Thursday, December 18, 2008

Monarch season.

The monarch chrysalises from our school's milkweed have begun to hatch. I brough this one home yesterday to watch it emerge while I drank morning tea... I turned my back one second on it to wash my cup, and when I came back, the butterfly had hatched and spread its wings already.


Our local surf break exploded a little bit. Just in time!

What it feels like:

What it is:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


A monarch butterfly caterpillar in our school yard moments before becoming a chrysalis.

A pair of mushrooms growing in a niche between two watapana trees at the national park.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


It's been some busy weeks past and there was a mishap with the camera cable. There's a backlog of so many great pictures of things that have been happening at the school and not at the school.

First of all, the sphinx moth emerged from the cocoon from when I last posted. It's not a frangipani hawk moth like I had erroneously guessed- at least it didn't look at all like the ones I saw tagged online... So f there are any entomology enthusiasts out there who are interested in identifying this moth, I personally challenge you!

After we had the sphinx moth experience, which at one point involved my cat, Beef Supreme, I found a monarch caterpillar egg on our only milkweed plant at school. We followed its development from egg to caterpillar, to chrysalis and finally to monarch butterfly. During the last stage of its development the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis suffered an unknown mishap and very unfortunately we had our first animal burial at school. This was the baby caterpillar, 3 days old:

This is the first nest that we have discovered at school since August. It was so well camouflaged in the tamarind tree that it might have been there all along and we never noticed it. We've been keeping our eyes on it now and have watched the mother bananaquit coming back and forth with material for it. Upon close inspection we noticed that she's used some of our classroom string in her architecture!

Anolis are like extra students at school. They wander around everywhere, they finish off the leftover snack fruit that we leave on the bird feeders. The daring little guys even wander into the kitchen through the open door while we are sitting down for lunch and eat any crumbs left on the floor.

On October 28th I got invited to the Diwali ball hosted by the Indian community on the island. Some of the children that come to our school participated in the dances and it was a super fun opportunity to visit with families and children that I taught in years past. The company and the food was wonderful!

The event took place at night and there was some difficulty snapping any kind of decent pictures of the dancing, but the fruits of my efforts paid off. In the second picture the children look just like robots with glowing android eyes. I love it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The thing has been identified!

Two weeks ago, Zairon shot out of the sandbox at school shouting "There's a worm in there!" Upon not-so-close observation, the worm turned out to be a 5 inch fat-as-a-hot-dog monster of a caterpillar. This is what it looked like:

I've never seen a caterpillar wearing those colors or of such enormous proportions in Aruba.

We had a little powow in the sandbox with all the children to decide whether we should let the caterpillar remain free in nature, or whether we could make a temporary home for it in the classroom. The children unanimously decided we should bring it inside for observation. We scooped up the surrounding sand and leaves and put them into our small terrarium and then gently scooped up the caterpillar (with a trowel- thankfully- later on I learned that this species of caterpillar BITES!) and it promptly began to burrow itself under the sand.

We went over our responsibilities as caretakers of this caterpillar while it stays in our room (no foreign objects in the terrarium, speaking softly around it, and doing our best to make sure it feels safe and comfortable) and that was the last time we saw the caterpillar. It fully covered itself with sand. The children still took turns and observed the sand.

This is what the caterpillar turned into over the week long break:

The pupa is very large and shiny and moves a lot! When Sayenne and I first decided to "check on it" by carefully removing the sand around it, the pupa wriggled so violently I threw the trowel into the air and leapt up with a screech (1960's housewife/mouse encounter style).

It will be 22 days before the caterpillar's cells have been preyed on by its formerly dormant moth cells, and the pupa transforms into a Frangipani Sphinx moth:

This is a large member of the Hawk Moth family, also known as Hummingbird moths because they have a long proboscis that they insert into flowers while in flight.

Now, if all that is inside of the cocoon shell at this moment is half transmorgrified liquid- what is making the pupa move so frantically? Yeek. Miracles of science.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fall break.

These vacation days are conducive especially to excursions in company of the canine sort. We go for long walks in the dunes and the desert and swims in the calm blue water. I don't know who is enjoying the break more, me or my dog.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Classification Cards

We had a short but happy day at school on Friday, with our first group outing to collect shells to the nearby dunes of Barcadera. I love short trips out to the nature with the children. Our weather and the nearness of everything on the island is very conducive to these types of outings. Helping the children become aware of the variety (even in Aruba!) of environments that surround us is of my favorite aspects of my work.

After the children left at 12:30, Sayenne and I got to work making the long overdue sets of classification cards (among other things) that we've been looking forward to working with in the classroom.

Classification cards are picture cards that are used to teach vocabulary. They are used individually by the children, or can be presented as a group. Initially, they are presented verbally, but later on, children who can read match labels to the picture cards.

We've decided that it would be truly spectacular to have a starter set of cards that is directly related to our school environment. Our school environment is so rich and full of vocabulary opportunities that we decided it would be great to "go local" with our classification cards.

