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Perfect Square, a charming story by Minnesota author, Michael Hall and composer Charles Lazarus, provides ideas and inspiration for homeschool lessons. You are invited to explore and download the lessons you can use with your preschool and primary grade level children. Words, music, movement, math activities, and a music video for Perfect Square provides ideas and materials to teach concepts in multiple subjects.

Lesson One

Learning Activities – WORD PLAY

The imaginative words used by author Michael Hall to tell the story in Perfect Square are a rich source for exploring and playing with text.

Children will:

  • be introduced to new vocabulary
  • apply critical thinking skills
  • make connections between words, movements, and sound

You will need:

  • The story in some format – hard copy, electronically on the web, or watching the Perfect Square video at this website.

Word Play is fooling around with text; having fun with words; using words to explore movement, sound, ideas and more.

1. Find a new or used copy of the book at the library, bookstore, or on the web and read the story out loud. This web site presents a reading of the book with narrator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHpTBJAShXQ.

After watching/reading the story once, ask your child(ren):

  • What happened to the perfect square each day?
  • What does the square do in response to what happened?

Watch/read it again and repeat the questions. As children reply, connect their comments to the illustrations that show what they are describing.

2. Explore some of those words, and add a few you like. Choose some action word cards from the set included with this lesson. Tape the words on the wall where children can see them. Here are some of the words:

  • poked
  • shattered
  • babbled
  • snipped
  • giggled
  • crumpled
  • ripped
  • wrinkled
  • shredded
  • rigid

Read each card out loud and ask your child(ren) to echo the word. Ask what they think the word means. They can respond with words, motions or both. Look at the book illustrations to see what it looks like. If children don’t respond, you can provide a simple meaning.

SUGGESTION

As you read and speak the words out loud, use a dramatic voice that suggests the word’s meaning.

Encourage children to do the same.

3. Play with Words to practice the new vocabulary.

  • Move: Use your hands, arms, bodies, to show what each might look like. Hold up the word card for each as they figure it out. FOR EXAMPLE, snip imaginary scissors using two fingers or stand up and scissor your legs as you jump. To move like a giggle, wiggle fingers, arms, and your body to look like giggling. If they are stuck for an idea, show them your own ideas and model some movements.
  • Say the word often as children figure out how to move.  Keep your phone ready to take pictures of cool word movements.
  • Make Up Sounds:  Add mouth noises, vocal sounds, and/or body sounds to create a sound interpretation of each word. Begin by saying the word more than once in a chant-like way. Imagine together how to say the word in a way that fits what the word implies. (How would repetitions of the word ‘poked’ sound and how would it differ from ‘shattered’?) Help children add variety to their sounds by changing the speed (tempo), volume (dynamics), and tone color (timbre) of their words.
  • Improvise Paper Music: The Perfect Square was made of paper.
    • Distribute sheets of paper. Show your child(ren) how to hold the sheet.
    • Ask your child to choose a word from the word cards. Say the first word clearly and pause as your child echoes it.
    • Then use the sheet of paper to make sounds for the word.  Encourage quiet listening as you crumple, rip, tear, giggle, etc. It sounds like music!
    • Ask your child to pick 3 words, and place them in a line. As you point to each word, one at a time, make paper sounds to fit the word. When you finish, celebrate that you’ve made a new composition! A Paper Music piece.
    • Try different kinds of paper, too: grocery bags, tissue paper, etc. Discuss how the sound changes depending on the “paper” used.

Read the book again and encourage children to echo the descriptive vocabulary out loud. They have some new verbs and adverbs in their vocabulary to use. Download word cards here.

Lesson Two

Learning Activities – TRANSFORM A PAPER SQUARE

What will you do?

Children will transform colored squares into something new by applying the actions from Perfect Square to their paper squares. As they manipulate and transform squares, repeat the descriptive language from the story.

Children will:

  • deconstruct a paper square applying the actions in the story
  • speak and repeat descriptive language from the story
  • transform the pieces into something new
  • make up a description or caption for their work

You will need:

  • paper squares cut from colored paper
  • larger sheet of plain paper for gluing smaller parts down
  • glue sticks or paste
  • hole punch, pointed pencil, or pen to make holes
  • scissors
  • markers or crayons

The visual arts can strengthen a child’s understanding and use of the new vocabulary they’ve acquired. It also reinforces the story structure, action, and the BIG IDEAS in Perfect Square

Look at a paper square with your child(ren). Connect it ot the main charaacter in the book and ask your child(ren) if they think it is a “perfect square.” How do they know it is perfect? (It has 4 matching corners and 4 equal sides. See the Math Connections Section.)

Ask what they think they could do if they wanted to change their square into something new. (use the word “transform” if you wish.) Recall what happened to the square in the book.

For their first round, help your child(ren) get used to manipulating the paper; tearing strips and pieces, poking or punching holes, and assembling pieces into something other than a square. Use the ideas for objects that appeared in the story.

