"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


Retro Trailer

OK, so this has absolutely nothing to do with education....unless you were interested, perhaps, in being an itinerant teacher.

In any case, it's a completely beautiful tiny retro trailer. If you like that sort of thing, have a peek...


June 25th

Stopping by a student's home:

Me Mikayla*, I want to give you this book. One of my Mom's friends gave it to me when I was ten, and she told me to pass it on to a ten year old whenever I was ready, and found the right one.

Mikayla* Wow! Thanks, Ms N! This looks really old.

Me Yep. It was printed in the 1880s. If you like it, Louisa May Alcott wrote lots of other books, too. Wait, have you read this already?

Mikayla* No. Not any of her other books, either.

At this point, I must say that I did a little dance of delight.

Me That's perfect! I hadn't read it, either. So we will both have read Little Women from a copy printed while the author was still alive. How cool is that?

Mikayla* Very cool! I like the way the pictures are made. Thank you so much! I can't wait to read it. And I'll give it to a ten year old when it's the right time, too. Thank you!

*This bright, lively, avid reader is one of the children who give hope for the future just by the way that they are. Mikayla is, of course, not her real name.




If you are at all interested in new approaches to how we educate ourselves and the children of the world, this is a TED talk that will hold you spellbound.

I think I'm going to listen to it many times....


Daily Life, 59

Activity Day today, last day of school for the kids. Second Grade Dance session.

Jonah* Ms N, are we going to do that kind of dancing that you taught us?

Me Which one? The Lindy shines?

Jonah* No, you know, that other kind. Where we make up our own dance. You know, the indrovise thing.

Me I bet you mean improvisation. Right?

Jonah* Yes, that's it. Indrovise-ing-ation.

Me Well, we sure can make that a part of the dancing today. It's really part of all the dancing we do, you know?

Jonah* I like it. I like how silly the music is, too.

Me Tell me more about the music being silly?

Jonah* Well, you know, it's fun. And it makes me feel silly inside. I like it!

*Jonah is, of course, not this enthusiastic young dancer's real name. (He does happen to be a really good dancer, too...)


Daily life, 58

Kindergarten Music:

Me OK, everyone--you did such a great job on everything! I have these nifty stickers, if you'd like to have some. I'll call you up, a few kids at a time, so that you can choose which ones you'd like.

Moments later, after everyone had chosen their stickers and put the stickers in their 'cubbies':

Varnya*: Ms N, I got the stickers with the flowers by mistake. I wanted the stickers with the bugs but I got the stickers with the flowers.

Me: Varnya, I'm helping someone else right now. Give me a minute to fix this, OK?

Seconds later:

Varnya*: Ms N, I got the stickers with the flowers by mistake. I wanted the stickers with the bugs but I got the stickers with the flowers.

Me: Varnya, I heard you the first time. I'm almost done with Thomas*, can you wait just a minute and then we'll figure it out?

About ten seconds later:

Varnya*: But Ms N, I got the stickers with the flowers by mistake. I wanted the stickers with the bugs but I got the stickers with the flowers.

Me: OK, Varnya. I hear you. Whatever's out there is what's available--you can go ahead and change for the other stickers if you want. It's fine by me.

Varnya* (with an exasperated, frustrated look): But Ms N, I got the stickers with the flowers by mistake. I wanted the stickers with the bugs but I got the stickers with the flowers.

Me: Hmm. Well, it looks as though there are no bug stickers left. I'm sorry about that, honey. Can you swap with another child?

Varnya* (really frustrated now): But Ms N, you're not listening! I got the stickers with the flowers by mistake. I wanted the stickers with the bugs, but I got the stickers with the flowers.

At this point, I was getting frustrated as well. She was starting to cry from frustration.

Me: Varnya, I guess I don't really understand what you're trying to tell me. Can you show me what you're talking about?

She held out two rows of stickers--one of bugs, one of flowers.

Me: Oh! You got BOTH. Are you asking me what you should do with the ones with the flowers?

She nodded.

Me: Well, you can put them back in the pile. Perhaps someone else will want them.
I'm sorry that I didn't understand you the first time. That must've been frustrating.

She nodded again.
Me: It was frustrating for me, too. We're all set now, though, right?

She nodded, gave me a big hug, and put the flower stickers back in the pile.

*Varnya is, of course, not this fair-minded student's real name. (Nor is Thomas her friend's name.)


Ashokan: What do you think?

I attend a great music and dance camp (primarily for adults, although students of all ages can be included) in the summer, for a week or so at a time. Held at the Ashokan Center (in NY), each week centers on particular kinds of music/dance--so, for instance, there's Western & Swing week (Lindy, blues, West Coast dance, great Swing music, and Western/Western Swing as well) or Southern week (Cajun, old-time, and more) as well as others.

