Monday, July 27, 2009

The Cookies are Here

Starting this week, we have a treat for our teacher customers. When I was attending UC Santa Cruz, I rarely had two nickels to scrape together for anything. The one thing, besides beer, that I could always find money for was a Pacific Cookie Company peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. There was magic in them, something that restored all the energy long hours of study had drained. As a penniless student, one a week was all I could afford. Fortunately, they weren't dependent solely on my purchases, and 29 years later, they are still making wonderful cookies down in Santa Cruz.
During back to school, Pacific Cookie Company next-day delivers us fresh cookies that we use to boost spirits in our store during the crazy days of August. Because of our big 50 party on July 29th, cookies are arriving early, like this week - if it's worth a trip to Santa Cruz for one of these cookies, it's really worth stopping by The Golden Apple this week. Get here before they run out!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Puzzles and Logic

We're having a cold spell here, believe it or not. July 21 and it's about 57 degrees and howling winds, at noon. Almost typical for San Francisco, but not quite. Spending time outdoors is not always a summer activity in this city. So while others may recommend these games in January, we're putting them in our Summer Fun department. These recently received games test logic and deductive reasoning skills, a real challenge for ages 8 to adult.
When choosing puzzles, it helps to know what type of thinker you are buying for. I am a lateral thinker, I like analogies, scrambled words, crosswords and "you are the detective" type puzzles. Abstract puzzles, like rubick's cube drive me insane. What is the point? I would rather read. The game pictured above, Metaforms lands somewhere in the middle for me. Using deductive reasoning, you process each clue and place a form on the grid based on the given information. Each clue follows in a progression, so by careful reasoning, a solution is found. So simple!
Fortunately, we have several kinds of deductive and inductive puzzles and games. We have carried MightyMind for many years, and Meta-Forms (pictured above) is a bridge between MightyMind, SuperMind and more complex reasoning puzzles like Architecto. If you're trying to beat the heat (or the cold) test your deductive reasoning skills, your mind will heat up, but your problem solving will be oh so cool.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Teacher Gifts

Bill Harley talks about schools as a gift giving culture:

The good learning places I go to are filled with evidence of their being gift-giving cultures. Children bring in cupcakes and teacher presents. They happily wipe the blackboards or write get-well cards to sick teachers or other students. Math teachers show up at piano recitals; English teachers give books from their own libraries to interested students. All teachers buy supplies for which they aren’t repaid. These are all gifts, given freely, without thought of compensation. There is no way we can untangle the web of relationships that form in a learning environment.

826 Project at Sunday Streets

Yesterday San Francisco held an event called Sunday Streets in the Mission District. Much of the fun involved the freedom to zip around on streets free from auto traffic, but it was also an opportunity to showcase businesses in that part of the city. In my exploring I came across one of my favorite operations, the 826 Project and Pirate Supply Store. This idea came from author Dave Eggers. Yesterday, the kids from 826 were cartooning, which is part of the summer writing program. They were also making a push for volunteers, which I succumbed to. I'm looking forward to whatever they decide to do with me. The kids helping out at the their booth were full of enthusiasm, and I've always dreamed of being part of a pirate operation.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dancing in the Streets!

Tomorrow I will be volunteering for Sunday Streets in the Mission District of San Francisco. Sunday Streets is a tiny step in a world wide effort to reclaim a bit of the public common from the automobile, except only a little bit, and only for a few hours. The city of San Francisco will close a several block area to auto traffic, which will give families, older people, pedestrians, cyclists and everyone else a chance to enjoy the neighborhood without fear of getting clobbered by a car. One activity I have noticed during this year's Sunday Streets is lots of kids learning to ride, or practicing their skills. In a city of steep hills and few empty lots, this is a great time and place to learn. I love to see all the kids on Balance Bikes like the Skuut and Prince Lionheart Balance Bike racing around with confidence (and totally out of control). I hope the plan is to plant the seed in people's minds that streets are public space, and cars, for all their wonderful benefits, take away from that space. With the nice weather it will be a very fun day.