  • TEAR into scraps to make a garden
  • SHRED into strips to make a park
  • SNIP into ribbons to create a river
  • CRUMPLE, RIP, and WRINKLE to make a mountain
  • POKE full of holes for water bubbles for the fountain

Show them how to arrange their pieces on the larger sheet of paper and glue them down. Ask them to tell you what they’ve made.

3. Next, with a new square, challenge your child to create something that was not in the story.

  • They again tear, snip, crumple, rip, etc. Talk about what they are doing as they work.
  • They assemble the parts on a larger sheet. Provide gluing help if needed.
  • Encourage them to talk about what they are doing, and what it is they are making.
  • After gluing all the parts, ask them to tell you what happened to their square and what it became. This is their “story.” Write it down on their sheet of paper.
  • Mount the pictures on the wall or the refrigerator and encourage your child to talk about what happened to their square.

4. Make the art and generate the text for a new book: The Perfect Circle! What could happen to a circle? Make up a story and create the art.

Lesson Three

Learning Activities – MATH

Learning Goals

Children will:

  • visually identify square geometric shapes
  • search for squares
  • manipulate a variety of materials to make squares

You will need:

  • sticky post-it notes (your child might notice that post-it notes are often square!)
  • a ruler and a yardstick (for larger objects)
  • a variety of art materials; pipe cleaners, felt, paper, yarn, string, ribbon, etc.

One definition of a square is a polygon with 4 sides of equal length and 4 right angle corners (90-degrees). Author Michael Hall’s definition is  “four matching corners and four equal sides.” (p.1)

  • Look at square piece of paper and count the 4 sides and 4 corners. Use the words equal sides, and matching corners.
  • Ask them to tell you what they think the words equal and matching mean Guide them towards the concept of “sameness” of length or angle.

Propose a treasure hunt for perfect squares in your home. When your child finds something that looks square, measure the four sides to see if they are all the same length (or equal). And look at the corners to see if they match. Mark it with a post-it note. Or take a picture of each square you find to build a digital album for your child.

  • Some places to look: a tile floor or wall, in a toy box, picture frames, books, a stack of boxes, in windows and doors, or the front of an appliance. They are hiding right in plain sight!
  • Go outside and look for squares: on a swing set, a sandbox, porch furniture, your house, down the street, and at the playground.
  • Go back and count how many squares you found. Every square has “four matching corners and four equal sides.” If you took pictures, load them on your computer for viewing. Print out your favorites and put them on your refrigerator as a square collection.
  • Ask children to explain the treasure hunt to another family member. What are all those Post-it notes about? What were they looking for?
  • Don’t forget to measure the book! Is it a perfect square?

Make squares from a craft materials. Brightly colored paper is fun, but you can also use other materials to create square shapes:

  • Yarn, string, or ribbon. Cut four equal lengths; stretch them out on a table, or glue them on paper.
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Straws
  • Chopsticks or popsicle sticks
  • Play-Doh or modelling clay to make a 3-D square
  • Dry pasta such as spaghetti
  • Felt or fabric
  • Sticks in the yard

Extend the Lesson

  • Later do the same activities with circles or triangles.
  • Look through the Perfect Square book for other shapes.. There are circles, triangles, rectangles, and trapezoids.
  • Here is a painting by Piet Mondrian. He liked shapes.

How many squares does your child see in this painting? Use your ruler to check for sure. There are more rectangles than squares.

Lesson Four

Perfect Square Music

In 2014, Perfect Square became a musical composition. FRIENDS of the Minnesota Orchestra commissioned composer and Minnesota Orchestra trumpeter Chuck Lazarus to write a new piece for Kinder Konzerts™. It was transformed again in 2018 when the story and music became an animated video.

Learning Goals

  • Watch the Perfect Square video
  • Learn the names of the instruments – more new vocabulary
  • Listen to the sound (tone color or timbre) that each instrument makes
  • Chant and sing the story sequence
  • Strengthen sequential memory of the story text
  • Develop their musical “inner ear” and feel the rests in music

You will need:

  • The Perfect Square Instrument Pages (Download HERE)
  • FRIENDS of the MN Orchestra’s Perfect Square video (found HERE)
  • The Minnesota Orchestra instrument page (found HERE)

Watch together the Perfect Square video HERE. Then ask your child(ren) how the video was the same as the book and how it was different than the book.

  • The pictures moved around in the video. (Optional: introduce the idea and the word animation into the conversation: in the video, things move and are therefore animated)
  • The story is the same, but there is music in the video! (Introduce the word composer; a person who makes up the music is the composer.)

Eight instruments and a storyteller perform the piece. The video story includes both music and words. Check out these Instrument Picture Pages to see the instruments that perform in Perfect Square. Notice details about each. Say the name of the instruments as you point to a picture. They include:

  • Trumpet, from the brass family
  • Violin, cello, and bass from the string family
  • Flute and clarinet from the woodwind family
  • A drum set with several instruments from the percussion family
  • Piano

Each instrument has its own voice! Except for the piano, you can hear each instrument played separately on the Minnesota Orchestra’s website. The musicians also explain how their instrument makes its sound, and then they play a piece (the Dallas Symphony website also provides instrument information with short excerpts).

