Sunday, July 27, 2014

The National September 11 and Flight 93 Memorials

In Memory of Heroes: 9/11 Memorials

What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.
-David Levithan

I don't think there are words sufficient to describe our feelings when visiting the National September 11 Memorial in New York City and the Flight 93 National Memorial in western Pennsylvania.  They just take your breath away, but in different ways.  For being memorials to the people killed in the same day and events, they are as far apart in tenor as they are geography.

Ground Zero, New York  

 The outdoor 9/11 Memorial in NYC is shiny, with gleaming black marble and sparkling waterfalls.  People speak in murmurs while the horns and sirens blare around you.  I admit, it was hard to be there - it brought back to me so many memories of the day.  To this day, I clearly can remember where I was, and what I was doing when the towers were hit, and I know it's something I will never forget.  In this place, you can feel the magnitude of the loss.  Even all these years later, I feel sad, but also angry and indignant.  I want to shake my fist at the hijackers and say, "How DARE you?"  In this area, you feel the gravity of it being the virtual burial ground for so many.

Yet as you stand in the shadow of the 1776-feet-tall "Freedom Tower,"  and the subway station that is being rebuilt, you also feel a sense of the resilience and even defiance that has defined the American spirit from it's infancy.  The nearby tower seems to scream with the "Oh yeah? Well...<hand gesture given by NYC cabbies>!" tone that makes New York such a distinctive place.

We all know how many died that day, but seeing the names just continue on and on impresses the gravity of the attacks.

And this one just took my breath away. Logic says that out of that many people, at least some of the women killed had to have been pregnant.  I don't think I ever realized that there really were unborn children lost as well.

Flight 93, Stoystown, PA

If New York's Memorial highlights the bustle of the big city, the Flight 93 Memorial celebrates America's rural communities.  A long, winding mountain road from the main highway (US 30/Lincoln Highway) leads to the Visitor's Center, with several pull-offs along the way to orient you to the history and geography of where you are.  As brash as New York is, Stoystown is gentle and calm.

Upon parking, it's a quarter-mile walk through a courtyard and then down past the actual crash site.  There is a matte granite wall, complete with remembrance niches, that marks the edge of the field where Flight 93 came down, and a single boulder marks the point of impact. Forty granite panels (one for each victim) continue past the field, marking the flight path of the incoming aircraft.

Standing here reminded me of places like the USS Arizona or the High Water Mark at Gettysburg.  You can almost feel the spirit of the dead.  It's not a macabre feeling -- rather, that they are at peace.

The day we visited was this Flight Attendant's birthday.  The Park Ranger mentioned that the large arrangement was left by her husband earlier in the day.  If New York showed the magnitude, this showed the humanity.

And yet another child gone before he even took his first breath.

The flight path.  Again, when standing here and looking at the horizon, even gray clouds give way to the memories and you feel the peace that enveloped the plane as the passengers took charge.

We hope that someday we will get to the Pentagon Memorial and back to NYC for the 9/11 Museum.  In the meantime, we feel honored to have been able to pay our respects at these sites. 

Ben and Me

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Random 5 - July 25

It's Friday! My Random 5 thoughts for this week...

1. We had a fantastic time last week on our big history trip. Highlights include Fort McHenry, South Mountain, Antietam, Gettysburg, Fort Necessity, and the Flight 93 Memorial. We even hiked several sections of the Appalachian Trail. I feel like a time traveler!

Fort McHenry, Baltimore MD

Washington Monument, South Mountain MD

Cunningham Falls Park, Cactotin Mountains, MD

Gettysburg Battlefield, PA

Flight 93 Crash Zone, PA

2. PT is paying off for Matthew. This week at Karate he had perfect form for push ups (no sagging belly) and "Supermans." His stamina is increasing too. For a reward, his therapist let him try the much-anticipated climbing tread wall, and he did a whole minute on his first time!

3. I loathe when the hospital alarms go off. Praying for the child and family involved in the Code Blue called as I write this.

4. Thursday was Damien's 4th birthday! I can't believe my baby is so big! 

5. I feel like a sailor on shore leave, crashing my way though the internet ordering bits and pieces if curriculum. I think we are almost done! The great thing about unit studies is you can pick-and-choose the resources you want; the flip side is they never seem to be all at one site! 

How was your week? 

PS - Merry Christmas! 

