August 26:  Abecedarian Day

On this date in 1873, the first public school kindergarten in the United States was established by the St. Louis, Missouri board of education.  The word kindergarten can be traced back to Germany, where Friedrick Froebel opened a preschool in 1840.  Froebel invented the term Kinder-Garten (‘children’s garden’) to describe the experience of cultivating young minds through creativity and play(1).

Some say that we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten, but there is certainly one lesson that is vital to every kindergartner. In fact, instead of kindergartner we might call these children abecedarians. An abecedarian is a ‘student of the alphabet.’ The word comes from the letters A B C D.

After we have mastered the ABCs and learned to read, we take the alphabet for granted. What we don’t realize, however, is how fundamental it is to our literacy. We also sometimes forget that the alphabet, reading, and writing are all human inventions.

We don’t know who the inventor was, but we do know that around 2000 BC the idea of using letters instead of pictures to represent sounds and words began to take root. As a result, communication in writing became much more efficient and easier to learn. Instead of learning hundreds of symbols, the student now need only learn less than thirty letters. Today kindergartners, or abecedarians, who learn the 26 letters of the alphabet have a foundation to begin mastering the language for reading and writing. The word alphabet is from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha and Beta. The Greeks didn’t invent the alphabet, but they did perfect it; one of their most important adaptations was the addition of vowels.

You’ve probably mastered the alphabet by now, but there are other ways of returning to your abecedarian roots. Below is a list of 26 vocabulary words spanning all 26 letters of the alphabet. How many do you know? How many familiar roots do you recognize? Pick up a good dictionary and look up any unfamiliar words.

antecedent

bellicose

circumscribe

dyslexia

euphemism

factotum

gregarious

hyperbole

infinitesimal

jovial

kudos

lethargic

malediction

neologism

orthography

pandemonium

quintessence

resonance

sophomoric

theocracy

unilateral

verbose

wanderlust

xenophobia

yeoman

zephyr

Today’s Challenge: Advanced Abecedarian
Can you generate a list 26 challenging and interesting words, one for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet?  Create your own unique abecedarian collection of words.  Use a dictionary as a resource.  Share your list with others, and be prepared to define the words on the list and explain what you find interesting about each one. (Common Core Language 3)

Quotation of the Day: Of all the achievements of the human mind, the birth of the alphabet is the most momentous. -Frederic Goudy

 

1 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

 

August 25:  Encyclopedia Day

On this date in A.D. 79, Pliny the Elder died, a casualty of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Based on his thirty-seven volume work called Natural History, Pliny is known as the father of the encyclopedia .  

Pliny the Elder.pngBorn in Italy in A.D. 23, Pliny was educated in Rome and served as a commander in the Roman army.  He is best known, however, for his prodigious efforts to catalog the knowledge of his age in his Natural History.  Using a plain, non-dogmatic style, Pliny covered cosmology, astronomy, zoology, botany, agriculture, medicine, and minerals.  Not only was the comprehensive coverage of his multi-volume work unprecedented, but also his citation of over 100 sources set the standard for the modern encyclopedia.  His work truly lived up the meaning of the word encyclopedia, which means an “all-around education.”  The root cyclo is from the Greek for “circle” and paideia is from the Greek for “education.”

On the day of his death in 79 A.D., Pliny was serving as a fleet commander in the Bay of Naples.  This was the same day that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Pliny might have survived; however, he went ashore to assist citizens in need and was overcome by the toxic fumes from Vesuvius’ eruption (1).

Today we experience an encyclopedia format that has evolved from book form, to compact disk form, to online form.  Whatever the form, however, it still is a format that attempts to encircle all that is know from A to Z.  One fascinating adaptation made to the encyclopedia was published in 2005 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal in her book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  Departing from the traditional objective tone of general knowledge, Rosenthal adapted the encyclopedia template to reflect subjectively on the topics that have made up her life so far.  Part memoir, part autobiography, Rosenthal’s book presents her humorous, wry insights on an array of topics.  Here’s a small sample of some of the topics covering the letters A to I:

Anxious, things that make me

Birthmark

Childhood Memories

Deli Trays

Escalator

Folding Chairs

Groceries

Humbling

Infinity

The topics Rosenthal covers are diverse.  Some are abstract and others are concrete, but each of her insights, though personal, seem to touch on something universal.  For example, Rosenthal shares her personal insight on the topic “Palindrome”:  “I am overly enamored with the palindrome: Won Ton, Not Now.”

On “Pie” she says, “There are few gestures kinder than a friend baking you a pie” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Encycloautobiography
What would be the topics from A to Z that you would include in the encyclopedia of your life?  Brainstorm a list of at least 26 topics; use a dictionary if you get stuck for ideas.  Then, take one of your topics and write at least 6 sentences about it, providing personal insights and/or personal experience to bring the topic alive and to help the reader see it in a new way. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  My brother, who grew up with three sisters, was I won’t say how many years old when he finally realized that he did not have to wrap the towel around his chest when he came out of the shower. -Amy Rosenthal

 

1-”Pliny the Elder”  Britannica Online Encyclopedia

2-Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.  Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press, 2005.