"The free play of art is the result of mastery. " --Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." --Ladybird Johnson

"...a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart, and a well-trained hand...." --Zoltan Kodaly


Daily Life, 29

Early this morning, when I was on hallway duty, Esther* (a sweet 4th grader) was walking down the hallway when a 2nd grade boy came barrelling out of his classroom, arms open wide. Esther* edged up against the wall and scurried past the little boy.

Me: Esther*, what's going on? Didn't you want Jordan* to hug you?

Esther*: No way!

Me: Hmmm, does he bug you or something?

Esther*: Well, see, he LIKE likes me.

Later in the day....

Second Grade, sitting on the floor, playing a very exciting card game, Name the Instrument, with the kids.

Me: Hey, everyone, would you mind scooting back just a little bit? I'm getting kind of claustrophobic with you crowding over me like this.

After a minute or so....

Hank* (looking at me with a quizzical expression) : Wait, Ms. N, does that mean that you're afraid of Santa Claus?

Esther*, Jordan* and Hand* are, of course, not these students' real names.


Daily Life, 28

Today, in Kindergarten, while we were getting instruments out for the jam session:

Me: What happens if you touch an instrument before the conductor tells you to do so? (This is a
familiar refrain at the start of every jam session--otherwise, there'd be some serious cacophony going down!)

Kids(in a unified singsong chorus): You lose your turn.

Me: Forever? Like, until you're 93?

Kids: No, just for one time.

Sandra*: Wow, if you lost your turn until you were 93....that would be a long time.

Bojin*: Yeah. It'd be like when you're in High School or something.

*Sandra and Bojin are, of course, not these young musicians' real names.


Daily Life, 27

First Grade, helping them get their snow boots on for before-school recess:

Kristen*: Did you know there are two cats who live in that little shack near the school?

Me: Really? They must be cold today.

Kristen*: No, they're not. They snuggle up to each other to keep warm.

Me (Struggling with a stubborn shoelace): Oh.

Kristen*: Yes. I think they might like to come out and take a walk to see this beautiful day

Me: Hmmm, maybe. It's cold outside for kittens.

Kristen*: No, they're cats. I'm going to invite them to come to my house and give them
a ride in my car.

Me: Hmmm. What does your Mom think of that idea?

Kristen*: I don't know yet.

*Kristen is, of course, not this completely sweet child's name.


Daily life, 26

Fifth Grade Music, start of class, kids getting xylophones and mallets and ukes ready to play.

Brian* Ms N, I sprained my neck yesterday.
Me That sounds like it hurt.
Brian* Yeah.
Me Did you want to go to the Nurse? Because we're just about to start the jam session.
I'd rather you didn't miss that, if you can wait to go to the Nurse.
Brian* No, I didn't want to go to the Nurse. I just wanted to tell you about it.
Me Oh. Was there something more?
Brian* Well, yeah. See, I was putting on deodorant last night, and I stuck my head down
into my arm to smell it, and then my neck sprained.
Me Hmmm.
Brian* Yeah, my Mom had to take me to the doctor and everything.
Me Really. Well, if it hurts too much to play an instrument, let me know, OK?
Brian* OK.

Later this morning, in 4th grade, while we were setting up instruments:

Me Alex*, if you continue to tease Sarah* so much, she's going to think you have
a crush on her or something.
Alex* Whaaaaaaa? I don't have a crush on her!
Me Well, you know, that's what they say. If you like someone, you tease 'em a lot.
Matt* (glancing up from his xylophone) Oh, Ms N, that might've been true in your day, but
not anymore.

*Brian*, Alex*, Matt* and Sarah* are, of course, not these children's actual names...or their actual grades.


Sharing what we know

As educators and learners, we depend on the generosity of others to help us master new skills and knowledge.

One of my favorite blogs, Make and Meaning, is hosting a live blogging event at 8pm tomorrow (Tuesday) evening, on this topic.

