, sharing poems with my students, and still occasionally writing them. I love to tell my students that poetry is everywhere. It can be found in a drop of rain that falls from the eaves, or in the song of a cricket. It certainly can’t be contained in a single form, or follow one particular set of rules. Even the Bible is full of poetry, in particular, the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Poetry can also be found in the New Testament. Mary and Zechariah’s songs of praise from the book of Luke come to mind, and the Beatitudes are as beautifully worded as any poem. We talk about the power of poetry to paint a picture with words, to capture a moment, or to give expression to pain and joy.

One of the pleasures of our after school poetry club has been watching students develop their own love for poetry while experimenting with its different forms. I also relish those opportunities to share poems that I think they will connect with and love as much as I do, or listening as they read aloud a special favorite of their own.
Poetry club resumes during the 2nd session. I hope your 3rd, 4th or 5th grader will join us!

Melissa McDaniel, 3rd Grade

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