Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Play-Doh Pumpkins (More cool English lessons)

The Russian government doesn't allow Russian schools to celebrate Halloween at all. No parties, no kids in costumes, no decorations... I think they just don't want a uniquely American (well, it used to be...) holiday invading their culture. The official reason is that the holiday is Satanic and an evil influence on children. Well, certain people would agree to that, too... But COME ON! Little kids in cute costumes... Neighbors interacting... Pumpkins and scarecrows... I LOVE Halloween and it stinks that our kids don't get to really celebrate the way it's meant to be; they're missing out on all of those wonderful childhood trick-or-treating memories.

Our first two years here I had to host a huge Halloween party in our teeny apartment so that the kids would still get to celebrate; last year one of the Brownies lived on the US Embassy compound, so we got to all actually trick-or-treat there. The snowstorm and freezing weather (20 below) sure did distract from the fun, though... And it's hard to come up with a good costume when you have to wear so much outerwear...

In any case, I've been reading some short children's books about Halloween to my 1st and 2nd graders anyway. The lessons have been so much fun; the kids are automatically excited and intrigued. I found some great resources at this site for elementary ESL teachers and was inspired...

I started out by making four batches of orange homemade Play-Doh. The kids had never seen anything like it and LOVED it. (Russian kids use plastiline instead. Plastiline is a much harder modeling clay).

Homemade Play-Doh

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
food coloring

Mix dry ingredients. Dissolve coloring in water and add liquid. Cook until the mixture forms a ball, constantly scraping it off the bottom and sides of pot. Remove from pot and knead. Keeps in an airtight container for at least a month.

After reading the kids some stories about pumpkins, I had them make balls out of the dough. We used their rulers to mimic how we cut the top off of a pumpkin and then we scooped out the insides--minus the goop and seeds! I then gave them all birthday candles and they used them as knives to poke out eyes, noses and mouths. They then took their candles and put them inside their pumpkins. We did NOT actually light them.

As the kids worked on their pumpkins, I taught them this song:

Jack-o-lantern (sung to Frère Jacques)

Jack-o-lantern, jack-o-lantern
Burn so bright, burn so bright!
You are burning brightly, you are burning brightly
Through the night, through the night.

Once everyone had finished creating jack-o-lanterns, and mastered the song, I taught them how to sing in a round. They thought it was great fun to sing over one another...

I had them sing using a variety of Halloween voices; they sang as if they were ghosts, monsters, pirates, princesses, etc. To get them to clean up, I had them remove the candles and mash the dough into microphones. They then used the microphones to belt out the song as if they were pop stars! THAT was a big hit.

Yesterday with the second graders we did even more; I gave them a worksheet with a picture of skeleton (a cute cartoon one). Body parts were labeled by how many letters in each word--but they had to figure out what the words were (_ _ _ _ meant "nose"). They LOVED solving the puzzles. I then gave them dough and they used it to create skeletons--talking about each body part. We cleaned up by having imaginary dogs show up--dogs who love to EAT bones! The class had to shout out each body part, one by one, as the dog stole and chomped on it.

The kids all thought it's so funny that American parents often call their children "pumpkin." I remembered how offended my friend' Rachael's newly-adopted seven-year-old daughter, Katya, was when her mom called her that! She had only been in America for two months, and she already knew what a pumpkin was; she had not, however, learned how much we love them! "Ewwww, Mommy. Pumpkin is orange food. Why, Mommy? Ewwww." A month later, however, she had learned just what the pumpkin means to Americans culturally; she wanted her mom to call her one.

As Rachael wrote, "Last night, I put her to bed with a kiss and a "good-night, sweetheart". Her reply? "Mommy, why nee pumpkin?" "So now you like pumpkin?" I asked. She nodded yes. "Ok, then, well, good-night pumpkin. Mommy loves you". She sweetly replied, "and I love you. You're my mommy pumpkin." I took it as an endearment.

In Russia there aren't any warm, sweet associations with the vegetable. They're also not as pretty as in America; they're often misshapen and a mixture of orange, brown and greens. In addition to this, they're VERY expensive in Moscow! It cost me $40 at an outdoor market (where things tend to be cheap) last year to purchase a pumpkin suitable for making a jack-o-lantern!

Even though it's a lot of prep, it's nice having the younger kids in addition to all of my high school French and Spanish classes. I've never had the advantage (in a school setting) of being a native speaker and a native of the culture; it's fun to share it with them.


Tina in CT said...

I remember seeing the picture of your first Jack-o-lantern. He was quite "different" from what we are used to here in the US but he served the purpose.

Since the girls are always in dress-up clothes, putting on a costume would not be a novelty for them but going trick or treating would be fun. Can't you dress up N and drive her to a few of your friends' apartments to trick or treat? I know that K will be at her school event.

I bet your classes had lots of fun seeing and playing with the play dough as it's fun to squish through fingers and shape and mold. They are getting a great taste of American culture through you. Wish I'd had a teacher like you! These are childhood memories that will stay with them as they grow.

Tami said...

What a great lesson! That sounds like tons of fun!

Rachael said...

My mom always made homemade play dough when we were growing up. I think it's the very same recipe!

What a fun lesson.

And $40 bucks for a pumpkin?!! Yikes, you were really missing Halloween, huh? I'll try not to grumble anymore about paying $7 or $8 for a pumpkin and the mess of carving it out on your behalf!