We Wrote Out for #Writeout

WroteOut for WriteoutI’ve been using Daily Sparks (video writing prompts from National Park Rangers) from Write Out each day with my students to write our way into our day.

They have enjoyed the videos that share the view of the Grand Canyon and time’s impact on our planet; the exploration of engineering at the Springfield Armory with the Blanchard Lathe (with a video in English and a video in Haitan Creole, which fascinated my sixth graders); and yesterday, they learned about George Washington Carver (most of my students didn’t know a thing about him, so it provided me an opportunity for a mini-lesson on this amazing Black scientist and innovator) before we headed outside to write.

It was a beautiful day, perfect for finding a place to write and make art. My variation of the prompt from the ranger about making an art journal was to choose one of the trees on our school lawn, and use it for inspiration for a story, or poem, or letter, or comic, or art.

I wrote, too.

Tree poem sketches

It took a few minutes for them to find the quiet they needed for the activity, but once we were settled in, they enjoyed the change of location for our writing activities, and were able to be mask-free writers for a bit of time (always a bonus).

After some sharing, we moved on to our other lessons, but this slight reprieve in the outdoors air with our writing notebooks was just the break that we needed on a Friday to remind ourselves that writing out can be as simple as stepping outside the school or home, and finding a place to sit and observe and become inspired.

Peace (sharing it).,

Book Review: Slow Down (50 Mindful Moments in Nature)

Slow Down, by author Rachel Williams and illustrator Freya Hartas, is a lovely book that uses single moments in nature to remind us to pay attention to the small moments of the world around us.

From the moment a bee pollinates a flower, to a Kingfisher diving to get a fish, to a squirrel burying an acorn, to a fox reaching for berries on a bush, to a spidering spinning a web –  each page in this oversized picture book is a glorious ode to animals and insects and plants and life. Hartas’ drawing are just beautiful in their muted coloring and Williams text brings you into the moment, first with some background and then step by step.

Slow Down: 50 Mindful Moments in Nature written by Rachel ...

The subtitle of the book (50 Mindful Moments in Nature) shows the intent here — of slowing down to notice things — and the audience is both adults and children, and I can see Slow Down being used as read-aloud in younger grade classrooms. I spent quiet reading time perusing it, and appreciated that whatever page I landed on, I not only learned something but also paid attention.

Peace (from the outside in),

WriteOut: Cadence in a Field of Outside Art

One of the themes of this year’s Write Out project is “cadences” and on a tour of an outdoor sculpture art show at a local apple orchard the other day, my attention was drawn to an art piece that made sound. It is constructed of heavy recycled industrial piping, and looks like an oversized percussion piece that had gone awry.

When you push any of the pieces, the entire sculpture sets sound into a slow motion, creating a metal-banging rhythm of unexpected noise. It’s pretty mesmerizing, and I found myself there for a long time, just gently pushing the pipes and listening to the gonging filtering through the fields of outdoor art.

The tone of the pipes seemed a perfect cadence for the kind of outdoor art gallery it was, and watching the movement was like watching a pendulum swing, as the energy from one pipe transferred to another, making a kind of unexpected music.

I had this plans of creating a video, with sound, being embedded inside a collage of images from the art show sprawled out over the fields of the apple orchard/farm. I remembered a site I had used long ago – Kapwing — and sure enough, it allowed me to create a multi-media collage.

Peace (listening to the sound),

PS: Write Out is underway, with tons of daily resources on place-based writing and inspirations. Come join us.

Slice of Life: On The Ropes – Up In The Trees

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I almost didn’t do it. Now I am glad I joined my teenage son and niece on an aerial adventure with a high ropes and zip-lining course this weekend as we had a family weekend of apple picking, viewing an outdoor art gallery and then the ropes course.

Which was challenging as the difficulty levels got increasing more .. difficult.

But we were outside, in the woods, at the start of the WriteOut project, and being up in the trees for a challenge seemed quite appropriate for the Write Out experience. And while my back and shoulders still feel the strain of twisting and turning and balancing and muscling my way through, the sense of accomplishment is strong.

