Friday, March 22, 2013

Why Our Children Deserve Raw Meat

If you stick with me long enough, you will see that this is a story about providing the best version of school we can create for our children.  It is also the story of finding the best dog food.  And it is the story of refusing to change for no good reason.

Almost one year ago we adopted our rescue dog, Pixie, a small, adult shih-tzu mix.
She was our first dog, and there were so many things we didn't know. 

Especially about dog food.  Kibble, to me, seemed like the way to go.  It was relatively cheap, easy to buy, easy to measure out, and easy to clean up.  (Just like our current version of education--scoop it out, dump it in a bowl, expect it to be good enough).  But our little Pixie wouldn't eat it.  She snubbed it repeatedly, eating only a few bits and only out of our hands.  Her foster family who had nursed her back to life had given her only wet food--the gross stuff out of the can that resembles and smells like vomit.   No way--that wasn't going to happen in my kitchen.

So we began to pretty up the kibble by pouring a warm broth over it.  (In education, the broth could be any number of "reforms" we have put in place to make things "better").  The broth had glucosamine and condroitin in it, so I told myself there was medical value since the vet had warned us about Pixie's loose knee cap.  But it was really just a way to make the kibble more appealing.  Pixie outsmarted us.  She lapped up the broth and left the kibble.  I tried at least four kinds of kibble and as many specialty dog food stores in our area.  Each time I tried a new store, I got the same answer from a knowing employee--"Have you tried raw food?"

What?  I'm pretty much a vegetarian and never cook red meat, so no, I hadn't tried raw food.

Tired of throwing away sloppy kibble (wasn't it supposed to be so neat?), I relented and gave her canned food but insisted that the unused portion in the can be stored in our basement refrigerator.  Thankfully, Pixie wasn't all that interested in the canned food anymore.  She preferred to stalk the perimeter of our kitchen table and beg.  (The educational equivalent of canned food?  One-off projects, a day of fun after the test...).

Next I moved on to dehydrated raw food--finally convinced by the many, many dog boutique clerks that kibble and wet food were at the bottom of the dog food chain but unconvinced that I could handle keeping raw dog food in my freezer.  For a while, Pixie loved the warm, wet mixture.  But after a few months she snubbed that as well.  (Here's where some of us find ourselves now in the growth of schools--lots of talk about 21st century skills, STEM, PBL--so close, but not there yet).

I recently stopped making up reasons why I shouldn't and bought my first package of raw frozen food for our dog.  I knew before Pixie had demolished the starter pack that I was finally doing what was best for her.   It has been nagging at me for almost a year.  Once I learned, many months ago, that the dog food hierarchy (nutrient-wise) looks like this

1. Raw food
2. Dehydrated raw food
3. Wet canned food
4. Dry kibble

I should have purchased the raw food right away.  But I didn't.  I KNEW it was the best thing to do for our dog, but I was stubborn. I didn't want the expense, the smell, the extra precautions with cleaning anything the raw food may touch... I just didn't want to try it.  And  just like anyone in the field of education KNOWS that school should be a joyful experience for kids--one they want to tear into like Pixie wants to tear into her raw delicacy.  School should be the most nutrient-rich environment for our kids--a glorious combination of play, passionate pursuit, collaborative opportunities, discovery, and even some disaster.

So let's give the kids raw meat, sort of.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jewell Parker Rhodes: A True Gem

I met Jewell Parker Rhodes at the NCTE expo hall in November.  I had read her first YA novel, The Ninth Ward, and loved it.  Her publisher was giving away advance copies of her new book, Sugar.  So I grabbed a copy, gathered my courage, and approached Jewell (I will forever classify myself as shy).  She immediately put me at ease with her huge smile and enthusiastic greeting.  She happily signed her book and we struck up a conversation about how much kids at my school loved The Ninth Ward and how I looked forward to sharing Sugar with them.  Jewell beamed and explained that her greatest hope was that children would enjoy her work.  I told her I'd share the book with our students and suggested that she could talk with them about it.

I walked away from that table thinking about how nice she was to talk with me, but I couldn't imagine that she would actually talk with our students once they had a chance to read the book.  This is a BUSY woman we are talking about.  You can read all about her on her website or her blog.

I think I read the whole book before I returned from the conference and knew our students would love it.  One of our 4th grade sections began reading it as a read-aloud, and, as predicted, they loved it. 
So... I sent an email to Jewell--a busy professor and working author--who emailed me back the same day!  After quite a few email exchanges we chose a date for the Skype.  The students prepared by illustrating passages from the book, discussing what they liked about the book, and writing questions to ask and comments to share. 

The Skype...

At 2:00 on Monday (11:00 in Arizona) we began the Skype.  Jewell began by reading a few pages from Sugar, and she explained that she'd never read this book out loud to a group--we were her first audience!  The book is set in Louisiana on a sugar plantation during Reconstruction. All of the former slaves who did not leave when they were freed remained to work on the plantation.  The protagonist, Sugar, a young girl whose mother died on the plantation, longs for freedom and adventure. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Billy, the son of the plantation owner, and together they set off to explore "far away places" on the river.  Their friendship, needless to say, is a dangerous secret. Sugar also pursues a friendship with the Chinese laborers who come to work on the plantation to increase productivity.  

Each student in the class had a chance to ask a question or make a comment to Jewell about her book. We learned about how long it takes her to write a book, how she researches her stories, how she feels about her characters, and most excitingly, what she's working on now.  She asked the kids for suggestions about her new characters, Madison and Bear.  She welcomed their ideas and told us she'd put a dedication to Flint Hill Students in the new book! She also promised to send each student an autographed copy of Sugar and a copy of The Ninth Ward.

Thank you, thank you, Jewell Parker Rhodes for an unforgettable experience!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What Made My "Collector" Child Eager to Clean Out Her Room

Earlier today I suggested to my first-grade daughter that she should go through her toys to see if there was anything she didn't want anymore.


Buoyed by the promise of an imminent snowday, I try again several hours later. But this time, I change my tactic. While Marley is in the kitchen having dessert, I go up to her room and take all of her stuffed animals. Not to worry--I'm not evil. I line them all up in the hall and callher upstairs with this invitation: "There's a yard sale going on up here. Come get your wallet."

"Really?" She runs up the stairs and finds me in her room.

I am ready with instructions. I tell her, "Go shopping in the hall. Buy whatever you want. Bring me your items when you are ready and I'll ring you up."

She dashes downstairs to get a shopping bag, and on her way back up she tells her big sister that we're having a yard sale in the hall.

I wish I'd taken a picture of that part of the sale as Marley shopped through a hall filled with her own stuffed animals. I wish I'd taken a picture of Morgan following behind her, browsing the items Marley had chosen not to buy.

I did take pictures of the next phase of the sale...the same process but with all of her other items--everything but the plush ones!

By the time the sale was over, Marley had repurchased many of her belongings, but we'd also filled two bags with unwanted items and moved a few things to Morgan's room. It was a fun way to get her to go through her things and give her room a much-needed dusting!