The Dinner Table

There is a lot to be said for the dinner table. It’s a great place to throw your things after work or school in your mad rush to get a snack/sit down/get changed for a game. It holds that stack of bills you have been meaning to get to until you actually, um, get to them. It looks beautiful when decorated for the season, and can really brighten up the room. It’s a great place to pack and unpack boxes and bags.

“Wait a minute,” you may be thinking, “I thought you were talking about the dinner table? Also known as the dining table. According to defined as;

a table, especially one seating several persons, where meals are served and eaten, especially the major or more formal meals.

Isn’t that what you meant?”

I did mean the dinner, or dining, table. And I’m sorry. I should have figured out a way to have taps played as a memorial tribute to this dying American icon when you first opened my post today. Because it does seem to be true, the “Dinner Table” as we know it is becoming a distant memory. Thank goodness we can still retrieve the memory thanks to Norman Rockwell’s artistry. And the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. And old movies. Television from the 50s…

It’s not that bad you say? Oh good, I am glad to hear that. Because in a recent poll (only 22 people, all third graders) of my class, most do not eat regularly at their family dinner table. And when they do eat there, they don’t use the time to catch up on each other’s lives. They rarely even chat. I won’t mention what they say they are doing instead of talking to each other, I don’t have to. Just go to a restaurant and look for a family “eating out together”, you will see what for yourself.

The dinner table deserves a comeback. Our children deserve to hear their family’s stories. They deserve to be listened to as they retell the (often long and boring) saga of their day. Our parents deserve to be listened to when they reminisce the “old days”. Our food making efforts deserve the praise (or complaints) which will follow each mouthful. Table manners deserve to be re-instituted. Dreams deserve a place to be shared, trips need a place to be planned, books want a place to be discussed.

Voices need a place to be heard.

My students, the 22 who were a part of my original poll, need someone to listen to them. Someone other than just me. Because it is really hard to listen to 22 people, all at the same time. But I do listen, and they do appreciate it. I just wish more people in their lives would take the time to listen to them as well.

Come back, dinner table!


How Do You Know That?

“I read that President Obama signed legislation naming the bison the official national mammal of the United States,” I said at lunch today.

“Why the bison?” a coworker asked. “They only live in a small part of the country.”

“Yes, but they are such an American icon,” I replied.

“True,” replied another coworker, “But it does seem like an odd choice.”

I thought about this for a bit. It was just funny to me that other people would not be as enamored by the idea as I was. To me, the bison is America. It’s cowboys and Indians, it’s the Great Plains, it’s survival in the most difficult of elements, it’s Yellowstone National Park, it’s Montana and Wyoming and the Dakotas, it’s that look of grandeur. I’m from New Jersey but I’ve travelled extensively across America and the bison is “da man”. In my head I can’t separate certain images of the beautiful west from the great animal.

So I decided to try a different tack with my coworkers.

“Well, bison are just a natural part of the prairies and the plains. They belong there and help keep a healthy balance. Cattle on the other hand damage that delicate land. We could probably restore vitality to a lot of the grasslands in the midwest if we had more bison being farmed there instead of cattle,” I explained.

“Well, how? What does the bison do for the grassland?” I was asked.

I then launched into my explanation of the symbiotic relationship between the bison, the grasses and land of the prairie, and the migrating birds. I spoke about the grazing habits of bison. I explained how the migrating birds depend on the variety of grasses and seeds that grow as a result of these grazing habits. I spoke about the wallowing bison do and how that behavior helps bring the all important ground water up.

It was then that I noticed their faces, my coworkers were looking at me with the oddest expressions on their faces.

“How do you know all this?” one of them asked me.

“Oh, I read a book,” was my reply.

They both gave each other that knowing look. “How did we know you were going to say that?”

Everything I know I know from a book!

Read on!

Fairy Tales

Once upon a time, there was a class full of very bright third graders. These little 8 and 9 year olds filed into school each day bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes, however, that energy and enthusiasm would lead them a teensy tiny bit astray. In times like these it would take a little magic to bring them back.


One day in early May the class discovered that they were about to embark on a new learning experience. Their teacher explained it to them during a Reading Workshop mini-lesson.

“Good morning Readers!” Mrs. Scannell greeted her third grade students.

“Good morning, Mrs. Scannell,” they replied.

“Yesterday we read a version of Cinderella, it had a lot of very old fashioned words in it. But today I am going to read another version, it has more “modern” words. Do you think you might like this one better? Thumbs up or thumbs down, show me what you think.” Mrs. Scannell noted that most of the children had their thumbs up although some were sort of waggling their thumbs, indicating they weren’t sure.

After reading the more “modern” version of Cinderella the class discussed the similarities and differences between the two stories. The overall opinion was that the stories were actually pretty much the same, except for lots of different words and some minor other changes. They also agreed that they enjoyed both stories.

“Well, let me tell you that both of these stories are ‘retellings’ of Cinderella. They pretty much stuck to the original story, would you agree with that?” Mrs. Scannell inquired.

The class responded in the affirmative.

“Well this afternoon, I am going to read you another Cinderella story. But this one is not going to be a retelling, it is going to be an adaptation. That means there are going to be some big changes. Here is the book I am going to read to you, it is called Prince Cinders by Babette Cole. Just look at the cover, can you tell what some of those big changes are going to be?”

“It’s a boy, not a girl!” the children all chimed.

“Well, the reason I am going to read this to you is because we are going to write our own adaptations of Fairy Tales, just like Babette Cole. Does that sound like something that interests you?” Mrs. Scannell asked enthusiastically.

“No way!”

“That would be hard!”

“We can’t do that!”

“That would take a long time!”

The class was not enthusiastic. They did not want to write Fairy Tale adaptations. They wanted to go outside and play for goodness sakes, not start another whole writing unit! Mrs. Scannell needed some help.


Later that day Mrs. Scannell gathered her bright if rather disinclined third graders to the rug. In her hands she was holding a little magic. She was holding the book, Prince Cinders by Babette Cole.

“Children, while you listen to this story I want you to pay careful attention to a few things. First, I want you to think about what big changes Ms. Cole made but more importantly, why she made them. Also I want you to listen for the important elements that you are learning all Fairy Tales have; a backstory (the children named them with their teacher), a first small moment, a problem, and a happy ending! Are you ready?

All heads nodded. All eyes looked up. The story began…

And Mrs. Scannell’s fairy godmother (aka Babette Cole in this instance) waved her magic wand and…

“Ooh, the girls all got replaced by boys!”

“And then they needed trousers because boys don’t wear slippers!”

“And the fairy wasn’t very good but that made Prince Cinders meet the princess!”

“I really liked that story!”

“That was really funny!”


And suddenly, adapted Fairy Tales became something within reach, something do-able, something fun and exciting.

And Mrs. Scannell’s adapted Fairy Tale writers wrote and wrote and wrote and lived happily ever after!