Tuesday, September 08, 2009

PHILADELPHIA & TRENDS: Gardening in the Classroom

Published on Friday, September 4, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Classrooms go green to teach nature's ways

By Heather J. Chin
Inquirer Staff Writer

It is midday at Khepera Charter School in Mount Airy, and about two dozen middle schoolers are standing on the grass, staring at trees. Their science teacher, Kim Johnson, offers clues as they try to identify Japanese maple, sugar maple, pine oak, and spruce.

Such excursions are common at the school, where the lawns and a small vegetable garden have been an "outdoor classroom" for five years. English teachers read poems and have kids write essays in the sunshine. In math class, students measure the lawn's perimeter or solve problems while watching squirrels play.

The point, said Johnson, whose students call her Mama Omatayo or Mama O. (to foster a sense of family, faculty are referred to as Mama or Baba), is to provide learning experiences outside the four walls and to connect children with nature.

Rita Stevens, a special-education teacher at Philadelphia's Huey Elementary School at 52d and Pine Streets, takes a similar tack. She has been using the school's vegetable and flower garden to motivate her third to fifth graders to learn to read and write. Between weeding and watering, the kids label both the plants ("tomatoes" and "peppers") and their parts ("stem," "leaves" and "fruit").

"The kids are hands-on and they will learn how to read words associated with something," explained Stevens. "They'll make the effort to learn about what they're working with."

Learning experiences like these are why Johnson and Stevens joined 48 fellow educators at the third annual Green City Teachers workshop in July, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The two-day event trains educators in safe and best planting practices through hands-on work in one school's garden.

This year, Luis Muñoz-Marin Elementary School at Third and Ontario Streets in North Philadelphia was the host. On patches of soil behind the school and in the parking lot, teachers weeded, swept, built wooden frames for seed beds, tested soil for lead, applied mulch, and planted trees and vegetables. They also bonded over shared goals, challenges, and a desire to spread the word: Whether indoors or outdoors, large or small, gardens are a valuable educational tool.

Read the full article here.

PARENTING: How to halt nail-biting

Published in the August 2009 issue of PARENTING magazine.

5 Ways To Stop Nail Biting

Tricks to stop that unsightly gnawing that can lead to infection

By Heather Chin, Parenting

Sure, nail biting is a common childhood habit, and, in most cases, won't last -- but it's also unsightly and can lead to infection. How to stop it? Try these tricks from Dawn Huebner, Ph.D., author of What to Do When Bad Habits Take Hold.

Hand her something or place your hand on hers when she's nibbling.

Top her fingertips with colorful adhesive bandages or slather on lotion -- the taste will get her attention, and it will help smooth jagged cuticles.

Offer her raw carrots, cukes, or a plastic straw to chew on.

Regular exercise, such as jumping jacks or even kids' yoga, can help, as can carrying a stress ball.

Constant criticism can fuel your nail-biter's chomping (making her do it even more), and bitter polish can seem like punishment. Instead, praise your child regularly when she doesn't attack her nails.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

COMMENTARY: Cuban Students Expelled For Appying To U.S. Scholarships

U.S. Scholarships get Cuban College Students Expelled

"A sample of the actions taken by the current U.S. administration in its efforts to ideologically permeate university students is to offer them scholarships through the Interests Section to train them in the area of leadership," reads an internal document of the Ministry of Higher Education obtained by El Nuevo Herald.

"Applying for such scholarships reveals, at least, an unacceptable ideological inconsistency. More serious yet is the case of students selected by the Interests Section who upheld their decisions even after a political discussion with them."

The document, released in July, acknowledges that students and professors longed "to obtain personal benefits" and suffered "a confusion and poor understanding of the basic pillars that sustain the ideology of our revolution."

--> So if I understand this correctly, the "ideological inconsistency" is one of seeking personal benefit through education, versus faith in the Cuban Communist Party's ability to provide an education that would benefit the people over the individual. ... Okay, I recognize the pride issue, but ideologically, wouldn't the creation of a widely educated populace potentially benefit the people they would grow up to serve? Or is my reasoning tainted by its support of a global education versus a tightly controlled national education?

This issue makes me wonder: is the reluctance and resistance by some U.S. citizens to consider the idea of our students - and leaders - going abroad for part of their education or career experience as a good thing.... is this a sign of "ideological inconsistency" with our own nation's ideals? Or is this a sign of the rigidity of thought that is so clearly displayed by the Cuban government here?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Fun Food Talk: Road Chow

In this lifestyle article in USA Today, registered dietician and nutrition blogger Elizabeth Ward advocates for high-sodium, processed fast food as healthy food options. For breakfast, a McDonald's Egg McMuffin or french toast sticks at Burger King? For dinner, a cheeseburger and salad with dressing or, whoa, Beefaroni? I'm all for convenience and practicality, but when you're labeling something "healthy," there's a line that shouldn't be crossed.

This is appalling. Healthy isn't just about calories and a balanced meal doesn't mean balanced between the levels of fat and sodium content. Being on the road doesn't mean being checked out of the sanity department when it comes to feeding you and your family a healthy - and cost-effective - diet.

On the contrary, it's a prime chance to get the whole family - kids of all ages, too - to collaborate on their meals, making it a fun project. Bring the cooler, people, and pack your own fresh snacks, something like sandwiches, fruit, water, 100% juice, veggie and cookies. I'm not a registered dietician, but I do know I'd rather feed my family food with ingredients that I can actually read and identify.

Speaking of family, Ward is apparently the author of several books on nutrition, including Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During and After Pregnancy. If her suggestions for "healthy" road food is any indication, I shudder to think about what she's recommending moms-to-be introduce their impressionable, unbrand-loyaltyed children. Parents are role models, including when it comes to our eating habits, and teaching toddlers and kids that it's okay to stuff yourself with edible "food" items just because it's low in calories is not a lesson we should be presenting.

For some other road or picnic food ideas, check out these links. There's the snacks and the main food. And for the family full of kids, there's always this list of tips from Disney Family and Road Trip America.

On the vegan front, there's Jennifer McCann's day trip lunch for her and her preteen son, as seen on Vegan Lunch Box. McCann also has a suggestion for a large vegetarian picnic spread.