Turning Traditions Into Tales: How the First Polar Bear Swim in Scotland Came to Be!

Every year for the past 15 plus years or more, it has been my tradition, along with 1000’s of others and a handful of brave friends, to take the plunge, the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day.

Here in Vancouver it usually takes place at English Bay. This year, it went virtual and avid polar bears were encouraged to dip in family groups at socially distanced venues in bathtubs, backyard pools and fish ponds…

For the 101stVancouver Polar Bear swim, though we could not host our usual party, some of the ‘guests’ that showed up were truly magical! We met a Scotsman, an astronaut and the Loch Ness Monster. Together we broke the ice on ‘Loch Ness’ in North Vancouver and jumped in! We improvised.

Every year, I dress up. Last year I was Flamingo Lady and sported a pink boa, a pink bouffont wig, a large inflatable pool flamingo, pink flamingo glasses and a pink boa. My mom and dad participated too as Snowflake and Elvis. There are Vikings, penguins, clowns and princesses that show up in full garb! 

This year I wasn’t sure what to dress up as, what character to be. Recently my writer friends have been encouraging me to draw on my own culture and experience. I do have Scottish ancestry and am always present for the PB swim…so why not create characters around that? 

The story of how the first polar bear swim in Scotland came to be was born on a stormy, rainy, dark morning, nestled under my cosy duvet, my hands wrapped around a warm cup of coffee. I had Loch Ness Monster hats and Scottish tams in my Tickle Trunk from our trip to Scotland. I had a kilt and a Scottish looking scarf. When I went to find them (and I had just seen them before Christmas), they were nowhere to be found. So, as you can see, we improvised

We did our traditional pre-photo shoot…and though I did not plan for an astronaut to show up, our youngest dipper came dressed in full space gear for his inaugural dip! We made a quick few alterations to the story, added a historical reference to breaking the ice with swords and went live to the backyard splash pool! 

The result? A HUGE amount of fun! A tsunami of splashing! An improvised sword fight! Stuttering and sputtering! And the possibility that this improvised, unlikely story may very well turn up in a picture book in 2021! 

Lessons to be embraced this year…be willing to improvise (it can be fun and lead to unexpected twists and turns in your story!) Play! Place unusual characters together and see what happens! Be true to you and your experience, draw on it! See where it goes! And above all…dive right in! 

Happy writing and Happy New Year everyone! Special thanks to my family who hosted this smallest of swims and congrats to the young astronaut who says this is now his tradition too!

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Holiday Headline: Marshmallow Snowman Inspires Story of the Year!

Now that I have your attention…with a few simple ingredients you and your friends, students or children can ‘cook’ up a delicious holiday treat without even going near a stove! Not only that, but before the snow people you make become ‘dessert’, they can provide the inspirational twist to a favourite holiday story! 

I made these when I was a kid and I was sure the kids I work with today would love a chance to do some crafting, especially if it involved candy! And so our adventure began!

First, we made our snow people using marshmallows, ju-jubes, icing, chocolate kisses and pretzels, basically anything that is colourful and tasty! Using the icing as ‘glue’ we built our 3 layer families. Use the link below or google marshmallow snowmen to view the how to video.

Next, we watched and listened to a reading of Frosty the Snowman. We stopped the story when poor old Frosty is in the greenhouse and has melted into a puddle. Use the link below to hear the traditional story. Grandma’s House has plenty of great read alouds! 

This is where the storytelling kicks in. Students then had to find a way to solve the problem. They had to find a way to turn ‘puddle’ Frosty back into ‘snowman’ Frosty. 

After introducing their characters, (they named their own snow people and used them in the story) and setting up the problem, they added their very own creative solutions. My favourite one involved feeding Frosty 1000 popsicles. 

If you are really creative, you can make a stop motion video of your story or imagine you are reporters and write a blog or newspaper article on the melting of a magical snowman. 

Try this fun and flavourful holiday activity and see if your family can come up with the ‘story of the year’! 

Happy holidays! 

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Remembrance: Poems and Stories for November 11th

Every year, I ask my students to write a poem or essay to submit to the Royal Canadian Legion’s essay and poetry competition.

Every year, I am astounded at how much they learn and how they find ways to connect to a time and place they have not experienced, but which has impacted the freedoms they take for granted today.

Every year, the theme is the same…remembrance.

Dartmouth, Canada – November, 11 2012: Wearing her poppy and service medals, a member of Canada’s Armed Forces (Navy) stands at attention during the Remembrance Day service in Dartmouth Nova Scotia. Hundreds of people turn out each year at this cenotaph to remember those that have fallen during times of war.