Ropes Course Collage

Peace (outside and on the wires),

PS: Write Out 2021 kicked off this weekend and runs for two weeks (through Sunday, October 24). It’s a free, place-based, online activity for teachers, students and the public. Write Out is a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. More info: https://writeout.nwp.org/

Write Out Begins: Writing Prompts, Teaching Resources, Live Events and More

The Write Out project kicked off yesterday with a release of many free, wonderful resources for classroom teachers and families and community groups — from National Park Rangers presenting writing prompts through videos; to teachers and others connected to the National Writing Project providing a range of possible writing ideas connected to nature, public spaces and other places of interest for our students; to a series of live events throughout the two weeks of Write Out (October 10-24), including the National Day on Writing on October 20th.

Check it all out — then go on and Write Out, and please share wherever you connect with others. You can follow and share using the #writeout hashtag on social media and tap into conversations happening at @writeoutconnect, the Write Out Facebook Group, and the new NWP Write Now Teacher Studio.
Here’s an example:
Peace (and connections),


Book Review: Subpar Parks

Store - Subpar Parks - Amber Share Design

Amber Share was looking for some artistic direction as an illustrator and designer when she began to notice some one-star negative reviews left on sites for our National Parks. It intrigued her that anyone would leave a negative review for such national treasures and this inquiry began her work on Subpar Parks, first as an Instagram feed and then as a book.

The new book features Share’s lovely illustrations of different parks with the terrible reviews featured (with reviewer names and identifications left off), and then her snarky response to the observations of those who bothered to write a review. She clearly loves our National Parks and can’t fathom a negative experience, but then turns that into art.

Subpar Parks — Amber Share | Letterer Illustrator Designer ...

Some favorites of mine from the book:

  • “It looks nothing like the license plate.”  (Arches National Park)
  • “A hole. A very, very large hole.” (Grand Canyon National Park)
  • “A green statue and that’s it.” (Statue of Liberty National Monument)
  • “Mountains not nearly tall enough.” (Gates of the Arctic National Park)
  • “Don’t even get to touch lava.” (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park)

But the book is not all snark and pushback.

Share has done her time in National Parks as a visitor and she has done her research, too. Each chapter on a park (the book is divided into regions of the United States) comes with interesting information and anecdotes, as well as connections to the native heritages of the land, and she adds helpful advice from park rangers on when best to visit and where, and what to remember about a given site.

Subpar Parks: National Parks and Their One-Star Reviews ...

I thoroughly enjoyed her illustrations — muted colored hues as her palette and soft, evocative artwork that captures the essence of the places as a contrast to the words of the negative reviewers. She has a real cohesive style that connects the pieces together in an engaging way. You see our National Parks from a new view.

Subpar Parks 6 - The RV Atlas

I’m tempted to give this a subpar review, just to keep with the theme of Share’s work, but I won’t, since Subpar Parks is a fun and interesting and informative read all around. Five stars.

ALSO: Did you know Write Out 2021 is kicking off tomorrow (Sunday, October 10)? It’s a free, place-based, online activity for teachers, students and the public. Write Out is a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. More info: https://writeout.nwp.org/

Peace (reviewed and refuted),

Book Review: Diary of a Young Naturalist

Buy Diary of a Young Naturalist: WINNER OF THE 2020 ...

Dara McAnulty has a keen eye for the natural world and a passion that spills out and over every single entry in his book, Diary of a Young Naturalist. In writing about nature, he is also writing about himself, a teenager on the autism spectrum whose writing voice brings us into his unique observations.

As a teacher, I was attuned to McAnulty’s descriptions of how difficult it often was for him as a functioning autistic student to be in a traditional school setting, where his autism made the general level of noise, the connecting with other students, and the rigid systems of school a daily and difficult challenge, and I admired how he (with his mother’s help) found a path forward for himself.