We got to work taking photos of different classifications in our classroom such as:
  • The People in our Community (children and teachers)
  • The Plants in our Classroom
  • Our Outdoor Plants in our Garden
  • Our Orchard Plants
  • Cultural Objects in our Room
  • The Furniture in our Room
  • Our Table Setting
  • Objects in our Bathroom
  • Birds in our Garden
  • Materials we use Outdoors
  • Types of Rocks and Minerals we can find in our Garden
  • Animals of our Garden
  • Insects of our Garden (and occasionally classroom)
  • ETC!!!!
Along with these, we plan to make short books related to "the way we do things in the classroom" which will contain pictures of the children tucking in their chairs, putting away work, taking out work, sitting at a table, sitting at a rug, using the bathroom necklace, washing their hands, etc.

This is the "fun" kind of computer work, but it is time consuming!

I will post the materials as we finish them in case they could be useful for anyone else out there.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Individual Silence.

I am enamored with the idea of making our group silent sittings available to the children individually in the same style that our materials are for independent work. In a few weeks I will make it available to the children for choosing from the shelf. It consists of placing a special small rug and a tray with a one or three minute sand timer on it. The child may lay out the rug in a designated area of the classroom, take off his shoes and sit on the rug in the "silent sitting position" and turn the timer. No one is allowed to talk to or disturb the person that is doing the independent silent sitting. I think I'd love to use it during the day myself. Sometimes I hurry when I should just "be".

Monday, September 1, 2008

Silent Sitting.

I've been reading an inspiring and practical book titled "Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms" by Aline Wolf. It is helping me understand how to address and inspire the virtues of love, compassion, forgiveness, honesty, truthfulness and kindness in the classroom.

From the book:

"What are the spiritual needs of children? Immediately I think of the need for some periods of quiet and solitude when they can escape the constant noises around them. Children have a right to be nourished spiritually in ways that leave the door open for deeply appropriate responses such as wonder, respect and gratitude. There is the need to find meaning in their lives, the need to question why they are here and why the world exists as it does. Their spirits need reassurance that what they do matters. Their spirits need to know why it is better to act one way and not in the other.

And so we must constantly address the needs of the whole child. If some of the physical needs are neglected, the child's body may become debilitated and functioning may be hampered in one way or another. If the needs of the psyche are grossly neglected, the child could become and insecure or emotionally immature adult. If the spiritual nurturing is neglected the child may become an adult who sees no meaning in life, is bored with life, careless with life, or an adult who is determined to have power, prestige, and possessions, without regard for care of the earth, the animal kingdom or the welfare of other human beings."

In the mornings, during our whole group gathering, we sit together with our legs crossed, put our hands on our knees, and sit silently for a minute or two. We become aware of our breath, and of the sounds outside and far away, or the sounds inside of our bodies. I tell the children they may open their eyes when they hear the sound of the triangle. The exercise is difficult for the children sometimes, and some of them become restless and fidgety. But in those minutes of silence in the morning, I allow myself to relax completely, smiling, grateful for the opportunity to work with the tiny ones.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Welcoming the Present.

"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift, and that is why it's called the present."

After months of preparation (which has been much like living in the future) we finally get to slow down, calm down, breath in, and accept the present.

Our school will continue to be a work in progress, but not the stuff of dreams like it has been until now.

I am so happy and excited for this time!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Socrates on Education

In Maine, in a little lobster shack close to the Isle Au Haut, they had the following passage framed and on the wall as reading material for meditation between the cracking of claws and sucking of meat out of lobster limbs. I was ecstatic to finally find it online:

"Whom then, do I call educated?

First, those who manage well the circumstances which they encounter day by day, and who possess a judgment which is accurate in meeting occasions as they arise, and rarely misses the expedient course of action;

Next, those who are decent and honorable in their intercourse with all men, bearing easily and good naturedly that which is unpleasant or offensive in others, and being themselves as agreeable and reasonable to their associates as is humanly possible to be;

Furthermore, those who hold their pleasures always under control, and are not unduly overcome by their misfortunes, bearing up under them bravely and in a manner worthy of our common nature;

Finally, and most important of all are those who are not spoiled by their successes, and do not desert their true selves, but hold their ground steadfastly, as wise and sober minded men, rejoicing no more in the good things which have come to them through chance than in those which through their own nature and intelligence are theirs since birth.

Those who have a character which is in accord, not with one of these things, but with all of them, these I maintain are educated and whole men, possessed of all the virtues of a man."

Socrates (470-399 BC)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Friends hiding in nooks and crannies.

Having friends come to visit me on this rock in the middle of the ocean during this busy time has afforded me the opportunity to spend some moments in the places which make me feel grateful for living here. Instead of running school errands all day, rushing around in my car all over the roads, and dreaming about running school errands at night, and driving my car in my sleep, I run a little bit of errands and then go for short day adventure trips to the recondite natural nooks Aruba has to offer.

