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Making a family night out of reading and math

The Baltimore Sun

The locked double doors inside Cranberry Station Elementary held back a growing and increasingly anxious crowd of would-be tourists who milled through the Westminster school's lobby.

The estimated 150 students and their parents who attended "Around the World with Reading and Math" already had some hint of their potential destinations: adventures in Africa and Antarctica, a journey to Japan, a run through the rain forest.

"This is a way for them to see what their children are doing," said Wendy Eaves, a health teacher who organized the family math and reading night. "It ties math skills, reading skills and ... even writing and geography."

Beyond giving them a taste of what their children were learning, the international activities - whether math games such as Sudoku in Japan or a word-matching game for Australian and U.S. colloquialisms - aimed to give parents strategies to help develop their children's skills in those areas. And of course, the activities were entertaining.

"It's hard sometimes when parents only get the nasty homework side," said Kristen Thaxter, a special education teacher. "Parents need something fun, too."

There was no short supply of fun Wednesday, as adults and children crossed the borders of one country after another, playing a Mongolian board game in one corner, creating a tessellation in the manner of Dutchman M.C. Escher or molding Mexican pottery out of Play-Doh.

"Welcome to the rain forest," said Melissa Stickles, a McDaniel College junior who is doing her practicum at Cranberry. Birds twittered on a nature CD, which helped create a sense of the dense moistness of a jungle.

Fifth-grader Nathanual Hower, 10, made a beeline for a table covered with small rubber lizards, snakes, frogs and flies, where a small sign encouraged him to "separate the species." Nathanual quickly removed all the snakes from the assortment, then turned to Stickles.

Stickles asked him to tell her about the reptiles.

"Snakes are a species without legs," Nathanual said, going on to describe how they could swallow other animals.

"How do they do that?" Stickles asked.

"They do it by their esophagus," he said. "They have one big muscle."

On the other side of the globe, in France, Laura Robinson and daughters Amanda, 10, and Lauren, 7, sat on the floor, a laminated paper with a circle drawn on it in front of them. Inside were a bunch of clear-blue marbles.

Lauren rolled a larger marble onto the paper, knocking some of the smaller ones outside the circle.

"How many were outside [the circle]?" Laura Robinson asked her daughters.

"12," Lauren said.

"20 minus 12," her mother said.

Lauren paused, thinking. "Eight," she answered.

The event was one of several planned throughout the month to celebrate Library Media Month. Schools countywide are hosting reading competitions, author visits scavenger hunts and other activities.

"It really gives a sense of community for our school," school media specialist Megan Whitehead said of the math and reading night.

The media center also had been transformed into several destination spots. Four tables were covered with books about the festivals, folktales and traditions of Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Iceland, along with sheets of questions about those countries for "media detectives" to answer.

Sarah DeRita, who came with her son, Richie, a second-grader, enjoyed the evening's travels.

"It's always exciting, and it's a positive learning experience for the kids," DeRita said. Her son had wanted "to go on and on" as they explored each new classroom country, she said, preparing to travel home with the multicolored mementos of their stops. "I enjoy it myself - almost more than the kids."

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