CSA Open House

Last year, our little family tried out gardening for the first time and we were rewarded with lots of lovely vegetables! We will be posting more on that soon when it’s seedling time, but the point is we learned that while we really love gardening, we are not farmers, and we go through a lot more variety and quantity than we can easily produce for ourselves. This year we are planning on participating in a CSA. We are learning a lot through the Madison Area CSA Coalition .  We are hoping to find a good match for our needs at the CSA Open House on March 13th.

2011 CSA OPEN HOUSE: Meet Your Local Farmers Sunday, March 13, 1 – 4 pm at the Monona Terrace.

Bring your friends and neighbors to this annual community event featuring a diverse array of CSA farms, workshops, kids’ activities, music, a raffle, and tasty samples of farm-fresh foods to showcase the many benefits of CSA.

Does your family belong to a CSA? How has it changed the way your family thinks about the food they eat?

Kid-Friendly Weekend – February 26-27

Overture Center’s Kids in the Rotunda is a series of free artistic programs designed for children and families which runs from the last weekend in September through April. This popular performing arts series on the Rotunda Stage offers a relaxed, kid-friendly environment in which to enjoy a diverse lineup of local and regional musicians, storytellers, jugglers, theater troupes, magicians and dancers. The programs run every Saturday at 9:30 am, 11 am and 1 pm (each performance lasts around 45 minutes). The 1 pm performances are sign language interpreted.

This week’s performer is Madison Ballet

Madison Ballet returns to the Rotunda Stage for an “off-stage and personal” look at what it’s really like to be a dancer. Take part in a ballet class warm up, see the dancers practice their barre and center floor work, and watch a rehearsal up close. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to experience the Madison Ballet like never before!

Art After Overture Saturday, Feb. 26 from 9 am – 5 pm. Stop by the Central Library for art activities, special book displays and more, inspired by performances at Overture Center for the Arts’ Kids in the Rotunda series. Activities will be available from 9 am-5 pm in the Children’s Room. This FREE event takes place every Saturday after Kids in the Rotunda.

Kid Disco at the Great-Dane Hilldale 11 – 2 Saturday, Feb. 26. An event for the entire family, Kid Disco! DJ Nick Nice plays music the whole family can enjoy. Kids get to dance away the winter blues, and adults can have fun too! All in the comfort of our Pool Hall. $5 cover. Every Saturday through March 12 (Has anyone gone to this? We’d love to hear what it’s like!)

Little Miss Ann (music for tots) at the High Noon Saloon Saturday at 3 pm. Cost is $10 ($5 kids).

“In a great city called Chicago there is a 5’2 woman (thus the name) playing a guitar and singing tunes for kids. “Little Miss Ann” has been teaching at the pride of Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music for 4 years. At Old Town, she sings with the wee ones and their parents tunes that they can’t get out of their heads.

“Little Miss Ann” brings a different sound and face to kids music. She uses her experience as a first-generation filipina-american woman, a Chicago Public school teacher, mother, and band frontwoman to inspire a grand ole time.”

Zoo To You, Sunday Feb. 27 at 2 pm at the Central Library: Enjoy getting nose-to-nose with furred and feathered residents of Henry Vilas Zoo!

Earth Partnership for Families “Nature Stories,” drop-in program, Sunday, Feb. 27 from 12:30 – 4 pm at the UW Arboretum.

Arboretum Earth Partnership for Families: “Nature Stories.” Family Day at the Arboretum will focus on nature literature for children as our naturalists read and tell their favorite nature stories. A naturalist-led walk takes place at 1:30 pm.

Know of any other family-friendly events taking place this weekend? Feel free to mention them in the comments!

School Tours: Lincoln Elementary

The second in our series of School Tours, Carousel tours Lincoln Elementary.

The visit to Lincoln Elementary School was a different experience than our last one to Midvale. Perhaps since this primarily is a 3rd to 5th grade school, they are not used to parents fresh off the preschool boat touring the school. There was no greeter or welcome to our arrival, no colored handouts with details about the school (like at Midvale), no one ready to hold our “we’re going to have to say goodbye to our baby” hands. They’re 3rd graders, they’re big kids. In fact, Tim and I were the only parents there for the visit. We found our way to the principal’s office and waited for permission to visit Lincoln’s one kindergarten class.