It's a dynamic and warm atmosphere, where some amazing professional musicians and dancers interact with the campers, at all learning levels, to build skills--and it's a complete blast. (www.ashokan.org, if you'd like more info.)

How is this connected to our systems of formal education? It's not.

It's far better.

There are no tests (although opportunities abound, to jam and to perform).
No one tells the student what to study--many different classes are offered, all day long--we choose our own level and course of study.
There is a great deal of freedom to experiment, to make the material our own. And time, during the week, to ask plenty of questions and work with others.

Did I mention that the area itself is beautiful (it's in the Catskill Mountains), and the food is amazing? And that it's a lively atmosphere, with lots of activity and discussions and shared meals with people who are interested in the same kinds of things?

Oh, and by the way: it tends to be really, seriously fun. Lots of learning, life-changing kinds of fun.

Hmmm....sounds like a model for excellent education, to me.....

Just sayin'.


"Starters"--an inspiring TED talk

Cameron Herold talks about how to encourage kids--and grownups!--to become entrepreneurs. It's short, inspiring, and has a great video at the end of the talk.
Here's the link:


Hope you enjoy!


A June Friday

So it's now nearly the end of the school year.

It's hot. The kids are tired. Many are worried about where they will spend the summer: their house? some new camp? their Mom's boyfriend's sister's house? summer school??

Some kids have already mentioned that they don't want to be home all day, because it's "boring".

Some have trouble sleeping at night, because their parents fight so much.

And many...in our school, at least, with more than 60% of our kids living in poverty....many are worried about being hungry, although they'd never admit it.

These are the children--the bright, endearing, funny, warm and loving children--who will be taking care of our world (and us!) in thirty years.

I just wish there were a way that we could take better care of them, now.

Just sayin'.


Something fun to watch and something fun to read for your Saturday

Saw this on BoingBoing recently--Philip Zimbardo on 'The Powers of Time". It's an animated video in which Zimbardo (Professor Emeritus at Stanford University) discusses how our perspective on time affects how we see the world. Entertaining and educational!


Also, while I'm at it, have you read Mark Frauenfelder's "Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World" yet? You probably already know this, but he's the founder of boingboing.net, editor-in-chief of "Make" magazine, and a lively, funny writer. This book chronicles his start as a DIY, and in the process takes a look at the entire DIY trend in the U.S. today. Great summer read!

Got any good books to recommend? (I'd love to hear about them in the comments!)


Daily Life, 57

Kindergarten Music, doing a puppet show with teeny animal puppets on a teeny tiny stage:

Jana* Hey, Ms. N, my lion's hungry.

Me Uh oh, better give him some cereal, fast.

Jana* Silly! Lions don't eat cereal, they eat meat.

Tomas* Yeah, they eat, like, other animals and stuff. Like giraffes and that.

At this point, all of the kids who had non-lion puppets scurried their puppets away from the lion one.

Kids' puppets: "Don't eat me, I'm not dinner!" "Get away from me, you meat eater!" "Go eat someone your own size!" "Have some chicken McNuggets instead!"

Jana* (turning to me, her eyes wide) You know, Ms. N, chickens make eggs. You know, like we had for breakfast this morning. Those were little baby chickens, for real!

A chorus of 'eeews' greeted her announcement. She turned to the other children:

Jana* No, I'm not kidding. My Mom told me. Eggs are really the beginnings of baby chickens. That's what you're eating when you eat an egg.

Kids* Dis--gusting! EEEEWWWW....

Me Hmm...I'm not sure the eggs you get in your school breakfast really could turn into baby chicks if you didn't eat them. But let's feed the lion some pizza right now, so he's not quite so hungry, OK?

*Jana is, of course, not this budding vegetarian's real name, nor is Tomas this young puppeteer's real name.


Daily Life, 56

I stopped one of the 4th grade teachers in the hallway, to show her some of the kids' work.

Me Hey, Mrs. Grant*, take a look! Here's our graphic novels from Music class. The kids created them and then set them to music.

Mrs. Grant* Wow, those look great. Speech bubbles and everything.

Me Yep. A lot of writing got done for this project.

At this point, one of the boys at the end of the line of kids let out a yelp.

Jent* Whaaaat? Hey! You got us to write!

Me Yeah, I did. What about it? It was part of the project.

Jent* I know! But I hate writing!

Me Well, you did a lot of it today. And artwork, too.

Jent* Art's OK. But I hate writing!

Luckily, he was smiling by the end, although somewhat ruefully.