His exuberance of learning and knowledge and love of the natural world comes through whenever he brings us out on forest trails or when he is helping professionals with tracking birds or even just sitting in gardens, observing both the larger patterns of the world or the tiniest moments of wonder. His own realization that writing (first as a blog, then a journal, then this book) helps him to make sense of patterns amid the noise resonated with my own writing heart, too.

McAnulty, who continues to write and publish, demonstrates how finding a passion and following those threads, through action and writing and more, can instill meaning in a young life, and forge a direction forward. This book is a call for all of us to not only observe the natural world, but to care for it, too, and in doing so, maybe be more attuned to each other, in all of our different perspectives.

Once you “hear” McAnulty’s voice on the page, you won’t forget him, and you may be inspired to slow down and make your own notes on the wildlife, the foliage, the insects, the world. Anyone can be a naturalist. You just need to be ready for it.

Peace (under leaves and woods),

PS — Do you have nature-curious kids in your classroom or your family? Consider joining in the Write Out project that kicks off on Sunday and runs for two weeks as a collaboration between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. All activities and resources are free.

Come ‘Write Out’ with Us: October 10-24

WriteOut: Palettes Storyboards Cadences

If you have been following my blog for the past few years, you know that I am a facilitator with the National Writing Project/National Park Service’s Write Out adventures, which take place each October. This year, it is coming October 10 and running through October 24, with the National Day on Writing on October 20 right in the middle of it all (well, sort of just past the middle).

I want to invite you to join us. It’s all free, and teachers and community groups can choose what inspires them to think about place-based activities. We will have daily video writing prompts from National Park Rangers (these are great for easy classroom writing inspirations), Twitter chats on Thursday nights, Facebook Live presentations, and tons of other resources and ideas.

Sign up for information and newsletters at the Write Out site: https://writeout.nwp.org/

The connecting theme this year comes from the National Park Service: Palettes, Storyboards and Cadences. I find these ideas interesting and evocative, if a little slippery, and I hope the notions of colors, stories and sound can open up some lines of inquiry that connect writers to rural and urban spaces.

WriteOut: Palettes

WriteOut: Storyboarding

WriteOut: Cadences

Peace (and place),

Slice of Life: The Abolitionist Bike Tour

Abolitionist Bike Tour Sept2021(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My wife and I biked our way through pathways of local history the other day.

Although we know some of the past echoes of the Abolitionist Movement in one of the villages of our small Western Massachusetts city, we learned a whole lot more when we joined in a three-hour biking tour that visited stops where important people either lived (Sojourner Truth, David Ruggles, etc.) or visited (Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, etc.) in the 1800s as the push to end slavery was just taking hold in the north.

This ride was sponsored both by our local rail trail association and the David Ruggles Center, which has tons of information about the “free-thinking association” that sprung up in Florence, Massachusetts, that brought many forward-thinking people to this area for work and to live, and to become ardent activists in the movement. More than a few houses here were also part of the Underground Railroad, and Florence is part of the official Network to Freedom of the National Park Service (which I didn’t know).

As we biked with about 30 people, we stopped at different homes and locations, where a representative of the David Ruggles Center for History & Education brought out pictures and read quotes and gave context to the lives of so many of the people in this particular local history story. Ruggles, for example, was a black man who worked to help freed and escaped slaves. He came to this area to start a Water Cure operation that was quite successful, and then used his many contacts in Boston and New York City to help support the core group of leaders for the Utopian community that sprang up here.

The Northampton Association of Education and Industry was a group way before its time. Women were equal to men in all aspects, and children were both educated in academics and in work, and pay was distributed equally among members. They ran different mills (silk, etc.) and held raucous meetings of debate.

Our bike ride took place on such a beautiful day, and even ending the tour in a cemetery could not dampen the understanding that our small city is more important to history than even we understood before setting out that morning.

There are self-guided and virtual tours available, and the Ruggles Center has recently used grants to complete and publish a comprehensive, primary source-focused curriculum for middle and high school students.

Sometimes, you see your place in a different light, if you take the time to notice.

Peace (pedal forward),