Teaching Out of a Bag: The World of Informal Educators

Teaching Out of a Bag: The World of Informal Educators

For the first time ever, I got to teach a class during a summer school session today. It sounds kind of crazy but I have always wanted to teach summer school. For many years, I asked. For many years, nothing came of it. But, being at a different school this year, in a different district, brought a different set of circumstances. It actually all started back in May when I successfully got 460 students out into our school garden to plant annuals. The pre-school teacher, who is a mom of two of my garden club students at my former school, asked if I would be interested in doing some kind of garden presentation during summer school. She would be teaching the pre-k section and seemed interested in utilizing my skills. Of course, I agreed. But, nothing was formally arranged, so as it has been in the past, I thought another year would pass without being able to participate in a summer school program.

I was wrong. Shortly into June, I was contacted by the lead teacher for summer school who asked if I could do one or more presentations during this year’s session. I was thrilled and agreed, as we broke down the groups into pre-k – K, 2nd grade, and 3rd – 5th grade for three separate presentations. I was going to get to teach summer school! How exciting!

Part of my interest over the years in teaching summer school was that Monarchs, a topic on which I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert, are in full view naturally at this relaxed time of year, with their life cycle being played out in virtually any garden that has milkweed. And, boy, do we have a lot of milkweed at this school!

Common Milkweed, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

So last night, I was busy doing what I’ve done for the last 15 years prior to getting ready to teach a lesson; I packed my bags! You know, my mom taught elementary school for nearly 35 years. I fully realize that virtually every teacher, brings loads of “stuff” back and forth from home to school on a daily basis. But, it is a little different being a non-formal educator. Without a home base, such as a classroom, my entire lesson from worksheets, to props, posters, pencils/markers, tape, scissors, paper, and in today’s case – food and insects need to be brought in. I have no storage closet, no filing cabinet, no desk drawers, no stacks of available paper………just my bags and what I put in them.

My lesson schedule looked like this today:

8:45 – 9:25  3rd 5th grade students (23)                            Lesson on Butterfly Habitat & review of the Monarch Life Cycle.

For this lesson, I packed three separate containers – one with monarch eggs, one with caterpillars, and one with 9 chrysalises. There were two monarch posters on form board, my “lecture” notes, and markers.  Since there was more “set up” needed for the subsequent presentations, I covered over three large Post-It notes where Plant Part information would go with Habitat information & Hooks to think about.

Monarch Life Cycle Stage Containers, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

In addition, this group of students go on a walk outside to the garden itself to “apply” what aspects of butterfly habitat we had talked about in the classroom.  When the session ended, each student received an individual packet of milkweed seeds to take home, and a monarch bookmark to remind them to read over the summer. Of course, those two “take home” props had to be distributed into individual baggies, and packed last night – in my bag!

My other passion in education would have to be language arts – which you could probably guess from a my being the author of a blog.  So, this group got my spiel on my love for words – the correct plural usages of the word  Chrysalis, and the need to keep reading over the summer. Hence, the monarch bookmarks from Monarch Joint Venture.

9:30 – 10:15 2nd grade students (16), Plant Parts We Eat!

The next group of students were all second graders. This is another caveat of being a non-formal educator. Besides, carrying your classroom with you in a bag, it will be rare to have a group of all similarly aged students. Over the years, I’ve become accustomed, and accomplished, at providing interdisciplinary, multi-aged (leveled) lessons. It was a rare treat to have a group of students all from the same grade level, believe me!

Their lesson consisted of talking about plant parts and the function (job) each of these parts had to benefit the plant as a whole. (Of course, I did not state it that way for the students.) A large part of my success in teaching I attribute to my nursing background and the HUGE amount of information I had to consume on child (birth – 21) growth and development. This is knowledge I rely upon daily when I teach, or actually, whenever I am with children – my own or others.

The second graders respectfully contributed their thoughts on the job(s)  that each plant part performed. Then, I asked them to fill out a worksheet listing one example of a food we eat that is either the root, stem, leaf, flower, seed, or fruit of the plant. This was difficult but inventive spelling was encouraged and so were drawn pictures, as long as they could identify what they were trying to convey as an example. For 16 students, there were three adults in the room (a great ratio) and eventually every student had at least one example for one of the six plant parts on their paper.  Next, I had brought – in my bag – a box full of fruit and vegetable examples.  This included lettuce, radish, tomatoes, onion, asparagus, carrots, pumpkin seeds, lemon , apple, pea pods, celery, corn, peppers, and a few more picked up from the grocery store last night and put into “my bag” this morning. The lesson was thoroughly enjoyable and enjoyed by all. They got an explanation of the word roots in “photosynthesis” – as my literary plug.