Of course, the live discussion will be centered mostly on the crafting community, since that's who Make and Meaning serves. But I think the discussion is applicable--and interesting--to those of us whose primary art & work is in other fields, as well.

Here's how one of the contributors, Diane Gilleland, describes the event: "Free Thinking" is "an interactive liveblogging discussion of how Free is affecting our creative culture".

Interested? Here's the link for more information:


Navigating into the new

Yesterday, I became frustrated while trying to figure out how to use Tweetdeck.

Computers are still pretty new territory for me. I'm confident enough to be willing to try new things, but when what I'm trying to do hits a standstill, it's enough to make me shut down for awhile, and want to stop trying altogether.

In this instance, a friend calmly walked me through the steps to figure out how to overcome the roadblock.

Thinking about it afterwards, I realized two things:

1. There's actually an underlying sequence of steps, a way to approach the challenge, which sorts out the confusion and leads to possible solutions.

2. I can learn that approach.

How empowering is that?

It occurred to me later that this is what I need to give to my students, for whom playing music is somewhat new territory, as computers are for me.

I can help them towards autonomy by giving them not only knowledge specifics, but--more importantly--the framework within which to approach learning. A rubric, a set of steps, to help them evaluate for themselves how their performance is and how to make it better.

So, for instance, lately I've been setting a set of questions before the kids, to help them think through their playing, and discussing the answers afterwards.

Me: OK, Kindergarten Musicians. Here's what we're listening for:
Did you start singing together?
Did you end together?
Did you stay at the same tempo in the middle?
Were your words clear? Did you need a grownup to help you?
Did you like what you heard?

My friend gave me not just the specific 'fix' for yesterday's quandary, but a tool with which to approach new situations with confidence, on my own.

I'm hoping to give my students not approval or compliments, but the tools with which to assess and approach new music with confidence, with autonomy.

Pretty exciting stuff. (and thanks, to my friend who had the patience to help me over the hurdle...)

*If you, like me, are still a neophyte with computers, you might want to take a look at this helpful little tool: www.dudecraft.com/2009/08/tech-support-cheat-sheet.html


Daily Life, 25

Fifth Grade, immersed in Jazz, creating the liner notes for our mini 'album' book reports.**

Larry* says: I recommend Louis Armstrong, who played trumpet, because his music makes me laugh.

James* says: I recommend Louis Armstrong, because his voice is weird, but in a good way.

Jehlan* says: I recommend Ella, Jazz Vocalist, because she makes me happy.

Janita* says: I recommend Billie Holiday, Jazz Vocalist, because her voice is so wonderful!

Mirita* says: I recommend Louis Armstrong, because his music makes me feel real jumpy and it makes me laugh my head off.

Maria* says: I recommend Ella, Jazz Vocalist, because her music makes me dance.

I say, I recommend my students, because they're a joy to be around.

*As written, the names of these young musicians are not, of course, their real names.

**These mini-albums are totally great, easy to do with kids, and an imaginative way to incorporate learning facts and listening to music, with hands-on crafts. I got the entire idea from a great blog called Dudecraft. Here's the link to the instructions for making the albums, along with templates that are available (for free) to download:



Daily Life, 24

Standing with the 5th grade Music class, watching the Dragon Parade in the hallway at the end of the day today---a long line of Third Graders, each carrying a highly-decorated piece of construction paper, walking close together (that's the dragon's body)...with one child leading, holding the box-mask of the dragon's head.

Seriously excited children.

Me (to one of the kids): Hey, isn't that your sister in the parade?
Matthew*: Yep.
Me: She's pretty adorable...and such a great kid.
Matthew*: Yeah, she is. I like her.

*Matthew, of course, is not this kind Fifth Grader's real name.


Daily Life, 23

I continue to be amazed at how easy it is to completely misunderstand someone.

Right now, I'm thinking about 4th grade Music today, and an interaction that eventually went well--but only because I've had the good fortune to be surrounded by some people with generous, calm hearts towards kids--teachers who have shown me how to turn around a conversation that's going downhill because I jumped to conclusions.