This year, when we cannot gather as we usually do, take time to read, to reflect, perhaps even to write on what this powerful word means to you.

Below are two evocative pieces, a poem written by Isabelle Song, then in grade 4 and an essay written by Farrah Fang, then in grade 7. Both entered the Legion competition and both won first place municipally and regionally competing with students two years older than them. Both went on to the BC and Yukon provincial level, where Farrah did admirably and Isabelle won third place.

May their words help us to remember…

They Shall Not Forget 

By: Isabelle Song,Grade 4

Mothers… they shall not forget the bright smiles of their sons as they darted up the lane into their waiting arms.

They shall not forget how tears streamed down their faces as they sent them off to war.  

They shall not forget how they anxiously waited for letters from them

telling them that they were safe.

They shall not forget.

Siblings… they shall not forget how their brothers protected them from bullies at school.

They shall not forget how their brothers said “I’ll go,” instead of them.

They shall not forget how their brother’s body still lies in some far away field under a white cross with a poppy.

They shall not forget. 

Soldiers… they shall not forget the jokes he told to raise their spirits.

They shall not forget how he kindly shared his rations even though he was still hungry.

They shall not forget weeping over his dead body peppered with gunshots.

They shall not forget. 

We… we shall not forget how selflessly they sacrificed themselves for us to live freely.

We shall not forget how they starved so we could eat square meals.

We shall not forget to remember.

We shall not forget.

I… I shall not forget to reflect during the two minutes of silence.

I shall not forget to wear my poppy proudly on my chest.

I shall not forget the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

I shall not forget.

Last Man Standing

By: Farrah Fang

“I trudged towards the trench, clutching my radio receiver, my exhausted feet dragging behind me. As I reached the bottom rung, the stench of blood mixed with smoke filled my nose. Scattered bits of shrapnel littered the dirt. My heart stopped beating when I realized I was the last man standing. I strained to see through the smoke and glimpsed a figure nearby. I stepped over corpses and turned over the cold body of my brother, a bullet buried in his chest. Memories swarmed in my head of Jack, how I’d taught him how to ride a bike, how he’d earned the nickname Shortcake because he was barely five foot five. He’d always been there for me. I’d vowed to protect him. Tears streamed down my face. I dug into his pocket and pulled out the letter we all wrote as a last letter to relatives. I stuffed it in my pocket and was getting ready to carry his body when a bullet went through my neck.” 

“No longer fit to fight, I was sent home. Mum read Shortcake’s letter, clutching it to her heart, trembling.The twinkle in her eye disappeared and she fell into a silence that lasted for months on end. I tried to pull every memory of him from my brain and scavenged for every photo I had of us together to help us remember as much of him as possible.”

“When the war finally ended, I stood in my uniform at the first remembrance ceremony, acknowledged as the only one who had made it back from my unit. I clenched my quivering fingers around the black and white photo of my brother and I outside our favorite alley in the city, both smiling. I pinned it to the center of my poppy on top of all the medals and badges.”

“The gold and silver could not bring back my brother nor the twinkle in my mother’s eyes. Being the last man standing wasn’t something to celebrate without my brother beside me. I’d always imagined Shortcake and I standing together at one of these celebrations, now there is just an empty space in my heart.”

We had reached the cenotaph. I wheeled my great grandfather to the front row. I went with him to the remembrance ceremonies every year in the city square. He pointed a finger at a name engraved in stone, Jack Abbot. 

“When I am gone, you must do the remembering.” He unpinned the poppy that had the photo of Jack and gave it to me, insisting that I needed it more than he did. 

I felt the weight of all his memories in my hand.      

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Spooktacular Halloween Poetry!

Want to write some spooky poetry? Maybe with a humorous twist? Try an Epitaph Poem and get the final word!

Epitaphs are short rhymes that can be found on headstones or gravestones to use a spookier term. You can find them in one of Halloween’s spookiest venues…graveyards!

Here’s a couple of real ones!

Now try writing one of your own. It can be two or four lines long. It can rhyme or include a pun. It basically tells the story of, ahem, what lies beneath your feet.

Here’s one I wrote:

Here lies Jenny Starr.

Who liked to raid the candy jar.

She ate every mint.

Now here’s a big hint.

She’s a ghost you can smell from afar.

You can then draw tombstones and write your epitaphs on them! You can carve or write them on styrofoam or bristle board and put them on your lawn or outside your door for trick or treaters.

Have a safe, fun and hauntingly good Halloween everyone!

