Sunday, March 4, 2007

Let's Go Fly a Kite: For School and Soul!

The North and West winds are playing tag!

Although I can't see them, they brush the tops of the bare branches below, they frolic about my buildings, they rustle my plants, and collide not-too-gently, nor silently, into the large windows of my aerie on the fourteenth floor!

It's March!

I'm buoyant with happiness! It's time to get out the old kite, or make a new one!

Although National Kite Flying Month is April, I like to start early, after all, one has to prepare for the 41st Annual Smithsonian Kite Festival on March 31st of this year.

Kite flying for me isn't just the pleasurable pasttime of watching my traditional paper diamond with her long, colorful tail waving to me in the sky; it is the exhilarating and tangible relationship I forge with invisible currents of air, we call the wind. It is a tug of war; the wind can be a outrageous thief that endeavors to steal my kite by tossing, twisting, and pulling it from me, turning the once inanimate plane of wood and paper into an unbroken mustang.

Pure poetry in motion!

It summons all my strength to hold onto my creation and steer her into a calm, manageable current; and this is accomplished using only string!

Breathless after chases and with hands searing with pain from the tightening cord, I triumphantly win her back, eventually reeling her into a safe landing; I was in total command!

Occasionally, I've suffered the agony of defeat when either the tie was broken, sheet ripped, or my grip failed. An ignominious end can await my kite: impaled upon a lofty limb, entwined in a power line, or drowned in a river. It grieves me to see or contemplate such pitiful sights! Truly.

I started flying kites for the first time while I was visiting family who lived on a sheep farm in Westmoreland County, Virginia. There was sky and space, much more than I was used to in New York City! I was given an instruction book that must have been over a hundred years old, literally; it was worn and I imagine useful to a number of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My younger brother and sister also were involved with the construction of their respective kites and my father's engineering expertise was always called upon. It was through this that I learnt about the rudiments of flight.

My first foray into kite flying was very much akin to learning how to ride my two-wheeler bicycle; there were spills, injuries, and disappointments; but the eventual success was beyond words! I was hooked!

Upon my return to New York City, I realized that I was the only kid in my neighborhood who had ever flown a kite! It seemed to most an almost quaint activity. Immediately I enlisted a couple of close friends (who bought their kites) and we scurried off to some playgrounds and parks. It caught on, and for a while there were about a dozen of us in Rego Park and Forest Hills who spent many mornings and afternoons messing about with kites!

Kite flying is a happy occupation, but it requires knowledge, skill, and quick reflexes. One has to be on top of the situation at all times! The winds are a capricious lot!

As an educational student tour designer and guide, I've tried to convey this to many of my teachers and student groups. Luckily, I was once able to enroll one group in a program at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries called, ImaginAsia, which is intended as a family activity program, but will accept small student groups with advance notice. Ours was a relatively small group of about 30 eighth graders and we designed and decorated our own kites which we flew (or tried to fly) on the adjacent National Mall. The teacher thought it was time well spent and it was the hit of the tour! Certainly our subsequent visit to the National Museum of Air and Space was greatly enhanced by the experience.

I wish I could always find some (or allow) downtime in the usually tight schedules of Washington, DC or New York itineraries. Imagine if students could have the opportunity to fly their class-made kites on the National Mall or Central Park for even an hour! What a great teaching moment! It's good for both school and the soul!

Indeed, there are clubs that would welcome such groups and give instruction. Wings Over Washington Kite Club meets the first Sunday of each month on the grounds of the Washington Monument and welcomes all to watch and experience. If you’re visiting Washington, DC, why not give them a call and try to coordinate something with them during your trip?

While I think that the history of the kite is fascinating, the object of this post concerns the integration of kite flying into k-12 curricula. However it wouldn't be fair not to include some resource to this fascinating history.

The most accurate history of the kite that I could find online is from a British site called, Kites R Us! (Yes, Kites R Us!) It’s an extremely entertaining, informative, and well-researched essay that not only explores social history, as well as the military and practical uses of kites throughout the past two millennia, but also discusses the contributions of such diverse people as Marco Polo; Alexander Wilson; Sir George Cayley; Lawrence Hargrave: and Alexander Graham Bell. Americans have also figured prominently in the development, uses, and technological advances of kites. Some of the most famous Americans cited are Benjamin Franklin, Professor Simon Newcombe, Rear Admiral George Melville, the Wright Brothers, and Paul Garber. (We have to thank Paul Gerber for the Smithsonian Kite Festival.) Unmentioned is the contribution of Marconi!)