You can locate places in the Perfect Square video that feature each instrument. Listen with your child and notice the places where instruments stand out.

 

● piano 0:00 – 0:12 The piano plays alone for the first 12 seconds.
● trumpet 0:37 – 0:54 Trumpet hops in. The trumpet plays a lot!
● flute &    clarinet 2:25 – 2:40 Flute plays trills when the square is cut into pieces. Clarinet helps. Both play “poking holes” music.
● drum set & piano 2:59 – 3:07 Drum set and piano play fountain music. Clarinet and flute join in at 3:08.
● trumpet 3:27 – 3:41 Trumpet solo, soars up high.
● violin 4:33 – 4:37 Violin makes quick, shredding should – sliding up the string.
● cello 4:51 – 5:10 Cello comes in with a lower, sweet melody, echoed by clarinet, then flute, and last by trumpet.
● drum roll 5:14 Drum roll gets louder.
● plucked strings 5:22 – 6:02 Plucking, short sounds help put a bridge together.
● trumpet 6:29 The mute makes that trumpet sound change into jazz music. The river must be the Mississippi as it gets down to New Orleans (for some New Orleans style jazz).
● drum set

● cello

6:49 – 6:59 Drum set and strong, low cello notes make a mountain!
● drum set 7:11 – 7:17 It’s jammin’!

Understanding story events in sequential order is an important literacy skill for children to develop. Comprehending the structure helps them make sense of the arc of the plot and sequence in the story line. Focus on the sequence of events in Perfect Square with a song.

  • Say the object names from the story out loud (this is the sequence of the things the Square becomes).

  • Say the names of the images in order in rap-style, with swingin’ rhythm and a beat. Vary the tempo: change from slower to faster. Find new ways to rap. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • Sing it to the first part of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The objects in the story become the lyrics of the song. Follow the pictures in story sequence as you sing.
  • Play an Elimination Game:
    • Sing the “Twinkle, Twinkle” song with the words from Perfect Square in sequential order multiple times.
    • Each time you sing, choose one word/object to leave out of the sequence. As you sing, you and the children must remember to be silent on the missing word. It’s fun to do, and there can be a lot of giggles when someone messes up.
    • Repeat the song and add another silent word. One by one, each object word is removed until the song is almost all rests/silence.
  • After students demonstrate a solid knowledge of the sequence, mix up the images for them to re-arrange them in order. Encourage them to use the song and sing as they arrange.

About the Author and Composer

Michael Hall

Author of Perfect Square

Michael Hall is the author/illustrator of The New York Times bestseller, My Heart Is Like a Zoo, the critically acclaimed Perfect Square, Cat Tale, Frankencrayon, Red: A Crayon’s Story and It’s an Orange Aardvark!  Hall grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where autumn was memorable for football, floats, caramel apples, and spectacular colors. He studied biochemistry and psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and worked in the field of biomedical research before becoming an award-winning graphic designer. His design work has been widely recognized for its simple and engaging approach.  Michael Hall now lives with his family in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Check out his other books for children at https://www.michaelhallstudio.com/.

Charles Lazarus

Composer of Perfect Square

Charles Lazarus wrote Perfect Square in 2014. The work was commissioned by FRIENDS of the Minnesota Orchestra for Kinder Konzerts – a series of live concerts for preschool children.

Lazarus is a multi-faceted performer who has charted a unique course over his career including tenures in several of the best-known brass ensembles in the world, including Canadian Brass, Dallas Brass, Meridian Arts Ensemble, and the Minnesota Orchestra.

He is known for his distinctive blend of lounge/exotica and funk fired jazz. The trumpeter/composer’s eclectic career has been met with acclaim from critics worldwide. Lazarus made his main stage Carnegie Hall solo debut with the New York String Orchestra at the age of 19 while still a student at The Juilliard School in New York. He has been a member of the Dallas Brass, Meridian Arts Ensemble, Canadian Brass, and currently the Minnesota Orchestra. He has been on the trumpet faculties of Princeton University, St. Olaf College, and the University of Minnesota School of Music. In addition, he has performed and taught master classes in every across the United States, Canada, South America and throughout Europe and Asia.

Charting a unique course, Lazarus has created and premiered several original orchestra pops programs in recent years: A Night in the Tropics, American Riffs and Fly Me to the Moon: Big Band Love Songs featuring his jazz quartet and the symphony as equal onstage partners. He also performed the premiere of American Nomad, a trumpet concerto composed by Steve Heitzeg for  Lazarus and the Minnesota Orchestra.

You can hear him play at his website: https://www.charleslazarus.com/music.

We hope you have enjoyed Kinder Konzerts at Home

Help us keep the music playing and create more Kinder Konzerts at Home lessons by making a tax-deductible donation to FRIENDS of the Minnesota Orchestra.

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