The Statue of Liberty will have a birthday next Sunday. It was on Oct. 28, 1886, that this statue - which, more than any other national monument, has become a symbol of the United States - was officially dedicated by then-president Grover Cleveland.
By using the Statue of Liberty as a focus for your learning activities this week, you will see a good example of how what I call "family learning" differs from "classroom learning."Family learning is not concerned with grand "subjects" - such as history, geography, science or language, but with seemingly small "topics" - such as the Wright brothers' flight, the equinox, or the origin of various words. By letting your curiosity lead you through these topics, and by encouraging yourself and your children to answer those mental "itches" - those irritating gaps in your understanding of these topics - you will inevitably find yourself learning history, geography, science and language, frequently in combinations but never as separate subjects.
Most children and adults can recognize the image of the Statue of Liberty, but even a cursory knowledge of this topic must certainly include the where and why of the statue as well.
An encyclopedia will tell you that the statue stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, but do your children know where that is and why that site made the statue so symbolic to the millions of immigrants who came to this country seeking a new life?
The encyclopedia will tell you that the statue is 305 feet tall, but many children have never visited this monument, and so they don't understand what a gigantic structure it is. Have your children look at the tallest building in your area and imagine how tall a 30-story building (the height of the statue) would be standing next to it.
Half that height is made up of the base and the pedestal, which were built and paid for by the United States. But the statue itself was a gift from the people of France to commemorate our centennial, although it took 10 years longer than expected.
The statue was built in Paris using large copper plates welded to an iron framework that was designed by Gustave Eiffel (who would later build the Eiffel Tower). The entire structure was then taken apart, piece by piece, packed into hundreds of huge wooden crates, shipped across the ocean, and reassembled on its new pedestal. (Just think of the science and engineering lessons involved in this feat alone.)
As for the language lessons that come from the study of this statue, try reciting and explaining to your children the last five lines from Emma Lazarus's sonnet to the statue, which were inscribed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal in 1903:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
And one last language note: Our word "gadget" also came into being in 1886, and may well have come about from a Monsieur Gaget (pronounced "ga-ZHAY"), who was a partner in the French construction firm of Gaget, Gauhier & Cie., which built the Statue of Liberty. He devised the money-making scheme of selling miniature models of the statue to Americans living in Paris, and they began referring to these souvenirs as "gadgets," mispronouncing his French name.