*Jent is, of course, not this reluctant writer-but happy graphic novelist's real name.


Daily Life, 55

Second Grade Music, around 1pm this afternoon:

Me Hey, Jonas*, wouldja wait here a minute after class? I want to ask you something. You're not in trouble.

Jonas* OK.

We waited until the class left, then sat on the bench in the hallway. I leaned down, retying my shoelaces (and taking a very long time to do so).

Me So, um, anything going on for you today in Music? Anyone bothering you or anything?

Jonas* Nope.

Me Well, you seemed out of sorts all class. That's not the Jonas I know. The Jonas I know is someone who's usually bouncing around trying to play every drum, and cracking jokes, and having fun.

Jonas* Not today.

Me Hmmm. Today I noticed that you got crabby when I noticed you were fooling around rather than playing the drum. That's not normally your way, either.

Jonas* Mm hmm.

Me Hmmm...what'd you have for breakfast?

Jonas* Nothing.

Me Well, what'd you have for lunch--cookies? candy?

Jonas* No.

Me You sure? Because you seem like you've had a bunch of sweets, and now the grumpies have invaded you.

Jonas* No.

Me Come on, pal, talk to me. I can tell something's not right but I'm not a mind reader. What's going on? If I did something to bug you, please tell me so that I can fix it, OK?

Jonas* I ate lunch. I had a pb and j sandwich and I ate every bit of it.

Me OK.

Jonas* (with a completely frustrated sigh) And I'm still hungry!

Me Did you ask your teacher if she had more snacks, or the lunch ladies if they did?

Jonas* My parents won't let me ask the lunch ladies for food.

Me OK. How about your classroom snacks, the ones you guys have in the morning?

Jonas* I ate that too. I'm still hungry. I didn't get dinner last night either. I'm HUNGRY.

Me Well, that explains a lot. Jeepers, Jonas, I get crabby as all get out when I'm hungry. How about we find you a snack? Look, there's the PreK teacher going by with the PreK snack. Let's see if she has any extra.

(She did. She offered him an orange right there, or to come to the room for an apple from the basket. He chose the apple.)

Me Hey, buddy, remember, when she gives you the apple, what're you gonna say?

Jonas* looked up at me, finally yielding a small smile. "Thank you?"

Me Yep. And if this happens again, let someone know, OK? It's no fun to be hungry.

Jonas* OK.

You know, a year ago, I would've scolded this child for fooling around during class, and sent him off to his room. Makes me grateful for the people in my life from whom I'm learning to be a listener first.

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


Daily life, 54

So this morning, Deanna* came scurrying off the bus, straight down the hall to me.

Deanna* Ms N, Ms N! Look at my tooth! It's nearly out!

Me Wow, Deanna. There's only a little thread holding that in your mouth. Maybe you better go to the nurse and get a tooth necklace--you don't want to lose that tooth!

Two minutes later:

Deanna* Look, Ms N! My tooth is out! It's in this pretty little carrier!

Me Well, keep it safe all day today, sweetie. You want to be able to leave it for the tooth fairy tonight.

Deanna* Oh, the tooth fairy doesn't come to our house. My Mom is the tooth fairy. She keeps ALL of our teeth. It's pretty disgusting.

Me Oh.

*Deanna is, of course, not this missing-a-front-tooth-Kindergartener's real name.


Daily Life, 53

More random comments:

Second Grade, Frankie*: Ms N, my Dad snores so loud I can hear him from my bunk bed!

First Grade, Kate*: Do you know what? My Grandmom calls when she's sad because her husband died. I make her feel better by being sweet.

And in Kindergarten:
Kids were 'drawing the music' while listening to it....I'd said something about everyone having music inside them, and how important it is to listen to that music.

Walking around, looking at the pictures....

Me Wow, Matthew*, that picture rocks! You drew a drum set inside that guy's body!

Matthew* Well, see, the music he hears is really loud. It's in his heart.


*Matthew, Kate and Frankie are, of course, real kids---but these aren't their real names.


Daily life, 51

Random comment as the rest of the kids were getting ukes out and choosing picks:

Grade 3
Marnya* Guess what? I'm not going to Afterschool. I get to spend the rest of the day playing in our yard.

Me Sounds like fun.

Marnya* Well, sort of yes and sort of no.

Me What do you mean?

Marnya* Well, it's not so nice outside right now. The bugs are out and ready to eat some people.


Grade 1 As I was lifting down the conga drum from the shelf:

Dirk* Wow, that drum looks heavy.

Me Yep. It is. That's why I'm getting it down for you.

Dirk* How come it's so heavy if it's empty?

*Marnya and Dirk are, of course, not these children's real names.