The Open Classroom is a K to 5th multi-grade program. There are three classrooms— K/1, 2/3, and 4/5 paired grades—each comprised of 16 students (eight from each grade level). All three classes come together for multi-age learning and collaborating: They take field trips together, work on projects together, play together, and mentor each other. Most notably, the Open Classroom’s structure allows for flexible academic study. If a kindergarten student is advanced in reading, she can read with the 2nd graders. If a 3rd grader needs help with math, he can work with the 1st graders. And students themselves help drive the class. In fact, the 4th and 5th graders assist in developing some of the K/1 study units. They really accommodate each child’s curriculum needs. Ultimately, the goals of the program are to foster self-esteem, risk taking, and decision making, through a tight knit “family” of students and teachers that work together for six years.

What is also unique about the Open Classroom is that you have to affirmatively opt into it. There are no school boundaries for Open Classroom; no one gets into this program without requesting it. The result is strong parent involvement from parents who affirmatively seek out the program.

Tim and I walked down to the large K/1 classroom. The teacher, Ms. Konkol, was very welcoming and energetic. Tim and I observed the class in action for about 45 minutes—free play as the children arrived (all the girls were in the back of the room playing dolls and pretending to be animals, the boys were in the front of the room drumming and dancing to the rhythm); morning meeting time on the front carpet (singing a welcome song, marking the calendar, back massages, and discussing the day’s schedule); and reading time (breaking into study groups to write vocabulary words and read books).

It was a bit busy, maybe even chaotic. Students were full of energy and moving about the room even when they were not supposed to. Tim and I did take a little pause that the K/1 classroom was focusing on learning basic school behavior: Raise your hand, talk one at a time, sit still. It was clearly a free-flowing classroom. Ms. Konkol explained that they were working on communication and social skills.

We wondered how it would feel outside this classroom—on the playground, in the lunchroom, in the hallways—as the only eight kindergartners and eight 1st graders in the school. Ms. Konkol told us that the whole school went out of its way to protect the K/1 class and make them feel welcomed. Sort of endearing to think of all those big 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders being nice to the kindergartners.

We quickly visited the 2/3 class, where a student gave us a tour of the room. She was impressive and sharp, showing us around the room with keen attention to details. At the end, she showed us her writing journal, and she was spelling some rather long words. Neither Tim nor I can remember what the words were, but I do remember thinking “I can’t even spell that word”.

Overall, we thought it was a good program. Without a doubt the collaboration concept of the Open Classroom can lead to a wonderful experience. But beyond the program, for us there are two big detractions from the Open Classroom. First, Lincoln is not near our house. It is a 20-minute car rides both ways that involves the beltline, and it is not near our jobs downtown either. (Compare this to walking to Midvale or Van Hise, the two Madison public schools we live near.) The Open Classroom would have to be much better than our neighborhood schools to overcome this barrier.

The second issue for us is the lack of kindergartners (and 1st and 2nd graders) at the school. At Lincoln, the music and special activities are geared towards 8, 9, and 10 year olds, not 5 year olds. I can imagine Cass wanting to be in every school play and assembly, but I don’t know how that would work at Lincoln. No matter how much they try to include the younger kids, they obviously will gear their programs towards the 3rd through 5th graders. This concern was reinforced by the lack of a full school tour—no one in the administration greeted us, and we weren’t offered a tour of the playground, lunchroom, or music, art, and PE classes. I wonder what the PTO would be like, and if any school projects and resources would be geared toward the K/1 class or the Open Classroom program overall. Do Open Classroom kids and parents feel part of Lincoln school?

Do your children attend Lincoln Elementary? We’d love to hear what you think about the school and the Open Classroom!

And if you’re also out there looking at local schools, feel free to comment about your tours!

Next up: Van Hise Elementary School.

Call for Reviews: Birthday Parties!

RM reader Katie recently asked if had done a post about good places to hold birthday parties, and we realized we hadn’t – although it’s something we’ve meant to do for months now! Thanks for the reminder, Katie!