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Fall Cleanup: Scary Mary’s Bewitching Plants: Poems and Pictures

Fall is one of my favourite seasons…colourful trees, pumpkins, wreaths, corn and sunflower mazes, hayrides, harvests…with just a little spooky (or sometimes a lot) thrown in for good measure. 

Scary Mary from “Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch on” has been getting her garden ready for the season. 

For some outdoor education, why not go for a walk and observe the earthly changes around you? Maybe sketch or collect some and record them in a journal. Once back inside have a brainstorm session. Come up with a name then draw a new kind of plant that is growing and or ‘groaning’ in Scary Mary’s garden. 

Write a Botany Poem that describes these newly discovered creepy crawlers (what they look like, where they live, what they eat, what they smell like, why they are strange and wonderful etc.) and bewitch your readers!

Gnome Fungus: By Athena

Gnome Fungus never sleeps, but it really likes to eat!

What do they eat? They eat YOU complete!

Gnome fungus has eyes. It watches everything.

It sometimes even talks, but rarely ever sings.

Gnome fungus has spikes on its body.

Don’t dare touch it or you’ll have to go potty.

Gnome fungus can be red, brown, blue and yellow.

If you do touch it, it feels like jello.

You can buy Gnome Fungus and water it twice.

If you do this every day, it will be pretty nice.

The Deadly Dandelion: By Loretta

Don’t think of touching it or you will get stuck on it.

If you walk by it, you will get ‘dead’ by it.

If you don’t trust it, you will need to split it.

What did this deadly dandelion say?

It said it has spikes and it can bike!

It is beautiful and colourful.

It is wonderful, but also dreadful.

Get your copy of “Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch on”, published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside at your local bookstore, library or on-line through amazon!

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Earth Day Colour Poems

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together … all things connect.” —Chief Seattle

Today marks the 50thanniversary of Earth Day. The planet speaks to me in poetry, in the sound of a spring rain and the way its droplets weigh down the emergent foliage on the birch tree out back. It disperses light through the delicately transluscent skin of the bleeding heart’s blossoms in my garden. It erupts in colours and patterns of all kinds.

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Today, take some time to ponder colour. Let it speak to you. Since today we celebrate the earth, find some of the colour that springs from it and write about it. Let imagination be your brush, your pen.

Colour poems are simple and beautiful. Start by reading a poem by one of the greats…Shel Silverstein. What colours are you?  Do your colours change?

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Go to your garden or look at a plant in a window. Do you see green? Pink? Reds and oranges?

Write a list poem, using the colour at the beginning of each line. Write a 5 senses poem. What does your colour look, sound, smell, taste, feel like?

Below is a short list poem I wrote to honour the earth and a feeling poem inspired by green.

Pink

Pink is the morning sun through a tapestry of trees.

Pink is a shower of cherry blossoms, brushed free by a passing robin’s wing.

Pink is the earth’s first blush of love, red tempered with white, twirling, ephemeral to the dreamers below.

Green

Green looks like the first tender shoots of grass, pushing through winter’s turf.

Green sounds like stillness across a pond.

Green smells like wet earth and tulip petals.

Green tastes like spring rain on your tongue.

Green feels like hope.

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These colour poems can be adapted for any age, be composed with one word or several. Try one today and share below. Take a photo to go with your poem or draw a picture. Colour the earth with creativity.

 

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Poetry in Pantomime: But How do I Act Out a Sitting on a Tuffet?

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Does anyone know what a tuffet is? I certainly had to look it up. A tuffet is a tuft of clump of something or a footstool or low seat. How Miss Muffet, in all of her petticoats sat comfortably on something so low to enjoy her curds and whey without spilling them is a mystery.

National Poetry Month is a perfect time to play with words. Poetry doesn’t have to be read, it can also be acted, interpreted, re-written and captured in photographs and videos!

So…why not try Poetry in Pantomime? It will take at least two participants, but you can do this live with your family or via zoom, facetime or skype!

Here’s how it works:

-Choose a poem, but do not share it with your partner. For example, Little Miss Muffet. Depending on your age, you can choose a much more difficult one. Look up any words you may not know, or have someone help you with this.

-When you are ready, act out your poem, line by line for a partner. You can also use drawings if you like. It helps to hold up a finger to indicate which line you are on.

-Your partner writes down a line of poetry for each line you ‘act out’.

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-Switch roles. Now your partner acts and you write.

-Take some time to edit/revise/add to your poem, then read your poetry to your partner!