Table of Plant Parts We Eat, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

10:15 – 10:45 Pre-K and K, (40 students),                        Plant Parts We Eat Interactive Sorting Lesson

When I first started teaching, I thought I wanted to be a Kindergarten Teacher! There is no way I could do this job now! It takes so much patience! And, I think I like information too much!  Some kindergartener’s can handle a lot of information, but many cannot.  I often find myself consciously thinking I need to slow down or say less when I teach a group this age!

My bag also had some special instructional aids added to it last night for this group, as well. I printed some fruit and vegetable photos I found from a lesson plan online and then I cut up some pages from one of my plant catalogs, putting the photos on 3 x 5 inch index cards.  I had purchased a large post-it poster pack early into this school year and now was the time to use it….consider it – and the immense largeness of it – part of my “bag” – it just didn’t fit inside.  Last night,  I pre-labelled three sheets with the plant parts so that the lesson would be ready to go and the students could stick their food onto the plant part section on which they thought it fit. While some students were very reticent and asked for guidance in this task, most ended up being abe to complete their part of the sorting in short order. Blue painter’s tape (all pre – cut and stuck to the white board marker tray) made the task easy and moveable, if a plant, like the lettuce that was put in the roots, needed re-sorting. So, blue painter’s tape, scissors, and the index cards were also pulled from my “bag” upon arrival at school this morning.

So, what’s the big deal here? Well, there really is none. Teaching out of a “bag” is something to which I’ve become accustomed. My classroom travels with me. And, although it might be nice to “put down roots” somewhere…..I’m sure I would still be carrying “stuff” in from my car when I got to where-ever it was I was teaching on a regular basis. The only difference might be that I make it into school in one or two trips, instead of the three I made this morning!  Roots anchor a plant in place, but the nourishment comes from what is absorbed. Over the years, I’ve learned that as long as you put in your bag what is needed for the nourishment, the growth still occurs – for students, as well as plants!

And, that is what I learned in summer school, today! 



“Feels So Good”

“Feels So Good”

Believe it or not, I forgot it was Tuesday until just now.  And, while I should be working on two summer school presentations I have to do tomorrow or plugging away on my two new summer grad courses that started yesterday, I am writing my blog post now. I try not to miss Slice of Life Tuesday’s during the year. I missed last week due to being at our cabin which is a place of being unplugged and of re-communing with nature in all its glory! So, once I realized it was Tuesday, I new I had to stop and write my post. Yes, this is procrastination at its finest!

It’s been a busy Tuesday which contributes to why I forgot what day it was. My youngest was up before 5 a.m. to go to the high school with a friend for a morning work out session scheduled at six o’clock. But, by 6:10 he was back on his bed, reportedly because the HS doors were locked….no workout today, boys!  (I’m sure they’ll squeeze in a trip to the YMCA later for a pick up game of b-ball.)  I had an appointment myself at 7:30, so I was awake and getting  my act together. By 8:20 a.m., I was at our local Target, picking up some much needed toiletries, as well as odds and ends for my soon to be college freshman. I hustled home and unloaded, heading off to my hair stylist’s salon for a much needed cut and color.

Already, one of the topics I had pondered writing about was that of validation. We all, as humans, need validation don’t we? Our existence, our intelligence, our good works, our community contributions, and more all need some kind and some various amount of validation. But, this seems to be quite a heavy post for a Tuesday morning and maybe one that I am not quite ready to write about myself. Let’s suffice it to say that I am on the look out for some external sources of validation and leave the rest to your imagination for now. Do not worry! I am not up to anything that requires the use of the marauders map or anything else of a covert nature! Just some plain old validation – that’s all.

After my beautification at the salon (I just love having my hair done by a professional), I headed home for some lunch. As I pulled in the driveway, a song came on the radio that has been a favorite for most of my adult life. This song makes me smile, hum, and listen as few others do. It is Feels So Good by Chuck Mangione (1977). Until writing this, I always thought it was released in 1978, but I was wrong. It was late in 1977 when this instrumentally great composition hit the airwaves. Can you place your self in time when you think of this song? I can. Mangione was from Rochester, New York, the city closest to where I grew up. My parents have pro-ported that they went to high school with Chuck and his brother Gap, but I cannot confirm this  memory. The late 70’s were the start of high school for me. I was a band geek. And, although I did not play a piece of brass like Mangione, I certainly did and  can appreciate his talent with this composition. Feels So Good makes me feel just that…..so good. I had to sit in the garage with the car running (door open, of course) just to hear this favorite play out in its completion.  It was so worth it.