I make a lot of mistakes. Today was one day where I actually feel like I'm learning how to listen better. Here's what happened:

Me: Jasper*, how in the world are you ever going to be in the Kids' Cabaret as a serious musician, when you're not being serious about your music now?

Jasper*: Well, I was just saying something to Peter*.

Me: About music?

Jasper*: Well....no.

Me (in a very frustrated tone of voice): Jasper*, one of the reasons we have rehearsals is so that you can learn how to stay in focus on the music. I mean, we all have to learn that--even grown ups. This seems to be a pattern with you...how are you going to be a performer if you don't practice now?

Jasper*: Uh, well, do we have to perform? Do we have to be in the Kids' Cabaret?

Me: Have to? It's more like, are you ALLOWED to.

At that point, class time had ended, and the kids needed to return to homerooms.
The whole conversation bothered me a lot, so I found Jasper* in the afterschool program and asked if we could talk.

Me: I'm just wondering if you can help me to understand what's going on for you, in Music. What was your question about the Kids' Cabaret all about? What were you thinking about?

Jasper*: Um...well....I wanted to know if we had to be in it in order to move on to 5th grade.

Me: No, you don't. But don't you want to be in it? Don't you remember how much fun you had last year, when your big brother was in it? Now it's your turn.

Jasper*: Um....yeah.

Me: I still don't get what's going on.

Jasper*: Well...um....it just makes me kind of, you know, nervous. That's what I was saying to Peter*.

Me: Oh.

Jasper*: Yeah...he said he got nervous, too, but his sister told him not to think about anything but the music and he'd do OK.

Me: That's what you guys were talking about during Music?

Jasper*: Yeah.

Me: Well. Um...well, it probably would've been better if you guys had talked about it when we weren't actually playing the music, but...but it was a good thing to talk about. I thought you were just goofing around. That's why I was so frustrated with you....I think I should've taken more time to really find out what was going on, instead of scolding you. I'm sorry.

Jasper*: It's fine. Can I go back to my friends now?

Me: Yep. Thanks.

Thank goodness kids have such kind hearts.

*Jasper and Peter* are, of course, not these young musicians' real names.


Daily Life, 22

Walking down the hall this morning at the start of school, following a line of First Grade children who were dragging backpacks and dropping mittens....suddenly, Tristan* stopped, stooped down, and picked up a shiny new penny. Turning to me with a big smile....

Tristan*: Look, Ms N! A penny!
Me: Wow, Tristan*. Gonna save it for your piggy bank?
Tristan*: No...did you know that there are little, little kids who lost their houses and their toys and everything in a big earthquake?
Me: Yes, I heard about that. It's sad, isn't it?
Tristan*: Yeah. My Mom said that little babies are having to sleep on rocks and stuff.
Me: Hmmmm. Lots of people lost their homes.
Tristan*: Well, we're helping them. We have a big bottle of pennies for peace, in our classroom. I'm gonna put this one in there!

And off he went.

*Tristan, naturally, is not this generous soul's real name.


Daily Life, 21

Been thinking about the fact that, in only writing posts from conversations with my students, I'm leaving out the other half of our community: adults.

So some of my posts are going to reflect how the grownups are thinking and feeling, as we go through this journey called 'education' and 'educating', together with our kids.

If you prefer to read only the kid-conversation posts, it's easy to spot them: they'll be the short ones. (Because, as one of my 4th graders commented the other day, "Grownups talk a lot".)


After school on Friday, at the copier, 5th grade teacher sifting through math workbook pages and looking distressed.

Me: Sally*, is something wrong? You look upset.

Sally*: Oh, I don't know. I just think this math program isn't right for my class. It goes
too quickly and is too shallow for them to really grasp concepts. Besides, there's too much stuff in here--they need to focus on one or two skills at a time and get really good at them.

Me: Why can't you do that?