-As an extension, take photographs that ‘illustrate’ your poem or make a short video of you reading and acting out your new verse!

Have fun and share your experience below! How did your writing turn out?

Thanks to Stone Soup Newsletter for the ideas!

 

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13 Ways…

In isolation, the world has both sped up and wound down. It asks us to look at things differently, how we socialize, how we shop, how we communicate. Perhaps we have time to examine our lives more carefully.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, and as a challenge to slow down and settle into mindfulness, why not try to write a 13 Ways to Look at Something Poem.

Stretch your imagination.

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Begin by reading Wallace Stevens’ poem, “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” where he tackled the challenge of coming up with 13 different ways to describe one object. While the language may be difficult for younger readers, the concept is accessible to all.

It simply involves finding an object and thinking of 13 or more different ways of looking at it! This enhances thinking skills while strengthening creativity.

The process is easy! Select an object. Select a spot to write and observe that object closely. Dream. Think. Be.

Brainstorm. Write down all of the ways you can think of to ‘see’ this object. A marshmallow might become a miniature trampoline, a candle a campfire.

Share your list. Choose the strongest 4 ideas and write a stanza to go with each.

Read, print, illustrate and photograph. Maybe even select a topic such as 13 ways to look an a grandmother or an uncle, create a card and send it!

Above all, I hope you discover another way to create and enjoy the written word!

Below is a poem written by grade 6 student Charlie Yin. He used a candle for inspiration.

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4 Ways to Look at a Candle…

As a campfire that keeps you warm in all cases.

Like the middle of a volcano burbling with lava bubbles.

Like a sauna, so hot that all the coldness is zapped out of your body.

So warm it’s like sand, burning your feet on a beach day.

 

It’s like an unlimited flare, hot, red and glowing.

It glows like a lantern then blows towards the sky like fireworks.

A signal reminding people to come and help you,

When you are in danger.

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It’s very useful and handy.

An everyday thing kept in drawers and pockets.

You can watch how it melts and dream of ice cream.

Then let it light your way to the refrigerator.

 

 

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Celebrate National Poetry Month with…Ice Cream Poetry!

Today we kick off a WHOLE month celebrating poetry! It’s National Poetry Month!

Why not start with a party? Every party needs ice cream right?

Poetry and ice cream make a deliciously divine, decadent duo, especially when they invite alliteration to attend making it a tremendous trio!

Let’s get ready for the party.

Brainstorm some astonishingly amazing and even disgustingly dastardly ice cream flavours, then triple or quadruple scoop them on top of a cone (my preference has always been a waffle cone).

Check out the example below.

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Draw your own five scooper, then label and colour your creation!

Share if you can, because, as you know, everyone screams for ice cream.

Then, and here’s the cherry on top, go to your own freezer and, if your parents let you, stack your own delicious treat and enjoy!

Hurry before your inspiration melts away!

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May You…Positive Poetry to Foster Heartwarming Moments

What better time than now to send good wishes out to the world? To those we love? To those who may be in isolation and unable to see people?  Take some time today to be positive and compose a May You poem that captures something warm and fuzzy, then share it, either below or with those you love! Maybe even host a family poetry reading!

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I have created May You poems with many people of all ages. One year, at Brockton Preparatory School, I worked with the grade ones to compose, illustrate, act and perform a poem themed around “My Wishes for the Earth”, in celebration of Earth Day.

Grade 1 Black May You (dragged) 2Grade 1 Black May You (dragged)

If grade ones can be this creative, so can you!

 May You (List Poems)

This kind of poetry focuses on using theme and repetition. Rhyme and rhythm may be added. May You poems are a type of list poem and offer fair tidings to the reader. May you is repeated at the beginning of each line.

How?

  • Think of a list of wishes you might like to offer up to an individual or to the world. If you like, think of a theme, like wishes for the world, or wishes for my family…
  • Decide on which wishes are the strongest and highlight them.
  • Edit the list adding expressive language, similes or metaphors and put them in order. Each line typically begins with May you…the poem can be written in rhyme or prose.
  • Illustrate your wishes in a book and gift it to someone. Record the poem using Garageband or the voice recorder on your phone. Share with those you love.

 Sample:

May you have the sweetest dream, filled with delicious ice-cream.

May your hair be nice and beautiful,
with a pink bow that’s very wonderful.

May your house be big and cozy,
with a couch that’s soft and fuzzy.
May your cat be cute and cuddly,
just like your brothers, Dan and Dudley.

May your parents buy you everything you want, and may they be nice people who never ever taunt!

Written by a grade 5 student.

 

 

 

 

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