But what can your students learn from some paper, wood, and string on a fine spring day?


There are several sites that have teaching plans and curricula developed and ready to be implemented. These range from social and military history, visual arts, math, science, engineering, aerodynamics, language, and physical education. There are some interesting ones from the Drachen Foundation.

However, the most compelling reasons for using kites in and outside the classroom are within an essay bentitled, The Key to Opening Doors , by teacher Christine Ricatte. I couldn't put it any better. This is also part of the The Drachen Foundation website.

This foundation will actually pay teachers an honorarium of $100.00 USD if they choose a lesson plan that one has designed and will attribute development and copyright of the lesson to the respective teachers with the posted materials. The foundation also offers grants. In addition, they have a wonderful program called Kites in the Classroom. And if you are lucky enough to live in the Seattle area, they support a study center and offer classes. Students learn a number of disciplines with a definite fun factor.

Planning and hosting a themed kite festival is a wonderful way of integrating science with history, art, and language arts. The kites could represent great Americans, artists, poetry, or prayers.

Such festivals exist around the country. In February of 2004, in honor of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery and the Native American people they met on their epic trek, a major exhibit of art kites created by twenty-eight of North America's premier kite makers, began a three year display at Billings Logan International Airport, in Billings, Montana.

Twenty-eight quotes and subjects were selected from the Journals of Lewis and Clark and artistically interpreted, reflecting the best of contemporary kite building. These kites are stunning, showing a wide range of style, shape, size and color, while accurately referencing historical notations and incidences that happened between 1803 and 1806.

I spoke with the curator of this exhibit and President of Sky Wind World, Inc. , Terry Lee, and unfortunately she is dismantling the Kite Art: Visions of Lewis and Clark exhibit as you read this, but it will replaced with another called, Big Sky Sculpture, which features complex cellular kites. If you contact her, you'll be able to tour it with her at the Billings airport. She still has copies of the CD concerning the Lewis and Clark exhibit. The CD costs $25 and the profits go to promote math and science programs for Native American reservation schools in Montana. Contact her at: or email her directly at: She and her husband are quite involved with the Smithsonian kite festival and perhaps we might see each other there!

I'll leave you with one of my favorite stories: It is about the 15 year old boy, by the name of Homan Walsh who, in January of 1848, won a contest which eventually enabled the first bridge to be built across the Niagara Gorge. He started young, could read the wind, and was a particularly determined young man. Well, you'll just have to get the details from the link; your students will love it! (I shall be using it on my trip to Niagara Falls with the La Crescenta, CA group in April.)

There are some other wonderful stories concerning kites that can be found at the same Bell Atlantic site.

The moral of this posting: Consider starting a kite program in your class or school and then, take it on the road!

But as for me, it’s time to go fly a kite, whistling my favorite song from Mary Poppins! Won't you join me?

For Billy Collins

By Joyce Carol Oates

thing there
is in the American
soul that soars with
kites that soar! Some-
thing alive with the roar
of the wind lifting the kite
that soars above rooftops, tree-
tops, and awestruck heads! And yet—
Something there is not in the
American soul to adore the
kite that fails to soar.
I've seen it, I've
feared it, and
so have you.

The kite whose tail
is tattered in the
TV antenna.
The kite that rises
at dawn
then crashes
at your feet.

in a

The Educational Tour Marm

Sky Wind World, Inc Photos of Lewis and Clark exhibit:

NASA sites:

American Kite Club:

Web quest for high school math:


teachergirl said...

I grew up outside Washington and we always flew kites in early spring. What great memories you have brought back to me!!

The Tour Marm said...


Maybe you ought to consider it again!

Tour Marm

Jennifer Jacobson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Tour Marm said...

There was nothing wrong with the last comment, it was deleted because it contained personal contact information and I wanted to protect the commentator.

Tour Marm

The Tour Marm said...

It makes me as high as a kite to tell you that this posting earned the Blog of the Day Award for March 9th!.

The Tour Marm