The Pebble Pond

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

HomeSchoolPiano (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

HomeSchoolPiano curriculum revew

There's been a lot of study on music exposure and language development.  Jude has seemed to defy all of the research.  It's certainly not for lack of exposure --to me, silence is a vacuum and I invariably have music playing, from classical to country to pop and everything in between, but Jude still has trouble with language skills.  That's no secret.  But until recently, he couldn't -- or wouldn't -- sing.  Most toddlers and preschoolers belt out just about anything, from the song you didn't think they were really hearing to the latest Disney soundtrack, but not Jude.  Toddlers have an amazing sense of rhythm, but Jude never seemed to develop this, and he has no sense of rhyme or cadence.  Even at age 7, he's never done the "cute little kid sing and dance" shtick. His speech therapist recommended beginning a music program with him, because it's a nonverbal way to learn language skills, and it's inherently multisensory - hearing music, playing an instrument involves touch, and a good program teaches rhythm through simultaneously counting aloud and speaking.  When we had the opportunity to study using HomeSchoolPiano and the accompanying HomeSchoolPiano Complete Set of Books I was elated.

About HomeSchoolPiano:

HomeSchoolPiano is almost exactly the type of program recommended for Jude. Willie Myette's vision for teaching isn't just about learning to play notes on an instrument.  It's a total curriculum that combines technique with rhythm, ear training, music reading, song and improvisation.  It starts with absolute basics for students who have no experience with music, yet still has plenty to teach the accomplished pianist who wants to learn to create his own arrangements.  It's a piano program for students of all ages - from "kids whose hands barely fit" to "adults who wish they knew more but don't have time to take lessons."  Yes -- I tried it too!  I've always wanted to learn how to play "properly" -- I can eek out the melody of a song, but I would love to be able to play "both lines" (melody and harmony) of a composition.

 The program is divided into four "books." Each program book has an accompanying PDF file text.

  • Core Piano - for the absolute beginner.  It teaches the before-the-playing fundamentals, like "How do I find a C note?" to proper posture and key-pressing.  Wilie's "Grab Technique" employs what seems like a non-orthodox study aid (a tissue!) but it's a terrific way to show how to slide your fingers along the piano keys, and not just mash at them.  Even if you have some piano experience, it is a good review for all levels.
  •  Book 1 is for the beginner, covering basic scales, theory, and dynamics. This is for the student who has little to no experience with playing.
  • Book 2, for the intermediate student, explores improvisation, fingering patterns, and music styles.
  • Book 3 studies scales and composition for the more accomplished pianist -- maybe you already know how to play what's on the page, but want to "make it your own."  This level teaches you how.

homeschoolpiano is available on any web-enabeled device
The great thing about HomeSchoolPiano is it is online video based.  Anywhere you have internet access -- a laptop, a tablet, even a smartphone! -- and a piano or keyboard, you can have piano lessons.  A student studies at his own pace, when he can fit the lessons in.  Now, I don't recommend 3 am as a good time to be banging away at a piano, but hey...if you don't have sleeping neighbors and that's when it fits in, you can have nite owl sessions!   I love the video-based aspect, because if I don't understand something, I can scroll back (or start over).  If it's been a little while since I had an oppportunity to sit and play, I can skip back a lesson and refresh my memory.  This program  is great for the younger student who wants to try but isn't ready for "regular" lessons.  Once you purchase the program ($299 for up to 5 students; a three month payment plan of $99.97 is available), it's yours forever.  There were weeks of the review where Jude played every day, and then where he'd not want to play for an entire week.  Sometimes he just needed more time to "process" what he was learning, or to repeat the lesson because he just didn't "get" it the first time.  I wouldn't let him move on until he had mastered the prior lesson, but we didn't have the "Did you practice???" arguments that Celia and I sometimes have between her weekly lessons (knowing in the back of my mind that if she hasn't, it's potentially a waste of tuition that coming week).

HomeSchoolPiano in Our Homeschool: that I've told you all the particulars, the next question to answer is "But did it do what you wanted it to do?  Can Jude play? Did it help his language?"  The answer to both is yes.

If you click on the Crew banner below, you'll find links to other crew reviews.  You will see other students playing their own compositions and arrangements, which shows you how far you can go with the program.   Jude didn't get quite as far as a pianist, but the program has made a difference in the practical uses of language.  For a year now, we've been working on slowing down Jude's speech.  Not only does he mispronounce half of what he says, he speaks so quickly that it's even more garbled. His mouth almost literally can't keep up with his thoughts.  His therapist has been working on having him "Tap It Out" - the idea is to make each syllable a beat, but we'll settle for one word per beat. It's to where many times now we just hold out our hand for him to tap his finger on; we don't even say "Tap it," anymore.  It slowed him down, but it didn't get a "proper speech cadence" going with him.  With HomeSchoolPiano, before you even play, you work on rhythm.  The program consists of a cyclical presentation of themes, and how they are interrelated.