We’ll compile a list of places and post something next month, but we’d love to hear from all of you as well! Please send your reviews to: raisingmadison@hotmail.com.

And don’t forget we’re still looking for reviews on classes for kids as well!

Kid-Friendly Saturdays – February 19

Overture Center’s Kids in the Rotunda is a series of free artistic programs designed for children and families which runs from the last weekend in September through April. This popular performing arts series on the Rotunda Stage offers a relaxed, kid-friendly environment in which to enjoy a diverse lineup of local and regional musicians, storytellers, jugglers, theater troupes, magicians and dancers. The programs run every Saturday at 9:30 am, 11 am and 1 pm (each performance lasts around 45 minutes). The 1 pm performances are sign language interpreted.

This week’s performer is Tom Pease (Songs & storytelling)

One of the series’ most popular performers, Tom Pease engages children with imaginative songs and humor. Families around the world love his recordings, especially on long car trips! The power of reading, the universal language of song and the healing effects of laughter are all messages found throughout his performance. Tom Pease’s show is highly animated, laced with songs and stories, leaving audiences with a renewed appreciation for their own sense of place and community.

Join Happy Bambino for Bambino-Palooza: Empowering Stories Storytime with Laura Anderson.

Know of any other family-friendly events taking place this weekend? Feel free to mention them in the comments!

School Tours: Midvale Elementary School

As a follow-up to our 4K and K registration post, Carousel shares her experience touring Midvale Elementary School.

I have heard such great things about Midvale Elementary School. It’s innovative: cutting-edge principal and teachers who work collaboratively and out of the box. It’s uniting: high parent involvement and a strong parent/teacher organization; a school garden on the property that both student and members of the neighborhood care for. It’s diverse: the student body is 36% Hispanic, 16% Black, 11% Asian, 6% multi-racial. Plus, it’s a SAGE school, meaning it has a large percentage of low-income children but has smaller class sizes because of this. And, for the kicker!—Midvale is now a dual-language school. Parents can opt for classes where both English and Spanish are being spoken and taught.

My husband Tim is sold on dual immersion. He loves the idea of Cass learning a new language at such a young age, especially in an immersion setting (compared to the sleep-inducing language classes we all had in high school). Tim also likes that this is a new program for Madison schools. He believes Midvale will garner more resources and innovation than other schools to help ensure dual immersion’s success.

I am not as sure. Everything I heard about dual immersion is great, and I love the idea in theory. Yes, this is the time when children’s brains are most open to another language. Yes, Cass will be close to bilingual by middle school. Yes, the curriculum is the same as in all other Madison classrooms, so there will be no loss in substance of her education. Yes, Yes, Yes. But other realities of the program scared me. No, the teacher would not speak to parents in English because the teacher only spoke in Spanish for the majority of the day; No, I don’t know Spanish (beyond the cursory that I know from living in Los Angeles for part of my life); No, I can’t help Cass with homework if it’s in Spanish.

And, with new bilingual teachers replacing English-only teachers, and a brand new principal, I was worried that the vitality and community spirit I had heard so much about at Midvale might be gone.

So much built up, before Tim and I even entered the school.

Visiting the school was exciting! The hallways were filled with student art in bright colors and signs reminding you to be quiet in the hallway, don’t run, and treat others as you would like to be treated. Inside the classrooms there were maps and posters, calendars and dates, math workbooks and beginning reading books. The world was wide open, and it was overwhelming to think that Cass could be here soon discovering the magic of learning. It is an awesome moment when you can envision your child’s future and possibilities.

As for the school and program itself, we liked it overall. The classrooms themselves had lots of teachers and support staff. It seemed like every kindergarten class of 18 kids had at least 3 adults in the classroom with them, helping out the lead teacher in various ways. Very impressive! Our tour guide, Midvale’s learning resource director Mary Kay, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Students kept running up to her to giver her hugs. But, we didn’t spend much time within each class, and when we did stop in the dual immersion classes, I didn’t understand what the teacher was saying. One class was reading a book called “The Carousel” (but that title was in Spanish). Mary Kay tried to get me to tell the teacher that my name was Carousel. But, instead of saying “My name is Carousel,” I said, “Yo soy Carousel” (“I am a Carousel.”). To which the teacher look at me with a very quizzical look. Un-huh, this is just what I was fearing.