Listen for yourself to this wonderful work. (I make no claim to the rights of the YouTube broadcast or song itself). Just reposted for your appreciation. Enjoy!

YouTube Link to the Composition, Feels So Good by Chuck Mangione (1977).

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Wonder

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Wonder

This photograph definitely was accompanied by a state of wonder! It was taken Christmas Morning, 2015, as the sun rose over the clouds at daybreak on Mt. Haleakala, a volcano on the island of Maui. We were at the summit with a few hundred other TOGs and families. We were blessed with a clear morning, although it was in the low 30’s near the summit, at over 10,000 feet where this was taken.

Specs: Nikon 5200 DSLR, 200mm lens (best I had at the time).

Date: 12/25/2015

Location: Mt. Haleakala, Maui, United States

It is definitely hard to photograph something when you are not supposed to be looking directly at it! But, this is just one of many really nice shots of a wonder – filled experience on that day!

Sunrise on Christmas Morning on Mt. Haleakala Volcano, Maui. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015

This is my submission to the Lens Artists Photo Challenge for 7/7/18.

The Beginning of the End

The Beginning of the End

Upon Arrival

Why was I so nervous? I was here, finally! He was there, right in the other room, talking. Talking? But, who was he talking to? We were in the apartment alone.  He was never in the habit of talking to himself, at least he wasn’t when I last saw him. That was over a year ago, so maybe he had developed a new habit. I know change does that to people, especially when they are far from home.

I lingered near the bathroom door before I washed up to see if I could make out any of his words. I am being ridiculous, I told myself. Calm down. Maybe he is just talking to a friend.  Damn!  I could not hear any of the words clearly.  I thought I heard “she” and “leave”.  Really?  I just was not sure. I wish it had not been so long between our last visit and this one. I began to feel dizzy. It must be the jet lag. I know I am tired. I do not think straight when I have not had enough sleep.  Still…..

Uncharted Territory

I don’t know his friends anymore. As I said, it had been a year since we had been together. The letters had come regularly.  I had planned this visit at his request. He wanted me to come here, all the way to Japan from New York, to see him.  Still, who could he be talking to? I just arrived!

Oh, God! Japan! I am in Japan! It still amazed me to realize I had travelled by myself on a plane, flying for the first time, all the way to Japan to see my boyfriend. Love is strong. But, if I think too much I have to realize I am a little scared! Here I am, only 18, just finished with my first year in college. But, now he is on the phone with someone else. Who? What is going on?

I walked out of the bathroom, just as he hung up. Guilt. Was that guilt on his face?

“Who were you talking to?”  I asked.

“No one” he responded, and looked away. “Let’s go to the canteen and get some dinner.”

Listen to Your Gut

“Okay”, I said, following him out of the apartment. I am tired, I thought. I have been traveling for almost 22 hours to get here from New York. Give this a chance. We have not been together in a very a long time. Still. I had a sense of something not being right. Was it intuition? A sixth sense? Deja vu? Or perhaps, dread?

Silent Sunday: Midwest Hiking Scenes

Silent Sunday: Midwest Hiking Scenes

View of Onalaska from Greens Coulee Hike, July 2018 © Carol Labuzzetta
View of Mississippi River from Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa.
Mounds and Overlooks at Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
2004 SevenBridgesRoad
Seven Bridges Road, Iron Bridge. Wisconsin. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2003.
Up to Brady’s Bluff, Perrot State Park, Trempealeau Wisconsin, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2016
HSP2017 copy
Holland Sand Prairie, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
hiking around Timms Hill watermark
Timm’s Hill Trail, Northern Wisconsin Woods, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015

Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge, Prairie Loop Trail, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017

View of Marshland/Mid-west Migratory Bird Flyway over LaCrosse as seen from                GrandDad’s Bluff, WI. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
Everybody’s Home

Everybody’s Home

There is not quite any feeling like there is when Everybody’s Home.

Three Boys, Two Girls and a Boy. Three Girls. Four Boys and a Girl. One Boy. A Girl.

It doesn’t matter who, as long as they are yours.

Children home for the weekend, for the week, for a month-long semester break.

You’ll take them for as much or as little time they have or are willing to give.

They are yours. Everybody’s Home.


If you are a mom, you know what I mean.

The house is alive with laughter and even some hard to release sibling rivalry.

You wonder if that will ever change! Secretly, you hope not.

Jabs, Pokes, Wrestling, but also Hugs, Smiles, and Laughter.