Yesterday, for example, Annie, David and I (and Maxi, my beloved cunucu dog) "discovered" a path that goes behind the Balashi Gold Ruins and circles beautifully around the salt flats of Frenchman's Pass where we met 2 of Aruba's most admired endemic species:

The "Infant In Arms", aptly named after swaddled babies of yore, hanging onto the dried vegetation during the hot summer months.

The highly endangered Aruban Rattlesnake, of which we met TWO on our path newly nicknamed "Rattlesnake Alley" or "Risk it". (Considering it's estimated that only around 200 of these snakes exist in the wild, we hit the endangered snake scientist jackpot). We got out of there quickly suspecting that the other 198 relatives of the snakes we saw could possibly be inhabiting this previously untrafficked area.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Putting together the school is a project of never-ending layers. We have come so far in the process and most of the work that is left to be done does not require as many trips to the hardware store as we were making in the prior months. I am grateful to have my friend/extemporaneous Montessori consultant, Annie, be here from Chicago to help with this stage!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Open Heart, I mean, house.

Oh what a fun day we had yesterday at the Open House. So many friends and families graced our school with positive comments and encouraging words. We ate, drank (juice), and were merry.

Best of all was to see the tiny ones, the future students, walk right into the environment and begin to work. They took out puzzles and cylinder blocks to tables and worked with them, explored some of the shelves, wrote comments in our guestbook (Thank you Cristina!). We had many experienced Montessori students of mine from prior years teaching on the island that helped and guided the new ones in putting things away after they finished and I even spied one of them (Esha!) giving a lesson to her younger sister. After months of preparing the environment, the result on this first unofficial day of school was endearing.

The school looked fantastic thanks to the help of so many friends. Sayenne has done so much I can't really enumerate. Just thank profusely. Tamara claims she just likes to hang out "at that place"- it must be so, she's appeared countelss times to do basically anything that we are needing assistance with. Even covering up a window my old bedsheet, with nothing but a very heavy hammer and really untrustworthy thumbtacks. Joost made our gorgeous sign. Ronald built our sandbox and children's fence. Ken (the international liason), David, Debbie, Jennifer, Amy, Susan, Mena, thank you and thank you to the construction dudes who initially got the place into working shape.

And last but not least, the Lichtenstein family that has been a rock of unshakeable support throughout this project from its very conception.

Thank you thank you thank you. My heart is full of gratitude.

The school entrance. (The plastic chairs are for the big giant adults to sit in yesterday.)

The language area.

Our new kitchen cabinet and shelves!

Herb garden beginnings- we have mint, basil, thyme and oregano.

Our lunch area set up for yesterday. Children automatically came into the room, sat at the picnic tables and served themselves food. It was great!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

North coast with my dog.

I went on a north coast expedition with my dog in search of flat stones and other viable playground materials. We had close encounters with Aruban savage wildlife.

I think it's the first time Max has seen donkeys. I wonder if to her they were just very strange looking large dogs.

Further on there was the tribe of goats that sent my dog into an out of control barking frenzy in the back seat. So much so that she managed somehow to tangle herself up in the seatbelt, straight-jacket style.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Open House

Join us on Saturday, July 26 for our first Open House/ Information Day. Meet friends and teachers, gather information, and have some yummy snacks. The school will be open from 2 pm to 5 pm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More classroom views.

Door and furniture varnishing was the topic of concentration of this week. Who would have known varnish was such a fussy substance. Thank you Sayenne and Tamara for the help this week! Together we varnished one million tables and chairs and eight doors.

I managed to put together this nice little metal insets cabinet and it makes the language area irresistible. Who could refuse sitting at this well lit table and chair to trace with sharp bright color pencils?

I couldn't help labeling things with the lovely cursive sandpaper letters. I hadn't yet had the privilege of having a set of these puppies and they are so elegant and curvy. I love them.

The bathroom fixtures are up and functioning now which makes the place much more convenient and useful.

Next in line for beautification: the lunch area.

More classroom views.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Things finding their places.

Objects and pictures that had been stored for years are finding their place where they belong in the classroom.

The blue cat from Memphis:

The Maria Montessori from Amsterdam:

The butterflies from Panama:

The tiny crystal hummingbird from Colorado:

And behold our first harvest of shimarukus! The parakeets outside are going nuts over these cherries!

Thank you Debbie and Tamara for helping with the furniture!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Minor setback, plowing on.

A mean little stomach virus managed to whoop me and keep me out of comission these past two days and away from the thrill of furniture building and classroom organizing. I believe the ordeal is over now though and I can resume my joyful task.

We are cataloging each piece of equipment that came in the shipment and arranging things in their general areas. When the school year begins, the shelves will be sparse with materials. As the children advance through the materials, more and more of them will populate the shelves.

Rugs, tables and chairs- Finally we have places to sit!

There have been some major works going on in the garden thanks to parent/friend Ronald who built our beautiful sandbox, fence, and climbing stumps.

Beach sand coming soon!

This little fence separates the "orchard" from the front garden of the school.

The rock paths were completed.
And the tire swing hung.