Parents, children rise to challenge at school's Family Learning Night


"There's no higher level of thinking than invention," says fifth-grade teacher Richard Phillips.

Mr. Phillips challenged the inventor lurking inside parents and their children for Family Learning Night Thursday at Spring Garden Elementary in Hampstead.

Teachers organized nine activity stations for the event to promote parent-child interaction, manipulative skills and having fun while learning. There were reading-aloud rooms, Indian bead-making with an Indian story, patterns to copy with colored tiles and crayons, computer games, board games and lively small-court ball games in the gym.

The challenge in Mr. Phillips' room: To build a machine that would launch a toy action figure from the center of his classroom to the perimeter. Each parent-child team was given a bag of supplies -- foam cups, rubber bands, tongue depressors, a long string, paper clips, a balloon, drinking straws and cardboard. Yes, you could use tape.

Selection of building materials had been at random, guided by some notions of possible solutions to the puzzle, Mr. Phillips confessed. He'd never proposed this problem to anyone before.

"We try to do off-the-wall things" in class, he said.

Invention requires lots of higher-level thinking skills, he noted, from analysis of the problem to synthesis of ideas to testing and evaluation.

After 30 minutes, the room buzzed with frustration and triumph. Fathers, it seems, were really caught up in the mystery of engineering with kitchen clutter. Catapults were in abundance.

Irby Cole III carefully taped tongue depressors to a box to create a rubber band catapult. His wife, Sandy, recorded the design on paper as son Irby IV, age 5, offered bouts of encouragement and impatience.

Mr. Cole bent his figure into a ball and perched him on the stretched catapult. Boing! The figure smacked into the desk.

While the Coles struggled, into the room strode mothers and kids fresh from another activity. Tape? Foam cups? It seemed familiar territory. Within minutes, Kathy Knight and son Kevin taped the ends of two cups together, cut a hole through the center and popped their tiny figure inside.

Kevin strode to the center of the room. He opened the neck of an inflated balloon next to the foam cup car, which rolled to the periphery.

"A solution!" announced Mr. Phillips. "What's the motive force? The air inside the balloon."

A minute later, the Campbell team -- Erin, the designer; friend Allie Landreth; brothers David and Brian; with their mother, Mary Beth -- entered the ring. Cups, sticks, you name it, all had been taped into a tower. The action figure was suspended to a string attached at the peak. It was released, to slide down the string to the inflated balloon cushion held three feet away.

"Another solution!" cried Mr. Phillips. "The motive force? Gravity!"

The Coles brought forth their neat, square catapult. Whack! The figure tumbled a few inches.

"I'm not an engineer," said Mr. Cole, after the test. "I'm a CPA."


Members of St. Mark's United Church of Christ in Snydersburg have plans for a green Christmas. But for them, the word "green" means more than pine trees and garlands.

They'll explain their ideas Sunday when the 16-member youth group, which serves the union church of St. Mark's UCC and St. Mark's Lutheran, will serve a spaghetti dinner from noon until 3 p.m. at the church, 1616 Cape Horn Road.

During the meal, members of St. Mark's UCC will hold a "green market."

"My husband [James, the pastor] and a few others have been really interested in the idea of taking care of our world a lot better," said Myrna Schwarzlos. "We buy so much that we put into the landfill. So instead of giving somebody a present that maybe they won't use, we're thinking of other ways to give to people at Christmas, to keep the spirit but not be so materialistic."

How can a Christmas gift help the world? There will be several alternatives.

"You can give a cow or a sheep or a part of an animal in someone's name," she said, by donating to the Heifer Project. The project sends farm animals to families in the United States and abroad, to help recipients maintain a nutritious diet. Often, a cow is given to supply milk and butter to a family. All necessary materials for donating to the Heifer Project will be available during the dinner.

There will be a display and sale of international crafts usually sold by SERRV at the Brethren Center in New Windsor.

"If you buy something, you're helping someone in a Third World country," says Mrs. Schwarzlos. The SERRV program encourages craftsmen in poorer countries to produce high-quality, functional or wearable crafts for sale in shops like the one in New Windsor. By creating a market to sell their crafts, SERRV helps elevate the lives of the craftsmen.

A delightful aspect for the consumer is that the crafts are rich with native folk art traditions.

The "green" signifying efforts to "reduce, reuse and recycle" will be prominent during the dinner. Displays of homemade presents and those using recyclable materials will be arranged by Karen Shanks and Sheryl Davidson.

The spaghetti dinner costs $4 for adults and $2 for children under 10. It includes salad, bread, and beverages.

Information: 848-1313.

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