the HomeSchoolPiano approach

I love how the program doesn't just jump between "here's how to play the notes, here's a song..."  Timing and musicality are just as important to music -- imagine the speedy, mostly eighth notes and 2/4 timing William Tell Overture played instead with the relaxed 3/4 lilt of the Blue Danube Waltz.  Not working for you?  Rhythm in music and speech makes a difference in the tone of the sounds.  The rhythm training has made a big difference in Jude's speech.  Here's a section of a pattern he worked on, right at the beginning:

using music rhythm to establish speech patterns

He learned that sometimes you rest at the end, and sometimes you take a rest in the middle.  You know, like to stop and breathe and not just keep racing through.  The little light bulb over his head went off!  We've gone from daily (sometimes multiple times a day) saying "Tap it out" to sometimes entire days where his speech is slow enough to understand.  What I think has made the difference is not just saying/hearing the pattern in speech and even clapping (they're not new for him), but hearing it in music - both in Willie's teaching and in his own playing.   He's also learned that some notes (words) take longer than others to complete, and that's OK too.  Learning to hold longer notes has helped him with multi-syllable words.  We've worked on the concept of "this note = 1 sound tap, this note = 2 sound taps, so "Jude" is one tap, "Mommy" is two taps."

using extended notes to approach multi-syllabic words

"Jude and Mom-my" sound a lot like Rhythm 1, don't they?  The second rhythm can be verbalized with "ap-ple juice." Rhythm 4 draws out a three syllable word -- Dam-i-en - there is room for all of the sounds and no need to skip over the center ones.

As for playing...well, he's not quite at the "composer" level yet.  Although the program eschews "traditional boring" starter pieces and dives into simple songs to keep interest, he's struggling with those.  He's trying to coordinate reading the music with getting his fingers where they need to be (and with smaller hands, just reaching some of the keys sometimes is a literal stretch) and playing in the right rhythm, but he hasn't given up.   He's a bit of a perfectionist, so he won't let me video him again just yet, but here he is coordinating his hands to do scales.  I can say it's HARD to coordinate your left and right hands!

Not perfect, even after lots of practice, but he wants to do the exercise correctly.  For Jude, that is a big hurdle -- for him to want to even try, and not give up after the first stumble, is a big deal.

In addition to Jude continuing with his lessons, I also will be adding Matthew and Luke to the program.  Remember how I said that it's for up to five students?  Each student gets his own sub-account and log in, so there's no "I don't know where I left off...he moved my spot!"  Each book has six units, with the earlier ones being easier/faster to complete than the later ones.  There are also quizzes to test how much the student has grasped of the theory taught, and even if you don't have a truly musical background, testing their mastery of a piece isn't all that difficult (if it sounds terrible, they need more practice!).   Because it already contains so much teaching on music theory, I think if we add a composer unit study to this, it will create the full-year fine arts credit that they will need for high school.

I'm really excited about how well HomeSchoolPiano worked for us.  Even at a snail's pace from a program view (he's still only on Book 1/Unit 2 after 6 weeks),  Jude is making overall auditory progress.  He's beginning to catch on to speech patterns, and can finally match the cadence of his speech to the syllables of the words, at least most of the time.

If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing.

This sampler hangs in our house - a reminder to not give up.  For a long time, Jude has talked poorly, and never sung -- he's stumbled over lyrics, but never a true song.  About halfway through the review period, on a rare day when the house was otherwise quiet, I heard a little voice belting, "Let the storm rage ONNNNNNNNNNN!" and couldn't place it.  It was JUDE - he was watching Frozen with his earphones on but singing along like a little mini-Idina (Menzel).   Not only has Jude gotten better at talking, but yes, he can sing!

Click to read Crew Reviews

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lady Liberty's Junior Rangers

Become a Junior Park Ranger at the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World reigns over New York Harbor. A gift from France in 1886, she was the first thing many immigrants saw after a long journey to this new country, and was a symbol of the opportunity and freedom that awaited them.  We've been to visit her several times over the years.  A few years ago, Matthew and I visited Ellis Island as well, and were able to search records for his great-great grandparents' immigration.  On our trip last fall, we only went to Liberty Island, because Ellis Island was closed due to damage from 2012's Superstorm Sandy.  (It has since re-opened on a limited basis.)  Though we have been to visit the statute on several occasions, on our last trip there we explored using the National Parks Junior Ranger program.