They are yours. Everybody’s Home.


When your children start to age

and leave that cocoon of a space you created called home,

their lives are not the only ones that change.

Your life changes too. For all of you

there will be days that will be happy,

days that will be sad,

days that will be frustrating,

days that will be lonely, and

days when you wish you could be together.

But, when they come home, the longing, the worry,

and the loneliness, are all washed away.

You are a mom again. Their mom.  Always.

They are yours. The Greatest Gift.

Everybody’s Home.


A friend of mine and I both have all our children home this weekend. We texted about this last night. This poem is dedicated to her and all the mom’s who are blessed with a brief period of having Everybody Home.

Little Known Fact Series #1: The Wisconsin Connection to the Niagara Escarpment.

Little Known Fact Series #1: The Wisconsin Connection to the Niagara Escarpment.

Today, I introduce a new series. It will join my Enrichment Posts, Have you Ever? and  Silent Sundays as a recurring themed post on my blog. This series will be called the Little Known Fact Series.

A few days ago I drove across the northern part of Wisconsin from our cabin to an art gallery in a town called Amery. Our cabin is in the north-central part of the state, while Amery is on the north-western part of the state. My husband’s smart phone GPS guided me on the way. While traversing our State, Keith Urban’s throaty singing and guitar skills on his older CD – Golden Road – kept me occupied. It is a beloved CD and I alway enjoy listening to it while I travel on the open road.

Beautiful Wisconsin

Wisconsin is beautiful. Growing up in New York State, I never imagined living here. It was as foreign to me as Russia!  But, having lived here for almost 20 years now, I really have a hard time thinking about living anywhere else. Don’t get me wrong, New York State has its beautiful areas as well – the Adirondack Mountains, the Finger Lakes, the Southern Tier – where I first went to college, New York City with all its culture, lights and excitement, the varied architecture found in the great City of Buffalo,  the mansions of George Eastman, and the lilacs blooming in May in Highland Park in Rochester or Strong Memorial Hospital, The Strong Museum, and the University of Rochester all cannot be beat in my opinion.

I’ve also lived and or worked in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania and there are great attributes to those places as well. But, Wisconsin has won my heart. The diversity of landscape from the Bluffs and Coulees in the Driftless Region, unaffected by the last push of the receding glaciers during our most recent ice age, to the flat open prairie you find just up the road and a county over in Trempealeau where you can easily imagine hearty pioneers hunkering down during our harsh winters, or wildflowers covering acres and acres of land, and finally to the edge of the Great Muddy – with views that never cease to inspire awe. And, those descriptions just cover the part of the state where I live. One does not have to go far in Wisconsin to find a shoreline, either of river or stream, or even a Great Lake or two (Michigan and Superior). The quaintness of Door County is a constant tourist draw as is the heritage and history found in some of our largest cities, such as Madison and Milwaukee.

But, would you believe that there is a geographic wonder that connects where I came from and where I am?! There is! While living as newly weds in the Buffalo area, we made frequent trips to Niagara Falls. It was always enjoyable to spend an afternoon in the falls – either on the Canadian or U.S. side of the Niagara River. Some visits were more satisfying that others, of course, but the power of the water flowing over the gorge never ceased to amaze one upon sight! In The Falls, as any local Western New Yorker might call it, white water roars past and a lightest touch of a fine mist covers your skin, all while you stand by viewing water falls that were once considered a place one must see in the course of a lifetime.

Niagara Falls as viewed from the Canadian side, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2008

The Little Known Fact

The commonality rests within this place! The Niagara Escarpment is a little known 1,000 – mile cliff that runs from East Central Wisconsin to the great gorge yielding Falls in Canada and New York State.  Or, maybe the Escarpment runs from the Niagara River Gorge to the Door County Peninsula and into central Wisconsin! It goes both ways!  Not surprisingly, like the Driftless area of Wisconsin, the Niagara Escarpment was influenced during the last glacial advancement.  It was then that the escarpment was exposed and also then that the glaciers did not reach the driftless region – leaving such a topography that one can with a striking resemblance!

So, no wonder I love Wisconsin, there is much to remind me here of my roots! German heritage, impressive bodies of water, and the Niagara Escarpment and all the topographical wonders that come with it!  Who knew?! I am so glad I know this now!

As as far as the connection to the lyrics in that Keith Urban song, I think Wisconsin has some of the prettiest country from Niagara Falls to the Door County Peninsula. (Don’t worry if you don’t get this – true Keith Urban fans will understand!)

For more on this topic, you can consult the following resources:


http://escarpmentnetwork.org/ (cool map included)