Sally*: Well, the district is setting the guidelines for everyone in math, and we have to do what everyone else does, so that it's supposedly 'equal'. But come on, these kids do not need more worksheet pages. They need to be doing hands-on work, and learning to ask questions, and to be creative. It's frustrating to be told what to do, when what we're being told to do doesn't fit our students' needs and is actually counter-productive. It's educationally reckless.

Me: Hmmm. Any idea how you're gonna handle this?

Sally*: Well....I have to follow the curriculum, it's my job. I have to teach my kids what I know they need to know--that's my mission. There must be an answer in here somewhere...I'm just going to have to look harder.

*Sally is, of course, not this teacher's real name.


Daily Life, 20

7:40 this morning, in First Grade, while the kids were getting school breakfast, filling out the Morning Message, and all of their other before-school classroom tasks...

Peter* (walking in, dragging a huge bag of popcorn): Look what I brought in for snack today.
Me: Wow. That is a lot of popcorn.
Peter*: My Dad bought it. He bought it on his credit card because he doesn't have any money.
Me: Mmmhmm.
Peter*: He says, you know, it's easier to buy it that way because he's just broke.

*Peter is, of course,not this child's real name.


Daily Life, 19

Walking down the hall beside a row of Kindergarteners who were headed back to their classroom after Library. One little girl was trying to tell me something but kept getting distracted by the hiccups.

Me: Brayden*, let's listen to those hiccups. Sometimes that makes 'em go away.

After a moment or two of walking, no noise, she smiled at me and I started to go back into my classroom. Suddenly, there was a loud hiccup from the line--loud enough to make me turn around to see what'd happened.

Brayden* (giggling) Oh! There goes one.
Me: What happened? I thought they went away for good.
Brayden: Nope. I hiccuped in my tummy.

Heading down the hall to the 5th grade wing a bit later, one of the 5th grade girls was walking very slowly, head down, not saying anything.

Me: Samantha*, are you OK?
Sam*: Not really.
Me: Is it something you want to talk about?
Sam*: Well, my aunt just had a baby and we were all excited. And last night,
the baby died.

Such a mixture of pain and joy in life, each day.

*Brayden and Samantha* are, of course, not these children's names.


Daily Life, 18

Kindergarten Music, early this morning, one very excited child coming in to class--couldn't wait to tell me his news.

Edmund* Ms. N, Ms. N, it's gonna snow every day forever!
Me Really, Edmund? Bet it feels that way.
Edmund* No, it's not that. The man who was telling about the weather on TV last
night said so!

Later that morning, in yet another Kindergarten Music class:

Me Where's Katelyn* today?
Jasper* Oh, she's home sick.
Me Gosh, I'm sorry to hear that.
Jasper* Yeah. She has the slime 'flu.

*Edmund and Jasper are, of course, not these children's real names.


Daily Life, 17

Today I watched three different children communicate completely with their facial expressions. Let's see if I can capture it in a verbal photo:

Grade 3. First time this year that we've combined all of the instruments with the ukes, playing a 12 bar blues. Suddenly, we hit the 'groove'--where everyone's playing at the same tempo, with the right chords, and the music takes on a life of its own.

Sasha* glanced up from her uke chords, smiling at me with a face so alight with energy and delight that no lightbulbs would've been needed to light up the room.

Later that morning, in Kindergarten, Michael* put down his maraca eggs midway through a song, and put his head in his hands. When I went over to ask if he was feeling ok, he looked up at me with a face sodden in misery and shook his head, saying quietly, "I don't have a Mom and a Dad anymore. They split up last night."

And after school, when I was walking by the creek which runs through our town, a boy about ten years old was leaning down from the bank, testing the ice with his foot. When his big sister called out to him (from the safety of the side of the road), he shot her a glance full of daredeviltry--and laughed that childhood laugh that's packed with mischief.

So much goes on that's there for the looking.

*Sasha and Michael* are, of course, not these children's real names. (But you knew that already, I'm thinking.)