Most National Parks have a Junior Ranger program.  They are a great way for children (ages 7-12, usually) to explore a site in an age-appropriate manner.  We've done the programs at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and Everglades National Park and have learned a lot about the sites without becoming bored, and were excited to add the Liberty Island badge to our growing collection.   Before we left, we downloaded and printed the booklets.  (While most Parks do keep spare books on hand, due to damage from Sandy, there are no books available on the Island at this time.)   Though Luke was a bit outside the age bracket, he also completed the program as part of an assigned activity for school.

First, we purchased ferry tickets at home.  Although you can begin your tour in either Liberty State Park in New Jersey (where we departed from) or Battery Park in New York City, the only way to get to the Statue is via ferry.   The official ferry provider is a private company, Statue Cruises, but there are other ticket sellers.   Ferry prices range from $9-18 (children under 4 are currently free) and include an audio tour handset.  Although grounds access is automatically included, you need a timed ticket (free but needs reservation) to enter the Statute to the Pedestal level (including the Museum).  Reserved tickets to the Crown are more difficult to obtain as they are extremely limited, so if you'd like to clime the 354 stairs to the top of Lady Liberty's head, you'll want to plan in advance.  Crown reservations are paid tickets, for all ages (including the under 4 set).  We chose to just visit the Pedestal (and Museum).

Tickets and Ranger guides in hand, we passed through the very strict, airport-like security (remove belts, empty pockets, etc. but you can leave your shoes on) at Liberty Park and boarded our ferry for Liberty Island.

 And yes, since I have growing boys, a snack was in order.  Snacks are sold on board the ferry, or you may bring your own. 

On the way to the island, you get to see all around the harbor.   You can sit inside the boat, but I highly recommend the upper deck, so you can see everything.  Of course, what you see depends on which direction you look.

 Lower Manhattan, including the 1776-foot Freedom Tower.

 Midtown Manhattan and the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings

The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges

A FDNY Boat Demonstration

 Ellis Island
 And, of course,
The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World

Upon arrival, we got to work.  We picked up handsets for the audio tour, and then checked out the packets to see what was inside the Museum and what information we needed from around the grounds.

 We decided to head inside to the Museum.  This was one place none of us had been to before (or if Neal or I had, we didn't remember it).  We learned about the history of the statue. 

In 1865, Edouard de Laboulaye, a French political intellectual and authority on the U.S. Constitution, proposed that France give a statue representing liberty to the United States - who had just ended the Civil War - for its centennial...

...and Auguste Bartholdi is recruited to create it.
We learned about the engineering of the Statue.  The copper-clad skin (only as thick as two stacked pennies) covers an interior that employs the same scaffolding principles as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

 The sculptor used his own mother's face to create Lady Liberty's:

There was a catch, though -- the Statue herself was a gift.  The Americans had to raise the pedestal.

And then, of course...there is the well-known poem inscribed at the base:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled massses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
 -from The New Colossus Emma Lazarus

This poem wasn't actually written to be placed on the Pedestal.  The American Committee for the Statue of Liberty approached Emma Lazarus, a young Jewish woman who worked as an aide for Jewish immigrants at Ward Island, to compose a sonnet to accompany an art exhibition fundraiser.  It was revealed on November 2, 1883, and was later printed in both the New York World and The New York Times.  Lazarus died just over four years later, and in 1903, Lazarus' friend, Georgina Schuyler, found the sonnet in a bookshop.  She spearheaded a campaign for the poem to be engraved on a plaque that was placed inside the pedestal. The original plaque is now preserved in the museum.

Other items in the museum include the original torch lamp.

Outside atop the pedestal, we looked out into the harbor, and could see for miles.  After weeks or even months of travel, we could only imagine the elation that immigrants felt when they saw this massive statue greeting them from the harbor.

We then walked around the island to complete the rest of the outdoor portion.

Once our books were completed, we went to the Park Ranger office to show them our completed booklets, and to be sworn in as Junior Rangers.

As a Junior Ranger, I promise to help preserve and protect the Statue of Liberty National Monument and other National Parks so that they can be enjoyed by future generations. I will do this by sharing what I learned today with others. I promise to continue to discover, explore and learn about other National Parks and the National Park Service. I also promise to have fun being a National Park Service Junior Ranger.

We then boarded the ferry for our return to Jersey City.

Damien was exhausted from all of the walking. Strollers are permitted on the grounds, but not in the Pedestal or Museum. 

The Junior Ranger badges can only be earned in person, but if you'd like to take a virtual tour of the Statue of Liberty, you can click here to connect to the National Parks' tour page.

Now that we've done the Junior Ranger program at the Statue of Liberty, we're hoping to be able to go back to complete the Ellis Island program as well.  There are actually 21 national parks in New York Harbor, each with its own program, so we should be busy for quite a while!

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.
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