Other things I loved about the school: the art class (could this be the greatest art teacher in the district? They were learning about Andy Warhol and drawing self-portraits. So cool!); the gym and the great climbing wall; the community/school garden; the 45 minute lunchtime (vs. 30 minutes at other schools). And Mary Kay told us they go on field trips about once a month. I don’t know if she’s exaggerating, but if she isn’t, that’s pretty great.

The new principal was certainly enthusiastic for dual immersion classes. She gave a bit of a hard sell, and you could tell she was confident in the success of the program, even to put-down other Madison schools.

So, now what? Tim and I are scheduled to visit the open-classroom program at Lincoln Middle School this week and then our other neighborhood school, Van Hise Elementary, next week. Stay tuned!

(By the way—I would like to officially blame my older sister Jodi for my failure to know Spanish. As the younger sister of a brainy, perfect student, I disliked being in Jodi’s shadow. “I have high expectations from Jodi’s sister,” a math teacher told me. So, when Jodi choose to study Spanish in 6th grade, and I had the option of taking French—with the French teacher who never met my brilliant, perfect sister Jodi—I jumped at it. Some good speaking French does me now. Thanks a lot Aunt Jodi!)

Is your child in a dual-immersion program? Does your child attend Midvale? We’d love to hear what you (and your child) think of it!

Get Out the Vote this weekend!

The weekend before every election is known as “GOTV”: Get Out the Vote. It’s final moments of persuasion to the voter along with reminding your supporters to vote on election day. GOTV usually entails dropping off literature at voters’ doors and phone banking. This weekend promises to be a busy one, as next Tuesday February 15 is Election Day! There are at least 3 races on every Madisonian’s ballot: County Executive, Mayor, and State Supreme Court Justice.

Cass has joined me on lit drops several times. It’s always nice to get outside and go for a walk. And, I always bring Cass with me to the polls. Aside from the obvious civics lesson, voting in Wisconsin is pretty fun from a kid’s perspective. You have to color in your choice on the ballot, and when you’re done, you get to slide your ballot into a machine that beeps and lights up when you put your ballot in (Cass’ favorite part). And there are usually sample and extra ballots that you can take home. (We used to play “Mommy’s Work”.)

All ends of the political spectrum are represented by the candidates this time out, from conservative to moderate to liberal, especially in the 6-way county executive race primary to replace outgoing County Executive Kathleen Falk. Here’s your chance to support your candidate and get some fresh air (it’s supposed to be lovely this weekend). Last week, the word of the day on Sesame Street was “volunteer” – so go out and do it!

I particularly love local elections on the city and county level because you get to meet and talk with the candidates. Every vote makes such a difference—in the past 5 years I have seen several local races where the winner was determined by less than 50 votes. Every year there is a close victory.

Here are the candidates for the respective races. You can contact each campaign if you want to volunteer. And remember to vote!

For Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice
JoAnne Kloppenburg (www.kloppenburgforjustice.com)
David Prosser, Jr. (www.JusticeProsser.com)
Marla Stephens (www.StephensforJustice.com)
Joel Winnig (www.winnigforjustice.com)

For County Executive
Zach Brandon (www.zachforjobs.com)
Eileen Bruskewitz (eileenforexecutive.com)
Scott McDonell (www.scottmcdonell.com)
Joe Parisi (www.parisifordane.com)
Joe Wineke (www.joewineke.com)
Spencer Zimmerman (Facebook fan page)

For Madison Mayor:
Dave Cieslewicz (daveformadison.com)
Dennis deNure (dennisdenure.com)
Nick Hart (www.nickhartformayor.com)
Paul Soglin (Facebook fan page)

There are also primary races for 5 Madison City Alder seats.

Election Day is Tuesday, February 15. You can find out more information about the elections (including information on who’s running and where you can vote) on the City of Madison website. If you do not live in the City of Madison, you can find your polling place using the Voter Public Access website.