The Country that Sings

Last week I saw a wonderful movie about the power of singing. It's called "The Singing Revolution" and it tells the story of Estonia, and their battle against cultural annihilation. A battle they won, in part, because they sing, and have songs. Last year at this time I was fortunate enough to be in Latvia for their Song Festival, where I was in the audience for the song that is featured in this video. It's a very powerful song, and for the Latvians, a very subversive song that gave them strength during the Soviet occupation. (They actually sang it three times in a row that night)
It's something that has been driven out of American culture for the most part. Music is a product, like many other things in our culture, and not something that belongs to us (unless we paid $.99 to Itunes) Children start out singing, and teaching kids through song is universal in preschool, less now in kindergarten and then over by first grade. We are hard-wired for singing, and it stays in all of us, but other than "The Star Spangled Banner" at a baseball game, we don't all sing together. I think that unless you travel, you don't notice how bizarre this is. I was on the tube in London one day, and the car filled up with middle school kids on a school outing. It was completely packed. The train rolled a few stations, and then stopped in between, pitch black, and sat dead for 10 minutes. It was very unpleasant, as they say in Britain. Then spontaneously, the kids started to sing. We waited for about 45 minutes, and the middle schoolers never ran out of songs.
On another trip, I spent several winter months in Sweden. The sun sets at about 3 in the afternoon, so the evenings are very long. The young crowd I was hanging out with in those days were typical 20 somethings. But at every evening party I attended, or dinner, they sang. One dinner of 30, at a large round table, each guest was required to sing a song. Those with sweet voices sang pretty songs, those who lacked singing talent sang funny songs. When my turn came, I was saved by the fact that my parents were Berkeley graduates. I went to Cal camp every summer, and I knew "The California Drinking Song". I don't know if parents teach their kids songs about "drinking to California til we wobble in our shoes" anymore, but it got me out of a jam!
Back to Estonia, and my point. The Baltic people didn't overcome the Soviet occupiers with high test scores, or by teaching their two year olds sight words. They knew songs, and they were proud to sing them. Music is a cultural heritage, and if we don't make it a higher priority, it will be completely lost. Which is a shame, because it's not just an important part of us, it's an important part of us that we may someday need.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kids on Bluegrass

The California Bluegrass Association has created a program to encourage kids to make music. The Kids on Bluegrass program helps young pickers grow their musical talent, performing at various festivals around the state.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What will you accomplish today?

Forty years ago, before we couldn't fund schools or provide decent healthcare for everyone we were able to to do this:

Visits to our Science Section will be manditory today!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Books

Summer comes to an end early for us - our teachers, despite what the state puts them through, are eager to get back in there and teach. We have to have all our plans in place, and it sometimes puts the squeeze on our programs for helping kids have a fun, productive summer. We love all the young readers we see in the summer, and it's fun to get feedback on what kids have found to read. The real reading junkies are into their 3rd, 4th,10th book of the summer. It can be a challenge coming up with recommendations for kids that read like locusts eat. I'm putting out a quick 5 that have pushed to the top this summer - mostly because we like them!

The Mysterious Benedict Society. Trenton Lee Stewart
Little, Brown/Tingley, $6.99. ISBN 9780316003957.

Scat. Hiaasen, Carl
Knopf, $16.99. ISBN 978-0375-83486-8.

Three Cups of Tea Young Reader’s Edition
. Mortenson, Greg
Penguin, $6.99. ISBN 978-0-14-241412-5

The Penderwicks. Birdsall, Jeanne
Random House, $6.99. ISBN 0375831436.

The Sorceress (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel)Scott,Michael
Delacorte, $17.99. 0385735294

Hopefully that helps someone - some of the kids we see would chew those up and spit them out in under a week! Good for us, good for them!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Gears are Shifting

July is a change month at The Golden Apple. Families are settling in to their summer, teachers are enjoying their break (usually by planning for next year) and for a brief moment, the Golden Apple quiets down. The quiet doesn't last long. First, we're having our carpets cleaned - when do we get a chance? Fourth of July is our only opportunity all year, so we will be closed over the holiday weekend so the carpets can dry. As soon as we reopen on Monday, we start setting up for the invasion. Less than 30 days until waves and waves of teachers arrive to stock their classrooms for next year.
School budgets may be under siege, the state may be broke, but on the first day of school, classrooms will be sanctuaries of hope and promise, and our teachers will make it happen. The Golden Apple is getting ready.